Italy, the one European country that everyone seems to rave about. It’s time to see if it lives up to its image. 3+ years in Europe, and my first trip to Italy was a week ago. Absolutely overdue.
For this Italian adventure, Cinque Terre was the main destination for me. Ever since I saw the photo of Riomaggiore, I had wanted to step foot in this seemingly heavenly piece of land and hike between the villages. Of course, more on that leg of the trip will be posted in part 2.
First up was Bologna, simply because it was easy to fly in from Brussels Charleroi. It may not be as popular of a tourist destination as say, Rome, Venice, and Florence (and I will get to all three in December), but boy, what a surprise…! Let’s just say, it’s been a while since a city has wowed me, and unexpectedly, Bologna did it. City of arches, city of stairs…city of pure beauty.
Buon giorno, Bologna! I arrived at Bologna late at night and was due to catch the train to La Spezia in the afternoon on the following day, so I only had about 7 hours to spend in the city. My first impression of Bologna was one word: elegance. Amusingly it is the same word that I use to describe Bordeaux, over and over.
There were two things that I saw very often in Bologna, and stairs were the first. In Giardino della Montagnola, a garden near the train station, pictured above, stairs were certainly aplenty.
From the train station I made my way to the downtown area along Via dell Indipendenza until I reached a pedestrian-only area, where the city centre began. Eventually, walking past rows of pink and yellow buildings and stopping to enjoy the performances of street artists, I reached the Piazza Maggiore, where the famous Fountain of Neptune stood, looking over the crowd.
Here are some more stairs, in the Palazzo d’Accursio. The second very common thing in Bologna? Arches. Lots and lots of arches, as you will see later on.
Not too far from the Piazza Maggiore, we have the Two Towers…of Bologna. So this is Saruman’s secret base…hmm. The smaller tower of the two is called the Garisenda Tower whereas the taller one is the Asinelli Tower. Of course I had to climb one of them for the panoramic view of Bologna, but the entrance to the tower was so inconspicuous that I almost thought the towers couldn’t be climbed.
After some 500 steps, I reached the top of the Asinelli Tower, but at times I felt like I would never make it to the top or rather…there is no top. The staircases were narrow and sometimes the wooden steps were tricky, but it provided an advantage in that there were frequent stops due to people going up and down at the same time, and the only way it could work was if one of the directions yielded. The unintended breaks meant that at least I was able to catch my breath before continuing.
And at the top, we get a breath-taking view of Bologna…literally. Orange, pink, and yellow – the city almost felt like tiny blocks that a child could just pick up and rebuild into any shape he wants.
I did mention arches, right? Back on the ground, the city exploration continued and I couldn’t help but notice more arches in every part of the city, lining every street and showing up in every corner. They gave Bologna such a grandiose feeling, as if walking through each series of arches is an experience through space and time itself. And yes, elegance couldn’t describe Bologna any better.
More arches, and these are just two of the many many many more arch-lined corridors found in Bologna, each unique and with its own style.
This band is awesome. I liked them so much that after I heard their performance, I left for some other places and went BACK to listen to them again. From the way that they performed, you could tell that each player had a distinct characteristic that made them charming in their own way. I especially like the tuba player though, quirky and spontaneous!
And soon it was time to head back to the train station by taking Via dell Indipendenza again, with one last look at the colours of Italy, which I definitely wouldn’t be seeing for the last time that weekend… 😉
The first point of entry in Italy has been very pleasant. Again, Bologna reminded me of Bordeaux, an Italian version. So I guess…Rome would really be “worthy” of Paris? That Paris that I dislike so much…hmm. I know I’m quite biased already, but I’ll give Rome the benefit of the doubt until December. Then we’ll see. Maybe this Italy hype does live up to its reputation after all…