Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Bologna, Bidets & More...The fun never stops!

There is a part of Bologna that I really, really liked. And it's a good thing, because we kept ending up there, over and over and over again. We were there for three days, and I feel like we basically went in one direction twice and then back to the same area every other time we left the hostel.

I should maybe start trying a bit harder to do these posts right after we leave a location, because I seriously don't remember a whole lot about Bologna even though it was one of our longer stays. We saw a few churches, ate out, went shopping, I went twice to a grocery store that was closed both times and the second time made me late for a museum which wouldn't let me in because it was less than an hour before closing.

I  can see a museum in less than an hour, if I put my mind to it, dammit.

I was going to do a Google Hangout from there to show the kids a former  Royal Palace. I still ended up doing the Hangout, but I was now outside the museum and it started storming, so I had to cut it short. Anyway, here's what I've got from Bologna: outdoor dining, churches, shopping and fabulous architecture.

We've seen so much of that in Italy, but Bologna seems to have much more of a mix of time periods than most of the other cities do. Lots of medieval mixed in with the later periods.

We chose Bologna because it is supposed to be the capital of the Italian foodie region, Emilia-Romagna. You couldn't prove it by us, because except for a couple of random meals, the food wasn't any more memorable than anywhere else in Italy we've been. However...

We saw more outdoor dining available in Bologna than anywhere in the world I've ever been. I mean, they are eating on sidewalks all up and down the street almost every time you turn a corner. Which we absolutely loved.

Big squares...

Narrow alleys...
NOT bothered by the dumpster.

There are SO many roads like this, always bustling with sidewalk diners.
Until it storms.

And churches.

Like I said, we didn't cover a whole lot of territory in this city, but there were churches everyfreakingwhere.

I may have mentioned that we are big fans of St. Francis in our family. What's not to like about a guy running naked in the woods communing with the wildlife? And it so happened there was a San Francisco cathedral just a short walk from our hostel, so that's where we started.

It was a very plain church, as would befit such a person, but not at all stark. And there was still a
vastness about it that I had a hard time capturing with my camera. 

The altar was one of the strangest I'd ever seen, it was full of statues! And then the top row of spikes had partial statues that reminded me of severed heads on the bridges of Paris after the French Revolution.

Do click on the photo for the bigger version, it's definitely worth taking a closer look at.

There was a room off to the side that I thought might be a chapel, but the pews were surrounded by
confessionals, and there was a notice on the entrance with the times of confession listed. So I wonder if the pews were for people to wait for their turns at the confessionals and then to return to for praying their penances. In any case, it was a very nice space, had a really pleasant feel to it.

Then we went to eat. This was our first glimpse of a street lined with cafes offering sidewalk seating. But it so happened thatr there was also a street fair of some kind being held that day. There were tables filled with mostly pretty worn out merchandise.

But Bologna has a very old, famed university and the students are very actively political, so there were tables with merchandise and petitions regarding various causes. A prominent one had to do with human rights, so I like to imagine they were all radically left leaning. Like me. ;)

There was also a table set up for kids to do crafts, which I thought was a fabulous idea. The kids
enjoyed it and it kept them out of our way, heh heh.

I don't have any photos of where we ate, it wasn't that great and blah blah blah. There were a couple of memorable moments, though. One, it was so crowded on the patio that we had to wait for people to leave and then move chairs around. But when the waiter brought our drinks and we asked about ordering food, he made us get up and moved us to the NICE tables, lol.

Seriously, these had bigger tables and chairs, and we were the only ones in that section for a good while. When you only drink, you have to sit with the riff raff, but pony up for some food and you get the good seats. We had to laugh, but it was definitely nice to spread out a bit. I don't like sharing my personal space for extended periods of time, and particularly not while I'm eating, so the mediocre meal was forgiven.

But then there was the Toilet.

Yes, it gets capitalized, because that is what rest rooms are called. Don't try to ask for the Ladies room or bathroom or anything but the Toilet. The word is recognized everywhere. Don't even try to fancy it up by calling it the Toilette. Even in France. It's the Toilet. That's what the sign says.

And I want to do a post just on the toilets in Europe. Not the UK, they're pretty much same as the States. But everywhere else, the different genders are a lot cosier. There is a small room with a sink, and two doors, often right next to each other or across a small space. One showing a figure wearing pants and one a dress. Sometimes the signs will be a little fancier. I posted a photo of the doors in Chania showing a high heel and a pipe.

Now I may be venturing into TMI territory, so if you are uncomfortable with discussions of intimate anatomical areas and the functions/cleaning thereof, you may want to just skip down to where it says "Back to Bologna". 

One time that was totally different, and caught me completely unawares, was the bathroom at the Doge's Palace in Venice. It looked like one of the big public rest rooms in the States, with a long counter of sinks and at least a dozen stalls all along the wall. It was filled with women, and I just went in a random door. I was in there a while, too, with an unfortunate case of Mussolini's Revenge. But I was surprised when someone banged on the door.

And though I know this segue is going on a bit long, I'd just like to mention how much I love European toilet stalls with every wall and door going from floor to ceiling. True privacy where it counts. 

Anyway, I came out of the stall to a reprimand in a raised voice from the bathroom attendant, of which I  understood not a single word. But one look at the sad faced man behind her had me realizing I'd accidentally taken a men's stall. However, I didn't feel too bad, because he was able to stand there and watch me get yelled at before moving slowly toward the now empty stall. So his need was obviously less urgent than mine.

Seriously, though, I really do want to do a post on European toilets. Some are different, some are magnificent, if only I didn't keep forgetting to take my phone to the bathroom. Gotta get into that habit, because I promise you, they are worth documenting.

Which brings me, finally, back to this post.

Although we are often seeing bidets in our lodgings, I'd never before come across one in a restaurant. But here one was, along with a choice of cleansers. And this was not, by any means, a fancy or expensive restaurant.

I was thoroughly impressed, though not enough to try it. These modern bidets are just like tiny bathtubs. They're meant to be filled up for you to wash your private parts, which is not something I'd ever feel inclined to do in a restaurant bathroom. The old fashioned bidets had little fountains which would rise up and give everything a good splash. Those were fun, and I can't imagine why anyone would think this new method is an improvement. The bidets are just one more thing suffering from a comparishon with our past travels. sigh.

Just as I was musing about all of this, while washing my hands, I realized that there were several empty holes in the wall. Presumably, there was a hand dryer or paper towel dispenser at some point. As I exited the bathroom, wiping my hands on my clothes, I tried to figure out the line of thought which provided two different types of liquid for customers to wash their asses, yet no way to dry their hands. Impractial attempts at elegance is not a thing I admire.

Back to Bologna...

There is a big square with a huge church on one side, and an adjoining smaller square with a statue of
Neptune. The photo at the top of this post is the long view of the square. You can find all the details (where else?) on Wikipedia. But here are a few things I found interesting about it.
1) The artist who did it had submitted a similar idea in Florence the year before, but lost the commission to a different artist.

2) A whole building was torn down to make room for this fountain.

3) The Maserati logo is based on the trident of this statue. One of the Maserati brothers was an artist, and the design was chosen because Neptune represents strength and vigor, plus "the statue is a characteristic symbol of the company's original home city."

We really liked walking around Bologna, the architecture is just fabulous. Gorgeous buildings on big squares.

Narrow roads filled with tiny cars.

And I love the way there are so many fresh fruit and flower stalls on the sidewalks of Italy.

There is a lot of construction going on in the city. All over Italy, we've found. Maybe they are trying to get it all done before the huge influc of summer visitors.

There were way more medevial buildings than we expected to see.

But plenty of elegant ones, too.

There is one big road full of shops, where we spent some time. And I guess Italian visitors need their Disney merchandise, too, though it always seems wrong when I spot them in actual foreign places.

One evening, we somehow found ourselves in the posh part of town.

And it was just lovely, even in the dark. 

We went out one night to check out the Buffet Apertivo custom which allows you to have all kinds of free food when you order drinks. Since it was a Saturday night, we were lucky to get a spot. In fact, I 
had to go beg for chairs while Martha protected the lone empty table. Later, the waiter would tell Martha that he could have found us chairs, if only we'd asked him.

One rule of travel I don't follow often enough: Just fucking ASK!!! (More politely known as: "It doesn't hurt to ask." But that is apparently not compelling enough for me to remember.)

Of course, we'd stumbled upon a place that had a 9 Euro minimum. So instead of having a couple of E3.50 glasses of wine somewhere else with a dinner we paid for, we went for the mixed drinks here. And then we each had another. Which meant we spent more on dinner than we would have without trying to get free food. But the food was some of the best I had in Italy, so I don't begrudge it.

Plus, you just can't beat atmosphere like this.

And, of course, we visited more than one church.

This one so very much more lavish than San Francisco's.

Holy water held by lions.

Fan lights on the confessionals.

Absolutely massive.

And the gorgeous secondary altars.

Just amazing. 

We really didn't cover a whole lot of ground in Bologna, and we don't really feel a need to return, but we did enjoy our time there and certainly appreciated the beauty that is found all over the city. Well, all over the parts of the city that we saw, anyway. Which, admittedly, wasn't a whole lot. But that's what we got, folks, a mini overview of Bologna. Definitely glad we went, which is our measure of success. But if any of you happen to make it out that way, we hear there is an excellent foodie tour. I just don't think it should be necessary to take a tour to find good food anywhere, much less somewhere supposedly known for its food.


It was at a restaurant right around the corner from our hostel that I think I figured out the problem we were having with food in Italy. I ordered Lasagna for the first time in Italy, and Martha ordered some kind of lamb dish. Her food was not only delicious, but the plate was all decorated and there was obviously an effort put into its presentation.

My meal, on the other hand, looked like someone had cut a square off of a Walmart frozen lasagna and thrown it on a plain white plate. Nothing else on there, not so much as a sprig of parsley. And you know what? Walmart frozen lasagna tastes better.

So, I believe that Italy has just moved on from traditional dishes. The non-traditional ones are excellent, but the well-known pastas and pizzas are terrible. It's like they want you to stop ordering those things so they can show you all their new innovations. And that just sucks for us.

But at least I had the good bar food. And it was kind of free. So there's that.

Next up is The Cruise. Coming soon.

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