Bologna- Last Day

My last day in Bologna started wonderfully. On my third attempt I finally made it to the Sette Chiese complex. It’s a group of seven churches centered around St. Stefano Basilica and while the basilica can be seen at any time the other churches are on an odd schedule.

Note St. Peter looking almost exactly like Bodhidharma.

And outside St. Stefano’s there was an antiques market. Now, there’s a flea market just about everywhere I go, but antiques? That was much more fun.

I even found one doll of the kind I like, but, unfortunately, not in a good shape. Those markets are always interesting, but can make me sad if I let them – there are so many obvious collections there – puppets, or bird brooches, or porcelain figurines. I saw two bouquets made out of beads – some woman spent hours on these and no one wanted them after she was dead. It’s the kind of thing that makes one want to stop making things and embrace strict minimalism.

From there I went to Palazzo Albergati to see Fantastic Animals.

It’s a really beautiful exhibition around the concept of fairytale animals and their unity with humans. Here are some of the more striking things I saw:

Cow with houses (or castles? or towns?) inside by Mario Consiglio. For me a cow is the essence of peaceful life, a cow filled with small towns a perfect metaphor for civilization. This cow grazing and sleek, warm light shining through, looks like someone who’s been through a lot, and has scars and wounds to show for it, but is at peace and letting their inner beauty glow through the gaps. Consiglio’s message is, as much as I understand it, about surviving catastrophe and shining with a shared hope.

Unnatural history exhibits by Dario Ghibaudo

Giraffes by Sandro Gora, including Marylin on the grid, with air lifting up her spots.

Some completely flat canvases by Mario Ricci

Tangram rabbit and three-sided prism puzzle paintings (bird/fish/sea creature/animal/human) that viewers are intended to reconfigure by Camilla Ancilotto

Overall an exhibition it will be very pleasant to remember.

Afterward I went wandering, and found one of Bologna’s lost canals. This area used to be called Little Venice and the water served the local silk-making, but the canals are closed off and paved over now. There’s a small window to look at the small piece of canal that remains and a large queue to do so. I decided that I can do without a window view 🙂

At the end of the evening I took a random train tour of the city center and was glad to recognize all seven of the “secrets of Bologna” the audio guide riddled at the end.

Between Pelagio Palagi, the ceiling of the anatomical theater, the Fantastic Animals exhibit, the Lamentation for Christ, and the beautiful porticos in the quiet hills leading to St. Luca I’m glad I went to Bologna. As I travel more through this region I find more things I didn’t know about (like the whole Italy vs Pope thing, or the fact that Bolognese citizens were strong enough to keep Friedrich II’s son a prisoner for years or a view of WWII that is very different from both the Russian and the American ones).

Bologna 2.5

For my second full day I decided to get out of the city center and go to the San Luca Sanctuary, 5 km uphill. It’s a pilgrimage destiny, people go there to view an icon of Madonna and child known as “Madonna of St. Luca”. It’s supposed to protect fields from excessive rains. The sanctuary itself was unexpectedly unlike other churches and very beautiful.

But what I really wanted to see was not the icon, but the portico leading up to the church. It’s made up of 666 arches, to symbolize a serpent Maria crushes under her foot and includes 15 chapels (one for each Marian mystery) and numerous exvotos.

I expected a crowded place and was amazed that most of the people who rode up with me didn’t even get off the bus. Of the few that did I was the only one who bought a cupola ticket. The view from the cupola was arcadian.

The cupola itself very interestingly lined with rushes over the bricks. I’m guessing that rushes are there to help hold whitewash if and when the walls and ceilings were to be whitewashed, but it’s just a guess. Perhaps it’s for warmth, or perhaps rushes somehow hold the lime in until it dries.

After coming down I wandered around the city, saw

1. The Saragozza gate

2. A nice statue of Padre Pio

3. Graves of glossators (a kind of founding jurist in middle ages) and cool lion gate toppers at San Francisco

4. A playground in park Della Montagnola surrounded by huge statues of mermaids and predators gruesomely killing prey and each other (no pictures because taking pictures of playgrounds is kind of creepy)

5. The other Lamentation over Christ (good, but suffers from comparison with Della Arca) in the local cathedral (no pictures because people were praying).

6. Yet another monument to the capture of Rome. Seriously, these are everywhere and are one of the big differences between US and Italy.

Bologna 1 (.5)

The best part about my hotel in Bologna is the terrace.

On the first evening I started by strolling to Piazza Maggiore, saw the Neptune fountain, and saw the San Petronio Basilica. My hotel is super-basic, but right in the middle of everything.

Unfortunately, Chapel of the Magi, the place in San Petronio I really wanted to photograph is forbidden to photograph from the inside. You’ll just have to trust me that it was worth waiting for 5 reboots of the credit card machine ;).

Then I just walked the streets. Bologna is known for its 25 miles of colonnades and its multiple towers. Many of those towers are leaning. In fact the famous two towers are currently not accessible and after seeing them from the outside I think I know why.

The next day I walked all over old town and saw

  1. Maria Della Vita with two incredible sculptural groups. The first one is Nicolo Dell’Arca’s Lamentation over Dead Christ, which deserves much better photographs than the ones I was able to take. It is indescribable. My photographs and all others I ever saw seem cheesy. It is cheesy (complete with a gratuitous nipple). For a while the hospital which owned the statues hid them to avoid frightening the patients. It’s not beautiful. It’s not consistent (note the wind that blows on the two Maries at right and not anyone else). It’s striking and unforgettable.

The second group, Transit of the Virgin by Alfonso Lombardi, represents an attempt by the High Priest to overturn Mary’s coffin (An apocryphal and unlikely story. The statues were paid for by the Flagellants, who united to whip themselves and hate Jews). The next day I also went to St. Peter’s cathedral and saw Lombardi’s Lamentation. After Dell’Arca it comes across as almost stoic and sadly staid.

2. Horological tower and views of the city from the top (I had to sign an actual disclaimer to go up these stairs).

3. The Communal art collection – a typical small North Italian museum meaning that they don’t have enough Tintorettos to cover all the walls. I absolutely loved it, because what they do have is walls and walls of Pelagio Palagi, author of one of my favorite paintings. He combined the eighteenth-century kawaii with nineteenth-century drama. Born and raised in Bologna he left a lot of his artwork and his large collection of art that inspired him (including an incredible ancient Minerva’s head and an Egyptian cat) to the city.

They also have plenty of Gaetano Gandolfi whom I love primarily for his name and only secondly for the above-mentioned kawaii. Below are his self-portrait and portrait of his wife.

Part of the museum is furnished rooms and I do love museum furnished rooms. The last room was my favorite – frescoed as a garden and containing nothing but an Apollo by Canova. Well, Apollo and an elderly museum guide who, disappointed in my Italian, spoke Spanish to make sure I was really, truly, indeed, very much impressed.

They also have a room with three (3, Karl!) versions of Death of Virginia, which is at least three more than I ordinarily enjoy seeing, beautiful as they are.

And at the very end (no photos because they closed the museum on me. Again.) they have the Argonauts’ gallery. The local Jesuit school for high-born boys picked the best student each year and gave him a highly-coveted medal with an image of Argo. Each of them posed for a portrait with the medal. That means there are two rooms of portraits of young men of the same location, the same age, same religion, same class – the only things that change are fashion and personal preference (which at that age, let’s face it, is subordinate to fashion). Eighteenth through nineteenth century. Fashion historians probably come there to pray. Sometimes I wish I was a fashion historian.

4. Archiginnasio palace, especially the anatomical theater. It is very different from the one in Padua – shorter, wider, brighter (140 years difference is a lot), and has a truly insane ceiling.

Besides the theater (look at the skinless guys! and that Apollo!) there were coats of arms, and the Stabat Mater room (with a peek at the library). All beautiful, and I especially liked monuments to the lectors.

    And yes, of course I walked through the medieval market, and the shopping streets, and the fancy gallery, and the awesome made-from-porticos gallery 🙂


    Padua was the first city on my solo stay and it was even better than I expected. I’m glad I stayed for two nights – was getting burned out on planning and needed down time. Here’s what I did:

    1. Arrived around noon. Because this is the relaxation I picked a Hilton – bed I can sleep across, giant shower and all that. They upgraded me to a terrace room, which, although completely useless, really perked me up.
    2. I decided to walk the 20 minutes to the hotel despite rain and suitcase and am glad I did – the non-touristy part of the city contains some truly awesome towers, frescoes, and canals. It also has narrow one-point-perspective cobblestoned streets. My favorite!

    4. The central part of Padua turned out to have not only cobblestoned streets, but also colonnades. Almost every building has a stoa, which a) is beautiful b) allowed me to ignore the rain.

    Of course, if they want to honor someone important they also put columns around them. Behold the statue of Dante, and tombs of Antenor and St. Anthony.

    In fact, St. Anthony is so important he gets two colonnades, a real one and a trompe l’oeil one. And a church that’s way nicer than the local cathedral.

    I really like completion, even in little and unimportant themes, so seeing St. Anthony’s churches both in Lisbon where he was born and in Padua where he died felt very satisfying.

    Speaking of tombs, you’re probably curious about Antenor. He’s a fictional character, the only elder of Troy who counseled returning Helen with apologies. His grave belongs to a wealthy Germanic or Hungarian warrior killed in battle around 3rd or 4th century CE, a woman, an animal, or some combination of the above. The grave next to him (without columns) belongs to Lovato dei Lovati who conveniently discovered a bronze plaque on the sarcophagus when it was dug up in 1274 saying that the body inside is definitely that of Antenor, Elder of Troy and Founder of Padua.

    Other things I saw that day were

    1. The cathedral (poor, but clean)

    2. The baptistery (that’s where they keep all the art that didn’t go into the cathedral)

    3. The Scrovegni chapel (where Giotto invented Renaissance painting)

    4. Palazzo Bo (headquarters of the university thoroughly redecorated in 1930s and 40s)

    5. Prato della Valle (largest square in Italy), which is in fact not a square but an ellipse 90,000m2. It’s probably beautiful and impressive, but being entirely covered by the local flea market is a bit hard to see.

    6. Cool modern sculpture mainly near the (unfortunately closed) Francis Bacon collection. Even though it’s closed one can still look through the mirror and see the hanging rhinoceros.

    7. Lovely stenciled graffiti

    8. The thousand-plus-year-old market plazas, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza Della Frutta (because you wouldn’t sell vegetables and fruit on the same giant plaza, right?).

    I’ll do separate posts for the baptistery, chapel, and university, but in the meantime here are some photos of the market.

    I spent approximately 8.5 hours walking, ate at a really striking restaurant (which is a chain, so I might eat at one again), and generally had a wonderful and relaxing day. Two nights turned out to be just the right amount of time in Padua although if I was doing this with someone I’d probably add at least one more day.

    Notes for the next trip

    1. Keep screenshots of all hotel reservations, tickets and visas in a separate chat
    2. Double-check all scheduling using the local time zone
    3. Bring only one pair of shoes
    4. Do not bring a neck pillow
    5. Do not bring extra warm layers – one of each is enough (e. g. one sweater, one jacket…)
    6. Bring smaller medicine bottles
    7. Bring more stomach meds
    8. Bag the razor
    9. Bring hats with visors
    10. Bring hand sanitizer
    11. Bring museum membership cards
    12. Leave vaccination cards
    13. Pick restaurants with breakfast. Even a bad breakfast is better than nothing.
    14. Do not pick restaurants on shopping streets – go at least one block away
    15. Pack snacks
    16. Buy at least one local SIM card to have a local phone number


    We spent two and a half weeks in Japan, Nov. 21st through Dec. 8th, and it was, just as I expected it to be, amazing. Japan, for me, feels effortless, exciting, interesting, convenient (safe food, walkable streets, and clean bathrooms matter a lot to me), endlessly explorable, and full of small delights.

    I was afraid that it would change from when I came first, but although, almost all the constituent parts of the experience changed, the whole remained remarkably consistent. It’s strange that places don’t change much, even if one does completely different things or comes at different seasons. For instance, whenever I come to Venice the weather is lovely and there’s an interesting exhibition going on, whereas whenever I come to Russia, be it July or December, it’s cold, miserable, and Day of the Paratrooper.

    Things that changed:

    • Instead of traveling alone this time I went with the whole family – all six of us for the first week, and four for the subsequent weeks. This means that our time was very structured and that we barely ever walked. The first week, in particular, was structured by Amazing Spouse in half-hour increments in an act of sheer heroism. None of my usual “roll out of the bed whenever, exit the hotel in a random direction, eat on the way” and no “spend an hour reading in this cute cafe” – we ate three sit-down meals a day and didn’t search for variety.
    • It was November and not May which greatly increased the frequency of persimmons, children in fancy outfits (November is the month for 3-5-7 celebrations), and, oddly, flowering cherry trees (I did not expect fuyuzakura aka winter cherry).
    • There were fewer school children out and about.
    • It was cold. “T-shirt and overshirt and puffy vest and jacket and hat” cold. And dark by 5 pm, so random wandering around time was cut short. This means that gardens and parks closed early and that there were fewer creatively-dressed teenagers around and way more elegantly-coated ladies.
    • It was crowded as heck. Everyone wanted to see momiji fully as much or more as we did. I never thought I’d queue up for an hour for anything other than staple food, let alone for maples, and yet – it was completely worthwhile.
    • Fall foliage and not temples or restaurants, was the theme of most days. Mind you, fall foliage happens in temples and around restaurants, and we visited both – but the foliage was more striking and noticeable than the buildings.
    • We went to museums! Tokyo National Museum, MIHO, Osaka Castle, Nara Crafts museum, Nara Toy museum, Iwasaki garden (and especially mansion), Drum museum, Samurai museum, Sword museum, Hokusai museum, Yayoi Kusama museum, and finally Team Labs (which is less a museum than a museum-sized installation, but I’m including it anyway) – these were unexpectedly more memorable than temples on this trip.
    • We stayed at hotels with onsens, which means there was no going-out-to-bathe.
    • We did more shopping (or, at least, more window shopping) and more animal petting visiting a dog cafe, Bengal cat cafe, and capybara cafe. I love capybaras, although on a nearer acquaintance, cats are definitely more awesome.
    • And, of course, because of traveling as a family and because of the cold I was out-socialized by the end of each day, and completely incapable of noting things down. I did sketch, however, and will try to recreate what I saw in each day based on that. At some point. The issue, of course, is that I don’t have a clear audience for this – future me is academic, adult kids even more so, outside blog readers a remote and unlikely possibility, and the guy I wrote to last time was right here with me. Crying in the wilderness is, if not sensible, understandable enough, but traveloguing? Not that I’ll let the lack of an audience stop me 🙂