It's always a pleasure to discover something unexpected and lovely. That's how we feel about Bologna. I had done very little research and decided to play it by ear so it was a great pleasure to discover this vibrant and beautiful city that looks like a combination of Milan and Florence but feels very different than either of them.
We had booked into a hotel only steps from the historical center and began to wander what we thought would be quiet Sunday streets. Instead we found active pedestrian areas with buildings supported on arcades sheltering bars and caffès along with boutiques and lots and lots of food markets. Many of these have prepared foods to eat at tables there or to take home. This would be a great city to have a kitchen in. Bologna is called "la Grassa", "the Fat", because of its reputation as a city that appreciates its food and we can attest to that. It's known for its tortellini, its mortadella, its Bolognese sauce, and we're determined to do it justice. Luckily we only have three days here.
On Sunday afternoon and evening there were a lot of people of all ages strolling what I think must be a regular passeggiata among the buildings painted in a range of earth colors and looking up we saw carved heads, frescos of animals, worn paintings and signs and historical markers. It feels elegant and homey at the same time.
Apparently Bologna suffered a lot of bomb damage during WW II but much was reconstructed to look like it had before. In a few places where modern buildings had been inserted they were not very successful, unfortunately.
Unlike Venice and even unlike Florence, this seems to us to be a city with reasons for existence other than tourism. It appears to be relatively wealthy, like Milan, but more vibrant, maybe because it's a university town with many young people. We came across some wonderful sites, particularly the Archiginassio, the combined faculties of the first iteration of the University of Bologna, in what I think was the 15th century. A gorgeous building covered in frescos and memorials, it contains a working library for students as well as the original theater where anatomy was taught using cadavers. The marble center table remains, surrounded by wooden benches, carved walls and a canopy supported by wooden figures of flayed bodies. I know it sounds gruesome but it isn't at all, just fascinating.
Photos are at www.instagram.com/shellioreck