Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Via Frassinago, Bologna, Italy

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy

Montagnola Park, Bologna

Spaghetti Bolognese

The extension of my trip to fashionista pole of attraction, Milan, was four or five days in Bologna. After rain soaked Milan it was drier and warmer by a few degrees but lucky to be flood free since the Modena region nearby was undergoing evacuations. The Eurostar high speed train got up to 295 km/h and did the journey in 50 minutes. Bologna first came to my attention as worthy of a visit not because of its well known cuisine, rather since it is featured in John Grisham’s novel The Broker. It did not disappoint. It is home to the world’s first university, established in 1088, and the place where the learning format was developed and the term “universitas” coined. To-day Bologna University has in the order of 100,000 students. This gives the place a flavour all its own. The other striking feature is its 40 kilometres of porticoed walkways which over the centuries have protected its citizenry from the vagaries of heat and wet. The architecture is outstanding exemplified by the quality of the adornment of buildings. On innumerable occasions it was unclear which way to turn, the possibilities of a new discovery being omnipresent. I don’t believe dilemmas such as these have confronted me with such frequency on past trips. Bologna has leaning towers which hover over the historic city centre seemingly poised to come crashing down. I never did venture up one which is said to be climbable. Just two days after being at La Scala, I was again in an opera house of note, this time at Teatro Manzoni which is smaller in scale but about a tenth of the price. British pianist Paul Stewart was excellent and played amongst other things Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, famous to rock and rollers who are familiar with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. As it happened, the day before Claudio Abbado (former Musical Director of La Scala, the London Symphony and the Berlin Philarmonic) a Bologna native, had died and no less than eight pages in the newspaper were dedicated to his memory. The president of Italy, his friend, attended the funeral which took place at the seven churches site. If Bologna's porticoes cause the squeamish to be claustrophobic, an escape to the hills on the edge of the city is the antidote. The Basilica San Luca is 666 (really?) porticoes up from the bustling town (the porticoes are a tentative nomination as a UNESCO world heritage site) but closer and with a better view is the Villa Aldini Osservanza which is now occupied by a humanitarian organization. Here the vistas over rural surrounds blend nicely with a close-up view of the man made gem below. When the time came to leave Italy it was a fine morning. The snow capped Alps which are only 50 clicks from Milan were resplendent (recall that Turin which hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics is also close by). Mont Blanc served as a point of orientation for the pilot and we navigated around it before heading more directly northwest towards Paris.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Milan Cathedral (The Duomo)

Fashionistas in Milan

Sunday, February 02, 2014


Continental Europe in mid-January is not everyone’s first choice of vacation spot but polar vortexes in North America easily negate the idea of a stay-cation. Leaving Toronto for Milan, Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris was to be my transit point. It has an anachronistic Concorde fuselage near a runway to welcome incomers and hint at past glory days of French aviation. At arrivals, a mundane herding off to the side by a machine gun toting soldier explaining it was “à cause d’un colis piegé” pushed me on to make my connection (in a presumably safer terminal). My next flight took off heading west away from Italy but soon banked and passed over central Paris, affording a sunsplashed view of all the sites worth seeing, from the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame and Rolland Garros (I think). Entry into Milan (host of the World Expo in 2015) from Linate airport was by tram, a great introduction. Meeting up with a Canadian friend at our central boutique hotel, our first thought was food. This was Italy after all. Fresco and Carminis beside the famous shopping mecca Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was a buoyant and lively joint for the in-crowd looking for an extended Friday afternoon lunch. Just being in line for a table was an experience. Later that day we purchased opera tickets and made a once in a lifetime (perhaps) appearance at La Scala. If this was a bucket list event then the third level balcony box (where we were joined by three Russian visitors of whom one was an opera singer herself), was perfect since it gave directly onto the stage. Next day was to entail a lot of rain and the arrival of further friends from North America who had come all that way for just two days stay. We ate at a highly recommended resto at lunch and upped the ante by going to Milan’s Michelin Star restaurant at night, replete with sommelier! The six course taster menu had a distinct wine for each course. Decadent. To cap off a drenching evening we made a near midnight climb of the stairs to the roof of the Duomo, the cathedral at the heart of the city. Its skywalk offers great views of the intricate towering carvings that adorn the famous structure and of the art gallery and piazza below.