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Visiting Italy - Rome to Venice & Back - Part 5

Updated on September 9, 2012

Prologue

Back in 1997 my Aunt Mary took my sister Nanci and I on the trip of a lifetime to Italy. We were very excited about this as both our father and our maternal grandparents came from this beautiful country, and we had always wanted to visit. This hub is a continuation of Visiting Italy - Rome to Venice & Back - Part 1.

Verona

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Marble Walkway & Detailed Ceiling of Arcade in Balogna

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Balogna & Verona

Today we are heading further east to the city of Balogna. This trip promises to be very interesting in that we will be crossing through the Apeninnes and to the other side before we reach the city itself. Here I hope you don't mind if I get a little personal now.

Aunt Mary and I are sharing a seat today and Nanci is sitting in front of us with another tour member. We are conversing about what we have seen so far and what we still have left to see. During this conversation the topic of my father came up and she realized all of a sudden that I thought my dad would have been to and seen some of the same things we were seeing. When she said "Oh no Lynda, your father would never have seen any of these places because he was so young when he came to Canada", an overwhelming feeling of sadness passed through me as I realized what she was saying was true. He was only 17 when he left his home in a small town in the Southern Apennines in Abruzzo. Once in Canada he never had the opportunity to travel back to Italy as he was busy settling in, working and raising his family. Then he passed away too early at the age of 56. I would like to think that had he lived longer, he might have gone back some time, but of course it is a rather moot thought now.

Coming out of my reverie I realized that the scenery was changing as we drove further into the Apennines. We had lost the rolling hills that Tuscany is famous for and were now seeing higher mountains that were mostly green and becoming heavily wooded. Beyond you could see higher more rugged elevations and I marveled at the many changes in beautiful scenery that makes up Italy. Snow lies on the highest peaks of the Apennines for almost the whole year and yet where my father was from - in the Southern Apennines you would find more summer pastures. There is a walking tour through the Apennines between Florence and Balogna called "Via Degli Dei" - the Route of the Gods. Apparently you travel through old mule paths, through green wooded areas and between rugged peaks, and I would imagine the views all around would be breathtaking. This walking tour takes ten days, and while it sounds appealing in many ways I was glad that we were on a bus, sitting back, relaxing and taking it all in the easy way.

As Carlo expertly navigated the rolling and sometomes steep terrain, Nicoletta gave us our history lesson about Balogna. While Florence boasts a wonderful art culture, Balogna is noted for its industrial strength and physical position. It lies between the Po River and the Apennines located at the apex of the most highway and railroad crossings in the country. It is home to the oldest University in the world - Alma Mater Studiorum, dating back to 1088. Being one of the most developed cities in Italy it is often given the ranking of providing the best quality of life in the country.

Through the centuries it saw many changes. During the Roman era it ranked as the second largest city in Italy and one of the most important in the Empire, holding temples, baths, a theatre and an arena - only to languish with the decline of the Roman Empire. Through subsequent years it would be reborn again only to decline once more; suffering through a couple of plagues, where the population declined and then was built up again. It eventually prospered. Having voted in 1857 to become part of a united Italy, it has since gained importance for its cultural role as well as becoming an important commercial, industrial and communications hub.

Balogna also has a very rich musical tradition including a wide range from classical to electronic, jazz, folk and opera. Over the centuries it has acquired many nicknames: "la dotta" - the learned one for its famous univesity; "la grassa" - the fat one which refers to its rich cuisine, Bolognese, a meat based sauce - one of the examples, and "la rossa" - the red one. Originally the red one came from it's many red coloured tiled roofs, but it also refers to it's political situation that arose after the second world war when it was renowned for its socialism and communism right up until 1999 with the election of a more centre-right mayor.

When we finally reached Balogna and were making our way to the central district we quickly realized that something was going on in the city that day. Several of the roads off the main artery were blocked and Carlo could not make his way to the usual parking area. Nicoletta got off the bus to find out what was going on and soon came back with the news. We have arrived in the middle of the 23rd National Eucharistic Congress taking place Setember 20 to September 28th. In fact we are only missing the Pope's arrival by two days. How did the tour not know this before we arrived? Who knows? But not to worry, we would all disembark and Carlo would be able to stay right where he was. So with a few last minute instructions from Nicoletta as to which direction we should head, what we should try to take in, and when to be back at the bus, after an hour and a half - off we trotted.

We headed for the Two Towers that are a landmark of the city. At one time there were 180 towers; no one really knows why except that it would appear each family had one in it's name. Only about 20 are still standing today. We noticed as we approached the towers that there was bunting set up along the way, and all of a sudden when we rounded a corner, a group of people dressed in medieval costume appeared with marching bands behind them. Little by little more groups appeared in an array of different colours, as well as various styles of dress. We found out that these people were in fact representatives of all of the parishes in Italy. We thought we were so lucky. We had missed the Palio Horse Races in Siena, but here we had arrived right in the middle of a parade and so we stopped for a while to take in the festivities.


Piazza Maggiore

We watched about fifteen minutes of the parade and then remembering that we only had an hour and a half decided to cross the street and head for the ancient gateways and what lay beyond. What we found was a medieval town centre with the walkways completely covered with arch shaped porticos which was apparently the rule of new planning back in the middle of the 14th century. Even the oldest house had to have a portico - high enough that a person on horseback could pass through. These porticos were eventually carried through part of the new town surrounding a whole shopping arcade and restaurant area. Rain or shine you would have little problem making your way around Balogna. Back out on the main street we joined a couple from our tour in a nice little cafe, had a cup of cafe latte and then continued on around the arcade noting the beautiful marble floors and the details on the ceilings of the arched roofs.

By this time we were heading for Piazza Maggiore and I found myself strolling along with a lady named Marg from San Diego. We rounded a corner and saw the Statue of Neptune and she took a photo of me with my camera, in front of it. As Marg and I approached the square we realized that this was where the parade was heading. There was a roped off area where many people were gathered and all of a sudden we could hear the wonderful sound of young voices singing.

We both hurried over in time to see hundreds of little children standing in the square, all waving little flags and singing. it was such a beautiful sound, and one of those "once in a lifetime" moments, that much to my horror this thing that had been building up in me, since the start of our trip and indeed for the last few days now, bubbled up inside of me and I burst into tears. One minute I was standing there in awe and the next I was literally sobbing, with a virtual stranger standing next to me, not knowing what in the heck had happened to elicit such a reaction. Of course she immediately put her arms around me and while she was hugging me and trying to soothe me, I tried to explain that this whole thing somehow had something to do with my father. My father who had died too young, whom I had never asked about his homeland, whom I had just realized had never seen much of this beautiful country and whom for goodness sakes did not even come from this part of the country - Balogna, but rather from a small town much further south. And yet it didn't really matter where it was; thirty years later I had come to his country of birth and I had cried once more for my father.

It was now time to go back to the bus to head off to our next location - Verona. When Marg and I got back to the bus, Auntie Mary was waiting there talking to a group from our tour. When she saw my face and my red eyes, she started to say something, but immediately knew it was the wrong time. It wasn't until the bus was pulling away from the city that I had pulled myself together enough to tell her what had happened. This many years later when I think of Balogna, I remember that moment and think of my father.


Verona

After a stop for lunch, we are back on the bus once again and heading for Verona. We have some time to catch up on a little catnap and I surely needed one by this time. At the end of this day we will be in Venice, but in the meanwhile we are told that we must see Verona too and I am glad we did because it is very picturesque.

Verona is situated with the the River Adige winding in and around the city. Because of this river, through the centuries it suffered much flooding at different times until they built a tunnel which discharged water from the river into Lake Garda, whenever there was threat of flooding. This reduced the risk of flooding from once every seventy years to once every two centuries. I think this was one of the prettiest cities that we saw on this trip.

One thing we were told to see was the Roman amphitheatre which Verona is famous for. It dates to 30 AD and is the third largest forum after the Colosseum. It is in amazingly good shape and is still in use today especially during the summer months for fairs, theatre and open air opera. As you walk around town you also see many monuments from the Roman times, such as the Roman theatre dating from the 1st century BC. Over the years it had fallen into disuse and eventually was built upon to provide housing. In later years a wealthy Vernonese bought all of the houses that had been built upon it, demolished them and saved the original monument.

We found the market square which luckily enough for us was active that day, so we were able to wander around and admire all the delicious looking produce all the while taking in the architecture of the surrounding buildings at the same time. In particular there was one building three stories high, with a wrought iron balcony surround on the second floor, and above this the top two stories had the most wonderfully coloured facade in pastels of pink, blue, taupe and white interrupted by arch shaped doorways and windows. Judging by the outward appearances it looked to be three separate apartments, each denoting their space with potted shrubs and colourful plants. Next to it was a buff coloured stucco building with smaller balconies, black shuttered windows and again the ever present window boxes with bright red geraniums, which seems to be the colour of choice in Italy. It was all a delight to see!

Verona is of course also the place that Shakespeare chose for his love struck young lovers in the classic Romeo and Juliet, although I have read that originally it was set in Siena. No matter, Verona claims it now, and there is a square with a balcony that is perported to be the very one Juliet stood on while Romeo professed his love from down below. In the square is a bronze statue of Juliet where thousands of hands have stroked her breast (men of course) thus leavng a smooth patina, all supposedly to bring good fortune. So we have visited this scene, choosing not to stroke Juliet's breast, and now we are heading back to the bus and on to our end of day destination - Venice!!

A Prelude to Venice - my thoughts

I'm not sure what I am expecting of Venice. I have heard many things, one of those coming from Craig's mouth, suggesting that it is supposed to be very stinky. Therefore it certainly would not be on his list of "to do" while in Italy. On my part I couldn't even begin to imagine what it must be like to live in a city that is completely surrounded by water where people get around in boats - gondolas to be correct. I am imagining that it is dark and dank - and that there must be all manner of nasty things hanging around your doorstep, rats to be specific.

In any event this is where we are headed and lost in my musings and wonderings, it seems finally that we have arrived. We are not actually staying in Venice but in a town called Mestre which sits on the mainland opposite the City of Venice itself. It is dark when we arrive, so we are taken immediately to the hotel where after checking in we are given a key to our room. Once there, we opened the door and just gawked. It is the smallest room yet, and actually the smallest room I have ever seen in a hotel. Maybe it is a closet!! But no, there are twin beds very close together - one almost against the hallway wall, with about a foot in between the other bed which is right up against the window. And amazingly enough at the foot of these two beds lots the cot, the third person's sleeping quarters for the night. We literally felt like we had to take a running leap from the hallway onto the beds and just stay there for the night. It surely would be too dangerous to move around.

After we had finished laughing our fool heads off, we jockeyed around with our suitcases and decided that the only place they would fit would be in between the one bed and the inner wall. Done!! We will figure out how to get our clothing out later on. Now it is time for a quick bite and they want to take us down to the dock and treat some of the folks to a night time Gondola ride. We have decided not to do this after much discussion with Auntie Mary. She says it is fairly expensive and after all what are we going to see in the dark. We are not even in Venice yet. So we ended up wandering around the dock, taking some photos of our friends heading out and then later on headed back to our hotel to figure out the room situation. Was there a bathroom? We had not even noticed. Surely!!!

Tomorrow would be Venice!


Please check out Part 6 - under the same title, to read about Venice.

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