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Day 2: Bologna & Ferrara

Having gone to bed by 9pm the night before, we were expecting to wake well in advance of our 7am alarm. When it did go off at the appointed time, however, we initially believed it must be a mistake and that morning couldn't possibly have come round so quickly. Staying in the apartment entitled us to free breakfast at the Astoria hotel, so we promptly headed over there to investigate the buffet. The results were a little disappointing. The apparatus dispensing the cornflakes was either broken, or we fundamentally misunderstood how we were supposed to operate it. The bread rolls were so hard that we struggled to cut through them with a knife and the cappuccino was more froth than coffee. Nevertheless it filled a hole, and we were soon able to set out on our exploration of Bologna.

What a beautiful city! The first sight which greeted us as we walked from our apartment towards the town centre was an old gate, pretty and baroque on one side and stern brick on the other.


A plaque explained that the brick side was facing out of the city centre in an attempt to look threatening to outsiders. Now armed with a tourist map of Bologna, we were able to verify that it was indeed facing out of the town, as we had been when we set off on our mission to find the town centre the previous day.


We fared considerably better today, climbing some impressive steps behind the gate to find ourselves in a shady park, complete with a little pool and fountain.



From here we headed down the main street, Via dell'Indipendenza, passing some imposing buildings and monuments on our way. The most striking feature of Bologna has to be the porticoes, an endless system of covered walkways, supported by columns, which form an integral part of all the main buildings. As well as being exceptionally pretty, these porticoes were blissfully shady, giving us some much needed respite from the 30+ degree sunshine.  There are an unbelievable 38km of porticoes in Bologna and they are recognised as a World Heritage Site.


Via dell'Indipendenza led us to the city's main square, Piazza Maggiore. Arriving in the square, it was difficult to choose where to look and photograph first; magnificent medieval buildings lined every side of it. My favourite was probably the town hall, with its crenelated roof.



There was also a large cathedral with an interesting display on the wall of people who had died during the Italian resistance in the Second World War. From the main square, we headed more into the back streets and wandered aimlessly for some time until we came to a small park. Its appearance was rather dusty, but there were some pleasant views towards the surrounding countryside. We followed what looked to be an easy track into some greenery, but it soon morphed into a treacherously steep and narrow path towards a church, forcing us to do an about turn.


Luckily there was a much flatter and more sedate park a short walk away, where we were able to stroll around a pleasant lake and even encounter some ducks and some turtles.


It was approaching lunch time by this point and we began to look for somewhere to eat. My main aim for the day was to eat bolognese in Bologna, but the first place we spotted in the city centre was offering the dish for a rather pricey €9, so we decided to head further out. More by accident than design we ended up in the area surrounding our hotel and, after finding and dismissing a couple of restaurants whose menus inexplicably lacked bolognese, we chanced upon a little cafe with a picture of spaghetti bolognese in the window. It wasn't the most exciting of establishments but it looked like the food ought to be value for money, so we took a seat and placed an order. When the food arrived though, we were more than a little disappointed. The spaghetti was chewy and would have benefitted from another five minutes in the saucepan, while the sauce itself was extremely sparse. The portion we received would have made an ample starter, but was somewhat unsatisfying as a main meal.


Never mind, we took consolation in the fact that the price would reflect the reality that this had hardly been gourmet cuisine... Until we saw the bill, that is. For two bottles of beer, two bottles of water and two very small dishes of pasta, we were charged a whopping total of €25. The main courses were €7.50 apiece and a mysterious charge of €4 for brioche which we hadn't had had materialised. Babel did go back into the restaurant to query that with the waiter, but we were unable to make sense of his response. We can only assume that it was a tax for the dubious pleasure of sitting down rather than having a takeaway. Infuriated at being scammed like that, we resolved not to eat there again for the duration of our stay, despite the fact that it was just round the corner from our apartment.

In the afternoon we decided to catch a train to the nearby town of Ferrara, a mere 30-minute ride away from Bologna. Our Italy guidebook had indicated that there was a picturesque town centre and we weren't disappointed! A short walk from the train station brought us to an absolutely stunning castle, set in the middle of a huge moat.


The moat was still filled with water and spanned by an enormous drawbridge. One of the best things about it was that there were hardly any tourists there, so we were able to wander around and take photos to our hearts' content.


The centre of Ferrara was very pretty overall, with countless statues, churches and terracotta buildings. We exhausted ourselves strolling around the back streets for a couple of hours before it was time to go back to the station. Our feet attested to the fact that it was a busy day, seeing the sights of two towns. But for Monday we had an even more ambitious itinerary planned...!

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