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Day 3: Modena, Reggio Emilia & Parma

Our original itinerary for this holiday was a fairly modest one, drawn up on the basis of visiting one town per day. As soon as we actually got to Italy, however, all our good intentions for a sedate and relaxing holiday flew out of the window as we found ourselves standing in front of the ticket machines in Bologna Centrale and exclaiming "Ooh, we could get a train to there... and to there... and to there... for not very much money at all!" Suddenly we seemed to be surrounded by more possibilities than days and our itinerary began to become more and more crowded as we strove to fit everything in.

Monday was - on paper - scheduled to be nothing more than a trip to the small town of Modena, situated approximately 30 minutes outside of Bologna. Some overexcitement when looking at a transport map, however, had convinced us that we could also fit in brief visits to Reggio Emilia and Parma, both towns on the same rail line as Modena and only 20 minutes apart on the regional train. This necessitated an early start in the morning and I surpassed my own expectations of my ability to get out of bed, with the result that we were at Bologna Centrale in time to gloat at the suited commuters on their miserable way to work and had already arrived in Modena by 09.30.

In what was becoming a theme of this holiday, we initially failed to locate the town centre. This was partly because we didn't have a proper map and partly because Modena, evidently not expecting (m)any tourists, had failed to erect any useful signs indicating where it might be. The outskirts of town were pretty though, and at this time of the day the sun wasn't yet hot enough to make walking round a chore. When we eventually did hit upon the tree-lined boulevard leading into the centre, we found that several of the main sights were currently undergoing renovation and temporarily hidden behind a mask of scaffolding. The main square was impressive, however, and we wandered through narrow medieval streets, whose porticoes and terracotta paintwork were very reminiscent of Bologna.


By 11.30 we were starting to feel extremely hungry and debating whether we had as yet reached a socially acceptable hour to have lunch. Probably we hadn't, but we chanced upon a pleasant-looking cafe which already had its menu up and decided to take our chances. The menu was not terribly extensive but advertised a variation on the theme of chicken and chips, so we decided to give it a try. Oh dear. As soon as the food arrived, it became clear that we had made another lunch-related error of judgment. The chips, while initially looking reasonably edible, turned out to be unpleasantly undercooked, but the real disappointment was the chicken, which bore no resemblance to any chicken which I have ever encountered before. It was a small, flat piece of chicken, enveloped in seriously soggy breadcrumbs. Cutting into it with the knife revealed meat which was a most peculiar shade of grey. If you closed your eyes, suspending disbelief in its inherent chickenness, it tasted bland and pappy, but not wholly unpleasant. Eating it while looking at it involved some serious willpower, however, and I was driven on only by the fact that I had to eat something and the chips were worse.

We initially failed to find the town centre, but we did find this beautiful church near the train station:


We knew we were eventually on the right track when we saw the Duomo appearing on the horizon:


We were soon in the main square, which unfortunately was being used as a car park. The town hall was pretty though...


...as was this clock tower:


Unfortunately this church was undergoing some renovation:


This one was very impressive though:


The town was full of bright orange and yellow buildings:


Like this one...


and this one:


And here was where we had the worst meal of the holiday!


The bill at least was significantly less than the previous day and we had accomplished our aim of an early lunch, giving us plenty of time to hop on a train bound for Reggio Emilia. This was a town which our guidebook didn't deem sufficiently important to publish a map of, but which turned out to be very attractive regardless. A major bonus point was that the train station was located within a hop skip and a jump of the main street, and there was even an unambiguous sign proclaiming the direction of the "centro". We soon found ourselves in yet another imposing main square, whose beauty was marred only by the fact that someone had set up a scrappy market selling tacky plastic and knocked off designer clothes in the middle of it.


The thermometer on a local pharmacy alerted us to the fact that the punishing midday sun had reached a temperature of 36 degrees and, beginning to feel the effects of the heat, we stopped at a little outdoor cafe for some much needed rest and refreshments. We could quite happily have sat in the shade reading all afternoon, but before long it was time to head off to our final stop of the day - Parma.

We walked down some narrow streets on our way to the town centre:


They seemed keen on orange churches here too!


These rather scary lions were on guard duty in the main square:


Beautiful surroundings in which to sit and read:


Or, at least, it would have been, had our train not been suffering from a 20-minute delay. A frustrating wait on the busy platform at Reggio Emilia ensued, while the automated voices of Trenitalia alternately apologised for the inconvenience and implored us to stay behind the yellow line at all times. Absurdly, it took less time for us to get to Parma than we had spent waiting for the train in the first place, but it was worth it when we arrived and found ourselves confronted with our first view of the Palazzo della Pilotta, a grand building with huge brick archways where we were able to find some brief respite from the still relentlessly hot sun.


From there we strolled through some pretty gardens and down some interesting side streets to an imposing square containing the city's cathedral and an unusual pink building which research later revealed to be a medieval baptistry.


We knew from the map that Parma was situated on a river, so we decided to stroll across it and head for a leafy park on the far side. Once we drew near to the bridge, however, it seemed that either most of Parma's river had evaporated prior to July or that the town is only situated on a "river" in inverted commas, in much the same way that Birmingham's tourist office claims that city is situated on the "river" Rea. The bridge was adorned with pretty flowers though and in one direction there was an enticing view towards mountains, which did give it a distinct edge over Birmingham. The park was also extremely pleasant, complete as it was with a lake and ducks, and had we not been worn out after our two previous towns we would probably have lingered longer. Parma is definitely a place which I would return to, and probably one which merits an entire day of exploration to itself.

So, three towns in one day? Definitely doable, but with over 11 miles walked in the blazing sun, not a challenge for the faint-hearted! We gave ourselves a stern talking to on Monday evening about the alleged relaxing properties of holidays, and resolved to focus on just one destination for Tuesday: Rimini.

We were able to find some brief respite from the sun under the arches of the Palazzo della Pilotta:


There was a pretty park between the Palazzo and the old town:


Not entirely sure what this statue was supposed to be doing!



There were some beautiful bright buildings in Parma too...25-yellow-clock.jpg

...including this lovely yellow one.30-yellow-corner-building.jpg

When we first saw the baptistry in the distance, we had no idea what it was:


But we followed it to find the cathedral square:


The cathedral was very impressive up close:


It had an enormous tower too:50-cathedral-and-tower.jpg

The river wasn't a lot to write home about...


...but on the far side of it we found this shady park:


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