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Archive for the ‘Ferrara’ Category

Today’s her memorial, too. A summary of her life:

Saint Catherine was born in Bologna, and appointed as the maid of honor to the daughter of the Marquis of Ferrara, for whom her father served as an aide. Catherine moved into the palace, and became best friends with her mistress, Margaret. Upon the engagement of Margaret, who wished Catherine to remain with her, Catherine instead entered the religious life. At age 14, she joined the third order of the Franciscans, who lived a semi-monastic life.

Eventually, the community to which Catherine belonged adopted the second rule of the Franciscans, joining the Order of the Poor Clares. There, Catherine lived in poverty and obedience, joyfully serving the Lord. However, Catherine felt that the rule was not strict enough in the community she served, and eventually was moved to a more austere community, where she reluctantly agreed to be Abbess.

Saint Catherine was graced with many spiritual gifts, beginning early in her religious life, and persisting until the end of her days. A mystic, she frequently experienced visions of the Blessed Mother, Christ at the hour of His crucifixion, and was tormented by visions and temptations of the Devil. All of these she passed along to her sisters, for their spiritual direction, and some she recorded in Latin, having been schooled in Latin at the court of the Marquis….

Under the direction of Saint Catherine, the community became known for austerity, service to the poor, and holiness. But Catherine, led by her joyous heart, was also a woman filled with joy, which she passed along to her sisters. They suffered gladly for Christ, eschewing wealth and comfort, but their hearts leapt and danced for joy.

She wrote a short treatise called Seven Spiritual Weapons. You can read the whole thing here, and it’s excellent Lenten (or anytime) reading.

She begins, charmingly, comparing herself to a puppy:

With reverence and sweet and gentle love, I pray that Christ Jesus will guard from the sin of unbelief anyone who comes to know of this little work which I made with the divine help and not attribute to the vice of presumption nor take amiss any error in this present little book. I am the least puppy barking under the table of the honorable and refined servants and sisters of the immaculate lamb Christ Jesus, sister of the monastery of the Body of Christ in Ferrara. I, the above mentioned puppy, wrote this by my own hand only for fear of divine condemnation if I were silent about what could delight others.

The seven spiritual weapons which she highlights are (via B16): 

1. always to be careful and diligently strive to do good; 2. to believe that alone we will never be able to do something truly good; 3. to trust in God and, for love of him, never to fear in the battle against evil, either in the world or within ourselves; 4. to meditate often on the events and words of the life of Jesus, and especially on his Passion and his death; 5. to remember that we must die; 6. to focus our minds firmly on memory of the goods of Heaven; 7. to be familiar with Sacred Scripture, always cherishing it in our hearts so that it may give direction to all our thoughts and all our actions. A splendid programme of spiritual life, today too, for each one of us!

 

Last summer, we spent time in both Ferrara and Bologna, and made a visit to the chapel where Catherine’s body is preserved – sitting up in a chair. Here’s a photo, and I wrote about it here. 

 

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Darn. 

Ah, but that’s the way it goes. After all my agonizing about how long to stay in Ferrara, and finally letting the palio sway me into this extra day….

….it poured.

Yup. It was cloudy at the start of the day, and the forecast definitely called for rain just at the time the palio festivities would begin – 3/4 o’clock. But I had hope, which I carried with us through the first part of the day.

Which began – about 11:30 – with Mass at the Cathedral.

There is, of course, no paucity of churches in this city, even not counting the closed ones. But there is also, as far as I know, no masstimes.org that’s maintains a Ferrara data base, so I just took the easy way out, popped by the Cathedral on my early morning walk, checked the Mass times, and decided we would do the 11:30.

(As I mentioned before, there is a church around the corner, but, as I figured out this morning, it has been given to some variety of Eastern Catholics. I peaked in on orthros (morning prayer), and Divine Liturgy would have been great, but it was a tiny congregation and I wasn’t up to that level of engagement, as in…why are the Americans from Alabama here??? Not they wouldn’t have been lovely, I’m sure, I was just not up to it. )

So to the Cathedral it was, into which, as is the case with most historic churches, tourists continued to stream during Mass. Which is fine, because it’s evangelization, and indeed many people did pause and listen to the homily and observe various others goings-on during the Mass.

And believe me, they had plenty of time to check in and out of that homily. It was, I am not kidding you, as long as the rest of Mass put together, as Lina LaMont would say.

So, we’ll backtrack.

Celebrant was a 40-ish, energetic priest. He was assisted by a deacon and a religious sister who helped with Communion. No servers. An organ played at entrance and recessional, but no hymns. Just instrumental. The only sung parts of the Mass were the Alleluia and the Sanctus (in Italian). The sequence was recited by the congregation. Roman Canon, which I believe is mandated for Corpus Christi. The priest spoke for a few minutes before Mass, preached for thirty minutes, and then spoke for five minutes at least at the end of Mass.

Now, I don’t speak Italian, but if I know the context of the speech, I can usually pick up the gist, and especially so with Catholic-talk. So I discerned that this priest, who preached very energetically, was emphasizing the importance of the Eucharist. He probably did a great job! But what struck me was this: as I mentioned, his homily was as long as the rest of Mass. His manner of celebration was on the way-casual end of “say the black and do the red.” That is, he seemed to do everything he was supposed to, and there was nothing odd or off, but the ritual outside the homily was informal and hurried – and little of it sung.

So, despite a religious culture that can still put on a bang-up and lovely, moving Corpus Domini procession, it seems to me that if understanding the importance of the Eucharist is a priority, letting your own voice dominate the liturgy and celebrating in a casual way is  counter-productive. The ritual itself sends a message. That does not mean stuffy and distant. It means letting the ritual itself communicate Who is among us via reverence, care and MUSIC. Thnx.

Then after Mass, the priest pointed to a small display to the side and explained things. What there was, in a frame, was a piece of cloth, apparently associated with the young man pictured beside it. Those who chose reverenced the relic. We did, with no understanding of who or what this was all about except, well, saints! Blesseds! Prayers! Always good.

I took photos and when we got back, figured out who this was and then immediately wished I had known at the moment. It was Rolando Rivi, a young (very young – 14 years old) seminarian killed by communists in 1945. NCR(egister) has the story:

In June 1944, Nazis troops occupied the seminary, and so all the seminarians were sent home. Rivi returned to his hometown of San Valentino, carrying his books with him to continue his studies there.

In San Valentino, the young seminarian never stopped wearing his cassock, despite the rising climate of violence. When his parents suggested he refrain from wearing it for his own safety, Rivi reportedly replied: “I study to be a priest, and these vestments are the sign that I belong to Jesus.”

The situation grew more difficult: Four priests were killed by the communist partisan brigades, and Father Olinto Marzocchini, San Valentino’s parish priest and Rivi’s spiritual father, was attacked and subsequently transferred to a more secure place.

Nevertheless, Rivi’s days were spent between service in his parish and his studies. On the morning of April 10, 1945, after serving Mass, the 14-year-old took his books and went to the nearby woods, where he was accustomed to studying. Yet this time, he never returned. At noon, his parents, worried because Rivi had not come back for lunch; they went to the woods and found his books on the ground and a sheet of paper, where the following words were written: “Do not search for him. He just came with us partisans for a while.”

Kidnapped and stripped of his cassock, Rivi was imprisoned and tortured by partisans for three days. Some of the partisans proposed to let him go, since he was only a young boy. But the majority sentenced him to death, in order to have “one less future priest.”

On April 13, Rivi was taken to a forest in the surroundings of Modena. The partisans dug a grave and had Rivi kneel on its edge. While he was praying, the young seminarian was killed by gunshots to the heart and head. His cassock was rolled into a ball, kicked around and then hung as a war trophy in the front door of a house.

 

Reconciling With History

After the Second World War, the official history of the so-called “Italian Resistance” exalted the partisan resistance to Nazi fascism and hid the crimes brought on in the name of this resistance.

This is exactly the reason why the “feast of faith” of Rivi’s beatification is such a blessed day for Italy, and it even can be considered a high point in the process of reconciliation in the so-called triangle of death.

After the Second World War, Rivi’s death was immediately described as a “private crime.” Yet journalist and historian Emilio Bonicelli gave great impetus to the cause of beatification. He read about the story of an English child who was miraculously healed of leukemia thanks to Rivi’s intercession, and this story brought wider recognition of the young martyr.

“This is how I met Rolando,” recounted Bonicelli, “and from then on, I fought to shed light on his story. In the forest where Rolando was killed, it seemed that hate won and that Rolando had been extinguished from history. But the Lord taught us there is no great evil that cannot lead to a greater good.”

 

I don’t know if the relic we reverenced was part of the cassock he was wearing when he was captured. I don’t think I will have a chance to get over to the Cathedral tomorrow to see, which is really too bad.

*****

Clouds starting building after Mass, and I started obsessively checking the palio Facebook page. They said an official announcement of the status of the day’s events would come at 2. So we attesnapchat-7320893137772186505.jpgmpted lunch, and every restaurant was full and not available for walk-ins. It was raining for real now, so we didn’t feel like hunting down an open restaurant any longer..
.so…McDonald’s it was. Which is why American fast food has a niche in Europe. When many restaurants operate mostly on reservations and only serve through part of the afternoon, the all-day American-style convenience…helps. (Image via Snapchat – download and add me at amywelborn2)

 

By the end of lunch, the announcement had been made that the show would go on, but sadly without the parade from the piazza in front of the Cathedral to the piazza where the race would occur. We walked up (about a km) to buy tickets, and then walked back to the apartment to change out of church clothes and take a little break. Then back over to the venue where after about ten minutes…it started raining. Hard. I heard English being spoken behind me, and I turned to the red-headed woman and asked if she knew what was going on. No more than I, so as we waited we chatted. She was Canadian, having come over from Tuscany/Rome on her way to Venice – sort of the reverse of our route, without the Venice part. She was hysterical talking about the trip over – for her even longer because she was from Vancouver. “It was horrible. I literally thought I was going to die. I thought – I can’t go on. I am going to die.” 

(Because of the discomfort of economy class. Yup, it’s cramped, made even more painful when you shuffle past The Royal High Class or whatever British Airways calls it, with their recliners in cubicles. And the fact that for the sake of helping us be more comfortable by giving lots of electronic gear plus the ability to charge our own at our seats, every seat now has a chunky metal box underneath, giving even less leg/foot space. I’m short and not tiny, but still smallish and I cannot imagine how bigger, taller people deal with these flights. But hey! I usually don’t complain because…I’m going to be in Europe in six hours. It’s still kind of Magically Weird to me.)

Oh, okay. The palio. Damn it, cancelled. Postponed til next Sunday. It’s certainly disappointing, but we did get to catch a bit of the spirit of the event as we watched the neighborhoods gather and cheer and just absorbed the moment. Theoretically we could come back and see it, but theoretically, there are more things on the other side of Italy that will probably take priority.

But you never know. Because…hahahahaha. still  have made no plans past next Friday morning, when we check out of the Rome apartment. Can you believe it? This is a record, even for me, queen of the last-minute Big Trip. We’ll talk about it tomorrow on the train or tomorrow night. The way things are going – which are fine, by the way – I am thinking that what we need is running room. By “we” I mean not me, by the way.

So, tomorrow it’s…bus to train station, train to Bologna, train to Rome, taxi to the apartment and then yup, say hello to Rome once again.

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A palio is a competition between neighborhoods. The most well-known is that of Siena, but other Italian cities have them as well. These images represent the various neighborhoods.

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Colors.

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Before the rains. This was a section for one of the neighborhoods. There was to be two footraces, a donkey race and then the horses. What I could never figure out is where the animals were being kept. 

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Instagram (amy_welborn) or Snapchat (amywelborn2)

 

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Just a quick post on Ravenna. It is Sunday morning, we are going to Mass and then the palio festivities – it is supposed to rain this afternoon, so I don’t know how that will affect everything..but I just bought two umbrellas from the African umbrella peddler (he asked for 5 E, I got him down to 2 for 6 – go me. Maybe they will last the day. If there is no heavy wind.)

So, Saturday, we went to Ravenna. Learn why Ravenna is important here. One of the many, many art books my parents had when I was growing up was one on the mosaics of Ravenna, so it has always been on my radar.

We got a late start, and in order to get back at a decent hour, we couldn’t see everything I had wanted, but okay. We saw a lot.  I did take photos and will post a few here, but honestly, to get a sense of the glory of these mosaics, just find professional photos online – much more illuminating than my poor attempts!

Ravenna is quite oriented toward tourists. It’s popular in and of itself, of course, but also as a cruise ship excursion. So it was pretty crowded, but not uncomfortably so. We caught a 12:15 train from Ferrara and were there about 1:30. Found the tourist office, ate lunch, which came to a very reasonable 13.50 Euros for all of us (1 small foccaccio/salami sandwich, 1 pretty big salami/cheese/lettuce wrap, 1 big piece of pizza, 1 small black rice salad and 2 waters.), and then went in search of mosaics.

Baptistry of Neon. My photos cannot communicate the glory of these mosaics and the experience of standing surrounded by 1500-year old expressions of faith, still as vibrant as when they were first created. The tower is not the baptistry, but the bell tower next to the duomo, which is next to the baptistry. 

San Vitale. Built in the 6th century, famed for, among other things, the images of Justinian and Theodora as well as this image of a beardless Christ as judge. 

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.  Probably never actually used as a burial place, it is an absolute jewel.  Because it is small, you can see the mosaics at close range. This is St. Lawrence. If you look up more information on the site, you can see close images of the decorative mosaic, which is intricate, shimmering abstracts. 

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Sant’Appolinare Nuova Built by Theodoric, and therefore Arian in origin. Read more about it here. Fascinating visual litany of saints along the sides, men on one side, women on the other, mirroring, I would imagine, the division of sexes during worship, energetic magi, and a weird, but probably inevitable, given the dynamics of change and time, of Byzantine and Baroque. 

Interesting also,  but not for mosaics, was San Francesco, an ancient basilica with a flood crypt…and goldfish.

 

We did not, unfortunately, make it out to either the Arian baptistry or Sant’Appolinare in Classe. Both are outside of the historic center – the latter requiring a train or bus ride – and it just didn’t work out with a decent return to Ferrara.

It was too bad, because I would love to have seen both. But returning when we did, we were able to see other worthwhile sites.

Pink marble, extra rosy in the setting sun.

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Market day prep.

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People getting along at the end of the day.

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And…..music.

 

(Camera died at the end of the second one)

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— 1 —

We are in Ferrara, and as I wrote earlier today, it’s lovely. We saw how lovely all day today from the perspective of a bicycle seat. Well, three bicycle seats.

(Snapchatting away while they were back inside the apartment taking a short break. amywelborn2 on the Snapchats thing)

— 2 —

We rented bikes from this shop – nice people. I would say it’s in walking distance from our apartment (hey, I just did…), but everything in the city walls is withing walking distance of everything else.   The woman and man who were there didn’t speak English, so she called her son (I think) who did, and who went over everything with me on the phone to make sure I understood the terms – 7E/bike for all day. Not bad!

We started out riding on the old city walls (Lucca is another place in Italy where you can do this) and then moved into the town itself.

You know how bicyclists in the US are always griping about bike lanes? Well, there are no bike lanes in Ferrara, no one wears helmets, at any given time there are as many if not more bikes than cars on a stretch of road, people ride bikes carrying pizzas, with kids on the front or back, with a dog on a leash trotting beside, with a dog in their lap, texting (that’s the most impressive/frightening), men in suits carrying briefcases and big bunches of flowers, old women and men, women in heels, and all the time bikes and cars are sharing the road just fine.

It’s astonishing. I’ve never been in a place with so many bikes. It’s fantastic.

 

By the way, while many babies ride on seats mounted on the back, even more popular, it seems, is a seat in front of the rider with a windshield affixed to the handlebars. I’ll try to get a photo at some point. It makes sense.

— 3 —

I’ll admit I was a little nervous in the traffic, not so much for myself, but for my sons, but they did fine. Fairly early on, my older son’s bike developed a flat rear tire, so we just popped back by the shop and they replaced it.

 — 4 —

We made a few stops. We spent some time going through the Este castle, which stands right in the middle of town, still surrounded by a moat. We got some food, we went through a couple of shops, including Tiger, which became a favorite in Madrid – it’s like a cross between Ikea and Dollar General.  This also got our attention.

We went into the Cathedral, the ceiling of which must be in danger of falling because most of it was covered with netting.

— 5 

This is some of the graffiti in the prison room.  The right hand photos are of ceilings in various rooms of the castle. The tissue-like paper is holding cracks together. I don’t know if they have plans or funds to restore before the whole thing starts falling apart. The top photo is from one of the game rooms – the paintings are of Greek-Roman games – wrestling, etc. The bottom right is of a huge mirror positioned so that you can study the ceiling paintings without getting vertigo. 

We rode and rode, back up on another section of the walls. I think we got the bikes about 11 and returned them around 6. So that was a full day.

 

 

 

6–

Later, my younger son and I took a walk up to the spot where the palio will be held on Sunday. I didn’t take photos – but it’s a large, oval shaped piazza. The sand is laid down and hoofprints told us that practices had been occurring.

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On the way

 

— 7 —

Food today: lunch was foccaccia-type pizza slices from this bakery, eaten standing up on a side street with our bikes leaning against a wall. Dinner was salami, speck and mortadella from the salumentari/grocer a few doors down, cheese and bread from another grocery, and melon. And later, some gelato.

Tomorrow…Ravenna, I hope.

REMEMBER – if you are interested in photos and clips from this trip that I’m sending out several times a day, follow me on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2).

NOT ITALY RELATED – read me here at Catholic World Report on “Walker Percy at 100.”  That’s tomorrow – Saturday, May 28 – that he was born where I now live, in Birmingham, Alabama. 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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(For part I – go here)

None of this – except the Rome part – is set in stone. All of it – except the Rome part – can change up until the last minute, the reason being that all of the accommodation arrangements are mostly refundable up until the last minute. Except for Rome.

I am using mostly AirBnB to search out places to stay. It’s supplanted VRBO for me for a couple of reasons. First, I like the layout of the site and the search mechanism better, and secondly, the layers of protection against fraud seem stronger at AirBnB. You have to supply a good bit of information to the site in order to be approved to book accommodations, and the owner part is far more transparent than what you find at VRBO.

Why not hotels? Because for three people, which includes two kids, European hotels tend to suck. Anything reasonably priced is going to have far smaller rooms than what we’re used to in even say, a Motel 6. In most places, you can get an apartment with at least one bedroom for less than what you would pay for a hotel, and believe me, by the end of the day, we need space. I need space.

So no, staying in an apartment in Europe is not a luxury choice. Oh yes, this is our Rome apartment. It’s actually the more economical choice if you have a group and if you are staying long term – even a week.  If I were traveling by myself, I would go the B and B & hotel route, not only because I wouldn’t need the space, but also for safety considerations. But with the family? Apartment all the way.

Anyway, that wasn’t supposed to be the point of this post – I’m going to a post later on trip prep. The point was to let you know that as I talk about our “plan” – almost anything I talk about can change to a few days before departure.That’s a freeing thought.

(Except for Rome – the reason being that the owner of that apartment, which I have rented through AirBnB – uses the strictest cancellation policies on the site. So, sure, I could cancel, but I’d have to pay half or all of the cost anyway.)

When traveling like this, I try to minimize movement, and it is always my goal. This trip – I say. This trip we are only going to move..ONCE. Or twice. Okay, three times.

And I almost always fail. In theory I embrace the ideal of Slow Travel – that you gain more from travel by slowing down and digging deep rather than racing around checking boxes off a list. I have found this to be so very true. But when you’re going to a completely new place, the temptation to See All The Things is strong.

The weird thing to consider for me as I began was the complete freedom we had. Yes, we would be flying into Bologna, but there’s absolutely no reason we needed to stay there. Bologna is one of the major train hubs in Italy. We could have landed and jumped on a train to anywhere – Puglia or Calabria in southern Italy, which I’ve always wanted to see…we could hop across to Croatia. Liguria and Genoa. Naples. I admit that I even looked up airfare to Athens for my mythology-crazy kid. I mean, not for him to go alone, but for all of us. I was initially tempted by the crazy low RyanAir fares, but then got realistic about that scam and just generally settled down and re-embraced those Slow Travel ideals I claim are so important to me.

Slow-ish.

So yes, I said to myself – you’re flying into Bologna. That’s the fare you grabbed. There’s a reason. Just stay there. It’s meant to be.

Originally, that was exactly the plan – stay in one place in Bologna for a week, the train down to Rome for a few days, then to Tuscany Things.

But wait. Ferrara has a Palio.

A palio is an athletic competion – usually races – deeply rooted in history, between neighborhoods in a city. The most famous palio is in Siena. It is held twice during the summer, and is quite the thing, with horses racing around the piazza.

What I discovered is that Siena’s is not the only palio. Other Italian cities have them, including Ferrara, with celebrations starting in the beginning of May and culminating in the race itself, which is held on May 29 this year. When we would be in the area.

Okay. This might change things. I started poking around, and encountered some advice which indicated…you know, Ferrara is a really nice, smaller city, and perhaps that could be your base for the week.

Well, that ate up a few days of my life, trying to sort that question out, and here’s where I came down:

  • Arriving  from the US, I didn’t want to have to travel far to our accommodation. I wanted to land, grab a taxi, and be there. Staying in Ferrara the entire week would mean adding another leg – albeit a relatively short one – to that journey. Given that our flight is not getting in until very late afternoon – I think it’s around 5, in fact – that wasn’t attractive.
  • Oh, well just spend the first night in Bologna, then move? Not what I want to do either – be exhausted from travel, and then have to pick up and move the next morning.
  • Any food tour that we would do starts in Parma, which is a 40 minute or so train ride from Bologna, but more like 90 minutes (connecting in Bologna) from Ferrara. The food tours start early, because the Parmesan cheese production takes place in the morning. So..if we stayed in Ferrara and did a Parma-centered food tour, I’d be rousing everyone at 6 or so and stressing about getting to Bologna, then to Parma….nope.
  • If we wanted to check out Florence briefly before the longer time in Tuscany, it’s a 30-minute train ride from Bologna. We could even just pop over there for an evening.
  • But..in Ferrara’s favor, it’s closer to Ravenna, which is a must-see, and Commachio – which is not a must-see, but of interest.
  • Ferrara is also a smaller city – and if I have discovered anything about myself on my very limited European travels, it is that I love these mid-sized European cities that have a medieval or Renaissance core. There is a deep sense of community and history as well as a lovely way of life and a casual, easy and authentic level of culture and sophistication that is quite lovely to be a part of, even for a few days. Padova (Padua), for example, was my favorite place in our big trip of 2012. I could live there. Seriously.
  • Also in Ferrara’s favor is, of course, the palio and being actually in the city for the days running up to the race and being right there for it.

So as much as I would have liked to spend a solid week in one place without moving, I decided that we’d split the week between Bologna and Ferrara. The boys aren’t little anymore, and moving is not that much of a hassle at all – and they do actually enjoy the adventure of seeing a new apartment – they always find something to intrigue them.

So…Ferrara it is. While there, we will go to Ravenna for a full day and take in the mosaics – I might hire a guide for that. I think it would be worth it, especially for the boys. It will be far more fruitful time than me with a guidebook standing there trying to point out things I’m not even sure I see. I’d like to go to Commachio and see the town, built on canals and into the sea, sort of like Venice…sort of, and I’m intrigued by a place whose fishing economy is built on eels. Not tempted to try them, though. No shame.

But in general, I would like to just enjoy Ferrara read more about the city here – and the festivities, rent bikes, ride in the city and around the city walls and perhaps outside into the countryside, and just…stroll.

**

Thank you for reading to the end!

This process is an obviously absorbing one to me. In planning a trip like this, I am balancing my interest with the boys’, trying to figure out how to see things in a way that is not rushed, but takes in, as much as possible, a way of life and makes plenty of room for the unexpected.

It reflects an approach to life , in general. We balance the needs and desires of different people, we plan a bit, but we leave space and are open to encountering whatever enters that space.

There is so much to see, but only so much time to see, and only so much we can absorb. Have you ever had museum fatigue? Where your initial interest in the paintings and sculpture flags as you walk through gallery after gallery and all the Madonnas start looking the same? That’s what I try to avoid in a more general sense. You can’t see everything and trying to do so is just exhausting. You have “seen” a lot, but hardly actually seen anything.

For, truth be told, the most memorable moments of our travels have been the slowest ones. They’ve occurred sitting in piazzas, eating and drinking and interacting with the people who live there, the boys joining in a soccer game, halting conversations about common experiences in two different languages. They’ve occurred in the unexpected corners, the places we hadn’t planned to go but somehow ended up finding.

It’s my approach to life. Get your bearings. Have some general goals, a few things you’d like to achieve during the day, but be open, because you never know what will happen, and most of the time the unexpected will be what you remember, and at every step, planned or unplanned, God waits.

In a way,the hours I dedicate to researching these trips seems to belie my philosophy of openness. But it really doesn’t. I don’t take this time in order to map out an hour-by-hour itinerary. We don’t do that. That is not my style of life , much less travel.  No..I think I just want to be aware of as many of the possibilities as I can, so when the moment comes, I’ll be able to point us in a direction that we all can enjoy and learn from…while leaving plenty of space for whatever else would like to be part of our life that day to enter and show us something new.

(For all Italy 2016 trip posts, go here)

 

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As I mentioned a few posts back, we’ll be spending three weeks in Italy this summer. I am usually rather cagey about our travels until we have actually arrived at the destination, but I’m doing it differently this time. I’m writing about it before we go in order to aid in my own preparation and perhaps deepen the level at which I will be writing about it during and after. I don’t know why, but I am just intuiting that it is the approach to take this time.

****

I had not planned, intended or even hoped to go to Bologna or Parma and had not even heard of Ferrara or Commachio or Rimini two months ago, but now I can sketch rough maps of each of them, can have well-informed debates with myself about which should be included in the trip and why, and am in general counting down the weeks until we are there.

This seems to be how it always happens with me. A place is at best barely floating on the edges of my radar, and then for some reason – a good fare, an article about an intriguing attraction, the desire to go to a place where no one else you know has been – within weeks my mental landscape has once again expanded just a little bit.

I suppose that since there are not many places on the planet I am not interested in seeing, given the opportunity or means, this is not surprising. It doesn’t take much, in other words.

But what about the 11 and 15 year old boys? What about them and their needs?

People who discourage or disparage family travel really drive me nuts. You don’t know how many discussions I have read on travel boards in which some innocent mom or dad enters the fray asking for advice about what to see on a family trip to somewhere like Milan or I don’t know, Bologna   and the answers they get are either, “Make sure their devices are charged up, because they’ll be so bored, don’t you people have Disney World in your country? You should probably just do that instead.” or “Well, there’s an amusement park nearby. Just go there.”

Well, these guys are great, patient, curious travelers. We are not all interested in the same things, but we all understand the value of the trade-off.  You’re patient while we explore this thing that is interesting to me, and I’ll be patient later while you’re doing your thing. They are also curious about the world and, faithful to their genetic heritage on both sides, inveterate and observant people-watchers.

They also just seem to trust me. I guess I have a good record as a tour guide so far.

Oh, and visions of daily gelato? That helps, too.

***

When it came to plan some summer travel, I had just a few parameters to work around: Music camp for the younger son, scout camp for the older one, and an annual scout rafting trip to North Carolina. The first two would happen in June, the last a weekend in late July. School starts in early August. I know, right? That’s life in the South for you…done with school by May 20, back in the classrom by August 8 or something ridiculous.

Last year, we had a fantastic trip out West – Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Death Valley and Vegas during that same time period. Well, the Vegas part wasn’t fantastic, but everything else was. Zion was probably our favorite.

This year, shockingly good airfare popped up from Atlanta to points in Italy for summer travel. I mean – shocking. The ATL has had relatively little competition for international flights, and I really do think their international fares are probably among the highest from a major East-of-the-Mississip hub. Even Charlotte gets better deals and more often than Atlanta does.

But I hit a sweet spot this time, and so, as I said before, we’ll be flying into Bologna and out of Pisa about three weeks later.

So, first stop will be, indeed, Bologna and Emilia-Romanga. But why?

Bologna is not on the top tier of Italian tourist destinations – wait, Rick Steves doesn’t even have a book on Emilia-Romagna! Should I cancel?

As is usually the case, you find different opinions on the city of Bologna On The Internet. Some love it, rave and say it’s fantastic partly because it’s not heavily touristed. Others say it’s boring and dirty and worth maybe a morning if that. Because there’s nothing there for tourists.

I learned long ago that with travel opinions, you just have to keep gathering your intel from all sides…and then experience it yourself. People just have such different expectations of travel – when they express opinions of a destination or attraction, it helps to know where they’re coming from, but since you usually don’t have access to that inside information, you’d be advised to keep a salt cellar next to your computer as you read.

For example: When we were in France a few years ago, one of the places we stayed was this wonderful gite in the Dordogne. The other family staying in another cottage on the property was a husband, wife and teen daughter from Wellington, New Zealand, in the midst of a 6-week European tour. They had arrived from a few days in Paris, we would be traveling there in a couple of weeks, and as the dad gifted me with their leftover Metro tickets, he commented that they hadn’t liked Paris anyway. But why?

It was so dirty.

Okay. I’d never been to Paris, and this wasn’t unimaginable, I thought. Big, old city. Probably dirty.

Well, then we got to Paris, stayed a month, and I thought, Wellington, New Zealand must be spotless.

Sure, the Metro stairwells were messy, the elevator in our station  smelled strongly of urine, which I assume was from the homeless folk who stayed there at night, but..the entire gestalt of the city? Dirty? Generally? Not at all, especially when compared to (no offense) Chicago and New York City. But  there are other European cities – probably German and Swiss – which are super clean, so compared to them, I suppose.

Anyway, what I’ve found is that it’s best to find the kinds of travelers who live in your same general comfort zone and trust their opinions.

bolognaSo yes, I’m looking forward to Bologna!

And what I have learned about Bologna…let me tell you. I knew nothing about the area before six weeks ago, and now, as per usual, I could teach a class. To second-graders, but still, it would be a semi-informative class on Bologna and Emilia-Romagna at a level suitable for seven-year olds.

First of all, we’re looking forward to food. I am not much of a meat-eater, except for one thing: cured meats. Love salamis, hams…everything cured. So yes, this is the place for me – and for one of my sons, who is also passionate about cured meats. Cheese. Real Bolognese pasta, which is different from the sauce-heavy version we associate with it here in the US. I recently made a baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, and it was a revelation.

We are doing a food tour that starts in Parma – a parmesan cheese facility, a winery, a balsamic vinegar facility in Modena, and a Parma ham/cured meat joint. Plus lunch. I hardly ever do tours, but this is the most efficient way to see all of this, and plus…maybe I’ll learn something? From another person instead of just from a book?

Cars! I don’t give a flying flip about cars, but my 15-year old who just got his learner’s permit has a steadily growing interest, so we might check a tour or museum out. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati all have either factories or museums in the region, so we’ll try to find one with the best cost/satisfaction/time ratio.

And then there’s Bologna itself. What I Have Learned:

Next up:  We’ll miss Siena’s, but Ferrara has a palio, too. Who knew? Well, the Ferrarans, but besides them….

Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll talk about the research and prep I’m doing – which is an addicting pastime for me, but at least it’s educational and not a complete waste of time.

And just to let you know, I plan to up my social media game on this trip, not to a distracting point to us, but just for the purpose of sharing intriguing images and vignettes, especially from places that are less familiar to American travelers. What I post is generally not about me or much less my kids, but about what I see and how I see it. So if that interests you, be sure to start following me on Twitter, Instagram and on Periscope (same handle as Twitter – I have not broadcast yet, but will probably start practicing soon.). I have a Pinterest board here with some of the links I’m saving for myself – when I remember to pin them.  Facebook remains mostly for actual acquaintances and family members, although I might start just linking these other social media to the Charlotte Was Both page. That’s probably a good idea. Let’s do it!

And if you have suggestions regarding this area…please share them!

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