Mardi Gras(sa)

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all! Today I find myself thinking a bit about New Orleans and Italy, as well as the nicknames of Bologna: la dotta, la grassa, e la rossa. La dotta, meaning learned one, stems from Bologna being the home of the oldest Western university. La grassa, or the fat one, is thanks to the city’s famously delicious cuisine. La rossa, the red, typically refers to the red roof tiles that cover so much of the city, though the city’s sometimes communist tendencies have occasionally tied in to la rossa, as well.

Lessons Learned

It may have been decades *ahem* years since I last lived in New Orleans, but I will never not love that city. After all, it is often referred to as the most European of all the American cities. I lived there while I was a student at Tulane University, getting my degree in the history of art and trying to become a bit more dotta. It was there that I particularly fell in love with the Italian Renaissance and its architecture.

Italy and New Orleans are all tied up together in my mind in some ways. Such as running under the live oaks on the way to my Renaissance Architecture course to turn in my big paper on rustication that my professor ended up liking so much he asked for a copy. Squeeeeeee! That same professor lived and worked here in Bologna off and on over the years.

Fat Tuesday

I may not be Catholic, or even religious, but between studying so much Italian Renaissance art, as well as living in New Orleans and having a lot of Catholic friends over the years, I’ve learned some of the Catholic traditions, and such. One of which, is Carnevale. It’s not a big deal here in Bologna, the way it is in Venice or New Orleans, but there are still some traditions. In New Orleans, you’ve got King Cake to turn you grassa, because it’s everywhere and absolutely delicious. Here in Bologna, there’s another sweet treat during the season: sfrappole. Sfrappole are thin bits of fried dough coated in powdered sugar and they’re pretty addictive. It’s a common treat during the period leading up to Lent. You’ll find piles of it everywhere from local cafés to the grocery store. Not that it’s purely Italian or even from this region. There are variations found in multiple countries and numerous names even within each country.

mardi gras bologna

Seeing Red

When I get to la rossa, that’s when the comparisons fall apart. The colors I associate with New Orleans, particularly during this time of year, are yellow/gold, green, and purple. Though I suppose there are quite a few red eyes the next morning during the season from staying up late and partying. But for what it’s worth, while writing all of this nostalgic meandering, I have been looking out onto some of the red roofs of Bologna. They’re a nice pop of color on what it turning out to be a grey day.

But returning to la grassa for a moment … I thought about making some gumbo today, but I really like okra in my gumbo and I haven’t found any yet. Does anyone know if there are any shops that sell it here in Bologna? I found it in Utrecht, so I hold out some hope of finding it here. A girl can dream …

Finding the Bologna Flower Markets

flower market bologna italy quadrilatero

One of the things I loved about the Netherlands were the flower markets. As well as the big weekly one held every Saturday in Utrecht — in a beautiful setting — there were also always a few stalls set up every day along one of the major canals in the city. The funny thing was that the flower vendors by the canal had big booming voices and sometimes sounded more like the Italian street vendors I’ve seen on TV.  To be honest, a large man yelling in Dutch, even if it is about flowers, can be a bit intimidating! What wasn’t intimidating was the price of the flowers. You could get huge bouquets of tulips for just a few euros and the rest of the flowers and potted trees were equally affordable.

The other week, I was feeling a bit nostalgic for the Netherlands. While out with Charlie for his morning walk, we saw a few stalls/trucks set up at Piazza VIII Agosto. That’s not unusual, as there is a huge market held there every Friday and Saturday with row upon row of matching white tent stalls set up, filling the large square. However, this wasn’t a Friday or Saturday and the few trucks and displays weren’t of the usual clothing and household goods. They were flowers! I’d found a miniature flower market in Bologna!

bologna flower markets piazza viii agosto italy

Despite the smaller selection, there were still a variety of attractive flowers for planting or for simple decoration in a vase. There were even a few small potted trees. The prices didn’t look too bad, though maybe slightly more than in the Netherlands. They even had some tulips, though I didn’t see a price on those as Charlie and I got distracted when we met a lovely big dog and his friendly owner.

bologna flower markets piazza viii agosto italy

Perhaps it was part of the Mercato di Piazza San Francesco, which is where the usual plant and flower market is held on Tuesdays, though it looks like it transferred temporarily to Piazza VIII Agosto last year while some renovations are being done.

Flower Shop

Of course you don’t have to wait for a one-day market to buy flowers. There are plenty of regular flower shops within the city where you can buy flowers, arrangements, and even and laurel wreathes for your graduating student. After all, this is a university town!

If you want something in between your typical florist and the outdoor flower market, there’s always some lovely flower market to be found in one of the achingly picturesque streets in the Quadrilatero in the heart of the old city center. I think this one may be housed in a former goldsmiths guild. Look at all of those arches and vaulting!

flower markets bologna italy quadrilatero

flower markets bologna italy quadrilatero

Now that I know some spots to buy flowers, I really do need to remember to buy some flower vases. I wonder where I can find those?



Foto Friday: Fun with Italian Architecture

italian architecture

For various reasons, I haven’t had the chance to really get out and go exploring. However, when I do, I always seem to get a little lost and find myself wandering around the same handful of streets, even when I think I’m aiming in another direction. Charlie doesn’t mind and to be honest, it’s part of the fun of getting to know any city. Plus, in the process, you come across some fun Italian architecture surprises, like the one in this fantastic little corner/alley.

It’s located in Bologna’s former Ghetto Ebraico (Jewish Ghetto), which has a long — and often unpleasant — history, but the area is a wonderful place to get lost in. This little spot is just off Piazza San Martino. I love the mix of architectural elements and materials and colors, including some stylized rusticated quoins on the right. Plus, there’s the fabulous mix of angles where buildings just seem to be plopped down wherever they can fit them.

Enjoy your weekend!


Wordless Wednesday: Putting Things in Perspective

le due torri bologna italy blog

Pretty Details in Bologna’s Parco della Montagnola

In Utrecht, I was lucky enough to have a small park one street over from our house. It bordered a stretch of the ring canal that circles the old city center. Depending on the time I took Charlie out first thing in the morning, we could sometimes have the park to ourselves. Occasionally we’d run into other dog owners and sometimes the dogs would get to run about and play. However, for all of the green area around Utrecht and the number of parks and parklike areas, there was an absence of closed off dog parks.

Here in Bologna, we go to Parco della Montagnola, and while it’s not one street over, it’s not that much further. And this park has an enclosed area specifically for dogs. Charlie’s already made friends (and the occasional nemesis).

However, while Charlie prefers the eastern side of the park, my favorite spot is the western edge and the beautiful lamps and view. This is a quick snap I took this morning before Charlie decided there were more things to sniff further along the path.

parco della montagnola bologna italy

I’ve been busy constructing Ikea furniture for the past two days, as well as writing an article about Paulus Potter’s The Young Bull, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for more photos and information about Parco della Montagnola. I’ll leave you with the fact that it is the oldest park in Bologna and first opened to the public back in 1664. When you have to go somewhere every day (thanks, Charlie!), I can think of worse places to go!

Domenica Details: Porticoes of Bologna

via irnerio porticoes of bologna portici italian architecture

Think of Domenica Details as an occasional Sunday blog category where I take a quick look at a particular detail of something. In this case, I wanted to point out something about the porticoes of Bologna that I mentioned in my last post. As I said, they are a major feature of Bologna and they come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. From one building to the next, you can see major or minor changes. For example, in this case, you can see the change in style of the columns, from the ornate Corinthian column in the front, to the multi-colored square columns further on. The shapes of the arches change, as well, from high, round arches to more squared-off arches.

And yes, you’ll see all kinds of floors, as well, including some highly decorative ones, but I’ll save those for another day.



Bologna in one photo

classic view of bologna portici asineli

Before moving to the city, there were three things that came to mind when I created my mental view of Bologna: colorful buildings, portici, and the two towers. This one picture of Bologna manages to feature two-and-a-half of the three things. Not bad!

Years ago, while studying Italian Renaissance architecture at uni, my favorite professor, Richard J. Tuttle, took a day out of the usual studies to focus solely on Bologna. He had lived here while doing some research on both the city and some surrounding architectural points of interest, and like almost anyone who comes to Bologna, he fell in love with the city. I remember looking at his own personal slides and becoming enamored with both the colors of the city and the seemingly never-ending porticoes (portici). One of my favorite things in architecture is a courtyard filled with arches and here’s a whole city full of these beautiful architectural elements! Nearly 40 kilometers (almost 25 miles) worth of portici can be found in the city. And all in rich, glorious colors!

Whether old or new, buildings all over Bologna have these covered walkways. Even in our neighborhood, which was rebuilt after WWII, there are portici along many of the streets. Between the sheer prevalence as well as my love for the feature, you can expect to see lots of photos of columns and vaulting in this blog.

You’ll also see lots of shades of orange, yellow, and pink in the buildings. I believe some of the colors, historically, came from the variations of ground-up brick that were used to make the pigments. Now the paints are typically synthetic, but there’s still an amazing mix of colors. No matter how bright, they never seem garish.

So in this view of Bologna, you’ve got two fantastic rows of portici, in buildings with some spectacular coloring. And to finish it off, you get one of the two towers that are symbols of the city. In this case, you get the tall one, the Asinelli. I can even just see the top of the Asinelli tower from our apartment terrace. I’ll save the towers for another post, though, when I have time to do more research and take better photos. Plus, they’re worth a post of their own.

This photo was taken last weekend, when the weather wasn’t particularly nice. Today we have clear blue skies and the colors of the buildings are practically glowing! Fingers crossed that it’s just as nice tomorrow!

Enjoy your weekend!

Head Shops and Dutch Dogs

dutch dog finds hemp shop head shop in bologna italy qui canapa

Here’s Charlie putting the cane (dog) in canapa (hemp). What do you expect from a Dutch dog? While out walking this morning, his nose zoomed in on Qui Canapa, a hemp/grow/seed/head shop in Bologna. This discovery was soon followed up by a long sniff around the nearby pizza restaurant. I’m not kidding!

Charlie probably recognized some of the scents coming from the hemp shop. After all, in Utrecht, we had three “coffee shops” within a 3-5 minute walk from our house, and one of those places was actually a boat, known as the Culture Boat! (The larger white/blue/red boat on the right.)
Iced In

Despite the Dutch reputation, most people don’t smoke weed/pot/hashish. Tourists and university students probably make up a large portion of the customers, with a few other local regulars. You smell it on occasion, but it’s not like everyone’s stopping in to a “coffee shop” or culture boat on a regular basis. Plenty of people don’t bother at all.

Still, I had to laugh when I realized what the shop was that Charlie was sniffing around so intently this morning. Of course the Dutch dog found the head shop in Bologna. In another bit of synchronicity, I received an email today from Philip Lindeman, a Dutch artist I’d written about a few months ago for my Utrecht blog. He did a great mural on the wall outside of one of the head shops in Utrecht. It’s almost like the universe is trying to tell me something …

Seriously, though, the shop isn’t a Dutch “coffee shop”. Per their website, they are a shop, but also an information point as part of their aim is to make people more aware of the uses of hemp, both in therapy and in a wide range of products. Hemp has long been used for a variety of purposes that had nothing to do with getting high. In fact, the shop sells pasta, beer, chocolate, oil, face creams, bags, t-shirt, glasses and more, all based on hemp/canabis. Hemp is an easily renewable resource, so I’m actually interested in going in some time and checking out what they have to offer. I think Charlie wants to go, too.

dutch dog finds hemp shop head shop in bologna italy qui canapa

Peeking Through Doorways

One of the things I love about so much of Italian architecture, particularly Renaissance or Renaissance-inspired architecture, is a good big architectural doorway. When I studied Italian Renaissance architecture, I certainly saw plenty of architectural doors in the palazzi, but had no true sense of the scale just by looking at photos. It wasn’t until my first trip to Italy that I truly began to understand just how magnificent they can be. Now living here, I find myself constantly peeking through any big open doorways I can find and usually wondering what is behind all of those colossal closed doors.

Florence — my Renaissance architectural heaven — was the first stop on my first trip to Italy with a friend. Taking the advice of Miss Lavish from A Room with a View, I was determined to ignore my Baedeker (well, my map of Florence). I had studied enough of the city’s layout that I thought I could find many of the major things to see in Florence without needing to consult a map all the time. I wasn’t always right, and there’s a whole story about a defeated search for the Boboli Gardens, but I’ll save that for another time.

It was on one of our wanderings around the city, looking for one thing, that I found another. Walking down what seemed like a narrow alley, I looked up at the building on my right and realized it was the Palazzo Medici. With a chorus of hallelujah’s echoing in my head, I raced around the corner and found the front of the palazzo. And drew up short in amazement at the sheer size of the door! My love of grand Italian doorways was born.

From Florence to Bologna

Bologna has its own share of big doorways that vary from what I think of as Dutch size (i.e., really tall) to giant size. There’s a rather glorious set of large wooden doors with a chain through the handles on Via Irnerio that I pass quite often and long to see what is behind them. But that’s just one set of doors. They’re everywhere!

On Sunday, while out for a walk, we happened to pass a set of decent-size doors with one temptingly open. I couldn’t resist and managed to get a few quick snaps into the hidden world that lies behind the doors. In this case, it looked like a beautiful sunlight-yellow building and some lovely vaulting. That’s the stuff daydreams are made of! Well, for me anyway.

open door italian renaissance arch bologna architectural doorway with vaulting in bologna italy

Grand Doorways

In the Netherlands, I got to satisfy any vague hints of voyeurism thanks to the practice of large windows without curtains, which is all part of the Dutch concept of having nothing to hide. It’s a bit different here, so I can’t help but want to peek behind these big wooden doors. There are all sorts of visual surprises just waiting to be seen. Just imagine what’s behind this grand architectural doorway!

Grand Doorways

Weekly Photo Challenge: Peek



Famous Bolognese: Guglielmo Marconi

Radio. I haven’t had a physical one in almost nine years and miss it occasionally, though there’s always the online option. In fact, years ago, while still living in the US, I used to listen to Italian radio online, just to practice listening to Italian. I blame my love of cheesy Italian pop on all that time spent listening to RTL 102.5. That and the limited selection of Italian CDs for sale at my local Borders bookstore at the time.

Anyway, it seems appropriate that I used to listen to Italian radio, even if online, as the man who is generally credited as the inventor of radio is an Italian, Guglielmo Marconi (Bologna, 25 April 1874 – Roma, 20 July 1937). As it turns out, not only is he Italian, he was from Bologna!

For the record, he didn’t specifically invent the radio, but he did  developed the first apparatus for long distance radio communication.  He also won a Nobel Prize in Physics, along with Karl Ferdinand Braun, for  contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy. He was just 27 when he received the first transatlantic radio signal. He would go on to become a successful businessman, entrepreneur, and through a continuing series of innovations, he was able to help make commercial radio into a success.

Nowadays, if you fly into Bologna, you’ll arrive at the Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport. Then, if you’re sticking around town for a while, you can follow one of the Marconi-inspired itineraries available from Bologna Welcome, where you can learn more about this famous son of Bologna.



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