Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Venice, Verona and Italian Easter Fun!

I apologise in advance because this is probably going to be the longest post I've written so far. Partly because it's been a month since my last post, but mostly because there's so much to talk about. The highlights of the past month have definitely been my day trips and spending Easter Sunday eating lunch with an Italian family, so that's what I'm going to write about. Enjoy!

I've really grown into life in Bologna now. I know the city reasonably well and have been spending my time outside of university in parks, cafés and wandering the streets of the city. Last month, I decided it was the right time to go and see some of the rest of Italy, so on Friday 13th March my friend Jeri and I hopped on a train and went to the city of gondolas and canals: Venice.

Piazza San Marco

We arrived in the late morning and as soon as we left the station I was amazed by the city’s beauty. Domed roofs, pretty bridges and gorgeous canals leading to the beautiful blue-green sea. It was just as I had imagined it. We started by walking from the station to Piazza San Marco, Venice’s famous main square. I think we chose a good time to go, as the weather was gorgeous and sunny, but not so hot that the city smelt (as it is known to do at times), and not too crowded with tourists. The Basilica San Marco in Piazza San Marco is stunning. The architecture is beautiful and the inside is just as lovely. We explored the inside of the Basilica before heading into the labyrinth of side streets around the square to find a restaurant where we could have lunch. We found a cute place to eat close to the piazza, and I enjoyed a delicious seafood pasta. The ingredients were fresh, with a wonderful array of prawns, mussels, clams, octopus and white fish with a tomato-based sauce. 

View of Piazza San Marco from the Campanile
After eating, we paid 8€ to take a lift up to the top of the Campanile, the bell tower of the basilica, from which we were treated with gorgeous views of the piazza, the city and the sea from all sides. I think it was one of my favourite things from the whole trip. Next we went to the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), formally the residence of the Doge of Venice, now a museum, full to bursting with institutional chambers covered head to toe in paintings, including the longest canvas painting in the world: Il Paradiso, based on the work of Dante. Whilst in the Palazzo Ducale, we also explored the Old Prison, known as Piombi as the cells were built under a lead roof, and the new cells, to get to which we had to cross the famous Ponte dei Sospire (Bridge of Sighs). The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge’s name, given by Lord Byron in the 19th century, comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells. Cassanova was one of those imprisoned in the cells, some time in the 1750s. 

Palazzo Ducale
On leaving the museum we took a stroll along the water front and looked at the souvenir stands. I decided to buy a shot glass to add to my ever-growing collection that my sister started for me a few years ago. We then walked back to the train station, stopping on the way to buy pane del doge, a sort of over-sized cookie made from flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk and honey, topped with almonds with little pieces of dried figs and other fruit folded through. We sat on the steps of the station eating them and enjoying the sunset over the buildings, bridges and water, watching the gondolas go by. It was a perfect end to an amazing and unforgettable day! 

Bridge of Sighs

In Verona with Vera
After weeks of classes, the Easter break couldn't come soon enough. It was the perfect time to recharge and reorganise before the business end of term starts. I have to admit that I was concerned in the lead up to Easter, as I had made the difficult decision to stay in Bologna rather than to go home to spend the weekend with family and friends and was worried it was going to be lonely and miserable. Thankfully it was not! I'm blessed to have a very good Italian friend of mine, Vera, who I met at UCL, living in Bologna, and her family were kind enough to invite me to share lunch with them on Easter Sunday. Obviously I couldn't turn down the opportunity to experience Easter with an Italian family, and I was excited to meet my friend's family for the first time.

I received a wonderfully warm welcome from everyone (her parents, two sisters, brother, aunty and her sister's boyfriend), before we sat down to lunch. We started with various cheeses and salami, followed by ravioli with spinach and ricotta and tagliatelle with ragù. Then followed a meat cutlet with pasticcio, and finally dessert and coffee. It was so much food, but it was absolutely delicious and so nice to experience an Italian Easter lunch. It was a fantastic experience that I’ll never forget, and I'm so grateful to them for inviting me into their home for their family Easter! I spent the afternoon enjoying the glorious sunshine in a park, before going to meet some of my fellow UCL students to watch a film and have a relaxing evening together. It was definitely up there in my top three Easters, maybe even stealing the top spot!

My latest day trip came on 6th April, Easter Monday or Pasquetta in Italian, when Vera and I decided to go to Verona. It's only an hour and a half away from Bologna on the regional train, and the tickets are reasonably priced so it's well worth it. On arrival, we headed straight to Piazza Bra and then paid 7.50€ to go into the Arena, an old Roman venue, built in AD 30 to stage the ludi - public games - which is now used for concerts, theatre and opera. It was another day of gorgeous weather, so we sat there in the sunshine for a while, admiring the amazing ancient structure. 

Piazza Erbe
Next we walked to Piazza delle Erbe, the oldest square in Verona and once the town's forum during the period of the Roman Empire, to look at the fountain of the Madonna Verona, the Torre dei Lamberti, Palazzo Maffei, and the beautiful frescoes on the façade of the Case Mazzanti, before finding a place to have lunch on a small side street. I had some delicious tagliatelle with prawns in a tomato sauce. Another option on the menu was a typical dish from the region of Veneto (which Verona is a part of); gnocchi with a ragù made from tomato and ‘musso’, which is the Italian for donkey. If I return to the region in the future I’ll have to remember to try it because it looked really good! 

Casa di Giulietta - For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo
After lunch we went inside ‘Juliet’s house’, a building that the city has named in honour of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. Of course, the story is fiction, but it’s a nice little tourist attraction and we were able to go onto the famous balcony. Next we went into the Duomo, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Matricolare. The outside is lovely but the inside is stunning, not over-decorated as some Catholic cathedrals can be. We sat in there for a few moments and Vera showed me the Catholic book of prayer and songs, which was really interesting to compare to the traditional Anglican books. We went to the river to look at the view of the old castle up on a hill before walking back to the station to catch the train back to Bologna. 

Duomo of Verona
The rest of my time has been that of a normal university student really. Other than classes, I've been enjoying the evening atmosphere of Bologna, trying plenty of tasty food and trying to talk myself into doing some studying. With the weather heating up and the sun appearing more often than not now it's been the perfect weather for getting out and exploring the city and I've been treating myself to the occasional gelato. It's my mission to find the best stracciatella flavour in the city, so I'll keep you posted on my findings!

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