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Trip Report Mantova, Ravenna, Brisighella, Bologna

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Hello all,

We began planning our Italy trip a few months ago. We wanted to visit a new region so we chose Emilia Romagna, with a bit of southern Lombardy included. Beginning with Mantova / Mantua, we planned a circular trip, over to Ravenna, then to the village of Brisighella in the Appenines, then Bologna. We would fly into Rome for a brief visit then up to ER.

The weeks before departure were not good—illness and two deaths among our circle of friends then Hurricane Irma clobbering Key West where we live in the winter and spring. Just before the trip we both felt like just staying home, avoiding the “work” of flying and travelling, and instead enjoying a quiet autumn in Vermont. But 48 hours after landing, Italy was performing its therapy.

Us: late 60s and early 70s, still chugging along, but we find that we need more time to get our energy back after a transatlantic flight. We flew Air Canada from Montreal nonstop to Rome. We chose to drive up from our home in Vermont to the Montreal airport, an easy 2-hour drive, in order to avoid changing flights in Phila or Newark, and this worked well. Air Canada has a new, special price on premium economy seats, with much more room, a greater incline, and this made the flight much easier.


Easy flight to FCO, breezed through customs, onto the Leonardo Express, then a few minutes walk from Termini station over to Hotel Columbia, on via Viminale 15. A very comfortable hotel with a rooftop breakfast room and terrace for coffee or drinks in the evening.

We walked ten minutes into the Monti neighborhood for a good lunch at La Bottega del Caffee in the Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. Then a 15-minute walk to San Clemente. This site has been described many times here so I’ll just say that it was truly time travel, from the street-level church of the Renaissance, down one level to the early Christian church, then farther down to the Temple of Mithra. Surrounding the area of the temple were many corridors and rooms. Some of these, it is thought, were part of the imperial mint, others part of one or more noble houses. I had visited San Clemente way back in 1970 (gasp) and do not remember so many rooms surrounding the temple and I wonder if they have been excavated in the past few decades.

We walked back over the Oppio, past Nero’s Domus Aurea, through the Piazza Martino Luther (surprise; I had never heard of this piazza; what would the Pope think??) This is a beautiful, quiet park. We then returned to the hotel for a couple of lazy hours.

This was the sum total of our touring around Rome. We had designed this trip in a Slow Travel mode. We went to dinner at Hostaria Romana, just a couple of blocks from the via delle Quattro Fontane, down via Rasella at the corner of Boccaccio.

This little place has great ratings and I had reserved the previous week. Good thing, too, because it was packed and walk-ins were turned away. Dinner was superb. They offered several little free bites, arancini and such, and then we had as primi tortellini in brood and fettucine con gorgonzola; second = osso bucco and maialino roast suckling pig. The wine they chose was a delicious Tuscan red, Morellino di Scansano 2015. Panna cotta and a Cynar for dessert. Total bill = 95 euro. 100% Superb.


After a relaxing breakfast and a coffee on the upper terrace, we left Hotel Columbia and took the freccia up to Verona, then a regionale to Mantova, arriving mid-afternoon.

Walking to our hotel in the centro was like walking into the Renaissance—what a marvelous little city, So beautifully intact but not in an artificial way. Full of gentle, easy activity, grandparents, kids, many dogs, lots of bicycles moving piano piano. We checked into our B&B, the Palazzo Arrivabene, and looked forward to our three days in Mantova.

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    ==> The hotel: Palazzo Arrivabene. Perhaps the most historic and luxurious place we’ve ever stayed, anywhere. But not outrageously expensive. A big double room with expansive breakfast was 150 euro per night. Built in the 1500s by the Arrivabene family, the Mantova branch. The other part of the family was and still is based in Venice but originally came from Constantinople around 1000 CE. At some point they became linked with the Valenti and Gonzaga families. Vast wealth, palaces, other assorted homes, art works, etc. Example: George Clooney just got married in a big Arrivabene palazzo in Venice.

    The Mantova palace was sold in 1960 to the Bini family. Today, Signora Bini and her son Claudio manage the B&B, which consists of three large bedrooms, a big entry hall, a big salon, and a big dining room (sorry to be repetitive, but what can I do?)

    The B&B is on the third floor, reached by a beautiful staircase and entry hall. The ceiling of the entry hall is covered by a 16th century fresco. Fragments of frescoes rescued during the 1960s restoration decorate the walls, including pieces by the school of Mantegna (creator of the Camera degli Sposi in the Palazzo Ducale, more on that later) and the school of Giulio Romano (architect of Palazzo Te, more on that later also).

    So, after settling in, I walked to the Basilica di Sant Andrea (partner had a stomach bug so relaxed at the hotel). Around 1470, Ludovico Gonzaga resolved to rebuild the old gothic basilica. The Gonzagas had been ruling Mantova for some time. They had followed the standard playbook for Italian Renaissance rulers: Step #1: form a gang of thugs. Step #2: murder the present rulers (the Bonacolsi clan in this case). Step #3: take over the city. Step #4: cultivate the arts, patronize the great masters, build beautiful buildings. Oh yes, I forgot Step #5: war incessantly against the neighboring towns, in a dizzying, shifting pattern of alliances.

    Back to Ludovico: he enticed the great Leon Battista Alberti to rebuild the basilica. Ludovico, and many other rulers south of Milan, abhorred the “new” gothic architecture then penetrating northern Italy. It was germanic and disfigured by awkward buttresses and all that. Ludovico and Alberti wanted to return to the solid classical Roman tradition. This they did with a flourish: the facade of the new (ca 1472) basilica is a magnificent version of a Roman triumphal arch and the interior of the church is capped by a single enormous barrel vault. No side aisles. Instead there are side chapels. The overall impression is one of a unified design with great splendor. Mantegna is buried in the first chapel on the left.

    I went back to the hotel, partner was reviving, and we walked about 20 minutes to the Osteria Ai Ranari for dinner. This is a family style place serving many regional dishes. We attempted to try a number of them. For primi: sorbir d’agnoli in brodo = little stuffed pastas in chicken broth with a splash of wine, very delicate taste. And a plate of four local cheeses and four types of salumi and prosciutto, with four types of Mantovan mostarda (sort of jams of different fruits). Incredibly good.

    The cheese-salumi plate came with instructions from the waitress on which mostarda went with which cheese and/or salumi/prosciutto. Two of the offerings on this plate were especially fine. There was a blue cheese covered in a kind of, I don’t know what, a kind of dark blue-black something, like soft chopped peppercorns. But for the life of me I could not figure out what it was. It turns out it was the lees, or remains, of the crushed grapes after wine-making. At least I think that’s what she said, my Italian is not ready for that kind of detailed conversation! The other offering on this plate included one particular kind of prosciutto which really was extraordinary. I think it may have been culatello, but I ate it so fast I forgot to ask the waitress what it was. It was so thin it tasted like eating air. Again, wonderful.

    Secondi: tagliatelle with gorgonzola, very good. And risotto alla pilota, bland and ordinary. This dish was a favorite of workers in the fields, so I’m guessing it tasted just the way it should, nothing fancy. But it was basically a dry unflavored risotto with bits of mild sausage.

    Wine: a bottle of local Lambrusco, unsubtle and fizzy. I wanted to try the local stuff to see if it was much different from what we swilled in college. It wasn’t. But I followed this with a Cynar for digestif and it was fine. I have just started trying Cynar which I really like. Who knew that artichokes could produce such a good after-dinner drink?

    The bill: 57.50 euro. I thought it was a misprint, read it again, nope, that’s it. Quite a value.

    To bed, have to get ready for the Palazzo Ducale tomorrow.

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    Osteria ai Raineri is one of my favorite trattorie in Italy. I am not much of a cheese eater, but there are many cheeses in Italy aged in the residue crushed grapes. Riso alla pilota is named after the pilots of the low boats that service the rice paddies surrounding Mantova, warm and filling, the essence of comfort food. It is one of my very favorite rice dishes, deeply aromatic, flavored with the unique sausage of Mantova -- a dish impossible to get anywhere outside of Mantova (I've even tried to make it & can't) and I would go to Mantova for no other reason than to eat it. So I'm sorry you didn't like it. I would encourage others to give it a go if they like rice & meat dishes -- although don't expect something resembling risotto as eaten in the US with cheese & butter. It's made with a completely different kind of rice and not pain-stirred.

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    WEDNESDAY October 18 - Mantova

    We awoke in our palazzo after a good night’s sleep and had breakfast in the Renaissance/Mannerist dining room. Claudio, the owner, chatted with us about the history of the building, showing us among other things the damaged portion of the ceiling fresco caused by a particle of an English fire bomb during World War II, also the burned section of the wood flooring. The house across the street was totally destroyed. The family, after purchasing the palazzo in 1960, spent years restoring it.

    Off to the Palazzo Ducale. It had not been clear to me, from reading the web site, how exactly the visit would be arranged because entry to the Camera degli Sposi was apparently separate from entry to the rest of the palace complex. So I will mention the steps here for people who are interested in visiting: first, of course, go to the biglietteria, the ticket office.

    We bought the Mantova Card (good for visiting more than a dozen sites including the Palazzo Te). This card includes the entire Palazzo Ducale complex. But you also must pay a supplement of 5 euro to visit the Camera degli Sposi. Also important to keep in mind: the Camera is located in the Castello San Giorgio, at the northwest end of the palace complex, and often the palace staff will refer to “San Giorgio” when directing you to the entry point for the Camera; this is a different entry point from the entry point for the Palazzo (this latter entry point is to the right of the ticket office).

    Also, the lady at the ticket office was kind enough to say that there were no tour groups going to the Camera at that moment so we could go in right away, otherwise you are assigned a time for entry and you can only remain inside the Camera for 15 minutes.

    We went to the entrance for the Camera, at the foot of Castello San Giorgio (there’s a big banner outside, easy to find it), walked up the winding stairs toward the Camera. There are a couple of rooms with explanatory exhibits and if you really want to dive deeply into this I’d recommend taking time to read the displays and watching the video. This visit to the Camera could serve as an intense college course into the dynamics of a typical Renaissance city state.

    The Camera itself was commissioned by Ludovico Gonzaga and Andrea Mantegna spent years creating the frescoes for this room (not an enormous space). I won’t go into the fascinating details, here’s a very brief summary: the frescoes show several scenes—Ludovico is handed a letter by one of his officials, perhaps saying that Milan is requesting an alliance.

    Ludovico’s wife and children surround him. Also at his feet is his dog, Rubino (= “Ruby” because of the color of the coat—there is a cute pamphlet in the bookstore called “Rubino Visits the Palace” for kids). Attendants of Ludovico are waiting; each man is wearing leggings, one leg is white and the other red, the red+white colors of the Gonzagas. Another scene: Ludovico receives one of his sons, who has just become a cardinal; other sons are present. One of them will become a bishop. More horses and dogs are shown.

    The most amusing part of this masterpiece is the oculus. Way up at the top of the ceiling fresco are boys and girls and putti looking over the railing down at the spectator (= me and you). Three of them have balanced a flower pot on a stick across the opening of the oculus and they are about to topple it over so that it will fall on the heads of the spectators. Crazy Mantegna!

    The museum guard in the Camera spent half an hour chatting with us about the details of this amazing work. We were the only visitors in the Camera, a great piece of luck.

    Time for lunch at the Osteria across the street, and also time for a typing break.

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    We had a good light lunch (salad, fish) across the street from the Castello at the Osteria Piazza Sordello then went back and entered the Palazzo Ducale. This is a massive complex, 500 rooms constructed over several centuries. The Gonzagas filled it with paintings by the likes of Leonardo, Raphael, and Mantegna and pieces of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. In the 1620s, in need of funds, the Duke sold many of the finest works to King Charles I of England. After he was overthrown and beheaded, Cromwell sold most of the pieces and they now grace major museums such as the Louvre and the Prado. Nevertheless, the palace is still a wondrous place.

    We spent two or three hours slowly moving through the structure. I’ll mention just a few of the things we enjoyed: the collection of Greek and Roman sculpture (the bits which escaped the sale to England), including several pieces from the fourth and third century BCE.

    Rubens’ very large work, “The Gonzaga in Adoration of the Holy Trinity,” is on display in one of the large halls. That is, most of the pieces of this work are displayed. During the Napoleonic conquest of Mantova, a French colonel sliced this work (about 15 feet by 20 feet in size) in half, horizontally. Then individual squares were cut out, one of the Gonzaga dog, one of one of the knights, and one of the Gonzaga family. Currently almost all of the pieces, large and small, are on display (some small parts of the painting, on each side, have disappeared). The palazzo museum owns the two largest pieces.

    Toward the end of the marked itinerary of the visit we entered the small rooms of Isabella d’Este. A member of the powerful Ferrara dynasty, she spent her last years in these small quarters. They are like jewels. The ceiling of one of the rooms, richly carved, has a deep indigo background with gilded cross-beams. The walls of another room are covered in scenes composed of many pieces of inlaid wood.

    Our heads full of Gonzaga wonders, we finally staggered out of the palace and went back to “our” palazzo for a rest.

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    Dinner at Lo Scalco Grasso. Excellent. Primi: bigoli with shrimp and roquefort + bean soup with small arancini of cod and a blob of airy mashed potatoes—this particular dish was really superb, sort of a Mantovan take on the French dish of brandade de more. Secondi: acorn-fed credo + guanciale with polenta. Dolci: pureed mountain nut semifreddo with salted caramel sauce. Valpolicella Ripasso. 95 euro.

    THURSDAY October 19 - Mantova

    We spent a long time at breakfast chatting with Signora Bini about many things Mantovan, then we walked to the centro for the weekly Thursday market. After wandering all around (the market stalls covered many blocks) we had a good piadina of crude ham, arugula, and gooey squacquerone cheese (sp?). Then a slow walk south to the Palazzo Te.

    We passed Mantegna’s house but an art exhibition was being prepared and the building was closed til next week.

    The Palazzo Te was built in the 1520s by Federico II Gonzaga purely as a pleasure palace. It was never designed as a palace to be lived in. There’s no kitchen, for example; all the food was prepared elsewhere and brought to the palace.

    The palace is the supreme achievement of Giulio Romano and shows the beginning of a Mannerist tweaking of the classical architectural rules of the Renaissance. Romano has covered the structure with playful twists and jokes: in one of the courtyards, some of the stones of the cornice work drop down from the horizontal line; in one or two of the large doorways, the keystone of the arch projects upward totally out of proportion to the rest of the doorway; some of the pediments split apart slightly.

    The palace has many large halls, all of them richly decorated with frescoes and gilded ceilings. It is surprising that almost all of these frescoes and decorations have survived intact, since various armies swept through the palace and it was largely abandoned in the 19th century, although gradually the Austrian imperial government established ownership (Austria have grabbed a large swatch of northern Italy after the end of the Napoleonic wars) and, later, the Italian state.

    Some comments on just a few of the palace halls… The Sala di Troia has a magnificent gilded ceiling with frescoes of the Trojan war on all of the walls. The Sala die Cavalli, with another magnificent gilded ceiling, has paintings of the Gonzaga’s favorite horses. They were great horse breeders and their horses were prized throughout Europe. They would often give a horse to another ruler with whom they wanted an alliance. The horses would be brought individually into this large hall in order to have their fresco “portraits” painted.

    The Sala di Amore e Psyche is an R-rated hall, with frescoes detailing many gods, goddesses, and satyrs having way too much naughty fun.

    The Sala dei Giganti is a tour de force, with the corners of the hall curving inward and all of the walls merging into the ceiling, with frescoes of gods destroying the palace of the giants, broken columns tumbling down, giants yelling in anger and pain. Not quite a moment of classical Renaissance harmony but lots of fun, certainly fun for Federico and his party-goers.

    Dinner that evening at Tiratappi, a restaurant highly praised on various web sites, but we found the seafood we selected (sardines, grouper, and seppia/cuttlefish) to be acceptable but with too much fussing-about by the chef. My preference for seafood is to avoid doing too much to it, cook it, lemon on top, and let it be.

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    Forgot to add our pre-dinner aperitif at Caravatti, apparently a Mantova tradition. In business since 1865 and still run by the same family, they make their special Caravatti cocktail according to a secret formula. I’m guessing something like Campari and red vermouth and a little spritz. Very tasty. They also bring you free small panini of anchovies and butter, which make the cocktails go down way too easy!

    Okay, time to move on from Mantova over to Ravenna…

    FRIDAY October 20 - to Ravenna

    We enjoyed our last breakfast with Signora Bini and a new guest from the Bari region. She and the Signora regaled us with their views of Italians: still a fiercely local people, each town and region possessing its own dialect— Signora: “Bergamo is not that far to the north of us and when they speak in their dialect I can’t understand a word they’re saying!” and our Bari guest: “The Italians are not Catholic, we are still pagan, with just a little bit of Catholic decoration on top…” Whatever the truth of these observations, we all agreed that you’ll never be bored in Italy.

    We started our train trip to Ravenna, involving three legs by region ales, to Nogara, then to Bologna, then to Ravenna, just under four hours. It was a misty morning and we rolled through flat farmland and little towns. Fascinating to see many many people from Africa, some apparently Italian citizens (e.g. school girls chatting away in Italian with their classmates as afternoon school let out and they returned to the next village) and some perhaps agricultural workers? And everyone on the trains and in the stations just going about their business. So good to see in light of the crisis in the Mediterranean as people flee in little boats toward Italy, many of them dying at sea.

    We arrived in Ravenna about 4:30 pm. The train station area is quite different from its Mantovan counterpart, with green parks and trees in front of the station. But this, unfortunately, is because this area was heavily bombed toward the end of World War II, and Ravenna’s oldest church, San Giovanni Evangelista, built by Galla Placidia, was 2/3 destroyed. Now rebuilt and restored, but almost all of the original mosaics were lost.

    ==>The hotel: Palazzo Bezzi, on Via Roma, just three blocks from the station. Outstanding hotel, modern and elegant inside, excellent service all around.

    After settling in, we walked around the centro a little and then went for dinner to the Trattoria La Rustica. This was so far the best dinner of the trip and one of our best ever.

    Antipasti: stuffed zucchini flowers with parmesan crisps. Primi: capelletti al ragu + tagliatelle con funghi porcini (in season now). Secondi: roasted rabbit and potatoes. Dolci: panna cotta with caramelized figs and intensely chocolate little round cake on top.

    Wine: our owner/waiter patiently discussed wines with us and we finally settled on a regional red, Forli Rosso Nero 2015, really good. Digestivo: a regional clear liqueur called Il Luigino, using an herb called erba luigia, which Wikipedia tells me is in the family of lemon beebrush, whatever that is. In any case, delicious and a perfect ending to a perfect dinner. Oh yes, the bill…..all of 75 euros, but we saw that he had forgotten a couple of things and we bumped it up to 85. A great introduction to Ravenna.

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    SATURDAY October 21 - Ravenna

    After exercising great restraint in the midst of the extensive breakfast spread of the Palazzo Bezzi, we set out to explore the various UNESCO sights of Ravenna — eight of them! We’ll see how much storage space is in our old brains’ hard drive.

    Even for a history buff, Ravenna presents a dizzying challenge. Although it was begun as a Roman colony in the first century BCE, and in the early years of Augustus’ reign became the naval base for the imperial fleet of the eastern Mediterranean, its claim to fame today lies in the magnificent buildings and mosaics from the period 400 - 600 CE.

    In order to get a handle on the historical context, before we started visiting the sites, I created a rough cheat sheet which I continued to reference as we made our way through the town. Herewith, FWIW…

    Early 400s: Imperial Ravenna, Orthodox: the city becomes the administrative capital of the western empire; Honorius emperor then his half-sister, Galla Placidia, regent. The dominant religion is what we call today “orthodox” but I find it more interesting to call these folks “Trinitarians”. They believed in the developing doctrine of three-persons-inside-one-deity, and this had been the officially sanctioned version of Christianity for a hundred years. However…the “Unitarians” were active, the Arians, believers in a single deity who sent Jesus as divinely inspired messenger, but Jesus was not divine. The Unitarian/Arians would play a major role in Ravenna’s history in just a few decades.

    ***The Orthodox buildings remaining today: the Neonian Baptistery (also called the Orthodox Baptistery) and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (although archeologists do not think she was buried here, but rather in Rome, although the burial place has never been determined).

    Early 500s: the Arian Kingdom of Theodoric: now the Western Roman Empire is no more. In the past thirty years a fascinating reexamination of the end of the western empire has created a new perspective on this chapter, led by the brilliant English historian Peter Brown. The story which I and most folks learned, I suspect, was that “the Roman Empire ended in 476 when a German general overthrew the last emperor Romulus Augustulus”. Bang. The end.

    After the extensive work of Prof. Brown and his colleagues, we now have two, or three, ways of looking at this. There is the old Crash-Bang-The-End theory. Then there is the Brown-and-colleagues Crumble-Crumble theory. Some very interesting work has been produced here. Example, an Italian historian, I forget his name, dug into the surviving documents of the period around 476, and behold: there is no mention of “The Fall” — nothing, nada. It’s as if it were just a question of changing the name plates on the office door.

    The third theory: a blend of #1 and #2, sort of Crash-Crumble-Crash-Crumble.

    The significance for a Ravenna visitor is this: Germanic soldiers had been actively recruited for many years by Rome for its armies, and by the mid-400s many Germanic generals played important roles. They frequently seized power, placing their puppet emperors on the throne, only to see them overthrown by another general with another puppet. Such was the case with poor Augustulus, who was only a teenager. The Germanic general Odoacer pushed him aside, did not kill him but instead sent him to a palace in Naples and even gave him a lifetime pension! Odoacer established his capital in Ravenna and then sent the imperial insignia to the emperor in the east, Constantinople, and actually pledged allegiance to him. End of the western empire but continuation of the eastern empire.

    Oadacer was killed a few years later by the Ostrogothic leader Theodoric, who then established a very important kingdom headquartered in Ravenna. Theodoric and his fellow Goths, now settled in the region, were Arians, a minority amidst an orthodox majority, but Theodoric is a tolerant king throughout his rule and both religions thrive during his reign. Although Theodoric was illiterate, he supported the construction of some of Ravenna’s most beautiful buildings. He signed documents “TR” for Teodorico Rex. You can see the TR inscription on some of the buildings.

    ***The Arian buildings remaining today, plus one Orthodox building: San Vitale, Sant Apollinare Nuovo, the so-called Palace of Theodoric (remains uncovered recently, not the tall facade facing Via Roma), the Arian Cathedral (now Santo Spirito), and the Mausoleum of Theodoric. And one orthodox building dates from this period: the Chapel, or Oratory, of Sant Andrea.

    Mid-500s and later: Byzantine-Orthodox rule in Ravenna: the eastern emperor Justinian and his empress Theodora conquer the Arian kingdom and establish control over parts of central Italy.

    ***The Byzantine buildings remaining today: Sant Apollinare Nuovo (although the structure had already been built by Theodoric and the mosaics created, Justinian’s artists removed the images of Theodoric and his officials in the segment portraying his palace and replaced them with simple images of palace curtains) and Santo Spirito (Justianian converted the Arian cathedral into an orthodox church).

    Almost all of these buildings have stunning mosaics. The iconography is fascinating, with subtle differences between the Arian and the Orthodox Trinitarian portrayals of Jesus, God, and God the Father. Also fascinating is the complete absence of portrayals of the Crucifixion. Instead, Jesus and God are portrayed as powerful and protective forces. There are lovely images of sheep, birds drinking from bowls of water, and other symbols of grace and divine care.

    Amazing that so much has survived 1500 years almost intact.

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    I have so enjoyed your trip report so far and I'm sure it will be useful for our own holiday next year. I will be interested to hear what you think of Brisighella as thinking of visiting there. Thank you very much for sharing.

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    Thanks for your comments. This is a wonderful area of Italy to explore, and not mobbed.


    SUNDAY October 22 - Ravenna

    Sunday we visited one of the best sights, only half a block from our hotel, Sant Apollinare Nuovo (“nuovo” or “new”) because there already was a major church dedicated to this saint in the nearby town of Classe. Classe is now a quick bus ride from Ravenna, but it basically consists of the church of Sant Apollinare in Classe surrounded by fields—the town itself disappeared long ago.

    Sant Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna has had very little damage over the centuries so this gives us a great picture of the times of Theodoric’s Arian kingdom in the early 500s and then the Byzantine takeover by the eastern emperor Justinian beginning about 540. The church has a classical Roman basilica design, flat ceiling, long central nave, narrower side aisles. It is simply stunning when you enter.

    On either side of the nave, at the entrance, are historically important mosaics. On the left is a large portrayal of the town of Classe, a major seaport at that time. Ships are pictured outside the walls of the town, with various buildings visible over the top of the walls.

    On the right, an intriguing example of damnatio memoriae, the ancient practice of defacing the images of a defeated or assassinated political opponent. Here, the victim is Theodoric himself. The mosaic shows the palace of Theodoric, with the word “Palatium” at the top. However, Justinian’s mosaic artists scratched away images of the king and his officials standing in the palace arcades and replaced them with images of curtains. But they left traces of these defeated ones—as a warning to others?—by leaving hands visible, resting on the columns of the palace arcades.

    The remaining mosaics are glorious: two dozen maiden martyrs processing to the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the left, two dozen male martyrs processing to an adult Jesus on the right. The columns (recycled temple columns) and their capitals also stunning.

    One could write tomes about this and other Ravenna sites—actually, art historians have in fact done this. But I will leave it at this.

    Time for a change from mosaics: we go to Theodoric’s tomb, a twenty minute walk from our hotel, on the other side of the tracks, literally, northeast of the train station and tracks. This really gives you a feeling for the un-Roman nature of Theodoric’s time. The mausoleum (apparently he never was actually buried here, or else his body was quickly removed shortly after being interred, no one knows his final burial place) …the mausoleum is a daunting, tall hefty structure topped by a 270-ton stone, a single piece, for the dome. How the workers transported it here and hefted it up to the top of the structure is a mystery.

    After leaving the mausoleum, we walked back toward the centro, past the 16th century Venetian fortress La Rocca Brancaleone (Venice ruled Ravenna briefly, then other conquerors followed…). We were on a mission to check out the remains of the walls of the original Roman town, the oppidum of the first and second centuries CE.

    This original walled colonial settlement was a square, but tilted slightly instead of following the standard east-west-north-south alignment. Historians speculate that the marshes and rivulets influenced this alignment. When Ravenna’s importance grew as an imperial seaport, settlement expanded north and east. Then when the Ostrogoths arrived and Theodoric established his kingdom, an Arian Ostrogothic quarter developed farther east, around the area when Sant Apollinare Nuovo stands.

    The remains of the original walls stretch along today’s Circonvallazione al Molino and the best parts are found east of the site of the ancient Roman Porta Aurea, or golden gate (the site is at the intersection of the Via Porta Aurea and the Circonvallazione). The gate was intact until the 16th century when the Venetians demolished it.

    Dinner at the Osteria del Tempo Person. Our review: very pleasant space, some good dishes (strozzapreti with ragu especially) but quite overpriced for value received. Lesson learned, be cautious about restaurants who vaunt their chefs. At least for our taste and budget.

    Tomorrow: bus and train trip to Brisighella.

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    MONDAY October 23 - Brisighella

    From Ravenna, we took a bus operated by Trenitalia, leaving from the train station to Faenza, then a regionale train to Brisighella. Leaving Faenza, you enter the foothills of the Appenines and the landscape becomes hilly and lush, with vineyards and lemon trees and orange trees all over. It’s only a ten-minute train ride from Faenza to Brisighella. When we step off, we enter a beautiful village, trees and manicured park near the station, then a walk uphill toward our hotel. The three hilltop sites loom over the village: the Torre dell’Orologio with a functioning clock, the fortress or Rocca, and the the Sanctuary of Monticino.

    ==>The hotel: Albergo La Rocca, run by the same family for many years. The owner, a gracious and welcoming signora who insists we call her Anna, welcomes us. We chatter away in Italian and English because Anna is an enthusiastic student of English. She shows us the book she is currently studying, “The Queen,” about you-know-who, with her English dictionary beside.

    The hotel was reconstructed from an earlier apartment building and it is a relaxing combination of informal, sleek, and elegant design elements. Our room on the second floor has a little balcony overlooking the Fontana Vecchia. The clock tower bells chime every now and then. It is a brilliant fall afternoon with an intensely blue sky. We meet a young Dutch couple on the way to a cafe for a quick lunch, then start walking up the path to the bell tower.

    There are walking paths up to the three structures mentioned above, connecting them, and you can also hike farther afield. There is a national park to the north of Brisighella. The entire area sits on a vein of gypsum, “gesso”, which was the livelihood of the village from the middle ages up to 1980, when the last gypsum quarry closed.

    At the beginning of the path to the clock tower, we turned into the Via degli Asini, a medieval covered street created for the donkeys hauling gypsum to the horse-drawn wagons for transport over the mountains to Florence. This entire stretch of medieval buildings was a complex designed to store the gypsum, house the animals, provide loading space for the wagons, and supply housing for the workers at the top level. Fascinating.

    After exploring the Via degli Asini, we began walking up the 350 steps to the clock tower. On the way we bumped into our Dutch friends who had retained a guide for the visit up to the peaks. They graciously invited us to join them.

    The views from these three peaks over the village below and the valleys beyond was magnificent (sorry to overuse this adjective). Many of the trees and vineyards were turning golden in the late sunlight. The tiled roofs of the houses and the Duomo below looked like a mosaic of rust and orange.

    We ended our trek about two hours later, had a final conversation with Silvia, our gracious guide, obliged her to accept our payment for the excellent descriptions she had given us and our Dutch friends, and headed back to the hotel.

    Dinner: the Cantina del Bonsignore. I’m going to condense food details more and more otherwise this TR will never get finished. Good pasta, good “brasato” of beef in a wine sauce, and delicious Morellino di Scansano, the same delicious wine we had our first evening in Rome.

    To bed, in preparation for our day trip to Faenza tomorrow.

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    TUESDAY October 24 - day trip to Faenza

    Faenza is an easy ten-minute train ride from Brisighella, taking the regionale that comes over the mountains from Florence. Faenza is a beautiful little city but not quite ready for prime time tourism, which in a way is quite charming.

    Arriving at the Faenza train station, we asked the tabacchi for the location of the municipal tourist office. Answer: there is none. Asked again when we stopped for a quick espresso. Answer: there is none. Can we get a map somewhere? Well, yes, you can buy one at the tabacchi three blocks up the street. Went to the fabulous ceramics museum. Same answer. Later in the day, wandering around a vicolo off the main piazza, we stumbled across the municipal tourist information office. But…it was the afternoon pause. Closed until 3:30 pm. Oh well.

    The International Museum of Ceramics of Faenza is a marvel. Surely it must be the largest, most comprehensive museum of its kind anywhere? From the Sumerians to today, it covers Greek, Roman, Islamic, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Maya, Aztec, Inca works, with of course heavy emphasis on Italian Renaissance, 19th century, and contemporary works. The building is very beautiful, modern, with lots of angled glass roofs, hallways, glass floors on the second floor, courtyard with big modern ceramic works. Definitely a must-see for anyone visiting Bologna, Ravenna, or Brisighella.

    In the evening we had an excellent dinner at the Ristorante La Rocca, run by the hotel. The highlights: a starter vegetable flan with hollandaise and truffles (it’s truffle season, yessss!!), sfogliatelle with porcini mushrooms (it’s mushroom season, yesssss!!), roasted lamb with rosemary, and once again our new-best-friend wine, Morellino di Scansano. Plus a Cynar to top it all off.

    Tomorrow morning: we sadly leave this little mountain village paradise for Bologna. Are the country mice ready for the big city? We shall see.

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    Brisighella- I have never heard of this little place before, interesting, and the museum in Faenza sounds fascinating. Probably good to do lots of research before going it seems.

    Mmmm truffles and porcini mushrooms! I have only seen sfogliatelle as a sweet, a very good one, but never with mushrooms, interesting...

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    WEDNESDAY October 25 - Bologna

    ***addenda*** We interrupt this narrative to insert two good things which we saw in Ravenna and forgot to mention: Dante’s Tomb, a pilgrimage site for many Italians other Dante-philes. His bones have moved around a lot in the past few centuries as different towns and groups struggled over his remains and his legacy. In World War II they were buried just behind the shrine to protect them. Today they are back inside the little domed structure.

    Church of San Francesco: very old, many times repaired and restored. Here Dante’s funeral was held. Here Charles V was crowned head of the Holy Roman Empire (Charles—he who constructed the big Renaissance palace smack on the edge of the Alhambra in Granada…)

    OK, back to the story…morning in Brisighella. A warm goodbye and hug from Anna then train to Faenza, easy change, regional to Bologna. We walked from the train station at the north end of the centro all the way down to the southern end, about 40 minutes, walking through busy, but not obnoxious, city crowds and under multitudinous porticos.

    ==>The hotel: Hotel Porta San Mamolo: very fine medium sized hotel with a garden and a glassed garden room for breakfast. Highly recommended, quite reasonable for Bologna.

    We walked back to the centro and wandered through the Quadrilatero, a rectangle of little streets to the east of the Piazza Maggiore. Ducked into Santa Maria di Vita and saw the amazing group of terracotta sculptures, the Compianto, or Lamentation over the Dead Christ. Our guide book calls this work “harrowing” and truly it is, especially the statue of Mary Magdalene, crazed with grief and horror. From the technical standpoint it is a marvel and we wondered how the sculptor crafted and then fired such life-sized terra-cotta figures.

    Dinner: we needed a break from Emilia-Romagna cuisine. When we were leaving the hotel our friendly manager asked where we were eating and we replied “an Indian restaurant”. I thought we were going to have to call 911 to prevent a cardiac arrest. “In Bologna, an INDIAN RESTAURANT????” said she. But lo, it was a good choice—mildly spicy vegetarian with a big bottle of fizzy water, no Morellino, no Cynar. Then to bed, quite restored.

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    THURSDAY October 26 – Bologna

    This would be our only full day in Bologna before returning on Friday to Rome for our last night in Italy. We were already enjoying the feeling of Bologna, something already discussed several times on this forum. The porticoes, the medieval character of much of the centro, the absence of Bernini-like piazzas, and the brickwork! Everything made of brick, with beautiful shades of orange, ochre and rust. I marvelled at some of the large structures built entirely of brick, the columns included.

    Bologna’s people also seemed to go about their lives oblivious to the relatively small numbers of tourists wandering around the city. There was a marked absence of tourist shops selling “stuff”. We actually wanted to buy a few items of “stuff” to bring back as small gifts, perhaps small ceramic pieces.

    The only shop we could find was at the base of the Asinelli tower. It has a nice selection of pieces by regional ceramicists, many of them based in Faenza. I asked the shopkeeper why there were not more shops selling ceramics and she said that the expensive, small-scale production worked against that. I found that difficult to understand: we noticed no shortage of riches in the city as we walked along the Via Nazionale, past many stores selling diamonds and diamonds and diamonds and 400-euro shoes. A puzzle.

    We walked from our neighborhood in the southern end of the city to the basilica of Santo Stefano, a complex of seven churches dating back to the fourth or fifth century CE. They reproduce different structures or events connected to Jesus’ time in Jerusalem. Especially interesting was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with columns from an earlier temple to Isis, an early medieval pulpit, and the column allegedly used for the scourging of Jesus.

    We then went to the Quadrilatero and gawked, aimlessly, at the stores displaying meats, cheeses, fish, and wine. We weren’t quite ready for lunch, we were still trying to walk off the effects of ten days of Emilia-Romagna cuisine. So we did we choose to do instead? Why, of course, go to a café in the Piazza Maggiore facing San Petronio and have a teeeny cup of outrageously thick, delicious hot chocolate…for only 6 euros each. What a deal!

    Next, a visit to San Petronio. Such an unusual design, a striking interior, we liked it very much and there was an organist practicing during our visit, very beautiful. We had a relaxing lunch of large salads and some Greco di Tufo white wine and then went to the Asinelli tower for some gift shopping.

    Afterwards, we walked over to the Archiginnasio of the ancient university complex. You could feel the weight of tradition in these corridors, covered with the insignia and coats of arms of the families of thousands of students who have studied in the university since its founding in the eleventh century.

    We were able to duck into one of the large, magnificent lecture halls and catch a few minutes of a public lecture. (There was a Fiera del Libro convention in town during our visit and I think this was one of their events.)

    We had been told by one of our fellow hotel guests during breakfast, a World Health Organization offical attending a conference in town, that the Medieval Museum, Museo Civico Medievale, was a must-see, so we did.

    The building itself is a treat for history buffs. Many of the rooms have sections of the walls exposed to the original stones of Roman structures and parts of the Roman city walls. These were large blocks which were incorporated into medieval structures and then transformed into the Renaissance Palazzo Ghisilardi, home of the museum today. Many of the big blocks are blackened from fires; archeologists speculate that they are evidence of sieges and invasions.

    The museum has wonderful treasures. We resolved to focus on just a few things to avoid visual overload. We focused in particular on the sepulchres of university professors. About a dozen of these sepulchres are displayed, with detailed sculptures showing the professor lecturing at the podium and students on either side, bent over their desks, writing notes furiously or gazing up in confusion. Some of them give the exact date of the professor’s death. There is one sepulchre, for example, stating that Doctor Petrus something-or-other--couldn’t make it out--Deceased, December 13, 1338 – “SEPULTUS MCCCXXXVIII DIE XIII DEC”.

    With our heads full of a thousand years of academic karma, we started walking back to our hotel.

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    Late afternoon – rest, catch up on email, write some notes, then to dinner at Al Sangiovese, just a few doors down from our hotel. A warm, friendly, family-run restaurant with superb offerings. We were hungry so we ate all the courses, starting with a vegetable flan with parmesan sauce, then tagliatelli al ragu and tortellini in brodo, followed by chicken with lemon sauce and polpette—little delicious meatballs—and a stuffed zucchini, ending with desserts of semifreddo with a chocolate zabaione sauce, and finally a digestivo, nocello, made of walnuts. A very fine home-cooking dinner. Bill = 109 euros.

    FRIDAY October 27 – to Rome

    Walking from hotel back through the centro to the train station, we said again how special and beautiful Bologna is, in its own way. Instead of going north on Via Nazionale, we headed up a parallel street just to the east, rather a series of streets which changed names and jogged a little right or left but still led up to the station. It was a fine sunny morning. We admired the magnolia trees on Via Garibaldi and the gingko trees on the Piazza Cavour.

    The train station was not the maze I had feared. It helped knowing that we would be heading to the fourth level, underground, and our binario signs were clear, bright yellow. We hopped an Italo fast train, our first time on Italo, and arrived in Rome in mid-afternoon.

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    glad you enjoyed the medieval museum & Bologna itself. I'm guessing you meant via dell'Indipendenza (not "Nazionale"), and wondering if your path took you up via Galliera, just west of via delll'Indpendenza

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    Yes yes, Indipendenza, not Nazionale! Our hotel was on a one-block street, Vicolo del Falcone. We liked to go up Via Miramonte, which kept changing its name to Ruini, then Garibaldi, then at Piazza Cavour jog west a bit and then up north again on Archiginnasio.

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    just found this, EYWandBTV and am enjoying reading it very much, especially as I am hoping to spend some time at a language school in Bologna in the Spring so day trip and restaurant ideas are very welcome.

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    Hi annhig,
    So good to hear from you.
    From Bologna, you could do easy day trips to a couple of the places we visited - Faenza and then just beyond, on the same train line, Ravenna. Mantua and Brisighella are a little too far (in train times) I think.

    I suggest you think about a couple of days, perhaps one of your weekends during your school time, to go to Brisighella. It's really a glorious area, great village, not twee or cute. Several good restaurants and cafes because apparently the big-city folks from Bologna and Ravenna and Florence like to go there for a break (Florence is just over the mountains on the "Faentina" line, from Faenza to Brisighella and then a few other villages and then Florence).

    We did not go to Ferrara or Modena but several Fodorites have said that they are good day trips from Bologna.

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    @annhig again...
    You could also do a weekend in Mantova/Mantua. This is a wonderful city, very much off the tourist radar. Beautifully intact medieval-Renaissance centro. If you do go, please stay in the Palazzo Arrivabene! Signora Bini will be a gracious host!

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    …finally getting around to finishing this TR…..

    FRIDAY, continued, October 27 – Rome

    We settled into the Hotel Columbia again and then set out to visit the Palazzo Barberini. A late Renaissance palace, not too much on the tourist radar. Some choice works by Holbein (portrait of paunchy Henry VIII), Raphael (portrait of his mistress, La Fornarina), El Greco and some beautiful early medieval works.

    The building has bees, the Barberini symbol, all over the shields and devices. In the largest hall is a huge ceiling fresco, “The Triumph of Divine Providence and the Fulfillment of Its Ends Under the Pontificate of Urban VIII,” …Urban VIII being a Barberini… the ultimate in fatuous, over-the-top baroque toadyism. But fun. The entrance to the palace is flanked by two magnificent staircases, one by Bernini, one by Borromini.

    We walked slowly toward our dinner destination, past the Quirinale Palace, stopping at the Trevi Fountain. Big mob scene. Just a couple of days before someone had dumped red dye into the fountain but it was clean and sparkling when we saw it.

    Then on to the Piazza Navona to begin the hunt for our restaurant, the Osteria del Pegno. This is our favorite restaurant in Rome, small, homey, unpretentious food, friendly head waiter named Massimo and friendly owner also named Massimo. It is located on the Vicolo di Montevecchio, a narrow hard-to-find alley a few blocks west of the Piazza. We had a good dinner of fresh anchovies and carbonara and once again a Morellino di Scansano. Caught the #64 bus back to our hotel.

    SATURDAY, October 28 – back home via Montreal to Vermont

    Easy trip to Fiumicino via the Leonardo Express and comfortable flight to Montreal, then a short drive back home to Burlington.

    Reflections on Emilia-Romagna and the little piece of southern Lombardy: we really liked this region. The people we encountered were gracious and helpful. The food of course is worth the trip. We met many new pasta friends - pasatelli, capeletti, strozzapreti, tortelli – and two new digestivos of the region, Luigini and nocello. And piadinas! Crudo ham with slurpy warm squacquerone cheese and arugula = the ultimate comfort food.

    We shall return.

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    With your new found love of Morellino di Scansano it would seen a trip to Scansano is in order. The easiest way to enjoy that area of Tuscany is with a car, but since you seem to be committed rail users, it's not impossible to have a fun trip to the "wild Maremma" without one with some careful planning, and being willing to take one bus trip to Scansano itself from the train station in Grosseto, or hire a driver. In the same trip you might very much appreciate Tarquinia and Livorno, and several stops in between along the coastal train line.

    As you already know from more than one trip, central Italy north of Florence and south of Milan is crammed with towns of charm and interest and good food. Most of it is linked by networks of trains that will take you almost anywhere, and it would be impossible to exhaust all the possibilities in 10 years of visits to the region. The next time you are in Bologna try visiting the Enoteca Italiana and asking for tastes of the best local reds from the region, beyond the usual reds which can be pretty disappointing. There are some fun wines from Emilia-Romagna (and Lombardia), and they are typically never expensive, but it takes some help to find which ones you might like.

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    Actually, it looks like the best way to get to Scansano using public transportation is taking a 30 minute bus or taxi ride from the train station in Orbetello to Magliano in Toscana -- a very worthy lunch or overnight stop -- and then taking another 30 minute bus or taxi ride to Scansano.

    Or apparently you can take a bus from Rome directly to Magliano in Toscana

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    EYWandBTV - so glad you made it back! [literally and figuratively]. what a super trip.

    Though I've never been to Scansano I can certainly second Massimop's enthusiasm about the Maremma, starting with Orbetello itself. The whole area is just lovely and relatively tourist free, except at weekends when the Romans arrive. In the week I was there we made it to Pitigliano, Saturnia, Massa Maritima [one of my favourites] the lagoon, and quite a lot of other places I don't know the names of.

    And thank you, massimop for the links to the info re Bologna - I'm in the midst of planning a trip in Feb and two weeks at a language school in Bologna is high on the list; I would love to work my way round some of the restaurants in the evenings so that guide is great.

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    International Museum of Ceramics of Faenza is truely one of the world's great museums and, as you say the way Italian TI offices hide is spectacular. At the moment it is behind the Teato Masini (the entrance has a fantastic roof but it is down a little alley and signage is ..... ), who knows tomorrow :-)

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