Ferrara & Bologna
May 2024
More photos here



After much messing about online this trip ended up as four days in Ferrara to tidy up a few loose ends, church-website-wise, including the Duomo and San Paolo, now both reportedly finally reopened; and five days in Bologna, including a daytrip to Modena, to check out its special cemetery. After some messing about I ended up booking new hotels in both places, in Ferrara because my usual hotel had closed permanently!

Tuesday 21st
My alarm at Heathrow Hilton had to be set for 5.20, I had to pay full fare on the tube for two stops as my Freedom Pass isn't usable until after rush hour, there were queues at bag drop and the initial gate, but not for security. The woman ahead of me in Pret queue took forever to pay. Why are all these people not home in bed? I'd just started on my breakfast when I thought I'd check my gate number, and it said gate closing. Abandoning my breakfast I made for the gate and found a queue. I had a window seat in an empty row, but the row behind was full of loudly conversing professional travellers, making reading an effort. Not a stressful beginning, then, but not a relaxing one either. The flight was due in at 10.45 with a bus from the airport direct to Ferrara leaving at 11.10. But I was still waiting at the carousel long after that. There is a new monorail service from the airport to Bologna Centrale Station. As you wait in the queue for the ticket machine you might notice the poster telling you that you can pay at the gate with your credit card. The journey is quick but the carriages are small. Buying the ticket and finding the train from Bologna to Ferrara (which then goes on to Venice) was no trouble.

My greeting at the Hotel de Prati was warm, the room (215) is sweet. After unpacking I strolled out to make the scene, grab lunch and gelato no. 1 (limone and mascarpone), and check out the two big recently reopened churches. The Duomo was on its lunch break and still has its eternal defacing pile of scaffolding up the centre of the façade. San Paolo was looking fine but with no opening times signs in evidence.

After my tea, cake and snooze it was 5.00ish as I headed for the Duomo, now open but with the left aisle all boarded off, and the whole church has a ceiling of netting at capital level. It also has a very carpeted crossing see far right. No labelling of works as yet or tourist-friendly lighting. Two detached fresco panels of saints by Garofalo on the inner façade were the highlight, that's one to the right. A sunny photographic wander in the centre ended with a pizza Bufalina and a Weissbier in Slurp, where the pizzas are cooked, uniquely, by women.

Wednesday 22nd
Real fresh orange juice at breakfast, with the cake and coffee good and fresh too. Today I was to learn many things. At the tourist office in the Castello I learnt that the newly-reopened church of San Paolo is only opened Saturdays 3.00 to 6.30, by which time this week I'll be in Bologna. After buying my myFe Ferrara museums card, and a stout walk, I learnt that the Archaeological Museum is almost totally the findings at the excavation of a huge burial ground of the Etruscan city of Spina. There's a lot of it, but it's entertaining enough for an archaeological civilian like me, if a little relentless. I liked the little vases and pots in the case called Molten Glass. Nice house and gardens too. Also a fine trompe l'oeil ceiling by Garofalo (see right) from when the place was the house of Antonio Costabili, a nobleman at the court of Ercole I d'Este, and his Ambassador at the court of Milan.

I then learnt that the lapidary museum which I thought was partially housed in the church of Santa Libera, is totally housed in the small and utterly gutted church. A nice, but necessarily small display of bits of very old carved stuff, but quite a few have connections to churches. And there were restorers in, who didn't mind my asking them about the sarcophagus they were working on, which the caption (in Italian) seemed to connect with the church of Santo Stefano. It was ancient, had been used in the church as an altar, and the top had been found in a field being used as a cattle trough.

Behind the church is an interesting looking building, maybe early-20th century, looking like a market building or orangery. It seemed to have been used later as a prison, having added guard towers, slightly similar to those attached to the more military-looking buildings in the Zona Militare over the road, the former barracks of Pozzuolo del Friuli, built where the monastery of San Vito once was, and demolished in 1909.

By this time it was only just after 12.00, so I decided there was time to try the somewhat lengthy walk to the beyond the walls, but important, church and monastery of San Bartolomeo. The walk started well but I soon started to doubt my map - things seemed to have changed quite a bit, and I was soon approaching a motorway which was on my map but should not have been in my path. I learnt here that maybe using the maps on my phone might have brought me up to date. (I learned later, from Google Maps, that where I was expecting the via Boschetto to curve left it is now a junction with a new road, also called via Boschetto. This is such an unlikely thing that I assumed some wag had moved the sign around the lamppost.)

Cutting my losses I trudged back to the church of San Giorgio. I thereby passed a Lidl, picked up a couple of of tasty cheesy pastries and a bag of olive oil and rosmarino bruschetti, and ate them in the church's campo. I found the church to be oddly open (it was after 1.00) and took advantage with a nice lonely photographic wander. The walk back was warm and photographic too. I stopped off on the way to buy some biscuits and a can of Chinotto in a Despar. The latter is a drink made from a citrus fruit new to me. The biscuits I bought featured agrumi, which is the Italian for citrus fruit, the helpful chap on the till told me. It's all connected! My afternoon tea was accompanied by cake, a very nice cherry cream Danish thing I'd bought in the Lidl, and a somewhat biblical thunder storm, with hailstones. Which continued at various heavinesses well into the evening. In the end I stayed in with my Chinotto drink and peanuts from the minibar.

Thursday 23rd
This morning's breakfast benefited from featuring croissants which were unsugared and unfilled. I'm presuming that today is going to be a less long-winded and educational one as it's to be my traditional Pinacoteca/Cemetario day. Only two surprises at the Pinacoteca. One was the classical singer practising in the main hall of the huge detached frescoes. Her voice carried around the whole gallery, and in the hall itself was SO LOUD. Impressive from such a slight frame, granted, but still... And since my last visit there's a large bright shop, with tempting fridge magnets and badges, but very few books in English amongst its impressive stock. I found a New Guide to Ferrara, from 2020, but there's still no gallery guide in English. No surprises in the Certosa cemetery, except for more collapse and crumble, and so some more areas of stripy tape and forbidden entry. The place is  still a lovely peaceful wander and photographic heaven, though. With fast-moving lizards.

A stop at La Bottega del Pane on the way back for a mozza/tom panzerotto and a strip of Margherita pizza. Also a torta di mele to take with my afternoon tea.
After that and my snooze the sky was looking like thunder, but it wasn't actually raining, and I needed teabags and toothpaste, so I braved it. Soon came the thunder and rain, but I found the tea shop I'd found last trip, and took damp refuge in the Duomo, where the apse was all lit up. Turns out there's a light costing €2, which I hadn't spotted before in the dark. The rain had eased after my early junk food dinner opposite the Duomo so I wandered, finding churches that had been spruced up, had lost their scaffolding, were open for services and, in one case, was not even on my list. I also got me some toothpaste and a sublime mango and cocco gelato from K2.

Friday 24th
I was toying with a day in Rovigo, as it's just minutes on the train. And I've done my list of churches to find, photograph and visit. But I decided to have a relaxing kinda day visiting places I don't have to, and adding details, just for the fun of it. To the Gesu first, where I found the light switch for the terracotta Lamentation tableau. Then Santo Spirito which is unusually Greek-cross shaped and oddly ignored in touristic lists. San Francesco I found a bit daunting before, so I needed a second run at it to clarify and correct. I then seemed to have time to get to Santa Maria in Vado, which was supposed to be open until 12.30, but I didn't because it wasn't. On my way back I found a small food shop advertising panini. The nice woman did me a mozza/tom one without the tom, but it was fine. She had no pomodori freschi so offered me sun-dried, but they seemed a bit overpowering for mozzarella. I got a torta with plum jam too.

After my afternoon rest I decided to make the most of my MyFe Card and pay a visit to the Casa Romei museum, with its bits of fresco and stone and marble from closed and demolished churches. A treat because I'd 'done' it last time, so could do less note taking and more appreciating. After some last-day strolling I finally found Capatoast open and so had the Vegano - hummus, mushrooms, rocket, and non-dairy cheese. I tried their fries too, and they are very obviously and tastefully made from actual potatoes. A straciattella and amarena cono from K9 did a good job of rounding.

Saturday 25th
Amongst the breakfast cakes this morning were cubes of a yummy dense spongy thing which turned out to be Torta di Riso, a Ferrarese speciality. Checking out was swift and friendly (with promises that I would return) and my timing getting to Ferrara Centrale in time for the uncrowded 10.45 to Bologna Centrale could not have been more perfetto.



My hotel in Bologna, the Metropolitan, is swankier and more modern in its decor, but my room (208) is smaller, so there's no room for bedside tables. But it's good to have lots of sky out the windows.

I had an acclimatising stroll, through heaving Saturday streets and piazzas, getting some lunch - a minipizza and a parmesan and spinach slice, with  slice of what I'd call iced bunround - and scurrying back through sudden rain. Gotta love those famous porticos when it rains! I had sheltered briefly in Feltrinelli, and found a tempting and chunky book on them porticos, for later purchase, I think.

Wanting tea to go with my cake I filled the kettle and turned it on and waited. Nothing. The lead went down the back of the minibar and when I hoicked out said minibar I found the kettle unplugged. After a rest the rain had stopped and I went out for a somewhat unpreplanned tour of some churches. Santissimo Salvatore got a good interior revision, words and photos, but for the rest of the early evening I just took photos, spotted scaffolding and got lost twice. I found the Bologna Burger King, and that it does a variety of plant-based burgers. Unlike in my own country, and unlike flipping McDonald's over here, who don't do even one, although the do do a burger
in a gluten-free bun!

Sunday 26th
The Bologna breakfast bar has some weird little jazzy-spotted tarts, as well as some more usual cakes. Good customisable cereals and seedy unfilled wholemeal croissants, but the orange juice is made from water and sugar.

My plan for today was to make for the Certosa cemetery for some quiet. Which plan worked, sort of. I just got to the Certosa later than expected, as my organic itinerary of churches to check on the way took longer than expected due to some lingering and photographic opportunities, one of the latter being an actual procession, with a brass band and a golden canopy and everything, slowly leaving Santa Caterina (see right). By the time I got to the cemetery it was nearly lunch time so I got myself a supermarket pizza focaccia thing and some lime and pepper crisps and found myself a bench near the Certosa's useful back entrance. The bench was against a building the map later told me was the Obitorio, which is Italian for Morgue. I did wonder about the constant humming sound and the pipes emerging from underground.

I concentrated on the cloisters and halls east of the church, which are 19th-century and were mostly familiar from past visits, but one cloister (Chiostro III) was new and full of impressive wall tombs of famous people you've never heard of. Some of these were trompe l'oeil wall paintings, looking like the actual carved wall memorials nearby, even down to also including the church's windows (see right). My concentrating on one area leaves me free to come again and explore some that I missed later in the week. A cake I bought from a coffee shop on the way back looked like it might be fruity and cinnamony. It was called a Girella Strudel and I was not disappointed.

Having had a late start to my afternoon updating, tea, cake and snoozing I was late out too, so only set myself the task of photographing the outside of Santa Caterina in Strada Maggiore as my photo from my last visit had an intrusive panel of scaffolding and orange plastic netting at street level. I found it's façade currently totally covered in scaffolding and netting. I also found that my favourite gelateria, by the towers, was no more. So I later went to Grom for a cocco stracciatella and mango. The towers are currently totally off limits and surrounded by beefy barriers, after some worrying movement earlier in the year. The necessary huge crane won't fit in the space left by the towers so it's in the next piazza along, and has a very long arm.

Monday 27th
Today's plan involves visiting the big churches. San Petronio first, to check out the new expansion of the Bolognini Chapel ticket to include two more chapels. Buying my ticket I was asked if I was over 65. Saving €2 is good, but not enough to compensate for the bruised ego. The two chapels added are the San Sebastiano, one of the highlights, which you can now admire from a little platform just inside it's door, as the majolica paving needs preserving; and the Griffoni, which features a display board explaining about the long-gone Griffoni Altarpiece. But this covers over the chapel's actual altarpiece. The casts of Jacopo della Quercia's panels from around the main portal which used to be in here are now in the last chapel on this side.

Whilst buying a tasteful dark red water bottle in the shop I asked the assistant if the soldiers at the entrance were still there because of the unflattering portrayal of Muhammad in the Bolognini frescoes, but she said it was widespread and is to speed up the bureaucratic process between Italy's various forces should trouble develop. I told her about getting my little Swiss Army knife confiscated, with no return, outside Milan Cathedral, and she said that this was because if they'd returned it and I'd gone on to stab someone they would be held responsible by the aforementioned forces of bureaucracy. Similarly the soldiers and police are loath to use their guns as the resulting paperwork is considerable, even if they shoot no-one.

To San Giacomo Maggiore next, where the No Photo rule was a bit style-cramping. It then seemed like I could get a half-hour in Santo Stefano, but I was wrong, as it was Monday, and so the place was closed. I got lunch from the same bakers as Saturday, but with more biscuity confectionery. I also popped into Feltrinelli for the book on Bolognese Porticos, and was charged 10 cents for a paper bag!

A church-mooch south-westish in the evening, finding a couple to photograph, a new one, and that the wreck that was San Barbaziano has got cleaned up and going to be "a multifunctional center for performing arts and circus". Eventually. My gelato this evening was from Galliera 49, very near my hotel, and the flavours were fior di panna and crema mediterranea. Superior
Tuesday 28th
The idea had been to catch a train and spend a day in Modena, but realising I'd yet to visit Santo Stefano or the Pinacoteca, and that I had promised myself another visit to the cemetery, I decided that Modena could wait, maybe until it could get a few days to itself. I headed to Santo Stefano first, inadvertently passing San Nicolò degli Albari, a church I'd never previously found open, but it was! The joy of this, and finding Santo Stefano pretty empty, was considerable. My enjoyment was also improved by my only having to take new photos - none of that tedious reading and writing stuff. Interesting that the gift shop and small museum is now red-roped so you have to visit the latter before you get to the former. The Museum has some fascination, and when I got to the shop I found there was a new guidebook, and a fridge magnet of my favourite bit of wall.

The Pinacoteca I found to have had a recent sprucing up of the panels and painting-tags in the rooms, There were even signs in the toilet, in Italian and English, telling you to keep the doors closed to protect the paintings. And there's a shop now too, full of heavy books in Italian.

I got myself a good mozzarella, pomodoro and rucola panino on the way back, and a nice fresh cake with a custard middle, which substance in Italian cakes I'm coming to appreciate more this week. Especially at breakfast. In the evening I indulged in some calm reappraisal of Santa Maria di Galliera, San Martino (a favourite) and Santi Vitale e Agricola, which has a nice old crypt. This requires a coin in the slot for the light and, as it was getting late, I checked with the monk in attendance that he wouldn't close up and leave me down there. Wandering sunlit city streets finding cool dark churches to sit in is not something I do in real life you know

Wednesday 29th
My last day I'd set aside for a second cemetery visit. On my way I visited San Domenico, as it was the only one of my faves I'd not been inside this trip. It was all I remembered, except the access to the choir, along with the other interesting East end spaces, was all locked up. The Cloister of the Dead was accessible, though, and a green treat as usual. Further along on my way I noticed that San Basilio was open. As orthodox churches are often supervised by unfriendly blokes in football shirts I hesitated, but went in. And met the friendliest and most helpful and knowledgeable church attendant in ages. He knew all about when the church, now full of icons, was run by Carthusians and called Sant'Anna and how it had had it's own relic of the skull of Saint Anne, donated by a pope, as depicted in a dome fresco. He knew a lot about Bologna's history too. Thank you that man, for reviving my faith in unsurly church docents.

My cemetery visit was long and I covered new ground, new cloisters and new halls, but still in the same half. I also got lost in an underground maze of columbarium corridors and had to ask a woman in overalls with a broom where the nearest staircase was. She seemed to find me and my plight and my garbled Italian amusing, especially as I'd introduced myself by saying 'aiuto!' A long walk back later, and a supermarket lunch of pizza focaccia and tomato crisps, preceded another late-finishing doze.
Not a long evening stroll then, but a church I needed to get a better photo of, but had not found this trip (or looked for) did suddenly appear! A blooming miracle

Thursday 3
I didn't have much time to linger before needing to get to the airport. The last breakfast was followed by checking out and, when asked, my saying it was all good except for my small and very noisy room. Apologies, but a more expensive room seemed the gist of the solution. The Marconi shuttle train was pretty empty but hoards were being held back at the airport end. The train's carriages are few and pretty small. A short but immensely slow check-in queue, was followed by unusually queue-free security and passport checks. And a swift and trouble-free flight.

To finish up I feel the need to go on about the hotels. Both were first stays for me, the one in Ferrara as the chain hotel I've stayed at previously had closed down, and the one in Bologna because my usual hotel, the Commercianti, was all booked up on some of the days I wanted.
The Hotel de Prati in Ferrara is three star, I had a good-size room with a large wardrobe, and glass panelled doors onto a mini balcony overlooking a biggish space with terraces belonging to other houses, and the breakfast was fresh and good, even the orange juice. The staff were friendly and helpful, as they were at the Metropolitan, the far swankier 4-star hotel in Bologna, but my room there was so small it didn't have bedside tables and getting down one side you had to walk sideways. The walls seemed to be paper-thin: I could hear the plumbing, use of the bathroom and water flushing on both sides, and the people in the upstairs room seemed to need to move furniture around around midnight. And that added to the usual noise from the corridor, including the cleaning staff using the room next to mine as their base. I hadn't needed to use my earplugs in a while, but I sure did here. And it was costing me three times what the Ferrara hotel had! And for that extra the orange juice was just sugared water! Rant ends.

On a more positive note, because that's the kind of guy I am, I was talking to a friend about why I like Ferrara and realised that the number of accessible churches with special medieval wall paintings is not the only thing that makes a place...special. Ferrara is a peaceful city with a tasteful variety of architecture. I have a downer on the Castello because although it is famous for the art created for its rooms none of it remains, but from most angles it is a pretty spectacular building. The city has a well-stocked Pinacoteca and some equally well-stocked museums, as detailed above, a great cemetery, and two of the best gelateria. My point is that my spending so much time making church-investigating web pages might be skewing my judgements. I'll be keeping an eye on it, anyway.



San Petronio

Santo Stefano



Holiday reading

Tom Benjamin A Quiet Death in Italy
This is the first in the author's series featuring Daniel Leicester, an Englishman who has married into a Bolognese detection dynasty. Crime novels set in Italy and written by English-speakers are pretty evenly split as to whether their main protagonist is Italian or an expat, and choosing to make your detective a Brit makes it easier,  I presume, for a British author to sound authentic. Maybe this is why Donna Leon resisted having her Brunetti books translated into Italian for so long. The plot is all about official corruption, idealistic youngsters and the history of communism in Bologna. Observationally it's spot-on, and refreshingly revels in modern technology, especially mobile phones, rather than setting its action in a period before they appeared. The is gleefully modern, with our hero's being a Brit working for him, as he comes from the land of Sherlock Homes and Agatha Christie, despite our reputation for suave wisdom being tarnished by Brexit. (I read that bit the day before passing the shop pictured right on the way to the cemetery.) Reading the book in Bologna I couldn't help but be impressed by its authenticity of detail and feel, social and geographical.

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