Italy Uncategorized

Time to spare in Bologna, Italy is a good thing

Missing a Renaissance masterpiece isn’t

One Saturday last June my daughter and I wandered into the Church of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna, Italy.  We were killing time as we waited to meet friends (my daughter’s Italian language tutor, actually) for lunch and a quick tour of the public library before heading back to Venice.

That morning, after arriving by train from Venice, we had savored cappuccini and croissants  and then toured the main attraction in Bologna, the Basilica de San Petronio. We spent about an hour there marvelling at the centuries-old church with the unusual brick and stone facade. Plan to read a future post on that experience soon, but here’s a taste.

Basilica de San Petronio | Photo: M. Yung

We had also explored the Piazza Maggiore with its beautiful Fountain of Neptune and saw the city “square” rigged and ready with row upon row of temporary seating for hundreds plus a huge movie screen. Among other movies, Gone with the Wind was on the menu at some time during the summer season. How fun would that be?!

In our hour or two of free time, we also strolled down beautiful loggia-lined avenues. Eventually, we happened upon a church, the Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita.

It’s the copper-domed church in the large photo at the top of this post. While it’s quite a standout in a Bologna skyline photo, at street level it’s easy to miss. Tall buildings and narrow streets together conceal your vision of things in the upper reaches.

Bologna, Italy | Photo: M. Yung

It was a warm and achingly brilliant sunny day. Taking a short break in a quiet place of worship enticed us to escape the Italian noonday rays.

Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita | The architect Giovanni Battista Bergonzoni designed the church. It was built between 1687-1690.

Inside, sounds of the street faded to a cavernous quiet. The majesty and somber tone of the interior both cooled and stunned me.

The soothing soft green interior wall colors caught our attentions first. The ornate Baroque stylings caught our attentions second. The dome, completed in 1787 and designed by architect  Giuseppe Tubertini, was beautiful as well.


But if only I had Googled to see what more this structure had to reveal.

Because here’s what we didn’t see: Lamentation Over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca (1435-1494). Italy Magazine describes the work as “A life-size group of six separate terracotta  figures lamenting in a semicircle around the dead Christ.”

I stumbled upon this sculpture as I was researching the church and I still can’t believe that I was in this very building and missed this very powerful example of Renaissance art.

I can’t get over the expressions on the faces.

Terror. Despair. Uncontrollable grief. 

Truth be told, I often feel detached from historical art. The expressions are often glum and sullen, especially in depictions of Jesus Christ and the suffering he endured on the cross. That goes, too, for the the emotional suffering of those nearby who loved him. Sometimes it’s just hard to identify.

With Arca’s work, however, the emotions of the figures are real and painfully so. I understand that kind of hurt and sorrow and panic. We see humans in painful grief daily on the news and in our modern media. To think that an Italian Renaissance artist was able to capture it accurately — in terra cotta — six hundred years ago — baffles my small mind.

Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, by Joyofmuseums [CC BY-SA (

Words are not needed in the picture below. The emotion is palpable and horrible.


And on that note, I’ll close this post with this final thought: When travelling, it’s a good thing to have time to spare. However, once you arrive home, it’s heart-breaking to discover something wonderful that you missed.

Lesson learned: Next time, slow down, google it, and learn what more there is right in front of you.

Thanks for reading! Follow my blog for more posts about the details in travel far and wide.


When you finally meet your online Italian language tutor

Desperately seeking Clara in Bologna, Italy

Last Saturday, my daughter and I ventured out of Venice to Bologna. The purpose of our trip was to meet Clara Ori. Clara teaches online lessons in the Italian language and she and my daughter have been working together since last September. Once or twice a week, they meet online via

The famous towers of Bologna.

Clara and Katherine hit it off right from the start and found it challenging to remain focused on their lessons because they had so much fun just chatting and becoming friends.

Leaving Venice at 7 a.m.

So, when Katherine was awarded her internship at the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in late April, she knew that a visit to meet Clara would be in order.

The two had decided to arrange to meet for lunch around noon. We had subsequently planned to leave Venice early in the day, do some sightseeing in the morning, have lunch with Clara and her boyfriend, Victor, and then return to Venice in the afternoon.

The Italian countryside

We left Katherine’s neighborhood of Santa Elena in the Castello sestiere on a vaporetto at about 6 a.m., and arrived at the Ferrovia train station about thirty minutes later. Our Trenitalia train left at 7 a.m.

A mere two hours later, we were dining on cappuccini and croissants near the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna’s city center, and deciding which major sights to see.

Piazza Maggiore

Sitting close to the major square of the city, the Piazza Maggiore, I considered how I had always thought Venice felt old. After all, it was founded in 421 AD. However, strolling into Bologna, I realized that it feels and looks older and has a more primitive feel. And for good reason: Bologna was founded in 500 BC. That’s quite a difference!

Another difference: compared to quiet Venice, Bologna is raucous with its cars and scooters. Plus, there’s all that beautiful red masonry and all the loggias, those covered archway thoroughfares along the Via Indipendenza that shade pedestrians as they saunter along the timeworn marble-paved and mosaic walkways.

Loggia along Via Indipendenza

Next to the Piazza Maggiore and its Basilica di Petronius is the Fountain of Neptune within the plaza of the same name. When my daughter last visited Bologna during her first internship in Venice, the Fountain of Neptune was encased in scaffolding for maintenance. She looked forward to seeing it in person this time.

The Fountain of Neptune

We strolled around the major buildings of the plaza and stopped inside the Palazzo d’Accursio to see the city’s Town Hall. The oldest parts of this building date to the 14th century.

It’s interesting to see where Bolognans go to pay, oh for example, their water bills. Paying a utility bill in a spot such as this would make the bill easier to pay, I would think. This facility also includes art collections, the city libraries, and a museum.

Palazzo d’Accursio… the city’s administrative buildings

The highlight of the morning was touring inside the enormous, medieval Basilica di Petronius. Inside many churches (whether a cathedral or basilica), signs request that visitors respect “the holy place” and that knees and shoulders be covered. If you don’t have the appropriate clothing, you won’t be allowed in or you may purchase for 1€ a dark blue, gauzy kimono to wear. We saw one or two women wearing these as they milled around the cathedral. Luckily, I had tucked a cardigan inside my bag for the day to wear over my tank-style dress.

In addition, for 2€, you may take pictures, presumably even with flash. So, I paid the man at a lectern-type kiosk, who in turn looped a bright orange band around my wrist. Then we were free to roam and photograph at our leisure. (Surely, the woman walking around boldly wielding her GoPro camera had paid, right?!)

Basilica di Petronius
Inside the Basilica di Petronius
Inside the Basilica di Petronius
Inside the Basilica di Petronius

You can only take so many pictures inside a beautiful cathedral before it starts to seem pointless. Pictures simply do not suffice. I would dare to say that just admiring the view with your own eyes–and not through a lens–is a much more efficient use of your time.

Even with all its incredible architecture and history, Bologna offers still more. In fact, you can experience Bologna’s charm just walking around. Find a park bench in the shade, and then sit and watch.

Sitting and people-watching 

While we sat in a shaded square off the plaza, a mother, father, and two daughters were dropped off by taxi a few feet from our park bench.

The oldest teenage daughter’s flowing royal blue chiffon gown swayed in the breeze as she stood with her mother who wore an a olive-burgundy-bronze brocade knee-length chemise. The father, in a white dress shirt and gray plaid fitted trousers, seemed to be searching for someone. The younger daughter, in her awkward middle school years, stood off to the side in a champagne-colored sundress.

We loved sitting near these storefronts. Notice the hand-painted lettering!

The group discussed directions, peered left and right, walked away down the nearby alleyway, came back, and straightened their clothes. Continually rising on tiptoe to peer into the surrounding clusters of pedestrians, they never seemed to accomplish much other than to exude Italian chic.

A typical street in Bologna’s city center

After people-watching for about an hour, we started out to meet Clara, who told us she would be arriving via train from Padua with her boyfriend, Victor. (They had been to Padua that morning for Victor’s eye appointment and they had planned to return to Bologna for the afternoon.)

We headed back to the Via Indipendenza, which is closed to automotive traffic on the weekends. Pedestrians filled the brick paved boulevard and sauntered through the loggias on each side of the street. We scanned the oncoming walkers for Clara and Victor.

But here’s the thing: Clara is blind and Victor has very limited eyesight.

Spotting them was our goal; listening for Katherine’s voice would be Clara’s.

Clara had told Katherine that Victor would be very tall and that she would be using, in her words, “my inseparable white cane.”

Within a few minutes, at the very far end of the loggia, just a block from the train station, we spied them. Katherine called out, “Clara!” and that was that. We found each other!

After greetings and hugs, Clara and Victor said they would select a place where we could have paninis and visit. They knew of such a cafe just down the street. We followed the couple, Clara and Katherine chatting the entire way.

After ordering our lunches (and admittedly, following their lead was not as difficult as you might imagine), we sat down at a table outside and talked for more than an hour.

Talking over paninis

After eating, we had an hour or so of free time, so Clara and Victor told us they would like to take us to the Salaborsa public library in Bologna just a short distance away inside the Palazzo d’Accursio facility. This library was built in 2001 and is the central public library funded by the municipality of Bologna. We followed Clara and Victor into one of the most beautiful libraries I will probably ever see.

Salaborsa Library
Salaborsa Library

There wasn’t much time left after going to the library, so we all four headed back to the train station. We took some photos and Clara and Victor made sure to direct Katherine and I to the correct platform area to catch our 4:08 p.m. train back to Venice.

The four of us: Katherine, Victor, Clara, and me
Waiting at Bologna departures for the train back to Venice 

The day had gone exactly as planned.

Our goal of meeting Clara and Victor was met and we arrived back in Venice with time to hop off the vaporetto at the Zattere for a grocery run to buy salmon fillets.

Later back in Santa Elena, Katherine made dinner (score one for Mom!)… she served the salmon with Basmati rice and her own chutney salad made with mango, avocado, cucumbers, and bell peppers. It was a delicious end to a perfect day.

Making our way across the Venetian lagoon at the end of the day

Thanks for reading! It’s becoming more and more challenging to post daily, but I’m using this trip to get in the habit of producing work daily. We’ll see how that continues. Follow my blog to see how and if I keep up.

Click here for yesterday’s post about the Venice Biennale.

I traveled to Venice from Skopelos, Greece, where we are staying before continuing our trip through the Peloponnese. Click here for a post from Skopelos.