Thursday, September 4, 2014

Playing Tourist in Bologna

Bologna from San Michele in Bosco

 “I don’t know whether I drove out of Bologna 
today or was driven out."
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I played tourist in Bologna last weekend.  Even though Mike and I had taken the Red Bus tour last year, I decided to take it again because the company supposedly improved it. To tell the truth, I wouldn't know if they had or not because there was only one stop I remembered.

I headed to the Tourist Information Office in Piazza Maggiore because there is a separate area where a vendor of sorts sells tickets for tours and events. When I got there, one of the agents was busy with a British lady, and the other was busy texting someone. She was not happy that she had to give up her phone to deal with a customer.  (Please note: Italicized = Italian)

"I'd like information on the Red Bus," I told her. She put her phone down, got up, walked three feet, picked up a brochure, and thrust it in my face. I didn't need the brochure, but I took it. "How much is it?"

She huffed. "Thirteen euro."

"Does the bus go to San Luca?" I asked her. Seeing San Luca was one of the reasons I wanted to take the bus. She looked at me as though I were stupid.

Hop-On, Stay-On Red Bus

"No. For that you must take the San Luca Express. The combination ticket is 18 euro," she sneered.  "It is good only for today. You must do both trips today."

"That's fine," I told her. "I'll take one combination ticket." 

She sighed heavily. "You can get it on the bus." I realized she really wanted to get back to that text.

"I thought I could buy it here."

If looks could kill, I wouldn't be writing this post tonight.  "You can if you want."

"I want the combination ticket."

"It's good only today if you buy the combination," she repeated half-holding the ticket back from me.

"I understand." I grabbed the ticket. 

I think it's Porta Castiglione. We were driving too fast.

I'm sure you all know what the Red Buses are: The Hop-on, Hop-off (HOHO) tour buses that almost every major city has.  Mike and I tend to take a Red Bus whenever we go somewhere because we like to get a sense of a city that we don't know.  We'll ride the entire route once and then get off at places we want to see.  We also will use it for transportation at times if the city is huge.  Usually the tickets are pretty inexpensive—$15-20 for a 24-hour pass, and $20-30 for a 48-hour pass. It's worth it in very big (read: expensive) cities.

So, as I said, we like to take the Red Bus so we can get off at one place or another.  If you look at the sign on the bus in the photo above, you'll see that it even says, "Stop and Go."  Stop. Go.

Apparently the driver I had Saturday had no idea what "HOHO" or "Stop and Go" mean. He started that bus at 10:45, and the only stopping he did was at red lights. The recording, both in Italian and English, indicated that we could get off at such-and-such a stop to enjoy this or that, but I guess we would have had to dive off the top in order to actually do that.

One of the oldest buildings in Bologna on Via Azeglia
We did get to San Michele in Bosco, the one stop I remembered from last year, and the driver did slow down then. Of course, he had to slow down because the road ends at San Michele, and he had to turn the bus around.  The parking lot was not that big, and the bus was not that small. At least I got a few good panoramas of the city (top of the post).

After he turned the bus around, he headed down the hill and back through the historic center of the city.  We rushed by a building (photo above) which is one of the oldest in the city and where I *think* they said that they used to hold university classes hundreds of years ago. I'm not quite sure, though, because at that point, the recording started to skip. It probably didn't matter since we were rushing by so quickly.  (Side note: I walked back to the building the next day to get the photo.)

The bus continued to fly through the city even running a red light (cheered on by a group of German tourists on board). I rushed to the front of the bus and asked the driver to stop when we got to the place to catch the San Luca Express. Had I not, I'd probably still be riding around the route.  As it was, he finally stopped about 50 meters from the actual stop.

A small portion of the portico of San Luca

One of the reasons I wanted to see San Luca is because of the entire complex of things involved with it.  The basilica, Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca, sits on a hill about 300 meters above Bologna.  Since the 12th century, a church on the hill has housed an icon of the Virgin Mary brought to Bologna from Constantinople. The current basilica dates to 1723 or so.

Every May for the past 700+ years, they bring the icon down to the cathedral in Bologna and leave it there for a month. At the end of that time, the process from the cathedral in the city center to the basilica on the hill, a distance of 5 kilometers.

The Madonna Grassa (Fat Madonna), a shrine in the portico
 Beginning in the 17th century, the faithful of Bologna starting building a portico from the Porta di Saragozza to the basilica in order to protect the Madonna during the procession.  it took more than 100 years to complete the 3.5 kilometer portico, the longest continuous portico in the world. Originally, there were icons and chapels all along the route (depending on who was the patron of a particular area), and a few still remain. 

A lot of athletes train on the route. While we were heading up and down the hill, I saw runners sprinting through the portico. I'll be honest. I thought about walking up because 3.5 kilometers is less than what I usually walk everyday.  However, the thought of hiking 300 meters UP a hill scared me, and when I saw the condition of some of the people who were walking in that heat, I was glad I took the San Luca Express.

The portico

Don't let the name fool you, by the way. The San Luca Express is a Disneyland-like train that jerks its way up and down the hill. It took almost 25 minutes to go up the hill in that thing, and that was with a driver who must have had the same instructor as the bus driver because he didn't stop at any of the prescribed stops.  I got a view of the basilica when he, you guessed it, turned the train around.

Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca

 When we got back down the hill, I asked the gal who was the guide on the train (In other words, she sold tickets for the ride.) where to catch the bus since Speedy Gonzalez had not stopped in a regular area when I got off.  She pointed me down the road about 50 meters, and I headed that way.

I was standing there when the same Red Bus I had arrived on whizzed right by me.

Let me put it this way: I may be middle-aged (Gosh! I hate admitting that.), but I can run down a street.

It'll all be in the book.....

PS.  I'm considering trying to walk up the portico after all....It depends on how the weather is this weekend.

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