I’m fairly certain that Prague wants nothing to do with me. For the second year in a row I tried and failed to get there. A month before our trip there were plenty of unsold seats, only for the number to dwindle to almost nothing. It’s safe to say that non-rev travel to Prague is predictable in the sense that I can count on everyone wanting to be in Prague at the same time as me.
But hey, that’s alright. What kind of non-revver would I be if I didn’t have a Plan B? And unlike the last time this happened, I at least had more a day to make plans!
And Plan B was . . . Bologna, Italy.
I’ll be honest–Bologna was a mystery to me. I knew it was in Italy; I knew that American bologna is inspired by mortadella, which originated in Bologna; and I knew that it had something to do with Bolognese sauce–but that’s about it. I hit my usual spots for information: the UNESCO world heritage site list, Atlas Obscura, and the Like a Local guide. I discovered that Bologna is the seventh most populous city in Italy and is home to the oldest university in the world, the University of Bologna. It’s nicknames are la dotta, la grassa, and la rossa (the learned, the fat, and the red) for the university, the food, and–depending on who you believe–the red buildings or the city’s history of leaning waaaaaay left (politically) and very anti-fascist. Bologna is also one the UNESCO Creative Cities of Music, and its 25 miles of porticoes have been nominated as a world heritage site.
That’s a good start. Then I found out that Bologna is reputed to be the place where tortellini was born, the result of some Bolognese dude having a vision of Venus and creating a pasta in her honor–tortellini is allegedly shaped like Venus’ belly button. I had my own visions . . . of eating a ton of tortellini!
Oh, and Bologna has its own leaning towers, one of which leans more than the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Okay then.
Bologna has a fairly interesting history, all told. The area now known as Bologna was first habitated in the third millennium BCE, with the university established in 1088 CE (yes, a lot of interesting stuff happened in between, too). I am particularly fascinated by Bologna’s role in World War II. The Prime Minister at the time was, of course, Benito Mussolini, and he had already pretty much turned Italy into a dictatorship. And in 1940, Mussolini threw his support behind Hitler. Allied troops took Sicily in 1943, which caused Mussolini to be deposed–and Italy withdrew from its alliance with Germany and signed an armistice with the Allies. But German soldiers–who were occupying parts of Italy still–freed Mussolini and took him north to establish a new fascist state called the Italian Socialist Republic. Of course, Italy became ground zero for pitched battles over the country. Bologna, being an important transportation hub, was bombed, first in 1943 (the bombing destroyed or severely damaged about half the city center and killed 200 people). Later that same year, the city was bombed again with a wider bombing pattern; nearly 1,000 people were killed and about the same number were injured. I was also surprised/not surprised that undetonated bombs are still being found in Bologna.
Bologna was liberated by Allied forces in 1945 thanks to the Battle of Bologna, but the city had served as a stronghold for resistance to Nazi occupation and the Italian Socialist Republic. Partisans from Bologna fought against Italian fascism, both with weapons and through refusals to comply. Interestingly, Bologna had a Communist government from 1945 to 1999, suddenly elected a center-right Mayor for a few years, and then elected a left-wing government. Considering Bologna is one of the richest cities in Italy (it might be the richest city), it makes for a riveting story.
Up next will be a few posts about how I spent my few days in Bologna!