15 – 21stJune
This year, the IFADS conference was held in Bologna, Italy. It attracted PhD students and professors from all over the globe. Luckily for me, this included my incredible father, a finance professor at the University of Queensland. He’d flown over from Australia for a week in this ancient university city and it was the least I could do to jump on a cheap flight and squat in his hotel room, really. All in all it was very considerate of me.
Thus, after a very convoluted series of train trips from Pwllheli to Manchester, a flight to Rome Ciampino, then the high speed train to Bologna Centrale, I found myself late on a Saturday evening in the brightly lit maze of porticoes and piazzas that constitute Bologna. Filching free wifi, I found my way to the Hotel Corona d’Oro, tucked away off Piazza Maggiore. Arriving slightly dishevelled into a foyer decked out in polished marble, I trundled up to the concierge and announced I was Prof. Tom Smith’s daughter, here to check in. Not one eyelid was batted. Keycard for the room? Of course. Wifi code? Certainly. I was ushered into the air-conditioned sanctuary, up plushly-carpeted stairs into the waiting embrace of dearest padre. It was quite an odd experience to see Dad after three months, and in Italy of all places!
Bologna, the University of Queensland Gang
Over the course of the weekend, the rest of the UQ team assembled, and by Monday 17th June, the whole gang was there, a bit jet-lagged but set for a week of adventure. With several Akubra hats, a series of loud shirts and plenty of exuberance, they were ready to face the dry heat of Bologna, finance-professor style.
Over the course of the week, the group tended to spontaneously nucleate in the breakfast room at the hotel to linger over several espressos and discuss the day’s plans. Luckily, the actual conference only impugned on the week by a sum total of two days, leaving plenty of time for exploration/wine consumption/napping. After breakfast, a typical day began with a ramble around the city, then recouping over a long lunch, followed by a siesta, then meeting up for a relaxed dinner in the evening. It was not a bad combination really.
But on the 18th and 19th this leisurely life was disrupted – the UQ gang had to be up early to head to the conference at 8am, and survive the stifling heat until 5pm listening to presentations. By all accounts the conference went very well. I certainly enjoyed attending the periphery events such as the Reception and the Conference Dinner. Who’d have thought finance professors could be so good at karaoke? Or that they would have such a tolerance for alcohol? The things you learn. When the conga line started I knew I was in good company.
Luckily for me, I was just a hanger-on and could while away my days exploring Bologna and surrounds, including an excellent day trip to Florence. The only thing that took a bit of getting used to was the heat. Having left a mizzling, grey Manchester at 13 degrees, Italy was a sweltering dry 37 degrees.
Bologna: the city and my favourite bits and bobs
 
Bologna is an exquisite city with some seriously ancient roots. The university itself was founded in 1088, just after the Battle of Hastings! Around the corner from the hotel, the streets open up from meandering laneways to the Piazza Maggiore, the enormous central square founded circa 1200 AD. It’s bounded by the beautiful Basilica of San Petronio, the infamous Neptune Fountain and Il Quadrilatero, a jumble of workshops and markets originally the home of the trade guilds of Bologna. In the early mornings, it’s awash with fresh fish stalls, fruit and vegetable vendors and the aroma of fresh herbs and spices. By lunchtime, everyone has retreated from the heat, and the myriad of cafes open their doors instead. All that remains is a slight fishy smell to attest to the earlier chaos. The pedestrian walkways of the city extending out from the square are delicately paved with marble and covered with lofty porticoes, providing a cool (not to mention gorgeous) way to explore the many interesting side streets and stalls. I thoroughly enjoyed ambling through the fruit and vegetable stalls, buying fresh strawberries, cherries, tomatoes and spinach, as well as fresh piadina (delicious flatbread) and grilled eggplant and zucchini from small delicatessens tucked into the surrounding laneways.
So much parmesan cheese!
Live crabs at the morning markets, Bologna.
Fruit fruit FRUIT! Morning markets, Bologna.
The Two Towers
Looming over the city are the two towers, a traditional symbol of Bologna. The Asinelli Tower (97m) is climbable, while its neighbour the Garisenda Tower (47m) is not. There are remnants of tower structures all over the city – apparently it was quite the status symbol, with approximately 100 towers in existence in the 12th century erected by various noble families. I’m sure it would have imbued the city with a distinctly phallic atmosphere. Divested of several euros for the privilege, I climbed the Asinelli Tower, all 97m of it. The tower was due to be closed for several months for structural maintenance the next day, and once I got past the scaffolding, the ancient wooden stairs clung precipitously to the walls to a dizzying degree. With a sheen of sweat on my brow I emerged from the dark interior to the lofty heights of the city. It was a stunning view, overlooking the many squares, cathedrals, winding cobbled streets and extending to the green hillsides beyond the city.

The Two Towers, Garisenda and Asinelli, Bologna. Don’t they look stable at those angles??
Image courtesy of http://www.bestourism.com
Musei de Palazzo Poggi
 

Tucked into the university district is this little gem of a museum. It’s an ancient palace remodelled by the Poggi family in the 16thcentury (hence the name), particularly Cardinal Giovanni Poggi. The high ceilings are superbly decorated with biblical and mythological murals. In the early 1700s, the palace expanded to house the Institute of Science with an observatory, workshops and laboratories. What’s more, it was a project with the full approval of Pope Benedict XIV. It was a thriving scientific mecca in its heyday, with scientists travelling from far afield to use its cutting-edge instruments and laboratories and to peruse the extensive collections. It was an extensive set-up covering natural history, chemistry, physics, astronomy, anatomy and archaeology. The Institute’s glamour has been restored in this excellent museum. It’s quite a wonder walking through intricately carved, panelled and painted rooms to look through the ancient scientific collections. I was intrigued but slightly repelled by the terrifying wax models from the 18thcentury depicting the muscular system, while in another room is the collection of clay and wax models devised by Bolognese doctor Giovan Antonio Galli for lecture demonstrations for surgeons and mid-wives. You are surrounded by cases of life-like foetuses, lines of scary surgical instruments, and the show-stopper, a glass full-sized uterus with a model foetus inside. Students were tested by birthing this model foetus while blindfolded. Snap. Luckily, as well as the bizarre, there’s a host of beautifully carved lithographic plates for magazine printing depicting plants, animals and landscapes. Another room divests enormous antique maps and charts and stunning ship models.

Natural History Room at the Musei de Palazzo Poggi. It’s an incredible mix of ancient biblical frescoes and specimens from the natural world accrued over several centuries. Image courtesy of http://www.museopalazzopoggi.unibo.it
Ancient views of Saturn’s rings, Musei de Palazzo Poggi.
Florence: OH MY GOODNESS, IT’S BEAUTIFUL
Florence (or Firenze) is only half an hour by high speed train from Bologna. On the 19th June, I jumped on an early morning train and arrived to a hot, steaming, swirling mass of tourists. Undeterred, I visited several amazing cathedrals and even managed to stick my head in the Galleria degli Uffizi. Bliss.
Il Duomo and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
 
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore dominates the square of Il Duomo. It’s hard to describe how incredibly enormous this cathedral is. It’s gigantic. Externally, it’s an intricate puzzlework of coloured marble and spectacular sculpture that goes on an on. Even walking around the outside takes time (given, much of this involves delicately parting the sea of gawking tourists who are similarly spellbound). Not surprisingly, it’s one of Italy’s top three, sharing the spotlight with the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Colosseum. So it’s kind of a big deal. Inside, it’s simply decorated in comparison to the extravagant exterior. It’s comforting to see white-washed walls, simple stained glass and woodwork after the visual overload of the exterior. The impressive domed ceiling is decorated with a fresco depicting the Last Judgement, dating from the 1600s.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence.
More of the external detail of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence.
Basilica of Santa Croce
 
Sprawling over the Piazza de Santa Croce down the road from Il Duomo is the Basilica of Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross). I spent a rapt several hours exploring the warren of small chapels covered in ancient frescoes, the monk’s cloisters and the small attached museum with ancient sculpture and artworks originally housed in the church. There are numerous works by Donatello and the church also contains the tombs of famous Florentines such as Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. It’s all a bit much to take in, really. Plus it’s gorgeous to boot.
Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence.
Image courtesy of http://www.italia.it
Galleria degli Uffizi
 
I was determined to get into the Uffizi. I knew the risks, I’d read the 44 Scotland Street novel in which Dominica’s friend Antonia is overcome by the concentration of great art and is removed for psychiatric care to an Italian convent. I waited in a snaking, stationary line for over an hour and was then ushered in to this famous gallery along with a similarly keen horde. Works by Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio and countless others fight for attention in this tiered museum of three floors and more than 50 rooms. I overheard wisps of information from guided tours but spent much of the time moving slowly from room to room, awed at the variety of artworks and their creators.
The last day: Rimini Beach
 
After a hard two days of work at the conference, the gang was keen for a day at the beach. With temperatures reaching 40 degrees, we took the train to Rimini, an enormous stretch of beach filled with umbrellas and lounges for rent, parallelled by a unbroken line of restaurants and bars. We had a long lunch in one such restaurant and then faced the blistering sand to throw ourselves in the water. I went for a walk along the never-ending beach-front among the seething human tide on the sands. Paddle-boats, street (sand?) hawkers, ice-cream sellers, sunburned foreigners – it was absolutely packed. My one regret is missing my Dad and several other professors renting a paddle-boat with a slide and giving it a go. There was unfortunately no photo evidence. Zero. Zilch. A little sun-dazed, the group retired to a beach-side bar for an invigorating few bottles of wine before reluctantly bidding Rimini farewell.
Rimini Beach.

After such a jam-packed week of food, good company and culture, I then had to retrace my steps to Rome Ciampino, back to Manchester and on to Pwllheli, Wales. It took the better part of two days but I managed to get back to the tranquillity of Mur Crusto with only olive oil, herbs and photographs to remember my incredible week in Italy. Again, grazie padre!

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