This week, my husband and I took a few days to explore the Italian cities of Modena and Bologna. This was my second trip to Italy, the first having been to Venice, and this time the cities we visited were much less tourist-y. I suppose we diluted that benefit somewhat by walking around for three days with our faces upturned and our cameras out, but we did our best to observe and experience the culture around us as thoroughly as possible in the time we had. We even went to restaurants that had no menus at all – just a list of daily dishes recited by the waitstaff in Italian. Fortunately, it was mostly pasta, so I usually knew what shape of food I was getting…just not the topping or sauce!
The first thing that strikes you about Modena and Bologna, and that continues to strike you as you spend hours walking the cobbled streets, is how old these cities are. More than once, we came across towers and churches that leaned just as precariously as the Tower of Pisa, as though they were simply tired of having stood up straight for so many centuries. We even went inside a church from the 11th century…it was so old, it didn’t even have stained-glass windows. It is quite a sight to stroll around the weathered, orange-tinged stone architecture at the University of Bologna, while students rushed up and down the streets with their earbuds and iPhones.
The University also held one of the greatest highlights of our trip – the Museo di Palazzo Poggi. We happened on it by accident and, with a few hours to spare and the sky turning dark, decided to pop inside. For just three Euros apiece, we were granted access to the most fascinating natural history museums I have ever seen in my life! The museum boasts collections as old as the 16th century that span the areas of botany, marine biology, anatomy, obstetrics, physics, chemistry, optics, and military architecture. Visitors can look through hundreds upon hundreds of ancient specimens, all preserved and carefully labelled by people who, centuries ago, were captivated by the earth’s biodiversity. The extensive collection of wax cadavers for anatomical study was another of my favorite exhibits, but it unfortunately did not make for very pretty photography!