Day Trip to Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna has an incredibly rich collection of mosaics from the 5th and 6th centuries. The city has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites.  Ravenna was an easy train ride from our hub city, Bologna. We did our own walking tour, generally following Rick Steves suggestions.

DSC02098 C  DSC02096 C Arian Bapistery

The Arian Baptistery was built around 526.  The mosaic ceiling is a rare survivor.  Most Arian art was destroyed when Emperor Justinian and the Nicenes took control of the city in 540.  It was interesting to learn how the Arians saw Jesus’ humanity and divinity differently than the way the mainstream of the time did, hence the need for the council at Nicaea and the Nicene Creed.  Here’s a link if you’d like to learn more.  

Unlike other art forms, Mosaics do not fade as they age so the colors are as clear and bright as the day they were made.  It’s hard to believe they are 1500 years old!  Notice the dove spitting divinity on the head of Jesus at his baptism.

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Piazza del Popolo was created by the Venetians in the 15th century.

DSC02099 C Piazza del Popolo

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The Neonian Baptistery dates from around the year 400.

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DSC02112 C  DSC02105 C Neonian Bapistery

The two baptisteries were beautiful but they were only the appetizer.  The main dish was the Basilica di San Vitale.

DSC02129 C San Vitale  DSC02154 C

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This basilica was built around 540, just after the fall of Rome.  It is astonishingly covered with tiny gold and glass mosaics.

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Rick Steves’ Ravenna guide says the Viennese artist Gustav Klimt sat right here around 1900 and was inspired by the glint of the light on the gold leaf.

DSC02151 C Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

Across the courtyard from the Basilica is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.  Here are the oldest mosaics in Ravenna.  95% of these mosaics are originals.  Galla Placidia was the daughter, sister and mother of Roman emperors.  She died in Rome around 450 and her body was never returned to Ravenna.  

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So much detail in such a small space leaves you in awe.

Other sites are also in walking distance through Ravenna’s attractive streets.

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This is the tomb of Dante.  He was exiled from Florence and spent the rest of his life in Ravenna. 

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In the garden next door is a mound where Dante’s bones were hidden during WW II.

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The Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo was started around 500 as the Palace Church of King Theodoric of the Goths.  He decorated it with scenes of himself and his palace amid Christ and the saints.  Some of these scenes survive but most are Byzantine, from the mid-500s.    

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The Baroque altar was added 1000 years later.

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I’m afraid my pictures do not do justice to the mosaics of Ravenna.  It is definitely worth a trip if your travels take you nearby.  They are exquisite.

Posted in Italy, Ravenna | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bologna Side-trip: Food Tour

We took a tour of local food producers with Viator, a company that specializes in unique tours. Their office was just a few doors from our apartment so they picked us up. We made a stop to pick up 5 more “tourists” and we set off in two Mercedes mini-vans. 

First stop, a Parmesan cheese producer. 

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The milk is cooked in these big copper kettles, the lower half of the kettle is below floor level.  When ready, it is lifted out of the kettle in a big cheese cloth and plopped into a round form.

DSC01948 C  DSC01943 C Into the molds

Each wheel is stamped with ID information so they can trace it for quality control.

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After it sets up, the form is removed and the wheel of cheese goes into a salt bath for 25 days.  The rounds of cheese are flipped each day.

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Then the wheels are stacked and left to age.  They are “officially” inspected after 12 months and are graded for quality.  

DSC01957 C Aging 1 to 2 years  DSC01958 C

Italian Parmesan cheese sold in the U.S. is always over 2 years old because it is not pasteurized.  We tasted a 2 year aged and a 1 year aged cheese.  The one year is slightly milder and not as crumbly. 

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Our next stop – a traditional Balsamic vinegar producer.  Unlike vinegar as we know it, this Balsamic is sweet, not sour. Traditional balsamic is all about the waiting.  Grape juice is cooked to remove water and concentrate the juice, then aged in  casks made of different kinds of precious woods.  This building houses cask sets for local families, plus sets used to produce balsamic that will be sold.

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Following an ancient process, each year a portion of the juice is moved from a large cask into the next smaller sized cask and new juice is added to the first cask.  This process is repeated every year until juice has been mixed in 7 casks of graduated sizes.  Only after the juice in the 7th cask (the smallest cask) ages a year can you remove Balsamic from it to consume.  So to simply start this process takes at least 8 years.  Then every year the process continues.  Balsamic is removed from cask 7 to use, juice is moved from cask 6 into 7, 5 into 6, 4 into 5, 3 into 4, 2 into 3, 1 into 2 and finally, new juice is added to the largest cask, #1.  Families start sets for their newborns.  They are passed along when the child grows up and marries.  They are given as wedding presents too. 

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The hole in the top of the cask is left open so the juice can evaporate and a cloth is put over it to keep dust and critters out.

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This is not your Balsamic from Trader Joes!  This is a super thick and sweet syrup, a little goes a long way.  We sampled 30 year old Balsamic with mascarpone and parmesan cheeses and they poured a younger one over ice cream!

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DSC01971  DSC01972 C 100 years old

These are 50 and 100 years old!  Can you see the price of the 50 yr. olds?  Needless to say we did not taste these nor did we buy any to take home.


On the road again, we did a drive by of the Ferrari factory.

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Then continued on to a prosciutto producer.

There is a lot of waiting here also.  Hog legs are delivered, covered in salt, stacked on racks and then hung up to dry for around 2 years.  That’s it!  These meat lockers are temperature controlled to match the effect of changing seasons on meat hanging in a shed as in the old days.  No chemicals, just mother nature.  They can’t sell this in the U.S. either.  

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This is their slicing machine.  Pieces come out paper thin.

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Finally lunch!  In this region traditional tortellini is served in a broth. 

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DSC02055 C Tagliatelle (2)  Tagliatelle in Bolognese sauce

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The most unique dish served was Pig Pesto…..a spread of lard with a few herbs in it.  Sorry to say but no amount of herbs could make this taste like anything but lard.  The breads were great!

Here’s a picture of another great meal we had in Bologna. 

This tortellini was served in a light cream sauce.  And the mixed green salad was a meal in itself! 

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Buon appetito!

Posted in Bologna, Italy | Tagged , , | 5 Comments