Hamming it up in Parma

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Friday, 10 December 2010 at 18:41

Disclaimer: To save my arse from potentially being shouted at, it was just bad karma that my internet would cut out for two days when trying to organise a trip somewhere. However, I can’t really expect a host of “Why didn’t you invite me!!?” comments, because the message sent out was still sans replies less than an hour ago. I can, however, be shouted at by the Parmigiani and Laura, for not informing them I’d be in town – sorry, spur of the moment visit, though I will come back before I leave the Bel Paese!

Anyhow, let’s bring you up to speed. Since last venting, over a week ago, there has been nothing but days off. Days and days and days and days off. I should have used them and brushed up on those things they call subjects, since I am in University. I should also have used them to visit Italy, but I was hoarding my metaphorical pennies after a bit of a Christmas blow-out – the result of which means the quality of photos, at least in terms of clarity, should improve vastly in the new year! So, in short: for the last seven days, I have unashamedly sat on my arse and done nothing; literally veg’d out; so much so I started collecting beer labels… As you do…

On Saturday (or was it Sunday?) I bumped into Emilia and José on the bus, and we talked about how I’ve been a lame Erasmus student (Sorry, Emyr!) and that we should definitely go somewhere this week thanks to Wednesday being Immaculate Conception (Italy shuts down), Thursday being the feast of San Siro (Pavia supposedly shuts down), and today being a day off just because this is Italy! I tried to cajole people into going to Novara and Vercelli, though my guess is that it didn’t appeal…

The one day in my life when I'll be awake before sunrise voluntarily

So, today rolls around, and I’m up at the crack of dawn – I was even good enough to provide you with the proof! – and my internet had been out for a whole day and a half (which I mostly spent playing Plants vs Zombies…). So, I thought “Sod it, I’ll go into town and put up a text status on Facebook saying I have no internet. I assume people will get the message, and let me know if anything is going down.” – after a half hour talk on the economic crisis that is gripping the world with Savino in the café, I gave up all hope of anyone coming to find me, and asked for a recommendation on where to go. It became a toss-up between Parma and Bologna. Now, since I’ve seen the prices for Bologna on the ESCity trains, and didn’t like the looks of 4 hours on the ‘bog standard’ regionals, I opted for Parma.

One thing I’ll say for train journeys in Italy is that they don’t disappoint when it comes to the views. In Wales, it’s a case “same old, same old” on the Valley Line – hills, hills, hills, river, hills, river etc. – but Milan to Parma was just rolling fields as far as the eye could see, and mountains! Actual Alpine mountains! Plus, you can travel for half an hour without having to stop…it takes an hour to go the 20miles to Cardiff; I did 148km in 2 hours today…with a break for my change-over at Milano Rogoredo.  British Rail: you could learn something from the Italians! Who needs to stop at Ton Pentre anyway?

But, I digress.

Parma is a city in Emilia-Romagna. It’s roughly an hour and a half away from Pavia, and by contrast is a hybrid of peaceful streets and bustling pavements. Maybe that was just today, though. It’s also my nominee for the prize of “City under construction at the most inopportune time!” – not only is the station receiving a makeover, but so is the bell tower of the cathedral. Put a bit of a dampener on my trip.

The first thing I noticed about Parma is that it is quite underwhelming…then I realised that the station is nowhere near the ‘historical centre’, so it would be like basing my opinion of Cardiff on Cathays. It has a river – wikipedia quotes a historian as calling it a stream, but would you call this a stream:

Attilio Bertolucci has never seen a river before...

I certainly don’t think it’s a stream. In fact, I was quite in awe of it, though the bridges have nothing on Pavia’s Ponte Coperto! On this side of the bridge (i.e. the side I am taking the photo from) is some large park, which, at first seems a bit like Bute Park with a bit of a superiority complex. But, then I walked further than just the front gate, and it’s quite beautiful. I reckon in the summer it would be amazing, what with leaves on trees and such. But still, after walking the full circumference of the park, I was at a loss as to where the ‘historic centre’ was. Considering the fact that the Duomo in Pavia can be seen from most places, and the one in Milan has its own metro stop…surely the most important medieval baptistery in Northern Italy, if not Europe, would be well signposted??

Unless I’d missed the signs, I spent the time wandering aimlessly, considering giving up my search for this holy grail of medieval church architecture. Sure, I found plenty of other churches and buildings and statues to make my nerdy side happy, but in the back of my mind I felt I was missing something. When I found myself back at the river, I sighed, sat down on a bench and conceded defeat. “Sod it,” I thought, using a phrase I over use in writing so that my blog is vaguely PG, “I’ll get the next train home and come back in January and get Sara and Erica to show me where it is!!”

Figuring I had an hour until the next train, I thought I’d find out what lay to the other side of the Palazzo del Governatore (not under construction, but maltreated and hidden by a sign telling everyone it was Christmas, I do believe…*mumble grumble*) Woe was I when there was no sign of the Baptistery. The street went on, and ended at a bell tower, but no piazza. I reached a crossroads – literally – and only by the sheer luck that I glanced to my right, rather than turning left and just storming off to the station to pout, did I see it. My jaw dropped – metaphorically – and I have trouble relating the feeling. I can, however, tell you that I became a total church architecture nerd: there are photos on my camera of the intricate details on the Baptistery, the triple loggia of the cathedral, the parts of the wall where it looks like an arch was removed, the masonry, the art…ooo, I was happier than a pig in the proverbial!

So...amazingly...pretty O.O I became a bit of a nerd, taking photos like this...so sue me

Isn’t that just beautiful. Eight-sided on the outside, sixteen sided on the inside; four doors - one at every compass point; four loggias on every side. And just look at those blind arches making an arcade at the top. Oh, I am in heaven! It’s probably best that I leave it there, rather than including the sheer boredom which came with the hour and a half back to Milan, and the twenty minutes to Pavia… And that sums up my (probably) last day of travel in Italy of 2010!

As normal, all of the photos from today (not that I took many in the two hours I was in Parma – that’s what leaving it to the last minute does; cuts your time short), are up on my flickr page.


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