I have had enough of the palace and the town and was eager to leave, but Kenny wanted to stay for the tour. The family who runs the b@b owns the parlor floor of Palazzo Valenti Gonzaga. They restored some of the rooms and use them as the b@b/private museum. During the tour, we were told lots of Valenti history as well as tall tales, naturally. As far as this palazzo as a hotel, personally, I was not comfortable staying there. Sensory overload for me. Couldn’t sleep well. It also had a slightly musty smell f an old house, and just something didn’t add up for me here.I guess I am not a palace person. Would rather stay at a Park Hyatt. I was seduced by the raving reviews on tripadvisor, where people were saying this place was worth a detour to Mantua. They also praised Mantua as a worthwhile destination. I disagree with both. The name of Mantua was familiar t from Rigoletto, but the Duke’s palace’s appearance disappointed to such an extent that I didn’t even want to go in for a tour. It’s just too gloomy – no wonder, Verdi’s duke wanted to get out and have some fun 🙂 The town is definitely historical, and has much to offer if you are into the Middle Ages, and I am, but this town was a bit too gloomy and ran down for my taste.
Finally, Mantua was left behind. Actually, on the third day here, the town started growing on me, and it felt almost charming as we were driving through the ancient streets to the autostrada.
Next stop: Bologna. We were in Bologna once, on our first trip to Italy 30 years ago. I remembered it being lovely, but not this lovely! Full of life and color, the ebullient Bologna stole our hearts. Maybe it wouldn’t impress us that much if we came here from Rome or Venice, but after Mantua, this was paradise found! Bologna is a city of porticos. Although porticos abound all around Emilia Romanga, Bologna’s porticos are special. First of all ,they are more porticos here than you could count. Second, they are all different, hardly two houses and their porticos are alike. Third, they are grand. Their ceilings are sculptured and painted, and adorned with hanging glass lanterns. The squares are both grand and cozy and the whole place boils over with young energy – there is a large university here. There is so much charm in the lovely piazzas, passages, and arcades – it’s overwhelming. Many shops are ancient, with painted wood ceilings and wood panelling, the leaning towers are unique, the food market off the main square is a feast to the eyes and to the taste buds, and last but not least, there are many, oh so many artisanal gelato shops. I can attest to the quality – sampled in two shops and both were superb: smooth texture but with pieces of fruit/nuts/chocolate, and superior to any gelato I’ve had in a long time, if not ever.
One disappointment: sadly for me, shopping in Bologna is not on par with Rome or even Modena. There are two kinds of shops here: high end uber expensive designers and cheap young brands. No affordable local designers I spotted in Modena. I’m afraid, I’ll have to leave Italy empty-handed, strong dollar notwithstanding.