My parents love travelling and 'getting a feel for new places', but always seem to do this in the most conspicuously touristy way possible, with guidebooks, photography of inane objects and guided tours all featuring high on their agenda. Given that I focus all my energies in Bologna on avoiding that knowing look and sigh of " ah, inglese", I was concerned they might be about to blow my cover.
Meeting them at their hotel did nothing to allay these fears. "Is there a hop-on hop-off bus?" my dad wanted to know, a glimmer of excitement visible even through his completely-unnecessary-for-7pm sunglasses. My mum followed with their trademark enormous suitcases.
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Insistent on the fact that they were in fact down with the locals, my parents persevered admirably with their butchered attempts at the language throughout the trip in any and all encounters with Italians, even those who responded with perfect English and mild bewilderment. Luckily, because Bologna tends to slip under the international tourism radar, giving away your non-Italianness generally means you're more likely to be caught up in conversation with a waiter eager to practise English than you are to be scammed or scowled at.
It also means there are very few tourist traps here, though on the one afternoon I did leave them to their own devices whilst working at a concert, they managed to discover the brightly coloured tourist train which takes you up the (very much walkable) hills of Bologna to see the Sanctuary of San Luca. I let them off as Italy in general seems to require more walking than average, due to the combination of all the beautiful streets and things to see on foot and unreliable public transport. Although they spent most of the week doing day trips to nearby cities, on the weekend I was able to show them 'my' Bologna.
Aside from the two towers and perhaps the Sanctuary, Bologna doesn't have many famous or 'must-see' sights, but there's lots to see once you know where to look; it's a city of curiosities. I took my family around the Size Cresent a Born Select Born Size a Select Cresent centro storico to the little window in Via delle Moline which looks onto the canals, the seven churches in Piazza Santo Stefano (each is from a different period and they've sort of grown into each other over the years) and the Whispering Gallery in Re Enzo, where if two people face the wall in diagonally opposite corners, the acoustics of the archways mean you can hear each other perfectly. A particular favourite for my dad, who likes to justify his holidays as 'research trips' for his crime-writing and reckons he's got a few ideas for Bologna-based short stories, was the Teatro Anatomico in the old seat of the university, where once upon a time public dissections took place for students of medicine and sciences.
Having visitors gives you a new perspective on a city. I've noticed this living in Oxford, where the constant essay dread can make you immune to the allure of the spires, but it never lasts for long when friends come to visit or you overhear a guide tell their gaggle of tourists that your college is one of the prettiest in Oxford (damn right). It was the same experience here when my mum, who's an artist, showed me the sketches she'd done in Bologna, mostly little everyday things that had caught her eye; food markets, street performers, people sitting in the piazzas. Plus I have to admit, it was a relief to unleash my inner tourist and take photos with reckless abandon.
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