Parma & Modena

September 2022
More photos here


Wednesday 21st
After the traditional overnight stay at the Heathrow Garden Hilton I caught the 5.38 Piccadilly Line train to Terminal 5 from Hatton Cross and the whole check-in, get boarding pass, leave luggage, security, almond croissant and Americano process went smoothly. Meeting old tour chums David and Jenny, and tour guide Clare, who we haven't been on a trip with since the tragic Ghent trip at the start of Covid, was emotional. As was the return of Barbara, a favourite tour manager of old not seen in ages recently tempted out of retirement. The woman checking my ticket and passport at the desk winningly told me that my passport photo did not do me justice.

From Heathrow we flew to Bologna. Collected by a coach we happy 14 went to Torrechiara, stopping off at a motorway service station for a not-bad lunch - spaghetti with a tomato and basil sauce for me. The Castello at Torrechiara was pretty impressive, built up hill from a small village (see above) by a condottiere (Pier Maria de’ Rossi) who had dotted the local landscape with his castles, including one built for his mistress. It is unusual for retaining so many frescoed rooms, the highlight being the Camera d’Oro, which rarely survive in a domestic setting. They are vivid and impressive, if not artistically refined and have been somewhat unconvincingly attributed to Benedetto Bembo. I preferred the decorative detail to the figurative stuff. A worth-a-visit undervisited gem nonetheless. Beverages were consumed in the village - I had a superb hot chocolate flavoured with cinnamon - before we coached it to our hotel in Parma. The rooms are excellent and large, but the meal in the hotel restaurant, after the introductory talk by Clare, was not. They promise better tomorrow.

Thursday 22nd
At breakfast the orange juice was watery, the muesli bowl minute, the coffee machine caput, and the ceiling by the door leaking much water.

Today we had what the itinerary described accurately as a full day tour of Parma. We begun at the Former convent  of San Paolo, and its Camera with its Correggio dome ceiling in the abbess's quarters which was, we are told, a direct influence on Parmigannino early work at Fontanellato, where we go on Saturday.  After the Diocesan Museum we walked to San Giovanni Evangelista, with its Correggio dome more than a little inspired by Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling. We the took in, and went into, the wonderful Baptistery and Duomo (see above right) the Duomo featuring Correggio's third and last dome. After lunch and a gelato (fig and trifle) the Palazzo Pilotta
 the palace of the Dukes of Parma, taking in the Teatro Farnese and the Galleria Nazionale, finishing in Santa Maria della Steccata, with it's vault frescoes depicting the Wise and Foolish Virgins by Parmigianino.

Quite a proportion of the group went outside to eat tonight, but they missed a treat as the hotel restaurant pulled all the stops out after last night and the subsequent complaints. Pasta with aubergine, tomato and smoked cheese was followed by battered zucchini flowers with a disc of mashed potatoes and some tomato and leaf salad, with a berry-topped mousse for afters.

Friday 23rd
After a better breakfast experience, to Modena today, beginning with Sant'Agostino, because it was open, and because it has a terracotta Lamentation tableaux by Begarelli this time, and because it's right next to the Galleria Estense, our first major visit. The galleria has some excellent stuff, beginning with the special Bernini bust of Duke Francesco d'Este and taking us through the periods of art in Modena and nearby centres, including Ferrara, and even including Venice, with the organ doors from San Geminiano. Also a Velazquez portrait of the same Duke Francesco d'Este, a Leonardo drawing and, of course, many fine altarpieces from local churches, demolished and not. Then downstairs, where we were able to fondle a reproduction of the Borso's Bible and look at some good books in cases in an exhibition devoted to restitution, in two separate small groups. And then the librarian who one of our group had been chatting to offered to take us on a tour of the actual old stacks, which are picturesque and a rare treat. And there were old maps set into tables too.

After lunch, and finally finding a gelateria - Gelateria Bloom in Piazza Mazzini - as recommended by our lunchtime waiter, we met back up and did the Duomo, mostly good for medieval sculpture panels outside and in, much by Master Wiligelmo, but also a Dosso Dossi altarpiece and some more terracotta figures inside by Mazzoli, like the ones in the Gesù in Ferrara. The church is dedicated to Saint Geminianus, as they have his relics in the crypt chapel.

I'm toying with Modena as a next city, a logical choice after Ferrara, for the churches website, it being where the Este based themselves  after being booted out of Ferrara. The Romanesque handsomeness of the Duomo, and the finally finding a fine gelateria, is encouraging of another, longer, visit for this purpose. That and the undervisited undercrowded charm, and its having a tempting-looking monumental cemetery, spotted from the coach.

Saturday 24th
Our last morning had an early start, and begun with a visit to Fidenza, a town which smelt oddly of pig poo and is twinned with Canterbury. We were here for the Romanesque Duomo, which has a winning patchwork of sculpted bas-reliefs and statues on the façade and looms mightily and brickly inside, with little evidence of later 'improvements' or intrusive restoration. The coach took us next to the Castello in Fontanellato - called the Rocca di Fontanellato. Widely moated, it was the seat of the Sanvitale lords, with a room frescoed by Parmigianino early in his career. After coffee we made an unplanned visit to the spa town of Salsomaggiore Terme, to enable us to admire the jaw-dropping deco/nouveau polychrome marble charms of the spa building, and to have a gnice gnocchi lunch.

Then to Bologna for the return flight back to Heathrow, which was largely excitement-free, apart from the couple holding up us passengers at the back of the plane whilst they got their buggy out of the overhead locker and took a fair amount of time unfolding and installing the baby it. When I made to follow them when they eventually got moving I got shouted at by the bloke because he had to come back for his bag. My comment that that was fine because we were just invisible pensioners and his family obviously took precedence ... well he took this badly and some chest-prodding and abuse ensued, on his side. My side being confined to sarcasm. Not sure why they had the buggy in carry-on, or why the stewards took no interest at all. Oh well. I think it was the fact that there was no apology, or even apologetic smile, the got my goat.


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