This city is an absolute wonder and alot of fun. We have spent the few days here in the medieval city which is packed with things to see. Another time we shall explore the newer city. It is definitely a family orientated city (and dog friendly too!).
We arrived in the afternoon and were quite confused as to where to go. My research warned that there is no parking in town (height barriers in operation) and the best spot was beside the train tracks. We tried to find this site but ended up in the middle of the city for which I was unprepared and found quite stressful. Italian drivers are fearless, cutting me off right and left. Then there are the brazen bikes and pedestrians. After a few white knuckle moments we found a car park just outside the old city, on the river, beside a park and bike route, near a playground, free parking and already containing several crusty motor-homes – perfect!
I would recommend our parking spot. It is on via Sarentino opposite the funivia san Genesio (a cable car that take one up the mountain).
The Old city is built on the confluence of two fast moving rivers (12 cubic meters per second). Within its walls is a maze of pedestrianized alley ways and tiny streets, with a few piazzas where the people congregate. Historically this was to trade, which is how Bolzano built its wealth as a merchant town, now the piazzas are used for fruit and veg markets and exhibitions. Looking upwards some of the walls have ancient murals and statues giving the city its medieval flavour. There is lots of iconography, a reminder that in Italy the church is big player. There is also a Franciscan monastery, Cathedral and Synagogue. There was a large Jewish community here until the war.
The scenery here is quite different to the higher Alps. There are stunted Oak (a lack of soil restricts root growth), lots of Chestnut, Rose Hip, even some cacti and sedum amongst the rocks. For me the tall Juniper is what makes this landscape feel most like Italy.
Bolzano has three castles. The first is Runkelstein, with its secular murals. The second is a ruin and site
on top of a mountain accessible via cable care – or an exhausting walk. The third castle is a beautifully restored schloss with sandy coloured stone and four towers with pointy roofs on each of its four corners. This castle has been tastefully restored to be used as a conference centre, theater and arts space. Inside it retains its Romantic atmosphere with wooden features, tapestries and fireplaces, but with double glazing and central heating.
Whilst in Bolzano we attended several festivals. We went to the International Storytellers Festival held in the castle and saw two shows (e6.00 each). The first was by an elderly Austrian lady about witches, dragons and princesses (in German). The second was collected folk stories by Graham Langley and the folk musician Pam Bishop from Birmingham. Unfortunately Anika was rather badly behaved and we had to make an embarrassing exit!
We also went to a performance by a local artist in the municipal theater (Trans Art Festival). He had eight sewing machines each with a tungsten filament bulb attached. The sewing machines bad all manner of amplified electronic noise with the intensity of the bulbs synchronized to the sounds. This created an awesome light and sound-scape that at times flashed brilliantly, at other times drifted serenely. The artist seemed to be trying to gain control of his sewing machines whom had broken free. We loved the show! However not everyone did. The Italian gentleman beside us was gasping loudly whilst sticking his fingers in his ears to block out the sounds and covering his eyes. All I can say is that he was expressive and honest – I can not imagine someone doing the same in the UK.
There was also an innovation festival going on across the City. We visited the ‘Peoples University’ to see some of the exhibits (these were mainly for the kids and were free). There was a glass panel bee hive, preying mantis that Anika had placed on her arm. She was very interested in the microscope and insects set in acrylic – particularly the butterfly. There was a live performance by two circus artists. There were digital puzzles, computer games, exhibits on solar and central heating. In all the exhibits were to demonstrate advances in technology and the sources of inspiration for these advances.
There is a Film festival on too. Themed around mountains. I am not sure if it is always about mountains. The program was packed with mountain stories from all around the world, some documentary, others feature length film.
Bolzano is big on bikes. There are bike routes throughout the city. Everyone is on a bike. What a relief that we brought ours! People rarely lock their bikes too. In London I had to use two heavy locks and still never be sure if I would see my bike again. The bike route along the river is also used as a family day out. The city is big on family. There are plenty of playgrounds, shows for kids, the International Children’s Festival, a plethora of kids clothes stores, toy stores etc. I feel there is a strong community here too. Walking along the river families wave at each other. The Coffee bar has five elderly wheel chair bound people sipping their espressos, accompanied by their sons or daughters. On the bridge two men in suits stop their bikes and exchange greetings.
This city is also big on ice cream and pizza! We indulged in some ice cream made by a Peruvian. His is the most famous icecream in south Tirol as testified by the awards, and TV and radio interest. His parlour is very inconspicuous, being outside the old city just past the memorial arch on the right side. He has no tables, just a few chairs outside and always a large crowd of locals licking icecream out of cones.
Now it is time to move on… not sure if we will get any internet until Genoa – that is sometime away!