Good morning on Wednesday 3rd March as we power our way towards the middle of the week with the force of an angry volcano. Mount Etna in Sicily continues its most recent tantrum unabated, this time depositing a blanket of ash over the nearby city of Catania. It's also all aboard the Coronavirus rollercoaster as we see another surge in new cases; as an aside, I've always loved the Italian translation for rollercoaster which is montagne russe (Russian Mountains).
I was eagerly anticipating the new Covid-19 cases for yesterday as the previous day had seen a big drop but alas, that drop was completely replenished with 17,083 positive tests. The overall number of people infected continues to rise as well, all of which has led to a raft of new measures to combat the pandemic.
The latest decree is for an extension to the current rules until Tuesday 6th April, just after the Easter break. Schools in the highest risk (red) zones will close as of Monday 8th March and the Italian Government has given power to individual regions and local authorities to close schools if they need to.
The nationwide curfew (22:00 to 05:00) and ban on travel between regions remains in place until 6th April while one slight positive is that museums in the lower-risk (yellow) zones will be able to open at the weekends instead of just weekdays, from 27th March. On that same date, cinemas and theatres in the yellow zones will also be allowed to open, albeit with a greatly-reduced capacity.
A month or so ago, the pandemic situation in the UK was much worse than in Italy at the time, but this has now completely flipped on its head. Whereas the UK's massive vaccination program has led to a rapid decline in new cases, Italy (restricted by what the EU could offer it), is struggling to contain the spread of the so-called English variant which has become the dominant strain of the virus in the country.
Social-distancing measures and other restrictions will serve only to keep the spread under a modicum of control and the only real way out of the situation is with more vaccinations. Obviously there has been a worldwide shortage of vaccine since the beginning of the year but by the end of this month that supply-line should speed up with Astra Zeneca able to produce more and the Moderna jab being delivered around the world. Not satisfied with this, there are calls for Italy to approve and acquire the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. In fact, the Russian jab is already being used in the principality of San Marino which lies between the Italian regions of Marche and Emilia Romagna.
The weather situation is a good deal more pleasant than that of the pandemic; Italy will be bathed in sunshine again today with the coolest temperatures coming from Perugia, Trieste and Turin (all 10° Celsius) while the southern cities of Naples and Reggio Calabria lead the way with an expected maximum of 16° Celsius.
So where shall we (virtually) go today? Well, there are twenty official regions in Italy but only a relative handful of those are really household names outside of Italy; I'm thinking Tuscany, Sicily, Sardinia, Puglia and at a push, Piedmont and Veneto. That's not say people don't visit the other regions, they do and in huge numbers, it's just that you don't really hear people talking about Campania when they go to the Amalfi Coast, Lazio when they visit Rome or Lombardy when they go to Lake Como say. Another region that fits into that category is Emilia Romagna, the capital of which is Bologna.
Emilia Romagna is one of Italy's biggest regions, divided up into nine provinces (surpassed only by Lombardy's twelve on that measure), and occupies a large area between the Adriatic Coast to its east, spreading almost all the way to the western coast before it reaches borders with Liguria and Tuscany. Roughly half of the region consists of a vast plain, once marshland but since drained, following the path of the River Po (Italy's longest river) to its north where it shares borders with Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto. From the Po's south-eastern outlet into the Adriatic, Emilia Romagna stretches south to meet the Apennine Mountains in Tuscany and a southern border with Marche.
Emilia Romagna's coastline provides dozens of beach resorts, most famously at Rimini. I think there's a big difference between what people like in a beach; many favour the Adriatic Coast for its huge swathes of soft sand but I personally prefer the rockier landscapes and shallow waters that are generally more prevalent in the south of the country. For me, the real beauty of Emilia Romagna comes from its cities, among which are some of the jewels of the Renaissance.
Reggio Emilia, Parma and Modena are famed not just for their architectural offerings, but for what they bring to the table in terms of produce. Those three cities are the homes of Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and balsamic vinegar, while the regional capital Bologna is famed for its own gastronomic delights which include lasagne, tortellini and a dish we in English call "spaghetti bolognese" which doesn't exist. A request for said dish will result in some knowing, disdainful looks from restaurant waiters but you'll find greater success when asking for tagliatelle al ragù. Bologna is also home to the popular mortadella cured meat.
The aforementioned Modena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with two further cities in the region: Ferrara and Ravenna. Ferrara owes its listing to its contribution to the Italian Renaissance where it was a centre of excellence for some of the leading artists and architects of the era. The city's most famous sight is the Castello Estense which dominates the centre and is named after the powerful Este family which once ruled there.
Ravenna's greatest legacy comes from a much earlier period, the 5th and 6th centuries AD, during which time it was the capital of the Roman Empire and decorated as such. It boasts an extraordinary collection of churches with Byzantine artwork, typically in the form of mosaics, with some of the best examples to be found in the city centre Basilica di San Vitale, and the Basilica di Sant'Apollinare in Classe which now lies on its outskirts.
Although not listed by UNESCO, another religious site in Emilia Romagna is equally appealing: the stunning Pomposa Abbey which lies on the coast, between Ravenna and Ferrara.
Well that's just a little flavour of Emilia Romagna and there is a lot more besides. You can find more on the region via the relevant links above. A few nice shots of the region rounds-off my daily update and I'll be back with more tomorrow, hopefully towards the bottom of one of those Russian mountains.
My name is Dion Protani, founder of Italy Review. The Italy Review blog is designed to provide ideas and inspiration to visit places in Italy you might not have heard about, as well those you have.