Ever since we watched Rick Stein’s show “Long Weekends” on the unsung praises of Bologna, it’s been on our list of places we’d like to see. Or more accurately, places we’d really like to eat in! In an uncommon show of unity, we both love Rick Stein’s cooking programs – part travelog, part cooking, always personable, always a delight. I’m very pleased to report, having spent but one day here, he was absolutely right. You want to eat well in Italy? Go to Bologna.
We arrive at the Bologna aire by late morning. It’s just a short bus ride out, but at a manned site, ideal for visiting under secure conditions. It’s designed for vehicles much smaller than ours and it takes Chris, me, the owner and a helpful bystander to shoehorn us in through the narrow entrance off a busy street in a marvelous 10 point turn. It’s extraordinary how much communication can be achieved when no party understands the other, but there’s a common goal at hand.
Once we’re off the bus, the pressure is on – where to eat in a city renown for food? I consult Google and whilst there are endless choices, we find ourselves at a nearby tiny bistro, off the tourist and student path where the food is homemade, exquisite, and well known enough to turn away one table after the other of locals in search of lunch. Dear Google, a thank you: you have been oh, so very kind to us on this trip.
The menu is short, with specials:
Chris has a tagliatelle with sausage and chanterelles.
I opt for a local speciality, tortellini in brodo, tiny tortellini, stuffed with parmesan and mortadella, in a beef broth.
Both dishes are utterly divine. Chris’ pasta is by far the best pasta either of us have tasted and my tortellini are little explosions of flavour balanced by the simplicity of the broth. Even the bread served is homemade – focaccia studded with rosemary, dressed with olive oil. Utterly delightful.
Our main courses were so good, we can’t resist desert. Chris has a cinnamon scented creme brulee,
I, the chocolate ganache, strewn with salt crystals, atop a nest of crumble.
It’s fair to say I’ve died and gone to foody heaven. OMG, the food is amazing here. My only regret is that I couldn’t also try the Bolognese ragu. Never on spaghetti, but rather tagliatelle, a far cry from what we know as Spaghetti Bolognese. Whoever designed us with just one stomach, clearly had not been to Bologna.
Post lunch we drag ourselves away for a walking tour. Now I say walk, but for me, challenged ankle in tow, it’s a bit walk, a bit limp, a bit hop. Himself, most pleased with his assessment, deems me Officer Hops (from Zootopia – if you haven’t seen it, do. A bunny becomes a police officer, overcoming all manner of gender and stereotype bias to do so. She’s utterly lovely, as is the film).
Despite our library of travel guides, we have, somewhat stupidly, come away without a book on Italy. It means we’re left with only the tourist office guide of key attractions. I can can only limp so far too, so our sightseeing is limited.
In Bologna, all roads lead to its central square the Piazza Maggiore.
Starting at the voluptuous Fountain of Neptune,
we visit the Salaborsa, now the city library. With its stunning art nouveau ceilings,
it has a 2,000 year surprise below: archeological digs dating back to Roman times. They’re the very heart of the city. It’s extraordinary to walk underground, through 2,000+ years of history, seeing the ancient foundations of the modern city we’re in today.
Time has warped history, but left enough to give us a real taste of life in the old world. It was so busy here, 2,000 years ago, that it justified two wells, side by side.
It may have been sans internet and mobiles, but I suspect that in its time, this was a busy, busy, place.
Post underworld tour, we pop into the Bascilca di San Petronio, built in the 16th and 17th centuries.
It’s utterly enormous with 22 seperate chapels.
Worryingly, it’s under military guard. We also see the Basilica of St Dominico.
Oddly, there are restrictions on photography at both churches – one of the first I’ve seen. Even the Vatican doesn’t restrict photography.
We step into a market side street to find greengrocers,
freshly made pasta,
– all manner of goodies on offer. Rick was right, Bologna’s food is amazing. Foodie bliss.
We step a wee bit further from the Piazza, to find the two towers
– in medieval times there were over 100 towers across the city. One leans, somewhat alarmingly, but I’m sure someone has it under control. You can walk up 400+ steps to the top up the highest of tower, but as well as my ankle is coping, it really doesn’t like the motion of steps. It’s a reluctant “no” from me then.
We pass through kilometres of porticos, designed to protect pedestrians from rain and sun,
through the university quarters, back to the main square. Sadly, we see many homeless people and beggars. It’s a first on this trip – the Balkans were notably free of them. We overheard a Croatian tour guide comment that “it’s such a small place here, everyone knows everyone, and if you know someone, you’d never let that happen to them”. It’s a comforting thought.
By late afternoon, it’s time to rest. It has to be an Aperol spritz for me, surely…when in Rome etc. It’s so nice to be still for a moment, to have the city buzz around us, than us through it.
We debate staying out for dinner. I, in favour, Chris, less so. In the end he bundles me on the bus, quite unexpectedly (my defences were down post application of Aperol) but not before I manage a tour of a homeware shop… bunnies!
and have a pat of a rabbit. There’s a homeless man, with two teeny dogs an a bunny on the corner. I’m very happy to exchange money for a bunny pat. And if I’m being manipulated, quite frankly, I don’t care, because: bunny. The animals are well cared for. Each has a bowl of food and water and they’re all leashed to protect them from passersby and traffic.
It turns out Chris was right to take me home. After 5 hours of walking and hopping, I have a fine cankle in progress.
It’s swollen up rather horribly. Himself takes himself off to capture dinner. Italy calls for pizza and it’s excellent – thin dough, simple toppings. Gorgonzola on one, prosciutto cotto, artichokes, olives and mushrooms the other. Yum!
It’s leg up on ice for me. Bologna was a big hit. I’m really glad we made it here. I think I’ve seen all the sights I want to see, but I’d happily stay here a while..and just eat, and eat, and eat.