48 Hours in Bologna, Italy

1:05 PM

When you think Italy, you think Rome, Venice, maybe Florence. However - surprise, surprise - the place I had heard about the least felt like it may be the one to represent Italy the most. This weekend, I visited my friend Sean, studying abroad in Bologna from Columbia, for a very delightful 48 hours. 

Bologna is a beautiful, walkable mid-sized city in shades of red and brown and lined with arched passageways. I dig that kind of aesthetic unity.

The first...and last...and middle thing(s) we did was eat. At Osteria dell'Orsa, Sean introduced me to the apparent classic staple of Bolognan (?) cuisine - tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese. I hate tomato sauce. I hate ketchup. I don't like cooked tomatoes in any form. But when someone tells me something is the specialty of a place, I suck it up & try the thing. It was heaven. I literally thought about that pasta, so perfectly al dente, before I went to sleep and when I woke up the next day. And the day after that. I'm still thinking about it.

Luckily for me and my capacity to enjoy life, I get almost (almost) as much satisfaction out of looking at food as eating it. And there is a lot to look at, from the stacks of pasta and meat on hooks to the trays of cookies in every pasticceria.

Shockingly enough, Bologna has history aside from food. On the left, this is the Basilica of San Petronio in Piazza Maggiore, the main square of Bologna created in the 15th century. The façade of the church is unfinished, as you can see, and Sean – who knows an incredible amount about Italian history – told me that there's a legend that says it was left unfinished because otherwise it would rival the majesty of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

My favorite church-like experience was actually seeing the basilica of Santo Stefano. Wikipedia tells me it's a "complex of religious edifices"... but I'll say it's like seven or so small chapels, linked by courtyards and walkways and containing various gems like a shrine with remains of Bologna's patron saint San Petronio. I'm a big fan of churches that integrate outdoor spaces.

Actually, the picture I snuck in on the left is from a different church called Santa Maria Della Vita...that's how it works in Italy, one minute you're walking down the street looking for pizza, and the next you're taking photos of a somewhat creepy-yet-fascinating religious sacrament in a gorgeous, historic church you just had to go into.

On Friday night, we hit up Spacca Napoli and I couldn't believe that each individual person was meant to get one of these pizzas bigger than twice the size of my face. Apparently, my pizza choice of ricotta, mushrooms, and speck was "too radical" for the taste of my dining companions but it was actually perfect. Pictured on the right is SPRITZ! I say SPRITZ! because it was said very enthusiastically and charmingly by Sean's Italian flatmate, Alessandra, when she was convincing us to get more of them. It's made with prosecco, a liquor such as Aperol, sparkling water and orange slices. The fact that you can get these for €2.50 (if you know the right place to go) was one of the many occasions that highlighted for me exactly how expensive the city of Paris really is. While we were drinking SPRITZ!, Alessandra spoke Italian the whole time and I was very proud to realize that I understand maybe 50-60% of what she was saying. I even picked up a few mangled words that I could respond with, sometimes. Guess studying Spanish for a few years in my infancy paid off. My favorite word and all-around most useful Italian expression is esatto! (Exactly/yes.)

Alessandra also made this beautiful potato focaccia. I feel a little bit like a fangirl now, because she doesn't even know that I took a picture of her bread, but it was just so beautiful and delicious and impressive that I couldn't help myself. It just struck me as so Italian that she would whip up this masterpiece on an average day. Maybe I'm projecting, but I like idolizing people...and food.

This weekend, I missed the amazing People's Climate March of hundreds of thousands of people in New York City...but I did spot this tiny Ecosistemi Mobili. Does that count for anything?

If you couldn't guess already by the hipster wardrobe, my friend here is clearly an art history student. So, clearly, we went to MAMBo, the modern art museum of Bologna which also currently contains the Museo Morandi. This work is entitled, "The Guard Says No Pictures." Walking under these arches apparently brings good luck. I think good luck, rather, brought me to Bologna and these arches.

On Saturday evening, we had the best idea yet. Sean's professor gave him a recipe (in Italian) for tagliatelle al ragù that was wonderfully vague...like, "put some carrot, onion, and celery in a pan until it gets colored"...and we stood up to the challenge of cooking this classic dish from scratch. It started with a mess of unevenly chopped vegetables and red tomato sauce gloop, but somehow, 45 minutes of simmering with white wine and butter transformed it into the promised "exquisite sauce."

We literally followed the recipe's instructions to make enough pasta for around 6-8 people, served ourselves each half of what we made, thought man, this could never feed 8 people...but after a few bites, we understood. Don't get me wrong, 90% of this pasta was eaten, but the other 10% should not be spoken of again or else I will start crying guilty tears. 

It's a miracle that we made it out of the apartment, out of a food coma-like state, to go see Piazza Verdi that night...but that journey was so worth it. I've never seen anything like that Piazza - a square packed with cool-looking young Italians, standing in clumps and seated on the ground amidst shards of broken glass. Apparently, this square is adjacent to an opera house frequented by the wealthy...who, of course, do not like these young weed-smokers and bottle-breakers loitering outside their fine establishment every weekend (and weeknight?). Ah, what to do.

Anyways, this morning I woke up feeling like a human sack of ragù sauce and we went to a café with equally good typography (a café is called a "bar," as well) to have a cappuccino and a cornetto to round out the holy sacraments of Italian cuisine. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of all the gelato that we consumed, but I'll leave that to your imagination. My food quest complete, I headed back to the airport and got back to Paris, having spent very few euros on some of the best food I've had in Europe so far and getting closer to my dream of having friends in all the world's major cities. Ciao for now. 

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  1. it looks like Sean is trying to dissuade you from taking a photo of "The Guard Says No Pictures" lol