Travel Journal

Bologna, Italy, 10/16-10/18

(Tuesday 19 October 2010) by Joanne Chang
The downside to traveling alone is there's no one to help you when you've fallen down the stairs with your luggage at 6:20 in the morning. This happens as I leave Cinque Terre to catch a 6:32 train to Bologna. For a minute I'm not sure if I can get back up, facing downhill with my backpack weighing me down and left foot screaming in pain. I'm sure I've sprained it and there's blood soaking into my sandal, but I have to make this train to get to Bologna. And I do, I hobble to the station and have time to clean, bandage and ice my foot while waiting for my connection in La Spezia. Jude, that first aid kit you gave me came in handy! But OW, it hurts. Now I know why people were scolding me about these shoes on the trails, and as I'm wincing in pain I'm grateful that this didn't happen while hiking alone in the hills. :-\

Bologna markets
Bologna markets
I get to Bologna Centrale Stazione and stubbornly pass up the line of taxis for a hotel-finding adventure via bus, despite my foot. I've learned that even if you have no idea where you are, and no map, somehow you can find your way with a couple of words and sign language. People are generally nice and happy to help. I hobble to my hotel, check in and get a map, and decide I can't be in a new city, especially not the food capital of Italy! ...and not check it out. So, back on the bus to explore this gastronomical icon of a city. As soon as the bus drops me off I realize I've left my map at the hotel, and will have to wing it. Doh! By chance, I stumble upon a restaurant I'd seen in my guidebook, Montegrappa da Nello, the one that's "worth a splurge". A clamorous, cavernous, timeless institution with walls of photos showing today's same staff with celebrity patrons over the past 15 years and it's packed, and I know I've come to the right place. I order exactly what the woman next to me has, roast beef so rare it's almost carpaccio, sliced paper-thin with lemon and olive oil, and a side of grilled vegetables. Yum, I'm a happy girl.

Typical deli in Bologna, 2
Typical deli in Bologna, 2
After lunch, I walk (ie, limp, slowly) around the main Piazza Maggiore, wander through the Basilica di San Petronio, a huge church that was intended to be more huge before the Romans cut off funding to preserve St Peter's as the largest church in Italy, and am scolded for taking a photo inside (oops! Sorry, I didn't know). I spend the rest of the afternoon observing Bologna women walking around in high fashion, young kids stuffing their mouths with pizza, and dogs dressed in all sorts of outfits and being carted around in roller bags. Luxury designer stores are plentiful, and it's obvious this city has money. I catch a glimpse of one of the towers built back in the day when noble families constructed them to represent their wealth. I had no idea Bologna was so prosperous! I just came for the food.
Typical deli in Bologna, 3
Typical deli in Bologna, 3


And it's everywhere! Food, food, yummy gorgeous food displayed like art in delis, bakeries, and vegetable stands lining little old streets off the main plaza. I wander in and out of the shops, buy some Capello da Prete Cotto (like Parma, but leaner), note the abundance of Tartufo Fresco (fresh truffles) for sale, and end up in the wine bar of one of the delis, where I meet Mariana from Brazil. She's also traveling alone so we share a plate of cured meats and cheeses, sip wine, and discover we're staying in the same small hotel outside the city center, and both headed to Florence on Monday. As we finish our meal my foot starts screaming at me for ignoring it's fragile state, and Mariana helps me hobble back in the rain. Uh oh, it's really swollen now. And bruised all over. Sorry, foot!

Jo, Bolognese and Tuscan wine
Jo, Bolognese and Tuscan wine
I rest my foot all night and the next morning, then hop in a taxi to meet Mariana for lunch (no, I probably shouldn't be on it at all, but I do have to eat). The place we want to go is closed, so I take her back to Montegrappa da Nello and have the best lasagna bolognese of my life. The meat is so meaty and the spinach noodles are so delicate they melt in my mouth and the Parmesan cheese is salty and rich, and we drink a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino from Tuscany and there's really no better meal when it's cold and rainy outside in Bologna. We finish with a bowl of fresh berries and espresso, walk to the University (I have to - it's the oldest in Europe, though ultimately nothing much to see), and go back to the hotel where I watch Forrest Gump in Italian and pick up a few words like "corri!" (run!).

Tomorrow, off to Florence. Belly full and happy, foot asking for reprieve.0:-)

  • take care by Mom
  • Yum by George
  • Bologna has more than baloney by Judy Chang


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