Bologna: My First Ride on the Italian High-Velocity Train

This is what you get after climbing 498 steps of Torre Asinelli.
This is what you get after climbing 498 steps of Torre Asinelli.

Finally, an update!

Italy has been treating me fairly well – except for a few occasions which I would rather not bring myself to recall – and only two more months of work is awaiting me. The strict schedule doesn’t allow me much time to explore Italy yet! But I managed to drop by a few places that sounded especially intriguing, and Bologna is the biggest and the most recent of my destinations so far. (They include Vigevano, Pavia, Bergamo and Monza.)

At the same time, it was also the first time I took the high-velocity train. In order to get to the Expo site, I get off at Rho-Fiera Milano station everyday. And on the screens at the station, there are always a number of train connections approaching and leaving the station. When my eyes find the names like Roma Termini or Paris Gare du Nord, I can hardly repress the almost nostalgic feeling of wanting to catch one of those long distance trains and getting away. Although I know that from time to time I most definitely will feel some kind of heimweh – opposite of fernweh – about Milan.

Most of us would associate the city of Bologna with, naturally, Bolognese pasta and the University of Bologna, which is known to be the first institution to be called a university. And some of you may already be aware of the fact that Bologna is the place where the Gelato University sits as well. Despite these titles, I found Bologna to be a modest city.

The old city is incredibly small. From the maps, I was pretty sure that it’d take quite a bit of time to walk from the lovely apartment I found on airbnb to Piazza Maggiore. Only it turned out not! It was a mere 15-minute walk, and a pleasant one too, especially by the night.

To tell the truth, it’s just really old buildings and monuments around each and every corner – without even knowing the names at the time, I walked past so many of Bologna’s landmarks. The names came later when I peeked into this book and others at a bookstore.

Too bad I discovered this book after dinner. It also serves as a good guide for places to eat in Bologna.
Too bad I discovered this book after dinner. It also serves as a good guide for places to eat in Bologna.

Each and every province of Italy boasts its own traditional cuisine and specialties. Bologna, of course, is no exception. It takes very much pride in its culinary culture and those I’ve met were very specific and definitive on the questions what and how to eat. For example, the Bolognese Ragù shouldn’t be cooked with spaghetti but tagliatelle or tortellini. Once I’ve tried the original tagliatelle with ragù, I was able to understand why right away though. Let me show you a picture of the last meal I had in Bologna.

Osteria dell'Orsa
Tagliatelle al Ragù

I wouldn’t dare say that this osteria is the best ever to be found in Bologna, but it was decent. Along with this I shared a cold dish with fresh vegetable, cheese and something that looked like an uncooked burger steak. It had barley and sun-dried tomato in it and I enjoyed it very much! If someone knows what I’m talking about by chance, I’m begging you to let me know.

Tortellini are the pasta of Bologna, or so it is said. They are one of the stuffed kinds, both ends of which are attached to each other so it resembles a ring.
Tortellini are the pasta of Bologna, or so it is said. They are one of the stuffed kinds, both ends of which are attached to each other so it resembles a ring.

As a souvenir, I brought half a kilo of these with me back to Milan – the original tortellini. When I went into the store, I found something that looks exactly like these but is slightly more expensive. They both had the same filling so I wondered what the difference was, and finally mustered up the courage to ask the man at the counter with my broken Italian. Not to mention I was extremely proud of myself when I actually understood! So, according to him, the higher priced one has a thinner dough and therefore contains more meat, cheese and other ingredients inside. On the other hand the lower priced one has a thicker dough, but is therefore more delicate and soft when cooked. I thought, okay then I’ll go for more stuffing but it turns out thicker dough will be just as good as the other. It was a perfect way to remind myself of this trip.

Now I wonder why it’s all food that I’m talking about.
But Emilia Romagna region is about food, as a matter of fact!

Eataly - Librerie.CoopWorking at the Expo, I pass by the Eataly pavilion almost every other day. Okay, I’ll admit, I often go there for some seriously nice gelato. Anyhow, the first Eataly offline store that I went to was also in Bologna. It was not like any other grocery store – to begin with, it’s a collage of a bookshop, grocery store and cafeteria. While the upper story was filled with cookbooks, the first floor displayed some of the trending novels too. Browsing the shelves, you’ll find yourself in between the tables where people are enjoying a salad or a ‘chopping boards’ with smoked ham and cheese. And the building itself is very old and some parts of the wall show it, like in the picture above.

Tagliere con Tigelle e Crescentine
They’re called tagliere and was a nice inspiration for my everyday supper. (I was running out of ideas what to eat.) The fresh Bufala cheese and tomatoes made a great partner for the smoked ham. The wooden plate is a proper chopping board! People enjoy them with warm tigelle, a kind of bread, and crescentine. Crescentine is a regional specialty in Bologna, and as you have already guessed from the name, it looks like a crescent and is very small in size. It is most of the time fried at the diners and restaurants.

I find Bologna to be a very nice place to walk around when dark. After the sunset, the arcades and buildings are beautifully lit with orange lamps. The streets in the old city center are mostly very narrow and there are simply too many things to observe on the facade of the building, too! Actually, the arcades are a typical trait of the city of Bologna. The total length amounts to almost 40 km – which makes Bologna a perfect place to wander around in rain even without an umbrella.

I probably won’t have another chance to go to Bologna. It’s a good thing I did not have more than plenty of time in the city though – because it leaves some room for me to miss Bologna.

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