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.

Advertisements

Hong Kong: on (Un)friendliness

383563_10151724445306209_642566125_nSuddenly I miss my long hair so much. And Hong Kong, too.

When the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman‘s famous Rubber Duck stayed near the Hong Kong island, I spotted him(or her?) and the surrounding crowd when passing by the harbour where the duck was temporarily residing by accident. It was quite a scene, especially because I did not know what on earth was going on. I happen to be one of those who met the Rubber Duck twice in different places! I feel so special. Had I searched on the web about what to do while in Hong Kong, I most probably would’ve known about the duckie coming. That’s how much I feel at at comfort when I go to Hong Kong.

The words that I personally associate with Hong Kong are (un)friendliness, relaxed, loud, comfort and – last but definitely not least – gourmet. I assume Hong Kong deserves a chapter in my travel log, so I decided to share what I experienced from the 7 visits. Now, let’s get started with the unfriendliness, then.

I’m sort of immune to the general unfriendliness of strangers to strangers. In the eyes of a tourist, however, that of Hong Kong is almost incredulous. Oftentimes it’s as if my willingness or feelings have zero chance of being taken into consideration. Without being asked, you have to sit with a complete stranger at the same table if you’re occupying a table with some empty chairs. The dishes will be almost thrown across the table, the server would flatly deny your order without a word of apology when the menu you asked for is not temporarily available. Maybe you’d even be pushed off the cramped spiral staircase by a fellow passenger who is trying to get off the tram.

Am I ranting about the lack of kind service in Hong Kong? No way. Sometimes it’s simply different how people get by. To a foreigner like myself, this kind of experience is fun, even. In no way I found the aforementioned occasions offending. I’m emphasising the parentheses in the word, separating the ‘un-‘ and ‘friendliness.’

It was probably my third time to Hong Kong that I finally understood that it’s a different sort of being friendly. Whom I met were never overly nosy or tried to interfere with what I was in the middle of doing. (Oh, now that I think about it, minus the time when the diner’s owner was overly interested and never stopped asking me questions between bites.) When I ordered something that was not on the menu but was in the picture on the wall on the outside of the diner, the cook nevertheless tried and gave me what I’d come for, and it tasted heavenly. It’s just that they didn’t bother to make it sound friendly. It was better than a no decorated with halfhearted apologies.

So, (un)friendliness is just attention undercover. And I love Hong Kong for that.

Tokyo Days: Day Trip to Yokohama

I would like to share some of the pictures I took during a day trip to Yokohama from early January this year. Yokohama is a perfect destination for a day trip from around Tokyo! It’s good because

1) It has a appallingly beautiful harbour,
2) Doesn’t take long by train from Tokyo,
3) Japanese China town is interesting to visit,
4) Has a great park(Yamashita Park),
5) There are interesting museums(i.e. Ramen, Cup Noodles, Kirin Beer, etc.)

横浜 reads Yokohama – it bears the literal meaning of ‘the neighbouring harbour.’ So it’s quite self-explanatory that Yokohama is located almost right next to Tokyo with a fairly big population of over 3 million. Being a big city as it is, I felt the atmosphere was quite different. A tad bit more calm? Relaxing?

Yokohama was one of the first harbours in Japan to be opened to foreign trade. If you decide for a ferry ride, as I did, you will find the red warehouse buildings close to the water reminding you of western architecture style. As a matter of fact, the entire city holds a faint shadow of what we would usually call western. I skipped the Yamate district, but I’ve heard there is a western residential area – I would love to check it out the next time. Maybe it would be legit to say that Yokohama is less traditionally Japanese with all this and a Chinatown, too.

Hope you enjoy the pictures!

All of the photos are taken by me, and in case you want to re-post them somewhere else, please let me know or put a link. Thanks!

Sokcho: our traditional holiday destination

Sokcho is a city on the east coast, my family’s traditional holiday destination. Personally I find it more attractive during winter – there are less people at the shores and seasonal seafood (actually food in general in the region) is simply mindblowing.

Last weekend was our latest stay at the place. It was short, but never too short to eat some nice meals! Crabs and some sashimi tasted wonderful, of which I sadly took no picture at all. I was starved, after all!

IMG_7332

IMG_7333-0

There’s this restaurant specializing in wild plants. Most of the main ingredients are gathered in the nearby mountains, and the dishes are very healthy, hearty and pleasing to look at. The pictures above prove it, don’t they?
It’s no place for carnivores, but it shows how delicious food can be without meat as well.

IMG_7336

Strictly it’s not the other side of the borderline, but it was taken from a spot where unadmitted persons cannot enter for security reasons. It’s tragic, really, that we still find ourselves in the situation where you have to identify yourself just to be there. Yet at the same time I could not help but feel disppointed at how the entire purpose of this place deviated from that of the beginning. Everywhere your eyes land stand stalls that pretend to be selling some liquor from the other side of the borderline. It almost disgusted me.
Well, we’ve had enough rant about it!

IMG_7356

Now this was a extraordinarily good dinner.

Usually this kind of pot includes only seafood and are cooked with some seasonings to make it appear red. But this one here is hiding a chicken at the bottom. Hence the name sea-sky-hotpot! I was doubtful, but right at the moment I first put some of that heavenly thing in my mouth was my worry flown away. I highlh recommend that you add some green chili pepper to it.

Looking at the pictures again makes my mouth water already. I’d better give in to the sleep or I’ll end up munching something at this hour.

Tokyo Days: the 2nd time

Hong Kong, for example, is by far my most beloved travel destination in terms of frequency and I’m therefore familiar with the place, but I never felt any less foreign than the first time. But unlike HK, Tokyo is one of the less foreign cities and it’s not because I’ve been there, and I did not expect so much of the city. Perhaps that’s why this trip turned out to be better than my anticipation.

Ryokan Kamogawa Asakusa
Ryokan Kamogawa Asakusa

I’ve never been a huge fan of fancy hotels. For some reason they appear to me as cold and distanced. So I was all for the idea to stay at a Ryokan, a typical Japanese traveller’s accommodation and it certainly did not let me down, not one bit! The room was lovely and comfortable. There was a bath that guests could freely make use of so far as it’s not already occupied. It was nothing luxurious but clean and neat with all things both guys and girls would need. Hot bath after a tiring day sounded more than just sweet!

At the entrance of the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo
At the entrance of the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

It was New Year’s when we arrived in Tokyo, and the streets were literally bustling with people, some of whom were clad in traditional Japanese clothes, and it was full of festive feelings. The 4 days and 3 nights were almost unplanned so we naturally started with exploring the Sensoji temple, which was so crowded with people wishing for good luck in the new year that it was close to impossible to move in the opposite direction.

Street food stalls inside the temple
Street food stalls inside the temple

What made the temple different from the last time I went there was not only the number of visitors. Lined along both sides were numerous street food stalls – Japanese stir-fried noodle, Takoyaki, baked potato, chocolate-coated bananas, you name it. It looked almost out of place for me who never thought that it may be appropriate to eat at such places. Even though most of what was sold there were overpriced, it was warm and delicious. Especially the baked potatoes with butter, mayonnaise and a kind of Japanese seasoning paste!

Baked potatoes with butter and miso
Baked potatoes with butter and miso

The picture is slightly blurry, but please do bear with me, we were starved. It was really fun to see so many people consuming so much food in such a small space. At this point I also thought that this indeed is Japan, because people weren’t littering all over the place and the empty food containers were more or less neatly stacked where they were supposed to be. It might be a stereotype that I have of the country, but there were way too many evident cases. Like the cleaner of a subway station who were mopping the tactile paving so precisely that I was afraid that all the dents might be worn out by the time he was done?

The weather was pretty benign all the time, but I was still glad for the hooded overcoat I decided to wear for the trip. The night air can be pretty harsh, although it was no compare for the blustery, freezing winter Beijing.

Below you can find some more pictures of my first 2015 impressions of Tokyo. I’ll continue with this belated journal with more notes and pics.