People kept asking us if we would make it to Italy on this adventure and we would always reply that we were going to spend a few days in Venice but that we had already been to Italy and wanted to spend some time exploring new places. But, soon the allure of pasta (and the prospect of free accommodations courtesy of my parents…) was too strong and we had to give in.
Bologna is a city to which I hadn’t given much thought before my parents decided to visit and invited us to join them for a few days. We ended up really enjoying the city! It’s a university town with a great mix of contemporary and historic, young and old, food and culture. The streets are lined with porticoes such that one could navigate almost the entire city in the rain without needing an umbrella. We stayed with my parents in a charming top-story flat on the via delle Belle Arti; it was not a very touristy part of town so we really felt immersed in the hustle and bustle.
I’m not going to pretend and say that we did anything other than eat, shop for food, think about food, and drink…and it was wonderful! We definitely indulged and had pasta and/or gelato every day, and spent a fair amount of time just perusing the shops and markets. We also enjoyed sharing our traveling style with my parents and luxuriated in a slower pace with plenty of time spent relaxing in the apartment.
Some highlights from our time in Bologna:
One of the two medieval towers that define Bologna’s skyline, we hiked up the spiral staircase all the way to the top and had amazing views of the city. It was grey and dreary and a bit blustery at the top, but definitely worth the effort!
We spent a day taking the train out to Parma where we visited the Bodoni Museum in the Palatina Library of the Palazzo della Pilotta. The library itself is already pretty amazing—a long room filled with ancient books and tomes—but the Bodoni Museum upstairs is incredible. The small museum is dedicated to the work of eighteenth-century typographer Giambattista Bodoni who designed hundreds of type-faces and revolutionized printing.
The museum has examples of books printed by Bodoni, as well as incredible collections of his actual type pieces that were carved by hand (and some of them are very tiny!). It was a really interesting place and we spent several hours perusing the detailed displays.
While there, we also spent some time just wandering around Parma, checking out the town. I’m sure there are plenty of neat things to explore (and eat!) in Parma, but we hadn’t done much research beyond the Bodoni Museum and were feeling pretty tuckered out after lunch.
We did wander through the theater in the Palazzo della Pilotta where we happened across this familiar face.
Dozza, Castel del Rio, and Brisighella
To get out of town on another day, we rented a little car and Martin drove us around the countryside to visit little medieval hill towns.
One little gem was Dozza, one of the “most beautiful towns in Italy” and host to a painted wall festival which takes place every few years. On a hill over the Sellustra river valley, it certainly is a beautiful town and the murals painted on the walls lend it a wonderful unique- and quirkiness. It was a still and quiet town but a beautiful clear day, perfect for wandering up and town the narrow streets and inspecting the painted walls. We also checked out the Rocca Sforzesca di Dozza, the town’s medieval castle, which is full of interesting artifacts from daily life, including a creepy dungeon with former inmates’ blood-drawn graffiti (and also a dragon…?). In the basement of the castle is an enoteca with wines and products from the region, so of course we did some shopping.
We didn’t spend much time in Castle del Rio, but we did eat lunch there and it was amazing. We were the only guests in the restaurant so were able to enjoy our feast of pasta and fried porcini mushrooms with a lovely view through the window. After lunch we stretched our legs and let our stomachs digest with a walk through town and across a foot bridge that was reminiscent of the one in Mostar.
We also visited the medieval town of Brisighella, on a hillside between Florence and Ravenna. We wandered for a little while, not really having done much research before going there, but the town was very charming and perfect for our aimlessness. One of the more interesting sites was the via degli Asini, a medieval elevated pathway for donkeys carrying material from the nearby quarries. It is uneven with low, wood-beamed ceilings and haphazard arches overlooking the street.
Of course, most of our time in Bologna centered around eating. We especially enjoyed wandering around the market near the Piazza Maggiore and returned several times to eat out and to do some food shopping for eating at home. Highlights of our food adventures include tortellini in brodo, pasta bolognese, fresh sausages, parmeggiano, tigelle with cheeses and salumi, and gelato. And, of course, plenty of wine.
Bologna was a really great city and we had a wonderful time exploring town and the surrounds with my parents. We were only there for five days but I’m already excited to visit again some day!
Check out more pictures from Bologna here, and stay tuned for even more pasta in Alba!