Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bologna, Italy

Bologna is located about 50 miles north of Florence and is a wonderful alternative to the more crowded and touristy cities of Italy. Bologna doesn't have the art museums of Florence, the canals of Venice, or the ancient monuments of Rome, but it does have some stunning architecture and food! The city is famous for its cuisine and is known as the culinary capital of Italy. In fact, Italians refer to Bologna by three names: La Dotta, La Rossa, and La Grassa; the educated, the red, and the fat. "Educated" refers to the city's university which is the oldest university in Europe (since 1088). "Red" refers to the red bricks that most of Bologna's buildings are made from, and because of its leftist political views. "Fat" refers to Bologna's culinary history, making it the food capital of Italy... and we are not going to argue with that point!

We were excited to visit this beautiful city, not only because we were looking forward to tasting its delicious food and exploring a new part of the country, but also because we were meeting my best bud, Sera and her new fiance Martin there. After a lunch filled with glorious truffles and ravioli, we wandered the streets of Bologna taking in sights like the Asinelli Tower, Piazza Maggiore, and the Neptune Fountain, as well as indulging in the wine and food from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

Asinelli Tower

Piazza Maggiore 

Neptune Fountain

Church in Bologna

A small waterway

During our second day in Bologna we went on a private food and wine tour of the region. After our guide picked us up very early in the morning, we went to a Parmesan cheese factory out in the Reggio Emilia region. Here, we watched the daily process of making Parmesan cheese straight from the cows, along with a taste of the final product at the end (aged 15 months). Yum!

From left to right: Morgan our tour guide, Sergio the cheese-maker, Jon, me, Martin, Sera.

Next we went to the home of a traditional balsamic vinegar producer in the area. Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is made only from the Emilia Romagna region, is aged at least 12 years, and is different from the balsamic vinegar of Modena label that we often see. The two are distinct products in their manufacturing, composition, and price. After a tour of the facilities and an explanation of the process we tasted six different traditional balsamic vinegars. We could definitely tell the difference between the traditional and the other balsamic vinegars; they were thicker, creamier, richer, and much more expensive!

A centuries old tree.

The attic of the traditional balsamic vinegar maker's house

The final stop was our wine tasting at a vineyard in the region. The owner (whose real name we never found out, only that he wanted us to call him Jim because his favorite singer is Jim Morrison) showed us the vineyards. We tasted 8 (or 9?) wines and he did not skimp! He poured the wine so high in the glasses that it became more of a wine party than a tasting. Welcome to the wine tasting world in Italy!

The vineyard

In the beginning, before the really full glasses of wine...

A little while later with Morgan, the driver, and Jim.

More wine!
Wearing our free t-shirts! Things escalated pretty quickly!
After a little rest back at the hotel, we ventured out to a local restaurant in Bologna that uses only local products and cooks traditional cuisine from the region such as spaghetti bolognese, tortellini al brodo (tortellini in a broth sauce), and lasagna. Dishes in Bologna are less about olive oil and tomatoes (like in Naples) and more about butter and cream sauces with the addition of truffles, chestnuts, mushrooms, and a variety of meats, all perfect for a cold winter night in December. Simply delicious!

Jon and I definitely could have used another day in Bologna and we would love to go back again, which is highly doable since it is only a three hour high-speed train ride from Naples. We took advantage of the fantastic food opportunities in the region while being able to enjoy the city itself. The people are so friendly, they seem to enjoy life, and are respectful of things and people around them (the opposite of Naples). The weather is great, and the food is fabulous. It's one of those cities that we could see ourselves living in or around and it got us thinking yet again... can we please live here?


  1. What a perfect name for an Italian city - Bologna! The architecture of the buildings are amazing, and even though I say that a lot about many other European cities, there is something about Bologna that is very different. It seems to have a personality of it's own! Just by looking at the pics, I can sense a feeling of warmth and being "down to earth". Some cities out there seem to be very "stuffy" and too formal, whereas the city of Bologna is very welcoming. It's elegant, without being fancy and snobbish! I was curious about one pic that showed (what seemed to be) white lights connecting from one building to another. Are those lights or something else? I loved the pic of the small waterway. My eye went immediately to the "pink" buildings lining the waterway. (Is that pink or a different color?) Anyway, as I said before, I got the feeling when looking at this pic, of a warm, fuzzy feeling and very quaint! OK, now I have to talk about the wine and food tour in the Reggio Emilia region! At first I thought, Oh no, not the same Reggio Emilia that I learned about when I was teaching!! But moving on, the pic of the process of making Parmesan cheese was very cool! I love the aqua colored boots! And I also found it cool that you went to taste different kinds of balsamic vinegar and that the brand named Modena is from that area! (I use that brand!) And, of course, it wasn't hard to tell that all of you had a fantastic time at the winery!!!! Thanks for the great blog! I really enjoyed it!

  2. OMG Eric would have taken a bite from those huge parmesan wheels.