Bologna, Italy


In my last post, I left you a few minutes before being given a snack and then being fined 10 euros for having taken the wrong train? That is: I got the train that left from quay 2 at 1.50pm for Bologna instead of the train that left from quay 2 at 2pm for Bologna. I refuse to take responsibility for this.

I arrived in Bologna tired and dehydrated, which may explain why I immediately disliked it. Was it the hordes of tourists speaking French and English and Spanish but never Italian? The oppressive presence of the columns and the arches and small streets that always blocked the sun? The absence of parks and benches to rest my feet and my soul? Maybe all of these.

This cobbled street is lined with orange buildings with large arches and pillars.

I was exhausted and a bit in pain and went for dinner early, which was a terrible idea as it seems that all decent places open at 7.30 or 8pm. I ended up in an awfully touristy restaurant, which was still pretty decent; especially the parmigiana (I really love aubergine) and the dessert, mascarpone cream.

Another few very orange buildings with arches to include the sidewalk.
(Bologna is an extremely orange city.)

As soon as that was over, I went to bed and crashed, hoping the next day would be nicer.

Full day

Given my utter failure to rest my leg yesterday, and the fact that I’m in a small city today, I decide to force myself to take it easy.

I wake up before 8, but get a book and a glass of water and promise myself to not get up before 10 at the earliest. I think I’ll take the tourist bus today – as cringeworthy and overrated as it is, it’s a great way to rest my knee.

Walking around the city to go to the tourist office on Piazza Maggiore, I realize that I’ve adjusted my expectations enough that I truly enjoy the city now.

The orange walls and paved roads are really growing on me, especially now that there are fewer people – mornings are good for that, even when I force myself to stay in bed for a bit. I go to Canton de’ Fiori, a caffe in the most touristic area of the city, and get a pistachio filled croissant (I’m going to miss those when I leave Italy) and a tea. (Here, you order « a tea ». There’s only one type of bag. I learn to accept it. Since I love Italy so much it’s really my fault that I never managed to get into coffee.) It’s overpriced and pretty good, as expected, and a nice way to start the day. More importantly, it will fill me up until 2pm, which means I’ll be able to go to a slightly less touristy restaurant, the kind that opens at 8pm like most places here, it seems.

I start my visit with the church on Piazza Maggiore and with the statue of Neptune, absolute classics.

A very big and shiny altar in a basilica with white walls lined with brick.

When I get out, though, I have a bad surprise: I just missed the tourist bus, and the « hop on, hop off » actually runs only once an hour or so. This won’t do, so I grab a bike and go back to the itinerary I had originally planned – except with a nice battery to help me out when I’m tired.

A big chonky stone tower in the middle of a residential complex. The walls of the other buildings are very orange.

It seems that the main thing about Bologna, outside of its orangeness, is the omnipresence of medieval towers in random places. You’re just walking around, and then plonk, here’s a giant brick tower. It’s actually pretty fun.

Not to be confused with the brick towers are the giant brick towers, these two terrifying monoliths that are definitely not perpendicular to the ground. They’re so scary and weird, I love them.

Two grey and not very vertical towers made of stones. In front of them, many interweaving electric cables for the tramway. It's cloudy so all is different shades of grey.

At this point, cycling around, I realize how much I’m enjoying this. I actually like discovering Bologna, and I enjoy this student town and all its young people enjoying life. I wish I still had that in me!

A bit more cycling and I stop for a pizza (of course) at Fra Diavolo, which seems to be a chain, and offers really good stuff for a low price.

Then, I go back, excited to see what Bologna still holds for me. I’m closer to the end of my tour, but I still keep my eyes wide open and see a couple of lovely vignettes.

An old-timey pastel blue car is parked in front of a watch shop. The building is very orange, with tall arches and pillars.

I muse, while cycling, that walking truly is the best way to discover a city. When I’m on the bike, I have to look at the road and avoid all the moving objects in my way; I can’t stop every few meters to take a photo or read a sign (there are many historical context signs) or just admire a nice building. It’s more guided, less spontaneous, less « at my own pace », even though it’s better for my leg and allows me to cover way more ground without being tired.

Around 3pm, I get to the museum of modern art, and I know I’m almost done with my itinerary, so I step inside.

A door with Safe Exit marked above it. A rectangle of the same size as the door painted one meter further and marked Dangerous Exit (because it's not a door, it's the wall!)

The Museum of Modern Arts is relatively small (the permanent collection at least), but includes a few classics and really beautiful pieces. There are also a few themed rooms, an exhibition about the Settimana della Performanza and the 60s and 70s which was really interesting, and a whole aisle dedicated to Giorgio Morandi. While I’m not convinced by his still life art, I am entranced by the work of the American photographer who snapped his library. Guess I love books even when they’re two-dimensional.

I then go back to my room, where I have a nice nap (5pm naps are the absolute best and I wish they were acceptable at work). Waking up, I reminisce a bit and think about one really cute thing about Bologna: the thousands of messages written in permanent marker on all its orange pillars, in all languages, for all kinds of messages and poems and calls to action.

The day ends with yet more food at Trattoria Tony, a very touristy but actually excellent spot (that’s how it was advertised to me on Wikivoyage and I wholeheartedly agree) where I stuff myself to the brink of explosion.

An empty restaurant with a shelf that holds many wine bottles.

Leaving Bologna

I woke up at 2am with my knee screaming at me. I told it to keep it together for another two days and that we would really really get some rest in Trieste, where I booked a nice hotel with a bathtub and promised myself that my only steps would be to go to the nearby beach. I don’t think it heard me.

I wondered if I should stay in Bologna and visit a museum or go to Venezia immediately and the answer was logistical. Because I booked an apartment instead of a hotel by mistake, I can’t leave my bag there until it’s time for my train. Venezia it is.

I can’t leave without a delicious breakfast, though, so I go to the small Arab café downstairs and eat the best makrout of my life. Guess they didn’t lie about Bologna being the capital of good food, huh. More importantly: they have amazing tea!

There is no better way to start the day.

On my way to the train station, I grab a couple of cold packs at the pharmacy, which hopefully will delay the death of my knee, and walk past a few ruins and other places of interest.

I am now on the train (hopefully the right one this time) and should arrive in Venezia in a couple of hours.

See ya later!

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