Our overnight ferry to Italy was, to say the least, an adventure. We were on a boat with mostly crazy Italians - including a few beer-drinking, sing-along-happy nuns and priests - and some French and Germans thrown in for good measure. We watched two American PhD students battle the onslaught of one of those aging backpacker types, the sort of dude who knows a little bit about everything and anything and is generally an all-around douchebag. We watched a Destiny's Child concert video in the restaurant where every Italian ignored the plentiful NO SMOKING signs and chain-smoked for the entirety of the voyage. And we stepped over backpackers who set up camp in every available corner to kip for the night on the way to our cabins.
I got to spend the night with a Croatian mother and her preteen daughter, and an unrelated Croatian teen. Not bad; they didn't really say anything to me and I high-tailed it out of there when the crew woke us at 6:30 with Amy Winehouse on the radio. The Irishman had 2 large Croatians who grunted at him but went to bed at the civilized time of 9pm, so he fared well too. We landed in Ancona and made it to the main train station only to find out we'd missed the early Eurostar and would have to take a regional train for 2+ hours up to Bologna. Feh. We rode in a sweaty car with stinky people and screaming babies. Feh - welcome to Italy.
We finally arrived to a sunny Italian city, bustling with people and lovely smells. Our hotel, the Albergo delle Drapperie, was helpfully located in the food market area of the city and the Irishman looked like he died and went to heaven when our taxi dropped us off. Our room was ready, so we dropped our bags and went out in search of food and coffee. Two paninis and caffe shakeratos (cold sweet espresso shaken with ice in a martini shaker), we were ready to go and wandered around in wonder at the cheeses, fresh pastas, meats, and produce on display all around us. When the shops and stalls all closed at 1pm for lunch, we went home to nap.
That night we went out on the town and sampled what must be the best kept secret in Italy: in Bologna, the bars give you free food. That's right. There is a little hors d'oeurve buffet if you are a patron, and if you go to the right places you don't even need to eat dinner! We sampled the wares at a few places, and ended up getting a bowl of tagliatelle al ragu at a cafe with a jazz band playing outside. It turns out that we were there for Il Notte Verde - a citywide alfresco music festival - and there were musicians on every street corner.
Sunday most shops and places were closed, so we took the opportunity to wander the city and see the sites; Bologna doesn't have much in the way of grand architectural and artistic "stuff" but we saw Il Due Torre and went into the grand unfinished cathedral, and generally wandered the streets to understand the ancient city.
Monday was our day to shop, but it was also the day the rain came in. We spent it mostly ducking in and out of the fabulous clothing and shoe shops, as well as the food purveyors. We happened upon a big indoor market with food stalls and shops, which was absolutely mindblowing. The food in Italy is just so different; just look below at how they displayed garlic!
We were so inspired by that market that we had to follow it up with a fantastic lunch, and did so at Tamburini (which will be profiled on Eggplant & Aubergine) and followed it up with an even more amazing dinner at a restaurant profiled by the New York Times in one of their 36 Hours segments - La Drogheria Della Rosa. It was absolutely wonderful and if you go to Bologna, do not miss it.
Bologna is beautiful, and I highly recommend it for a city-break or long weekend. There isn't much to do, culture-wise, but it's a pretty city with really nice people and mouth-watering cuisine. We hit our 1-week mark there, and transitioned from simply relaxing to city exploring. I think both myself and the Irishman could have used another week of chilling out, but Italy had so much more for us to eat that we were happy to continue!