A love letter to Bologna

by Alexandra

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Last weekend wasn’t my first time in Bologna. I was there on my own in December 2014, walking until I couldn’t walk any more, but despite my exhaustion – the combination of too much walking and not enough sleep – the city left a good impression on me. When my flatmate Tom spontaneously suggested a weekend in Bologna, I was happy to return. Even organising everything at the last minute, it turned out to be an easy, affordable trip. Two hours on the train from Rome (super economy tickets are about 35 euros each way), and we were there.

On our first night, drinking spritzes in the street in Via Zamboni, I was pleased to discover that my feelings about Bologna were unchanged. I felt as much “at home” as it’s possible to be in a city you’ve only visited twice.

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I love you, Bologna. I love your architecture – the porticoes that are elegant during the day, and spooky at night; your absurd 12th century towers that lean at precarious angles; your colour scheme of orange, yellow, red and pink. You have class. More class than Rome, if I’m honest. Class, style and cleanliness. We sat in a piazza and marvelled at the lack of rubbish, at your immaculate “cestini intelligenti” (“intelligent bins”).

You have culture, art and history, and are beautiful without being overwhelming. You’re a manageable size, and there’s no intimidating list of “must-see” sights. If that’s a deterrent for tourists, meno male. You wouldn’t be quite so charming if you attracted the crowds of other cities. Florence has the Uffizi and you don’t, but you have soul and Florence doesn’t, so it evens out.

I love your studenty atmosphere, which makes me homesick for Oxford. You have a youthful energy that gives you a sense of excitement, a sense of purpose, saving you from becoming an open air museum. Everyone seems more awake, more engaged.

As a vegetarian I feel unqualified to comment on your food – unfortunately I’ll never be able to eat tortellini with ragu – but I always eat well, and I’ll always have fond memories of my meal at Scacco Matto, and that bowl of polenta and gorgonzola on a cold winter’s night.

You’re everything that I love about Italy – beauty, history, great food, and a more relaxed attitude to life. Without the humidity and mosquitoes you’d be perfect, but it’s just as well you’re not perfect, or I’d consider leaving Rome for you.

I’ll be back soon, Bologna.

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(No, I don’t know either)

Where to stay: I had my first Airbnb experience in Bologna, and thankfully it was 100% positive. We stayed at Elena’s apartment, 3 Biciclette, which is just on the edge of the city centre. It was very clean, quiet and comfortable, and I slept really well. At the grand age of 24, I think I’m already getting too old for hostels, so I’ll definitely return to 3 Biciclette the next time I’m in Bologna, and try to choose Airbnb over hostels in future.

Having said that, on my first trip I stayed at one of the few hostels in Bologna, Il Nosadillo. It may even be the only hostel in the city centre. Anyway, I remember having a good experience, apart from the lack of sleep which can only be blamed on other guests, rather than the hostel.

Where to eat: On our first night, our host Elena kindly escorted us to the local pizzeria, Il Sellaio (Via San Donato 31). Only five minutes after ordering our pizzas arrived, and they were absolutely massive (and delicious).

On Saturday night we accidentally ended up having dinner at Scacco Matto (Via Broccaindosso 63), which was mentioned in the guidebook, but which I’d dismissed as soon as I read “30-40 euros per person”. It’s so easy to find good cheap food in Italy that I tend to avoid expensive places. Anyway, it was only when we were sitting in the restaurant and I noticed the tarot cards in the wall that I realised where we were. But it was one of the best mistakes I’ve ever made, because the food was incredible (and worth the extra expense). Bread with burrata, peppers and anchovies, octopus with potato, pear cheesecake with ginger, and excellent wine. The restaurant has a lovely atmosphere too – smart without being stuffy, much like the rest of Bologna.

We had a very filling Sunday lunch at Il Tari (Via Collegio di Spagna 13), a restaurant specialising in pizza and seafood. I’d been there on my first trip to Bologna, and had good memories, so I ordered the same dish – spaghetti alle vongole. Portions are generous, the service is friendly, and the prices are reasonable.

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