Rest and relaxation in Bologna

Piazza Maggiore

Just over twelve months ago we spent three nights in the medieval centre of Bologna, heart of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy and the perfect location for meat loving gourmands. The Atlantic Hotel was home during our stay and it was well situated between the train station and the main piazza. It did take us a little while to find it, for some reason I lost all sense of direction and had us going the wrong way before Hubby stepped in to ask for directions. Each of us had a role on this trip, Hubby was languages and I was logistics, it worked really well most of the time. Once settled in our hotel we set off to find typical Bolognese food to eat. We had experienced illness on and off since arriving in Paris, it had affected our appetite and our energy levels and we were keen to use our time in Bologna to recover. The main reason we included Bologna on our itinerary was food, we’re not connoisseurs of gourmet food but we do like eating good food and exploring the medieval old town also had its appeal.

Tamburini  deli is the most amazing shop to walk into, from floor to ceiling the shop is stacked with the most tantalising produce. I was in heaven. The choices were overwhelming so we asked them to recommend something suitable for a picnic in Piazza Maggiore. Unlike other Italian cities we were not discouraged from eating in the piazza, surrounded by like minded tourists and locals we devoured the selection of cheese and mortadella that had been prepared for us, delicious with chunks of fresh, crusty bread. That simple but tasty meal was the beginning of our food focused visit to Bologna. While enjoying the atmosphere of the piazza we got talking to a couple of university students, one of them was walking his neighbour’s dog, a cute French bulldog called Frati (I think that was his name). Sadly, Frati’s owners didn’t take him out much because he had wheels as a result of not being able to walk properly so this student kindly took him out for regular walks. Frati was extremely friendly and seemed to really appreciate the chance to be out of the apartment and say hello to random strangers. I certainly appreciated the opportunity to get some puppy cuddles and I tried taking a few photos but Frati was too busy and the lighting was poor. So typical of me to remember the name of the dog but I don’t remember the name of the students, both spoke english beautifully and were happy to chat with us about travel, Australia and the Paris attacks (which had happened a week before). They recommended checking out the part of Bologna where all the students go to eat and drink, there we would find good food and wine and good prices. We took their advice and spent an evening in that more lively part of town and we tried the wine, it was good and of course we could not help but indulge ourselves at one of the many gelaterias.

Eating out in Bologna was a bit like walking into Tamburini, so many choices that deciding where to dine was really hard. One night we seemed to walk around in circles before coming across a small, underground restaurant in the back streets and for lunches we returned to a busy little cafe situated in the old market in the Quadrilatero, the food was good and the prices were right for our budget. During our stay we tried all the typical dishes: tortellini in brodo, lasagna, antipasti platters of cheese and meat, meatballs, roast pork, grilled seasonal vegetables and little round bread called Tigelle. The narrow alleys of the old market was thriving, lots of noise and activity as shoppers and shop keepers went about their business. Dining alfresco provides the perfect opportunity for people watching however I tired of the beggars constantly hitting us up for money, at one sitting we were approached by at least 5 different beggars. The following day we sat indoors, the weather was much cooler so it didn’t take that much to convince Hubby. The begging in Bologna was constant or so it seemed, perhaps because the central historic area is smaller and more condensed than some of the other cities frequented by tourists. Hubby and I tended to buy dog food at the supermarket and give that to the beggars and homeless that were with their dogs, most seemed happy to have food for their furry companions.

Museums and galleries weren’t a priority for us while in Bologna however we did venture into an old church, the Basilica di Santo Stefano which is known locally as the Sette Chiese or Seven Churches. Supposedly established in the 5th century over the top of a pagan site of worship, the church has been added to over the centuries. Even Hubby enjoyed walking through Benedictine cloister, Pilato’s courtyard and the chapels of varying ages. To one side is a small museum of paintings and sculptures, entry is free although a donation is welcome and it is well worth seeing. For the most part, we wandered through the city via the porticoes which make it easy to get around regardless of the weather. Medieval timber porticoes can still be found in the historical centre, the majority are made of stone, brick and concrete. In addition to tracking down the timber porticoes we searched for the hidden canals of Bologna of which there is roughly 60km, mostly covered over. Two canals can be found near the edge of the historical centre where the Reno river enters the city, and the Moline canal we discovered by accident down a side street.

Bologna is an incredibly fascinating city and well worth including on an Italian itinerary, being there in November made it the perfect time to indulge in some of the more hearty dishes on the menu. Being the capital of the Emilia Romagna region, it is also centrally located making it easy to get to other food lover destinations such Modena and Parma. We did not venture to either of these cities, instead choosing to take it easy in Bologna and recover which was a wise decision.


A quick look at Bologna

Neither Hubby or I had been to Bologna before this trip and knew very little about the city. We spent three nights in Bologna and still don’t know much other than it is easy to get good food, the historic centre is mainly medieval (architecture-wise) and there are plenty of students and beggars. I’ll touch more on our visit in a later post, for now please enjoy this quick look at Bologna.

Medieval Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Markt Square, Rothenberg ob de Tauber
Market set up in Rothenburg ob de Tauber's square

Restless night, the walls are thin and like Amsterdam, we can hear the movement and bodily functions from the neighbouring rooms. Marty opens the windows to let in fresh air, it gets stuffy in our funny little room under the roof. Breakfast is another feast, I explain to Marty that it may not be quite as substantial in Italy, they don’t ‘do’ breakfast like we do or like we’ve had in any of the European countries. Boiled eggs, cheese, meat, bread rolls, cheese spreads and cereal are laid out on two long buffet tables, it is hard to know where to start, we try to be healthy and at least have muesli and yoghurt. The coffee is not great, lots of milk and sugar are required for me to drink it.

Decorated easter eggs on display all over town
Decorated easter eggs on display all over town

It is only early, the air is still fresh and cool, the streets relatively empty of tourists, many locals are out walking their dog and stopping at bakeries to pick up fresh bread and pastries. We climb the steps of the tower near our hotel and walk along the walls, they’re not walkable everywhere, at times you walk on ground level and the towers are closed, the stone is cool to touch and the small holes spaced along the walls were once used to point weapons through in defense of the town. From our room and the wall the steeples of St Jacob’s Church can be seen, we’re content to explore the streets and not venture indoors until we locate the Medieval Criminal Law Museum. The museum opens at 11am, to fill in time we snack on tasty goodies from the bakery and take in the aroma of cooking sausages and deli meats at a local butcher shop. Lunch would be a cooked Franconian sausage on a fresh roll from the butchers, at only 2,50 euro it was a bargain and delicious to boot. Whilst waiting for the sausages to cook, we taste tested salami…yum! We ate lunch outside in the sun, we were in a great position to watch the locals go about their business and to see the other tourists making their way about the town, stopping to take photos of anything and everything (sound familiar?).

Patient dog waiting for his master outside the butcher shop
Patient dog waiting for his master outside the butcher shop

Europeans take their dogs everywhere, but apparently not into the butcher shop, a dear little dog sat waiting outside, shifting slightly every now and then until his (or her) master appeared. I imagine the smell must have been making his mouth water and hope that he got a tasty treat as reward for waiting patiently.

The Criminal Law Museum has a large collection of etchings, documents, punishment devices, seals and legal symbols from seven centuries of history. The barbaric and humiliating forms of punishment for immorality, gossip and drunkenness are beyond belief, it was not a good time to be alive.

Cage used for punishment at the Crime and Justice Museum
One of the medieval forms of torture or punishment

Common punishment for two women or a couple who were charged with being argumentative and always fighting was to bind them together using a device that looked like a portable stock, it was attached around each person’s neck and they had to wear it until they began behaving better towards each other. A woman who had sex before marriage had to wear head gear made of straw and could not get married in the traditional manner available to ‘good girls’. Outside the museum in the courtyard were stocks and wagons used for carting prisoners, hanging in the air was the cage that would have been used for prisoners condemned to be dunked.

Window display at the famous Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop
Window display at the famous Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop

Rothenburg has many bakeries and specialty shops selling ‘schneeballen’, fried pastries coated in sugar, cinnamon or chocolate. They’re a bit like crostoli in texture and taste, but rolled into a ball and the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee. We were still trying to find a coffee as good as that in Paris, a latte machiatto is not as good – too milky as you might expect however it was nicer than the hotel coffee. In addition to trying local food and drinks, our aim was to purchase Christmas decorations from the Christmas Village and have them shipped back to Australia to avoid carrying them and taking the risk of damaging them. Not sure if the lamp we bought will work in Australia, the voltage and power adapter is different, surely this can be fixed using a travel adapter (reverse of the one we had to buy to use our appliances in Europe) and if not it will still look pretty on display at Christmas time. I could have bought hundreds of dollars worth of decorations for our tree but the best ones were about 17 euro and it seemed a little extravagant, I did eventually purchase a nutcracker soldier as a typically Rothenburg souvenir.

Our favourite place to eat
Our favourite place to eat

Pork knuckle, schnitzel or sausage for dinner – big decisions, not lightly made J. The pork knuckle came with sauerkraut so I gave that a miss and we’d had sausages for lunch leaving schnitzel for Marty…again and I ordered boiled beef shank with horseradish cream, boiled taters and cranberries. My choice was a winner, Marty’s fries were delicious when dunked in the horseradish cream and his salad was equally as tasty. The waiter/owner seemed to enjoy the fact that we had returned for a second night, he told us jokes, recommended wines and at the end of the night brought out 2 complimentary glasses of ‘Franconian tap water’ some deadly sort of liqueur that had to be downed in one shot. I couldn’t drink it, the taste was disgusting to me, Marty downed both and instead I devoured a delectable apple strudel and vanilla ice cream dessert. Once back at the hotel Marty met Carlos, he was sitting alone outside the hotel and having a beer, Marty joined him for a couple of drinks and found out that Carlos was working in Rothenburg for the weekend and that he played in a band as well, the next day Marty gave Carlos a list of Australian songs that would rouse the interest of any Australian within hearing range.