A Foggy Day in Bologna, the City With the World's Oldest University

Friday, December 16, 2016

Earlier last month I decided to buy my friend Julia tickets to Bologna and take her there on a day trip for her birthday as neither of us had ever been and wanted to explore more of Italy. Bologna is in Emilia-Romagna, a northern region of Italy which is the home of many Italian foods (balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, proscuitto & tortellini) and Italian cars (Ferrari, Lamborghini & Maserati, to name a few). It is also home to the oldest university in the world (established 1088!) and famous for its towers and porticoes (covered walkways with columns) so we hopped on an early morning train and made our way up there... stopping, of course, firstly at a café (called a bar in Italian) to get some colazione (breakfast) Italian style aka coffee & croissants.

Remember kids - cappuccinos only at breakfast time and definitely not with your lunch! After we had properly fuelled our bodies up for a full day of sight-seeing and exploring we headed to the Piazza Maggiore, one of Bologna's most famous, central squares, to discover that there was a chocolate festival going on! How lucky that we had booked our tickets to come this day? They had everything chocolate: hot chocolate, slabs of it, waffles, crêpes... it was hard to resist.

Our next stop was then La Piazzola di Bologna market in Piazza VIII Agosto which is open every Friday and Saturday. To be honest there was a lot of rubbish but we spotted a lot of Levis jeans and Barbour jackets - so you can definitely find some vintage gems if you keep your eyes peeled.

We then made our way to a nearby park, Il Parco Della Montagnola, Bologna's oldest park dating back to 1664! It was so beautiful and autumnal (we went mid-November) that we just had to take a bunch of pictures. It reminded me of this funny thing that I saw on instagram which said something like "English people: autumn, from the latin autumnus. American people: fall because the leaves fall." It cracks me up every time.

*Queue cheesy autumn photos*

After all of the walking around and photo taking we were starting to get a little hangry. I know that when you go to Bologna you are supposed to try tortellini, their speciality. However both of us were desperately craving pizza but after some unsuccessful searching we turned to google and found a charming restaurant which served pizza which seemed to have good reviews. It was good but not the best - not like Gusta Pizza in Florence or like the pizza that I tried in Naples (which was actually incredible) but it did satisfy our needs. We did, however indulge in a tiramisù afterwards which, in case you haven't heard of this delicacy, is an Italian dessert with coffee, cocoa, biscuits and mascarpone cream. It is delicious and the name literally means pick me up or cheer me up in Italian - tira mi su!

Some of Bologna's traditional filled pasta
After we had re-fuelled our bodies we set off to find another one of Bologna's gems, the canal system! Bologna was built with many canals, just like Venice. They're a little bit difficult to find and are supposed to be very beautiful with incredible views. Before our trip to Bologna I did some research on things to do and see and they all said to try to find them so we did, and to be honest... it was a little bit disappointing. Maybe we didn't find the best view or maybe we have been spoiled... but to be honest I think that it was the foggy weather which "ruined" the view and the atmosphere of the city a little bit. 

Left: la Torre Garisenda. Right: la Torre degli Asinelli.
As I said before, Bologna is famous for it's towers and the two well known ones, la Torre degli Asinelli and la Torre Garisenda, are also referred to as just le due torre (the two towers) and are in the historic centre. As you can see on the picture above the one on the left, the more crooked one, is la Torre Garisenda and the one on the right, the taller one, is la Torre degli Asinelli. The names of the towers are from two families which are said to have built these two towers as a competition to demonstrate their power to one another. It is said that the towers were originally built between 1109 and 1119 and interestingly, the architect who designed the World Trade Centre in New York, Minoru Yamasaki, used these Bolognese towers as his inspiration! 

Another one of the must-do things in Bologna was to climb up the Asinelli tower. It is 498 steps high meaning you can burn off all of that delicious Italian food that you have indulged in and apparently you have the most amazing view of Bologna and the surrounding countryside! Unfortunately for us we were in Bologna on the foggiest of days (as you can see from the picture above) so there wasn't much point in going up there. Next time!

Saint Petronius of Bologna

One thing that I have definitely noticed whilst living in Italy is that I have not met one single person who likes Renzi - and this is obvious all around Italy with the street art/graffiti. Luckily for them he has now resigned after the results of the Italian constitutional referendum this month, but once again they have a Prime Minister that they have not voted for...
Our last stop in Bologna before heading back to Florence was il Teatro Anatomico (the Anatomical Theatre) which is in the Archiginnasio of Bologna, one of the city's most important buildings and once the main building of the University of Bologna. For three euros you can have a look into the room that they used for dissection classes of both humans and animals which was constructed in the 17th century out of spruce wood and finished in the 18th century.

It is decorated with twelve famous doctors including Hippocrates, a Greek physician born in 460 BC also known as the "father of modern medicine", all the way through to Gaspare Tagliacozzi, an Italian surgeon born in 1545 who was the pioneer of reconstructive surgery (including nose jobs!). In the middle of the room you have a marble dissection table and by the teacher's desk you have two spellati (skinned men).

Before the Archiginnasio was built, lessons took place in private or rented properties and sometimes in the piazze (the squares). With your ticket you can also take a peek into la Biblioteca comunale dell'Archiginnasio (the Archiginnasio Municipal Library) which has more than 500,000 texts and 12,000 manuscripts, making it the best equipped civic library in the country. I have to say that it was pretty cool to roam the halls of the old university - they are absolutely beautiful and definitely worth seeing for only 3 euros!

The theatre was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War, like many things were, but thankfully a lot of the original pieces were found amongst the building's rubble so it was able to be reconstructed in the original way. Although it was damaged you wouldn't be able to realise it when you visit the room and you can almost imagine the dissections which took place under candlelight.

That concludes our Bologna visit! Even though it was foggy and a little bit rainy we really enjoyed ourselves and thankfully Bologna has a whole system of porticoes which means that you can explore the city and not get wet (or you could just bring an umbrella).

Getting to Bologna from Florence is very easy and I would recommend taking the train, either Trenitalia or Italo. We used Trenitalia for both journeys and going there the regional train took 1-2 hours, whereas la Freccia (the fast train) took a little over half an hour. There are loads of stations in Bologna so make sure to choose "Bologna Centrale" when buying your tickets and enjoy your day! If you're staying in Bologna for longer you could visit some of the other places in Emilia-Romagna. Taste the traditional aceto balsamico (baslamic vinegar) from Modena or explore Parma, where the beautiful Italian parmigiano reggiano is from (parmesan cheese).

Alexandra x

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  1. There is no such thing as a cheesy autumn leaves photo. Hehe. Cute! :]

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    1. Hahaha! Thanks for checking out my post :) X

  2. Foggy days are enjoyable but it too can be dangerous and riskier as well. checking cabled weather stations is for being updated with weather condition which is really safe.