My plans for Bologna were a total mess from the start. I was in Florence already freaking out about not knowing where to go next. By the time I got to Venice I panicked and started to believe this solo travel thing just wasn’t for me and that I had to go home. Lucky for me, a friend of my (ex)boyfriend lived in Bologna and offered me a roof at his house. The catch? He was not in Bologna at the moment, so I would stay with his friends.
After a failed attempt to make a quick stop in Padua for a couple of hours exploring (gave up when I was asked 10€ to keep my bag in a locker for 1h, I got out of my train in Bologna and it was like I landed in an Alien place. It was raining outside, so the station was a mess of people, and to my shock, many beggars were seeking shelter from the rain inside it too. There was a lot of police around and I was a little intimidated by the introduction.
While walking under rain for a few minutes that seemed ages, I kept asking myself why I was doing it. I mean, the short story is I was staying in a house with two guys I had never seen in my life, and only one person knew I was there (kept it a secret from my parents of course). What the hell was I doing? The honest truth is I was doing it to save 20€ a night in some crappy hostel, and I was taking the time pressure off me.
I turned out just fine and alive, and the night of my arrival the guys offered me a city map and decided to show me around the city. Things were a little weird when they wanted to pay to visit a museum and I kindly said I didn’t want to pay for it, but as soon as they started to tell me about the seven secrets of Bologna, I was so excited to having private local guides to tell me things I normally wouldn’t know about if I had stayed at a hostel.
What are the Seven Secrets of Bologna? The statue of Neptune showing it’s virility in Piazza Nettuno, the lattin words written on a ceeling Panis Vita, Canbis Protectio and Vinum Laetitia, the Arrow in Corte degli Isolani, the whispering in the Archway of Palazzo Podestá (my favorite), Little Venice, and the last two, the ones I couldn’t find, the broken vase at the top of the Asinelli Tower and written words ‘Panun Resis’ on a University table.
I don’t know if it was my discovery of the aperitivo, where you buy an alcoholic drink and get free access to a buffet, or the seven secrets pursuit, maybe even the fact I had kicked fear in the ass by staying with strangers and actually liking it, or the fact I had a local showing me around instead of me being lost to find a place. All I know is I loved Bologna and everything about it. It was the kind of city I wouldn’t mind living in for a while.
Maybe tourists are getting blind by other Italian cities and Bologna has so much to offer, I just can’t understand how the streets aren’t flooded with crowds of waving selfie sticks. Instead, what the city seems to attract more are international students wanting to study in Bologna. It is a young city, and they seem to be everywhere you turn, and it gives it a great and safe vibe all around. I even walked back to the apartment late at night alone, and as weird as it sounds to me, I didn’t worry for a second.
From the panini (sandwiches) to the pizza and street food, Bologna is a dream for foodies. Remember it’s a city that still doesn’t have increased prices because the tourists are coming slow, and it’s a city that belongs to the students and the young, so it couldn’t be easier to get some amazing Italian food at student prices! An the ‘aperitivo‘? The cheapest you pay for an alcoholic drink is around 6€. Go to Senza Nome bar around 7pm. It’s a unique bar, where you have to do sign language to communicate with the employers, and it has an amazing vibe. For drinks try asking for an Aperol or the Americano.
But the best thing I ate in Bologna, in Italy and pretty much in my entire life, was Ragù. Imagine having the opportunity to eat the typical dish from Emilia-Romagna, made by an Italian grandmother, who spent and entire morning cooking, and there you are, being offered the best meal of your life.
The view at San Michele in Bosco, to going all the way up to the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, and climbing the 493 steps of the Asinelli Tower, Bologna kept me busy, but happy and finally getting the time to relax and enjoy the moments, by simply having no rush to see everything.
Overall, I had an amazing time in Bologna, by meeting old friends, spending more time in the same city, instead of moving around way too fast and getting exhausted, eating amazing food and discovering my passion for the ‘aperitivo’, having fun while discovering the secrets of Bologna, being able to speak Portuguese with someone again, making the forever mistake of asking for a cappuccino after a meal, refusing bubbly water before coffee (I’m sorry, but it just felt weird and not my thing. Tap water, please!) and fighting fear of sleeping in a house of strangers by realizing there is a bunch of people out there who might not know you but are more than happy to help.
Bologna, you really are something special, and I will be back for you, sooner than you realize!
DAY TRIPS FROM BOLOGNA
During my week in Bologna, I also got the privilege of exploring two towns in Emilia-Romagna and I’m so thankful for that. Our first day trip was to Ferrara, the city of bicycles, and of course we had to rent a bike to explore the town the right way. Note to self: maybe learn how to ride a bicycle again! I can’t tell how many times I almost lost control of my bike and I was very, very close to causing an accident with so many people on my way. Maybe trying to take photos while riding the bike at the same time was not a very smart idea.
Ferrara is insanely beautiful and I couldn’t get enough of the narrow streets with so much color and character. Seriously, every new city or town I visit in Italy makes me fall more in love with this country. It really has everything that makes me happy and the idea of living in Italy for a while is starting to sound better and better in my head.
The second and last day trip we took from Bologna was the famous town of Ravenna. Now, this is going to come as a shock to many, as well as to me, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t see the magic in Ravenna. We went there on the first Sunday of the month thinking the entrance to most attractions would be free, and by the time we got there, we were told most were still paid and it kind of screwed the plans for the day. Ravenna is not enchanting and crazy beautiful as you walk the streets, but it has a lot of churches and monuments to see, being those paid, and I just can’t give 10€ to see a church, so I ended up feeling bad for G, because he had driven me there and wanted to see everything and I had to be the awkward person saying no. Still, if you don’t mind spending some money on attractions, you shouldn’t miss the chance to visit Ravenna. And I’m telling you this even after paying almost double at a cafe than the menu said. Oh well, you learn by your mistakes right?
What about you guys? Anyone been to Bologna or planning a visit soon? Don’t be shy and share your experience and thoughts on a comment below!