Monday, June 9, 2008

Surprising Bologna

I had no preconceived notions about Bologna when we left Catania on Saturday. I found Bologna to be fascinating in it's architecture, culture and cuisine. I'm really glad I spent an extra day after the game exploring this very interesting old city. As it turns out, it may be, in my opinion, the great secret destination place in Northern Italian travel.

I relied on three people as my guides in Bologna and they did not fail me! David Lassen, sportswriter for your Ventura County Star, provided me with some good eating tips.

So did Stefano Mengoli, the Elephants and Blog fan who lives in Bologna. Stefano was also my city tour guide suggesting many interesting places to visit.

Finally, Fodor's 2008 Italy guide book came up with a very interesting place to eat lunch on Monday.


Elegant Arcades

Most of the historic older city of Bologna have these huge arcades for your promenade. I am sure they were built to protect the citizens from the rain and snow of the winters and from the blistering summer sun. An A+ for the architect who came up with this idea. 

When it comes to earth tones and couples having a romantic stroll, Bologna takes a back seat to no city!

The University of Bologna

If you have ever been to New York City's Manhattan Island you probably came upon New York University. It does not have a college campus in the way that most American's view one in their mind's eye. Instead, NYU is an eclectic collection of buildings spread out all over the lower end of the island.

The University of Bologna, Europe's oldest university founded in 1088, may have been their inspiration for this approach to campus design. Bologna is known as a very liberal, left leaning, a.k.a., Communist, city. The road off the autostrada to the stadium Saturday was even named after Lenin, no, not the Beatle but the leader of the Russian Revolution, one Vladimir Illich Lenin.

The building above is in a beautiful courtyard that houses the Social Science classes for the University. This specific building is for classes in Economics.  

Le Due Torri

These two landmark towers were mentioned in Dante's "The Inferno". They stand side by side in the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. Every family of importance had a tower built in Bologna as a symbol of their prestige and power. They were also designed as a potential fortress in times of trouble.

The short tower on the left, Torre Garisenda, was built in the late 11th century and tilts 10 feet. For obvious safety reasons, the tower was shortened to it's current heighth of 165 feet in the 1300's.

The taller Torre degli Asinelli built in 1109 is an imposing 320 feet tall! It is also leaning but only 7 1/2 feet off perpendicular.

They are both very impressive when you first see them. So 900+ years after being constructed, I was still impressed by the prestige and power of the families who built them.

The Piazza Maggiore

This is the main square in Bologna late Sunday evening after an early dinner.

 Fontana del Nettuno

Nicknamed "Il Gigante", this imposing Barogue monument to Neptune was built in 1566.
The Four Mermaids

At the base of the Fontana del Nettuno are four mermaids with, shall we say, strangely active breasts. Check out the vlog at the end of tis post for a better look at these mermaids and their "girls". 

Il Palazzo Comunale

This is also part of the Piazza Maggiore and is Bologna's Government House.

This is San Petronio himself and to his right is the Basilica that honors his memory.

Il Palazzo Comunale in full view.

I am about to enter the Basilica di San Petronio, note the tables set up to accommodate the soon arriving lunch crowds.


The Basilica di San Petronio

The construction on this Basilica started in the 14th century and it's still not finished. You can still see that most of the marble facade the architects intended is nowhere close to installation. 

This Basilica's story brought new perspective to the famous phrase last January, "You'll have high speed internet at Malibu in 10 working days!"

Basilica di Santo Stefano

This was one of Stefano's main places for me to visit, maybe because it his saint's name. Again, he did not disappoint me with this landmark.

This basilica contains between four and seven connected churches, the authorities on such matters as these can not agree on an exact number. This site was originally a 4th century pagan temple dedicated to the god Iside.

The oldest remaining part of the Basilica is the 8th century Santi Vitale e Agricola component. Strange, it's not shaped like a basketball.

Cortile di Pilato

This is the San Sepolcro component of the Basilica. In front of it lies the Courtyard of Pilate named for the huge basin seen here said to be where Pontius Pilate washed his hands after condemning Christ.

I visited all of the above places thanks to Stefano's recommendations.



This is how I would look if I spent a month in Bologna sampling more of their delicious cuisine. 

La Sorbetteria Castiglione

Both David and Stefano recommended the same gelateria, how could I possibly go wrong!


Although I generally try the limone gelato as my litmus test in gelateria comparisons, I deviated and tried the Micelangelo for two reasons. First, anything named after THE Master of the Renaissance should equal artistic splendor. Secondly, I'm a sucker for anything made with mandorla, a.k.a., almonds.

While most Italians get two different flavors combined into one cone, I am a purist and only order one flavor at a time. I believe it gives me a better handle on quality, texture and taste. The Michelangelo was INCREDIBLE, one of the very best I have had anywhere in Italy!!!

They also served up what looked like a small bundt cake that they cut in half, filled with the gelato of your choice, closed back up and then handed to the customer to eat on the spot. It looked great but I couldn't, I still had to go to dinner in about 10 minutes.

Yes, I know, but I like to eat my dessert first just in case I have a heart attack in the middle of supper.


Ristorante La Capriata

I went with David's pick for dinner and had a fabulous lasagna dinner. The Ristorante La Capriata is located in a very nice courtyard with nice outdoor tables which made for a great evening setting.


And yes, there WERE pastries to die for!

Ditta A.F. Tamburini
Via Drapperie 1, Bologna, Italy

As I walked down a side street from the Basilica di Santo Stefano to the Piazza Maggiore on Monday I ran into this place by accident. The name was familiar but it wasn't on either David or Stefano's lists.

Suddenly it hit me, I read about this place in Fodor's 2008 Italy guide book that our son Andy had left behind when he and his fiancee Jenn left Rome in April.

Fodor's dedicates an entire page of his guide book, page 383 to be exact, to the regions great taste treat Tortellini. Bologna is nicknamed "The Fat" because it is the birthplace of this delicious pasta. Legend has it that tortellini was inspired by the bellybutton of Venus, the goddess of love. The story goes that a nosy chef of a local inn where Venus and some other gods stopped to spend the night (happens all the time here) peered through a keyhole and caught a glimpse of Venus' perfect navel. He then created a stuffed pasta, tortellini, in its image.

I kind of believe the Pontius Pilate wash basin story a little more than this one, how about you?

Anyway, Fodor's claims that Tamburini is Bologna's best specialty food shop.


It was great, awesome, inspired and downright good! It was also more than a little warm near the kitchen where the small dining area was located but what the heck, it was worth it!

Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Wheels

The first thing you see when you enter Tamburini's are these three huge Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese wheels. I have learned to eat this great cheese by the kilo, straight, not grated.

It was the first clue to a good dining experience.

Tamburini's has food hanging everywhere!

Another Happy, Satisfied Customer at Tamburini's

Nothing succeeds like blind luck, GREAT CALL FODOR'S!


Trio seen at the Piazza Maggiore

I have seen street entertainers all over Europe in the last six months, some good, some not so good.

I think this little trio on a triangle, an accordion and a big drum may be my favorite. They made for a very pleasant after dinner moment Sunday night.

Oh yes, the mermaids at the base of the Fontana del Nettuno are worth a look on this vlog too.

Again, special thanks to Stefano, David and Fodor's for steering me in the right direction over and over again in Bologna!


DPLassen said...

Glad you liked Bologna. I have to credit my friend Sasha Stone, who runs the "Awards Daily" website, for insisting I should go there. It's not a big tourist destination in terms of museums, etc., but that's one reason I liked it. It's about the only place in Italy I've visited that didn't have herds of Americans following the Rick Steves guide. (Rick ignores Bologna). But it is great for food and architecture. And that gelateria is No. 1 on my Italian power rankings. (Best chocolate gelato EVER.)

I think you've pretty much exhausted my recommendations now. I'm relieved they all worked out.

George said...

Have you ever traveled in Spain?

If so, I might need some more of your magic tips!

DPLassen said...

No, unfortunately, I haven't been to Spain yet. I hear good things, though.

George said...

I'll blaze a trail for you for once!

Todd Billingsley said...

George, thoroughly enjoyed your blog. I live in Rome, and am using your blog to prepare for a trip which will have us stopping in Bologna for lunch. Great suggestions, reviews, and pics!

One small favor...please include the addresses for all the places you visit (as you did with Tamborini).

Thanks for sharing your discoveries!

P.S.-I have a blog also that I write on living in Rome (