Saturday, October 11, 2008


The Place to Eat!

When I graduated from high school I took all the money I had made working on parking lots in Jack London Square and went to Europe with a student study tour.

It was a life changing event. 

Someone at the study tour company had the idea they could mix our blue collar high school group with a totally middle class group from Castro Valley, and the boys from an exclusive private school in Orinda.  

So we had my group mostly made up of kids of hourly workers and first or second generation American's mixed with a bunch of spoiled Orinda boys with nicknames like "Biff". Our group saw europe on the $5 a day plan. Their tour leader had pre-arranged dinners for "the boys" at places like La Tour d'Argent in Paris. So it all kind of turned into a cultural slam dance which added a new dynamic to the trip. I think this is time time when I developed my lifelong aversion to all things Ralph Lauren......

Anyway, during our month we toured nearly all of Europe's major cities aboard a wonderful bus. The trip was narrated by our tour guide Wolfgang (a college student from Austria) and was piloted by our superb driver Gus from Amsterdam.

One of the stops we made was Bologna. The stop was off the itinerary and completely unscripted, but highly recommended by Wolfgang and Gus. All they told us was Bologna was "where Europe goes to eat".  After we diverted the big bus we wolfed down a most amazing lunch of lasagne and pasta bolognese.

Over the years I have had the chance to venture back to Europe many times and have returned to many of the places I remember from that student tour. Earlier this year I returned to Bologna and found it still one of the "missed opportunities" of Italy.  

In short it is a wonderful city. It is home to Europe's first University and remains a hotbed of progressive politics. But more importantly it is not part of the standard Italian tourist itinerary. Frankly, it benefits from that. It is an intellectual city filled with youth that feels real. It is a city of art, beautiful cathedrals, fine little bed and breakfasts, and being the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, it is still a danged good place to eat.

For those that might not consider including it on their itinerary, consider this: it is easy to get to, a perfect place to stop on any tour that includes Venice and Florence, and did I mention it is a very good place to eat?

The architecture of the city has been a work in progress since 189 BC. What we see today is the city the Romans built. A city famous for its two ancient (and leaning) brick towers, the half finished Basillica of San Petronio (the Pope decided to divert its remaining budget to other projects in Rome - go in and look for where the sun denotes the time and the season on it expansive floor), Town Hall Palazzo Comunale on the Piazza Maggiore (with its huge Neptune fountain). 

A new attraction in Bologna is the MAMbo (museum of modern art).

Because of the intense summer heat, and to increase usable space, nine centuries ago the city came to require all buildings to extend over the sidewalks creating shady arcades. Many buildings feature lush courtyards that can typically be glimpsed through beautiful wrought iron gates along the sidewalks.

The food market stalls spread throughout the core of the city offer the worlds most amazing variety of cured pork products (the reason why those cuisine conscious English came to call lunchmeat "baloney"). Perhaps the best is the regions amazing mountain-air cured proscuitto. Eat it all here since you can't import it back to the US (a damned shame in my book). The pasta here is also the best in the world. Almost a lost art when the laws of the EU made the centuries old methods of pasta making illegal, the fine quality of the homemade sfoglia (sheet) pasta has now returned as wise Italians simply decided to ignore a stupid law.  

The gelato in Bologna is wonderful throughout the city (although our favorite is still found at GROM in Florence).

Our favorite place to stay here is the Il Convento dei Fiori di Seta. Out of the noisy city center it has just a few rooms and was stylishly created from an ancient convent that fell into disrepair (and was even used for car repairs for some time). It is an easy walk to everything. The knowledgeable owner speaks fluent english and will map out walking tours for you and her young staff literally ran to get our bags up to our room and make us comfortable.

If you can - go ahead and add Bologna to your Italian itinerary. Wolfgang and Gus were right.

Roadboys Travels © 2008

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