A day trip to Bologna and a delicious lunch at Botanica Lab
Hey friends! It's been a busy period and I've been running practically everyday, passing from one chore to the other and the season hasn't even started yet! It is exactly in times like this that one needs to take a break, find some time for oneself, oxygenate the brain and get ready to roll again, so I decided to take a day off and go to Bologna. I went with my husband by train (tip: opt for an RV - fast regional- train), it takes a bit less than two hours and it costs 25 euros for a return ticket.
Bologna is a lovely medieval town, capital city of Emilia-Romagna, region known for fresh pasta (tortellini and tagliatelle are the most iconic), traditional balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and mortadella. It is also a vibrating university city, with lots of students and lots of interesting job opportunities. Although small, in Bologna there is always something going on and the people in general are so nice that I would recommend a visit to anyone! The town used to be surrounded by walls until the beginning of the 20th century and it was famous for its towers, which were about 100 in the middle ages and only 22 today. The most famous are the Torre degli Asinelli and the Torre Garisenda (see website for info and tickets).
I really like this city, it has the size of a town but the mentality of a big city, people are open minded, talkative and kind and when it comes to cultural events I think it is one of the most active cities in Italy. In 2012 I volunteered at the Biografilm Festival and remember I didn't have a free moment because when I was not 'working' I was either watching a movie (that year I really enjoyed Marina Abramovich's The Artist is Present, on her exhibition at the Moma in NY) or trying to take part in the way too many other events (thumbs up for the meetings with authors and critiques organised every year by La Repubblica delle Idee).
The only thing that lacks in Bologna is water. There is only a tiny canal and, for a woman like me, so used to being surrounded by water, living far from the sea would be quite difficult. Anyway, it's a great place to find distractions! Our train was late, so when we got off we immediately went to a super nice plant-based/vegan restaurant called Botanica Lab Cucina, not even a minute from the central Piazza Maggiore. I had read some extremely positive reviews and a friend of mine had suggested to try it out, so I looked up their website online and booked!
Well, it was great! The restaurant is located in a street where cars do not pass, with both outdoor and indoor seating and the ambience is modern and combines contemporary design with traditional structures, not forgetting to add colour and sophistication with flowers, plants and beautiful object. In brief, it conveys positivity and love for nature. The food too was delicious and the prices (especially if compared to Venice) excellent! To start, Vito had two rice pastry spring rolls stuffed with raw veg, soy sauce and mixed leaves, while I had a surprisingly rich salad with baby spinach, radicchio, orange, apple and a mouthwatering paste of Macadamia nuts, which recalled the look of fresh cheese but obviously had a totally different flavour. Addictive!!!!
For his main, Vito ordered gnocchi made with batata, a sort of orange sweet potato, served with a creamy sauce and topped with pan-fried leek, which added the right dose of crispness. Yum!!! With regard to myself, I went for a black cabbage and pumpkin (the last ones of the season...) soup, served with toasted whole grain bread and sunflower seeds. Needless to say, I loved it! As previously mentioned, the portions were quite big for us so after starter and main we stopped and didn't ask for a dessert, but I did spy at their offer and couldn't help thinking of my brother, a sweet-tooth, who would have tried everything (my husband just had his usual grappa...)!
Please consider that Vito's family from his mother side is from Modena, thus we don't feel the need to have traditional food, but if you come all the way to Bologna and -rightly- want to taste the delicacies the city is known for, don't worry, there is plenty of choice! From the central Piazza Maggiore, where I recommend visiting the San Petronio Basilica (free of charge, 2 euros to take pictures and 3 to visit the -well worth it- Bolognini Chapel) and the two towers, just take the inner streets where all the food stalls are and wander around! The offer will suit all: omnivores, cured meats and cheese lovers, vegetarians, pasta fans and all those into sweet and sugary treats. If you want to eat what you bought, there is a historical place called Osteria del Sole where they only sell wine and everyone brings their food from home/outside. This is a must-try experience, as you will be eating on a big wooden table and chatting both to locals and foreigners alike.
When I stayed in Bologna, I had the fortune of being hosted in a house just behind the famous -and frenetic- Via del Pratello, the place you want to be if you are looking for fun, different restaurant options (from pizza and pasta to meat/fish and vegetarian) and also for the aperitif and after-dinner drinks! This area is a bit far from the train station, so if you don't have a full day and prefer staying around the centre, I have to recommend the Enoteca Italiana, a quality wine-bar offering selections of cured meats, cheese and other specialties like salsa verde, pickled onion in balsamic vinegar, artichoke or asparagus spreads and more...
With regard to shopping, there aren't just clothes stores, which anyway suit all budgets, tastes and ages, but well-kept artisan shops and stunning (huge) bookstores!!!! Every time Vito and I go to Bologna, we regret not having a trolley with us, in fact in addition to the new releases, the second hand books you can find are not just the usual classics, but really interesting titles and the prices ... brilliant!!!! While heading back to the station we had a look at the temporary outdoor artisan stalls, one of which was selling leather masks, and then stopped first at a second-hand book fair, where we immediately spotted Frigidare, a magazine with provocative comics that well represents the Italian counter culture of the 80s, and then at the Libreria Pickwick to get a little something for our return journey.
At that point it was time to leave, but I am very happy we found the time for a day trip! It was wath we both needed and I am sure you will love Bologna too! So, just hop on a train, explore through the city and enjoy! Talk to you soon ;-)