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My Europe: The Unique and Wonderful City of Bologna, Italy


by David Stone

I have been to Italy several times, including Bologna, and it is one of my favorite countries, although I cannot speak Italian. This is a serious handicap.

Whenever I am in an Italian restaurant and the waiter asks me a question in Italian, I try to look “Consultant.” This involves nodding a lot and saying “Si” a lot, and also “Grazie mille.”

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(I once asked a Brazilian friend what this meant. She said it meant “You’re welcome.”)

Anyway, I recently spent a week in the city of Bologna, which is in northern Italy and is the capital of the province of Emilia-Romagna.

It is the seventh-largest city in Italy, with a population of about 380,000. The main industry appears to be making sure that everybody has enough Ravioli Con Ricotta to eat.

Things You Must Know About Bologna, Italy

The first thing you should know about Bologna is that it has more porticoes than any other city in the world.

A portico is a roof supported by columns; it protects pedestrians from getting wet when it rains, which in Bologna happens often because the city lies at the base of the Apennine Mountains, which are very picturesque but produce lousy weather.

Bologna has 22 kilometers (about 14 miles) of porticoes — that’s almost twice as many as Rome! In fact, so many buildings have porticoes that sometimes you forget you’re outdoors and start looking for a place to sit down and order a Panini al Prosciutto.

The Atmosphere on the Street

The second thing you should know about Bologna is that it has Europe’s oldest university, founded in 1088.

This might explain why so many people in Bologna seem to be strolling around aimlessly while engaged in intense conversations.

If you go up to one of these people and say “Scusi,” he will not apologize; instead, he will continue his conversation at full volume while striding past you with perfect confidence even though he has no idea where he is going.

The third thing you should know about Bologna is that its nickname is “La Grassa,” which means “the fat.” The reason for this nickname becomes apparent as soon as you start eating your way through the local cuisine.

For example, there is Lasagne Verde alla Bolognese, which is spinach lasagna made with bechamel sauce, ham, chicken livers, hard-boiled eggs and Parmesan cheese.

This dish was invented by accident in 1866 when somebody dropped a tin of spinach into some white sauce that was already pretty fattening to begin with.

We also had Tagliatelle al Ragù Nero di Cinghiale, which are noodles served with wild boar sauce.

These noodles were so delicious that afterward we went out and tried to rent some boar sauce but they were all out so we had to settle for rented llama sauce instead.

It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t the same.

And then there was something called Tortellini en Brodo, which consisted of very small pasta shapes stuffed with meat (“tortellini”) swimming around in beef broth (“brodo”).

I’m not making this up; that’s really what it was called on the menu: “Tortellini en Brodo.” And here I always thought “en brodo” meant chicken soup!

Don’t Skip Bologna, But…

If you enjoy good food (and who doesn’t?), then you owe it to yourself to visit Bologna at least once before you die.* You will not be sorry!

(*Note: If despite everything you still find yourself regretting your decision to visit Bologna, simply spend a couple of days in Venice instead.)

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