Bologna is known in Italy as la dotta, la grassa e la rossa (‘the educated, the fat and the red’). I started getting to know the city, first of all, by getting a taste of its ‘fat’ reputation, which refers to delicious cuisine and rich food.
As recommended by a local friend, I had lunch at a small family restaurant called “Me Gusta” (I guess it means “Taste me”), situated at Via San Felice and just a short walk from city center. They have an extended seafood-based menu ranging from risottos, pizzas, pasta to fine dining traditional dishes, most of which are served in big portions. First of all some bread was served with appetizers then the seafood spaghetti plate came out, packed with clams and rich in creamy sauce. It was tasty but huge, though I had a little hard time finishing it. The price was decent, just like most of restaurants in Bologna.
An aimless walk around the city center followed my big lunch. As guidebooks say, red is indeed the dominating color of roofs, house walls, porticoes, building facades, towers and monuments here, and it comes in various shades. It gave me a feeling of warmness inside, and familiarness.
Bologna center appeared to me as a massive beautifully kept museum that is open to everybody. Most of the city’s popular attractions can be accessed for free. My first stop was Piazza Maggiore in the heart of town where I sipped a cappuccino in the open air cafeteria and quietly admired the facades of Bologna’s most important historic buildings surrounding the square. Percy, a Filipino lady (now a Bolognese) I met earlier in the bus was so kind to walk with me to San Petronio Basilica and explained stories behind the beautiful frescos inside. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to get the meaning of these wall paintings or recognize where it relates to the Bible.
Later I spent some time strolling along the 3.7km portico, also the world’s longest one. Starting from Villa Spada the walk stretched till the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca appeared at the end of the portico where I was rewarded with the stunning panoramic view of Bologna from above. It was not easy but the experience was well worth the time (and sweat).
A visit to Bologna would be incomplete without exploring the educated reputation of this city. Having 40 mins till my train departure, I decided to take a short bus ride to the main campus of University of Bologna, the oldest university in the Western world. From the bus stop near the main shopping streets, I marched through another long and old portico at Via Zamboni leading to a yard where students hang out in between classes. In fact it took me longer than expected to reach there, since every now and then I would to admire the architecture of historic buildings or follow the sound of an orchestra rehearsal along the way. For one moment, I could not even help myself and sneaked into a small church that eventually kept me occupied for most of the remaining time. Such a pity I missed the university’s gorgeous and fascinating anatomical theatre as well as its massive library. At the end of the day Bologna is like an open book that has so much to tell and there’s always something more to learn. Probably that’s the true meaning of Bologna’s nickname – la dotta – the “learned”…