It’s our last week in Bologna, Italy, where Joe and I have lived and worked remotely for six weeks.
We chose Bologna over other Italian cities for a few reasons. Bologna is University city — housing the oldest in the Western World! — and so it’s also home to good WiFi and libraries. It’s relatively unknown to tourists. And it’s one of Italy’s culinary centerpoints. While Rome is known as the Eternal City and Florence is the Beauty, Bologna is ‘La Grassa,’ or, The Fat.
What I’ll miss most about Bologna coincides with what surprised me most. The best of Bologna is up to you, not a list of must-try spots.
I’m used to arriving in a new place with a list of ‘the best’ spots to visit. I scour Yelp and TripAdvisor. I usually build a ‘to-do’ list in Foursquare. I check into Swarm (yes, still) to make sure I can pass on my recommendations to others.
In Bologna, we quickly learned that every restaurant, cafe, and shop is special — it’s not about finding the best, but about finding the ones special to you. Joe and I had so much fun uncovering our places over the course of six weeks. So I’m sharing a few of our favorite discoveries here.
We stumbled on a trattoria (or casual, traditional restaurant) close to home our first week here. We spent all evening chatting with the waitress and trying traditional Bolognese dishes for the first time: Tagliatelle al ragu, a ‘Bolognese’ pork cutlet with prosciutto and cheese. The waitress capped off our meal with complimentary grappa and biscotti. The gesture felt like such a treat! Most trattorias do this. But ours gave us our culinary introduction to Bologna and, therefore, was special to us.
The cafe at the end of our block offers coffee in the morning and aperitivo — free snacks with your drink — in the evening. Most cafes do this. But ours was on our block and so we started and ended plenty of adventures there, brought our books for afternoon work breaks. The cafe, therefore, was special to us.
Off the Mercato di Mezzo, we veered into a beautiful butcher shop seconds after deciding on pork chops for dinner. We bought pork chops and then some: Burrata and olives for antipasto and guanciale for all’Amatriciana another day. Most Bolognese butcher shops also sell cheeses, fresh tortellini, cured meats, and balsamic vinegar from nearby Modena. But ours helped us act on a whim and, therefore, was special to us.
Joe found our pizza shop — a to-go counter tucked into our block’s trattoria — when we were walking home late one night. The owner gave us glasses of champagne and shaped our pizza into a heart. A local patron struck up a conversation while we waited. Pizza shops are everywhere here. Ours made late-night pizza a celebration and, therefore, is special to us.
I found my favorite gelato after three consecutive all-day workshops and final presentations for clients. I wrapped up my last at 9:30 p.m. our time, and off we went for gelato. That cone with mascarpone and chocolate scoops tasted like school letting out for summer break. Bologna’s gelato shops are nearly omnipresent. But ours helped me celebrate a work accomplishment and, therefore, is special to me.
If you make it to Bologna — and I highly recommend you do — don’t scour TripAdvisor or search for the must-try places. Find your spots and make them your own. It’s the secret, understated magic of Bologna.