Bologna: ragu and meanderings

Bologna is somewhere a bit off the tourist map, but it’s a profoundly enjoyable city, and very close to a bunch of different places – you can get to Florence or Venice in 1-2 hours, and Ravenna (the subject of my next post) is exquisite and very close as well. It’s the home of Bolognese sauce, or ragu, and contains Europe’s oldest university. I seem to always like cities with a lot of students – Edinburgh, Granada, Krakow – even though I don’t get much into the student party scene when I’m there; they just have a more chilled-out feel, a mix between cheap takeaway, student discounts, good and cheap museums and non-touristy liveliness that I really enjoy, without losing the modern amenities that I (and the students) will sometimes want. Anyway, here are some highlights of the few days I spent there (and at the end, a couple of low-lights). It was all a bit random so it’s hard to really put out a narrative of famous attractions that I took in. Use-It is here, and I mostly went on their recommendations, which were once again excellent, though clearly written by Italians, so it is always wise to check if museums and things have English signs, or whether an audio guide is pretty much compulsory. Enjoy!

Highlight 1: Arcades

Built due to a medieval ordinance, these arcades are all over the city, which also contains the world’s longest continuous stretch of them
Built due to a medieval ordinance, these arcades are all over the city, which also contains the world’s longest continuous stretch of them

Highlight 2: Weekend clothing market – three pairs of paints and a shirt, all recognisable brands more impressive than Target, for €21. Cha ching!

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You can’t really tell, but these suits are hilariously tiny
You can’t really tell, but these suits are hilariously tiny

Highlight 3: Medieval leaning towers from the 12th century

The counterparts of the demolished versions in Florence, these ones have survived and became the symbol of the city from the 12th century to now
The counterparts of the demolished versions in Florence, these ones have survived, albeit with a little land subsistence causing a jaunty lean, and become the symbol of the city

Highlight 4: Storia Bologna museums – I spent about four hours in the main museum alone (audio guides always make me take my time, and there was no option because all the text was in Italian) and then there were a number of others on a viewing tour that took you through the history of Bologna, including a collection of vintage musical instruments and several churches. The main museum is the main attraction, however. It started with a walk through a reconstructed Etruscan sepulchral road, and progressed through Bologna’s Greek, Roman, medieval, scientific, university, artistic, renaissance and modern history, through to reunification, Mussolini, the electrical age and an ongoing interactive exhibition that residents are able to add to. There was also a couple of interesting site exhibits, including a photographic display of modern Bologna, a reconstructed sewer you could walk into (which was weirdly covered all around with mirrors, darkened and had a floor that looked like water and would respond to where you walked) and an animated movie. It was extremely engaging and well worth getting to.

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Simulated Etruscan- and Greek-influenced tombs, which were set up in a cave display so that people could see the stark changes between the different periods based on the best source of archeological evidence
Simulated Etruscan- and Greek-influenced tombs, which were set up in a cave display so that people could see the stark changes between the different periods based on the best source of archeological evidence
A map of the old Roman town within the current city - you can see the hexagonal-ish shape of the city, which was walled in the middle ages and whose monumental and individually different gates remain at each corner
A map of the old Roman town within the current city – you can see the hexagonal-ish shape of the city, which was walled in the middle ages and whose monumental and individually different gates remain at each corner

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Simulated battle scene with a film going in the background
Simulated battle scene with a film going in the background
Anatomy and male modelling - the two great passions of Bologna University united in one sketch
Anatomy and male modelling – the two great passions of Bologna University united in one sketch
The underground sewer area - the water was okay, but what distracted me for a long time was fun with multiple mirrors
The underground sewer area – the water was okay, but what distracted me for a long time was fun with multiple mirrors
Ongoing exhibition
Ongoing exhibition
In the musical instrument museum, some distance away - the oldest piano in the city at least and possibly in a much larger area, created in 1584
In the musical instrument museum, some distance away – the oldest piano in the city at least and possibly in a much larger area, created in 1584

Highlight 5: Babushka church – a church that was originally constructed in Byzantine times and constantly added to but never demolished. It is a church inside a church surrounded by another church!

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Highlight 6: Bologna cathedral, never finished

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Highlight 7: Historic university headquarters, only founded in the 16th century (although the university was founded in the late 11th century, it had no permanent HQ until much later) and modern ones that really suck

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The entire area is covered with the coats of arms of the students that attended during its 400-odd year tenure. I didn’t go in, but you can also see a medical theatre where human dissections were performed that is completely covered from floor to ceiling with wood panelling.
The entire area is covered with the coats of arms of the students that attended during its 400-odd year tenure. I didn’t go in, but you can also see a medical theatre where human dissections were performed that is completely covered from floor to ceiling with wood panelling.
Now moved out of the city centre, the university is better equipped but pretty bleak and utilitarian
Now moved out of the city centre, the university is better equipped but pretty bleak and utilitarian

Highlight 8: A hostel outside the city – rather than being really annoying like the one in Florence was, the fact that a bus connected straight there (and I had no illusions that I wouldn’t need a bus pass so got one on the first day) meant that this hostel was peaceful and not that inconvenient

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Highlight 9: Street art – it’s all over Bologna and I kept taking photos of it!

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Highlight 10: Ragu

My first go at the Bolognan specialty - a cocktail of carrot, celery, garlic and tomatoes that we call Bolognese sauce. I’m a big fan normally, but this one, though delicious, was vegetarian! I was forced to try again.
My first go at the Bolognan specialty – a cocktail of carrot, celery, garlic and tomatoes that we call Bolognese sauce. I’m a big fan normally, but this one, though delicious, was vegetarian! I was forced to try again.
This, taken on my last night in the city, was an exquisite rendition. Simple, flavoursome and meaty, and though it doesn’t look too big, I ate slowly and was stuffed by the time I finished. But here’s a tip: they don’t eat Spag Bol, because spaghetti is ROMAN! It’s tagliatelle all the way, which is an awesome choice, because it picks up the sauce wonderfully.
This, taken on my last night in the city, was an exquisite rendition. Simple, flavoursome and meaty, and though it doesn’t look too big, I ate slowly and was stuffed by the time I finished. But here’s a tip: they don’t eat Spag Bol, because spaghetti is ROMAN! It’s tagliatelle all the way, which is an awesome choice, because it picks up the sauce wonderfully.

Highlight 11 – Walking up through the fancy back streets of the city via the old city gates to get the best view over the city

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Lowlight 1 – The Archaeological Museum. GET AN AUDIOGUIDE, IT LOOKED AMAZING BUT ALL THE SUBTITLES WERE IN ITALIAN SO I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING ON! This makes the admission about €7 instead of the advertised €3.

WHAT IS THIS THING??
WHAT IS THIS THING??
I LIKE THAT IT’S SET UP LIKE AN 18TH-CENTURY COLLECTOR’S CABINET, BUT WHAT IS IT???
I LIKE THAT IT’S SET UP LIKE AN 18TH-CENTURY COLLECTOR’S CABINET, BUT WHAT IS IT???
Ahh, a restful courtyard with free wifi. This is a plus. But still.
Ahh, a restful courtyard with free wifi. This is a plus. But still.

Lowlight (or is it?) 2 – Not being able to go to Venice because of a train strike, advertised in advance but only in Italian, but on the plus side making some new friends and walking around the city talking about how nice Mormons are and why it is that Catholic churches are empty in Europe and full in South America and how churches change how they relate to people with the times (from ceremonialism to coffee shops). No pictures because I didn’t go to Venice (duh).

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