Scene: Beer in one hand, margherita pizza in the other, and passing around a sandwich at an outdoor square dance party on a Friday night. Broken glass bottles, happy Italians, electronic music. This sums up my first night in Bologna and one of my best memories during one of my favorite gastronomic trips.
Let’s start from the beginning. My trip to Italy (Bologna & Milan) didn’t start off on the right foot. Our 7AM Friday flight meant getting to the airport at 3AM from London Victoria because the train station was annoyingly closed. To make things exponentially worse, I was ridiculously unwell from drinking with Daniel and his high school friends since 5PM that evening and gloriously full from a delicious lamb shank/truffle ice-cream formal dinner at Oxford. I was ready to make the concrete sidewalk my bed but I had a flight to catch.
After much tea and needed hydration at the airport, I slept for an hour or so on our Ryanair flight and woke up feeling surprisingly fresh. I keep telling myself, this is only when I’m young. Let me tell you, a hungover bus ride and flight is one of the worst possible feelings in the world. As soon as I stepped off the plane at 10AM Friday, the 90 degree Italian weather beamed upon my pasty London skin and I repeatedly shouted “Oh my gosh” with a huge grin on my face. Things were looking up! I immediately stripped down to a tank dress, strapped on my backpack, and we headed to Bologna.
For this trip, we decided to CouchSurf. My Facebok status before I left was “Someone please make sure I’m alive next week.” If only I knew how amazing my hosts would be, I wouldn’t have wasted all that worry on whether I would be kidnapped. Elio, an Italian language student, graciously took us in when our set host strangely left town. After walking around and shopping the entire day in Bologna with heavy backpacks on, I was so relieved to just have a place to sleep that I didn’t even care who Elio was. He’s a bearded uni student with a great Italian accent. In Elio’s spare room was a comfy sofa bed and he said, “You guys can sleep in here as long as you don’t mind the smell.” He opened a wooden closet to reveal his own homegrown sandwiches. I laughed knowing this stranger was all right.
Back to the outdoor festivities in Bologna – Elio and his roommate Valentino were ready to hit the town since it was a Friday night. We were pretty exhausted by then (especially me, running on 3 hours of sleep, a hangover, and having already gone out Thursday in Oxford) but we respectfully accepted their invitation. That was the best decision ever. We hung out with Elio’s Italian friends, saw how relaxed Italians behaved, and how alive the city was at night. It was trashy like Leicester Square on a Saturday night yet somehow charming.
There wasn’t much to see in Bologna (it’s not a tourist destination) but I thoroughly enjoyed our daily doses of gelato, espresso, and people. The next evening, Elio took us to one of his favorite Italian restaurants. It was a carb-heavy, no-regrets type of meal. I ate focaccia bread, mozzarella, cured meat, wine, and tagliatelle al ragu, a dish native to Bologna.
After two days, it was time for Milan!
To be continued…