44. Bologna // Modena // Italy

Bologna is home to Italy’s rustic culinary contributions, namely ragu (bolognese), tortellini, lasagne and mortadella. Needless to say, we couldn’t wait to arrive and eat ourselves into a food coma before departing Italy for our second visit to Ireland. Home to enough landmarks to keep you interested, Bologna is also a student city which tends to usually mean good, cheap food and a thriving nightlife. We arrived at our Air BnB where we were to stay five nights. It meant having our own private room but sharing the kitchen and bathroom with another couple who were staying in the other room. This didn’t prove to be bad at all as they ended up being a lovely young couple who’d spent the last 2 years living in Edinburgh and were now on their way back to Australia. I think the major drawcard of using Air BnB is that you can easily obtain local knowledge from the host and Sylvia was most generous in ensuring we had all her favourites dotted on the map as to where to eat. I won’t detail every meal we had but I will highlight those most memorable.

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Our favourite restaurant ended up being Ostera la Matta Soc Osti, where we frequented four times in total. It just so happened to be fifty metres from our apartment, which proved convenient, but also meant it was well removed from the restaurant hub in the inner part of the city. Most importantly, Sylvia told us the old lady who works in the kitchen still makes the pasta fresh each day . . . and we didn’t listen to anything beyond that – as we were sold! The menu was always changing, handwritten on the wall and seemed to feature whatever the chef had been inspired to make that morning. We dabbled in several ragu’s (bolognese but on fresh freaking pasta) a tortellini in brodo di carne (meat-filled pasta in a steaming broth), scallopine with mushrooms and a marsala sauce, a carbonara and dolce semifredo for dessert. I recently heard a conversation between two twats who were belittling Italian food, unable to understand what the fuss is about and simply labelling it as “processed wheat.” Most likely, they’ve probably only been served up dried pasta drowned in sugar-laden Dolmio’s because, after the meals we’d dug into at this little restaurant, their statement sounded absolutely preposperous! When it’s done right, Italians do get food. It’s about it being simple. But using fresh ingredients. And using quality ingredients. Quality over quantity. And for those few days in Bologna, we were treated to that mindsight and lifestyle and assimilate ourselves in a value that is sometimes difficult to find in the rat-racing western world. The other lifestyle we again got to enjoy was the all too familiar “service tax.” Interestingly, we only saw this on our first bill and then, after seemingly becoming “regulars,” never saw it again. This annoyed me greatly because it just reconfirmed it is nothing more than a tourist tax.

We also visited Osteria Dell’Orsa on a few occassions. This seemed to thrive on the student population and was noticeably cheaper. Presentation seemed to be replaced with “value” but the quality had not been skimped on. When we weren’t twirling a ragu around our forks, we were instead trying some other dishes, like a bread-based soup or a pesto pasta, eating slowly and late into the night with a bottle of Montepulciano.

On another of Sylvia’s recommendations, Elisha entered gelato heaven where they served them with dripping chocolate in the bottom of the cone and continued to indulge in her new favourite – the pear, walnut and ricotta combo. Trattoria del Rosso is a little touristy (which meant the service tax was back in a big way) but an old institution and we got to try both Bologna’s take on a lasagne, as well as tortellini with butter and sage. Yum! Their “salad” however proved to be disappointingly a plate of lettuce and nothing else. Actually, the lasagne was quite cold to think of it also. Hmmm maybe stay away from that one. We did also go for a pizza one night – and I guess to be fair it was still a good pizza. But I think you’ll forgive us when we say we were discussing how much better Napoli is on more than one occasion during that meal.

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I think one of the real highlights was the Bologna street market. We walked through this on a Saturday morning and it was shoulder to shoulder with visiting people and the fruit and veg looked absolutely stunning. As we approached a butcher, we were intrigued by the line outside. Then the smells of a sunday roast tickled the nostrils. And then I saw someone walk past with crackling. The butcher had a whole roasted pig out the front of his store, carving through the crispy skin and juicy fats and serving it either on bread or in a container. It reminded me of the Grampians Food and Wine festival where, if you’re quick enough, you can snag a roasted pork sandwich and spend the next year dreaming of that moment again. I thought of myself as Tyrion Lannister as I stood in the market and decandently sucked and chewed on this tender pork, unashamed as oil and fat ran down my chin.

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So there you have it. After initally promising not to bore you with a detailed account of every meal we ate, I’ve still somehow managed to do just that.

As I said at the start, we had the pleasure of getting to know Josh n Karissa a little as they made their return trip to Oz. They were obviously missing Edinburgh already and the home they’d built there and focused their attention on trying to convert us from making London our future home to giving Scotland some serious consideration. They made some valid points, such as how much quieter and cheaper it was. However, I still kind of felt at that time that if I was to live in the Northern Hemisphere, I’d want it to be the biggest and greatest city I could be in, using it as a launch pad into surrounding countries on weekends. We spent several nights with them, sharing travel stories over a 2 two litre bottle of Nero D’Avola. Josh had become a keen pipe smoker which I thought was really unique. He’d purchased himself a handcrafted pipe in Denmark and explained how you pack the tobacco and need specific matches in order to light it. I couldn’t afford to spend $200 to join him, so instead we went to the store and bought a 2 euro cigar each. I’m not really a smoker and so when after 45 minutes I still hadn’t gotten halfway through, I called it quits. Those things are like Energiser bunnies – they just keep on going! Mildly humerous but mostly frustrating for me, we were in the kitchen one morning innocuously chatting to Karissa as I waited for the Espresso machine to finish brewing on the stove. Completely unexpectedly, we were midsentence when there was suddenly a loud hissing explosion and we were all covered in hot liquid and sticky black powder. What the hell? Somehow, the machine had blown its top and scattered its contents around the entire kitchen. A roomful of babies with explosive diarhhea couldn’t have made more of a mess. That took a good hour of scrubbing to get clean. I put the espresso maker back on top of the cupboard which, now that I think about it, probably wasn’t a great idea. I dare say 20 other visiting couples have probably now also had the same story.

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To give an example of how good the quality of food is in Italy and the level of quality they expect at a price point, we bought some San Daniele proscutto one day but were surprised to find it was only 4 euros. This is sold in Australia but for the same quantity, you’d probably pay the equivalent of 10 euros. The marbling was also incredible in this cured meat, meaning that before they even started the curing process, a top grade cut of pork had been selected.

Bologna is full of students and has a thriving nightlife. There is a decent outdoor scene and we spent one of the nights strolling through this region where, I think it was on a Thursday night, people were just starting to get going. Interestingly, there also appeared to be a different approach to liquor licensing here and all the off licenses seemed to be closed in favour of the bars. To get a roadie, we had to walk for almost a kilometre to a far away pizzeria who happened to be selling them. This was a contrast to most of my bitching through Europe where I applaud their mature approach to alcohol as, it seemed, once you were back in a student area, the approach had to be altered to curb possible violence.

And, of course, I can’t ignore the espresso’s. It’s such an intricate part of their daily existence – dropping into any conveniently placed cafe and smashing an espresso at the counter, ordering a pastry and eating that on the way back out.

Bologna isn’t too far from Maranello and, if like me you have a mild interest in Formula 1 or fast red cars in general, you’ll recognise it as being the home of Ferrari. Surprisingly, this tiny, tiny town that’s not much more than a village boasts international brands like Ferrari, Masserati and Alfa Romeo. The Fiorano Test Track used by Ferrari (Sebastian Vettel did his first ever Ferrari drive there just a week or so ago) sits on the outskirts of the town. And it doesn’t take long before you hear the impressive sound of a Ferrari accelerate past, and see the affluent men with tiny penises enter the ferrari factory. In order to get to Maranello, we first had to catch a morning train to Modena, another small town renowned for exceptional food and restaurants. We grabbed an espresso at a cafe we passed, then headed to the bustop where we were to catch a bus to the nearby town of Maranello. The drive was awesome as it takes you through the small villages of Italy. 60 million people live in that tiny country and there really is no unnocupied land. You forever pass residential development. As you arrive in Maranello, you first pass the Fiorano Circuit and, although there was no testing on that day, I pictured myself as Fernando Alonso in the F138 racing around on the tarmac. I swear everyone who lives in that town works for Ferrari and it was amusing to pass many people dressed from head to toe in red, looking like they belonged in the pit lane, on their lunch break. If you are incredibly wealthy, have a small penis and own a Ferrari, you can be invited to walk through the Ferrari Factory. As a pleb, however, I had to continue past this and enter the Museum where we had purchased tickets for online. The museum features a lot of different models, both old and new, and brags about their latest technological developments. I didn’t really care too much for that. Predominantly, I wanted to see some F1 paraphenalia. It was pretty cool to see the trophy room of all their success and a few of their former F1 cars, seeing how the design has changed so dramatically and how complicated the steering wheels are. After a bit over an hour, we decided to head back to Modena and went to grab the bus. This part was a little confusing because we caught a different bus number to the one we arrived on but thought it would be ok as it was heading to Modena. I have a suspicion it may have been a school bus though as I looked as old as John Howard in contrast to everyone. The driver also couldn’t process our payment so we tried our luck and rode back for free, jumping off a stop earlier than the terminal just in case they could then process our payment.

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I’d actually been quite drunk when I purchased the tickets online so, while I really only cared to see the F1 side of things, I’d somehow purchased a combo ticket for us both which meant we also had to go to some crappy museum that had just opened in Modena celebrating the life of Enzo Ferrari. This was a complete waste of time and showcased a bunch of Masserati’s confusingly and the house where Enzo grew up. About as much of a money grab as Anne Frank’s house is. “Please pay us money to see where someone wrote a diary.” Anyway, that part sucked. And Elisha scolded me for buying tickets whilst drunk. But I can now say that I know . . . umm . . . no I can’t really even say I learnt anything there.

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Back in Modena with a few hours to kill, we went to check out a market area Elisha had read about. This proved a big win and again we got to go for a quick walk through this incredibly fresh food market. Just outside of it, we dropped into a small cafe selling wine and panini’s. Because of the exceptional quality of ingredients, these paninis were outrageously good! Panini’s aren’t a trend. They have never been in or out of fashion. Right here in Modena, people just ate them because it was their life.

Bologna had been a great way to finish Italy. Italy has its frustrations but there’s certainly a lot to love about it. For us, I think we were fortunate to see enough places to be awestruck by its history, to explore its food and to see its landscape. I will miss it and hope to return one day, especially considering we have all of the south to do. We boarded a plane in the afternoon with Aer Lingus for Dublin and immediately got the giggles as we heard the Irish captain talk over the PA. As much as we loved it, I don’t think we were going to miss Italy for too long as we were soon reminded that it would only be a couple of hours before we were back in the land of good craic, creamy ales and some desperately missed good friends.

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