Bologna, the seventh largest city in Italy, is not the most popular on the tourist trail, as it is often overshadowed by its famous neighbors - Venice, Milan, and Florence. However, it was on our train route up north, so we decided to stop by for a night and a day.
Bologna is a university town – it has the oldest university on continental Europe, founded in 1088. The university pervades the entire city, rather inconspicuously – its buildings blend in with the surroundings. It’s a rather small city – a few kilometers across, walk-able if you have a day to explore.
The architecture is noted for its porticos, the covered arcades that run through the city alongside the streets. In fact, Bologna has 28 miles of porticos in total, and they come in all sorts of architectural styles.
We saw some plazas, churches, and street markets. The city center was quite lively when we visited, with several performing groups out on the streets. There was a fun band, a quartet of young men that drew an admiring crowd.
Bologna is also known as the gastronomical center of Italy, and according to the locals, it's difficult to get a bad meal. On the recommendation of some residents, we went to a hole-in-the-wall pizza place in the student district called Casa Pizza on Belli Are. This place is quite popular with students on a budget - one large pizza is only 5 euros.
We were too ambitious and ordered two pizzas, one with a variety of meats, olives, and mushrooms, the other with potato and bell peppers. As you might imagine, we were nowhere near finished with these two pizza pies at the end of the meal.
To walk off our full stomachs, we decided to climb the famous tower in the center of the city. It’s a surprisingly long and steep climb – just when you think you’ve reached the top of the staircase, you reach another level with even more stairs. There are also lots of other people climbing so it’s rather slow at times, as people create blockages on the steps. You are rewarded at the top with a panoramic view of Bologna. Apparently, the local myth is that a student will not graduate if he or she reaches the top, so you probably won’t find students going to the tower.
We also stumbled across two street markets. One flea market sold interesting antiques (furniture, art, books, jewelry, curios) near the Church of Santo Stefano.
At dinnertime, we tried the apertivo tradition at Caffe Zamboni – you buy a drink at a bar and get free access to a buffet of various platters of food, including pasta, veggie sticks, cheeses, and fruit salad, and various breads. The food wasn’t the best quality, but it was a good deal, considering you get the drink and the food for 8 euros total.