Or ‘What I Ate in Bologna’, as that is what I’m going to spend most time talking about.
On the Sunday morning that we flew to Bologna, we had to be at the airport for 6 a.m. On the morning that the clocks jumped forward for spring, this was an especially nasty wake-up call at 3 – now 4 – in the morning. Fortunately I had a pleasant drive to the airport with a non-chatty driver who listened to Heart FM, which, as it turns out, is brilliant at that time on a Sunday. We went from Baby Can I Hold You to Right Here Waiting to End of the Line, which is part of my repertoire when I’m alone in the house.
Turned out we were lucky to be on the early flight, as bad weather and overbooking the flight (shame on you, airlines) meant several of the company who travelled later – including the boss! – were delayed or bumped off their flights.
Anyway, we arrived to brilliant sunshine, and we went straight to the book fair to set up. Afterwards, I had an unexpected couple of hours free before dinner, so although everyone else was having a rest after the early start, I decided to go for a walk.
Basically the first thing I found was a book sale, right in the middle of a square. I had a look through the kids books, since that is my level of Italian, but there was nothing interesting. They did have Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, but that seems like a challenge in English, never mind anything else.
These were the stairs that led up to a park. I don’t know what it is about stairs like these – like those in front of Sacré Coeur, but on a much smaller scale – that make them so appealing. Obviously I’m reminded a little of Amélie, so they always seem quite romantic and very European.
The park was lovely, but almost immediately I spotted a market on the opposite side, so I went for a look. It was mostly rubbish, lots of cheap phone accessories and so on, but there were some lovely shoes. Then it was time to head back to the hotel to meet the others for dinner.
We went to a restaurant called Trattoria Oberdan. By the time we sat down I was starving, and because so many of the others had been delayed, it was about an hour before we even got any food. Any food would have tasted good, I was so hungry, but the aubergine parmigiana was a good starter. Towards the end of it, the sliminess started to put me off, but it was good at first!
Then I had my first Bolognese of the trip:
I never choose Bolognese normally as I’m not a massive fan, but this was really good, obviously. Then, when I thought I couldn’t eat any more, I had chocolate cake. It was the lightest chocolate cake on the planet though, it was hardly like eating.
Days at the fair started at about half eight and finished at six, so it was tiring. Roughly 30% of my time was spent waiting in queues – for coffee (for others), for food, for the toilets. The facilities weren’t great, but it was a nice atmosphere, and we were right by the big glass walls so the sun streamed in.
On the second evening we went to a little place called Teresina. Here, the waiters brought out what they recommended on big platters, and we just passed them round. There was cheese, meat, another mini course of Bolognese, and some of the best potatoes I’ve ever tasted. I did not get any photos, as the big boss was joining us and he would think I was weird.
On the third evening, I had a chance to see Piazza Maggiore, the main square. It is dominated by Basilica di San Petronio, the fifteenth largest church in the world. (According to Wikipedia – I didn’t have the chance to go in. Maybe next time!) There were a couple of minutes to take photos before we had to be on the move again, down a brilliant little side street absolutely bursting with places selling fresh food.
After making a quick stop at a rather extravagant party, it was time for dinner again. This evening, we went to Da Fabio, where the waiters are almost walking stereotypes of Italians (in the best way) and played with lightsabers in between serving an obscene amount of dishes. Again, they just brought what they recommended, but there were around five dishes to try with every course. I couldn’t possibly remember everything, but there were fried vegetables, three types of pasta (one Bolognese-like but with artichokes, one spicy spaghetti, one gnocchi) and then the desserts…
For dessert, they brought out chocolate cake, strawberries and chocolate sauces, and an ice cream/meringue cake and ice cream. I thought that was it, until it got ridiculous – they proceeded to bring out a crème caramel and a fruit tart as well. There was always another dish (or two) after you thought you were finished.
We walked back through the main square, and just off to the side there is a small example of a ‘whispering gallery’: you can stand at one side, whisper, and the person standing at the opposite side will hear you.
On day four, we went to Trattoria di Via Serra, on the side of the train station where there is, apparently, ‘nothing’. This was one of the nicest places we went, though. We had a large group, so we got a room all to ourselves, and it was like eating in someone’s home – if they were amazing cooks.
The starter was cheese wrapped in bacon. You really can’t go wrong with that. I then had tortelloni (I didn’t realise until then that there was a specific difference between tortellini and tortelloni) and meat and potatoes. The only problem with meat in Italy is that they don’t ask how you want it cooked (well done bordering on burnt, please) – you’re getting medium. I couldn’t eat the reddest bits – I just don’t like it – but the rest was unbelievably good. My dessert was zuppa inglese.
And after all that food, I came home to the Easter weekend and chocolate eggs. My poor, poor body. (All the same, don’t know about you, but I’m hungry now.)
Don’t get me wrong: Bologna was hard work, and physically exhausting. Nevertheless, to be able to go to places like these and have food like this and get paid for it? We’re well rewarded!
P.S. You might have noticed a glaring omission from the list of all these things I ate. Where on earth is the carbonara I was so looking forward to? Well, here is a deceptive photo:
This is not my meal, but one of my colleague’s. When I saw it, I wished I had ordered it, but this isn’t carbonara – the pink stuff on top is pig’s throat. And I didn’t dare to try it!
Next time! (Just one week until Rome!)