Three Things I Love About Bologna

IMG_4639You’re at a family gathering at your aunt and uncle’s house for your cousin’s birthday, except your family is Italy (magari). Your uncle is Rome: a classics professor, complex, good for getting your fix of antiquity but can be overwhelming. Your aunt is Milan: fashionable, metropolitan, but rushed and hard to talk to. Naples is your cousin: he seems dirty at first but is really cool and fun once you get to talking to him. Venice is his girlfriend: stunning at first but once you get talking with her there’s not much there. Florence is your younger cousin who’s applying to college: she looks impressive on paper with all sorts of accomplishments but she’ll steal from you when you’re not looking and can be, well, a bit boring. But then there’s your middle cousin: Bologna. She’s in college, a little bit (or a lot bit) communist and a little smelly, but she’s an incredible cook and super easy to talk to.

Bologna has won a special place in my books, and not just because its miles of porticoes mean you don’t have to get wet when it’s raining outside. An overwhelming theme of why I love Bologna is how easy it is to familiarize yourself with this city and get an authentic glimpse into modern Italian life.

IMG_5507Cheap food: Bologna is the food capital of Italy, which leads me to believe it’s also the food capital of the world. This, combined with the fact that it’s home to the oldest university in Europe and is Italy’s biggest “college town,” means that it’s easy to score great deals on some incredible Italian dishes. Osteria dell’Orsa’s six euro ragù (tagliatelle with bolognese sauce) is truly a steal when you consider how much more you’d pay for a non-comparable dish in the States. Simple, tasty pizzas for 2.50 euros, kebab for 5 euros, the list goes on, but restaurants in the city do an incredible job catering to the frugal student population, which means tourists can easily eat their way through Italy’s most gastronomic city.

Piazza Verdi: For those who know it, Piazza Verdi is certainly the least upscale and refined place to spend a night out pretty much anywhere. It’s dirty, littered with broken glass and cigarette butts, questionable people loiter looking to sell drugs or beers, and it gets rowdy pretty easily. But there’s more to the Piazza than that. This is where the locals go out (granted the young, frugal locals, again). Students do go to bars for aperitivo and to clubs to dance, but the Piazza is one constant, and you can always rely on students taking a seat, cross-legged on the square, drinking beer and talking with their friends after a day of class.

Il Medioevo: Bologna is a city equipped with modern amenities that a city should have, like a bus system, free WiFi in its main square Piazza Maggiore, and copy shops as copious as Starbucks in New York (so that students can photocopy entire textbooks instead of buying them). But there’s a certain duality to the city: its large, historic center has remained medieval and is still bursting with porticoes, towers, and beautiful terracotta buildings. People can drink a caffè americano from ITIT (Bologna’s imitation Starbucks) and walk a minute down Via Zamboni to enter the throes of the historic, university area. After living in Bologna for a while, it’s easy to feel the urge to look for some green in the Giardini Margherita because the city center is a maze of red-orange apartments, pizzerias, and academic buildings.

Bologna is one of those cities I’m sure I’ll return to and I’m quick to recommend to tourists: Rome and Venice are wonderful and have blockbuster sights, but it can be exhausting always being a tourist. While you can be a tourist in Bologna, it’s easy to lapse into dreaming about life as an Italian because in Bologna it’s a reality.

This post is part of Accor Hotels A Tale of Three Cities contest.

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