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An Afternoon In Bologna, Italy: The Quirky Capital of Emilia Romagna

We took the train to Bologna for the day because there's no city quite like it in Italy:

Bologna, Italy

Bologna is in many ways the quintessential Italian city. Easily walkable cobbled streets that open up to large piazzas, towering cathedrals and other feats of architecture frozen in time from a foregone era, an abundance of bars, cafes, and trattorias on every corner, a deep and world renowned culinary pedigree that includes ragù bolognese, mortadella, and a host of pasta shapes, and a regional treats. But when you take a closer look, Bologna's inner quirkiness begins to show.

Bologna, Italy, Duomo

The great Duomo in the (main) piazza looks as if it had stopped being built halfway through, with the top portion containing brown bricks stacked atop an abandoned attempt at a traditionally grand marble facade. The twin towers near the center of the city sit a tilt, leaning precariously over the piazza below. The streets are filled with a unique mix of care-free college students on bicycles and colorful business men driving around in lamborghinis (the famed car company was birthed in the nearby town of Sant'Agata Bolognese).

From the train station, we head to one of our favorite spots for a traditional lunch, Trattoria La Montanara. Tucked away off the main strip, this unassuming little establishment is as quirky and passionate as the city itself, with dried herbs and plants hanging from the ceiling, walls adorned with street signs, mirrors, and strange paintings, and a constant line of drinks and food heading out from the kitchen. They specialize in classic pasta dishes local to the region such as tagliatelle with ragù or gramigna with salsiccia, as well as a strange but delicious mortadella mousse dish that works well to share. Get a carafe of table wine and do some people watching while you enjoy your meal.

Bologna, Italy, Trattoria La Montanara, food, bolognese

Bologna, Italy, Trattoria La Montanara, Mortadella

After lunch we stroll down the shaded downtown portici (iconic covered walkways common in the region), window shopping the oddities and knickknacks for sale in tiny shops, and starring in awe at the whole legs of prosciutto and logs of mortadella hanging in the windows of butcher shops, contemplating if we are still hungry. We come across a hot pink Lamborghini double parked on a corner, half blocking the roadway as locals honk and holler and tourists snap photos of the supercar spectacle.

Bologna, Italy, portico, portici

Bologna, Italy, Lamborghini

As golden hour approaches, casting a soft light over the city, we look for spot to sit and enjoy an aperitivo. In Bologna, you never want to miss a happy-hour. Most often enjoyed outdoors around old barrels, now converted into tables, locals indulge in this tradition with full hearts and stomachs. We order one spritz and one glass of red wine, and snack on a delicious plate of local mortadella and cheese. The crowd is a mix, as it always is in Bologna, of college students, eccentric artists, well groomed salarymen, and elderly friends who have probably been sharing the same aperitivo together on this street for 50 years.

As evening approaches we slowly make our way back toward the train station. Along the way we pass a piazza currently being used for a flea market where locals peruse the many stalls selling old ad prints from the 60s, film cameras, and other unusual vintage and modern wares that serve almost as a metaphor for Bologna itself; a diverse mix of old and new, modern and archaic, stylish and passionate...Unique.

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