When I made the decision to move to Bologna last year, I was overwhelmed with excited about all the new places I planned to see in the coming year. I’m so grateful when I look back over the past nine months and think about all the new cities and countries we’ve explored, but I also can’t believe how quickly time has flown by.
I have less than three weeks left in Italy (I fly back to San Francisco on May 18th) and I’m trying to fit in as many Italian experiences as possible with my remaining time here. That includes wine tasting in Tuscany, visiting the gelato museum, and spending the majority of my free time sipping cappuccinos in sun-filled piazzas.
Now that the weather is finally getting warmer, I’ve been finding more excuses to spend time outside. While I do enjoy working on my laptop or reading in various piazzas and outdoor cafes throughout Bologna, sometimes I just crave some greenery that isn’t completely overwhelmed by city sounds.
I was excited to check out Villa Ghigi, a large park just under three miles from our apartment, and it was even better than I could have imagined. We decided to make this gem our destination for a Sunday picnic and our walk up to the park quickly turned into me ooh-ing and ahh-ing over our surroundings.
Rolling green hills, trees heavy with plump figs, and endless rows of grapevines mirror scenes found in the heart of Tuscany, rather than just outside a large city. The only thing betraying our location was the Bologna skyline off in the distance.
Before moving to Bologna I lived in Denver, Colorado and I got spoiled. Colorado consistently tops the charts for the number of breweries and microbreweries per capita so checking out a new brewery was a pretty common activity.
In contrast, Italy is better known for its wine than its beer and most non-Italians aren’t able to name an Italian beer that isn’t Moretti or Peroni. Despite its reputation, there is actually a wide selection of different bars offering up craft beer from within the country and abroad. Here are some of my favorites:
Birra Cerqua: This tiny place is the only brewpub in Bologna. I’m partial to it since it reminds me of Denver with all the brewing vats behind the counter. Some of their beers even use local hops!
Il Cucchiaio D’Oro: Located in the heart of the university area, you’ll be sure to find at least a couple Johns Hopkins grad students here every Thursday, Friday, Saturday (really every) night. Plus, they offer a great deal of three beers for only €10.
Il Punto: Offering up eight beers on tap and almost 100 different bottles that are mostly Italian, Il Punto has a charmingly hipster vibe. I love its cafe-bar atmosphere that makes it equally acceptable to either settle down for a while with your laptop and espresso or enjoy a couple beers with friends.
Zapap: The local brewery opened a taproom on Via del Pratello a little over a year ago (and recently opened a second location near the university area). Along with its own brews, it serves up other craft beers and tasty, decently-priced pizza.
~~~Bonus! ~~~ Bar Senza Nome:Although this bar doesn’t boast a particularly impressive selection of beer, it is still one of my favorite places to grab a drink. It’s entirely owned and operated by people that are deaf but don’t worry, they’re really good at reading lips. If you want to test out your sign language, be warned that ASL is completely different from LIS (Italian Sign Language).
We brought in the new year in probably the strangest way I’ve ever experienced before – by watching a giant statue burn with a bunch of our friends. We and roughly 30,000 other residents and visitors of Bologna gathered in the main square, Piazza Maggiore, to witness the burning of Vecchione. It is a giant sculpture that is usually designed by artists that are either from Bologna or have some kind of connection to the city.
This year’s Vecchione very much resembled a traditional nutcracker so it would have made a lot of sense to me if the fire symbolized the end of Christmas. In fact, the burning of Vecchione actually symbolizes the leaving behind of the past year’s troubles, starting each new year fresh from the ashes.
While this take on it is way more meaningful, I do wish that there was some kind of symbolic end to Christmas since the mall downstairs hasn’t gotten the memo that it is now January and continues to play holiday music all day long.
This past year was a big year of change and growth for me. I moved to a new country (thousands of miles away from my family and friends) and by doing so, I’ve tested my limits and learned that, for the most part, I can really do anything I set my mind to. It has been a crazy year where I feel like the days have been jam packed learning (also known as being scolded by Italians for not knowing better) so much about Italian culture and daily life here. In the process, I’ve also learned so much about myself.
Tomorrow, we are driving to France to spend Christmas for the first time ever with my grandma and my uncle. We’ll be spending a night in Marseille on the way there, a night in Nice on the way back, and the rest of the time will be spent in Basque Country at my grandma’s house. While I know it will be difficult at moments since this will be my first Christmas away from my parents, I am beyond excited to experience some French Christmas traditions and spend time with family. See you in 2017!
P.S. Here are some shots of Bologna during Christmastime.
After dinner and drinks with a few friends a couple weeks ago, one of my friends suggested that we get some gelato for dessert. We ended up at Gelateria delle Moline – a business that has been in the same family for three generations. After a couple of us began gobbling up orders of the Italian version of an ice cream sandwich (you get to choose two gelato flavors to place inside this deliciously deadly, homemade brioche bun – SO GOOD), we began talking with one of the owners, Marco.
After a couple minutes of polite chit-chat, he asked us if we wanted to see what it’s like behind the scenes of a gelateria. Of course, we gave an enthusiastic yes. Marco explained that they make all their gelatos fresh every day, which was quite incredible considering how tiny the kitchen was.
He said that the process was actually very simple and involved making a large amount of base (which consists of only milk, eggs, and sugar) then adding flavor into some of the base, which varies depending on what type of gelato he’s making. The flavors can be any combination of various chocolates, fruits, nuts, and cremas. And that’s it – simple and authentic Italian gelato.
Marco told us that the most popular flavor at the shop is the caffe (coffee) but he said he doesn’t like coffee much so he prefers the crema, a super creamy gelato that tastes like custard. He may be the first Italian I’ve met that doesn’t like coffee! Nevertheless, Marco was a part of the most memorable gelato experience I’ve had since moving here and I’ll definitely be going back once the weather gets warmer.
Dottore, dottore! Dottore del buso del cul! Vaffancul, vaffancul!
Bologna is a university town so every week there is a fresh batch of students that graduate with their PhDs. These graduation celebrations usually begin in the mornings where the student is given a laurel wreath crown and a crowd of family members follows him or her around, snapping many pictures along the way.
After lunch, the crowd of family members is switched out for a crowd of rowdy friends. What follows is a peculiar way of celebration, along with the above song echoing throughout the porticos of the city. Let’s just say the tune is not the most polite. Each group of students has a slightly different way of celebrating but it often involves some kind of costume and always involves lots and lots of drinking.
One of the most memorable costumes I’ve seen was the graduate dressed as Frida Kahlo (with a unibrow sloppily drawn on with marker), complete with an artichoke used as a microphone as she sang into it, her group of fake-mustache-wearing friends laughing hysterically as they bounced from bar to bar. I then saw the group a few hours later and the graduate was being shuffled along, leaning on her friends since she could hardly stand (no artichoke microphone in sight, though).
Part of the graduation fun also involves embarrassing photos or caricatures of the student being taped on the walls of the school for everyone to see. Apparently, these are allowed to stay up for a full 24 hours.
As foreign as it seems, one thing is for sure: students in Italy have certainly mastered the concept of working hard and playing hard.