Home Sweet Bologna
Last night as I Skyped my mom, she asked me what my favorite Italian city has been during my study-abroad experience. I had to think about it for a second, and found it rather strange that the obvious answers of Florence or Rome didn’t come to mind. I then recalled last Sunday night when I was getting off a four-hour train ride from Napoli and the Amalfi coast, bone-tired and freezing cold in the December air. As I climbed down the three stairs to the platform, I turned to my friend behind me and said, “Thank god we’re home.” Bologna is my home, and it is incredible to feel like I belong enough to this Italian city to say that. The feeling only intensified when I returned to my apartment thirty minutes lature to find all eleven of my roommates chattering in the kitchen. They jumped up when they saw me, showering me with hugs and asking how my four-day trip had been, as though I’d been gone for a month. They also saved me a piece of warm chocolate cake right out of the oven.
I figure a lot of people on this blog are interested in finding out about the different study-abroad programs in Bologna or the pre-departure anxiety of moving overseas. Similarly, before I traveled abroad, I absolutely craved information about life in Bologna. Thus, I want to talk a little bit about my daily life here.
On weekday mornings, I wake up and head to the centro, a half-hour walk or ten-minute bike ride on my lovely new bicicletta. I visit the little bar/café down the street from our program’s office, where I’ve made friends with Alessandro the bartender. He lets me sit at my table for hours with my thimble-sized cup of café macchiato and will come over when there’s a break between customers to show me pictures of his new Vespa or a dish he made while practicing for his restaurant. I love to sit there reading, munching on a Nutella croissant, and listening to the best of Frank Sinatra.
My classes are wonderful, and all taught completely in Italian. Right now, I’m taking an 19th-century Italian literature course called “The Pathos of the Body”; a contemporary history course of the new republic of Italy from 1948-2008; a writing course based on Italo Calvino’s short stories and fairytales; and a class at the University of Bologna called Semiotics of Art, which focuses on the scientific reading of symbols in paintings and their effect on the spectator.
On Wednesday afternoons, I walk to a gorgeous apartment on a piazza, where I tutor two little girls in English. Beatrice is 6, Angelica is 8, and they are both quite the sassy ladies. I spend most of my time there tricking the girls into responding in English, drawing flashcards of apples and princesses, and teaching them American pop songs.
On the weekends when I don’t travel, it’s fun to explore Bologna as if I were a tourist here. It’s so easy to take the city for granted, so I try to do something new as often as I can. A few weeks ago, some friends and I hiked up miles of porticos to the Sanctuary of San Luca, a gorgeous church overlooking the city. It’s a beautiful spot to sit and think, even if you’re not the slightest bit religious. The hike up is worth it both to see the spectacular church and to enjoy the incredible pizzeria down the road.
Nights out are wonderful, and completely different depending on my mood. There’s the classy aperitivi place with giant Aperol spritz’s and cheese plates with honey, fig jam, and warm bread. Or there’s the Irish bar with Guiness on tap and soccer flags covering the wood-paneled walls. Then there’s a wonderful jazz bar with Brazilian food, where we saw an Ella Fitzgerald tribute concert. Finally, there’s a discoteca with special Erasmus nights for foreign students every Wednesday. It’s like being a kid in a candy store!
Last but not least is the incredible food. Bologna is known as the food capital of Italy—quite the high praise and completely well earned. I love lunches of the pasta specials at Osteria dell’Orsa, dinners that weirdly always fall on Mondays at the famous Spacca Napoli pizzeria, and trips to trattorias all over town to compare tagliatelle, gnocchi, and Bologna’s famous tortellini. Then, of course, there are the late night walks in the rain to get a bombolone donut filled with Nutella and mascarpone, and the sunny afternoon stops at my favorite gelateria.
My favorite nights, though, are the ones in my big apartment kitchen. On Tuesdays, my foodie friends Ari and Alex will come over to experiment with making something new (our current favorite is goat cheese and red pepper linguine). On nights when she doesn’t have soccer practice with the local women’s team, my friend Evie will come over and make me eat vegetables before we watch New Girl. Then there’s Josh, universally loved by my roommates and much appreciated by me for his ability to eat four servings of whatever pasta dish I’ve invented that night. Dodging all of my roommates in the kitchen in an intricate dance around our two stoves, teasing each other in Italian, forcing everyone to try our respective dishes with smug smiles, and then serving eight people at once from a large pot of my signature penne arabbiata—it’s my heaven. Fondue night, burgers and beer night, “I have no idea what’s in my fridge but come over anyway” night—they’re all the best.
It’s a wonderful life, and if you’re considering it, all I can say is come! Bologna is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I feel so lucky to return next semester.