Last days on holiday can be lost affairs depending on the time of your flight home. But my flight from Bologna to London wasn’t until early evening so I had most of the day to enjoy more of this beautiful city and see and experience more of its delights. The forecast wasn’t great and heavy rain promised but setting off from the hotel quite early – a little before 9.00 – after some breakfast, it was grey but still dry. It was lovely to be out with few people around. I guess locals might have been on their way to work but certainly the city was free of tourists at this time. I liked seeing it this way, rather than having to push my way through big crowds.
I walked through the beautiful porticos in Piazza Cavour with their fresco ceilings.
Then I turned into Piazza Galvani where a famous cafe, Zanarini, sits on the corner. You can see the umbrellas and tables outside in the photo at the top of the page. A bit later, after some shopping, I headed back here and had the best cappuccino and croissant of the holiday. I stood up at the bar, Italian style. It’s much cheaper to do this (just €2.80) – you can pay a heavy premium for a table and waiter service – and anyway, it’s nice to just stand amongst the locals.
Carrying hand luggage only (as I prefer to do for short trips), I knew I couldn’t buy too much to take home; I certainly hadn’t been able to buy balsamic vinegar in Modena on Wednesday. Of course, I could have chosen to put my luggage in hold, but short of a particularly special offer or opportunity, I was happy to just stick to my self-imposed limits. Instinctively, I headed back to the Quadrilatero area where the city’s most famous food shops are. I returned to Tamburini and decided to buy some of their handmade fresh tortellini (such a culinary symbol of the city) and some Parmigiana-Reggiano. When I first visited the shop the day before, it had been heaving with people, but early on my last morning it was fairly empty inside.
I wasn’t sure how many tortellini to buy; they were sold by weight. After a little conversation in my best Italian with the man behind the counter and being shown containers of different sizes, I worked out what I wanted. Then I chose some cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano is the true Parmesan and the use of the name strictly controlled by law. It is made near Parma – in the region of Emilia – and is considered superior to the more generic Parmesan that we buy more commonly.
The deli had its own brand of mortadella but I decided against squashing any of this into my small (already quite full) suitcase. I wandered on a bit more, passing through the narrow alleyways where fishmongers’ and greengrocers’ shops spilled out onto the street selling gloriously fresh and appealing produce: courgettes with their flowers intact and still attached; asparagus fresh enough to stand up; gleaming fish.
I briefly returned to the hotel to check out and pack my purchases into my bags. Then I set off across the city (a 30-40 minute walk) to MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna where the Museo Morandi is currently housed temporarily, due to the damage to its usual home in Piazza Maggiore during the 2012 earthquake.
Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) was an Italian painter who specialised in Natura Morta – still life. Some of his early paintings in the exhibition pay homage to Cezanne, whom he admired, and the influence was clear. However, it for his later still life paintings that he became famous, noted for their subtlety of tone and limited to very simple objects – like vases, bowls and flowers – that he had in his room where he lived with his sisters in Bologna. He led a very reclusive life, seldom venturing from his flat and the room where he painted. He depersonalised the objects by removing labels and painting them in muted colours and structures that are said to refer to the medieval architecture of his native city. I thought them beautiful, their stillness resonating a calm. There was one painting, however, where the objects were squashed together in a way that struck me as constrained and it made me wonder about a painter who mostly shuts himself away from the world and therefore his view of it.
Leaving MAMbo, I found the promised rain had arrived. This is where Bologna’s 40km of porticos come into their own!
Of course they offer protection from both rain and sun but I was thankful for them yesterday, only having to put up my umbrella occasionally. I headed back across the city towards the hotel. It was by now lunchtime and knowing I would miss supper because of the time of my flight, I wanted to eat a reasonable – though not huge – meal. I considered some of the restaurants I’d read of, but felt more in the mood for a cafe environment and therefore headed back to Zanarini. Their coffee and croissants had been so good earlier, I thought it a good bet that their other food would be good too. This time I decided to pay the premium to sit upstairs in the restaurant part. I climbed the stairs to find an open, modern and stylish eating area. I was warmly welcomed and given a table and a menu brought. I decided to have Lasagne Bolognese. Like its ‘spaghetti’ cousin, it may be found everywhere and be frequently ill and inauthentically made, but I was in Bologna, and it was cold and wet outside. It seemed an ideal choice. I ordered a glass of red wine too and this came in true Italian style with a bowl of the most delicious green olives, some crisps and a bag containing bread.
The waiters were friendly and gave me time to slow down and enjoy my wine with the nibbles before they brought the lasagne. This was excellent service. The lasagne when it arrived looked very good. It tasted very good too!
I can’t in all honesty say it was noticeably different to a good lasagne in a good Italian restaurant in London, but I enjoyed it a lot and it was perfect for my last lunch. I decided to have coffee Italian style back downstairs at the bar and choose one of their delicious cakes to go with it.
I chose an espresso and a cannolo.
Cannoli are the subject – another one! – of fierce culinary debate in Italy. Show this kind of cannolo to a Sicilian – and I speak from experience, though it wasn’t with my lovely and patient Italian teacher from Sicily, Fabio – and they will throw up their hands in horror and declare it’s not a proper cannolo. The one I ate yesterday though is typical of northern Italy and I saw pastry shops in Bologna full of them with different fillings. This one was filled with custard and very delicious and fairly small; a perfect accompaniment of a few sweet bites to go my coffee.
By the time I emerged from Zanarini the rain was falling very heavily. Once past the Piazza Cavour the route to the hotel has fewer porticos so I needed my umbrella and found the roads so flooded in parts it was hard to cross them in my entirely unsuitable shoes (one really needed wellies!). I decided the best option was to make myself comfortable in the hotel’s reception on one of their nice sofas and read a book for an hour before I needed to get a cab to the airport. And really, that was fine. The weather had mainly been kind, the hotel are so friendly that there were people to talk to and even their cat – Matisse – joined me for my wait.