Bologna Week 1 Comes to a Tasty End

In Ravenna this week I see the beautiful mosaic tile ceiling that inspired Cole Porter to write the song Night and Day.

I can’t write music, but it does inspire me to go have lunch at a Michelin restaurant in Ravenna. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to where we left off.

Monday, I meet my new friend Ela for coffee at a Turkish cafe called Naama. Afterwards we wander the streets of beautiful Bologna. She shows me some of the hidden towers.

All of a sudden I run smack dab into friends from home, Mike and Lisa, who had come from Florence to Bologna to see me. We all were independently looking for a lunch place and Mondays many things are closed, but we ended up at Bottega Portici-Due Torri. It is near the ancient Two Towers and houses the Portici Academy where you can learn pasta making.

In the restaurant, modern touch screens deliver old world Tagliatelle al Ragu. Ela leaves us after lunch and the three of us wander around the city. I take them up the secret spiral staircase for a great view of the towers.

As we are passing the charcuterie shop Simoni, my friend Klevis calls out to us. “Stop for a drink”, So we do. Later Marco’s son Michaela fills in for his Dad and does a balsamic vinegar tasting for us. We also buy Prosecco at his store called Gilberto because it is aperol spritz time now.

But we need ice. Let me tell you ice is the bane of my existence on these Shirleyfest. I love aperol spritzes and they need ice. But this apartment has no freezer. There is however a famous bar called the Roxy directly across the street from my apartment and without hesitation the lovely waitress there sensing my great need offers me a huge bag of ice for our drinks. Works out fine and held us over until our dinner at Trattoria dal Biassanot near the canal.

It was great to have Mike and Lisa join Shirleyfest!The next day is the flower market day at Piazza San Francesco.

Off I go early morning and I am rewarded with some great flower finds.

After depositing those in my apartment, I want to see the three tiny Michelangelo statues in the Basilica of Saint Dominic’s. The place is empty so I could get quite up close and personal with the little guys.

The other art that was calling my name is the 7 terracotta figures known as the lamentations behind the altar at Santa Maria Della Vita. Done in the 1400s by the artist Niccolò Dell’Arca, they are magnificent and really not to missed if you visit Bologna.

I then had in mind to sample what is suppose to be the best gelato in Bologna at Cremeria Santo Stefano. But the line is long and not moving.


Interesting that the last time I saw a line like this is was at Shirleyfest Boston and people were in line to buy the latest released sneakers.

Athletic Shoes

Pretty much sums it up—Italy: Food. US: Shoes

Dinner tonight is in the courtyard of Bologna’s version of Romeo and Juliet ( basically same story….kids in love, parent are against it, tower scene, they both die). I’m here for the beautiful setting of the restaurant Corte Galluzzi.

I start with prosciutto and melon.

I follow that with Vittelo Tonnato. It has been a favorite of mine since a friend in Florence made it for me many years ago. It’s roasted veal that is chilled and sliced and the topped with a tuna/anchovies sauce. Not for everyone for sure.

I meet a Swiss couple at dinner and we talked for quite a while about American politics and especially our Supreme Court…grrr. We agree to meet for Apertivo the next evening.

Wednesday I hike up to San Michele in Bosco. It’s an old church, but the real reason to spend the energy is the beautiful views of Bologna from the top.

I’ve got to get back tho because I’m invited to cocktail reception at the 5 star Grand Hotel Majestic for an artist who is in town for art week. It’s a beautiful party and the sparking wine is flowing. I get to meet the artist and we talk about her work, which is stunning.

Thursday, I take the 8:06 train to Ravenna an hour away. It is a spur of the moment decision so I don’t have time to hire a guide or sign up for a tour so I download the important information and set up a Google map annotated with the things I want to see. Ravenna is the city of mosaics and is a UNESCO World heritage site. It is literally a glittering jewel box of 5th and 6th century mosaic art. I walk the 15 minutes from the train station and start with a coffee in the town square and then go directly to the Basilica di San Vitale. I have found that an early start in these day trips is the best recipe and then go directly to the most important site and work backwards depending on the time you have. I am not disappointed as there are very few people at my first stop. Later I pass by there and it is mobbed with people. The ceilings, floors and walls of all the sites I visit are so stunning. Take a look.

Now it’s time for lunch. I check and there is one Michelin restaurant in Ravenna called Antica al Gallo 1909. I decide to take my chance and walk the 15 minutes there to see if I can get in. As I study my map, a local gentleman approaches and asks if he can help me. I tell him my destination and he admires my taste in restaurants and says he will walk me there. His name is Herman and we have the most lovely chat along the way.

Now I approach this gorgeous restaurant and am welcomed by the owner Umberto who is happy to seat me in a table right near the garden.

I am so lucky as soon afterwards the restaurant is completely full. Umberto’s great great grandfather started the restaurant and it has survived two world wars and Covid and is still going strong. Upstairs there are sitting rooms for cocktails and smoking!

I with squash blossoms filled with Gorgonzola and surrounded by a red pepper sauce.

Then I go for the Cavaletti al Ragu. Umberto pours a lovely local wine and I am having the best time.

I’m too full for dessert so they bring me a plate of cookies— meringues with toasted almond glaze.

Afterwards Umberto gives me a gift of a little book about his family. It is first in Italian and then English and he says, “this way you will learn Italian words.” So cute!

Now I visit Modena which is only a 20 minute train ride away. I tour around the town with its beautiful cathedral and lively market.

Modena is famous for balsamic vinegar, luxury sports cars and Massimo Bottura, the chef of the Michelin restaurant Osteria Francescan ( frequently thought of as the #1 restaurant in the world). Before I left California I scored a reservation at Massimo Bottura’s second place ( also a Michelin restaurant) for 2 pm on this day.Arriving early I am taken to a garden table by Marco and an amuse bouche of squash stuffed with ricotta and lemon zest as well as a raw zucchini topped with mousse of zucchini arrives.

I have to have the burger starter which Massimo invented. I took Massimo’s MasterClass and this was featured so I’ve been looking forward to trying it. In his home region of Emilia-Romagna, he makes the patty out of Italian beef mixed with gelatin from cotechino (a local pork sausage) and Parmigiano-Reggiano. For condiments, he puts an Italian spin on American standard making a mayo out of Balsamic vinegar from Modena and an herb sauce based on Italian salsa verde.

Next course is an artichoke ravioli with a black garlic sauce which Giacamo, the young intern from Milan recommends.

Still denying dessert, I am presented with not one but two little Italian bites.

Really a fantastic meal!

I wander back and even figure out the self service ticket machine at the station to change my ticket to a slightly earlier train because my friend Arno and his family arrive from Vienna tonight.

My readers will remember that I met Arno in the Naschmarkt in Vienna in Shirleyfest 2017. Here we are that day nearly 5 years ago.

We really hit it off and the next year when he learned I was going to Amsterdam for Shirleyfest 2018 he invited me to join his family in the Dolomites for a week before Shirleyfest. I did and had the best time! Now they are here! I will report on our activities during their weekend visit in the next post. Now, it is time for me to go have apertivo. Cin Cin!


72 Hours in Bologna

I’m trying to think when I’ve felt compelled to post about a Shirleyfest city after just a few nights in my new home. Oh I know……Never! Until now. Dear readers, Bologna might just be the best kept travel secret. So why do I say this? Let me tell you.

Let’s start at the beginning. It is an easy trip to Bologna connecting thru Amsterdam on KLM. The airport is small and having cleared customs in Amsterdam, I simply walk straight out to a waiting taxi. Less than 20 minutes later, I’m in my new apartment which is literally steps from the famous two towers of Bologna.

The street below my fifth floor flat is Via Rizzoli, a pedestrian zone on the weekend.

Of course that means since Bologna is a university town that the students gather below my building on the weekends, but it makes for a lively atmosphere. I unpack, shower and head off for my first dinner.

I have reserved in the posh Gallerie nearby. I’m well taken care of by Christain who is surprised and delighted that I am here for a month. After a delicious salad and designer pizza, he surprises me with a lemon sorbet to welcome me.

I’m feeling right at home. And that is the first night!

The next day I have reserved a walking tour. As my readers know, that is my standard practice to have that set up for the first morning in any city. I am so lucky to have Ela as my guide. Smart, warm and energetic, she takes me and two others around her beautiful city. Pasta being the religion of Bologna, we stop to watch it being made.

We then head on thru the beautiful porticos of which there are so many. Bologna has more porticos than any other city in the world …..they date back to 1041. Ela takes us to see one of the portico still standing from medieval times.

From there, we wander thru the Quadrilatero, the old Bologna market, and now home to many many outdoor cafes, restaurants and food shops.

We duck into Gilberto’s and do a basamic vinegar tasting with Marco. We progress from the 8 year old to the 40 year old and it astonishing how rich and refined the oldest Modena vinegars taste.

We stop in the building that housed the university originally and now contains the library. The ceiling is filled with famous family crests.

We plan to end at Neptune fountain, but Ela is so generous with her time, she takes us to the “hidden canals of Bologna”. I was able to peak through the recently restored window that gave way to a view of the Reno Canal in Via Piella.

We take a group shot and Marcel and Alexandra leave.

Once the tour ends, Ela and I are not done talking so we go off the two of us to a nearby coffee bar and continue our discussion.

Soon I say goodbye to my new friend, but we make plans to meet again soon.I feel so lucky to have met such a wonderful person.

I decide to walk to the modern art museum at the edge of town. MAMbo. It is small but nicely done. I’m fascinated by what this artist was trying to tell us.

And I love that this artist found a way to cram more hours in the day.

Later I head to Trattoria dal Biassanot and enjoy a beautiful meal served by the attentive Luca.

The pasta is tortellini with pistachios. Absolutely devine…. as was the pane cotta with fresh berries. Oh gosh I’m glad I walk a lot here! I looked at my step counter at the end of the day and had walked 25,000 steps. I’ll need to keep that up if I am going to eat all this delicious food.

On Sunday it is Mother’s Day so I decide to take the pilgrims path ( hike!) up to Chinese Della Madonna di San Luca founded in 1194. You go through 666 porticos ( the longest Portico path in the world) to have an uninterrupted 3.8 km hike to get to the top.

Once up, a beautiful church awaits you.

Inside many parishioners are chanting the rosary in honor of the Virgin Mary. I love how fitting this seems on the special day. Great views await you at the top.

After a small rest and a bottle of water, I start back down. I have to admit I saw a coffee bar just before the end and I plunk down at a table for a refreshing cup of tea before carrying on.

Tonight I decide to try to get a table at Simoni, the unchallenged best charcuterie restaurant in Bologna. I see lots of people and I wait to put my name on the list. For some reason, I am whisked off right away to a perfect table in the center of the restaurant with great views of the hard working staff.

It is a show to watch the charcuterie trays being churned out for all the hungry guests. Klevis, my waiter, shows me the best wine to order and soon my plate arrives.

By then I am heartily engaged with the tables on either side of me. One with an American student living in Bologna now for 3 years and her visiting cousin and the other two Italian students getting their masters at the university. Naturally I garner some great tips and recommendations from my fellow diners!

I walk the few short blocks home very happy with my first three days in Bologna. I do believe I have picked the perfect city for Shirleyfest 2022. I hope you will continue to enjoy Bologna with me.


Shirleyfest 2022: Bologna, Italy

While I loved my Santa Barbara and Boston Shirleyfests, I’ve been looking longingly at international destinations for 2022. For a variety of reasons, Ive decided to change things up this year and go in the spring instead of the fall……although it is entirely possible that come fall I’ll want to do a second Shirleyfest.

I’ve had Bologna on my travel radar for quite a while. It is known for its amazing food ( it is considered Italy’s gastronomical capital), miles of beautiful Spanish terra cotta tiled rooftops and porticos in the city center (25 miles) and home of the oldest university in the western world ( University of Bologna founded in 1088). For these reasons it has three nicknames, Fat, Red and Learned. Add in fabulous museums, a train hub that begs you to do day trips, impressive markets and lots of live music, who could resist being part of that! Not me.

So I’ll be off to Italy in a couple of months. Please let me know if you know people to introduce me to or have any good information to pass along. I hope you will follow along with me as I immerse myself in Shirleyfest #12.