Bye Bye Bologna

It is too soon to say I miss Bologna, because so much of Bologna is still in the front of my consciousness. I still feel the energy from the street below my window ( I’m the fifth story apartment with the lights on in two windows).

I still smell the strong coffee and bombolone at Terzi.

My mind walks through Piazza Maggiore to Simoni for a drink and I recall Kajo, the manager, calling out to me as he has a cigarette before starting work.

I’m still getting WhatsApp messages from Ela and Giorgio and Christain and Frederico. It is too soon to be sad about not having pasta for every lunch and dinner.

My last week has been very local Bologna. Nick was here one last day and he went to mass with me at the Cathedral.

He isn’t Catholic but he speaks Italian so he was able to tell me afterwards that the homily was about all people having an important place in the world. Something so evident in my daily life here in Bologna.

Afterwards we know exactly where our place should be. We head for Trattoria Giampu e Ciccio.

As we approach, the owner calls out , “Ciao San Francisco!”. He had met me at Nonna Rosa a few days before and remembers me. His grandfather started the restaurant and there is a picture on the wall which translates to his grandfather having won a baby beauty contest.

They fit us into a crowded dining room and his wife Paula suggest we start with the Crostini com friggione ( toasted bread with onions and tomatoes soup).

It is fresh tomatoes cooked down for 5 hours with onions to make a delicious topping for the warm bread. Along with caprese we have Passatelli ( pancetta, arugula, and lemon) and the most delicious lasagna.

Once again Nick is very bad and orders chocolate cake dessert with marscapone.

In the afternoon Nick and I stroll around Bologna and check out the Prendiparte Tower, a medieval tower turned into a bed and breakfast.

Later we visit a hard to describe modern art exhibit. We enjoy it even tho the guard as we entered made a sign to us like it was “crazy”. After one more coffee Nick must leave. After meeting Nick for the first time in Berlin 9 years ago, I have seen him in Copenhagen, Umbria, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Amsterdam, and we even hiked Yosemite together two days before the pandemic started in 2020.

I know we will connect again before too long.

I return to my place and I am happy to hear my neighbor the opera singer practicing away upstairs. He had introduced himself to me as Greg from Rochester, NY. Turns out he is a famous tenor and one of the most accomplished singers on the international opera stage today. He is appearing in two operas in Bologna this summer. Luisa Miller and Otello. Everyday I hear beautiful music from him when I’m in my apartment.

Later I try Ela’s suggestion of pizza at Altero. It is delicious but I ordered way too much.

The next day I am up early and I’m determined to walk to Le serre in Giardini Margherita. It is hard to describe this amazing space. It was born of an abandoned greenhouse. A non profit Kilowatt put it back to life. There is a co-working space, a vegetable garden, a bistro called Vetro, an outdoor movie screen, and a very cool bar. People are working and playing all around me.

I grab a salad and just sit and absorb this fantastic space. I lament why we don’t have this type of set up in all our parks.

I head back, as friends of mine from Sonoma have a daughter studying in Florence and she is coming for a visit. Stella arrives and I take the opportunity to introduce her to Bologna. After a while we stop at Simoni where of course a table is always available for me and after ordering drinks, little appetizers are sent over as a welcome gift for Stella.

I tell her about Le serre and she is interested, so for the second time that day I am in the park.

After aperol spritzes at my place we head to Trattoria Giampu e Ciccio again and sit outside.

Time flies and before long Stella must literally run for the last train back to Florence. It is great fun to be the “local” introducing Stella to Bologna.

The next day I am to meet Giorgia and her friend Alessandro. When I arrive at the appointed spot I am surprised to see Giorgia is in a car.

She has borrowed her mother’s car to drive outside the city to a famous breakfast spot called Gino Fabbri. Just when I thought pastries could not get any better she introduces me to these amazing Calzones and sweets. We have long conversations about careers, life and love and the time flies.

Giorgia ask if we would be ok going to a local butcher shop with her. Of course. Little did we know we would spend hours in the shop without buying any meat, but drinking lots of champagne and eating until we thought we would bust. Let me explain. Giorgia met Teddy the owner when he came to her wine bar in Bologna. He had a shirt on saying Teddy the Butcher. When she admired it, he simply took it off in the wine bar and gave it to her. A friendship was born.

Teddy is there with his sister Maria and their shop Macelleria Teddy is known for the highest quality of products.

I look around and since I love to cook I can attest that what is in the case are beautiful cuts of meat. At first we mill about while customers come in for their steaks and sausages. Teddy dutifully fulfills the orders.

All of a sudden, Teddy has a bottle of champagne on a barrel and pours us all a glass.

That is followed by bringing out more champagne and the mortadella which is followed by aged parmesean cheese. Pretty soon Teddy’ s nephew Alessandro has arrived to work/drink champagne and Teddy makes us sandwiches as other family members arrive to join in the fun.

No matter how much I eat and drink, everyone says “You must have more”. Teddy also insist on giving us all tshirts saying Macelleria Da Teddy ( the butcher Teddy). I really feel like I must be in a movie. I can’t imagine having this must fun at any butcher shop in America.

Back in the city I’m trying to decide how to spend my last night. It is tempting to go hang out with the Simoni crowd, or with Christain at the Gallery, or even to see if Greg the opera singer needs a wine break. In the end I decide I just want to quietly walk through the city. I head down Via Santa Stefano and just people watch. At one point I come to a beautiful chapel in a courtyard that I’ve never seen.

It’s called Cappella del S. S. Sacramento. I tiptoe in and see a few people in this tiny chapel singing.

It is so touching. Walking on, I see a door that says Ancelle del S. cuore di Gesu. I push on the door and see this beautiful little church in the dark.

These are so pretty and I never noticed them before today. I’ve been here a month and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I end with a glass of wine in the park and contemplate how soon I can return to beautiful welcoming Bologna.

I really appreciate my readers and their many comments. It makes it like a conversation. If you want to comment, all you have to do is go back up and click the title of the post and a comment box will appear at the end of the article. You don’t have to sign in to leave a comment. Hope you do!


La Dolce Vita

It always happens around week 3. I now know my way around logistically and can slip down back alleys to avoid the crowds. I know shopkeepers and restauranteurs and baristas. They call out to me when I pass by. Here is Lorenzo at my everyday 8 am coffeehouse Terzi.

I can easily grocery shop, buy stamps, get my hair cut, nails done, go to mass, and arrange for take out if I want it. All this inevitably leads to a growing thought in my mind……maybe I should move here! It happened in Melbourne. It happened in Montréal. It happened in Vienna. It happened in Amsterdam. You get the picture. But nowhere has this been more on my mind than Bologna. It truly is la dolce vita…the sweet life!

My new report starts with last Sunday morning when I get up early to take pictures of the city waking up. Turns out some people are up way before me as there is a marathon race in the city.

The route is right by city hall and the other early risers are couples getting married at city hall. Lots of couples. But unlike in the US where getting married at city hall means the couple and maybe two witnesses, each of the weddings I saw queued up had hordes of celebrants in the queue with them.

I cross over and see that mass is about to start at the Cathedral of Bologna. It’s a beautiful Baroque church constructed on a site where a cathedral has stood since 1028. I take my place and I’m astonished to see the large number of celebrants of the mass.

I have in mind the Michelin restaurant Osteria Bartolini for after mass and I am not disappointed. It is well known for its seafood so I go for the Taglioli al Ragu blanco di pesce….pasta with a mixture of white seafood in the sauce. The restaurant is gorgeous inside and also outside with a large garden to sit in.

Having had a large lunch, dinner is a perfect time to investigate one of Bologna’s four speciality sandwich shops that I’ve yet to try. There is Tigellino,Piadeina, Murtadella and Mortadella Lab. This one, Murtadella, sells a classic mortadella sandwich with burrata and arugula.

Monday I’m invited to tour the Università di Bologna campus by the delightful Vittoria. A gorgeous campus and beautiful views of the city. I mean it’s no Purdue …but it is beautiful.

I want to go to the Teatro Manzoni tonight to hear the Filarmonic. There are two featured performers, one playing the violino and the other the violoncello and it is rare to have this combination in this type of performance. Getting the ticket is hilarious. I go when the box office opens. They have a good seat, but they won’t sell it until one hour before the performance and I need a certain type of mask which I don’t have and they tell me I must go to the pharmacy and buy it. I do and I have dinner at one of my nice local places waiting for the hour before.

I come back 65 minutes before the performance and the ticket is no longer available( how did it sell if they only sell one hour before?) Ok I choose another seat which is fine. And now they are just handing out the required masks to anywho doesn’t have one. Ok. Why did I have to go buy one? I take my seat and there is a man next to me who tells me he has decided to come to Bologna for a month from Liechtenstein where he is a lawyer. Woah that is quite the coincidence I tell him. He says he has never done such a trip before and his only problem is he can’t figure out where to eat. Well maybe I can help I say…I have this thing called a blog with lots of restaurant ideas for Bologna. “How nice”, he says, “but I don’t read blogs.” Ok. I turn slowly away. At intermission there is no drinks, no food, nothing. Just people going outside to smoke. And guess how many stalls there are for the ladies bathroom…one! While everything so far about this night has been odd, the performance is quite good.

Tuesday I decide to get my nails done and I have discovered quite a posh salon near me. I find out they do it quite differently here. Instead of sitting in a chair and putting your feet in a water bath, you are on a recliner and they bring the bath up to you. Happy with my nails, I see if I can schedule a haircut. Yes they can do it shortly. I do my best to describe what I want to AB, that’s the name of my stylist, and I am super happy with how it turns out.

I head out to MAST, a modern art museum on the edge of town. It is a fascinating photography exhibit that explores the interface between photography and technology. It is funded by a nearby tech company and it is sleek and elegant in every way When I got tired of the exhibits, I was offered coffee on the patio. Everything is free here!

Back in the center I remember that Mortadella Lab is back from vacation and I head over to stand in line with the masses. No line! People must have forgotten they reopened. A picture perfect piled high mortadella sandwich.

Since I’m feeling lucky, I see if there is the usual line at Cremeria Santo Stefano. I’m lucky there too! I go for the fragola and limone.

It is a good thing I had these warm up food laps, because my friend Nick has now arrived by train from Verona and good eating is his speciality.

First stop is an aperol spritz and charcuterie at Simoni, where I know everyone who works there.

A tour about town allows Nick to get reacquainted with Bologna, although balloons in the Basilica are quite new.

We have a little rain shower in the afternoon. Come evening we head to Enoteca Al Risanamento in the university section of town. Octopus, sardines, and tuna salad are accompanied by several different local wines. Our waitress Giorgia is coincidentally friends with Giorgia from Enoteca Italiana which I discussed in my last post. Same name,wine funny.

Thursday we have an outing planned out of town, but first we visit the Pinacoteca, the National Gallery of Bologna. It is located in the former Jesuitical Novitate Convent and the building and the art are stunning.

Now we are on the train to a tiny town called San Giovanni in Persiceto just 20 minutes away. We walk from the train station thru the deserted town and come to our destination Osteria del Mirasole. We sit in the garden and Gary and Ricky help us choose delicious starters of a rare Culatello di Nero Parmigiana and an onion baked with pate inside.

Then comes tortellini alla panna and tagliatelle all ragu. As far as I can understand the cream in this dish is a closely guarded secret of the restaurant and not found anywhere else in the region. They have their own cows apparently.

We finish with a chocolate torte with marscapone cream. Seriously, it was Nick not me who insisted on dessert. Maybe.

All the while we are getting great wine suggestions to go with the food. It is a really lovely afternoon!

Back in Bologna we stop by the seven churches (Basilico Santo Stefano) and stay until we are shooed out at closing time by a sweet elderly gentleman. We get shooed right over to Ruggine bar for cocktails with our favorite bartender Alessandro before ending up at my home away from home pizza place, The Gallery. Once again Christian sends over drinks and we are very good and order a salad and one pizza to split! So to reward us, Christain sends over dessert.

Friday we do lots of walking and visit Villa Spada. The villa is closed but we hike thru the park. It is quite an oasis in the city.

We keep going and soon are at Nonna Rosa, a family run restaurant that has been recommended to me by Ela. We love the tables filled with families and we love the pasta and the veal cutlets. I meet Dino the owner and he brings over wine for the three of us to share. This just seems to happen to me all the time in Bologna. Such a friendly place.

Long walk back before we go out tonight for a multi course ( 11 courses) dinner at Sotto l’Arco. Funny thing— we took the bus there. It was a direct shot from my apartment and cabs are not that easy to find in Bologna. So we arrive via public transportation at this quite upscale restaurant. I’ll show you the pictures of some of the courses and if you have questions you can leave it in the comments. You know you are in trouble when the amuse bouche consists of 7 dishes that represent breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner.

Saturday arrives and we are set to pay homage to Pavarotti. His favorite restaurant (next door to his now museum) is outside of Modena. We train out and when we arrive—- no cabs— oh well- we are getting good at taking city buses to fine restaurants.

A lovely meal ensues and afterwards we meet the owner Cesare. He is actually out working in the gardens without a shirt and the staff brings him out a shirt so he can come in and talk to us.

Saturday night we get by with charcuterie from Enoteca Italian and see the terrific Giorgia again. We still haven’t had Cremeria Cavour gelato so off we go for that ( again no line…this is getting so strange). As we eat our gelato outside, a line forms that goes around the block.

We finish this week off with drinks and snacks at the Roxy Bar, across the street from my apartment.

Do you see why the title of this post is La Dolce Vita?

I really appreciate my readers and their many comments. It makes it like a conversation. If you want to comment, all you have to do is go back up and click the title of the post and a comment box will appear at the end of the article. You don’t have to sign in to leave a comment. Hope you do!


Friends, Ferrara and Family

The beginning of week 2 in Bologna brings dear friends to visit. My friends from Shirleyfest Vienna, Arno and Petra, bring their two daughters to Bologna and we have a wonderful weekend. They arrive Friday night and after Apertivo at my place we walk to Proscutteria nearby.

Having stopped by there previously on a calm Wednesday night to reserve, I had miscalculated the frenzy of the place on a Friday night. Although they have reserved a beautiful table for us, the decibel level would make catching up with these dear friends impossible. What to do when all reservations are taken on a Friday night by now? Ah ha. Remember Christian from my first night here? A quick phone call and he makes room for us. Great dinner and great catching up after not seeing my friends for over 3 years.

The next day we attempt the San Luca Church climb all together.

The heat and length are too intense for the children so we spin off and get sodas and talk about their lives in Vienna while Petra and Arno soldier on. Afterwards Arno finds us the most local of all places, Trattoria della Santa and we all have a delicious lunch together. Later we go to the beautiful Palazzo Albergati and see the photography exhibit of Oliviero Toscani . Believe me you know his work as he had many famous ad campaigns such as the United Colors of Benetton and photography that made people aware of significant issues such as the death penalty, anorexia, AIDS, and much more.

The permanent collection includes many iconic photographs as well. Photos by Man Ray, Robert Capa and Alfred Stieglitz among others.

Dinner that night is at Da Cesari, an old school local restaurant that was empty at 7:45 and overflowing at 8:15. The full moon beckons us to finish with drinks at the famous Roxy Bar.

A walking city tour the next day ends with the whispering corners of the Enzo Palace where not only could close families communicate during the historic plagues of old, I’ve been told it is of practical use today to communicate during Covid.

A little more eating, shopping and gelato and then my dear friends jet back to Vienna until next year when they will visit me in California.

After they leave, I go to a concert at the Basilica di San Petronio that is made even more beautiful by the acoustics of the church .

Monday I am off to Ferrara on the train to see this city dominated by the Este Castle and stories of ruling dukes, Papal interference and the formerly large Jewish population, originally invited by the dukes for their crafts and then sequestered in the Jewish Ghetto by the Pope. I have booked a walking tour like always and I meet Massimo and two lovely ladies from Kolkata,India.

Massimo ( Max) our guide is a retired doctor and is so entertaining and knowledgeable.

Of course when the tour is finished I head directly to the Michelin restaurant in town, Trattoria Da Noemi for a delicious lunch of local asparagus and the Ferrara specialty of pumpkin filled ravioli.

Tuesday I meet Ela and her mother-in-law Laura for Apertivo at their favorite place. I love mid- day aperol spritzes over lively conversation. Laura is of my generation, but unlike me, she drives a motorcycle.

Lunch today, I try the little place Ragu that has the meat pasta sauce in focaccia. Think slow food sloppy joes!

Later walking thru the main square I see police all around and everyone is pointing at a box that they have made a perimeter around. I think..bomb? I discover that it is a box filled with bees and they had to call the beekeepers to deal with it.

Later I have dinner at the well known Da Nello. I had a reservation, but that didn’t seem to matter. I ended up at an ok table with delicious food, but I was less than thrilled with the brusque wait staff. I would not recommend it even tho you will see it mentioned often. For me, great food is the minimum requirement…but especially as an often solo diner, I want to feel engaged with the restaurant and the people, not just fed. Considering I’ve eaten 35 meals out in Bologna, a dud of one in 35 I can live with. Plus there was this great pasta I had there.

Early Wednesday morning I check out the big park near me, Giardini Margherita. It is really lovely. Surrounded by pretty homes.

Plus I like it because an Italian yoga instructor trying to meet her class in the park, ran up to me, assumed I was Italian, and asked me in Italian how to get somewhere in the park and I was able to tell her in Italian. WooHoo!

Afterwards I go for caffé and a Panino alla Cannella ( morning bun) at Forno Brisa where I met dashing Lorenzo. He has a bandage on his nose and I discovered that he had broken it in a biking accident last month just like I had. What are the chances?

Later I pick up mortadella, cheese and bread for Apertivo as sister MJ arrives this evening. Simoni deli was closed, but now that I know everyone at their restaurant, I was able to convince them to let me buy provisions there for my welcome party for MJ. MJ arrives and we go to my favorite Bolognese pizza place where Christain welcomes MJ to Bologna with his delicious pizzas.

The next day, Ela does a walking tour for MJ and I so that MJ can get the lay of the land.

Before she leaves us, she calls Trattoria de Me for us and snags us a very hard to get lunch reservation. Hot crescentina fritta and MJ’s first dish of Tagliatella Al Ragu and my ravioli in a pea sauce are delicious.

We go next to see the anatomical theatre of the Archiginnasio. In 1637 it was where anatomy lessons were held in the first ever theatre style classroom for such. It is because of it that we use the term theatre in describing operating rooms today.

Drinks at Simoni with Parmesan cheese tasting is followed by dinner at Trattoria Sette Tavoli ( 7 table restaurant— which is what it had).

Not quite done, we stop at the bar Ruggine for some interesting cocktails from bartender Alessandro. On the bar stools next to us, two young students can’t believe we found this place which is a popular student bar.

Next day we climb to the clock tower of city hall for some views and then see the art collection.

The art collection is huge and we had seen enough, but when we turned to leave we were instructed by the docent to continue on and not cut out any of the rooms. Hilarious. We did as she asked. A stop for coffee at the lovely Cafe Zanarini fueled us for some shopping.

Shopping in Italy is great! We both did some damage at Max Mara and other stores. Actually that is true figuratively and literally. We did buy some nice things. Then, at a very fancy store I managed to not see a clear glass 12 inches off the floor side table and I crashed forward into their display. While the display looked like a car had plowed through the wall with metal and broken glass strewn everywhere, I escaped with only one cut and one bruise. The shopkeepers were amazing with bandages, ice packs and bottled water. I was going to see if they would also give me this wonderful pair of shoes I spied, but I thought better of it.

Tonight we stop for drinks at Enoteca Italiana and meet the delightful Giorgia who brings us mortadella( of course) to have with our wine.

Later we eat at Trattoria Valerio.

Next to us is a Berlin travel writer named Soenke who engages us and makes the evening quite fun. Three Italian men are at the next table celebrating a birthday and so we also have fun talking with them before we leave.

On MJ’s last day here, we go to Modena on the train. While sipping coffee in the square we see a wedding is about to take place in the cathedral. Of course we crash it. The mustache man was the highlife of our attendance and of course the bride!

We wedding crashers now go for the famous Modena basaltic vinegar tasting. There is no finer balsamic vinegar than Giuseppe Giusti. At its lovely showroom, Matteo expertly guides us through all the variations and laws pertaining to preserving the integrity of Modena basalmic vinegar.

We move onward to Francescetta 58 which you may recall from my previous post I went to last week. I really want MJ to experience this wonderful place and we are very lucky that the famous Massimo Bottura is here today. He talks to us…. If you count him saying “sera” and us saying it back as talking.

We love our food and also the show taking place a the next table where 4 Italian men are tasting a dozen bottles of wine.

Onward to the Maserati museum where MJ and I pick our our favorite cars before training home to Bologna.

Having had such a big lunch we opt for Simoni for dinner. Once again upon seeing my friendly waiters there, a table magically appears for us ahead of mobs of people waiting. The platter of meats and cheeses plus a bottle of local wine makes for the perfect dinner. Fredrico chats with us about his upcoming exams and we lend encouragement.

No encouragement needed to decide to end the ending at the Roxy Bar. I opt for a Montenegroni where they substitute Amaro Montenegro for Campari. MJ gets the Roxy, a bourbon and lime concoction. The night ends but the memories linger on.

A few days alone and then my friend Nick who I first met on Shirleyfest Berlin will arrive.

I really appreciate my readers and their many comments. It makes it like a conversation. If you want to comment, all you have to do is go back up and click the title of the post and a comment box will appear at the end of the article. You don’t have to sign in to leave a comment. Hope you do!

Until then!


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.