After a few weeks in Rome, my friend and I travelled north to Bologna to experience a bit of ‘northern Italy,’ as we were realizing how vastly different the two regions were in regards to political views, mannerisms, cuisine, and daily lifestyles. Bologna houses an expansive mix of culture, art, history, and gastronomic offerings within its boundaries. When I read that Bologna was ranked 1st in all of Italy for quality of life, I had to experience it for myself.
Bologna is oft described as one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, and while I found remnants of beauty in its endless arcades, main square, and medieval architecture, the graffiti was like a wet blanket that had fallen on the city in one fell swoop: it was everywhere, and it took a great deal of imagination to visualize the city at its most pristine. I must also admit that our weekend in Bologna was towards the end of January, and like any northern city, it was experiencing its moments of rain, cold, and gray skies.
There is no shortage of fabulous shopping in Bologna, and the city is obviously filled with wealthy and upper-class Italians. I could tell just by people watching on the streets that the men and women of Bologna are some of the most fashionable in Italy… designer handbags, beautiful, expensive coats and boots. The city feels a little more ‘today’ than many areas to the south and certainly more cosmopolitan. I was able to find upscale lunch shops and cafes, a concept not yet discovered in Rome where I am hard-pressed to find a healthy lunch to-go.
As strange as this may sound, Romans are not known for having big families. In fact, Romans have a reputation for not wanting children at all. I can hardly count on one hand the number of times I saw a Roman child in the city center. I was told that because Rome is so expensive, children are too much of a luxury, and that the people would rather live their lives independent of the commitment. Whether this is true or not, who is to say? Perhaps the Romans move out to suburbs more so than New Yorkers do. In any case, I had almost forgotten what a child looked like when I encountered the endless children in Bologna. ‘So this is where they keep the bambini!’ I said to my friend. Bologna is a small city of young families, and it truly caters to this demographic. The large library with its vast children’s department is a testament to this, as well as the play areas, schools, and child-friendly restaurants and cafes. Just as small children abound, college students make up a large amount of the population as well. One of Italy’s most prominent universities is located here (it is also the oldest university in the world), and the area around the school is predominated by students and less expensive restaurants and stores.
After treating ourselves to fair servings of Bolognese at a family style restaurant near the University, my friend and I climbed the infinite steps beneath the miles of porticoes connecting Porta Saragozza with the sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. The Portico of San Luca is one of the longest arcades in the world, with 666 vaults spanning 4 kilometers. The church, begun in 1723, is located on a hill overlooking the town and the rolling hills beyond. While it is widely attended, the hilltop truly feels like a sanctuary. Whether one is winding the porticoes with a friend for a bit of exercise (this is a common practice for the people of Bologna) or simply to reach the top for the expansive view, a feeling of peace and tranquility awaits. For my friend and I, it was the perfect afterthought to a bowl of tagliatelle al ragu, and we were already hungry for dinner by the time we descended back into the city center.