I love Bologna. As soon as I arrived, I was instantly soothed by its atmosphere: it's old, but it's full of young people; it's international, but it's full of locals; it's scholarly and intelligent, but it doesn't feel pretentious. It's full of amazing food and amazing gelato, and it's full of bookstores (some of which are open past midnight, some of which serve food and wine, some of which share a storefront with a bar – yes, a bar). It's a student town, so food and drinks are relatively cheap (though I'm told, apartments are not), and people are friendly.
The university is officially the oldest in the world, and it's a great school that students come to from all over to do exchanges. I was staying at an awesome hostel that felt more like an apartment, and I was the only tourist there (everyone else was there to work or study and trying to find an apartment). Every person staying in the hostel was from a different place: one night we had Canada, Israel, France, Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, and the UK sitting around a table. That was really cool.
Something else really cool is the nearby Gelato University. It's precisely what it sounds like! People go there to learn how to make gelato. They offer quite an intense program which lasts about a month and has lessons all day every day. I went on a tour of the museum, but was disappointed I didn't get to see how gelato was made. So a couple weeks later, on my way to Venice from the Amalfi coast, I made a quick stop in Bologna again to hang out with some of the friends I made the first time, and take a gelato lesson!! It ended up being a private lesson with the sweet, funny Master Gelato Maker at the school, Makoto (that's her in the last two photos). We spent the day learning the theory of sorbet (the theory of gelato takes about a week to explain in their university course) and then making strawberry sorbet and marscarpone and pine nut gelato. I got to figure out quantities, measure, mix, pour, and try (and fail) to artfully put the gelato in a tray after it froze in the machine. My sorbet and gelato went in their shop's display case to be sold! It was such a cool day.
All in all, I loved this city. There are beautiful main squares where people gather, they close the streets to cars every weekend so the whole old city is open to pedestrians, there are those beautiful porticos (arches over the sidewalks) everywhere, there are some of the most beautiful churches, and there is the best gelato (that delicious marscarpone and pine nut flavour is called 'Leonardo' in Bologna, and I didn't see it anywhere else in Italy). The city feels very special.
- Pizza Casa: from the outside, this looks like any old hole in the wall pizza place, and back in Canada I wouldn't expect much from anywhere that looked like this. But this is Italy, and this hole in the wall place has a huge stone wood burning oven in the back, and produces quality pizza. The pizza is cheap and absolutely delicious: I got the marguerita pizza with extra onions and it was divine. They sell cheap drinks as well, and it's located right in the university area.
- San Luca: this is a beautiful church up on a hill, but trust me, it is really up on a hill. I underestimated the ascent. You pass under 660 porticos by the time you get there, all uphill on either stairs or slanted sidewalks. It's HARD. But the views from the top are beautiful, and the church is gorgeous.
- Osteria della Orsa: just around the corner from Pizza Casa, this is a really nice little place that serves great fresh pasta dishes and cheap wine. Everything I tried there was delicious.
- Hostel il Nosadillo: great location, great people, and lovely staff. It's small and cosy so it feels like an apartment, it's bright, it was always clean and it was an awesome place to meet people because everyone hung out in the kitchen.
- Cremeria Funivia: such good gelato. Really unique flavours and amazing texture. Not far from the main square!
- Librarie Coop: this bookstore is open late and is special for having a sprawling cafe/restaurant inside. My two favourite things in one place!