Bologna Travel Tips for a Truly Italian Experience

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Our Perspective on Bologna

While Bologna is beautiful, the Bolognese can be difficult. Bologna is an incredibly pretty city that fascinated us from the very beginning. However, the Bolognese, just like most Italians, are quite disorganized. This seems very stereotypical, but Italians mostly agree with this fact, too. So, it is more part of their culture than anything else. On the one hand, this aspect made the trip stressful but on the other hand, it made it adventurous. You cannot dislike the Italians for how they behave, because they only mean well. However, we are sure that if you ever visit Bologna, you will not be able to miss the chaos, whether it is while driving, in a restaurant or on the streets. Just embrace the chaos and see the beauty within it. That way you will have the most enjoyable vacation with fantastic people!

He Said

Bologna is not pronounced “baloney” or “below-knee” or even “ba-log-na” as my grandmother used to say it. One might more accurately spell it “bohlonia” to get the correct pronunciation, but be sure to say the “onia” quicker than usual. Say it out loud at least once before moving on. Great. Now that everyone in the room is looking at you funny, we can continue with my story about baloney—I mean, Bologna.

When I think of Bologna, three specific things pop into my head immediately. The first is the flight in, where I could not differentiate between the city buildings because every single one of them is roofed with the exact same material and in the exact same colour of red. It honestly looked like we were about to land on a mound of red clay. The second is a disastrous restaurant experience that was made worse by the fact that we hadn’t eaten anything for about 6 hours prior to it. This is also where I was reminded about renting silverware in Italy (story further below). The third is simply the way of the Italian people—somewhat irritating, yet so loveable that you just can’t be mad at them.

The Rooftops of Bologna
The Rooftops of Bologna

Perhaps it’s a Midwestern thing, but I cannot stand being the person who inconveniences others. However as soon as we landed and walked out of the gate, we were greeted by one of her friends who proceeded to hug her and hold on for what felt like 3 hours while standing right in the middle of the door, forcing the people behind us to wait or squeeze their way around us. I was excited that these two were reunited after two years, but embarrassed and uncomfortable at the fact that this hug couldn’t have waited until we were at least first out of the foot traffic! But welcome to Italy. Based on everything else I experienced, I’m thinking that no locals found this even the least bit strange.

The first thing on my agenda was food. In fact, the authentic Italian food might be what I was looking most forward to ever since we planned the trip. This is where the disaster comes in. We met with the rest of her friends and the plan was to get pizza that is unparalleled by any other pizza north of Napoli. We proceeded to the restaurant that turned out to be closed. After some brief discussion, we decided to just go to the restaurant across the street. We were all hungry and wet because Bologna was experiencing the worst thunderstorm in 10 years which just so happened to start within 5 minutes of us landing, so we didn’t want to look anymore. Upon entering the restaurant, we immediately recognized that it may have been a bit pricier than we are used to, but everyone in the establishment seemed to be really enjoying their meals so we said, “Why not? We’re on vacation.” Clearly this was a bad decision, as we ordered the cheapest thing on the menu for 15 Euros, were given an appetizer that we did not order (yet had to pay for) and were all served bland portions that wouldn’t fill up a kitten. Our Italian friends assured us that this is not normal and they were equally disappointed. We ate again once we got to our next destination.

On the Beach in Ravenna, Italy
On the beach in Ravenna, Italy, near Bologna

We capped off the evening with pizza and a meteor shower on the beach. The pizza was delicious, but I have to talk about something that just added to the fact that nothing seemed to be going right on this day. We met at the beach with a group of our hostesses’ friends and two of them decided that they would go order for us while the rest of us got our stuff together and then went and found a table. After 10 minutes of me trying to figure out why we couldn’t just look at a menu and asking what kind of options are even available, we made a decision based on the statement, “Just tell us what ingredients you want on the pizza. They’ll have it.” We decided that we would get 1 pizza with gorgonzola and mushrooms and another pizza with just salami. The two friends went and ordered, we found a candlelit table in the sand and they came back with the receipt. They had paid, so we all had to pay them back. In typical Italian style, we split the check evenly amongst the group regardless of who had ordered what (my fellow Americans should know where this is going). I found that 11 Euros per person for 1 pizza and a small beer seemed to be a little high based on the simplicity of our order, but didn’t question it. We were on vacation, after all. All of these extravagant pizzas showed up loaded with toppings and were passed out to the members of the group who clearly underpaid with their 11 Euro donations to the bill. Then there was one pizza remaining and I was the only one without one in front of me. It was a single-topping mushroom pizza. Someone said it was for us, but we said that can’t be right because we ordered mushrooms and gorgonzola.

“Oh, they didn’t have gorgonzola, so we just ordered you a pizza with mushrooms.” – They said casually, as if we didn’t stand there for 10 minutes before ordering, insisting on knowing what was available so that we could make an informed decision.

I mean, who orders only mushrooms on a pizza? But this is the way of the Italian people, so I accepted the pizza that wasn’t what I wanted and devoured it because it was still fantastic despite this fact. Furthermore, all of their friends were incredibly friendly, talkative and really took an interest in learning about us and making us feel welcome. The good company, combined with the sand between my toes and the starlit sky made me quickly forget about the whole pizza thing. FYI, a pizza like the ones we ordered should have only cost about 6-7 Euros each.

Portici in Bologna
Some Portici in Bologna. Fun fact: Bologna boasts the longest continuous strand of Portici in the world.

I can’t honestly complain too much about this trip. Bologna is a charming city that can be enjoyed in all types of weather because of the implementation of Portici, which are column-supported overhangs that cover almost the entire city, apart from open squares and streets. It’s really cool. We also had the luxury of being accompanied by first-class, local tour guides (our friends) who gave us a great history of Bologna and the city’s sights. They also took us on a tour of the Seven Secrets of Bologna, but I can’t tell you what they are. You’ll just have to go see them for yourself! Oh, and Bologna is also where Tortellini and Tortelloni were invented, in case that helps you in deciding your next vacation. 😉 All in all, I must say that this trip did have some disastrous aspects to it, but overall, it was truly a delight.

She Said

I promised him it would be getting chaotic, and it did, right from the start. I love my Italian friends, but their disorganization drives me insane and I’m pretty sure that everyone who has ever been to Italy mostly agrees with me on that aspect.

    1. One of my friends was missing when arriving at the airport, because another friend decided to join us at the last minute and had to be picked up (Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy he came!).
    2. The weather turned into a massive summer storm as soon as we got out of the airport.
    3. The city was drowning and we had to find our missing friend who was lost in the streets of Bologna (She’s lived in Bologna before).
    4. While cruising through those maze-like streets of Bologna, we finally found her parked in the middle of the street, without our friend who still had to be picked up.
    5. Our friend was late.
    6. The restaurant, they picked for us to have lunch at, was closed.
    7. The restaurant we finally had lunch at, was not only super expensive and snobby (15 Euros for a dish of pasta), but the portion was baby-size (10 pieces of pasta).
    8. The bedroom we were supposed to sleep in was flooded, since “someone” left the window open during the storm.
      Bologna Flooded Bedroom
      the flood is being cleaned
    9. They ordered the wrong pizza for us for dinner.
    10. We had to get drunk to forget this disaster (They make good cocktails though).

So, welcome to Italy!

At a Tortellini Restaurant in Bologna
But don’t panic!

If you ever feel like you want to experience something similar, do not hesitate to visit Italy or make Italian friends. Other than that, I should mention that Italians (and especially my dear friends) are the loveliest people in the world. They are just too relaxed to plan anything; you can’t really dislike them for that. So, in spite of all the chaos, we had a fantastic, funny vacation and my friends definitely tried their best to make it enjoyable. And it was!

Bologna from the hills

Bologna is an awesome city which literally has many secrets to discover. The views from the surrounding hills are breathtaking, the Bolognese food is incredibly good (if you go to the right restaurants) and the Roman architecture is unique, but the priests seriously need to start adapting to the modern world. One of them insulted and offended me by referring to my outfit as inappropriate for visiting a church and more suitable for a visit to the beach on a hot summer day. Well, I was wearing a blouse with thick shoulder straps and jeans shorts, so everything was covered and it was indeed a hot summer day (33 degrees Celsius, 91 degrees Fahrenheit). What are you supposed to wear on a day like that?

Saint Luca Bologna

So don’t let yourself get offended, just enjoy the beauty of Bologna on a hot summer day in your beach-like outfit, because we’ll definitely come back to enjoy another fantastic, chaotic vacation!

Bologna Friends
Everyone is happy in the end!

Renting Silverware in Italy

Renting Silverware in Italy
As told by him

Culture shock comes in many shapes and forms. From food styles, customs, traditions and attitudes, the list of strange and “shocking” things that one encounters while traveling is long. When it comes to eating out in restaurants, tipping is handled rather uniquely no matter where you are. However, the way they do things in Italy really blows my mind. It’s so bizarre to me that I always forget about it until the bill comes.

During our first trip to Bologna, we had just finished a very disappointing meal that was all part of a disastrous day, when the check shows up and we and our local friends were trying to figure out what we each owed. One item on the bill confused me, as it added an additional 15 Euros or so to the overall cost of the meal, but it wasn’t a food item. I asked our friends what this is and they said, “That’s for the silverware.”

“What?! I asked, baffled. What do you mean it’s for the silverware?”

They said, “Yes, it’s because we used the silverware. It’s for the waitress, since she put out the utensils and glasses for us.”

“So it’s a service fee, like an automatic tip? Is it because there are 6 of us?” I inquired, trying to understand the concept.

“No. It’s just for using their silverware. It’s always added to the price, regardless of how many are eating. It’s usually around 2-3 euros per person.”

This blew me away. “We are in a restaurant!” I exclaimed. “How else were we supposed to eat if we didn’t use their silverware? If I had known that, then I would have brought my own!”

As mentioned, this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this, but I still struggle to understand this concept to this day. There’s no way they would let you bring in your own silverware and so far, I have never been in a restaurant outside of Italy that forces you to “rent” their silverware. So if you’re ever in Italy, now you’ve been warned about the mandatory silverware rental fee in restaurants. The best advice I can give you for coping with this nonsense is just to consider it an automatic gratuity fee and leave it at that. Buon appetito!

Bologna Facts and History

In Bologna you will discover lots of history and the oldest university of Europe. It is very well-known for its famous towers in the city center. In the past, each noble family had a tower built in order to demonstrate their power. The higher the tower, the more powerful the family was.

Moreover, the tortellini have their origin in Bologna and are not only very famous all over the world, but also very delicious. Additionally, Tagliatelle a la Ragu is a dish that you should not miss out on!

About the Authors

Authors Ryne Cook and Denise Braun from He Said or She Said

Ryne and Denise Cook: We went to the historic Italian city of Bologna, where we met with local friends to gain insider knowledge on the best way to view the city, where to find the 7 secrets of Bologna and which foods to eat while there. We returned with unique experiences to share with their readers.

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