Sunday, 12 September 2010

InteRailing for Glampackers

September 5th San Remo to Bologna

The journey across to Bologna from the west coast is memorable for two reasons. You get to experience some dramatic mountainous countryside, which is just as well because the journey takes nearly four hours and over 12 stops on the local service to Milan. The old train was packed to the gills with people and luggage including two American vets on their way home from Afghanistan and enjoying a bit of R&R.
However, once you reach Milan, it’s just another hour to Bologna on the new Frecciarossa express.
Bologna. Old and wise. A university since the 11th century. They say Bologna is known for three things. The ‘fat’ people, because of the glorious pasta and rich food, the red brick architecture and similar political affiliations, and finally the ancient seat of knowledge, the University. Then again, petrol heads may just know about the odd nearby car manufacturer or two like Ferrari or Lambourghini
It’s a city that once was contained inside a wall, but now there are just the gates and towers remaining. In fact, Bologna’s own twin towers, (the two ancient towers that sit next to each other in the centre of the city) are a constant reminder of its medieval past. As are the 70 miles of canals that pass under the old streets and buildings, the conduits for merchants coming in from Venice and the Adriatic, not mention the locals who used them as sewers!
Today, you can have a great time exploring the underground canals and we took in a guided tour that took us under the city in rubber dinghies along the ancient walls where roman bridges and Etruscan walls were visible along with the old toilet holes in the tunnel ceilings!
We had a pasta cookery lesson too, in the Secchia Scuola Bolognese run by the famous chef Alessandra Spisni. We learnt to make fresh pasta from just flour and eggs, and shaped it to form tortellini, tortelloni and also tagliatelle, the traditional pasta to mix with bolognese sauce which is just called ragu in Italy. Don’t mention spaghetti in this town!
Bologna’s cobbled streets, churches porticos and palazzos are completely overshadowed by nearby Florence, but a must see if you are in the region. There are no tourist restaurants, you’ll find the locals eating everywhere, but try out the aperitif evening buffets, where for a little extra on your drinks, you can eat as much of the snack buffet food as you like. Or better still, get some fresh food from the daily market vendors on via Pescherie Vecchie and take it into the Torre degli Garisenda for some great local wines. It’s been there since the 11th century, and is full of locals drinking and eating their own brought in food.

Hotel: Porta San Mamolo
Underground Canal tours:
Cookery school: Secchia Scuola Bolognese