trip report: bologna
After our whirlwind of a Milan trip, we hopped the train to Bologna; an easy hour ride on a fast, clean train. Is traveling with a ton of checked luggage, a stroller, and a car seat the easiest? No. Luckily, everyone was understanding and helped us offload all of our bags.
We chose the Corona d'Oro hotel as our home base, since the location is right in the heart of the city, about two blocks from the Bologna Cathedral (and the view in the photo above). I don't think there's a better location in the whole city for a hotel, but the rooms were very small, so I'm not sure we'd stay there again with a toddler. But the staff was incredible; bringing Avvie presents, finding whole milk for me when I needed it, and just generally being super helpful. There was also a wonderful free breakfast spread.
We had chosen Bologna as the focal point of our Italy trip mainly because of one thing: the food. The region of Emilia-Romagna is home to bolognese sauce, Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, tortellini, balsamic vinegar ... the list goes on and on and on. The area is known as the food valley for a reason (as is my whole body). So, you can imagine how excited I was for our first meal.
We opted for Trattoria Anna Maria, which ended up being my favorite meal in Bologna out of many worthy contenders. And, since it was our first night, we tried to sample some of the classics of Bolognese cuisine. Clockwise from top is the fettuccine with meat sauce (aka bolognese), tortellini in brodo (in broth), a sampling of cured meats, and delightful bits of spinach frittata that were waiting for us at our table. That last one was pretty much a perfect toddler food (protein! greens!) so you can imagine how excited I was. She obviously chowed down on a ton of the pasta as well.
It is always difficult to translate into words the beauty of a splendid meal. I doubt I will ever taste tortellini that delicate, that tender, and that full of flavor anywhere outside of Bologna. It was truly one of the most perfect dishes I've ever had the pleasure of eating. Plus, Anna Maria is still running the kitchen (or sometimes sitting outside chatting) and she is basically the nonna you never knew you wanted.
While I booked lunch and dinner reservations (natch), I otherwise left our next day blank so we could explore the city. It's known for its beautiful porticoes, the university (founded in 1088!), and, duh, the food. We spent the whole morning wandering down narrow streets, ogling all the beautiful churches, eating our weight in gelato (Mike), napping (Avvie), and clearing out Italian pharmacies of all fancy skincare products (guess). But seriously, do not miss stocking up on European products when you're abroad. I am now obsessed with this Collistar deodorant and this pharmacy which makes THEIR OWN HYALURONIC ACID!
Lunch was at Battibecco, a more modern spot. Case in point, look at my deconstructed eggplant parm:
The vibe here was a little more formal (and not as child friendly), but the food was excellent. Dinner that night was at Giampi e Ciccio, a more relaxed spot that featured one of Mike's favorite dishes from the whole trip: cheese tortelloni drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
As you may know, Italians (Europeans in general) eat much later than the average American. Most restaurants don't even open until 7:30 for dinner, which is about when Avvie starts getting ready for bed at home. Luckily, if you're coming from America, the time difference works in your favor; your kid will be game to stay up late and sleep in. Towards the end of our trip, there were also a few dinners we booked at 8:30 or so and dressed Avvie in PJs for the walk over. By the time we got to dinner, she was passed out and slept in her stroller the whole time. Now I know not every kid will do that (and she certainly wouldn't during the day), but hey, it's worth a shot if you've never tried it!
Bologna was our home base for this leg of the trip, but we did day trips to Modena and Parma, so we actually only had one other meal in the city. Osteria Bottega seems to be the most beloved restaurant in all of Bologna, so we knew it was a must-stop. It definitely books up early, so make sure to make a reservation before you get into town; this was the only spot we went to that was fairly full even right after they opened at 7:30. We popped open a bottle of Lambrusco (the region's specialty), chowed down on cannelloni, and for dessert, feasted on a deconstructed tiramisu-type thing that was otherwordly.
Like every other city I've been to in Italy, I wish that we had had more time. This food hall alone could have kept me entertained for days. Just another reason to return, no?