Two Tickets To… Bologna! An Italian Long Weekend, Part 1

Having powered through months of early starts, dark mornings and long hours hunched over desks up and down the UK, we literally couldn’t wait for the early May Bank Holiday weekend to finally come round – for us, it meant our first proper trip of 2018!

With a wedding to attend on the Wednesday, we needed a destination easily accessible from the North of England, with decent flight connections so that we could travel Saturday-Tuesday and make the most of 3 nights away. We went into battle armed with our trusty Skyscanner app, coming up with some bizarre routes before eventually deciding to return to Italy – a real favourite for both of us individually, but somewhere we hadn’t actually travelled to together as a couple.

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The red rooftops of Bologna

The route was sorted – we would be spending one night in Bologna on the Saturday, before heading an hour north on the train and staying in Padova for two nights. Padova is wonderfully situated for a day trip to Venice (Monday’s activity) and pretty handy for our return flight from Venice Treviso airport. It was a classic Matt & Lucy long-weekend itinerary, with the aim – as ever – being to maximise the short time available to us.

This post will focus on our time in Bologna – which probably amounted to just under 24 hours in total! This beautiful University city is often overlooked by visitors to Italy, who typically choose to flock to the ‘big name’ destinations of Florence or Venice – both a short train journey away. Bologna is well deserving of a visit in its own right – widely regarded as one of the culinary capitals of Italy, it’s an absolute paradise for foodies on any budget, with hundreds of excellent bars and restaurants waiting to be discovered among the maze of medieval alleyways and ancient piazzas.

Day 1 – Saturday

Saturday morning began with a traditional early wake-up to put the finishing touches to our packing and make sure that Lucy had enough time to triple-check that every single plug was turned off, or that the iron wasn’t about to leap out of the cupboard and burn the flat down whilst we were away. With the iron successfully secured, a quick Uber across town got us onto the 07:20 train to Manchester Airport to catch our 10:40 flight.

We were, once again, using Ryanair for both legs of the trip. Despite recent changes in cabin baggage and seat allocation policies, which make us really want to be able to choose to fly with someone else, the infamous Irish airline still has by far the best choice of routes from Leeds and Manchester. Anyway, the Ryanair experience is fine once you’ve actually boarded the plane – and this flight was no exception. Flying over to Italy is always a treat if you can get a window seat – amazing views of the Alps are guaranteed (unless it’s cloudy…)!

After a slightly bumpy landing we were finally through Bologna airport mid-afternoon. As airports go, it’s a pretty decent one to arrive at – a few good shops and eateries just in case you’re absolutely starving once you’re off the plane, but (more importantly) very clear signage to help guide you straight to the airport bus! The Bologna airport bus provides a shuttle service between the airport and the central railway station and takes around 30 minutes – an excellent alternative to splashing out on a taxi. Tickets were easily bought from the machines inside the terminal, and we were finally on our way.

The only flaw in our airport bus plan was that our accommodation was a good 30 minute walk away from the station, and Bologna was humid! This made for a pretty sweaty trek across town, followed swiftly by a costume change to freshen up once we’d got to our room. We were staying at the lovely Ramo Rosso di Paolo Natalini, a small B&B just outside Bologna’s main old town. Run by brilliantly friendly hosts (who did a stunning breakfast!), it was a real shame we only had one night – it would have been a wonderful place to relax for a few days.

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Strolling the streets

By the time we’d sorted ourselves out, time really was marching on – it was heading towards late afternoon and we’d barely got any time in Bologna as it was. Oops. Full steam ahead towards the bustling centre.

Thankfully, for anyone on a flying visit to Bologna, it’s the sort of city where just wandering the streets and taking in the atmosphere is probably the best activity of all. In Bologna, all (Roman) roads lead to Piazza Maggiore – the main city square at the heart of everything. Using Piazza Maggiore as a base, you have easy access to wander and take in some of the best areas Bologna has to offer.

We absolutely loved the Quadrilatero district – a tightly packed mass of alleyways into which dozens of market stalls, delis, cafes and bistros are crammed (often alongside massive slabs of ham and cheese). We could seriously have spent a whole week just going from door to door trying out all the food.

One of the many enticing alleyways of the Quadrilatero district

Almost next door to the Quadrilatero district are two of Bologna’s most famous towers – the climbable Asinelli tower, and the ‘off limits’ (due to a dramatic 3m+ lean) Garisenda tower. Climbing the Asinelli tower is not for the faint hearted – with over 90 meters to be climbed on fairly precarious looking wooden staircases clinging to the inside of the walls. Visits have to be booked in advance, and we opted to stay earthbound on this occasion (although here is a shot from Matt’s previous visit to Bologna!).

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The view from the top of the Asinelli Tower

We continued to stroll through Bologna’s streets, stumbling across the splendidly gritty student district and enjoying a gelato as we took in the atmosphere. Eventually, our thoughts turned to food, and we opted for an 8pm reservation at the excellent Ristorante San Pietro, which quickly filled up and gave an excellent combination of atmosphere and quality food. Highly recommended and a real high on which to end the first night of our Italy trip.

Day 2 – Sunday

After a much needed sleep, we were treated to a lovely breakfast by our B&B hosts. Some lovely Italian hams and cheeses, alongside delicious bread and homemade cakes – washed down, of course, with excellent coffee! A brilliant way to set ourselves up for the day.

We had another 3 hours or so before we wanted to be getting the train towards Padova, so (armed with a trusty town map and some good advice from our hosts) we headed back in to do another quick tour of the town centre. As well as revisiting our favourite “Quadrilatero” district, we managed to squeeze in a terrifying but fun elevator ride to the “Terrazza Panoramica” – which is essentially just some scaffolding at the top of the cathedral, but does provide great views of the city if you’re willing to sign a waiver before venturing up!

From there, it was a quick hop down the street to the beautiful complex of churches at Santo Stefano – a very peaceful break from the bustling city surrounding it. Well worth having a calm wander around.

The final bit on our whistlestop morning tour of Bologna was the “Finistrella di Via Piella” – a cute window on the street which opens up to reveal a view of one of Bologna’s hidden canals. With a trip to Venice only a couple of days away, this wasn’t a source of great excitement and didn’t necessarily seem to warrant the crowds of people fighting their way to take a look. However, it’s a nice little novelty and definitely worth a little detour if you do find yourself wandering down the main “Via dell’Indipendenza” from the train station to Piazza Maggiore.

A quick march back to our B&B to collect our rucksacks and it was time to say goodbye to Bologna. As ever, we wished we could have spent more time here – it’s full of great places to eat, relax and explore , and we definitely only touched on the tip of the iceberg. We were very excited, however, for our next stop – Padova, our home for 2 nights and our base for a day trip across to Venice! Stay tuned!

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