Monday, May 7, 2012

Bologna, Italy

Destination Bologna!

Fast Cars & Coffee!

Bologna is a quirky city, and its one of my favourite Italian destinations.  There’s something for everybody – motoring enthusiasts can head to the home of Ducati, Ferrari and Lamborghini; foodies can duck into any one of the local cafés, restaurants or bistros; and students (or budget travellers like us) can find numerous cheap eats and amazing coffee at ridiculously low prices.  Believe me or not, but the best part of Bologna is that although there are museums, you get a real sense of history just from wandering around. 

After arriving at Bologna’s main train station, we jumped on a number 25 bus and headed to our Air BnB accommodation, staying with Eli S and his Spanish girlfriend, which was luckily in a very central location (with respect to the cheap eats and coffee bars).  A quick introduction and a new map, with a new planned itinerary and we were off out into the city once again. 

Our itinerary for Bologna was simple:
Eat, Drink and Relax.

We were given some recommendations by our host, Eli, but decided to be adventurous, choosing a coffee shop at random.  As luck may have it, we struck gold.  There was a plethora of cakes and local fancies to soften even the hardiest sweet-tooth, and there was a small queue.  Locals were standing at the bar, ordering their “fix” of coffee and drinking it.  The place smelt amazing, a balanced roasted coffee aroma coupled with the delicate and pleasing perfume of delicately sweet pastries.  To start our day we ordered a couple of savoury pastries (a spinach one and a mushroom one) and the coffees.  The coffees we ordered were one large Café Ginseng and a Macchiato.

Never in my life have I tasted a coffee as divine as a properly made macchiato, the rich, full flavour of the espresso subtly neutralised by a tiny “smudge” of hot foamy milk.  The macchiato has the smallest amount of creamy foam; I believe that the name macchiato has some relationship to the translation of “milk stain” or something like that.  It’s a small, strong coffee that really gives all of your senses a treat, and your bank balance too since it generally costs around 1 Euro (in Italy)!  The Café Ginseng phenomenon seems to have been kept a secret within Italy.  It’s available in big or small sized cups, and I was pretty impressed with our Winnie for giving the “big one” a go.  It was a serious hit for the non-coffee drinker, who apparently loved it!  The coffee in Italy is without a doubt the best I’ve tasted, no argument no comparisons!  Coffee is served slightly differently in Italy too.  They usually serve it with sparkling mineral water (a shot sized glass) or you can help yourself to a glass from a communal jug (normally with lemons or mint leaves).  The communal jugs are a nice touch, and it also freshens your palate.  The coffee bar that we found was an unassuming sort of place, hidden in plane sight as it were.  It had a monster of a coffee machine, old school brass and copper – operated by an equally old school “master barista”.  The bar also doubles as a drinks bar in the evenings, so the bar top was also adorned with a couple of brass draught beer pumps and some nozzle pour spirits.  The other side of this sweet-find was the bakery-come deli, which had some of the most interesting looking cakes and pastries!  What was funny (to me at least) was that if you walked past early in the morning, you could smell the aroma of roasting coffee surrounding this café (and most others), which is just delightful.

Every cup of coffee I ordered was exactly the same as the last, and it was a pleasure to watch the coffee master in action.  He took only a moment or two to collect the roasted beans, grind them into his little espresso unit, then a simple click and turn of the rustic machine and the coffee was poured into the espresso-sized cup.  Next a twist of another knob and he was steaming the milk/cream.  A quick check of the coffee’s temperature, and he was jiggling the crème foam from it’s little steel jug into the coffee.  A micro second (or so it felt to me) past and the “stain” of foam was sat jauntily atop a ready to drink espresso.

My description probably doesn’t replace watching the old-boy knock out this sensational coffee, but I hope it gives you an idea of what the result of passion for making and serving great coffee really looks like.  Similarly, the Ginseng version Winnie was drinking was good, quick and like watching food-art in progress.  Winnie had two or three cups, and felt the coffee buzz!  Her first experience of what real coffee can do for you!

We were desperately trying to save money and keep our budget down, we realised that after some significant overspending in France we were going to need to change the way we were spending money. We reduced our spending, and sampled some different things we’d probably missed sitting in a restaurant or bar.  Take the hole in the wall pizza joints that sell you really, really good Italian pizzas by the (large) slice for under 3 Euros.  The locals buy two (or more) and sandwich them together to make a filling pizza sanga kind of thing.  I tried this and went back for more.  Method:- You take the slices and marry them together, bases on the outside and the toppings become the filler! I found this to be like a hybrid calzone-pizza sandwich, of massive taste proportions!!  The queues for this place were long, but turnover was fast – it seemed general rule that the till lady (owner) was going to banter your socks off if you were stood in the line, which made you feel local (even if you were a tourist)!

Next we found a great little Piazza.  I can’t remember the name, and I can’t remember where it’s located.  To describe it is simple, a cobbled sun trap with a little church, flanked by some gargoyles.  The pedestrian walkways were undercover with huge pillars every 5 metres or so.  This little place was nice, but we liked it for its appearance of being quiet and sunny (rather than its beauty).  We sat and chatted and started some well needed wedding planning / ideas for the big day(s)…eep!

After about half and hour or so of relaxing in the sun talking about our ideas for the WinGaz Wedding, we left our little piazza and wandered around the city of Bologna.  We spotted Juventus FC getting onto their tour bus (surrounded by crazy Italian fans shouting “Del Piero!” and stopped to take a few pictures, then we decided to see how easy it would be to visit Ferrari, Lamborghini or Ducatti.  Ferrari, although popular is fairly expensive and too far from the city.  Ducatti is by appointment only, so we decided to take a trip to Lamborghini’s museum.

The Lamborghini Museum is located about an hours bus ride outside of Bologna, and is set in a bizarrely quiet and un-cosmopolitan location – which felt strange.  A one-street town set in the countryside being home to one of the most glamorous motorcars was interesting, and walking around the museum I could see lots of works of mechanical art.  From the outset Lamborghini were set to succeed in mastering the art of beautiful, powerful dream cars.   Winnie particularly liked the “original” Lamborghini…the 350GT.  

Winnie and "her" 350GT
My personal Lambo of choice would be the one modelled after the F-22 Raptor Fighter Jet, the Réventón.  The sleek aerodynamic lines, the massive scoops and vents were the draw...along with those sexy black wheels and matt grey paint.  The massive back end sculpted in such a way that as this motor flies away in front of you, you can’t help but be drawn into a daze, until the dust blasts into your face…

Lamborghini Réventón - My Dream Car!
The Lamborghini’s on show were awesome, there were a few one of a kinds, and lots that never made it past the early stages of production during Lamborghini’s rise to fame.  There’s the history of Lambo’s power boating glory, and the tales of their failure to succeed in Formula One.  A humbling story that demonstrates the cut-throat nature of F1 engine production! 

The funniest Lamborghinis on display were the Yellow Diablo mounted on a wall and a Diablo Police Car…Imagine being tailed by this one!  Winnie found the one mounted on the wall to be an entertaining photo opportunity!

GRRR! Strong-woman Winnie!
I bet the cops loved this one!

As our time in Bologna drew to a close, we returned to our accommodation to spend a few hours with our host Eli.  During lots of interesting discussions (photography, food, travel, scuba) we ended up on the topic of Tiramisu…. Eli thought it would be a fun idea to teach me how to make the real deal, fully authentic traditional Tiramisu.   I’m going to save the “How To” part of Tiramisu for a separate blog post.  All you guys really need to know is that it was proper Yum Yum Yum-a-roo!!

Looks great, tastes even better.
Bologna is an Italian destination that you don’t hear too much about, but this place is nice and well worth a visit.  WinGaz will definitely be returning in the future.

Next Stop: Florence.  Ciao!

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