Monday, March 26, 2018

Bologna - The Restaurants & Food

Let me start by reproducing what I had written in a previous post on Bologna. Bologna is also known by three nicknames: 

·       "the learned one" (la dotta) is a reference to its university;

·       "the fat one" (la grassa) refers to its cuisine;

·     "the red one" (la rossa), originally referring to the colour of the roofs in the historic center, became later connected to the political leanings of the city i.e. Communism.

This post is about the fat one, the glorious food of Bologna.

First, two abbreviations for you to understand. The Italian Government classifies food products as DOP and IGP. IGP is Indicazione Geografica Protetta (Indication of Geographic Protection). The IGP label shows that the quality or reputation of your food or condiment is linked to the place or region where it is produced, processed, or prepared. DOP is Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin). The DOP label guarantees that your cheese, prosciutto, olive oil, etc., is produced, processed, and packaged in a specific geographical zone and according to tradition. Each step, from production to packaging, is regulated.

Bologna is located in the Emilia Romana region of Italy. This region has the maximum number of DOP & IGP certified products for all of Italy, a mind numbing 44 products are certified as DOP or IGP. The most famous of these are known and eaten by every one of us. Parmesan cheese, Parma Ham, Balsamic Vinegar and many many others. The quality of food and wine so certified is top class.

Not only are these ingredients superb but, the food indigenous to Bologna is similarly eaten world over. The dish Spaghetti Bolognaise and Lasagna Bolognaise would certainly be something you would have eaten. It originated in Bologna, hence, obviously, the name. In Bologna this is known as Ragu and is served not with Spaghetti but with Tagliatelle.

As I had written earlier on the days we were scheduled to be in Bologna there was a huge trade fair. The moment we know this we made bookings at two of the more well-regarded Bologna restaurants – Diana and Al Pappagallo.

Our first dinner was at Restaurant Diana. This is an old Bologna restaurant located close to our hotel. We had a reservation for 7.30 and before that we went to a wonderful Wine Bar opposite the restaurant. We had two glasses of wines, of the choice of the server. Nice wines, just 4 Euro a glass. At 7.30 we crossed the road and entered Restaurant Diana to be greeted and taken to our table which had our name written on it. The waiters were dressed in white coats and black trousers, Old waiters, guys who know everything and have seen everything. We like this sort of restaurant and staff. A bottle of the local wine Lambrusco was ordered. Lambrusco is a delightful wine, it is a red and, unusually for a red, it’s a sparkling wine, very refreshing. The Sorbara version is light, fizzy and clear. Without sounding facetious, this tastes like a light, less sweet Bacardi Breezer.

To start we initially ordered a plate of mixed “cold cuts”. The plate had a selection of Salami, Mortadella and Castello local cold cuts. Salami I presume you are familiar with. Mortadella is a pork product made with very finely minced, pureed pork, heat treated and flavored with spices. This is formed into a cylinder of diameter ranging from 5 inches to a huge 12 inches. This is a cooked product and is eaten either thinly sliced or even cut into pieces.

Culatello is even more delicious. The rear leg of a pig is used to make Culatello which is a cured product. A Parma Ham uses the whole leg, bone and all. For Culatello, a portion of the muscle is removed leaving the bone and remainder of the leg. The portion used for Culatello is then wrapped with twine, dried and cured. When ready, it is thinly sliced and eaten. The texture of Culatello is very “melt in the mouth” much more than Parma Ham.

This was delicious, so we ordered a further plate of just Mortadella

For our first courses, the choices were obvious. Tortellini En Brodo for HRH the Queen of Kutch and Tagliatelle Ragu for me. Outstanding. The biggest difference between the Bolognaise sauces we are familiar with have a lot of tomato and are quite sloppy in consistency. This was drier and far more intense in taste. The Tortellini En Brodo was enjoyable and comforting.

Main courses were again classic Bolognese food. HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered from the trolley. This was 5 meats all boiled and served with a sauce comprised of the liquor – Turkey, Chicken, Pork, beef and Lamb. Boiled Meat or Bollito Misto is available all over Italy. Often the meats in question comprise offal, but this selection was more mainstream. A very good dish, however it was a large portion so was not entirely finished.

I ordered the Bolognese Cutlet which is a variation on the Veal Cordon Bleu. A Veal cutlet is breaded and fried. Then some ham is placed on top of the cooked Veal, and that s topped with Parmesan and gratinated. Very nice, though simple. A side of grilled Artichoke was ordered.

Restaurant Diana was excellent. Service was very pleasant and our waiter was a particularly funny chap. A most pleasant evening.

The nest day we had our mega meal at Osteria Francescana so dinner had to be a little more frugal. In the area known as Quadrilatero which is the old market area comprising of shops selling pasta, food, meats and fish. Many restaurants line the streets in the Quadrilatero. We chose La Baita Formaggi in the Via Pescherie Vecchie. Chaotic, noisy and charming. We sat on high tables on the narrow street and ordered a plate of cold meats and glasses of Campari Spritz to start. Do have a look at the photographs. An absolutely wonderful plate of food. After finishing the meat, I still peckish, so I had a small portion of Lasagna. Tasty, with one major difference from what we are familiar with in India. The pasta is made with spinach so it is green, there is far less sauce so the dish is stiffer and not as sloppy as we are accustomed to. A most enjoyable and fun meal.

The plate is paper and the cutlery is plastic, coloured in shiny silver. Clever

A plate of Olives and pickled vegetables

The next day was a rainy day. We had done our long walk to the Madonna of San Luca Basilica. We fortified ourselves with drinks at a local bar, an actual bar - not a Tabbachi with a bar or a wine bar – and walked to Al Pappagallo another famous Bolognese restaurant. Much more sophisticated and swish as compared to Diana, though it appeared that prices were slightly lower than at Diana. A bottle of Lambrusco was ordered and we settled down to eat our now almost obligatory starter of local meats.

Main courses were specialties of Al Pappagallo. A Tagliatelle Ragu for HRH the Queen of Kutch which had more Ragu than at Diana which you can see from the photograph itself. The actual Pasta at Diana was better while the Ragu at Al Pappagallo was better. I ordered the Beef Cheeks stewed in Red Wine. They were good but should have been cooked a tad longer. The dish photographs very badly. Apologies. The vegetable was grilled Radicchio or Endive. Bitter sweet and just right with the richer sauces.

AF Tamburini is a legendary store that sells meat and pasta in the Quadrilatero. They also have a café where their meats are sold as also hot food cafeteria style. Very popular with the American tourists. Some more cold cuts but with the addition of some Burrata topped with Fig Jam. I had a plate of thinly sliced Porchetta. Porchetta is a Pork belly, sometimes encasing a pork loin, with herbs, rolled, tied up and roasted. So, you get crunchy crackling on the outside and different textures of Pork on the inside. This was served with pickled vegetables, to cut thru the richness of the Pork. All this was washed down with a glass of refreshing and restorative strawberry puree and Prosecco.

Dinner on the last night was at yet another traditional Bologna restaurant – Da Cesari located just behind our hotel. HRH the Queen of Kutch swore that we had eaten at the restaurant when we had last visited Bologna. My mind was blank, I had no recollection. To prove me wrong, she pulled up an email she had written when we had last visited and that email mentioned that we ate at Cesari. So there, the Queen is always correct.

Starters had to be a plate of dried meat. This was our last meal in Italy after all. I ordered a specialty of Cesari a Artichoke Flan with a Parmesan Sauce and some grilled Artichoke on the side. This was a lovely little dish. Enjoyed it.

First courses were two pastas, I had Ravioli stuffed with Pumpkin and finished in a butter sauce. HRH the Queen of Kutch had Green Ravioli with Rabbit, also finished with butter. Both dishes were a little disappointing as the actual pasta was quite thick.  HRH the Queen of Kutch did not want a main course. I still had some space left as I had the meatballs with peas. A simple tasty dish that just hit the spot. No mounds of pasta, just a few meatballs in a rich sauce. I loved this.

Food in Bologna was really very good. It was surprising how reasonably priced the food was. From coffee and pastry in the morning, to mad day sandwiches, to lunches and dinners the food is plentiful, reasonable and most importantly, delicious.

Food is more than reason to visit Bologna. We ate very well.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Osteria Francescana*** - Modena Italy

Who, why, how?

One of our reasons for choosing Bologna over Lyon was that we could eat at Osteria Francescana. This is in Modena a short 25-minute train ride from Bologna. Osteria Francescana is owned by Massimo Bottura. The restaurant has the pinnacle of 3 stars in Michelin and has been voted as the best restaurant in the world in 2016 by the NOT prestigious San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants in The World Guide.

There are several criticisms against the Guide, ranging from the fact that judges don’t have to prove they ate at a restaurant, the roles of Governments in hosting critics – for example when New York hosted the event New York restaurant ratings jumped. Similarly, when Melbourne hosted the event. The lack of female chefs. The allegation that this is just a collection of expensive restaurants with tasting menus. So, the best restaurant in China is a French restaurant which is bizarre when Chinese cuisine is so huge and influential. This is not about the Guide, so I will stop here.

Bottura has been steadily becoming visible thanks to multitude of TV shows, you may recall him appearing on the weepy Masterchef Australia to teach the contestants how to make the “death dish” risotto. He has since been featured on Chefs Table on Netflix and many more.

Bottura himself has had some classic training both at Alain Ducasse as well as at El Bulli. No doubt he has created some legendary dishes, which I shall come to by and by. As the cliché goes wanting to eat there and getting a reservation are two different things. This is where it got interesting.

Osteria Francescana is a small restaurant serving not more than 25 people at a sitting. They have one seating for lunch and one for dinner. Bookings open at 10 am Italian time 3 months prior. Thus, for a table in March 2018, booking starts at 10 am on 1st December 2017. Knowing it would be difficult, HRH the Queen of Kutch and I pulled out our computers at 2.15 India time, kept our credit cards handy and decided that she would book for lunch and I would book for dinner on 17th March. At 2.30 pm i.e. 10 am Italy time the website opened. At 2.32 she got the table, I did not. By 2.33 pm the restaurant was fully booked for the entire month of March. Yes folks, 3 minutes to sell out the restaurant for the entire month. We were very very lucky. If we had not been as diligent, no way would we have got a table.

On the appointed day 17th March 2018, we boarded our train and caught a cab from Modena station and reached the restaurant. This is located in a small non-descript side street. We were early so we took a gander in the nearby streets. We saw a lovely food market but obviously could neither buy things nor browse. At the appointed time 12.30 we reached the restaurant. All tables are given for lunch at 12.30. The door opened and all 23-people entered. We were a minute late so the door shut. I rang a bell and the door opened. I kid you not!

First impressions

What happened next was comical. All 25 of us were herded into a decent sized waiting area where Man 1 took your warm clothes, coats, jackets, scarves and disappeared; Man 2 asked your name and went to whisper to Man 3 peering into a computer; then Man 2 told Man 4 “table No 3” and Man 4 whisked you to your table. This process continues till all the 12 odd tables are filled. Bizarre and childish. And we watched this entire charade repeated five times before we reached the front of the queue!

The dining room itself is very pleasant, stark and oddly somber. A brown carpet, olive green walls and some black and white pictures on the walls. A huge rather pretty floral arrangement was in one corner. Pleasant, hushed and muted. Very comfortable chairs. Large tables well-spaced with good quality table linen. Of course, there was the obligatory stool for lady’s purses. Three menus were handed out. One main menu listing both the a la carte and 10 course tasting. A separate small menu with the larger 12 course tasting and one huge wine list. We were going to order from the a la carte menu and since it was lunch no drinking for us. Just a glass of excellent Champagne and some sparkling water.

We ordered our food and settled down. First came some Brown Bread with Tuscan Olive Oil. Sharp and spicy. The bread was soon whisked away and fresh bread was brought, a basket of mini rolls of different types and very fine Grissini or Bread Stick as we know them. All top quality.

Amuse Bouche

Then up came 4 Amuse Bouche. The first was Bottura’s take on Fish & Chips called, “Tempura with Carpione.” Like a modern and refined take on “fish and chips,” this consisted of Aula, a freshwater fish, sandwiched between a light-as-air tempura crust and topped with a savory Fish Ice Cream. The combination of temperatures and textures was great. Frankly, it did what it said in as much as the base was crunchy, the ice cream was cold and mildly fishy. But, rather bland. 

This was followed by a Macron with Rabbit Mousse with a Parmesan wafer. Once again did exactly what it said, But, taste wise, unremarkable. The next was described by the waiter as a surprise. We were asked to guess what it was. If you look at the photograph it seems it’s fish, probably Mackerel, skin. In fact, it was disclosed to us as being simply crunchy bread painted with Sugar with a Cod puree inside. The last Amuse Bouche I cannot remember and the photograph was blurred. So far not so good. We have eaten far tastier Amuse Bouche in other places.

First course

Now is where the real action starts. Our First courses. HRH the Queen of Kutch had ordered a Bottura classic – “An Eel Swimming Up the Po River”. According to Bottura this dish represents what an Eel would experience and see if it was so swimming. The plate comprised two Eel fillets marinated and basted with Saba, a form of Balsamic Vinegar and served with two purees, Polenta and Lemon. HRH the Queen of Kutch loved the dish. The Eel was well cooked, moist, flavorful and the two purees spot on. She was pleased.

My starter was another Bottura classic. “Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures” to use its full name. Parmesan is produced locally I.e. in this region. We have eaten the Soufflé Suisse at Le Gavroche which is really legendary. This dish beats everything hollow. It is sublime. Its conceptualising and perfection took Bottura years, and it shows. Here a dish of Parmesan is prepared in five different ways. 24-month aged Parmesan is prepared as a mousse, 30 month aged as a foam, 36 month aged as a sauce, 40 month aged as a Tuile and the oldest, 50 month, as a Parmesan “air”. The sauce is the base and the other textures piled on top. The Mousse is cold so that gives you a bit of a start when eating. This was an exceptional dish. It is presented as a piece of abstract art in shades of white. The dish was a real Umami bomb. It was not salty as we know the taste of salt but it was savory really really savory. Impossible to give you a comparable taste a sort of combination of Marmite and Tonkotsu Ramen. In a word, Masterpiece.

I cannot stop waxing lyrical about the 5 Ages of Parmesan. We know a cheese soufflé, where you have 3 textures of cheese, the soufflé, possibly a cheese sauce to add into the soufflé and possibly a layer of cheese on top of the soufflé gratinated. To elevate this dish to 5 textures with 5 types of Parmesan is the work of a genius. Imagine putting this dish together in the kitchen. You require perfect co-ordination between many cooks so that all 5 textures are ready at once. Mind boggling.

The Pasta Course

 After the starters it was time for the Pasta courses. A bit of background here. We all believe we know what dumplings are but few of us realize how many things are in fact dumplings. A dumpling, simply put, is small pieces of dough normally a starch enclosing a filling. The whole assembly is then cooked in a variety of ways viz: steaming, frying, sauté, bake and so on. Examples of dumplings – the Polish Pierogi, Ravioli, Tortellini, Samosa, Kachori, Momo and Dim Sum. Dumplings exist in several cuisines.

A question often is asked as to which are better, the myriad Western Pasta dumplings or the even more myriad Oriental dumplings like Sui Mai, Wontons and so on. One very popular dumpling is from Shanghai known as the Xia Long Bao or Chinese Soup Dumpling. Here highly flavoured pork jelly is filled in the wrapper. When steamed the jelly melts and the dumpling is eaten whole and hot. The magic is in the dumpling being bitten into and the flavourful soup filling your mouth.

The dish I ordered was simply called “Ravioli of Leeks, Foie Gras And Truffle”. This was in my view a dish of genius, once again. Yes, there was a Ravioli keeping to Italian roots. The “stuffing” if one could call it that, was, Foie Gras and Truffle which had been treated with the same technique as a Xiao Long Bao. When you ate the Ravioli you had liquid Foie Gras flavoured with Truffle flooding your mouth. The Ravioli were served with a Veal Jus reduction with Barolo Wine a classic French sauce. The whole dish crossed continents several times and came out as a triumph. An Italian Ravioli but with a Chinese cooking technique [of using jelly in a dumpling] made with luxury French & Italian ingredients - Foie Gras and Truffles served with a very French sauce. This was excellent. Fusion or amalgamation and mixing up of cultures done very intelligently. Unfortunately, all this brilliance was dimmed somewhat by the garnish of burnt Leeks. Those are the grey grass like bits you see in the photograph. The burnt leeks were very strong tasting. Either there was a mistake in having the leeks burnt a bit too much or there were too many for garnish. I did redeem the dish by scraping as much of the burnt leek off as possible.

HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered her favourite dish – Tortellini En Brodo. This is a dish that is typical of the Emilia Romana Region in which Bologna and Modena are situated. Tiny Tortellini are made wrapping them around the little finger and the shape is that of a baby’s navel or belly button. Tortelloni [note the difference in spelling] are larger and less delicate. The filling is usually Pork, cheese and often has Prosciutto or Mortadella. These little dumplings are cooked in a clear broth like a Consommé and served piping hot. They are delicious and real comfort food. HRH the Queen of Kutch had had these on our last visit to Bologna some 7 years ago and has been dreaming of having them again. She did have a very good version at Safran Zunft in Basel. She also had this dish a day earlier at Restaurant Diana in Bologna. Now here was a legendary Chef giving you a classic dish. Would it be sublime. Alas, no. The Tortellini En Brodo were very good, but sublime? Was it worth paying 70 Euro for this? Absolutely not. I guess we were at fault here. How much can a homestyle dish be elevated? Look at it differently, how much better can you make a Lassi? After improving the quality of the milk, the improvements are after that miniscule. Similarly, here, after improving the quality of the stock and possibly the fillings, there is not much increment. But do look at the photographs to see the difference in the dish at Safran Zunft and Osteria Francescana.

Above Tortellini En Brodo at Osteria Francescana 

Venison Consommé with vegetables and Deer Chestnut Ravioli at Safran Zunft

The Main Course

HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered another of Bottura’s classic dishes “Lobster with Double Sauces, Acidic and Sweet”. A baby Lobster Tail, perfectly cooked mind you, was served with two sauces, the white and acidic sauce was made with Riesling in a traditional manner, while, the Red or Sweet sauce was made classically with Lobster Shells – much like a Bisque. This dish posed two problems for HRH the Queen of Kutch. First, she was quite full from the previous food. Second, the portion was large and she proclaimed the dish as unexceptional. I did taste the Lobster. I thought it was wonderful and would have happily eaten it. I could concede that it was possibly less inspired than the previous dishes.

I had ordered “Suckling Pig Served with Pickled Vegetables and Villa Manodori Traditional Balsamic Vinegar”. Do have a look at the photograph, this is possibly the most visually beautiful plate of food that I have ever been served. Every dot and every sauce on the plate had full taste. Some were warm some were cold. The vegetables were perfectly pickled. However, I have two issues with the Pork. The Pork was cooked Sous Vide i.e. in a bag at low temperature in a water bath. This changes the texture of the meat. Further, Pork is fatty and it is this fat that gives Pork its magic. With a Suckling Pig you don’t have much fat and then when cooked Sous Vide you loose more fat. The unctuousness of the Pork was lost. Secondly, my idea of Pork Crackling is the texture should be like glass shattering or a very crisp potato wafer. Unfortunately, this Crackling did have crispness but the brittleness of the crackling was more biscuit like. So, I was a little disappointed.

The Dessert

“Oops I Dropped the Lemon Tart” is Bottura’s most iconic dish. Its influences run far and wide and you can see versions of this modern classic in many menus. Here again the dish is one of genius, as they say a mash up. Inside is a Lemongrass Ice Cream an Oriental flavour used to make a very Italian dish Ice Cream. This is served with a very Lemony and extremely well-balanced Zabaglione. As garnish you have Candied Lemon, Capers, Lemon Thyme and a few drops of Chilli Oil. The “Tart” part is represented by sheets of pastry. Visually this is stunning. Taste wise even more so. An excellent finish.

Petit Fours

Once the meal was over we were offered coffee which we declined. Petit Fours were served, excellent Chocolate with Caramel liquid centres, top quality Cherry filled Chocolates and a couple of others. The Petit Fours were better than the Amuse Bouches.

Our thoughts

For the positives, no dish was a dud. The weakest were the Amuse Bouches and then the Tortellini En Brodo. The strongest dishes were the Eel, Parmesan, Ravioli and Oops the Lemon Tart. The Lobster and Suckling Pig were slightly below par.

Bottura is a very very good chef and quite a few of his dishes have become icons in the true sense of the word. It is not often where you go to a restaurant and are served not one but three or five iconic dishes, totally new being literally invented by the Chef. The Parmesan, the Ravioli, the Oops, the Eel and several others which we did not eat are truly unique. Full credit.

What was wrong. Certainly, without doubt the service. Very slick, no question about that, but, no humour no laughter, no conversation, no interaction, no "did you like this"? In fact, when HRH The Queen of Kutch left her Lobster unfinished, there was no reaction from the staff. This is unusual. The service was just too formal and stiff, certainly efficient, but soulless.

The malarkey with everybody entering at 12.30 and the door being shut was simply that, bullshit. The charade with the escorting to tables was similarly off-putting and I thought should have been better handled.

We believe the restaurant takes itself too seriously, they should lighten up.

A thought or two to end

We had ordered a la carte which meant 4 courses – Starter, Pasta, Main, Dessert. Obviously, portion sizes are larger if you order a la carte. Looking around we saw that most tables had ordered the 10 or 12 course tasting menus. Many with wine pairing.  Portions were smaller than a la carte. Ordering the tasting menu meant that you would get a taste of each of Bottura’s most famous dishes. That is one way to experience a restaurant. It also meant that the meal would take up to 4 hours.

The other thought I leave you with is do not be misled by the fact that the restaurant seats only 25 for a meal. I suggest you do some basic maths. Assuming that most people order the 10 or 12 course meals while just a few like us order a la carte, you could average that all 25 guests would have 10 courses. That folks translates to 250 dishes of very high-end food for lunch and another 250 for dinner. 500 plates of food a day! Add to that the high level of prep required for the 4 Amuse Bouche and 4 Petit Fours. This itself means 400 portions of just Amuse Bouche and Petit Fours, if my maths is correct. This is a serious volume of food to create every day.

Of course, think about the number of plates and glasses that will be required at every service.


Was this meal worth the effort and cost? In our considered opinion, nope! While some dishes were exceptional, the more ordinary ones and the soulless service let down the restaurant terribly.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bologna Italy - My thoughts

The choice was between Bologna and Lyon. We had been to both a few years ago, and, in hindsight, we believed that we had not fully exploited or explored either, so a repeat visit was required. After some thought, we decided that Bologna it would be. Some factors which influenced our decision were the fact that we like Italy better than France, and Bologna had three additional attractions, the new FICO Eataly World mega Agri Park [more on that later], Osteria Francescana voted the best restaurant in the world in 2016 by the slightly dubious San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants [more on that in a later post], and, if there was time we could visit the Ferrari or Ducati or Lamborghini factories, all of which are very close by.

After making all our air bookings, for some reason, on the days we needed rooms all hotels were showing up as full. This was disturbing. Some probing resulted in the answer, a huge cosmetics and packaging fair was being held on exactly those days. Hotels were not offering rooms unless you paid for them in advance and they were non-cancellable and most upsettingly were hugely marked up. We had no choice and we ended up paying more for a poorish room in Bologna than you would for a good room in London. So be it. Bologna has some huge trade fairs with Cosmoprof for hair, beauty and nail products, Cosmopack for packaging being held simultaneously. Later you have the equally big children’s book fair, and the bathroom and sanitary fair and so on and so forth.

Bologna is a typical Italian European town. You have the Plaza Maggiore or City Centre. Largely pedestrianized. A main Cathedral close by. The old city or Alt Stadt also in close proximity. All charm, all quaint, all very pretty and all full of tourists. In all seriousness, this is perfection. You can walk everywhere, you have charming cafes. Shops, ice cream shops, stores and plenty to look at.

A feature of Bologna, still not understood to this day are the Towers or Torri. These were medieval structures that were constructed. Neither their purpose clear nor is the number. Some estimates state that about 200 were constructed. Today one survives and you can climb to the top. Next to it is a half collapsed Torri.

Bologna is also known by three nicknames, "the learned one" (la dotta) is a reference to its university; "the fat one" (la grassa) refers to its cuisine; "the red one" (la rossa), originally referring to the colour of the roofs in the historic center, became later connected to the political leanings of the city i.e. Communism. Bologna University was established in 1088 and has contributed to the growth of the city hugely. Bologna University is the world’s longest continuously running university.

Imagine, if you can, life in 1088 as a student. You had to be rich, you came to the university with servants and horses. You needed places to stay, your servants had to be housed. The horses had to be housed and fed, carriages parked and maintained. You did not travel home for the summer vacation but stayed on in Bologna. All this resulted in an exponential growth in inns and innkeepers. If a student [who obviously had to be rich and probably Royalty] liked an Inn he asked the Inn to display his coat of arms outside as an indication of quality or satisfaction. Don’t we do this even today when we award 3 Stars in Michelin or points or stars when we review on Trip Advisor? How little things have changed and then again how much.

One of the older University buildings, still in use today though not as a University, is open to the public. It was fascinating to see the classroom of 500 years ago where Anatomy was taught. The original text book was there showing how to treat fractures. Fascinating. The old library with books from the start still functioned, though you were not allowed to sightsee. I took a photo of the rows upon rows of shelves with books neatly kept. 

This is Hippocrates 

The Fat One we all know about and I will write about the food in a later blog.

The roofs are indeed red. However, since the end of World War II, Bologna has always been left of center.

Bologna is the home of the great inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who invented the radio and wireless transmission, without which our lives would have been very drab indeed. The airport is named after him.

The Piazza Maggiore, as I have written earlier is the dead Centre of Bologna. One side of the Plaza is dominated by a huge Basilica of San Petronio. The façade of the Basilica is unfinished. The Basilica has a unique feature. Cassani an Astronomer who was teaching at the University made an opening in the roof of the Basilica in 1655. The light from the hole then falls on a Meridian line drawn on the floor of the Basilica. The place where the light falls determines not the time of day but, in fact it tells you what day it is in a year, i.e. it is day 245. Brilliant is it not. However, that is not amazing enough. A fresco drawn in the 15th Century i.e. sometime in the 1400’s was suddenly interpreted by our friends the Muslims as being terribly insulting to Islam. The fresco apparently shows Mohammed being tortured in Hell. Please note the date of the fresco – 1400. In 2002 some 600 years later our Muslim brothers – and it must be stated that Islam is not a religion of violence, all Muslims are not the same, terrorism knows no religion and other such claptrap – decided to bomb the Basilica. They were arrested. Then in 2006 or Muslim brothers again made plans but were thwarted. The net result is that today there is a 24x7 security cordon and every visitor is frisked. Wonderful!

Another important monument is the Fountain of Neptune, complete with Neptune holding a trident and sporting a six pack. The trident has been used as the logo for Maserati cars since the 1920’s. The fountain would seriously affect our Indian sensibilities, our children’s values would be corrupted and it would have been impossible for Indian families comprising of two to three generations viewing the fountain together. The reason my dear readers for this obscenity is that the fountain has 4 nereids [or nymphs] squeezing their breasts from which water spews. Hai Hai Hai.

One of the unique features of Bologna are the literally, miles and miles of covered arches or porticos or passages, there are some 40 kilometers throughout the city. This makes it possible to walk for miles without the elements troubling you. The laws made it mandatory for new buildings to have space for porticoes, which themselves had to be made of a certain width and height. Today, many porticoes are ordinary or humble, but some are truly magnificent, maintained very well and ornately decorated.

The longest portico in some 3.75 kilometers long. It leads from the edge of the walled city all the way up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca a basilica atop a forested hill, some 350 metres above the city. HRH The Queen of Kutch and I walked with several other tourists and locals on Sunday from our hotel to the Sanctuary. It was hard work, long and fairly steep uphill. The weather was a cool 13 degrees but our exertions were so much that we had sweat dripping down our foreheads and our clothes were soaked in sweat. To our chagrin, it seemed that all of Sri Lanka was at the Sanctuary all praying in tandem, in Sinhalese. No one was minding the shop! The view from the top was nice, not breath-taking. We walked back to our hotel and got into a taxi to get to FICO.

The FICO Eataly World Agri Park is a brand new mega agri park or, more cynically, a theme park dedicated to food, inaugurated in November 2017 by the Italian Prime Minister. FICO is an abbreviation of Fabbrica Italiana Contadina (Italian Farming Factory) – is the result of a collaboration between Bologna’s mayor, Virginio Merola, and Oscar Farinetti, the mastermind behind the successful Eataly food hall brand. This is a 100,000 square foot – yes one lakh square foot – purpose-built facility. It has its own bus service, ample parking and plans to attract some 6 million or 60 lakh visitors a year. It has mini factories inside, a supermarket, individual dedicated areas for things like pasta, Parmesan, other cheese, Balsamic vinegar, tomato, meats and so on and so forth. It has 40 restaurants serving all manner of basically Italian food. There are bicycles with shopping baskets for you to use. Kids have bikes too. Large play areas for kids, interactive wheels where all aspects of food from growing to production are shown. There are special enclosures where trade delegates can set up and sell and display their products. When we visited there was a delegation from the Calabria region displaying regional specialties. There are tractors on display. It is only 5 months old. Once this matures and the management learns more this is going to be an absolutely fantastic place. Of course, FICO is somewhat controversial. The reports in the Guardian of London [a left of center newspaper] whether genuine or not, predict the death of the long standing traditional food stores of Bologna. Tamburini and the likes. Our taxi driver who spoke excellent English to us said, and I kid you not (i) that he and his family had been there 3 times - and immediately thereafter proceeded to say that - (ii) you get everything under one roof but as a local Bolognese he did not need that as he could easily go to 5 different stores. If he did not need to go there why did he go 3 times? See what I mean. People are confused and reports in the “middia” don’t seem to help. Basically, we are all resistant to change. We oppose the large online stores we oppose the large supermarkets.

Bologna is a really nice place. It is well located and has excellent train and air connections. If you are visiting Italy, you will have to visit the big places – Rome, Venice and Florence. My strong suggestion and recommendation is that you dig your heels in and visit Bologna for at least 2 to 3 nights. You can indulge in fine food and see the fabulous and emotive Ferrari Museum in nearby Maranello. I guarantee tears at Ferrari.

To end, these two photos are exactly the same just treated differently. The black and white one looks so much like time stood still. Reminds me of WWII movies.