Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Italy Part I: ...and everyone was speaking Italian


While London's more energetic pub crawlers found their way home in the early hours on Friday morning, my roommate and I hit the pavement for the airport via a train from Kings Cross Station. We wanted an early start. Given a week off of classes for Spring Break, we chose to go on an Italian holiday to soak in the culture, see the sights and taste the renowned cuisine: four cities, nine days, and two awestruck roommates.

Our plane landed in Bologna just before noon. I quickly memorized two Italian words: "parleh inglesia?" meaning "do you speak English?" But, it didn't help much when the questionee replied "no." Only a few missteps later, we managed to find our bus and a quick ride took us a few blocks from our hotel.

After dropping our bags, food became top priority (not a bad problem in Italy). Breakfast had been hours ago and gelaterias at every corner churned our stomachs. We found a small restaurant serving traditional Bolognese food and ordered the day's three-course special. I chose a mushroom risotto as my "prima piatti" (first course). I finished every bit of the piping hot rice dish. My roommate chose the "zuppa di ceci" -- with the help of our translation guide, we knew it was some type of soup. But, we were both surprised when the waitress brought a bowl of chickpea soup to the table. "La seconda piatti" (second course) was a spinach casserole. Finally, "il dolce" finished the meal -- I chose tiramisu -- a favorite.

With a little nourishment, we set out to see Bologna in an afternoon. We saw the Basilica di San Petronio (the interior seemed to be roughly the size of a football field), Santo Stefano and the University of Bologna. Santo Stefano blew me away, consisting of seven churches (although some experts argue only four) dating from the eighth century to the 14th. The eclectic architecture, centuries old stones and haphazard sprawling design, make the church feel more like a village hidden behind stone walls.

An elderly priest in the church's gift shop (almost any church in Italy that welcomes visitors has one), explained the entire history of the additions and reconstructions. Despite being completely in Italian, I understood the basics of the saga, until he started to try to sell me a tourist guide to Bologna.

By the time we wandered through the city's vaulted sidewalks and explored a few shops, our stomachs started to grumble again. We found another local spot with red checkered table cloths and delicious pizza -- I tried the grilled veggie. We stopped for a small glass of wine at an enocteca (wine bar) before calling it a night.

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