Perugia was feeling empty. Many stores and cafes are closed till September. August is the month when Italians pack up their bags and head to the beach. So we thought we’d take a little vacation too (even though we are already on vacation). Avis gave us a good deal on this Fiat 500, so we rented it for a month. It’s like a minivan in many ways. Deciding on an itinerary was hard, so we limited our destinations to northern Italian towns in Emilia Romagna and Lombardy. With a couple guide books, our GPS, and the camera, we set off for a five-day trip. (That was seven days ago. We’re still not back.)
Our first stop was Bologna, birthplace of . . . bologna! Yes, the ubiquitous pink lunch meat was invented here under the name “mortadella.” (However, I think that after the introduction to America, it underwent some unfortunate modifications.) Curious to sample the real deal, upon arrival, I ordered a plate of mortadella and Parmesan cheese. It was . . . actually, I was a little let-down. The Parmesan, however, was wonderful. It’s made nearby in Parma.
Bologna has several other specialties as well, one being tortellini. They are on the menu of every restaurant. The most common preparation is tortellini in brodo, a simple bowl of ricotta stuffed pasta in a rich, clear broth. The origin of tortellini is actually pretty interesting. It turns out that hundreds of years ago (maybe thousands) Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, took a summer vacation to Bologna. After she checked into her hotel, she decided to have a little nap. The chef of a nearby restaurant heard that the famous goddess was staying, so he thought he’d introduce himself. But when he arrived at her door, he got nervous. Instead of politely knocking, he took a little peek through the key hole. Venus was asleep on her bed (naked, of course). The chef caught a glimpse of her belly button and was inspired to commemorate this delicate feature for his dinner. Thus, tortellini was invented.
Besides eating, which we did a lot of in Bologna, we spent time sight seeing. We visited the Duomo, a massive unfinished church that was originally going to exceed the the size of St. Peter’s in Rome. However, the church leaders decided to use the money to build Europe’s first university. But their motives were not entirely scholastic. The Pope was nervous about the scientific teachings that were taking place in the homes of the local professors. So the university was built as a way to monitor the lessons and make sure that no courses on astronomy were taught. (It was scandalous to consider that anything other than Planet Earth was the center of the universe.) As time went on, however, perspectives evolved. The university’s reputation expanded, and it became a prestigious center for learning. One of the most famous rooms in the university is the dissection room. In here, one can sit around the table where dead bodies were opened up and studied.
Among all these restaurants, markets, and famous buildings sit the two main piazzas in Bologna: Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nottuno. Here we admired the famous fountain of Neptune and his mermaids. And here, Ray raced across the huge open square trying for a personal best. His record was 10.4 seconds.