Five hours in Bologna

I’ve always wanted to see Bologna, an Italian city I knew very little about except that they call it the Red City because of the colour of the terracotta  roofs  and the birthplace of the world-famous Bolognese sauce or Spaghetti Bolognese.

I never thought I would ever see it,   so out of the way and quite far from the more popular cities we usually visit  such as Rome and Venice.

But life works in mysterious ways.  While driving the more than 1,800 kms route from our home in Hungary to our place in Sicily, taking the  autostrada Bologna – Ancona,  we made the snap decision to stop  in the Red City to spend the first night of a 3-day driving trip.  Nothing was pre-booked but we were able to get internet access  through our pocket wifi router.   We booked our hotel about fifteen minutes before getting there and with our GPS system , found the address without any hitch.

It was still very much the low season,  19th of April, so we were extremely lucky to find this 3-star hotel, breakfast included, priced as low as 30% the  high season rate, and reading the framed certificate “Best Hotel in 2014” proudly displayed at the Reception desk, I immediately imagined a wider room, a complete set of toiletries and softer towels, but – lo and behold – what blew our minds  was the  large hydro-massage bath, perfect for our travel-tired muscles and the buffet breakfast the next day which made us so full we never had to stop for a coffee break until past lunchtime.  All this for just,  guess what,  40euros!   And oh, there was also the free parking and, being the low season,  leaves a lot of empty spaces in the carpark.

After a quick rest, we went to the Citta Storica by bus (1.50euros one way which you can buy at the ticket machine inside the bus).  It was  late afternoon of Sunday,  the locals just starting to come out for their passeggiata and evening apperitivi and I thought, what a best day and time to see the city at its fashionable glory as you know, Italians love to dress up for their walk then gather around the table – al fresco – with family or friends, enjoying a chat,  small bites and wine.

In five hours,  we have discovered quite a lot about Bologna that made us wanting to go back!

(1)  Bologna like Venice sits over  a network of canals though only a few now remains as most of them have been  buried or paved over when the city started its rebuilding efforts after the war.  These canals  were constructed from the 12th century and their purpose were to provide water for drinking,  sanitation and to  run the mills needed by factories (silk weaving, wheat grinding)   which eventually helped make the city one of Europe’s major industrial centers.

(2) We noticed a lot of students hanging out in the narrow streets, sitting in the piazzas, striding under porticoes, sipping, dining or picnicking on pizza so I suspected right away that this is a University town.  And rightly so, the oldest University in Europe was founded in 1088, creating in the city a culture of knowledge.


(3) It was totally and utterly mind-blowing to see these towers so high.  I never imagined skyscrapers were already built in Medieval times.

The towers of Bologna, rising as high as 60 meters,  were built for defense purposes and as status symbols.  As many as 180 towers were thought to have been built in Bologna from the 12th century but only 20 remains.    The two most prominent ones,  the Two Towers, are the landmark of the city.

(4)  What really caught our attention are the many porticoes lining nearly every street and boulevard of the city.  I haven’t seen anything like it!

What makes Bologna unique is its characteristic porticoes or sheltered walkways that spans 38 kilometers.  Built from the 1100s, they link practically all streets and palazzis to protect the growing population from both bad weather and the scorching sun while going shopping or doing their daily business.  As these porticoes  are   considered an attribute of ‘outstanding’ universal value, the city has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

(5) Food!  This city must be the capital of the Aperitivi!  I thought I have seen the most generous buffet of aperitivi in towns such as Pozzollo or Palermo (both in Sicily) but they now look miniscule as compared to the bountiful selection of nibbles in Bologna.  Many bars compete for customers so they try to “outpig” each other, leaving the latter spoiled for choice.  For 8euros per person, you get a drink (we had Negroni) and “as-many-visits-as-you-can” to the buffet table.  Shame that the wheel of parmigiano (photo above) was totally scraped out!

Bologna has earned many gastronomical labels:   City of Food, the culinary capital of Italy,  “La Grassa” (the Fat One) being the heart of Italian cuisine and the list of foods originating in Bologna are “spaghetti bolognese”, Parma ham, parmigiano (parmesan cheese), Bologna sausage, the list goes on.




(6) Another striking characteristics of Bologna is the colour red present in almost all historic buildings. This is because, in medieval times, old terracota bricks were used in  building  the facades and terracota tiles for the roofs. And as if this is not enough, it is also the birthplace of Italy’s Fascist Party.

Indeed, when I saw the city for the first time, I thought of Venice right away, not so much for the canals but more on the mindblowing historic center!  It’s like walking back in history.  I want to live here! I thought.  It has all the things I could possibly want!  gastronomy, medieval architecture, culture (it was designated City of Culture in 2000), the arts, the crowd, its photogenic nature.  I could walk  all day, everyday, and still,  more hidden and secret corners  to discover so I promised myself, I shall go back and when it does happen, I will amble around particularly in the famous Piazza Maggiore which  we foolishly missed!




The story of Charlie, the dog

For nineteen days, he brought a new kind of joy and amusement to the house.  Always seeking affection, he would lick us crazy everytime we walk past his corner.  And whenever we return home from an errand, he is like a child expecting some treats.  Of course, I spoiled him that way and he just couldn’t stop jumping up at my shopping bag in case I have something for him.

He’s at his best when we take him for walks in the field, running up and down the undulating farmlands  as fast as lightning.  Such energy he has. Just over a year old, he’s still much like a puppy, just came out from a large breed.  He’s  stubborn at times, unheeding when we tell him to stop  barking at every passerby, but cowering when we give him a stern look.  Our two lovely olive wood salad bowls became his food bowl and water dish.  Our shopping list started to include dog food, chews and biscuits.

At the end of his first week with us, he was allowed to sleep in the hall as the outside winter cold might be too harsh for him.  This was followed by relaxed evenings in the sitting room, he on the carpet and us on the settee, all three enjoying the sight and warmth of a  roaring fire while listening to the music of Brahms and Verdi.  He would fall asleep instantly, snoring like a bear, only to be sent back to the hall to spend the rest of the night.

Charlie’s presence in our lives has taught us great lessons in life.  No human, except a mother perhaps, could give us unconditional love like him, he never complained, never frowned, he just accepted his lot and yet, never failed to show us playful affection.

We would have kept him, but with our constantly moving lifestyle, it is just not possible.   We cannot even stay in our own home for one month in a row because there is always a reason why we needed to go away and with H working in different cities few months at a time, staying in hotels or short-term accommodations would be too stressful for Charlie.

So with our months-old planned travel itineraries already going berserk because of his sudden arrival, we had to spend a lot of time contacting dog shelters and animal rescue organizations to find him a home.  Zsanett, a Hungarian lady who manages a charity-run dog rescue center  was heaven sent to us.  She found a  family for him, but first, he had to go to a temporary foster home while waiting for the adoptive family to come from Germany.  They would have to get him  a passport, subjected to anti-rabies vaccination, and, sadly, neutered to prevent unwanted litters.  Charlie is such a lovable dog, we dearly hope that this desexing operation won’t  change his behaviour.


We named him “Charlie” because he looks exactly like the dog of a friend whose name is also Charlie.   How did we find him?  One day, when we came home from shopping, we found him waiting for us at our doorstep. Somebody dumped him at us.

In Hungary, there are many unwanted dogs.  Animal shelters are literally refusing to accept any more strays so these poor fellows are just left in somebody else’s backyard, if not left on the road to wander aimlessly. In one of our driving trips to Budapest, we saw four small dogs, probably siblings as they all look alike, abandoned on the  motorway, two on the left side and the other two on the right.  They looked very scared, narrowly missing speeding cars.   What a heartbreaking sight.

By walking Charlie every morning, we get to discover more the beauty of our area.

As new arrivals of the village, we instantly made friends with our neighbours’ children because of Charlie.

These children are so fond of him, and he, to them.  These photos became very useful when the adopting family requested as many photos of Charlie as we could provide them.

We tried dropping him at the dog boarding house, supposedly just for 2 nights while we went to Budapest for an appointment, but we could not produce an anti-rabies certificate so he was refused entry.  We had no choice but to take him with us for the 2 1/2 hour journey to the capital.

We had to book a hotel that welcomes dogs.  I thought there is a common room for all the pets to sleep, but I was mistaken.  “Dogs allowed” means you can let your canine friend to sleep in your room!

Here’s Charlie being reassured by H that everything will be alright.  We can  understand if he feels claustrophobic inside a hotel room, what with the wide open space he is used to at our home in the Zala.  I had to buy him a toy and the toughest chew bone I could find so he doesn’t get bored.  He didn’t like the toy (as you can see it behind him) and the bone lasted only overnight!


Barely a week after his first trip to Budapest, he had to travel there a second time to go to his foster mum.   Unfortunately, the veterinary-student foster mum lives in a 3rd floor apartment in the center of the city and the nearest park is a children’s playground with a large sign at the gate saying, “No dogs allowed” (in Hungarian).  Oh boy!


That sad moment when we had to say goodbye to Charlie, but he was excited actually because a bitch called Bella was already flirting with him. Might it be the start of a canine love affair? We think not because he will soon be sent to the castration table before he goes to  Germany. We hope his name won’t be changed into Klaus…

After dropping him off, we took a leisurely walk around the block and discovered that the area is actually a “chic-mistress-walking-the-dog” neighbourhood.  So from a peasant dog, our little fellow is about to be transformed into a city dog!


The essence of Spring, in Hungary

I may be missing the resplendently manicured Spring gardens of Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, St James Park in London or the Belvedere garden in Vienna but I’m still in luck to be witnessing the glorious Spring season in Hungary – particularly in the southwest region of Zala where we are.

Walking on the fields every morning, we are completely blown away by the stunning colours of wild flowers that sprouted overnight in the fields.   And even while we are driving on the road,  deliciously-looking cherry blossoms and forsythia bushes wave at us, beckoning us to  stop, asking to be photographed!

Spring is a magical  experience.  After the cold, dull,  grey days of winter, everything suddenly comes alive.  Colours start growing out from the ground, erupting  from branches of the trees.  Gardens and forests ooze with heavenly scents, attracting the bees to come out in search for that sweet nectar to make honey.  Life for them is beginning again.  And for us, too.  Without realizing it, the mere sight of these beautiful flora and fauna around us gets us alive with excitement, inspiring us to do beautiful things.  That is the power of Spring.

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I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden. -Ruth Stout

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Primroses growing wild in the fields

Crocuses where the saffron (spice) comes from..

This carpet of tiny yellow flowers are just weeds.
Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” – A. A. Milne

Cherry blossoms just coming up.

Cherry blossoms in bloom



Forsythia in its majestic glory!  How I wish I could have one in my garden!

Just at our doorstep is where forests and meadows form a staggering landscape of colours..

It’s raining cherry blossoms in Bazekerettye

Life in Rural Hungary

Living in a rural setting exposes you to so many marvelous things – the natural world and the particular texture of small-town life, and the exhilarating experience of open space……Susan Orlean

We live in the vineyard region of southwestern Hungary.

Our road is so serene and quiet because there are only a few passersby, among them is this tractor.


 .. and walkers every now and then.  Our area is a paradise for walkers of all ages.

Hence,  public footpath signs like this one are planted everywhere, and they make a good photo subject, too!

Just at our doorstep is where forests and meadows mix creating a staggering landscape  of nature’s beauty.

and farmlands after farmlands- the bounty of which is what feeds the country.

A rural winecellar. There are many of them near us, some are abandoned, some are made into comfortable second homes by their owners.
They are actually storage of wines produced from the owner’s’vineyards.

A tired and abandoned wine cellar.

Almost everything around us gets recycled.  Found these beer cans in vineyards – probably in place of scarecrows – to shoo birds away!

The locals  are firm believers of organic and free range farming. These Hungarian pigs looking like a crossbreed between a sheep and and pig came running when they saw us coming.  They have the whole field to themselves!