Tag Archive: Travels


Food Coma in Bologna


We came for the food here in Emilia Romagnia. Its capital is Bologna, home to the oldest university in Europe. Rich in art, culture, history and gastronomy! We weren’t disappointed. Most dinners in Bologna while lunch is wherever the train took us. We enjoyed our Mortadella, Pizzas, Lambrusco, Tortellini, Tagliatelle, Strette, Bistecca, Osso Buco, Frito Misto, Beef Cheeks, Balsamico, Parmigiano Reggiano, mercato lunches and snacks, and a variety of desserts!

Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria

Where: Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria

Via Augustine Ringhi 9

Bologna

What: Tortellini al Panna

Tagliatelle alla Ragu

Mussels (tomato & white sauce)

Pizzas (3 kinds)

Aperetivo: Bruschetta

Our first meal in Bologna was in Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria. And the last in Ristorante Donatello. Both recommended by the hotel concierge. Both good.

Ristorante Donatello

Ristorante Donatello is just right across the street from Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria. Highlight of our dinner here is the Strette, a kind of pasta that’s between fettuccine and tagliatelle. They cook it either with ham and cheese in white sauce or with balsamic vinegar. We regret we only ordered (3 orders!) of the first kind. Also, I could have more of that insalata.

On our first day trip out of Bologna, one batch went to Florence while another went to Modena and Parma. In Modena, we had our very strong espresso and cappuccino in an outside cafe off Mercato Albinelli. Waited out here while Trattoria Aldina has yet to open at 12 noon. This trattoria is so non-descript that you’d likely miss it. There’s only a door and a buzzer to let you in, way up to the 2nd floor. We observed many locals patronize the place. Had our tortellini en brodo (broth/soup) here, along with rigatoni al ragu, egg with tartufo, lasagna, roast beef and meatballs with peas.

Where: Trattoria Aldina

Via Albinelli 40, Modena

What: Tortellini en brodo (soup/broth)

Lasagna

Meatballs with Peas

Rigatoni al ragu

Roast Beef

Egg with Tartufo

Zuppa Inglese

Tortino Di Zucca

Another Dolce I can’t recall

Modena was also the place for Balsamico shopping. And Parma? Well, Prosciutto Di Parma really translates to ham from Parma. But back in Bologna, we visited 2 mercatos: Mercato delle Erbe in Via Ugo Bassi and Mercato Di Mezzo in Via Clavature. Both centrally located, and I must say, a haven for pickpockets. So do be careful, especially while buying your mortadella, prosciuttos and cheese. We had antipasto in the first and a hefty lunch in the 2nd. We simply pointed to dishes we liked in the mercato and claimed our tables and stools. Three kinds of pasta (1 creamy, another in tomato sauce, another sweetish), a huge platter of cold cuts, frito misto, and some veggie sidings that looked like seaweeds. It was fun, and delish.

Trattoria Di Pietro

But our best dinner was in Trattoria Di Pietro in Via de Falegnami, 18A. What did we order from this traditional Bolognese restaurant? We had:

Pumpkin Pie with Cheese Fondue and Chicory (The bomb!)

Tagliata Di Angus

Beef Tartare With Mustard and Mayo

Beef Cheeks braised in onions

Gelato with Balsamico 👌👌👌

Won’t forget this dinner for a long time. (I already forgot the name of one of the dishes we ordered. Sssshhhhh) The bonus was we were given complimentary Limoncellos which we drank liberally! The waitress eyed us with pseudo-disgust. 😂

We trooped back to this same Via Falegnami the following night. This time to check out Ristorante Il Muro just right across Trattoria Di Pietro. Bigger, more crowded. The Osso Buco here was really, really good. We were happy to be complete again for dinner as day trippers all came back, hungry. We overordered but that’s fine, just too happy to eat and drink together. (We should have ordered more Osso Buco rather than more seafood pasta and grilled meats)

Food coma in Bologna. But never enough, so food shopping was the order of the day. Surely, it ain’t called La Grassa for nothin’. Ciao!

Food Stash

Ristorante Donatello


Italy. What better way to go on a food trip than visiting Italy’s gastronomic capital? Turned out Bologna also happens to be a good homebase for day trips to neighbouring cities and towns, each of which boasts of its own delicacy, art, history and culture. There were only 5 nights to spend in Italy but it was enough to do the day trips and meet up with the rest for scrumptious dinners. Here’s how we enjoyed our Bologna getaway – just click on the highlighted links.

Homebased in Bologna

Balsamico Di Modena

Prosciutto Di Parma

Ravenna of My Dreams

San Marino, World’s Oldest Republic

Ferrara, Not Ferrari

It was a wonderful time with these foodies and travel buddies. Some others headed for Florence and Rome, then back for the night in Bologna where dinners were planned out. So much laughter across the table too. And we sure had some very memorable meals.

And for food trips in and around Bologna, check this out:

Food Coma in Bologna

Ciao!


No, you go to Maranello or Modena if you’re into those fast cars. But Ferrara? It’s only a half hour train ride from Bologna and makes a fun day trip. More fun too that train fares here are sooo darn cheap if you take care to ride off peak hours. Like just a fourth or a fifth of the peak hours fare! Aren’t we smart! 🙄

From the train station, we walked towards the City Center. We’ve grown pretty good doing this — even without a map. We only needed a general direction and in Ferrara, it was quite simply a direct, straight line till one hits the Romanesque Cathedral. The streets leading up to the Center were quiet until one hits the many pop-up booths around the castle and along the sides of the Cathedral. We only managed to visit the Castelo and the Cathedral, which unfortunately is under restoration work so that its otherwise lovely facade is obstructed with scaffolding. Inside though, we found a huge Belen or Nativity Scene and many original paintings by Italian masters. It’s like visiting a Museum.

Home of the Este Familia, its Renaissance rulers erected a castle, palace and duomo among other historical sites in this city in Emilia-Romagna region. The Castelo Estense is a moated medieval castle complete with a drawbridge with 4 corners dominated by sentry towers. Built in the 13th-14th century, it is a castle built by the Este famiglia to guard and defend against the revolting people of Ferrara. Rather sad, isn’t it? One builds a castle to defend against its own people. It is reported that when the riots died down, this magnificent piece of architecture became the official royal residence of the Court.

After days of pasta, pizza, melanzane, lasagna and bistecca, we were craving for Asian food. I know, it’s not even a week yet. But I need to mention we found a good Indian restaurant here, called — brace yourself — Taj Majal. Along the same street, we found a bakery where I bought that famous Ferrarese Coppia Bread. Lemme tell you, that pan is absolutely overhyped. I’d have a croissant anytime instead.


If you think San Marino is part of Italy, you’re very wrong. This tiny republic within Italy called San Marino is the world’s oldest sovereign state, founded as early as the 4th century. Quite surprising, it standing tall and being completely surrounded by Italy. As we drove into this state, we hardly noticed any difference except for the drop in temperature. It’s the end of November and winter has set in. The wind upped the chill as we walked up on the single street leading towards the Piazza Della Liberta. The walkway is like the backbone running along the entire ridge of the mountain. I wrapped up good for this cold weather — dipping at 0 Celsius — and threw all fashion sense out the window. Throwing my thick wrap over myself — with my back pack strapped on my back — I felt like the hunchback of Notre Dame. This republic is small but hilly, so count on those calf muscles being put to the test. Phew!

Pallazzo Pubblico

Chiesa Dei Capuccini

The problem is the sun sets before 5pm so we couldn’t linger around to enjoy the vista from the top. The cold seeps through your bones and the wind renders your face stone cold. To take photos, I needed to peel off the hand gloves every so often till I gave up. It wasn’t the best time to visit San Marino. Not even if you just intended to do tax-free shopping as most shops were closed. It would have been interesting to watch the Changing of the Guards but we missed it. We passed but didn’t enter the very lovely Chiesa Di San Quirino with its equally lovely tower on our way up. (The Church and the Convent, also called Church of Capuccini looked even lovelier on our way down, captured as the light faded with the sunset) Nonetheless, the views from the fortress walls especially as the sun sets take your breath away.

There was a fork in the road and we took the uphill climb along the same Contrada della Pleve towards the Basilica del Santo. The streets were adorned with Christmas trees and a giant wreath with red candles. So pretty viewed against the fading blue sky. At the other end of this Contrada is one of the fortress towers called Guaita. The views offer unlimited boundary. A 360 degree panorama awaits you as you climb up, passing shops and some cannons. It must be a pretty sight at night when you see the towns below all illuminated with the moon shining above the turrets. The sentry posts now comprise part of the Museum which we skipped, opting instead to simply walk around. We spotted the other turrets marking the mountain outline in the limited time we had before dark set in following a 5pm sunset. While we didn’t have much time enjoying San Marino in daylight, the visit was enough to appreciate its regal beauty. The closed duty free shops were a disappointment but that didn’t dampen our moods. The dark and the cold compel us to rush back to our hired coach for the trip back to our homebase in Bologna. Arrivederci, San Marino!


If …. No, WHEN I head back to Ravenna, I’d stay at least 2 nights to explore ALL its museos,chiesa, piazzales and basilicas. It ain’t designated a World Heritage Site for nothin’. This City of Mosaics is one for the books and I’ve got to say the admission price to hit many historical sites is a steal! For far less than the admission price to ONE museo elsewhere, we were able to stand in awe inside the Basilica Di San Vitale till our craned necks grew stiff. The photos don’t do justice. The light streaming from the windows lends a certain mystique and the trees outside add charm in all its autumn foliage. I delighted in walking from the Basilica towards the nearby Mausoleo Di Galla Placidia, stepping on and feeling the fallen leaves crunch under my boots. Sat in one of the stone benches to admire the simple, tiny courtyard between the two structures. Perfect activity that morning we visited.

Basilica Di San Vitale isn’t easy to wipe off your memory. So lovely. It’s the perfect example of early Christian Byzantine architecture. Inscribed among 8 Ravenna structures in the UNESCO World Heritage List, its beautiful and richly ornamented cross-ribbed vaults and mosaics speak for itself. I wish I can retell the Biblical stories manifested in this mosaic series but I can only figure out some of the “sacrifices” and tragedies from the Old Testament like Abraham sacrificing Isaac and the story of Abel and Cain. There were many many more that one is tempted to lie down on the lovely floor to view the vaults, the ceilings and arches without craning one’s neck.

Most shops were closed though as we passed them on way to Battistero Neoniano, a lovely octagonal building near the Piazza Duomo. Temps hardly rose from 0 to 5 C during our visit. We took refuge in the Museo Arcivescovile e Capella Di San Andrea. Sorry, but no photography allowed inside. Not too far from here but still a good walk is Basilica Di Sant Apollinaire Nuovo. Midway between these 2 iconic landmarks is the Tomb of Dante Alighieri of INFERNO fame. A day tour of Ravenna is simply NOT enough to cover all the sites in this city so rich in culture, history and art. The best deal of course is that it isn’t as touristy as Rome, Verona, Florence, Siena, Venice or even Bologna!

Oh. Ravenna! I wish to walk your streets again with more deliberate steps, inching my way slowly from one heritage site to the next.

Prosciutto Di Parma


Bologna may have its Tortellini and Mortadella, and Modena may have its Balsamico, but THAT jamon known the world over for its salty goodness hails from Parma. Think Prosciutto with Melon, or with fig which I prefer. But there’s more to Parma than Parma ham. Seriously.

From Modena, we hopped back into a regional train for another half hour journey to Parma. Again we welcomed the traffic-less lanes and quiet alleys. We just walked from the Stazione to the centro, passing the Palazzo della Pillota which was unfortunately closed off to pedestrian traffic. Walking further down, we didn’t waste time checking out the Cattedrale Di Parma in a tiny square where the Baptistery is also located. Now, if you’re headed for Parma to visit this Italian Romanesque Cathedral alone, it would have been a good trip by itself. That, plus some Parma ham shopping 👌. Some trivia: The cathedral’s dome was painted by Renaissance painter Antonio da Correggio. Correggio is the same artist behind “Noli Me Tangere” which hangs in Madrid’s Prado Museum. Now, we all know that this painting somehow inspired our national hero who wrote the book of the same title. I know, the connection maybe quite a stretch, but I do enjoy this trivia.

This Roman Catholic Cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is sooooo intricately, artistically done that we can’t seem to find any vacant space without artistic expression. For sure, the builders were kept very busy for a long time to pull this off. While the ornateness can be quite overwhelming, certainly it gives a very good impression that leaves one in awe.


Left our Bologna hotel before 8am to catch our train to Modena. The half-hour journey was uneventful and we got off the Modena Station and walked towards the Centro Istorico. We did not join any tours as we’ve decided to wing it on our own. We couldn’t get over the cheap train fare of €3.85 as we journeyed to the city of Luciano Pavarotti and balsamico. We walked leisurely and deliberately, stopping at every interesting shop and historic building. And those were many stops … and tastings of Modena’s balsamico!

Palazzo Ducale was our first “tourist” stop. This former residence of the Este dukes of Modena from 1452 to 1849 now houses a portion of the Italian Military Academy. Next we went on our way to the Duomo e Torre Ghirlandina. The church was dedicated to the Assumption of Virgin Mary and its former bishop Saint Geminianus. Declared a World Heritage Site, there were a lot of restoration/construction work inside the Duomo but the interiors won’t fail to impress you.

Nearby is the Mercato Albinelli. We lingered where we found all sorts of cheeses including the local “squacquerone”, a soft, creamy, spreadable cottage cheese from the area of Emilia Romagnia. Outside the mercato, we claimed a table to have our cafe espresso and cappuccino. It was cold but we “managed”, all the while checking the goings-on in the nearby flea market and the parked choo-choo train bearing small children.

Lunch was in Trattoria Aldina which is just a stone’s throw from the Mercato Albinelli. The place was packed with many locals eager to partake of the trattoria’s home-cooked favorites. We ordered the lasagne, tortellini in brodo, roast beef and meatballs with peas. Likewise, we ordered the house specialty egg dish served with truffle. (Yey!) Leaving room for dessert, we had no regrets. A word of unsolicited advice: go ahead and have your dolce. The zuppa inglese, in our book, was quite outstanding!

Trattoria Aldina’s Dolce


Called La Rossa, La Dotta and La Grassa. The Red One. The Learned one. The Fat one. Aptly so. It is the home of Mortadella, Tagliatelle al Ragu, Tortellini, Lambrusco, Tortelloni, Parmegianno Reggiano, Prosciutto (from nearby Parma), Balsamico (from nearby Modena) as well as home to fast cars (think Ferrari, Lamborghini, Ducati and Maserati). Fast engines aside, Bologna’s rich history is only overshadowed by its being hailed as the gastronomical capital of Italy. I mean, eating here has been exalted nearly to a religious experience!

We had to train ourselves into joining walking tours and visiting Bologna’s major attractions lest we get stuck in its trattorias and mercatos. Eating and wining brings out the best in us — topics hop from this to that, laughter comes easy and over time (and many trips together), we’ve shared many private jokes. Our happy bunch sure knows how to munch. And while we’ve explored Bologna’s old town, canales, towers, piazzas and churches, somehow the day’s highlight always ends with food. Even our shopping has largely been food shopping. After all, how can you resist all these quezos and ham?

Piazza Maggiore is right smack in the Center and the square layout reminds us of the many piazzas in and around Europe where the city hall, major churches and rows upon rows of shops and trattorias compete for attention. Except for this tight security crew right in front of the church. The Basilica of San Petronio in the piazza is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Saint Petronius who was the city’s bishop in the 5th century. It also happens to be the world’s 10th largest and the world’s largest brick church. It could have topped the list if the construction wasn’t stopped in time by a jealous Pope who feared this “half-complete” brick and marble church would compete with the one in Vatican. For good measure, all the surrounding land was bought and actual buildings erected adjacent to the Church to preclude any extension and expansion.

But why the tight security? An Islamic terrorist group reportedly planned to blow up the church because of an offensive Dante’s Inferno- inspired mural depicting Mohammad being tormented by the devils in hell. The artwork was rendered by Giovanni of Modena. Interesting. And jibes well with Bologna’s independent and rebellious character. How about this statue of the Pope in the same piazza but deliberately marked as that of St Petronius? Another iconic symbol of Bologna are its two towers along the ancient Via Emilia. It is said that both towers are leaning, like the one in Pisa. Asinelli Tower is the taller one; the shorter, more-leaning torre is called Garisenda. The towers were named after 2 families — obviously filthy rich — who competed on who’s building the taller torre as a show of power. Oh these horrible humans! Really, it’s easier to write and talk about food over these iconic landmarks.

An illustration of what food to find and eat in this area.

Our best meal in Trattoria da Pietro


We’re a band of baby boomers, Generation X and millennials who just can’t stay put. But we all share the same penchant for food and serendipitous adventures. Having just recently returned from Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava, our beer-drinking group of 6 grew to a band of 15 pax. Quite an assortment, if you ask me. We’ve had a few trips tucked under our belt and I must say, we had so much fun. And this happy bunch is going again! I ditched earlier plans to go to Slovenia and Croatia to join the Happy Bunch for a holiday in Bologna and Vienna. Switching from the city of dragons (Ljubljana) and towns along the Adriatic, it’d be a week instead of food porn in this part of Italy where trufa, prosciutto, tortellini, mortadella, balsamico, tagliatelle, parmeggiano, Lambrusco reign supreme!

And this was only last July!

Touchdown, Bologna!

While some of us are visiting first-timers, Bologna as homebase offers many possibilities. Florence, Lucca and Pisa are just a half hour away by train and so is Modena, and a bit farther down, Parma. Then there’s Venice, Verona and Padua or Padova. The boys would likely not miss the chance to check out the museums — NOT of artworks, but those lovely machines going by the names of Lamborghini,Ducati and Ferrari. Different folks, different strokes. That’s what I love about this group. We’d split up to chase our own dreams, and reunite in a heartbeat. Like when we all agreed to visit one day the little republic of San Marino together and hopefully do a side trip to Ravenna. But most importantly, we agree on the food and vino. That’s important — and that’s how we ended up in Ristorante Victoria for our first meal and in Mercato delle Erbe for cocktails cum dinner after our walking tour.

Prosciutto, Mortadella, Burrata

Tagliatelle al Ragu

We had mussels cooked in wine and also with tomato sauce. Both really good!

Almost devoured before we remembered to snap a photo of Tortellini al Panna

It’s only Day 1. And we plan to do a more leisurely tour of Bologna after a good rest. For sure, we’d be back in Piazza Maggiore and visit the basilica and cathedral. There’s enough time as we’d be holed up in the same hotel for the next 5 nights. Bologna is not as cold as Vienna but single digit temps outdoors walking around the piazzas need some serious consideration. After all, it’s truly beginning to look like Christmas everywhere. The Christmas trees are up, so with the Christmas lights that make the place look so festive and magical. Much time to enjoy the illuminations since sunsets are early. Like 5pm!

On our way back home, we’d catch our homeward flight out of Vienna. Staying a few nights in this capital makes me giddy with anticipation. Why? There’s the many Christmas Markets of Vienna! Too many to count. It’s the Christmas Market of my dreams! A genuine Christmas Winter with temps hovering at low single digits or negatives. Gluhwein or mulled wine, raclette, bratwurst, apple strudels, Sacher torte and all those flaky baked delights. All savoured in negative temps. I’m excited, if you haven’t caught the drift. White Christmas feels? Let’s do this!

The Christmas Market of my dreams!

Up In Mount Victoria, NSW


Only 120 kilometres west of Sydney is the small township of Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Population about a thousand. Here is a more quiet, if not more elegant section of the Blue Mountains. Beautiful manors, historic buildings reused as elegant hotels and summer retreat houses dot the landscape. There are many heritage sites in the area but they compete with the wondrous panorama at an elevation of over 1,000 meters. The mountain was named after Queen Victoria but the settlement area was originally called One Tree Hill until the arrival of the railway station and establishment of the first Post Office in the 19th century.

These days, many locals go to Mount Victoria for serious bushwalking, rock climbing, bird watching or simply to visit this charming village without the tourist crowd. There was some festivity the day we visited as we passed what looked like flea markets and food fairs. But we drove past them and began our short hike. Cox’s Road and Cox’s Descent don’t seem to sound right but that’s what the markers say. 🙄

The photos speak for themselves. I may have ventured farther than I should have — “for my age” — but the views of the valley below can be mesmerizing. I dare not even dwell on the possibilities. A strong gust of wind, an accidental slip. Oh well.