Everybody should do just one thing by themselves once in their life. With this in mind I decided on a 15 day vacation with only the company of me, myself and I. For the destination, I choose Italy. I wanted culture, passion and life. La dolce vita was only a plane journey away.
My first stop was Verona. On the sight of flocks of tourists as I made my way from Piazza Bra to Piazza dell Erbe I was slightly perturbed. I soon discovered that once you stay away from tourist central, Verona is a city of beauty, heart, and character.
Frescoed churches held my attention for hours and modern art galleries offset classical art found in the Castelvecchio Museum. Verona is a delight for art lovers, not least because of its proximity to Padua, the home of Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel. Even if art is not your thing Verona is breathtaking. The beautiful Giardini Giusti transports you back to an era of travel more like Henry James novels than lonely planet guides. Verona also features fine food, beautiful backstreets and good shopping. But the real reason I fell in love with the city were the personal experiences; stylishly sipping corretos (coffee with brandy) in a buzzing piazza, a complimentary red wine risotto, picnic in Italian park and night time strolls filled with gelato and warm breezes. Traveling alone enhances the experience as you are liberated from the clichéd tourist image. “There is no life beyond Verona’s walls”, Shakespeare, it seems, may have had a point.
Bologna was a shock. The gritty city was worlds away from Verona. Nicknamed “The Red” for both its leftist attitudes and burnt rust buildings, the city seems split, incorporating a sophisticated side. Classy gelaterias and Hermes shops merge with socialist tendencies. It is divided by Via Ugo Bassi which climaxes at the iconic two towers, one a sweat inducing 493-step climb. It is worth the effort though as all of Bologna is spread out before you.
Another tag that follows Bologna is “The Fat”, for its gastronomic reputation. If you visit for this merit you will not be disappointed. Home of student staple, pasta Bolognese, Bologna ensures the jarred Irish variety will never suffice again. Fresh pasta making restaurant, Osteria dell’Orsa, provides gorgeous stuffed pastas for a student crowd and Osteria Anna Maria is a local institution worth seeking out, especially if they give you shots and jam tarts on the house! My stand out experience is the Osteria de la Sole. On Vicolo Ranocchi a room with wooden benches is packed with locals at lunch. Buy your lunch at mouth-watering delis and pay just two euro inside for the biggest glass of wine imaginable. I cannot promise you will find such generous Italian companions as I, who shared their conversation and food with me but I can assure you that this may be the most atmospheric lunch you ever have!
Sunday morning walks in the Emilia Romagna countryside are a must as is a day trip to Parma. Bologna takes you by surprise, first with its severity and then with its assortment of characters. The city is summed up in the Piazza Santo Stefano: youth, families, tourists, the high and low of life converge, but over a glass or two of wine everything exists in harmony.
I left Bologna vowing to return, but now it was on to Tuscany and the city of Lucca…