Bologna, Parma & Milan 5/23

Home Up Austria & Czech Rep. 5/01 Belgium 12/01 Benelux 5/12 Berlin & London 12/98 Bologna, Parma & Milan 5/23 Central Europe by rail 8/10 Cologne & The Rhine 9/02 Düsseldorf & Kempen 3/12 French Riviera 5/23 Frankfurt 12/02 Greece 1/03 Greece 11/06 Ireland 3/01 Italy 4/00 Italy & Zurich 8/09 Florence & Tuscany 5/23 Netherlands 12/00 Paris 9/95 40th Birthday Paris & Burgundy 2/12 Poland 10/13 Portugal 5/23 Scotland 8/02 Spain 8/03

The gastronomic and business capitals of Italy...

Bologna's San Petronio church interior

I finished my 22 day European adventure in Northern Italy, with an opportunity to meet with relatives and explore places that I had never been. Bologna is recognized as the gastronomic capital of Italy, and based on my experience, it lived up to its reputation. I spent six days in northern Italy exploring Bologna, Parma, Modena, Venice, and Milan. As with the rest of the trip, things didn't always go right. Italy was experiencing a serious rain event, although the worst of it was to the east and south of Bologna. I had to skip a planned day trip through the Emilia-Romagna region to Dozza and San Morino because of floods as well as a planned day trip from Milan to Lake Como because of washed out roads and a collapsed train tunnel.

Wednesday May 17th - Bologna arrival


My high speed train from Florence arrived at noon as heavy rain poured down. I taxied the short distance to Hotel Albergo Centrale. The outside of the hotel is on an ugly little alley (first picture below), but was only a couple of blocks off of the main drag into central Bologna. Other than the outside, the hotel and my suite were great, including a very good breakfast every morning. I did an "orientation" walk to Plaza Maggiore and beyond, finding a cute walk street with the lyrics to John Lennon's "Imagine" hung from one side to the other (second picture below). I met my relatives, Mike and Alice, for dinner at Trattoria Della Santa. The food was outstanding and the wine list was unbelievably inexpensive - Brunellos below retail.

Mike, Alice, and I at Parma's Aiola winery

Bologna's Hotel Centrale alley

"Imagine" Lyrics over walk street

Neptune's Fountain Bologna

Asinelli & Garisenda leaning towers

Thursday May 18th - Bologna sights


I met up with Mike and Alice late morning at Neptune's Fountain (third picture above) just off of Plaza Maggiore. Because of some weird closing hours, we started our sightseeing inside of San Petronio Basilica (large picture top of page left). We found our way through the narrow, crowded streets to the leaning towers of Asinelli & Garisenda (fourth picture above). Crossing the rainy, wet Plaza Maggiore (first picture below) we walked the portico-lined streets (second picture below) and then Ubered to the Saragozza Gate (third picture below), southwest of the center. Just beyond the gate, the San Luca Portico (fourth picture below) begins its rise up to the San Luca Sanctuary. At 4km long, it is the longest continuous portico in the world. We walked some of it, then found a sidewalk cafe for coffee and a snack. After stocking up on supplies at a grocery store there, Mike and Alice went back to their AirBnB and I walked back across town to my hotel. We met up that evening at 7:30 for dinner at Restorante Diana, an old school formal and authentic Bolognese restaurant. Again, a very inexpensive wine list. I learned that tortellini has cheese and vegetables and tortelloni has cheese and meat. The best way to really taste the flavor of either is in broth. The dinner was perfection. Definitely one of the top one or two meals of my trip.


San Petronio exterior - Plaza Maggiore

City full of porticos

Saragozza Gate Bologna

4km long San Luca Portico

Friday May 19th - Parma and Modena


First and foremost, a big shout out and thank-you to my brother-in-law Tom, who meticulously planned and paid for this entire day, but was unfortunately unable to join us. Mike, Alice, and I were picked up by our driver at my hotel at 7:30AM for the 90 minute trip northwest through Modena to Parma. We arrived at the Traversetolese Parmigiano factory shortly after 9AM where we donned our shoes, clothes, and hair coverings (no pictures of that, since I looked like a dork) to begin a tour of the huge factory. Mike noticed on the drive up that we didn't see any cows anywhere along the road. We found out on the tour that the cows live very well indoors and are fed only very special food. I imagined cow condos with hoof manicures and daily massages. Operations were in full swing - this is working factory, not a tourist shop. Our private guide took us through all of the processes from start to aging (first picture below) to finish. We got to taste some of the cheese at interim steps. At the end of the tour, we got a table tasting of various levels of aged parmesan paired with both a still and a sparkling Lambrusco region wine. There was a little cheese shop outside where we all bought some excellent cheese at incredibly low prices. I ate chunks of it with wine all the way through the rest of my trip.


From there we traveled across town to the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma ham factory. I am not a vegetarian by a long shot, but this place made me want to cry. The scale of ham being processed and aged (second picture below) is staggering. After the tour, we had an early lunch snack there that paired variously aged hams with cheese and crackers. We moved on from there to the Aiola winery (large picture top of page right). The facility and grounds are very beautiful. It is a large scale operation making primarily sparkling wines from the region. After the tour, we had a five course sit-down lunch in their terrace cafe over the vineyards that gave the formal restaurants of the past couple of days competition for great, authentic Bolognese food. By the end of the meal, we all agreed that there would be no dinner required that night. From Aiola, we headed southwest to Modena where we visited Acetaia Villa San Donnino balsamic vinegar facility. The tour walked us through the various steps in making and aging balsamic vinegar, including the aging process of successively reducing the vinegar in smaller and smaller barrels (third picture below). They had balsamic vinegar over a hundred years old in one room. We finished the tour with a unique tasting of different types and ages of balsamic vinegar on different foods, including ice cream! From Modena, we continued back to Bologna and retired for the evening.


Parma Traversetolese aging

Parma Consorzio Prosciutto aging

Modena Villa San Donnino Balsamic aging

Venice ambulance boat

Saturday May 20th - Venice

Our original plan to do a self-driving day trip southeast through the Emilia-Romagna region was dashed by heavy rains and flooding in the area, so we decided instead to take the 90 minute train northeast to Venice. I hadn't been to Venice in over a decade. Venice requires a recalibration of the senses almost immediately. Everything is on water. On our way from the train station to Saint Marks Square, our Vaporetto boat pulled to the side of the canal to let the speeding ambulance boat go by (fourth picture above). It rained on and off all day. We wandered the square taking pictures (first, second, and third pictures below) and visiting some shops. We settled down late afternoon at the historic Gran Caffe Lavina for drinks accompanied by their mini-orchestra and a million dollar view. After some more wandering, we found a small dinner spot off the grand canal near the Rialto bridge. After dinner, we boarded a Valporetto to the train station for our return trip to Bologna. We said our goodbyes at Bologna's train station.


In front of St Marks Basilica

Saint Mark's Square seagulls

Grand Canal - gondolas in the rain

Milan's Santa Maria delle Grazie

Sunday May 21st - Leonardo's Milan

I continued my European adventure solo, taking the short train ride to Milan in the morning. After getting lost (again) coming out of Milan's Centrale train station, I finally found my way the few blocks to my hotel, the Hyatt Centric Milan Centrale. Milan's Metro has a great reputation and it lived up to that completely. It is easy to understand for a tourist and quickly goes everywhere that I needed to go for the two days that I was in Milan. My first stop was at Santa Maria delle Grazie (fourth picture above), next to the site of Leonardo's Last Supper. I had reserved my 5PM spot that included an English guided tour months before on their official website. The official website is surprisingly difficult to sort out from the higher priced independent tour operators. Because of the technique Leonardo used, The Last Supper (first picture below) began to deteriorate shortly after it was completed at the end of the 15th century. As a result, it has been restored often, most recently taking over 20 years in 1999. It is now enclosed in an atmosphere-controlled building that only allows small groups of 35 people at a time to view it, and only for 15 minutes. Despite the challenges, I found seeing this masterpiece in person very worthwhile.


After the Last Supper visit, I metroed to Milan's huge Piazza del Duomo which was filled with thousands of people. I snapped a model and photographer doing a fashion shoot in front of the Duomo (second picture below). Milan is all about business and fashion, which was on display all over the city that day - well dressed, beautiful people. Continuing through the upscale Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping corridor (third picture below) I arrived at Piazza della Scala with its statue of Leonardo above several of his apprentices (fourth picture below) flanked by the Teatro alla Scala opera house. I found a casual dinner spot just off of the square and then metroed back to my hotel.


Leonardo's Last Supper restored

Fashion shoot

Galleria Vittorio to Leonardo's square

Leonardo's statue and square

Monday May 22nd - Milan's Duomo and new town

My original plan for the day was to take the train north from Milan to Verenna and then spend a day touring the Lake Como area. Landslides from the prior week's rain had collapsed the train tunnel and blocked most of the roads. I opted to stay in Milan and dig deeper into the Duomo and Milan's new town business area. I began my Duomo tour at the Duomo Museum, which was worthwhile. I then took the elevator and did the climb to the Duomo's rooftop (first and second pictures below), which was very interesting. The view from the top covered all of Milan. Back at ground level, I toured the Duomo's interior (third picture below). Milan's Duomo is Italy's largest and the fifth largest in the world. After lunch on the piazza, I metroed to Milan's new town, the center of business. Adjacent to the "Library of Trees" park is a unique architectural condominium complex dubbed the vertical forest (fourth picture below). In late afternoon I metroed back to my hotel, did some packing and journaling and prepared for my return trip home.


On Tuesday morning I checked out of my hotel and walked to Centrale train station where I caught the Malpensa Express to the airport, which is 60km from town. I returned home via Chicago. This was in every way an unforgettable trip.


Duomo rooftop climb

Duomo rooftop spires

Duomo interior

Milan new town vertical forest

Final thoughts: On every day of this 22 day trip I had to have a plan and do something that I had never done before in my life. While I have pointed out the travails along the journey, it was incredibly exhilarating and I can't remember feeling as alive as I did at the end of each day. I didn't look at a television or read any news except for weather during the whole trip - wonderful! I updated some more general thoughts on travel on my Travel Tips page.

Home Up Austria & Czech Rep. 5/01 Belgium 12/01 Benelux 5/12 Berlin & London 12/98 Bologna, Parma & Milan 5/23 Central Europe by rail 8/10 Cologne & The Rhine 9/02 Düsseldorf & Kempen 3/12 French Riviera 5/23 Frankfurt 12/02 Greece 1/03 Greece 11/06 Ireland 3/01 Italy 4/00 Italy & Zurich 8/09 Florence & Tuscany 5/23 Netherlands 12/00 Paris 9/95 40th Birthday Paris & Burgundy 2/12 Poland 10/13 Portugal 5/23 Scotland 8/02 Spain 8/03

Mackey Group, Inc. © 2002 - 2023