Monday, 2 March 2015

La Vita Bolognese

It seems like only yesterday that I was packing my bags and leaving Lyon to set off on the next stage of my year abroad adventure. In reality it was five weeks ago, and after a blink-and-you-missed-it fortnight in Nottingham I arrived in my new Italian home for the next five months: Bologna, the city of porticoes and towers!

I had mixed feelings about leaving Lyon. As you all know, I love the city so much. I’ve now lived there twice, I feel completely at home and comfortable when I’m there, it’s B-E-A-U-tiful all year and I’ve made some fantastic friends who I hope will still be in my life for many years to come. On the other hand, I was looking forward to discovering a new city and experiencing a new university in Italy. I’ve now been in Bologna for three weeks, and they have flown by. In this post, I hope to update you on my experiences of settling into a new country, city, university and language, and show you what I’ve been discovering in my new home.

Le due torre
I count myself as being very lucky that I already have good Italian friend from here in Bologna, who I met while she was studying economics at UCL. As well as helping me to settle very quickly through already knowing one of the locals, she was also able to help me out back at the end of 2014 when I was looking for a place to live here. I’m so grateful that she was able to come and view the apartment I’m now living in back in November/December time, and so when I arrived in Bologna I already had my room secured and waiting for me. It’s one of four bedrooms in the apartment, with a shared kitchen and bathroom. I’m living with Amira, Esther and Eva, three Spanish girls who are all lovely and who helped me to settle in very quickly. The building I’m living in is on a street in between Via Zamboni and Filippo Re, two of the main streets for the Università degli studi di Bologna, and so I’m able to walk out of my door and be in my classes in mere minutes. It’s really handy, and is in a good position in the city for me to get to the places I need to be by foot. Bologna is quite a small city, and so most places are only about a twenty-minute walk away. It has a completely different feel to it, but as a university city it has a great student atmosphere.

Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca
Classes have started at the university, but there are some that don’t start until the beginning of March or even April, so at the moment I’m still in the process of deciding which courses to take. It’s looking like I’ll be taking a French language class to keep that ticking over, a political and economic geography class which has proved to be quite interesting so far, and then one of either Contemporary Italian Literature or a History of Art in Europe class which doesn’t start until the middle of March. Courses in Bologna are worth more credits than those in France or England, so I only have to take three here as opposed to the nine I did in Lyon!

Church of San Petronio, Piazza Maggiore
There are lots of nice little cafés and bars dotted about where we often go for a coffee between classes, and the quality of the pizza you can buy here is undoubtedly, but not unexpectedly, so much better here than at home. I admit I’ve given in to temptation and bought myself a hot slice for lunch once or twice, but at about 1.20-1.60€ a slice I don’t really care! I’ve also had some great pasta made for me by Italian friends of my flatmates, as well as learning some amazing recipes for myself to take home with me. I’m looking forward to being able to show off my new skills. I went out with a group of UCL students also here on exchange for  our first taste of aperitivo, which is a drink of choice and an array of light-bites served buffet-style in a bar for about 8€ in the early evening. The food is great and it’s a lovely, relaxed atmosphere. No one rushes you, and you don’t feel pressured to leave your table as soon as you’ve finished. We also went out for one UCL student’s birthday and we had dinner at an Osteria. Of course, being in Bologna I had to have the ragù, which is what we call Bolognese. I admit it’s not my favourite Italian dish in the world, but it was definitely the best plate of Bolognese that I’ve ever tasted so far. I've also experienced "late-night bakery". It's run by an old lady and her son, who open their kitchens at midnight to serve freshly baked and deliciously warm pizza and pastries to people who fancy a late-night snack in the early hours of the morning. It's cheap, it's friendly (although you go to a service entrance or a hole in the wall so it does feel a little like a dodgy deal), and the food tastes great so if you're out and about in the early hours after having visited a bar with friends, it's a great stop-off on the way home. This is a dangerously tasty country to be living in!!!

Neptune's fountain
Last weekend my friend from home (and youth leader at my church back in Stapleford), Beth, came to visit. Having only been in Bologna for two weeks at that stage, I hadn’t had the opportunity to fully explore the city or check out its attractions, so it was nice to be a tourist, rather than a student for the weekend. First up was a climb of the city’s Torre degli Asinelli. It was a lovely day with plenty of sunshine, so when we got to the top we were spoiled by a beautiful clear view of the city and the surrounding hills. It was breath taking and I think it was the first moment I actually appreciated the true beauty of Bologna, beside the porticoes and covered walkways. Next, we went around the church of Santo Stefano and then the church of Santo Petronio in Piazza Maggiore, before going to see Neptune’s fountain. After lunch we walked up into the hills to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. Instead of taking the faster walk through the covered arcade (the longest in the world), we decided that as it was such a nice day, we would take the two-hour scenic route up a windy road. It was well-worth it as we were rewarded with stunning views of the hills and rural landscape around Bologna. The views from top were also fantastic, and the inside of the sanctuary was absolutely gorgeous despite the renovation work going on. We took the arcade route on the way back down which isn’t as picturesque, but gets you back to the city faster. That night UCL friends came round for drinks to christen my new home, though I was on diet coke because I’ve given up alcohol for lent – in a great wine-making nation…I know, what was I thinking?!?!

Church of San Stefano
Overall, I’d say my transition into life in Bologna has been pretty swift, with no real struggle or stress. I’ve settled into life at the university here, I’ve been making friends and tasting great food. I’m looking forward to discovering more of what the city has to offer and can’t wait to travel and explore more of Italy. I left Lyon behind, a city that will always have a very special place in my heart, but now it’s time for a new adventure…and maybe my heart has a little room left in it for Bologna to fill!!!

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