On Saturday night, Michele grabbed my laptop off me and began plotting.
We both felt a need to get out of the city and have a change of scene for a little while but seeing as there were lots of things that needed to be done back at the flat, we didn't have much time nor could we stray too far from Milan.
As neither of us had ever been to Bologna before, it seemed the perfect option. We hit booking.com and within minutes had booked a hotel for the following night. We needed to be back in Milan early on Monday morning so we set off early on Sunday, giving us 24 hours in the bronze city.
The cathedral was funded and built by the citizens of Bologna to honour San Petronio. It was designed as a house for the bolognesi and was built big enough to fit the entire population of the time in!
Bologna's architecture is very typical of the province of Emilia Romagna and looks very similar to other cities that we'd visited such as Modena and Parma (here) before.
Neither of us had much of an agenda for the trip due to its last minute nature so we spent the entire day wandering around happily and aimlessly. We went around in circles, choosing directions at random at crossroads and stumbled across beautiful little alleys and courtyards.
Meaning, of course, that I got overly snap happy as we went!
(I was so struck by the overlapping of different architectural styles in this ^ one here that I almost got run over by a bike as I stopped dead in the middle of the zebra crossing - oops!)
As it was Sunday, lots of shops were closed but even so, we didn't run out of things to do. The day was absolutely perfect for our haphazard sightseeing, with the velvety warm air being stirred occasionally by a silky breeze.
Obviously, one of Bologna's most famous exports is its ragu and you can't help but have food on the mind as you go around, even if it is hours before lunchtime!
Every street seems to be decked out with cafes offering luxurious pastries, fresh pasta shops, delicatessens, bars and enotecas offering platters of cheeses and thinly sliced meats.
Bologna is definitely a city that makes your stomach growl.
To distract myself from all the food, I walked along with my gaze and lens firmly pointed upwards.
Which was a great idea because some of the most beautiful bolognese architecture is hiding way above your head.
To prove this point, for the more energetic out there, you can climb to the top of the Torre Asinelli, the eye-wateringly tall tower that you can't fail to notice poking above the rest as you meander lazily around the streets.
Bologna used to have over 100 towers. They belonged to rich and influential families however most of them have disappeared over the years. The Two Towers (the tallest of which is the Asinelli) are now a prominent landmark of the city and it costs €3 per person to climb them.
If you dare.
Michele was very cruel and convinced me that the staircases hadn't been replaced since the 1600s. I can assure you that they have. Although they do still feel a bit rickety at times!
After you've been climbing for what feels like 10 hours, you'll finally come out on the top.
Way, way, way up on the top. Above-the-birds kind of top. Even looking back at these photos makes me dizzy (and reminds me of how I very nearly lost my camera over the edge!)
The towers in Bologna are similar to their cousin in Pisa in that they too are leaning! Access to the smaller of the two isn't permitted but once you've climbed the Asinelli who has time (and muscles) to climb any more stairs anyway?
Once you've been treated to these views, not much else can beat it.
On the way down, we were followed by a group of crazy young things who, after one of them slipped and slid down one flight of stairs on his arse, decided to try and go down the entire thing on their behinds. Needless to say we hurried on down as quickly as we could to avoid getting flattened!
Once we were out in the open, thinking we were safe, I stopped to take a photo of the towers to show the extent of our leggiwork (handiwork, leggiwork, no?)
But it was not to be.
As soon as I stopped, camera poised, finger above the shutter button, a bird took the opportunity to take the most gigantic shit on Michele's arm. I mean, wow. It was really something spectacular. His entire arm was covered in poo. We're talking a wonderfully co-ordinated series of splatters going white, brown, white, brown in perfect order from his shoulder to his hand. Too distracted by this
We quite literally stumbled upon a quirky little restaurant a couple of streets away and decided to have lunch there seeing as Michele was in desperate need of a sink. I cannot for the life of me find it online but if you fancy trying to find it, turn your back on the Torre Asinelli and head in the direction of the "Ghetto Ebraica" (Jewish ghetto) and wander about until you find a cute little hole in the wall with tables outside and handwritten cardboard signs to show the daily specials. The tables will probably all say reserved but if you ask the owner he will have space for you.
Michele had an omelette with cheese sauce and vegetables and I had an aubergine lasagne with smoked provola cheese. It was delicious, hearty and simple.
Afterwards we headed in the direction of the Escher exhibition, passing a little corner of Venice on the way.
The Escher exhibition was so interesting and is in Bologna until 19 July. I didn't take any photos because I was so wrapped up in his mind boggling world but all of the iconic works are there including the incredible Metamorphosis. It really is worth stopping by and seeing!
Afterwards, our feet and legs were in agony and I really fancied a nice cool drink of something alcoholic. Michele lured me back to the hotel with promises of the hotel bar but then we ended up just falling asleep in our room and completely missing happy hour. We didn't even break into the mini bar!
However my disappointment was quickly diminished when we arrived at the restaurant for the evening.
"Don't expect any fancy Michelin food, it's quite a simple, local trattoria." He said.
Well, when we rocked up at Antica Trattoria della Gigina (which you really must book ahead for!), there was a doorman ready to push open the Michelin-sticker-plastered door for you. Just inside was a beautiful old bar counter and a big easel saying "Benvenuti" to each and every party. Such a nice touch!
Now, a word of warning to all vegetarians out there. Emilia Romagna is one of those regions that doesn't entirely accept the concept of vegetarianism. So you may tell the waiter you're veggie and he may be able to find at least one plate on the menu that you can eat (to be fair there were a handful that evening) but that is not to say that he won't bring you a complementary appetiser that has a sneaky bit of meat in it.
Perhaps you are smarter than me and won't eat the pink "croutons" in the soup but I discovered what sausage tastes like again after 13 years (not bad but don't get all the fuss?) and was then faced with the dilemma of finding somewhere to spit it out that wasn't the fancy napkin I had folded neatly on my lap.
The menu doesn't change that often as a lot of their dishes have been so celebrated by critics and locals alike that it would be simply criminal to get rid of them! And, of course, a lot of them are meat based. If you're heading to Bologna, this really would be an excellent opportunity to try that traditional bolognese ragu.
As for the grass eaters like me? I had homemade nettle gnocchi in a rich parmesan sauce with the perfect balance of black truffle flavour followed by smoked bufala mozzarella and a selection of grilled vegetables! All this paired with a bottle of local Lambrusco wine (a fizzy red, who knew?) and a shared dessert of crema fredda, crema fritta (cold cream, fried cream) which was deep fried cubes of patisserie-style cream dusted in sugar with a big scoop of cool, vanilla gelato. So so so good. But needless to say, we did not hit the mini bar when we got back to the hotel either. Instead, we hit our pillows and said goodnight to Bologna.