So I'm going to start today off by saying wow and thank you - I did not expect such a warm response to my last post. Anyone who knows me in real life will be well aware that I am incredibly open and unabashed when it comes to talking about sex and vaginas and divulging the explicit details of menstruation to any unfortunate men in my immediate vicinity (seriously tho, we don't get to choose to have periods so they don't get to choose whether they hear about it, right?!) Even so, I found it so hard to get the courage together to push publish on that last post (which is, in case you're about to accuse me of clickbait, all about my problems with vulvodynia, a condition where your vagina is a little bitch and sends pain signals instead of normal touch signals).

I was kind of expecting some real internet tumbleweed but I had so many people commenting and getting in touch to send lovely messages, even if it wasn't personally relevant to them, which was such a wonderful surprise. Evidently I'm not famous enough for trolls yet 😉

On the topic of "my life blah blah blah", I'd also like to announce that I've discovered the secret to happiness. I've been having such a slump lately with an ever-increasing workload, the car being written off, my vulvodynia diagnosis, my grandparents being ill and in hospital/nursing homes now - I was just beginning to feel noticeably flat and low more often than I was content and motivated (which is NOT good when you're doing a PhD and have nobody to fall back on but yourself). It's nothing awful, it's just little things chipping away at me and I need to get my oomph back. Today was one of those days again so I came home, did a workout (anyone else been doing The Body Coach's January bootcamp on Facebook? I'm a couple of weeks behind but I LOVE IT), ate a jacket potato that was positively swimming in butter with the biggest dollop of cottage cheese on top, garnished with a crack of black pepper and some fancy cherry tomatoes (i.e., not the 99p ones that taste like acid) and now have a bubble bath running, some sandalwood incense ready to burn and a big bar of Lindt dark chocolate with roasted hazelnuts in. I'm SO happy. This almost tops the day I ate a pizza in the bath. Almost.

Anyway. Bologna.

The last in my mini series on Bologna sadly (parts 1 and 2 are here and here). I've been dragging it out whilst I wait for the bloody Budapest photos to get their arses back here in England (for new readers - I broke my camera, I borrowed my partner's, I forgot to put the photos on my computer before he went back to Italy...) Not long left now hooray!

We woke up on the morning of our mini-break to about 100 Facebook messages from Andrea, who had been awake since about 7am and couldn't handle our languid approach to mornings. As soon as we revealed ourselves to be awake, he bustled into the living area (where we had been sleeping on the comfiest sofa bed in the world) and promptly set about making vegan chocolate chip pastries for breakfast. I mean, you just can't complain can you?

Michele and I were setting off mid-afternoon so that we could get back to Milan in time for dinner. Seeing as we'd had such an extensive tour of the city of Bologna the day before and seeing as we had a car at our disposal, Andrea and Martina insisted we drive up into the hills and visit the chiesa di Montecalvo. 

On the drive, we passed through the city and out into the countryside. Here, the wintry sunlight seemed to wash the landscape of all colour. The woods that lined the winding lanes were laced with frost and streams were frozen solid. Despite those pretty chilly conditions we still managed to get stuck behind a load of cyclists who were obviously made of a tougher mettle than us!

The chiesa di Montecalvo seemed to be the centre of all warmth and colour amidst the cool blues and greens of the hills. It sat at the end of a long, straight path lined with cypress trees. And although I'd never seen it before, there was something incredibly familiar and iconic about it.

We took the road that trundled down the hill beneath the church. It quickly petered out and we picked our way across the grass, slipping in the patches of mud where the stony path had worn through. Here, we were out on the open hillside with a view across the fields that gradually disappeared into hazy layers of sunlight. I broke the spell thanks to my insatiable bladder, climbing into a prickly thicket of trees which masked a steep hillside drop, down which I very nearly tumbled whilst trying to manoeuvre myself into a squat. You can always trust me to a) need a wee and b) end up doing something idiotic and inelegant.

Once we had clambered back up the hill (and I had acquired so much compacted mud on my poor ankle boots that I was walking wonkily from the extra heel height on one side) and piled back into the car, our next destination was fairly easy to spot.

Now I don't know how I'd never heard of this place before, but the Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca is pretty darn impressive. It loomed over the landscape as we approached in the car, visible for miles and miles and miles around on its hilltop perch.

Glorious in the earthy tones that are so redolent of all Emilia Romagna's towns and cities, it was immense and imposing structure. Whilst the chiesa di Montecalvo had been deserted, the Santuario was instead peppered with all kinds of people enjoying a sunny winter's day. Families huddled and chattered around benches, tourists and travellers squatted low to the grass trying to cram the entire edifice into their viewfinders (not me with my 50mm fixed lens..), groups of runners eased and stretched after their long run up from the centre of Bologna.

How did the runners get up there? - you might ask. Well, I said before that Bologna was the city of arches. The Portico di San Luca is a 4km-long series of arches (666 to be exact, which seems like an unfortunate oversight) stretching all the way from the city centre up to the Santuario.

It all made me feel rather lazy for having arrived in the car...

The day was wearing on after our wonderfully luxurious lie-in and Andrea was desperate to cook us a vegan version of one of my favourite Italian dishes, pizzoccheri. So it was time for a final bundle into the car and a quick journey back down the hill into the city.

The original dish consists of buckwheat pasta, cubes of potato, chard and mountains of cheese and butter (it is quite honestly heaven - if you know what's good for you, visit Valtellina near Lake Como and live off pizzoccheri and polenta with all the cheese, butter and sage you could ever dream of). Andrea made it with tahini instead of cheese for his vegan version and it was crazy good! He is a very talented chef and I fully intend on stealing all of his recipes and selling them off as my own one day.

And with that (plus a hefty glass of red to send me snoozing all the way back to Milan in the passenger seat), we bid Bologna goodbye and headed back to the (Italian) big smoke!

Grazie mille to Martina and Andrea, our wonderful friends, who gave us such a wonderful couple of days in the golden city!