The Palladian Traveler is on the clock and under the gun as he races through triple-headed Bologna, biting, gulping and shooting along the way in this, his 17th Country Roads dispatch. Tick…tick…tick…
The late Italian film director Sergio Leone, best remembered for his “spaghetti westerns,” brought together three unique characters in his U.S. Civil War period feature centered on the search for buried Confederate gold: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The 1966 flick runs 161 min. and stars Clint Eastwood (the Good), Lee Van Cleef (the Bad), and Eli Wallach (the Ugly).
Bologna, the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region of central Italy, has three unique sides to its personality. It’s known as La Dotta (The Learned) because the oldest university (1088) in the western world is there; La Rossa (The Red) because of the terra cotta color of the roofs; and, La Grassa (The Fat) because of all of the great cuisine found within its postal code.
Unlike Leone’s classic, Bologna has no runtime, but my presence here does.
You see, my band of merry media — guests of Insight Vacations on one of its Country Roads of Italy journeys — has just hopped off the motorcoach at the edge of Bologna’s Centro Storico (historic center).
Before we’re unleashed, Belinda, Insight’s tour director-slash-storyteller, puts everyone on the clock. We have exactly 60 min., or just a bit more than a third of the way through Leone’s capolavoro (masterpiece), to wolf down lunch, on our own euro, and see what we can see of this triple-headed city before the sand in the hourglass runs down.
Feeling like a contestant on one of the legs of The Amazing Race, I do what anyone would do when time is of the essence: ask a local.
I pop into a nearby tabaccheria (tobacco shop) for a quick lunch recommendation, and the friendly attendant behind the register, without blinking an eye, responds: Il Calice. It’s a bar, straight ahead on Via Clavature. Walk through the portico and it’ll be on your right.
Got it. And I dash out like the White Rabbit sans the oversized pocket watch.
Il Calice — the Chalice — is right where it’s supposed to be, and pretty much empty when I enter.
Massimo, the barista, tells me there’s a small restaurant upstairs, but I’m on the clock, watch, hourglass, whatever, and stay put at street level and order what I see eyeing me back: a tray of tartine, delicious bite-sized open sandwiches topped with shrimp, avocado and fresh veggies.
I grab two, along with a glass of sparkling white wine followed by a caffè macchiato (an espresso with foamy milk).
In between bites and gulps, Massimo gives me a quick lay of the land. As it turns out, I’m standing right in the middle of where Bologna clicks, the Quadrilatero neighborhood of the Centro Storico.
It’s the city’s old market area, with narrow streets and shops filled with all kinds of food products, fresh produce, along with catches-of-the-day from the nearby Adriatic Sea.
And I’m just an alley or two over from the very expansive Piazza Maggiore where the Fountain of Neptune, Palazzo D’Accursio, and the Basilica of San Petronio, home to the world’s largest sundial, are located.
Speaking of sundials, I’m late! I pay the bill, thank Massimo, and, under the cover of some of Bologna’s 40-kilometers of porticos, pass quickly by the aforementioned landmarks toward the prearranged meet-up point.
All present and accounted for, we head back to the motorcoach, hop on board and let The Learned, The Red and The Fat fade away. Bologna, gone in 60 minutes.
While we’re reclining our business-class legroom seats, Belinda announces, excitedly, our new GPS coordinates.
We’ve got a two-hour drive ahead of us to reach the last chapter of our “Country Roads” journey. We’re headed to Venice! The city of canals, gondolas, Casanova, Carnivale, decorative glass and sparkling Prosecco wine!
Someone in the peanut gallery raises their hand and asks, Did you just say, “the LAST chapter of our Country Roads journey”?
Yes, Belinda replies.
All together now: TURN THE BUS AROUND! LET’S START OVER!
To learn more about traveling in style on one of Insight Vacations’ 12 Italian premium and luxury escorted itineraries — where you’ll meet great local personalities like The Etruscan Chef along the way — or one of its 100 other journeys around Europe, visit insightvacations.com, or call toll-free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you soon on the private water taxi as we float down the Grand Canal to a five-star, luxury “bunkhouse,” our digs while we’re guests in La Serenissima.
Ciao for now.