Italy is divided up into twenty regions, and each region is further divided into provinces.  Bologna is located in the Emilia-Romagna region, in Northern Italy, and has a population of about 400,000.  Known as the Red City for its Spanish-styled red tile rooftops, it is also known as the Fat City for its rich cuisine.

We sampled some of Bologna’s rich cuisine during our first dinner together, a delicious meal that concluded with a classic Italian dessert, panna cotta, a delicious custard topped with chocolate sauce.  If this first meal was any indication of what was to follow over the next three weeks, we were in for many treats to come!

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Our first morning in Bologna was spent learning how to make tortellini and other varieties of pasta.  Our tour leader, Oscar, jumped right in!

Oscar, 29, recently became a tour leader and was trained by Ben, the senior Italian tour leader who would be leading us throughout the base program in Tuscany and Umbria.  (I will have more to share about Ben in future posts.)

Hailing from Rome, Oscar is a professional musician.  When I asked him about his music in our pre-trip e-mails, he sent me a link to his music and website.  Take a listen to this .  That’s Oscar on bass, and he is a phenomenal talent!

It was Oscar’s music that inspired an instant connection both Bruce and I shared with him, because of our music backgrounds.  We had a lot of fun talking music with him.  Oscar has a great voice, too, and that night, when we returned to the same restaurant where we were taught how to make pasta, we got to hear it.  In a conversation about classic rock bands, I happened to mention that The Who’s, “Behind Blue Eyes” was the only song I knew the words to that was also in my vocal range.  He broke out in an impromptu rendition, encouraged me to join in, and then he harmonized with my melody line.  I wonder what the other diners in the restaurant thought of that

During another dinner, Oscar was telling us about an American jazz musician he met in Bologna at a music conference and mentioned this musician was a music professor at USC.  I asked (half-joking, because of the slim odds), “Oh, was it Richard Smith?” Bruce and I had heard Richard perform in San Diego and talked with him a bit afterwards when I purchased his CD.  Oscar, startled, took a business card out of his wallet and said, “Yes!” passing the card down for me to examine.  I thought he was kidding, and the card would have another name on it, but sure enough, it was Richard Smith’s business card!  Small world!!

What was it about Italy and small world stories?  The first time I was in Rome, I was with my mom, and we were weaving our way through a very busy plaza between the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, when I spotted former San Diego Mayor, Roger Hedgecock.  He was a member of the University Club where I was a server, trainer; and, created and ran a jazz dinner concert series.  I had served him a few times, so we were familiar with each other.  In Rome, he was leading a tour group of listeners of his radio talk show program.

Shocked to see him (I mean what were the chances???), I went up to say hello, not noticing who else was in the group.  Then, I heard an excited voice from the group exclaim, “I know you!  You serve us at the University Club!”  It was Dr. Vance and his wife, two of my regulars at the club.  And, that, my friends, is the photo op. that got away.  Why didn’t I grab a picture of us???

Back to Oscar, we had a lot of laughs, a lot of fun, and a lot of gelato together during our six-day pre-extension.  During one day in Parma, Bruce and I had gelato with Oscar during our afternoon free time AND for dessert with the group that night.  He taught me how to order it in Italian, “Una coppetta di gelato al cioccolato, per favore?”  I repeated that request many times throughout our three weeks in Italy…

Now, then, are more of the sites we saw in Bologna during our walking tour, in between making pasta and savoring our gelatos:

Bologna is a UNESCO-protected medieval city. One of the sites we toured was the University of Bologna that dates back to 1088, and was the first higher learning institute in the Western world.
The ceilings were incredibly ornate!
This narrow pedestrian street was full of restaurants and specialty grocery stores.
The Emilia-Romagna region is known for producing many Italian delicacies. We learned a lot about all of them in the days ahead.
That’s a lot of parmesan cheese!
A dessert on display where we opted for gelato, although this looked enticing!
This is “chocolate salami,” a dessert I did enjoy. It’s called “salami,” because it’s made in a salami-shaped log. Delizioso!

Coming up next: Ravenna’s Magnificent Mosaics

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