BOLOGNA. So what comes to your mind when I mention Bologna? Spaghetti Bolognese? Beware, I can read your mind.
To tell you the truth, at first I thought Spaghetti Bolognese is Bologna’s supposed signature dish, but when I was there, I simply could not find any Spaghetti Bolognese. I learned from the locals that they use tagliatelle instead of spaghetti and the meat-based sauce is called ragù. The earliest documented recipe of an Italian ragù comes from Pellegrino Artusi who first published a recipe in 1891 for a meat sauce characterised as being “bolognese”. There you go, the name to look for ‘tagliatelle al ragù‘. Finding a halal one is quite hard in Bologna, but it’s not a big deal as I can always make Spaghetti Bolognese (or tagliatelle al ragù) at home.
I visited Bologna last March for the second time to attend the world’s biggest children’s book fair. I went to do research on my new children’s books, besides being there at the Malaysia Pavilion to promote my books for international licensing rights.The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the most important international event dedicated to children’s publishing and multimedia industry. I was there in 2010. I wanted to go back this year because previously I didn’t have much chance to really explore the halls and really look at children’s books displayed at the book fair. I also didn’t have the chance to stick my illustrations on the Illustrator Wall because I didn’t know about it until I was there. I am thankful to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for sponsoring my return flights to attend this prestigious event and eventually get to stick my illustrations on the wall.
You see, this is the kind of book fair that I quickly feel belonged. There were children’s books everywhere. There were millions of books on display! Just imagine that I was like a child in her playground getting the right toys!
For your information, Bologna Children’s Book Fair has been around for 53 years. Bologna Children’s Book Fair is an annual event where authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors and licensees, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers and librarians meet. Here they sell and buy copyright, find the very best of children’s publishing and multimedia production, generate and gather new contacts while strengthening professional relationships, discover new business opportunities, discuss and debate the latest sector trends.
I am proud that this year, my books and books that I illustrated were also being displayed at the Malaysia Pavilion. But yes, the hidden agenda was to just travel. Prior to Bologna, I went to Arcidosso, a commune in the Province of Grosseto in the Italian region Tuscany, including Florence and Venice.
Apart from being at the book fair for a few days, I got a day off to explore some parts of Bologna city with my illustrator friend, Evi, who stayed with me in a rented room in an apartment at Via Ferruccio Garavaglia that we booked through Airbnb. It’s way much cheaper to rent through Airbnb rather than hotel room for 2 pax. We stayed with the owners, Katerina and Fabio, a very friendly and nice couple. We rented the room because it is situated near the book fair, only about 10 minutes’ walk.
We went out to the city early in the morning, took bus 35 to the city and started walking to Via dell’indipendenza, a business street that is not far from Bologna Centrale (the main station) via Piazza XX Settembre. There was an open market at Piazza XX Settembre called Fiera del Libro that sells books and prints. This book market takes place twice a year: March to May (Spring) and from October to November (Autumn). Evi and I bought some art books at very good price.
Opposite Piazza XX Settembre, there’s Montagnola Park. Montagnola Park is the oldest park of Bologna and it has always been a location for cultural performances, games and sports competitions. This park is open to the public since 1664. The park is accessible via two beautiful flights of steps decorated with sculptures and reliefs, including a beautiful fountain depicting the horse and virgin in the grasp of an octopus.
We later strolled along the porticoed Independence Street towards Piazza Nettuno. Independence Street is the major shopping strip, with an abundance of local boutiques and jewellery stores, not to mention the international ones. I bought a pair of Marietta’s suede boots for 10 Euros and a Pull&Bear jeans for 17 Euros. Oh, and a sweater for 15 Euros at a boutique that I can’t remember the name.
Along the walk to Piazza Nettuno, we saw the baroque Cattedrale di Bologna, a church that is dedicated to Saint Peter. Most of the present building dates from the 17th century, with a few parts from the late 16th century. The architecture is so grand and amazing.
When we got to Piazza Nettuno, we saw a rally going on. The rally, called S.O.S. Venezuela, was in support of students and protesters in Venezuela who are standing up against President Nicolas Maduro’s regime. S.O.S Venezuela was simultaneously held in dozens of cities throughout the world on the same day. The objective of the gathering was to create public awareness of what is happening in Venezuela as well as gain signatures for a petition to get elected officials to take a stand and denounce the human rights violations. We didn’t join but just stood there watching the rally while looking at beautiful buildings in the area including the Fountain of Neptune.
The Fountain of Neptune (Fontana di Nettuno), a monumental civic fountain with a bronze figure of Neptune, extending his reach in a lordly gesture of stilling and controlling the waters. I was mesmerised to learn that in 1920, one of the Maserati brothers, the artist Mario Maserati, used this symbol in the logo as it was considered particularly appropriate for the sports car company due to fact that Neptune represents strength and vigour. In addition, the statue is a characteristic symbol of the company’s original home city, Bologna.
Other than Maserati, I thought that it is good to mention here that Ducati and Lamborghini was also established in Bologna in 1926 and 1963 respectively.
Also in the vicinity of the square is the big Biblioteca Salaborsa. Salaborsa is Bologna’s multimedia and general information library, which provides users of all ages with books, newspapers, magazines, videos, compact disks, data banks, along with cabled and wi-fi internet connections. Access to the library is free.
Opposite of Salaborsa is the Town Hall (or Palazzo d’Accursio), consisting a set of buildings that were united over the centuries. In the 15th century, it was restored by Fioravante Fioravanti, who added, among other features, the Clock Tower.
And the clock made us hungry! We didn’t realise that we had walked and explored for 5 hours! It was already 3pm and we decided to eat rice. We walked the same route back to the station and had our late lunch at a Pakistani cafe. While eating, we planned to explore more parts of the city but suddenly the rain poured. We decided to just go back to the apartment and rest. The 5-hour walk (with a heavy camera, bag full of books, new pair of boots, jeans and sweater) had an effect on my back.
We did go out to the city once or twice to have lunch and buy few other things during other days but that was about it since we had limited time. After discussing much about it, Evi and I like to go back to Bologna on a more relaxed trip, not as an excursion for an event.
Bologna has so much to offer and makes a perfect off-the-beaten-path destination for savvy travellers. It is a delight to simply wander and discover unexpected sights and architectural masterpieces from the past, not forgetting the tagliatelle al ragù.
Getting to Bologna: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines operate twice daily from Kuala Lumpur(KUL) to Bologna (BLQ).
P/S: I wrote this article for Gaya Travel magazine and will appear in the latest issue 9.3.