mamma mia, here we go again.

“you may have the universe if i may have italy.”

– giuseppe verdi – 

when i was in college i fell in love with italy.  i will never forget taking the subway to the colosseum and walking up the stairs to catch my very first glimpse of something i had always dreamed of seeing. after that first visit, i went back to italy every summer i was in college and count the country as one of my absolute favorites. fast forward 15 years and i was finally back, but this time in a new italian city en route to my european country #47, san marino.

i flew from cyprus via athens to bologna, where i would be staying for two days to explore the city before taking the train and bus to san marino. i was like a kid at christmas. delicious meat, cheese, pasta, wine, and warm weather, oh how i have missed you.

italy is filled with beautiful, magical things…..and mouthwatering food. bologna, considered by some to be the culinary capital of italy, definitely is no exception. the city’s namesake sauce, bolognese, is eaten all over the world (and here you eat it with tagliatelle, not spaghetti, which is considered very odd), they are known for their tortellini served in delicious lightly colored broth, as well as being home of the famous italian meat, mortadella. i mean, are you kidding me?!? time to move to italy. packing my bags as we speak. because i arrived at a weird restaurant dead-time in between lunch and dinner (italian restaurants typically close between lunch and dinner – be advised) i had a few hours of sightseeing before i started devouring everything that crossed my path. i wandered around the charming, busy streets getting lost, snapping pictures and enjoying the warm italian sun. i forgot how absolutely stunning italy is.  the architecture, history, the culture, the language, and the people. it’s simply amazing, and just oh so italian.

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i walked across the well preserved historic center, from piazza maggioree to the fountain of neptune to the towers of asinelli and garisenda, soaking in the colors of the city. terracotta reds, burnt oranges and sunny yellows seemed to radiate in every direction. warm, happy and comfortable.  it was friday when i arrived and you could tell the city was about to take on a new life, weekend vibes at their finest. as most italians were sipping their post-work lattes, i had other things on my mind.  stomach growling, i happened to walk past a crowded small outdoor bar area that was right outside a pasta shop, which was conveniently next to a meat and cheese shop (ahh italy, you do it right). i wandered inside wondering what all the fuss was about and after about 10 seconds in both shops seeing the meat and pasta and smelling the aroma of perfectly aged cheese, i went back outside and scooped up the last table, my mouth already watering.

surveying the menu my handsome italian waiter brought me, i quickly decided this would be a three course dinner kind of night.  accompanied by a glass of ice cold italian white wine, i chose a giant plate of meat and cheese (sliced from right inside the shop and delivered to my tableside) to start off my night.  it was amazing.  melt in your mouth delicious.  i lived in the north end of boston (boston’s little italy) for 12 years and have had some really fantastic imported meat and cheese from italy, but this blew everything i have had state-side out of the water.  not surprisingly the mortadella, locally sourced of course, was the standout of some really outstanding meat.  next up, another bologna classic, tortellini.  i opted for the non-broth version because i was feeling more saucy than soupy, and it was delicious as well.  homemade and lightly sauced, i was happy as a clam.  i love pasta and could eat it every single day, so to be sitting in italy, the home of pasta, and enjoying something i love with amazing wine was absolute perfection.  last up was panna cotta, which lucky for me, was the last one they had for the night.  paired with a couple glasses of prosecco and a coffee, it was like i had died and gone to heaven.  i definitely had come a long way from my college days of drinking cheap white wine on the spanish steps in rome.

my enjoyment of la cucina bolognese was put on hold for half a day when i travelled to san marino very early the next morning (the whole reason for my visit here, i guess i forgot about that as the prosecco was flowing like water the night before). i was up before the sun and took the 7am train to rimini to catch the bus to san marino (fun fact, no trains or planes go directly to san marino.  your only option is to drive or to take the bus – or walk, but let me know how that goes, san marino is 657m/2155ft above sea level). according to travel & leisure’s article, san marino is europe’s fastest growing tourist destination, and after i arrived in the third smallest country in europe (and the world’s oldest republic!) it was easy to see why. it was surrounded by mountains and beyond stunning. the bus dropped me off right in the center of the capital and because i left so early we were the only bus in the area. it was like i had the entire city to myself. the beautiful windy streets, majestic mountain views, viewpoints overlooking the valleys below, and charming shops looked more like a picture perfect fairytale than a place that actually existed in real life. i spent several hours wandering the streets, in and out of shops, and even enjoyed a few local beers complete with million dollar views. the weather was perfect and i could not have asked for a better day in such an amazing country.  san marino truly is a hidden gem that is worth taking a short trip away from italy to experience.

that being said, so long san marino!  now, back to bologna. i had one more night in italy before i flew back to boston and i was going to make the most of it. i made a dinner reservation at a restaurant around the corner from my hotel where i enjoyed another healthy meal of italian meat, tagliatelle all bolognese, dessert, and a hearty barolo.  this time i went fancy and ordered a bottle of wine, that i of course finished, and enjoyed every drop of.  it was saturday night and i was in italy afterall. la vita è bella. 

the lazy sunny days finally caught up with me and it was already time to head home.  i went from boston to london to helsinki to kyiv to larnaca to athens to bologna to london and back to boston on this trip, crossing off two new countries (cyprus and san marino) and would be back in the air again in a few weeks to finish off the last four.  it’s true what they say, time flies when you’re having fun…..

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