Climbing towers and hills in Bologna, and one of the best Italian meals ever

Part II of my long weekend in Bologna, Italy. See Part I here.

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Asinelli Tower

To climb the Asinelli Tower in Bologna, one must make an online reservation and pay 5 euros in advance. Do not make the same mistake as the couple who stood in line before me at the foot of the tower, who sputtered with shock and indignation when they were brusquely turned away by staff — and tickets were already sold out for the whole day, too.

The twin towers of Bologna stand uncomfortably close together, both obviously leaning crookedly at a bizarre angle when viewed from a distance. Apparently they were built almost a thousand years ago by rival families in Bologna as a dick-measuring contest. They have very little room inside for anything and seem to have no real value aside from being a piece of Italian history and heritage. Asinelli, the taller tower, is the only one open to visitors.

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Tickets to the tower are timed, and only about 10 people are let in at each half-hour interval because the insides of the tower are uncomfortably narrow — there’s no room for two people to pass each other on the stairs. In case it’s not obviously, there is no elevator. Once inside, there is an unspoken pressure to keep robotically climbing until you reach the top, which is 97 meters, or 498 steps, away.

Every few flights of stairs, there is a slightly larger platform with a fan, a chair, and defibrillator. I would not recommend this activity for anyone who:

  • Is severely claustrophobic
  • Finds it difficult to climb stairs that are very small and at times cannot even fit the length of a whole foot
  • Has trouble climbing multiple flights of stairs without stopping, especially while wearing a mask
  • Has a debilitating fear of heights

That said, I don’t think you need to be an athlete to scale this thing. My fitness level is low-medium: I walk about 5,000 to 10,000 steps a day, and climb five flights of stairs to get to my apartment every day. I climbed to the top of the tower with no issues.

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At the top of the tower is a panoramic view of the red roofs of Bologna!

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Definitely worth the 5 euros.

Santuario della Madonna di San Luca

The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca (or San Luca for short) is a must-see while in Bologna. There is a portico of 4.8 km — the longest covered walkway in the world — that stretches all the way from the city center in Bologna uphill to the sanctuary. To put that into perspective, that’s about 3 miles and just over an hour of walking.

I chose to take a trolley called the San Luca Express from Piazza Maggiore to San Luca and then walk the way back, which worked out well since it was all downhill. The trolley was 10 euros for the roundtrip, and they only accepted credit card payment for some reason.

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Upon reaching San Luca, the trolley will actually keep going a little further so that you can take pictures of the sanctuary from a distance!

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And here’s the sanctuary up close and personal.

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The porticoes had a healthy flow of foot traffic, both uphill and downhill. There was plenty of built-in seating along the way to enjoy the view.

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After about 40 minutes, the porticoes begin to subtly blend into the city, becoming a part of the ordinary street architecture. This means it’s time to stop for a meal or coffee! Many places were closed as it was a Sunday, but there were plenty of places that were open.

I stopped outside one restaurant to look at the menu posted on the wall, and immediately a waiter emerged, inviting me inside. “Would you like to eat in the garden?” he asked. Sounds good, I thought. He led me through the darkened restaurant to the back — into a garden that I would have completely to myself. And some pants.

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It was already 2pm and I was starving after the walk, so I ordered a large salad and a spaghetti vongole. I had no idea what that actually was, but it’s Italy! You can’t go wrong trying new foods! And indeed, when the spaghetti came, I almost cried. It was so good. The pasta was so fresh, with a faint taste of citrus but also buttery goodness. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

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I believe the restaurant is called Porta Saragozza. It’s in a great location on the way back from San Luca to Bologna town center, and the service is lovely as well.

To be continued.

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