Bologna is one of the best cities in Italy for meeting Italians.
And if you ask the native Bolognese what is great about their city they may answer the colonnade's, the tortellini or the university - but every one of the them will mention the 'Two Towers'. They still are the tallest buildings in central Bologna and give fantastic views of the red-roofed cityscape and the mountains beyond. It you have a head for heights and a penchance for medieval architecture then a visit to the Towers is a must.
You may be surprised to learn that one tower is bigger then the other. The Tower nearest Via Rizzoli is smaller then the other more eastern tower. And they were constructed in the 14th century by feuding families who were both trying to outdo each other. The winner could look down on his rival and claim better social standing in the city.
Today, tourists to the city, if they have the stamina, can climb to the top of the tallest tower. It costs 4,000 lira to enter and the wooden medieval staircase winds its way up the interior of the tower. As you ascend the sheer drop down the centre of the tower is not for vertigo sufferers and the view out of the arrowslits is spectacular.
I only managed half-way up and was amazed at the russet-red rooftops stretching away into the distance. The church of St Petronius can be seen from this height and in Piazza di Maggiore the people wandering around look like ants. My travel companion reached the very top and assured me the snowcovered mountains could be seen and even skyscrapers are visible on the outskirts of Bologna.
The Via Rizzoli leads to Piazza di Maggiore. This Via is worth a look if only for the expensive shops which line its sides. But if you take the narrow streets just north of here it will lead to a fabulous Bolognese market (mercato). Snack bars serve traders and shoppers alike with coffee's and panini's and each alley is crammed with stalls selling fresh crayfish, octopi, and ink-coloured squid.
Stalls were stacked wth cheeses as big as door-stop's, salami and fresh vegetables. These were worth a look - huge mounds of peppers, artichokes, Aubergine's and spinach. I watched Bolognese women squeeze tomatoes and mushrooms with practised hands trying to judge their juiciness.
Just off here is a tiny snack bar with served excellent meals - their Vermicelli (thin spheggetti) Puttenesca was exquisite. And the Bolognese are so particular about what they eat - the proprietor took great pride in showing me the garlic and tomatoes he was going to use in the fresh cooking. We sat out in the sunshine, with feet up and enjoying a glass of chianti - can life get any better then this?