After much discussion, legwork, and more than a little angst, we opted to enrol Gabi in Bologna's International School (ISB). Original intentions were to 'throw her in the deep end' at a local school, but a number of considerations prevented that from occurring.
Day 1 across from the school ... what nerves Dad?
Without going into laborious detail, our main concern was how she would enjoy herself, and advance educationally, in a foreign speaking environment. Plenty of qualified people we spoke to said she would be fine and pick up Italiano quickly, but we couldn't convince ourselves that would be the case. So she started at the ISB on the 16th October (around 5 weeks later than most her class), and so far everything has worked out well.
Day 1 dropoff with Jayne Dowd ... Mum looks a bit uptight
Day 1 ... stop fussing parents!
The school runs from kindergarten up to year 6, and is quite small with only one class per year and about 18 in each class. Italian food is served up every day for lunch - no complaints there from Gabs! - and the school day is a standard 8:50 to 3:30. In her class most of the kids are Italian (or close enough with at least one Italian parent), and hence they study Italian as a 'mother tongue', whilst Gabi, plus a Swedish girl and a American boy study Italian twice a week as a second language. As is the case across all of Italy, extra curricular activities are organised by the parents and take place away from the school, so no school sports teams which is a shame.
With Gabi in school, and Nat in child care/preschool, the hard working genitori (parents) now have some extra time up their sleeves (please suppress laughter, and we know the sympathy won't be forthcoming!). Lisa is still beavering away at language school, and I'm becoming more closely acquainted with our local trattorias and osterias.
I thought it might be interesting to look at the cost of a solo lunch the other day. The place in question was Trattoria Fantoni - in many respects a normal restaurant in a low-key part of town. It does have a good reputation however, and the locals tend to flock there during the week (lunchtime here is from 1:00, and can go as late as 3:00). A delicious bowl of pasta was AUD 6.25; mixed salad (enough for 2) $3.75; 250ml carafe of very drinkable house red $4.40; to die for panna cotta with vanilla and caramel $3.75; and an espresso to finish up $1.25. Coperto of $1.85 is the standard service fee charged, which pretty much precludes giving a tip.
adds a new dimension to the term "value for money"
Apart from the fact that Lisa may seek a divorce as I turn into a blimp, and the favourable exchange rate makes this story a little flimsy, it is still a great way to spend an hour of your time and $20 of your hard earned listening to the locals and eating some great, simple food. And of course this is not an isolated example ... you can find a Trattoria Fantoni down many sidestreets and alleys in Bologna, and also the rest of wonderful Italy.
like so many Italian restaurants, nothing to look at from the outside ... it's what comes out of the kitchen that counts.
So how do they do it? Well, for this place (& most) customer turnover is the key. In that 2 hour period they will probably get 3 groups through each table, which makes it hard work for them, but keeps the till ringing. Produce is incredibly cheap, and most of these places will only cook what they can buy fresh, so that combined with the very low cost of pasta and wine all helps to make it an affordable experience. Finally, labour costs are also quite low as I understand, at least in the catering industry. So if we can just keep the AUD strong against the euro ...
I suspect most people who have travelled internationally in the last few years have used this behemoth. It is what Lonely Planet was to backpackers in the 80's and 90's ... a bible to be followed (almost religiously) by pimply travellers without much clue, and a godsend (or death knell) for businesses lucky enough to be listed, or not.
The tripadvisor model is beautiful in its simplicity ... get all the punters to do the work! The website simply collates reviews posted by travellers for accommodation, restaurants, and tourist sites. Places reviewed are given a score out of 5, and this then forms a table where the 'best' place - let's say a restaurant - comes up at the top of a list when a user of the site requests for example 'Bologna Restaurants'. It can be an incredible boon for the business that earns a very high rating, because many people (I'll include myself here) struggle to work their way past the Top 10 for most categories or areas.
Mantova - Osteria delle Erbe - tripadvisor 134 of 182 - this time they got it right ... just a meal
And herein lies the rub for a city like Bologna. At last count 662 restaurants had been listed with nearly 20,000 reviews. Not bad for a town of 380,000 people ... Melbourne had four times as many restaurants listed, but with only 24,000 reviews to spread amongst that lot. Trattoria Fantoni where I ate rates 3 out of 5, but comes in 382nd on the list - skewered by a couple of unfavourable reviews, including one from Lois in Melbourne! - but overall not a bad score. Similarly a place garnering 4.5 out of 5 can list as low as 60th; so we obviously bat deep here in culinary-rich Bologna, but that is not much help to the owner who is clearly doing a great job.
One other quirk to mention from this website - extraordinary when you think of Bologna's gourmand reputation - is that 10 of the top 14 'restaurants' listed were gelaterias! Now, either Bologna is slipping as a foodie destination; tripadvisor bloggers have sweet tooths; or the owners of these gelaterias have worked out how the game is played, and a lot of friends have been enlisted to post some strong reviews. Because the strength of this website is also its' achilles heel - anyone can post a review ...
Speaking of gelati, it would be remiss not to mention our favourite place here in Bologna, which is one of the 10 gelaterias hogging the limelight over on tripadvisor. Cremeria Funivia is not the cheapest, and they certainly don't lay on the biggest serves, but boy-oh-boy is it ever creamy and tasty! The kids usually settle for fragola (strawberry) and crema or stracciatella (vanilla and chocolate), whilst pistacchio is a staple for me, and Lisa likes to mix it up with more exotic tastes like Alice (marscapone with chocolate fusion). www.cremeriafunivia.com
lost the photos of our No.1 so No.2 will have to suffice. Still pretty darn good!
In true Italian fashion gelati can be eaten anytime after lunch, and we tend to indulge in this treat late afternoon, when flagging children need a lift, or browbeaten parents require some support and sustenance.
Gabi gets a boost in downtown Parma
This is the Italian word to describe a group of sports fans, and it usually used in reference to football supporters. The origin of the word relates back to typhoid, so you probably get the gist ...
Bologna Football Club (aka the RossoBlu from their strip) is over 100 years old, but has a recent history of struggling to avoid relegation from the top league here - the Serie A. Trophies are few and far between, so it was with not much expectation that myself and an American guy I have met (Lou) adopted the team for this year. Home games are every second Sunday, and we buy the cheapest tickets and sit amongst the rowdiest supporters. You need to show ID when buying the tickets (a few days out from a game) - cost 18 euro - and also show the ID when you enter the stadium. Stadio Renato Dell'Ara is a nice ground just out of the centro, holding 38,000, but unfortunately not covered for the rain and snow!
BFC stadium from just up the hill on a non-game day
Lou from Vermont, doing his best to impersonate Luigi from Bologna
We've seen a frustrating draw (Pescara) and a bollocking (Inter Milan) at home, and I also ventured over to Firenze to see a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Fiorentina. Early days yet, but a move down to Serie B is on the cards from what us 'experts' have seen to date. Might have to adopt Lou's NFL team - the high flying New England Patriots.
disappointing 1-1 scoreline from a game we dominated against lowly Pescara
... and the fans predictably vented their displeasure (flares are as bad it gets to date)
A final word on the game itself. Highly skilled with the ball on the ground most of the time; more physical than I would have guessed; and crowd atmosphere terrific with great singing and chanting, and a seeming absence of malice between the opposing groups of tifosi. The only predictable, and unwelcome constant, is the diving and feigning by too many of the players.