Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Full of Bologna
I was having this discussion with my friend Steve, who pointed out that when driving to Italy from Monte Carlo, it was completely out of the way to begin the trip in Bologna. He said Milan made more sense.
"Oh no," I said with quiet authority, "Milan is north and Bologna is straight across."
As it turns out, we are both right. Had I been bright enough to look at a map when I asked Born to Shop Editorial Director Sarah Lahey to work out the logistics of this trip (meaning, don't put us in the wrong cities on a Sunday or Monday), I would have guided her to Milan, only three hours from Monte Carlo. Instead, no map nearby, I dictated we begin in Bologna.
I am certain now that I made this error out of emotional reasons. Bologna is one of my favorite cities in Italy; I like it far more than Milan and it's a good way to ease into being Italian.
The drive from Monte Carlo was, uh, unpleasant. Every time I drive in Italy I remember the first comment I ever made about driving in this country-- A Frenchman will tell you that you are beautiful before he screws you; an Italian will just drive right up your ass. Not to be crudo, but that's what happens as soon as you cross out of France and into Italy. The fact that you are also forced to cross the Alps, go into a million tunnels and fight with trucks that are swaying alongside you is way too much.
Because of those damn Alps, and with fond thoughts to Hannibal and his need for elephants, we had to pick our route carefully. There are three possible routes from Monte Carlo to Bologna, but no map says which road is less curvy or which one has fewer nasty truck drivers.
So we took the A26 north in Genoa while following signs for the A7. Hey, it's not our fault we never found the A7. Eventually we got to Alessandria, hit the A21 and then got onto the A1. All this to give us a 'high' entry into the region and not miss the factory outlets in Fiadenza or the store I call The Big Cheese.
The Big Cheese was not as good as in past years-- the balsamic vinegar selection was pitifull and the cheeses were wrapped in waxed paper rather than cello. I am terrified the ones I bought will dry out before I even return to France. They are legal to bring into the U.S. but mine may be too pathetic to consider immigration a month from now.
We drove on to Modena, circled the heart of town looking for aceto balsamico, found everything closed until 5pm and headed back toward the highway. Enroute, we passed a few balsamico factories and stopped, but again-- chiuso. We were delighted to arrive at our beloved Baglioni Grand in the heart of Bologna.
The hotel has been renovated recently; we have one of the most beautiful rooms in the world (412) and worthy of the Room With a View photo spread. From our terrace we can see the saints atop the church next door and onto the historical town square.
We were hardly arrived when we discovered we were invited to a party given by several big name boutiques in town and as the Born to Shop Ladies, we were expected to attend. We showered and rushed to the presidential suite where we were rewarded with a show of live models showing La Perla lingerie, a makeup artist and a diamond dealer. I tried on a lovely ring-- only $20,000... but you'd get your tax back!
It was startling to walk into a hotel suite packed with Italian women all dresed to the nines in black, wearing cuffs of jewelry and pirate booties on their feet, carrying giant tote bags and looking ever so bored. The models were thin and gorgeous, tall in high heels and with appropriate bosom. Eye-popping is the best way to explain it. We received coupons for a 20% discount at La Perla when we left.
The La Perla shop is located in a brand new luxury shopping gallery filled with all the big names of Italian fashion-- Prada, Bruno Magli, Gucci and La Perla, claro. There's also Louis Vuitton and at the far end of the mall's corner, Hermes. This is the Galleria Cavour, hidden off a back street and very Italian in that the best things in Italy are always hidden. A camisole at La Perla costs 265 euros (about $350) and knickers range from 60-90 euros. Even my dogs went wild in the shop...probably the reaction of all men who enter there.
After we had shopped most of the old town, eaten hazelnut gelato and fingered many dried mushrooms, I bought a pair of purple suede driving shoes for $100.
Bologna has long been famous for mass market and inexpensive clothing shops because of the large student population. It is also famous for food shops and known as Moto City becaue of the car and motorcycle factories nearby. Now Bologna also has as much luxury as any shopper can demand.