Study Tour in Italy: Milan and Bologna

Featured Image: The view while foraging for truffles

First off, today marks the day when I get back to posting consistently! Since the end of February I’ve had something to keep me running around every week. First, there were the seemingly endless job interviews, then some independent travel to Spain before welcoming my family to Copenhagen the night I came back, and, just last week, my week-long Study Tour with my Core Course to Italy. I finally locked down an internship for the summer, spent some quality time together with my family and host-family, and soaked up plenty of sun in Southern Europe, but wow does it feel nice to start settling back into a normal routine. I have a lot to reflect on, but figured I’d start with my most recent experience, which was certainly the highlight of my DIS experience thus far.

Study Tours at DIS are week-long excursions with your Core Course to somewhere else in Europe to learn from a variety of experts and professionals who work in fields similar to the focus of your Core Course. Aside from these academic visits, there are cultural visits to local sites, arranged meals with class, group travel from one city to another, and, of course, free time. I’ll break down my Study Tour to Italy with my Sustainable Food: Production and Consumption Core Course into these categories.

Travel

DIS arranges all Study Tour related travel, so you really just have to be at the right place at the right time. That’s pretty easy when the incentive is a trip to Italy.

Our class met up in the Copenhagen airport bright and early Sunday morning for a direct flight to Milan. From there, we took a train to the center of the city to check into our hotel. I’m a big fan of public transit and love experiencing it in different cities, so I was thrilled to take the metro to our first, and only, cultural visit of the week. Perhaps I’m more enthusiastic about being packed into the metro like sardines than most, but nothing gets you closer to everyday life in a new place than public transit.

Following a couple of academic visits on day two in Milan, we took the train to Bologna, our home base for the remainder of the week. From our hotel in Bologna we either would take a charter bus to the day’s activities or use a combination of public transit and walking. We were also each given day passes to use public transit whenever we had free time.

As I said, DIS arranges all Study Tour related travel, so your flight back to Copenhagen is booked, but you can also extend your stay elsewhere. I decided to take the train to Florence to explore more of Italy with a few classmates, which was definitely a good call given the beautiful weather and sunsets.

Cultural Visits

A week-long deluge of information related to your Core Course would be a bit much, so there are arranged visits to culturally significant sites during the Study Tour. Since my Core Course focuses on food and we were in Italy, pretty much everything is part cultural visit, so we only had one non-food cultural visit to the Duomo Di Milano. It’s a stunning cathedral which houses the largest organ in Italy and many significant religious artworks and relics.

Academic Visits

The best parts of the Study Tour were, far and away, the thought provoking, often inspiring academic visits. We had nine in total, so I’ll just highlight a few of my favorites, but it’s so hard to choose!

#1: Foraging for Truffles

It was certainly a once in a lifetime experience to forage for truffles in the hills of Savigno. We were guided by two truffle hunters, who guide truffle hunting dogs to seek out the treasures, and accompanied by translators who were also truffle experts. The Lagotto Romagnolo pups joining us were in training, so they were eager to impress. The relationship between the forager and dog is of great importance, as the forager has to use their knowledge of the landscape to guide dogs in the right direction and also gain the dog’s respect and trust by rewarding them for finding any truffle, regardless of whether it can be sold.

The dogs will sniff out the truffles and start digging for them. As soon as the forager notices this, they’ll run over, because the dogs will eat the white truffles if they don’t grab them out of their mouths. But, with the black truffles, the dog will gently hold it between their teeth and then drop it at the forager’s feet.

This was our last deeply immersive academic visit, and the end was really special. After a week of traveling around one of the world’s food hotspots, the Emilia-Romagna region, and growing closer with my classmates, we enjoyed a spread of local foods and wine as the sun began to set behind the hills. It truly was the perfect ending to a week of experiential learning.

#2: Food for Soul – Social Tables Ghirlandina (Modena)

If you’re a fan of food, chances are you’ve heard of Massimo Bottura. The Italian chef is best known for his three Michelin star restaurant Osteria Francescana, but in recent years, he’s made headlines for his Food for Soul initiative. Food for Soul was started following Bottura’s experiment of opening a soup kitchen that used food which would have been discarded from the Milan Expo in 2015. This temporary soup kitchen soon became permanent, and chefs from all over the globe continued to volunteer their time to learn how to make delicious meals from excess food for the socially excluded. Today, these spaces are known as refettorios and are not just meant to feed the body, but also the soul by creating a social dining experience complemented with meaningful artwork.

We talked with the Executive Director of Food for Soul, Cristina Reni, at Social Tables Ghirlandina, a self-service lunch canteen which is open for a three-course meal to those in need one night a week. Of course, these meals are made using ingredients which otherwise would have gone to waste. It was inspiring to hear her speak about the many problems that Food for Soul seeks to address: food waste, hunger, and social disenfranchisement to name a few.

#3: Hombre Farm

No trip to Italy would be complete without a visit to a Parmigiano-Reggiano producer. Hombre Farm is a massive producer of organic cheese, considering 96% of Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy is not certified organic. They use 7000 L of milk per day, which is processed into 14 wheels of cheese (500 L per wheel!). We toured the facilities, from udder to aging, and then had a chance to sample at the end.

We were all surprised after the tour of the cheese facilities was complete, we entered a barn which housed the rarest Maserati collection in the world. I’m not very into cars, but this was definitely a sight to see.

Meals on Meals

We ate too much good food to describe each meal, so below are a handful of pictures. We dined at Un Posto a Milano (Michelin Guide 2019), Bio’s Kitchen, Osteria de Poeti (which included a pasta making class), and Amerigo 1934 (1 Michelin star + Slow Food snail of approval) to name a few.

Free Time

Some of the free time was spent catching up on rest since most of the days were jam-packed, but my classmates and I sought out some things to see, and eat, when we could.

In Milan we walked through Sempione Park and checked out Bosco Verticale, a residential building straight out of a movie with plants draped over its sides.

Following our academic visit in Modena, we stared at the facade of Osteria Francescana, dreaming of what would be served there that night for dinner. We also sampled some balsamic vinegar from Mercato Albinelli, climbed the Ghirlandina Bell Tower, and, obviously found another park to lounge in.

In our ‘hometown’ of Bologna, a lot of our free time was at night following dinner, so we went out for drinks a couple of nights and would come back to play cards in the lobby. We also checked out a market called Wednesday at Làbas in Vicolo Bolognetti one evening and stumbled upon the botanical gardens in our final hours. Would you believe it if I told you us Vitamin D deficient Danish study abroad students spent some time lounging in Parco della Chiusa to enjoy the warm sun for the last time until May?

All in all, a trip of a lifetime to Italy. Ate so much good food while learning lots about many unique approaches to achieving more sustainable food systems – appropriately in line with the regional pride throughout the country.

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