Not in an appartment you found on the Internet

I have a paperback book next to my computer with the title “Not in a Tuscan Villa”. It was written by an American couple who studied Italian at our school a while back.

The back cover reads:

What happens when you decide to make a dream come true? Newly retired and looking for more than a vacation, John and Nanacy Petralia intrepidly pack a few suitcases and head to the “perfect” Italian city for a year.

The “perfect” Italian city in question is Bologna. But it seems that, having booked an appartment sight-unseeen from someone that turned out to be rather untrustworthy, “within days their dream becomes a nightmare.”

Bologna, like a lot of cities with upwards of a quarter of a million inhabitants, turns out to have noisy roads, graffiti, and dimensions such that carrying your shopping home might be a strain if you don’t live right next to a supermarket. Oh, and it’s hot in the summer.

Perhaps, John and Nancy, if you’d booked your accomodation though a professional you might not have ended up in a poorly-furnished, expensive appartment with no air-conditioning located on a busy main road a long way from the centre?

Madrelingua’s accommodation-finding service is free to clients: we only work with people we know and trust, appartments are a few minutes’ walk from the school, and landlords who have not got along with our clients don’t get repeat business!

Not everything about Bologna sucked, apparently:

In early June we start two weeks of classes at Madrelingua, a local language school. The owners, Stefi and Daniel, are professional and upbeat.

Well, that’s nice, I’ve never been called upbeat before. Thanks guys!  But we’re truly sorry, and a little surprised, you didn’t like our wonderful city. Many of our clients enjoy their stay so much that they never want to leave. Some DON’T go home. Others return year after year.

Bologna hosts thousands of visitors of all ages from all over the world each year. Some of these study Italian at our school, sometimes for lengthy periods. But never once has anyone told us they didn’t like the city.

We’re sorry the staff in the tourist information office were reluctant to speak English with you. As you mentioned elsewhere in your book, most Americans can’t speak a foreign language. A lot of Italians don’t either, and that includes the stressed employees in the tourist information office, who mostly work with Italian, or Italian-speaking, visitors.

In fact, there’s another reason why Bologna makes an excellent base for learning Italian, rather than say Rome or Florence, which are over-run with foreign tourists and where and you’ll often hear English being spoken in the streets.

Oh well, judge for yourselves:

  • John and Nancy’s book can be found on Amazon, here
  • Information about our Madrelingua’s free accommodation-finding service is here (check out the pictures of gorgeous appartments bang in the center of the city)


(Have YOU visited Bologna? Was it a “nightmare”? We hope not, but leave a comment and tell us what you really thought of our city!)


P.S. Last call for CILS exam registrations, which officially closed yesterday, but hey, this is Italy, so you have until Sunday night to book your course in November/December and get a FREE A1 or A2 CILS exam (December 5th, details here.)



  1. Karen Straw says:

    I have been home 1 week now after spending a fantastic two weeks in Bologna (and at Madrelingua). My accommodation was with a lovely lady and her son and we plan to remain in touch. My time at the school was great although tough but I plan to return again in a year or so. I met fantastic people, teachers and students from a variety of different countries learning Italian like me.
    The authors of this book obviously didn’t go on any of the trips arranged by the school and definitely not one given by Paola who was so knowledgable about Bologna and it’s history.
    I will definitely be back for more.

    • Hi Karen!
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. We’re happy you enjoyed your time in Bologna, and at our school. We look forward to seeing you again next time!

  2. The first time I was in Bologna I didn’t get off the train. But I knew there was something different going on. Half the people did get off there. The Italian half that is. I knew right there and then that, if I wanted to be in Italy at all, and brush up on my Italian I was completely missing the point by going to all these tourist wonderlands ( Florence-Venice-Rome ).
    I remember thinking “so this is where Italians go”. I had wondered this as I roamed tourist ridden streets and visited stores where as soon as I said “Buona Sera” someone would answer in either Spanish or English.
    The next year, Bologna became my city for 90 days. Thanks to Madrelingua School which gave me opportunities I couldn’t imagine. I found the city where Italians live. I Met my wonderful teachers who helped me with my Italian. While studying and living in this wonderful city I also lived with an Italian family in a very nice apartment 5-6 minutes away from the railway station. There’s a lot to see in Bologna. A lot to discover. But most of all you have to live and breathe Bologna, the rhythm of the city, its people, the portals, the hills. Oh yes, when you travel, things are bound to be different than your country.Most stores are closed on Sundays! And it’s hard to buy bus tickets. Embrace the difference and think ahead.
    One tip. If you go to Bologna take the time to study Italian at Madrelingua, you will also learn about the country’s culture and that’s invaluable. Relax, leave your tourist costume home and enjoy Bologna.

  3. Tre anni fa, ho passato 4 mese in Bologna (durante l’inverno..un particolarmente freddo e nevi inverno) e io piacuto ogni minute de lo. Nonostante, io abitavo in una piccola camera de affito con alcune persone molto strane nelle le altre stanze (ma che è un altra storia).
    Io perfino visitato l’uffici di Madre Lingua e era trattato molto bene via i lavoratori lì. E non vedo l’ora per passare un altra inverno a Bologna..(cui io spero che sara questo o prossima anno).. Come te puoi vedere, io non ho frequentato Madre Lingua o il mio italiano non sarebbe cosi cattivo, ma, forse Io saro frequentare la scuole la prossima volta..Io bisogna lo….

  4. Alejandra Ayala says:

    I visited Bologna 4 years ago and I loved it so much that I am planning that next time I travel to Italy (hopefully next year) I will make it my trip hub. The moment I stepped out of the train station I sensed the city’s great ambiance. I stayed at a pension in the historic center.The accomodations were clean and comfortable. The food at every restaurant was great, but most important, all the people we met, were very kind and helpful and made us feel welcomed to their beautiful city.

  5. Bash Hueglin says:

    It has been many years since I visited Bologna and I am now a old lady. I made the mistake of visiting the city after August 15 when much of the city was closed, but still managed to have a wonderful time in a really beautiful city. First of all it was a great city for train travelers as trains to everywhere stopped here and it was handy for trips to Ravenna, Padua and any place else you wanted to see in a day. I remember a wonderful outdoor flea market with tables full of cheap vintage, handmade nightgowns and other unmentionables that would have cost a fortune in some US boutique. As an amateur flutist I was very frustrated to be leaving town a few nights before a free concert by the city’s famous flutist, Severino Gazalloni….well that is probably not spelled correctly, given in the piazza. I figured any town where that could happen was a good place to be, but alas I had to catch a plane back to the US. While in Bologna I stayed in a comfortable and cheap hotel with wonderful people in charge which was several blocks from the railroad station and fell in love with Bella Bologna.

    • Hello Bash. Well to me you don’t sound a bit like an “old lady”!
      Thanks for commenting. It’s great to hear your memories. As you say, August is not the best time. A lot of people are away on holiday and some shops and other facilities are closed. It’s a lot easier to park, though.
      The comune offers all sorts of cultural thrills in the summer, perhaps to get people to stay. Concerts, as you mentioned, but also open air cinema, and lots more.
      Not sure about the flea market though. These days it seems to be lots of rubbish from China for sale.
      Hope to hear from you again soon, and thanks again for taking the time to share.