You know how everyone talks about traveling to Italy to connect with distant family? We’re not Italian, but it turns out we had a long lost relative waiting to surprise us with a welcome.
You should’ve seen the look of bewilderment on our faces.
Like that scene from The Parent Trap: Hayley Mills, meet Hayley Mills.
Portland meet Bologna.
We blinked twice.
Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. and Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy were declared sister cities on June 5th, 2003. It’s nearly our ninth birthday.
Where have we been all of each others’ lives?!
One of our friends at the Emilia-Romagna Tourism offices casually mentioned this sister-city thing to us: we were dumbfounded. How did we not know? How many other Oregonians have no idea that we have an Italian sibling out there in the world?
Portland, Oregon’s current siblings (thanks again, Wikipedia):
- Sapporo, Japan (November 17, 1959)
- Guadalajara, Mexico (September 23, 1983)
- Ashkelon, Israel (October 13, 1987)
- Ulsan, South Korea (November 20, 1987)
- Suzhou, People’s Republic of China (June 7, 1988)
- Khabarovsk, Russia (June 10, 1988)
- Kaohsiung, Republic of China (Taiwan) (October 11, 1988)
- Mutare, Zimbabwe (December 18, 1991)
- Bologna, Italy (June 5, 2003)
It’s not quite a dead-ringer; fraternal twins might be more like it, but the similarities are strong enough to bear legitimate family resemblance: We both love walkable neighborhoods and local food, quirky craftsmanship and zany students, we both host Nike Headquarters and have a public living-room bustling with people, we have Slow-Foodies and coffee shops, a passionate independent streak, and a regional pride that runs deep.
Ten years ago, when conversations and decisions directed the eventual alliance, Bologna city officials were interested in Portland, “Because Italians are attracted to the idea of the West, of open spaces, friendliness, the directness, the geographic beauty,” and Bologna had already said no to St. Louis, Missouri (ouch!).
Pisa, Ancona, Genoa, and Bologna, Italy were all on the table for Portland consideration.
Time, talk, and a few convincing advocates saw the Portland/Bologna vision through to the finish line, and here we are, almost a decade later, long-lost siblings who could use a little refresher on get-to-know-you facts.
Metropolitan Area Population & Location:
Portland – A bit over two million residents, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, an hour inland from the Pacific Ocean, between Mount Hood and the Coastal Range, the Columbia River, and the farmland of the Willamette Valley.
Bologna – About a million residents (making it the seventh largest Italian city), in north-central Italy, about an hour inland from the Adriatic Sea, between the Po River, the Apennine Mountains, and the farmland of Emilia-Romagna.
We Love Our Walkable Streets and Avoid Umbrellas:
Portlanders are hardcore…
There is something about a PNW [Pacific Northwest] upbringing that instills a certain ridiculous pride in most people when it comes to how one does or doesn’t handle rain. Basically, if you’re carrying an umbrella we know you’re from somewhere else, some location not perpetually enshrouded in grey skies from November to April. A “true” Oregonian gets by with her raincoat (usually Gortex, with an articulated hood, and other technical-sounding features… Or if one bikes, usually has enough rain gear to be comfortable on a Deadliest Catch boat.). Needless to say, I can’t remember owning for any length of time, let alone using, an umbrella.
-Jodi, our swell Oregonian (now expat-in-Beirut) friend
… but the Bolognese folk may be a little smarter. Their wisdom is spelled: P.O.R.T.I.C.O.E.S.
These architectural beauties present the perfect compromise, running the length of nearly 40 kilometers of sidewalks throughout the city and all the way up to San Luca (imagine a cathedral at the top of Portland’s Forest Park), simultaneously providing protection from the elements and exposure to the outdoors since their earliest construction in medieval times, when Stumptown was still a verdant forest.
We Value Amazing Food:
Portland – I link to this infamous Portlandia clip more often than I should admit, but only because it’s so hysterically true.
I can state the stereotype, because I’m all-in for local, ethically produced, and seriously celebrated foods. My friends and I started the PDX Food Swap as just one of many expressions of the DIY culture where picklers are proud and preservers win the day. We hunt down (and grow our own) tasty Oregon berries and veggies. We’re proud of Oregon blue cheese. We’re home brewers of awesome beer. We trade our pickled preserves for farm fresh eggs and stand firm on our rights to drink raw milk. The land supports a cornucopia, and we’re happy to raise and prepare and share the best it offers.
Bologna – The city is the capitol of Italy’s crowning glory of gastronomy: the Emilia-Romgana region. The city is known for its food preservation and preparation, boasting the ancient origins of the modern Charcutepalooza phenomenon along with dishes and foods like spaghetti bologneses, lasagna, mortadella (aka “bologna”), tagliatelle, tortellini, piadina (a type of flat bread), and prosciutto. We have a food series on this blog devoted entirely to the amazing cheese, vinegar, pork products, wines, pastas, and traditions of the land, and all it takes is a stroll down the market streets to induce mouthwatering. They’re fans of outdoor markets, and local foodies often join the Italian version of a CSA: Gruppo di Acquisto Solidali (group purchase of solidarity).
We Nurture our Coffee Culture:
Portland – Tattooed Baristas and $5.00 Pour-Overs worth Every Cent. Pleasant coffee shops on every corner.
Bologna – Tattooed Baristas and $5.00 Espressos if you order “for here” – €1.50 if you order and consume your drink at the bar.
We’re Full of Quirky Surprises:
Portland – You never know what will pop out around the next corner.
Bologna – Pretty much the same.
We Invest in Higher Learning:
Portland – The city boasts OHSU (Oregon Health Sciences University) medical students, Portland State University social workers and city planners, Multnomah University theologians and teachers, National College of Natural Medicine acupuncturists, naturepaths, and Chinese medicine specialists, and (toot-toot for my Alma Mater) University of Oregon Portland Campus architects and designers.
Bologna – A long history of academic success stories have sprung forth from the famed University of Bologna since its beginnings as the world’s first university in 1088: Mr. Divine Comedy himself, Dante Alighieri; heliocentric Nicolaus Copernicus; and landscape artist Albrecht Dürer, who is said to have been taught the finer points of linear perspective during his 15th century studies. The University now hosts 100,000 students at its 23 locations including Imola, Ravenna, Forlì, Cesena, Rimini and an overseas center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Their Rizzoli Institute is the counterpart to OHSU, offering training in medicine and surgery, nursing and motor science, and post graduate medical studies.
We’re Home to Nike Headquarters:
Portland – Nike’s World Headquarters
Bologna – Nike’s Italian Headquarters
We’re Proud of Sports Teams and Active Lifestyles:
Portland – Hood to Coast Relay, Portland Marathon, Blazers Basketball, Timbers Soccer.
Bologna – Runners out under the porticoes (and in the rain!), thermal baths all around the city to keep healthy, cyclists galore, and in a country known for soccer, Bologna loves its basketball!
We Love Our Public Living-Rooms and Iconic Statues:
Portland - Pioneer Courthouse Square: a used-to-be parking garage demolished and reconstructed as a public park in the central downtown urban living room. More recently, Portland added our new favorite spot, Director Park: the classy outdoor lounge just block from the Square. Our bronze Portlandia figure hovers high above the city, trident in hand.
Bologna – The pedestrians of the city criss-cross Piazza Maggiore at all hours. Here between the library and the cathedral, surrounded by tall facades, flurries of pigeons, and crowds of locals gather for holiday weekend concerts and impromptu conversations alike. The iconic Fountain of Neptune is the city’s visual calling card, also proudly bearing a trident – the inspiration for the Maserati logo, incidentally.
We Appreciate Green Space:
Bologna – A family resemblance, for sure: botanical gardens, traditional parks, and Portland-esque pop up gardens in the streets.
We’re Not Afraid to Show Our Regional Pride:
Portland, Oregon (Bridgetown, Beervana, The People’s Republic of Portland, The City of Roses)
Ted and I both grew up in the Willamette Valley and lived in the city and agree with countless Portland neighbors: the surrounding state of Oregon is a hidden piece goodness here on earth. Beyond the city limits are friendly small towns, farmers and ranchers, beautiful wildlands, wine country and parks, communities of kind people going out of their way to better the world for their neighbors, and a heritage of indigenous tribes and incoming pioneers and settlers who worked with the land to make a home.
Bologna, Emilia-Romanga, Italy (la dotta, la grassa, and la rossa: the learned, the fat, and the red: in terms of architecture and politics)
During our travels in Emilia-Romagna, we’ve been introduced to many a hidden treasure and we’ve absorbed our Italian friends’ appreciation for their legacy of skilled craftsman, tradesmen, musicians, and philosophers, their modern companies and traditional small scale food producers, their UNESCO World Heritage Sites and deeply genuine hospitality.
“Stay faithful to Romagna, always. This is the land which preserves what little good remains of the world.”
twoOregonians in Portland…Bologna…and around the world:
At the Portland Rose Garden just a week before leaving on our Round the World Adventure.
Whether at home in the northwest or abroad in north-central Italy, we’re happy to toast sisterly DNA that values culture and education, appreciation of great food, and celebration of civil liberties and city planning.
Favorite memory: 2011 Anniversary Picnic feasting on Italian salami in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park.
To our new found Italian friends: the door will always be open to you! We hope you can make it out to the northwest to share a meal and a visit to our favorite coffee shops, hiking trails, random spots, and classic must-sees.
To our longtime Oregon friends: this slice of life in Italy is truly something special. Bologna is a sister to be proud of, and a city worth visiting should you find yourself planning a trip to Europe.
In the meantime, no matter which city you find yourself in, enjoy a taste of Italy.
Our Two Favorite Italian Dining Spots
Portland – Piazza Italia, 1129 Northwest Johnson in the heart of the Pearl District.
This picture perfect Italian trattoria was cofounded by Gino Schettini, a former referee for the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) who came to the US with his wife and children for the 1994 World Cup and settled in Portland at the conclusion of the games. What is now our favorite spot in the city for hearty lasagna and red wine was originally opened as an Italian deli and a gathering spot for Gino and his friends to watch soccer matches. Gino served as one of the biggest influencers in forming the Portland/Bologna sisterhood. He passed away in 2007, but his daughter, Amy, is a co-owner and his legacy of soccer and delicious Italian dining live on.
See the Oregonian’s June 2002 article for a heartwarming read on Gino, Piazza Italia, and World Cup watching in Portland. And make plans to take your sweetheart out for a delicious dinner, while you’re at it…
Bologna – Antica Osteria Romagnola, Rialto 13, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Not cheap, but well worth the expense. At this out of the way spot, we weren’t given a menu, but were instead greeted with a smile and a recitation of the evening’s offerings by the friendly owner.
Local wines, artfully prepared cuisine, charming, comfortable and memorable…
Exactly the meal you’d be pleased to share around a family table.
Turns out, having a long lost sister in a foreign country has excellent advantages…
This post is part of a series from Emilia-Romagna: A region of Northern Italy ripe for exploration. Artisan Local Foods (tortellini, lasagne, pancetta, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to name a few!), Historical Cities (Modena, Ferrara, Bologna, Rimini, and more), and Beautiful Natural Areas (the Po River Delta, the Apennine Mountains, and the green, green farmland in between). For more on our travels in Italy, see our Definitionarium of Italian Adventure.
Portland/Bologna Back Story and Tidbits:
Portland’s Welcome Mat for our Italian Friends
Text in Italian and links to a visitor’s guide, media kit, and downloadable maps.
The Portland-Bologna Sister City Association
Home of the PBSCA, founded in 2003 by a group of interested citizens in Portland to establish a formal relationship with Bologna, Italy.
Portland-Bologna Sister City
Official profile published by the Portland Mayor’s office.
Four Men Two Sisters
In-depth article by Jim Pasero following the creation of the sister city alliance.
Travel Guide Bologna Video
Pretty cheesy (and not the Parmigiano-Reggiano kind!), but a quick visual if you’re interested in aerial shots and interesting details from Bologna.
Ben Canales’ most recent time lapse masterpiece, showcasing beautiful Portland in all its glory.
All photos by twoOregonians. (See link for Parent Trap poster source.)
For more travel updates as we go, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Enjoy the read? Your comments are better than a silver dollar in a busker’s cap!