A day off in Bologna, Italy with available co-workers spells rail trip. Today we celebrated our Saturday by heading to the Bologna – Centrale train station and choosing our new destination. Our previous plans to head to Matlova for the weekend had changed at the last minute, leaving us free to let our fingers do the walking on the ticket kiosk.
Ferrara it is! Many times in my annual visits to Bologna, my mentor has told me what a great city Ferrara is to visit. He talked of beautiful history, views and food. Once again… his advice is spot on.
We secured our train tickets that were only $7.50 Euros for First Class, boarded and headed out of Bologna. The train was barely occupied and the conductor paid us a straight solid by not fining us for failing to VALIDATE the tickets prior to entering the train. The small print on the back of the ticket gives directions to validate — but of course we didn’t read the back of the ticket. Contrary to stories I have heard, he was very kind and came from a position of education and service rather than revenue generation.
Arriving in Ferrara with my co-worker spurred a perfect agreement to remain flexible and spontaneous. We just started walking. We quickly found the historical security wall that surrounds the city. When you try to picture life in the 1200-1500’s its a bit overwhelming to see what man was able to accomplish. With what I imagine are millions upon millions of bricks, they constructed a full wall with outposts surrounding the entire city to include farming property as well. Phenomenal. We decided to follow along the wall and take in the anomalies daydreaming about the build process and the teamwork it must’ve taken.
As we began to weave through the streets, we stumbled upon the church of Saint Benedetto. It was closed but interesting to see as major portions had been rebuilt. Soon my caffeine deficiency became very real. A quick stop in a Ferrara bar off of Viale Cavour, for Cappucino and the Marmalade filled shortbread cookie gave us just the rest we needed to trek up to the Castle.
Castello Estense began contruction in the 1200’s and is a very historic location – central to the city of Ferrara. For just $10.00 Euros we gained access to all the parks of the city and touring guides to assist us in navigating the castle. The touring guides gave us information on the families that had owned the castle and the improvements and additions added over time. This was the first Castle I had ever visited that had a drawbridge and moat. This castle has three drawbridges!!
Once through the drawbridge we were led to a lower level dungeon. Yes dungeon. The printed guides in the exhibits described the activities that occurred there and the people of note that resided there, including the story of
one of the Lords that had his son and wife beheaded for adultery – both at the age of twenty. Looking up from the floor of this holding cell after having nearly crawled through the entrance door – it became evident that if someone wanted you in there, you stayed in there. The one window that was in place for ventilation went through a series of 4 bared sections within a wall 5-6 feet thick. The wall still has residual graphitti from its earlier residents. Eerie.
Around the corner from the dungeon was a set of steep, worn masonry steps with a very low ceiling that led to the basement where… you guessed it… more dungeons. Tiny doors and what would today be inhumane conditions held captives for decades. One of the incredible parts of the facility was seeing that the “Lady’s” apartment upstairs was directly above this human disaster. I couldn’t imagine trying to sleep peacefully with the groaning and experience and that was happening beneath my room.
The pleasure of the castle tour was definitely upstairs where they curated a wonderful display of a featured artist – Boldini. His work scanned different techniques in oil paint, but his ability to capture realism was uncanny. He had one work that depicted a glass wine goblet and decanter that looked like a 3D clear piece of glass.
The time had come to re-enter the current millennium. Directly out of the castle was a sort of commercial tent city with artistic goods and food items for sale. The vendors were friendly and some of the products were truly unique. One I really liked was the re-purposed hand bag (for my daughter – not me). They took jackets and coats and re-purposed them as hand bags. Each unit was a one-off and handmade. beautiful.
We had hours to go before the restaurants would be open for dinner, so we took a walking tour of about every retail street in the city. The lights – the people – the culture… even the ice skating in the temporary outdoor ice rink was worth the effort. My travel companion turned me onto a new treat as the temperature plummeted – Vino Brule. This is a hot red spiced wine similar to hot cider in the United States, but with wine. We also watched a vendor roast candied almonds and hazelnuts to which we sampled — heavily.
We took another lap of the city and started looking for food. One spot we really wanted to try didn’t open until 7:30pm, so we postponed as best we could. When 7:40pm finally arrived they opened the door and shooed everyone away. That led us to a consolation prize around the corner that became a very pleasant surprise. We shared appetizers of italian cheeses and fruit with a spicy honey dip, followed by a variety of barbequed meats and vegetables… with a bottle of Lambrusco Frizzante. It was after the espresso that my partner realized the train was leaving in 20 minutes.
Believe it or not, the restaurant stepped up the pace, called us a taxi, got us checked out and to the train station on time to return to Bologna. What a successful outing. As you can see from all the attached photos – this was a beautiful place. “As ferraro as the eye can see.”