Ferrara WAS New York

During my trip a trusted Ferrarese told me about a graffiti artist in her city who spray-painted the phrase:

Ferrara 500 anni fa era New York!

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It means ‘500 years ago Ferrara was New York”. So…. maybe not New York, but…. during the Renaissance Ferrara was a cultural and economic mecca. The 15th-century “Herculean Addition”, begun at the behest of Ercole I d’Este and designed by Biagio Rosseti, made her one of the first modernly planned cities of Europe. Lucrezia Borgia lived here, binding the city to Roman politics and intrigue, and the Este court grew or drew in scholars and artists such as Ludovico Ariosto, Dosso Dossi, Torquato Tasso, Pietro Bembo, Ercole Strozzi, and many others.

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Although now surpassed in tourism my Rome, Venice, and Florence I think Ferrara still offers quite a bit to the traveler looking for an Italian experience. It is situated in a couple hours train ride from Mantua, Verona, Venice, Milan, Bologna, and Florence. Oh, and did I mention the entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

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The thing I love most about Ferrara is that it is walkable. More than that, it is also a city of bicycles (citta delle biciclette). I can leave home, from a house right outside the city walls (le mura), ride into the ancient city center (centro) in a matter of minutes, and sit alongside the Este Castle (Castello Estense) while drinking a machiatto or prosecco at a cafe (caffetteria).

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This is my favorite thing about Ferrara. The freedom of movement on a bicycle in a city where it is safe for bikes is lovely. Bikes have the right-of-way in most areas, their own street signals for traffic control, and are the best way to get around the historic areas of the city where cars are not allowed.

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The warm Italian sun, brisk air of October, cobblestones, medieval cathedrals at every turn, zipping by of scooters, and bumbling by of the other bikes, cars, and buses make for a comforting din.

My favorite spots over the past #40daysinItaly are:

Piazza Ariostea (eat lunch at Ludovico here, they have great salads and wine)

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Biking and walking along Le Mura (the walls) of this ancient city which look amazing in panorama from the side but have lovely tree-lined walkways on top, too.

The centro (city center) where Piazza Savonarola is (try Osteria Savonarola for dinner and Al Brindisi for drinks after dinner)

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The amazing Castello Estense in the centro

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Via delle Volte, an old merchanting and storage street way

Palazzo Schifanoia, a palace for the Este family to escape the boredom of noble life in a castle, also home to amazing frescos!

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I only have three days left here in Italy. I miss my husband and my dog very much. So, I’m ready to return home. But, I know that when I leave it won’t be long before I have the stirrings of a different type of homesickness. A homesickness for my Italian family, and my Italian routine, and my Italian life.

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Italy: What to know before you go

Italy has Western Europe’s richest, craziest culture. This is perhaps why I feel so at home there. It is also very diverse, stretching from their German- flavored Alps through hill towns to sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches. It was the cradle of the Roman Empire, bringing “civilization” to Europe by way of Africa, India, and Greece.

Here are CityGirl’s tips for having an amazing Italian vacation:

  • Go with an eye open to both the Italies of the past and Italy of the present. I say “Italies” because until the 19th century the peninsula was made up of independent city-states. So each region has its own distinct character and history.
  • Engage with locals. Italians are very social and want to connect with others. Show warmth even when you don’t understand everything and you’ll get a lot further. Embrace the melodramatic, go with it, use your hands when you talk. I live in New Orleans so this is a natural thing for me to fall into.
  • Exhibit la bella figura, a positive public persona/ appearance. Dress elegantly, miss the bus instead of getting sweaty running for it, always order the bottled water, never take a doggy bag, skip packing shorts or graphic tees unless you’re going to the beach.
  • Take part in the ritual evening stroll, the passaggiata. Put on a sophisticated outfit, dazzling accessories, gorgeous shoes, and go out… not for the destination, but for the journey.
  • Nowhere in Italy is more than a day’s journey away. There are 12,000+ miles of train lines and 4,000+ miles of autostrada, their expressway. Go explore.
  • Typical daily diet here includes two servings of pasta, a half pound of bread, and two glasses of wine. Just so you know the norm. You’ll be walking a lot, thank goodness.
  • Food here is not fast food, it’s slow food. Bought daily, prepared with love, enjoyed with friends and family. In season foods are the centerpiece and a three-hour meal is common. First comes the aperitivo (prosecco is a perfect choice), then the antipasto plate of cold sliced meats and veggies, then pasta (primo), then the meat entree dish (secondo), then salad, then dessert with coffee or a digestif. Pace yourself!
  • Italy is the number one wine producer of the world. Find out which wines are from the specific region you’re visiting, drink them. I love Lambrusco in Emilia-Romagna, Soave in the Veneto, Chianti in Tuscany, and Frascati in Lazio. Don’t order French wine!
  • Italians take a siesta called reposo or riposo. It’s a three-hour break from about 1pm. Shops will be closed, especially in small towns. Yes, even the post office. Use this time to do as they do; have lunch, socialize with friends and family, enjoy window shopping or walking the area.
  • Embrace il dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing).
  • Savor your cappuccino, walk aimlessly, imagine the past, ramble through the countryside in a rented Alfa-Romeo, dangle your feet over the ancient waters of the Venetian canals or interior rivers of Florence, Rome, or Milan.
  • Accept Italy as Italy. Savor the fine points. Don’t dwell on the problems. Enjoy!

 

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Airport Travel Tips

 

 

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Early morning airport travel tips:

  • Only take what you can easily carry yourself.
  • Never sit near a trash can in the airport.
  • Always wear shoes with socks.
  • Have one place where you keep your phone, wallet, and boarding passes and always put them there. Ideally, strap your wallet to your purse so it’s never left behind.
  • Count the outerwear pieces you are wearing/carrying at every checkpoint and in getting on/off the plane and always reach the same number (for instance: 1) Jacket, 2) scarf, 3) bag, 4) purse.
  • Carry your own water bottle rather than buy bottled water.
  • Be nicer than necessary or expected.
  • Look for ways to help fellow travelers; for instance, if the woman walking out of the restroom in front of you has inadvertently tucked the back of her dress into her pantyhose, let her know. Hypothetically, of course.
  • Sit near an electrical outlet in the gate area with a small multiple outlet surge protector and offer slots to fellow travelers if you see them hunting for a place to plug in.
  • Say thank you to airport employees who started work at 3am to provide you with coffee and chewing gum.

Thus ends this edition. I’m paying it forward for Patti Digh.

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