Random Thoughts on Ferrara: One

Sadly, we left Venice yesterday morning to go to Ferrara, a medieval town on the way to Florence.  I had wanted to go to Bologna, but they have many trade fairs there, and when I was making the reservations the hotel rooms were outrageously high, so I guess there was a fair at that time.  I thought Ferrara might be nice to spend a couple of days, and indeed it is.  It's a lovely town, full of history and Italians -- very few Germans or Japanese here; a fair number of tourists, but it seems like mostly Italians that come to Ferrara for a weekend getaway.  Here are some random thoughts -- 

Sitting on the train to Ferrara -- finally!

1.   Regarding train travel:  If you as a couple are anywhere near divorce, don't go into a train station in Italy, especially not in Venice.  Because you are in a strange country where you don't speak the language, you will be at each other's throats in no time.  Nothing is posted in English.  They don't tell you where the ticket office is, and there are no instructions on buying a ticket from a machine.  If you stand in line at a booth that says "Last minute tickets," after 15 minutes when you get to the booth, the (incredibly slow -- we had two people ahead of us) lady tells you it's the wrong line and she can't sell you the ticket.  You miss your first train, but that's okay, right?  There's another one.  You finally find the ticket office and there's a mass of people inside that somehow must be a line, but it has no order; it's just a mass of people.  And the mass doesn't move at all.  But there are easier machines to use here, and you finally get your tickets.  Then you have no idea of where the train is or which train to take -- you finally find some kind of official (honest to god, there was no one to help you) and he tells you to take the train to Bologna (which was not really the one you wanted).  You try to get something to eat in the cafeteria, but give up in frustration when you learn that you have to choose what you want, go pay for it somewhere else, and then get in line to order it.  In the end, you find your train and all is well, but you can see where the triggers lie if you are a troubled couple -- fortunately, we are not and we survived, still speaking to one another and laughing about it now.

The lovely place where we finally had dinner.

2.  Back to food and dining (an obsession, it seems):  What with all the excitement surrounding the train trip, we got to our hotel in Ferrara (Hotel de Prati, very nice) without having eaten since breakfast.  We scanned the reviews and discovered a one-star Michelin place, Il don Giovanni, right around the corner.  We didn't have a reservation, but they also had a wine bar that served the same food as the restaurant, so we thought we'd try that.  Their website said that they were open 11:30 AM to 11:30 PM, which I thought was odd because most places close in between lunch and dinner, but what the heck.  Let's go.  We get there at 5:00 and there are a couple of set tables in the courtyard (the wine bar) but not a soul around and the interior of the restaurant is dark.  Ed read the sign as saying that the wine bar opened at 6:00, so we thought we'd wander around for a bit and come back.  We found a nice little place on the street and sat at an outdoor table to have a glass of wine.  Around 6:00 we headed back to Don Giovanni's.  We sat in the courtyard and there was a guy inside, but it took him forever to tell us 1) he couldn't serve us wine until 6:30 and 2) food service didn't start until 7:30.  But he said at 6:30 he might be able to rustle up some salami and cheese.  So we waited.  And finally had an incredible repast -- cold cuts and parmesan with "not-honey" (he told us it wasn't honey, but we never figured out what it was), fig jam and marmalade.  It was incredibly good.  Then when 7:30 finally rolled around, we had the spaghetti with garlic and olive oil -- that dish you hear about, but can't believe is that good. O.M.G.  It was incredible.

Moral of the story:  In Italy, have a late lunch.  The "early bird special" starts at 7:30.  If you come here from a retirement village in Florida, you will starve.

 Italian dim sum, we thought --

Oh, and remember that 35.50 Euro drink we had in Venice?  This morning in Ferrara we stopped at a little cafe for something to drink, and we ordered a "spritz" and water.  Along with the drinks came a complementary plate of little pastries, including some savory donuts that were odd but good.  The price for this:  4 Euros.  It all balances out over time.

 An arrow slit at Castello Estense

3.   Ferrara is really a wonderful place to visit; we highly recommend it.  It's small and do-able and has lots to see and excellent food.  Today we visited the Castello Estense, the residence of the Dukes d'Este, which was begun in the 1300s.  It was very interesting and beautiful, especially the ceilings on the upper floor.  There was also a very nice outdoor market with handcrafted items, and cafes here and there for you to enjoy some relaxation.  I was fascinated with a very large party that came to the castle just as we were leaving -- many people in Sunday clothes, accompanied by a number of priests.  There was one especially young priest in pretty plain garb, and we were guessing that perhaps he had just graduated from the seminary and this was a party for him.  In any case, the people were all happy and lovely to look at, and we greatly enjoyed seeing them all streaming into the castle.

A Ferrara alleyway

Tomorrow we will visit the cathedral and, we hope, the Jewish ghetto area, which is supposed to be very interesting.  More tomorrow, I hope.


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