Somewhere in northern Italy, a former Harrison lady is cruising through cobblestone streets on a bicycle. Not one to pass up on the opportunity for a brief jaunt to the continent, I decided to wing my way there for a visit, thanks to Michael O’Leary and Barry’s tea in tow.
First stop, Ferrara.
Rather conveniently nestled just north-east of beautiful Bologna and south of fantistico Venice, Ferrara is right smack bang in the middle. This medieval city is also on the main rail line making day trips and excursions easy peasy, or should we say easy ‘pisa’. Sorry.
A walled city, Ferrara’s intact Renaissance walls are the best preserved in Italy and well worth a walk around. Strolling through the meandering cobblestone streets you will find exquisite little boutiques, a wonderful record store and umpteen places to stop and refuel with an espresso. Do not, for the life of you, ask for a latte, it’s just not the Italian way.
Be sure to wander the spookily atmospheric Via delle Volte where you will find hidden gems like the trattoria “Il Mandolino”.
If you have time, the moated medieval Castello Estense, built in 1385 (yes, it’s old), is a worthwhile venture. I skipped the dungeons myself but a potter about this prestigious spot with its breathtaking frescos and charming courtyards makes for a lovely afternoon.
Don’t miss the pretty little rooftop lemon grove and if you’re lucky enough to catch it, the castle is currently showing an array of masterpieces by Giovanni Boldini and Filippo De Pisis. These stunning landscapes and elegant portraits of the stars of the Belle Époque can be admired in the finely decorated renaissance halls and secret chambers.
Home to the oldest university in the western world and famed for open air markets and delicious food stalls, Bologna is a foodie’s dream. It isn’t nicknamed ‘la grassa’ (the fat one) for nothing. Side note, so you don’t let yourself down, traditional bolognese is far meatier and always served with fresh tagliatelle and never with spaghetti.
Soak up the sights of the Piazza Maggiore, a huge open piazza right in the heart of the city. Wander the cobblestone streets of the Quadrilatero or climb one of Bologna’s famous towers: Torre Asinelli. There you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the city with all those little terracotta rooftops, as well as good fewer calories, which will make that gelato you’re about to have all the more satisfying.
This city is a shoppers delight. With long stretches of terracotta covered walkways, Bologna is a hail, rain or shine kind of place and there’s nothing weather permitting about it. Spend the afternoon exploring the beautiful Library of the Archiginnasio and be sure to visit the Palazzo Pepoli, a medieval palace now the Museum of the History of Bologna.
And finally, Venice.
There’s really no better way to explore this slightly unreal city than to get just a little bit lost. The maze of meandering streets is just so extraordinary and those that are off-the-beaten track will less likely to be quite as crammed with tourists. The architecture is astounding and frankly, Venice will leave you a little bit speechless and maybe with a slight creak in your neck.
Alluring, glamorous and even a little bit creepy, don’t expect to ever fully grasp this ancient city. Those walls have secrets and this city is unknowable. It’s wonderfully impractical and while you might get a little confused, you will undoubtedly leave inspired.
Take note, coffee enjoyed sans chair tends to be much less expensive than the same coffee enjoyed from a seat. Make like the locals and knock back your espresso while standing at the counter.
Navigating the mass amount of selfie-stick wielding tourists and at the same time marveling the breathtaking sights of Piazza San Marco can be tricky enough but watch out for the two columns guarding the water’s edge. Topped by the city’s patron saints: San Marco and San Teodoro, this used to be a spot for public executions and it’s considered bad luck to walk in-between them. Just saying.
Grazie mille bella Italia! Arrivederci! (Literally all the Italian I know, the shame.)