After our very busy, very long day in Tuscany, today we decided to take it easy by visiting a smaller Italian city, Ferrara. Almost the entire town of Ferrara is a world heritage site due to its consistent Medieval architecture. The big draw to us was a large castle in the center of town which is surrounded by a moat. We've seen a lot of things in Italy, but a real castle was not one of them until now.
But first, we had to stop for lunch. Since we had slept in late and caught a slower train, our timing for Italian lunch was perfect. I found a great pizza place on tripadvisor, and we were not disappointed. Actually, that is what we have done for this entire trip. I search the well reviewed restaurants on tripadvisor for ones which are near where we plan to be, and then I read the reviews or go to the restaurant's website to determine price. This way, we don't accidentally stumble into some tourist trap or a super expensive place. I highly suggest researching restaurants before you leave. Anyway, our lunch of tortellini in brodo and prosciutto pizza was excellent and economical.
Back to the castle! The family which built the castle, the Estes, married into some of the most famous and powerful families in Europe: the Borgias, Aragon and more. It is truly surreal to walk up to a large castle in the middle of a city, surrounded by a moat. It even had a drawbridge! The tour began with an excellent movie with English subtitles, and signs through the castle were well marked. All placards were in English, as well as Italian.
Definitely, the coolest thing about the castle was the dungeons. Deep under the tower, you could imagine being a prisoner here with no light or hopes of escape. The rooms which were inhabited by the Dukes were grand and richly decorated. There was a rooftop garden with lemon trees and excellent view of the city. This is one of the best sites in Europe we have seen in Italy.
After the castle, we headed for the Duomo and the city square. Again, Ferrara exceeded our expectations. The Duomo is a confection of marble and decoration. The bells were ringing out, and people were streaming into the church, which is not normal for 4 pm on a Saturday. We joined the crowd and found an ordination about to begin. We couldn't stay, due to our dinner reservations, but we were deeply impressed with the beauty of this church.
Back out in the square, a market was underway with people out enjoying an evening stroll and nuts roasting. Once again, a street musician provided background music and it became like a scene in a movie. Tranquil alleys with colored shutters and cobblestones branched off the main road lined with shops and trinkets. Small balconies with plants and picturesque roofs and windows hung above. We both wished that our hotel was just around the corner, instead of back in Bologna. But, we will definitely return to Ferrara. That is the thing about Italy: the deeper we go, the more we enjoy it. Sites and cities don't get worse as you get away from the biggies, they just get less crowded and more quaint. I don't know how I'll ever justify exploring a new country until I've had my fill of Italy. The question is: will that ever happen?