Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Five Fun Facts For Ferrara Friday

Moat around the Palazzo Ducale Estense, Ferrara

“At Ferrara I spent some fine memorable hours
walking about the streets and tasting the exquisite
 quality of Ferrarese desolation and decay.”
~ Henry James

(Please note: I'm posting this late from a cafe because of the internet situation at the apartment.  I wrote it last Friday after my trip to Ferrara. I'm hoping that I'll get an internet connection some day soon.)

I don't know what desolation and decay Henry James saw, but Mike and I spent three nights in Ferrara a few years ago enjoyed it a lot.  We drove there from Sulmona (about four-to-five hours), and easily found the square where our hotel was. Unfortunately, we could not find the hotel because there was no sign for it.  Castle—check.  Bakery—check. Café—check. Park—check. Hotel Ferrar—check. Albergo Annunciata—Hmmm.

On our third pass through the no-traffic-except-for-hotel-registrations, I finally noticed a small grey sign that had a slightly lighter grey “AA” painted on it.

“Well,” I said, “that’s either Alcoholics Anonymous or our hotel.”  It was the hotel.

To make a long story short, Mike was not happy with the hotel, and neither one of us was too impressed that they neither gave us a map or told us anything about the city.  We toured the castle and were thinking of going elsewhere the next day when we discovered a whole other part of Ferrara full of museums, galleries, shops, and such.  We ended up staying the three nights and loving the town.

Since it’s Friday, I’ll share a couple of fun facts about Ferrara (the first three) and a few others about Italy.

1-Ferrara is the only major city in Italy not built on the Roman design of evolving from a center.  Instead, it developed in a linear fashion along the Po River. It is also a wonderful example of Renaissance design.  The men building the city in the 14th century were subject to city planning regulations, something most cities worldwide use to this day.  The Estes family had power in the city and built a castle with a moat in the main square.   

Isabelle d’Este, like most Italian mothers at the time, was very nervous about the sexuality of her daughters and, when they reached the appropriate age, she shipped them off to a convent.  Apparently, a lot of nobles did that to “save” their daughters, and the convents ended up with well-educated novices who could also play instruments and sing (They were lessons the only the wealthy could afford to give their daughters.).  I read somewhere that 500 years ago, there were 15 convents in the area, and today there are two.

Postal workers heading out for the day. Note the bike lane.

    2- Ferrara is the bike capital of Italy. There are about 131,00 residents in the city, more than 110,000 bikes, and more than 50 cycling shops.  Everyone bikes in Ferrara, everyone. From the moment I left the train station until I returned, the majority of the people that I saw were on bikes (including five postal workers who were starting their morning service. See photos above and below.). Like most cities, Ferrara provides a separate lane for bikers on roads, but in some areas, the city has a separate bike road (Photo above).  Ferrara has the second-highest bike-to-people (.85:1) ratio in all of Europe. Only Copenhagen is greater. 

Postal workers stopping for a light.
The bikers are so crazy that there are some areas where signs tell bikers that they must get off and walk the bikes through that particular spot. I completely understand why. So many bikers almost ran me over that I stopped counting at 16.

Bike parking lot in the piazza.

3-Ferrara is home also to a weirdly shaped bread called “coppia” (formerly ciupeta). The best way I can describe it is to say it looks like a dog splayed out on all fours.  There is a central knot with two breadstick-like appendages on either side.  They also bake another (photo below) that has a bunch of little spikes sticking out. 

I’m not wild about their bread as it tastes flat to me. My understanding is that they make it using a very fine flour, which I think contributes to its lack of crust and texture.

By the way, there are supposedly 330 bakeries in Ferrara.

Bread in Ferrara

4- Phones. Phones. Phones. At the outset, let me just put it out there: I’m obviously addicted to my iPhone. I depend on it for a lot of things, and sometimes I even use it as a phone. I don’t know what I did before cell phones.

That said, if the FAA ever allows the use of cell phones on planes, I’m going to shoot myself in the foot.  It’s bad enough that people have to talk on the phone when they’re shopping in stores or markets, but a small, enclosed space is a totally different experience. I’ve taken a number of journeys by train over the past two weeks, and the noise caused by people who have to make a call while on their journey is enough to make me pazza.

This lady was screaming into her phone 3 train platforms away.
Why is it that everyone thinks he/she has to elevate his/her voice so that the person on the other end can hear them? It’s bad enough to listen to the person sitting two rows behind you shouting into the phone, but to have to listen to the other person blabber replies is worse.

During my trip to Ferrara, three people were talking on their phones at the same time. On the return, there were a few others, although the gal in the seat across the aisle from me was obviously trying to win the competition for the loudest, non-stop phone monologue from Ferrara to Bologna.

5-Many Americans still smoke. Many Europeans still smoke. Many Italians still smoke. I don’t quite understand anyone’s fascination with cigarettes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a store to look at something to find out that the human chimney outside was either the owner or employee.  At every train or bus stop, a good number of the people waiting snuff out their cigarettes just before they board. I think that the second-hand crap in my lungs has quadrupled just in the three weeks I’ve been here.

Tabbachi always have the "T" sign.
While the supermarkets don’t sell cigarettes, there is no shortage of shops where people can buy them. You’ll find tabacchi (pronounced ta-BACK-ee) all over Italian cities and towns.  These little shops sell everything—water, soda, snacks, lotto tickets, souvenirs, and tobacco products. They open early and usually close late. 

24-hour Nicotine dispenser
Of course, with the amount of nicotine ingested in this country, someone undoubtedly needs a fix in the middle of the night. What do they do then? They use the 24-hour cigarette machine at the tabacchi.

If you happen to smoke and hear someone hacking loudly in protest as she walks by, it’s probably me.

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