Friday, May 16, 2008

Lost in Translation

The great thing about traveling alone is that you are able to do and see whatever you want, whenever you want. I left Florence this morning for Ferrara, which is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. On the train there, I read a little bit about Ferrara – it has such a rich history of dukes and lords, medieval fortresses and Renaissance palaces. I was kind of thrown off when I arrived and stepped out of the train station – it felt like any suburban town of Chicago I might have driven through on my way to high school back in the day. My hostel was about a 15 minute walk from the station, during which I realized that (1) Ferrara is very small, (2) everyone has a bike in Ferrara, (3) everyone rides their bike in Ferrara at approximately 2 in the afternoon, and (4) no one speaks English. Although the definite language barrier could be difficult at first, I liked Ferrara already – it felt much more real to me though than the touristy towns I have already been to.

After checking in, I decided to walk to the center of town and visit Castello Estense, a huge brick castle surrounded by a moat and four towers. It originated as a single watchtower back in the medieval times, and was developed into a fortress under the rule of the Este family, the once-prominent rulers of the city. During the Renaissance, the fortress became a grand palace, richly furnished and decorated, but when the last Este died without a legit heir the remaining family members were ordered to abandon the palace and retreat to Modena and took all their furniture and paintings with them. Castello Estense was left under the control of the Papal States, and then later became state property, until it was turned into a museum as an important symbol of the city.

It was so interesting to read all about the political and domestic scandals that occurred within the walls of this giant monument – the tour brought us to the dungeons where numerous family members and friends were sentenced for years and even lifetimes for treason. The Este family was wealthy and powerful, they had many castles and estates all over the region. They also commissioned many famous artists and architects that at some point or another during the Palace’s expansion.

I had so much fun exploring the main piazza and its surrounding streets later this afternoon – I have to say Ferrara has an amazing shopping selection. I found my favorite European clothing store ZARA! Ahhh, it brought back memories of Barcelona. There are also a ton of jewelry boutiques. Somehow I wandered to the complete opposite end of the city from my hostel and had to make my way back, which wasn’t too long – Ferrara’s fairly small.

Later tonight, I went back to the city center. A religious Concerto was going on in the castle court, and people were dancing and singing. Right across the street, however, a tent had been set up for some kind of fiesta and was blasting disco music – I guess someone forgot to plan ahead. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that Ferrara is a very close community, very rooted in tradition and proud of its cultural and artistic patronage. I’m SO glad that I decided to come here. I’ll keep you updated on the rest of my adventures here! Buona Notte!