The residents of Venice mostly use their legs and boats to get around, those in Ho Chi MInh City have motorbikes and in Ferrara it is the bicycle. There are around 130,000 people living there and a reported 120,000 bikes. Most of the city centre is a network of small paved lanes and pedestrianised thoroughfares, and people and bicycles co-exist on them, darting between each other. I did not observe any obvious rules of the road, and cyclists seemed adept at weaving and scooting around people as they both roamed the streets. Although as a visitor unfamiliar with this random system, I found myself coming close to colliding with them as I lost my nerve and would freeze or lurch about to avoid them. Two things Ferrara cyclists did not seem used to. The secret seemed to be to just keep moving and let them do the avoidance work.
I got to explore the city on an excursion on my Uniworld Venice and Northern Italy Gems river cruise. We had the choice of going to Bologna, where the focus of the day was on learning how to make pasta and exploring other food related aspects, or exploring the only major town in the region that did not have its roots as a Roman settlement. It sounded intriguing, and more unusual, and so I chose to come here.
I enjoyed Ferrara, which is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, enormously.
Watch my video tour of Ferrara highlights:
Created and developed Este family, a rich and influential Italian dynasty with links to the Vatican, the city that emerged had vast walls around it and has as its centrepiece the grand Castello Estense. It dominates the heart of the old town and is a vast brick castle with sumptuous wide moat and four soaring towers. It dates back to the 14th Century.
The other distinctive and impressive building is the Cathedral of St. George. Two lions statues stand guard outside this ornate white building while inside are a rich treasure trove of paintings and reliefs.
Both buildings have signs of damage from recent earthquakes and have been restored and protected.
A slightly eerie statue of Girolamo Savonarola stands in a square between the Castello Estense and the Cathedral. It has a fearsome hood-covered face and outstretched arms with crooked fingers. He came from the city and was a fervent preacher obsessed with rooted out moral corruption throughout the Church and Vatican. He was known for his bouts of organised book and art burning of things he thought were indicative of the decline of morals and sinful.
The city of Ferrara has a number of beautiful old grand palaces, now home to art galleries, and an old Jewish Ghetto area that is the centre for trendy shops and coffee houses popular with students. It is a gorgeous and unspoilt city that is off the main tourist trail and worth immersing yourself in if in the region.
Disclaimer: I travelled as a guest of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Titan Travel UK on a 7-night cruise on the River Countess.