Bonnie and I have been looking forward to this part of our travels since we left almost a year ago: we got to visit our friends Cinzia and Alberto in northern Italy! We also had the pleasure of meeting their adorable son Valentino and the rest of their family over the course of most of a week. The room that Alberto’s nonno and nonna lent to us was the best one we’ve had in months, and we had homecooked Italian food almost every night–grazie mille, Cinzia e famiglia!! Also, after finding the original letter I’d replied to Cinzia with, Bonnie pointed out to Cinzia and I’s mutual surprise that we’d been writing to each other for eighteen years. Holy crow.
Cinzia and Alberto were also kind enough to guide us around their region–here’s some of the things we got to experience!
Ferrara is a smaller town, but it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and thus was a great way to start the more tourist-aspect of our Italy travels. We got to explore history directly in the Castello Estense, ducking through low passages and even into the prisons beneath, which would on occasion flood and drown the prisoners when the waters of the moat ran too high and spilled into their windows (how’s that for some Game of Thrones detail?). It wasn’t all gruesome medieval history, though–many of the rooms were decorated with art both old and modern, the latter in the case of a gallery exhibition and a room more recently painted in 1919 (which was my personal favorite). The Ferrara Cathedral was the first church we visited in Italy, and it left us with dropped jaws. The immense space inside, combined with the immense pieces of art were gorgeous–it’s definitely worth visiting! Cinzia also showed us the Jewish ghetto area, but unfortunately, the historical sites have been closed since they were damaged during the earthquake a few years ago.
In Adria, we visited the National Archeological Museum of Adria. Besides a kind of random but perfectly nice exhibition on ancient China, we saw lots of ancient Roman pottery, vases, and other small archeologica (I’m just making up that word, I think, just roll with it), including a Celtic chariot complete with horse skeletons, almost all excavated from tombs in the immediate surrounding area. I loved the tiny glass containers for perfume best–I’d read about them in books, but never seen any in person before!
Once a maritime, mercantile superpower unto itself, Venice is still a beautiful city, unique in its nature of being constructed upon a tight web of islands and canals. For travelers, it does have a reputation for being exorbitantly costly (when we bought sandwiches for lunch at a local market before leaving for the city, the clerk correctly guessed with a happy smirk that we were going to Venice), but just walking around and taking in the romantic canals and tiny narrow roads makes for a perfectly pleasant outing. The Piazza San Marco contains a huge amount of history in its small space alone, and also has a beautiful view to another portion of the city across the lagoon. We also visited the Museo Ebraica di Venezia, a small museum of Jewish history in the historical ghetto. The metalworking detail in the historical Judaica was astounding, and we were intrigued to learn the about how Venice was a nexus for several different Jewish cultures to intersect.
The Parco Giardino Sigurtà was entirely new to us, but it was one of the best gardens either of us had been to before. They cover a huge amount of ground near the city of Verona–and I mean a huge amount. Like, the botanic gardens in Singapore were huge, but these were big in a different sense, with swathes of preternaturally green and rolling hills made for rolling down…which, of course, we and many visiting school kids did. I don’t think I’ve been that dizzy in years. There was also a teaching farm which included–to Bonnie’s delight–a baby goat, and of course the tulips for which these gardens are especially famous. They’re also the oldest gardens we’d ever been in, with a history stretching all the way back to 1407–very impressive!
Big Ice Cream! And Aperol Spritz!
We also got to try a couple local favorites–one was utterly massive ice cream sundaes! Mine even had–get this–an espresso in a waffle-cone cup plunked right in the middle of it. And, it being Italian espresso, needless to say it was delicious. There were almost too many kinds and combinations to choose from, but we dove right in with pleasure.
The other thing we got to try was the famous Aperol spritz. Alberto took us to a happy hour with friends and family at a local bar that also happens to be part of a gas station–as Bonnie pointed out, just like in Montana! Italy’s bar snacks blew any we’ve had in the US out of the water, though; there was everything from pickled garlic to tiny salami sandwiches to chips to nuts…the real star, however, was the Aperol spritz, a combination of Aperol (a bitter and slightly sweet liqueur) and sparkling white wine. It was so easy to drink that we were quite unexpectedly tipsy very quickly…I think it helped our Italian, though!