November 15 Sunday: Ferrara – Trieste
Ferrara with a population of 140,000,is the capital city of the Province of Ferrara. The Lombard king pledged the Duchy of Ferrara in 757 to Pope Stephen II. The duchy hosted the Este family and Obizzo II of Este (ca 1247- February 1293) was proclaimed lifelong ruler of Ferrara in 1264, Lord of Modena in 1288 and of Reggio in 1289. In 1452, the Este rulers were created Dukes of Modena and Reggio. In 1597 when Alfonso II died without heirs, the House of Este lost Ferrara to the Papal states. It remained a part of the papal states from 1598 to 1859 before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy.
The history of the Renaissance city of Ferrara is closely bound to the Este family. The Este court flourished for two centuries in splendour and was on par with cities like Florence and Venice. The House built some 30 villas, summer and hunting retreats in the Po Delta Regional Park. All these testifies to the major influence of Renaissance and Estense cultures on the natural environment.
Under their rule, the medieval town became an important centre for the arts, economics, ideology and religion. Artists such as Mantegna and Michelangelo worked in Ferrara. The Este family created the first example of a studiolo (in the course of the 15th century, a special room in many houses and palaces came to be set aside as a place of study and contemplation) and their practice of art collection became a model for both the Medici family and the Pope.
A series of urban planning schemes were also implemented which made Ferrara the first Renaissance city to be developed using a complex urban plan. Anetwork of streets and walls closely linked with the palaces, churches and gardens was created as part of an overall scheme that gave precedence to the harmonious layout of urban perspectives. The humanist concept of the ‘ideal city‘ came to life in the neighbourhoods built from 1492 onwards by Biagio Rossetti. The completion of this project marked the birth of modern town planning and influenced its subsequent development.
Owing to the beauty and cultural importance of the town, Ferrara, “City of the Renaissance and its Po Delta” has been listed as a World Heritage Site.
I learnt about the House of Este and its influence when I was in Florence in June. My curiosity has led me to this city with a glorious past. Its ancient walls (over 9km-long), along with those of Lucca, are the best preserved Renaissance walls in Italy. There are many parks, palaces, squares and broad streets. I like the city: it is not touristic with a tranquil and aristocratic ambiance.
The city center is dominated by the majestic brick Castello Estense, a symbol of Ferrara located at Piazza della Repubblica,Palazzo Municipale(an earlier residence of the Este Family) and the Cathedral. After having spent three nights in this area and the ancient Jewish ghetto, I was able to move around like a local. As my train to Trieste would be leaving at 3:18pm, I only had time for a few highlights.
I began my day at the Cathedral when the locals were coming in for the Sunday mass.The Romanesque lower part of the main façade and the side façades was completed in 1135 while the upper part of the main façade dates from the 13th century. The interior was restored in baroque style in 1712.
Then I walked across the square to visit Castello Estense. Erected in 1385 by Marquis Niccolò II, itis surrounded by a moat with four massive bastions. A century later, it became the residence of the Este court.
The pavilions on the top of the towers date from the 16th–century refurbishment. I took over an hour and a half to go through the parts that are open to the public. The kitchen and the dungeons are fairly large. I find the Halls of Games most interesting: the ceiling is divided into 11 panels each describing a different sport. The painting style of Bastianino(1536-1602), a late Renaissance – Mannerist painter of the School of Ferrara resembles those of Michelangelo, the master he worked for seven years in Rome.
Most museums are closed before 1 pm. I rushed to Palazzo dei Diamanti. Construction of the palace, a symbol of the prestige and glory of the House of Este, began in 1493. Designed by Biagio Rossetti, the palace has 8,500 diamond-shape stones on the ashlar facing. Here I saw two exhibitions.
The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art located on the first floor of the palace, mainly shows traditional paintings. Not particularly exciting.
The special exhibition on paintings by Giorgio de Chirico(1888-1978) during his time in Ferrara from 1915 to 1918, is much more interesting.
Chirico founded the school of metaphysical art, a style of painting that flourished mainly between 1911 and 1920 in the works by Chirico and Carol Carrà. He is best known for his paintings produced between 1909 and 1919 – his metaphysical period which are distinctive for the haunted, brooding moods evoked by their images. I brought a book on Chirico in Oxford as I was striken by the mood, emotion, themes and colours of his works which had profound influence on the surrealists.
There are over 60 paintings from Chirico as well as other known surrealist painters. I like the illustrations which are instrumental to appreciating his paintings as well as those by Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Carlo Carrà. As I had a visitor card (€10), I paid €8 for this exhibition which is value-for-money.
There is a lot to see in Ferrara. I could have spent one more day in museums, palaces and parks. It’s almost 1 pm when I came out of the palace. I walked back to the centre and found a local restaurant for a Sunday lunch. A 2-course set menu with wine is only €15. I enjoy the home-cooking. But I was greedy and ordered a dessert (chocolate cake) for €4. It’s just too much!
Trieste located at the head of the Gulf of Trieste is a seaport in Northern Italy lying between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia. Throughout history, it has been influenced by Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures. First it was a Roman colony, then a flourishing commercial port and outlet onto the sea for the Austro-Hungarian empire and subsequently a tormented land claimed by Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany. Finally it became part of Italy for over half a century. Today, it is in one of the richest regions of Italy and has been a centre for shipping, shipbuilding and financial services. With a population of over 200,000, it is the capital of the autonomous region Friuli-Venezia and the Province of Trieste.
My train departed for Trieste on schedule at 3:18pm (€29 one way). It was full: I was lucky to have booked the ticket online sometime ago. The Ferrara station is old without lift or escalator. I was grateful when a young man helped carrying my suitcase to the platform. When the train came, I was unable to lift my suitcase to the carriage. Another man came to my rescue.
Three hours later, I arrived in the excellent Trieste train station with all tracks located at ground level. I booked a room at Hotel Posta at Plaza Oberdan which is close to the station. But I had a most frustrating experience: I could not find a map inside or outside the station and misinformation from a passer-by put me on the wrong path. At the end, I spent more than half an hour in finding the hotel.
The hotel is over two hundred years old and has been nicely renovated. The receptionist is exceptional helpful. Since it’s still early, she suggested me take a stroll to I walked to Plaza Unita D’Italia. I had a wonderful walk passing Plaza Sant Antonio, the canal and Plaza della Borsa (stock exchange) before arriving at the majestic Plaza Unita D’Italia which is flanked by grand buildings on both sides and facing the Gulf of Trieste. I went on and found myself at Plaza Venezia and local areas with many eateries.
I was totally taken by surprise of the grandeur and beauty of the squares and buildings. LonelyPlanet.com listed Trieste in 2012 as the world’s most underrated travel destination. I cannot agree more!
I stopped at Selmare, a well-known seafood eatery on Via Torino and had a cod open sandwich and a glass of white wine for €6. Excellent seafood and reasonable price.
November 16 Monday, Trieste – Venice
I spent a lovely day strolling around this elegant historic seaside city. After having afull breakfast, I took Bus 6 (€1,35) to Miramare Castle, the home of Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg (1832-1867), the younger brother of Franz Joseph I and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium.
Designed by Carl Junker, an Austrian architect, the castle was built between 1956 and 1860. It was not finished when he and his wife departed for Mexico in 1864 where he was later crowned Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. He was however shot died in 1867 without seeing the castle which was designed and built according to his own spirit and that of an epoch, to be in contact with nature.
The castle’s ground includes an extensive cliff and seashore park of 22 hectares. Today, the coastal area next to the castle is a marine protected area. The garden, the preserved coastline and lush vegetation have indeed created a tranquil atmosphere in harmony with nature.
The entrance fee is €8. I enjoy the visit and like the castle which is liveable and modest for an archduke. The ground floor, the living quarter of Maximilian and Charlotte, is not lavish and pompous. The soft blue colour, my favourite colour, is widely used. He liked the sea; hence all rooms are airy and bright facing the sea. The studyin wood and decorated with the busts of Dante Goethe, Homer and Shakespeare is elegant and comfortable. The upper floor is more lavish decorated in royal red colour and with a throne room. It was completed after his death and has never been used.
I was delighted to see a special exhibition of paintings of Ippolito Caffi (1806-1866), a celebrated Italian painter of his time and an untiring adventurous traveller who immortalised the most beautiful cities of Italy (Rome, Venice and Naples), Europe (Athens, Constantinople) and the East (Egypt). Maximilian and Caffi, though two personalities of different origin, extraction and culture, had through travel found a refined, common path and a positive desire for knowledge. I know nothing about Maximilian and Caffi before this visit but feel they are my soul mates. Caffi’s paintings of Egypt is impressive.
I returned to the city centre and went to Museo Revoltella & Gallery of Modern Art. It is located in a majestic Neo-Renaissance three-storey town house built by Pasquale Revoltella (1795- 1869), an entrepreneur and financier and one of the most authoritative figures in the economic and political imperial Trieste. Born in Venice, he and hi family moved to Trieste in 1797. He made significant contribution to the construction of the Suez Canal though he died a few months before the inauguration of the canal. The museum has been expanded considerably incorporating neighboring Paparazzo Basevi and Paparazzo Brynner. It is like a maze and a treasure house with over 300 paintings and works from contemporary Italian artists in addition to Revoltella’s art collection.
I was not hungry but found good seafood irresistable. I had a large bowl of mussels and clams for €9 in La Constantine De Le Botti. An excellent light lunch with wine for €12.5!
My third stop was the Old Town built around the hill of San Giusto. I climbed the narrow steep alleys up to the Cathedral of San Giusto and the San Giusto Castle (1470-1630) and tumbled across a few Roman ruins.
As my train for Mestre (€19.15) would not be leaving till 6:15pm, I took a scenic ride on Tram 2 to Opicina which affords a panoramic view of the city. Unfortunately, it got dark. I stayed on the tram and returned to Plaza Oberdan.
I arrived in Mestre just after 8 pm. I booked a hotel close to the train station so that I did not have far to walk. Before leaving, I had delicious seafood paste and wine in an authentic Italian family-run restaurant for €15. What an excellent day!
November 17 Tuesday: Venice, Italy (GMT+1) – London, UK (GMT)– Taunton – Travel Day
My plane took off before 1 pm and I arrived at Heathrow Airport after shortly after 2:30pm. I had a two-day stop-over in the UK and stayed with my god-mother in Taunton. The National Express bus was delayed and I did not board the bus till almost 5pm. Owing to stormy weather, the bus had to slow down. By the time I arrived at her doorstep, it was almost 9 pm.
Denise, Mrs Thorn’s daughter had also come from Scotland to visit her mom. I have not seen her for five years. We had a long chat before going to bed. I had an excellent sleep after a long tiresome day.
November 18 Wednesday: Taunton – Rest and Chatting Day
November 19 Thursday: Taunton – London, UK – Oslo, Norway – Harstad GMT+1) – Travel Day
I joined an Oceanwide Expedition sailing trip to Senja, the second largest island in Norway from November 20 to 27 and had to buy a separate ticket from SAS for this trip (London – Oslo – Evenese and Stockholm – London).
My plane would be leaving around 3:30pm. Given the unpredictable traffic and weather conditions, the National Express receptionist at the Central Bus Station at Heathrow suggested me take the 6:45am bus (instead of the 10:30am one) to Heathrow. Wow, I arrived at the airport around 9 am. Luckily, there is an excellent premier lounge at Terminal 2: I had breakfast and lunch there and read the Times. A most civilised way to spend time at the airport.
The flight to Oslo was on time. To my horror, the zip of the new travel bag I brought in Taunton the day before had broken. Luckily my stuff were all packed in bags inside and nothing had fallen out.
At the Oslo airport, I had to take my luggage and check in again. Unfortunately, my connecting flight was delayed and I arrived in Evenes after 11 pm. Fortunately, the bus for Harstad only left after picking all the passengers from the incoming flight. I finally arrived at Harstad where I would board my boat the following day. I checked in Scanic Hotel near the bus station and had a good sleep. What a long travel day!
After a month in North America, I happily returned to Europe which I am familiar with and has much more to offer. As I had to be in Norway for a sailing trip on November 20, I only had a total of ten days in hand. Without careful planning when booking my round-the-world ticket in July, I ended up spending seven days in six cities in three countries and three days on travelling from one country to another. This is not my preferred way of travel and must be avoided in future.
Anyway, I managed to have a leisure two-day break in Madrid with Lawrence and Sally, four wonderful days in exploring Ravenna, Modena, Ferrara and Trieste which are Italian gem cities not yet destroyed by mass tourism. I also managed to spend two nights in Taunton with my godmother before leaving for Norway.
I cannot have enough of Italy which is so enticing. During my short stay in Northern Italy, I saw some of the highlights in Ravenna, Modena, Ferrara and Trieste but no time to soak in the atmosphere and leave with a sense of the place. This is particularly true for Ferrara. Though I stayed in the city for three nights, I did not have time to walk along the 9km-long ancient city wall to fully appreciate the city. I learn about Estenese ‘delizia’ – the way to live in harmony with nature and city life but have no time to stroll around enjoying the parks, magnificent buildings and palazzos, the landscape and citycape as a whole.
There are a few exciting and unusual discoveries. First, the history of Ravenna is amazing and the mosaics are breath-taking. I love to visit the Mausoleum of Theodoric and the Basilica of Sant’s Apollinare in Classe, some museums and the delta area in Ravenna. Second, I find the Cathedral of Modena exquisite, unique and most enchanting. I place one of my most flavourite churches.Third, though Trieste has no World Heritage Site (unlike Ravenna, Modena and Ferrara), the city itself is a most intriguing anomaly.
I am indebted to Robert Upton, a former colleague who first drew my attention to this most underrated city. He has suggested me read Jan Morris’s book “Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere” before my visit. I did not get the book till Christmas Eve and finished reading it by Boxing Day. I must say reading it after my visit makes me realise how much I have missed out including the karst, the plateau, and the Risiera di San Sabba which was turned into a concentration camp in September 1943 (known as Stalag 339) and served as a crematorium from June 1944 to April 1945 where an estimated 3 to 5,000 people were killed.
Nonetheless, without much knowledge about Trieste’s complex past and history has been a blessing: I have been able to see and experience the place today without prejudice and pre-conceived ideas. When reading the “Epilogue: Across My Grave”, I realise I share the feeling and emotion Jan Morris has for this unique place – “The Capital of Nowhere”. I am certain to return one day on my visit to Northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria – the area which was once part of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire.