Our Italian adventure began a new with the city of Commachio. The city was very small and resembled Venice because of the reason of having canals throughout the city. As well as many stone bridges one of them being the famous Trepponti or otherwise known as three bridges.
Located in the Po delta of the river Po. It is a small town with one main source of income and commerce, Anguillas. Which in Italian means eels. The main source of commerce and one of the most valuable resources that Commachio had to offer, and still to this day is well known for this salty pickled delight.
Our tour started on a boat where it took us around the delta and to the houses where the men who fished for these eels lived and worked. Their houses where small elite and designed to house around 4 to 5 men who would spend their nights waiting for the eels to be caught within their nets and trap systems they had set. The life of an eel man was not a rather glamorous one, neither was for the women of the village. The eels once caught in these giant woven baskets of sorts would then be taken by boat into the factory la Manifattura dei Marinati, where they would be prepped and skewered to be roasted and or pickled. Men fished the eels and the women cooked them, sounds a lot like modern day to me where men worked and women would cook but it was a fair trade off in my opinion.
The eels would be roasted on giant spits in front of huge ovens that lined the walls of the factory. The trick to knowing when they were done was an apple. An apple was placed next to the flames when the half of the Apple was cooked they would rotate the spit and the apple and once the apple was fully roasted they were ready. The whole process was done is mass and the factory was the sole producer and distributor of these eels for all of Italy.
My curiosity was peeked when I discovered this town and this factory had been once the set for an old classic movie that starred the iconic and legendary Sofia Loren. La Donna Del Fiume was the name of the film which translates into The Lady of the River. The story revolved around Nives working in the factory cooking the eels and falling in love with a man named Gino who was a eel fisher with a bad reputation. All in all it was a cult classic in the Italian cinema as well as a controversial one. It showed the life of a fishermen working the Po river delta and the women's role in making the eels. Just the fact that I could have been standing in the same room as history was being filmed excited me.
I took several pictures including some with the posters they had of Sofia holding up the cans of marinated eels, and one of me pretending to cook them just like Nives did in the film, causally laughing at Ginos attempts to make me jealous. Overall our excursion to this small yet significant city was nothing less than spectacular, I was able to learn about something I would have never known about and I felt like I could have been casted in an Italian cinematic masterpiece, maybe Carlo Ponti would have cast me in the next film except it will be called Il Uomo Del Fiume, the man of the river. Obviously this great film mogul is no longer with us but hey a boy can dream.
Ferrara di nuovo.
Ferrara once again. So after a gelato hang over we had our second excursion planned for the day. A guided tour of the infamous Castello Estense. Our tour guide was a lovely lady whose name was Emanuela Mari, a local of Ferrara and in my opinion the most knowledgeable person I have ever met. She was born and raised in the city, and has the mind of an owl. Her tour of the castle was nothing less than spectacular. The Castello Estense had seen quite some things in its time. We learned about the history of banquets. These giant feasts that would attract nobility and all others to dine in the castle for hours and engorge. It was the medieval times so being poisoned was quite a common thing, so to make sure nothing was being poisoned their was a man and his job was to taste everything single thing before it was served to ensure the nobility would not be poisoned. It was one of many precautions that were set in place to ensure these banquets had no hidden agenda to gain political power by killing your enemy. Eventually though someone would end up being poisoned.
The tour took us to the kitchens where they churned out mass quantities of food from these massive fire pits and giant iron cauldrons and ovens which could fit a full grown man. Made our kitchens now a days seem like a joke. Next to the kitchens following a set of stairs were the dungeons and jails that held the prisoners of the family. A little ironic to have the kitchen next to where you kept your prisoners, I feel as if making them smell the food was another way of punishing them. Some of these dungeons were rather surreal. I am 6'3 and had to bend and bow my head to be able to stand. They were small, damp, dark, and void of freedom to say the least.
We made our way to the more uplifting parts of the castle after our stay in the dungeons. The Este family had oranges imported to their Castle garden because they could not grow oranges in the climate of the province. They most definitely did not take the word no for an answer. We went to the terrace of the Castle where they still have orange trees thriving. I wanted to pick one and eat it to feel like an Este but the signs prohibited one from doing so. I opted not to just incase they felt the need to lock me into one of the dungeons we had been giving a tour of. We reached the rooms where the Este family spent most of their time, almost like a living room of sorts except most living rooms don't have timeless and priceless frescos lining the roofs of each room. Castello Estense was a strong and reliable Castle with its unique charm to it, most of the rooms now are used as offices but walking through its halls and dungeons still felt like a walk back in time.
Here we are on the first day of our adventure within the city of Ferrara. So far the city has a quaint charm to it. Old but nothing about this city is old. Within its walls of stone and its streets of cobble stone it is full of history and life. The people are kind and welcoming, as well as modern and always dressed for the runway. Italians are always dressed for success. They are never seen in their home wear, it is always ready to wear. Heels are the tennis shoes for women, leather sneakers and loafers are the norm for men. Italian fashion and style definitely does not compare to what is considering chic in America. Coffee here flows like a river into the cups of the masses. When you say lets go to a bar, you will not find liquor lined shelves and wells. Instead you will discover a giant machine which produces espressos in the blink of an eye. Ferrara was showing itself to us and I was only falling more in love with this city.
We were tasked with a scavenger hunt to make us more familiar with the city the girls and I took our first day into the city head on. We started from the CIEE main head quarters and ventured out towards the castle. There were certain strategic stops which were for us to be better familiar with the city. We walked down one of the oldest streets in Ferrara towards the outer walls. Eventually the hunt took us to a place that has forever changed my life. Gelateria La Romana dal 1947 which has been churned out fresh hand made gelato since 1947. They only use the freshest ingredients and only seasonal fruits that are available on the market. Needless to say it was not the last time I ventured out to eat this delicious frozen treat, in fact by the end of the trip the workers already knew me like a regular and greeted me with a smile and reveled at my appetite for gelato.
Noi siamo arrivati finalmente!!!
We finally arrived! after traveling for over 11 hours total flight time we finally made it to our destination. Ferrara the city of bicycles, medieval renaissance walls, cobblestone streets, a Castle which withstood the test of time and the famous cappellacci di zucca. Which I later came to love and learn how to make.
This was not my first time traveling to Italy. Traveling has always been a passion of mine something I think I inherited from my mother. My family and I used to live in Madrid, Spain. For our last couple of months before moving back to the states my mother and I took a mini euro trip. Our trip took us across several European countries Italy being one of them. I spoke only French, Spanish, and English at the time so my linguistics skills were not of much use in Italy but my mother had an ace up her sleeve. She had learned Italian and fearlessly led our Italian adventure throughout most of the major cities and cites, it inspired me to learn and add this language to my skill set and to redeem myself for not being able to help her communicate.
The fondest memories I have are of her and I sitting on trains bouncing from city to city taking in the views and planning our next adventure. I love her more than words can describe and hold those memories close to my heart. She inspired me to sign up for this trip to Ferrara through The University of Houston. Traveling to Ferrara and Italy in general was something personal to me I wanted to circumnavigate the same streets her and I once walked together and feel like I did those days when we were together in 2007.
Fast forward to 2016 a couple of inches and pounds later here I was in Italy. Speaking Italian like a local and finding my way through cities I only dreamed of seeing. Ferrara was a small quaint town with picturesque streets frozen in time. A medieval city that was one of the first modern cities to be erected in Italian history. Its walls protected it against attacks and even time itself, everything about Ferrara was like walking down a portal in time. Buildings still had the same iron railings and decorations, streets were still the same cobblestone that was laid down ages ago. It was our first night and first dinner as a group and I was settling myself into our home for the next two weeks and I was ready to begin my Italian adventure. I was ready for Italy and to eat.