Today was an excellent reminder of precisely why I love Italy.
As a country synonymous with mouthwatering food, spectacular sights and abundant romance, it’s not difficult to understand Italy’s firm grip on my heart. After all, I’m a hopeless romantic with a big appetite, so my affinity for all things Italian should come as a surprise to no one. I therefore count myself incredibly lucky that my cruise along the Po today allowed me to enjoy everything I love about Italy and more.
How did this whirlwind day of Italian greatness begin? Well, our morning excursion brought us to Ferrara, a city seemingly frozen in time, still surrounded by over 9 km of Renaissance walls from the 15th-16th centuries. Clustered around the downtown core are countless Medieval and Renaissance buildings that will make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. We started with a stop at Ferrara Cathedral, whose Romanesque and Gothic façade conceals a beautiful Baroque interior, rebuilt after a fire that occurred in the 18th century. As we entered, I was taken aback by the beautiful golden light that flooded in through the windows. The central nave of the entire cathedral was awash with a light glow that perfectly highlighted the bronze statues and fine details of the interior. So lovely!
The rest of our tour brought us to sights like the Diamond Palace (with its brilliant geometric façade), the Castle Estense (an imposing structure complete with a protective moat) and the Ferrara City Hall (originally home to the Este family, who ruled the city for centuries). There is no end to the aesthetic appeal of Italy, whose diversity offers up historical gems like those in Ferrara, alongside natural beauty along the coast and all throughout the country. That’s one of my favourite things about it!
And, while there was much to admire about Ferrara’s architecture and history, I must say: sometimes it’s the simplest sights that stick with you most. For me, the charm of Ferrara was most felt in the main shopping district, where a canopy of colourful umbrellas hovered over a street lined with boutiques and cafes. How can you not ooh and ahh over a sight as charming as this?
In the afternoon, we continued our tour of Italy with a stop in romantic Verona, setting for one of the most famous love stories of all time – Romeo and Juliet. Within a few minutes, it quickly became clear why this beautiful city was chosen for the world’s most famous romantic tragedy. Located along the banks of the Adige River, this former Roman city is still packed full of Roman monuments, picturesque plazas and architectural beauty that would melt the heart of any romantic.
During the tour, our guide was quick to point out sights of importance to Romeo and Juliet, including the Montague residence and of course, the house of Juliet, a site of pilgrimage for hopeless romantics from all over the world. While I know full well that the story itself is fictional, the starry-eyed romantic in me couldn’t help but feel enamoured with the sappy idealism that filled the air. Clustered in that tiny courtyard were happy lovers snapping photos by the famous balcony, hopeful romantics touching the bust of Juliet for good luck, and of course, countless people leaving public declarations of love along the building’s walls. So yes, while the story itself is completely fictional, I assure you that the faith in love it evokes is entirely real.
Our walking tour concluded with a visit to another major landmark – the Verona Arena. For many who have visited Rome, this amphitheatre will be a familiar sight. Built in a near-identical style to the Roman Coliseum, this arena is the 3rd largest of its kind in Italy, with 72 arches and doors that allow for the speedy entrance and exit of spectators. As our guide informed us, the space is now used for cultural performances, including operas, which occupy the arena during the summer months. We even caught a glimpse of some opera set pieces that were arranged outside!
After a bit of free time, during which I happily perused the eclectic mix of fresh produce, souvenirs and accessories in the Piazza delle Herbe, we returned to the MS Michelangelo, where I took some time before dinner to absorb the incredible view we had from the sundeck. Coming now into the last month of the Photo Tour, I think one of the things I will miss most about river cruising is sitting up on the sundeck, breathing in the beautiful views around me, completely relaxed and happy. Leaning against the rails of the MS Michelangelo, watching the sun as it became consumed in bright pink, I couldn’t have possibly felt happier.
But of course, in true Photo Tour fashion, things did, in fact, get better. After watching the sun dip beyond the horizon, a delicious Italian dinner awaited my consumption in the dining room. We began with a fresh and deliciously presented Caprese salad, followed by a juicy fried veal and spaghetti, gooey Gorgonzola cheese and a creamy tiramisu to finish. With a meal like that, I was quickly reminded once again of why I love Italy so much.
Honestly, this is a country I wouldn’t mind marrying.
To continue this love story of mine, I’ll be headed back to Venice tomorrow for more explorations of the city. While there is no doubt that Venice captured my heart long ago, I have learned very well in the past few months that there is always more to see.
Talk to you all soon!