A thirty minute train ride from Bologna, Ferrara is a little gem tucked away from the bright lights of the city, yet boasts that all important combination of culture, history, architecture... Ferrara is the essence of la dolce vita.
What to Pack
NB it DOES rain in Italy. Therefore, do not even think of leaving without an umbrella. It also gets cold, and winter lasts a long time, so bring your winter coat and warm boots. Also bring any information your uni has provided you with. Passport photos wouldn’t go a miss either. Any English products you think you will miss... because you’re not gonna find them there! And, of course, do not forget that adaptor!
What To Do on Arrival
1) Hopefully you will already have booked into a hostel/hotel. Go there, check in and pick up a tourist map.
2) Orientate yourself with the city. The Cathedral is the centre and everything centres around that.
3) Find the University. You’ll need to register with your faculty. (The Erasmus Office is in the Literature Faculty in Via Savonarola). But be warned of the Italian lunch time, when everything in town shuts and the residents hibernate as they disappear home to feast on their lunch. This usually occurs between around 12 and 2. Also, Monday and Thursday afternoons and Sunday are days when you will be lucky to find anywhere open. Well, the Italians are not exactly famous for their great work ethic...
4) Next you’ll need to start that search for accommodation. Go to the Bussola, it’s number 26, in Via Savonarola. This is an accommodation office. They are only open certain hours, but I advise you to get there early in the morning to avoid the queues. The secretary will provide you with a list of possible flats that might interest you. Also, look in the many faculties for advertisements. Oh yes, and live with Italians, they will be amazing in helping you to learn the language and culture.
Do take the language course offered to Erasmus students by the university. Not only will it help you with your language, but it will also allow you to meet a lot of like-minded Erasmus students. If you have any interest in History of Art I cannot recommend enough the modules in History of Art and Caravaggio. You may be expected to attend many more hours than you are used to in the UK, but it is a dream for your understanding, and general interest. The exams are oral and I would advise to turn up in good time as you will have to queue for your turn. Also, where possible go to the assistant, who will be lenient when marking! If you have a particular interest, chances are you’ll be able to develop it. There’s a great dancing school, next to Arci Bolognese with courses in dances from Ballet to Flamenco.
Ferrara - City of the Bikes. Bicycles have priority over everything, cars, pedestrians, even traffic lights! Buy a second-hand vintage bike with a bell and secure lock and say hello to your new best friend. A word of warning - try to find a flat with a garage or place to lock away your bike, as it is not uncommon for bikes to get stolen. Jump on the train to the bigger cities, the tickets are pretty cheap and trains run regularly. (Take regionals as they are the cheapest.) Buses can also be used to get to the beach in the summer. (Takes about an hour to the Lido Ferrarese.)
Make sure your social agenda leaves space for the following:
Tsunami Tuesdays - 2 for 1 cocktails and lovely bar staff.
Student night Wednesday - head to the centre and mingle in the piazza. The chupito bar in Via San Romano is not to be missed for its bizarre flavours at 1 euro. (Try ‘dog shit’!) Then around 2am drunkly mount your bike and kill the night at Renfe.
Friday - Reggae it up at Arci Bolognese. Feeling peckish? Take a cheeky trip to the secret bakery on Via San Romano. Open between 4 and 6am.
Sunday - weekly free concert at Zuni.
Things to Try
1) Jog along the renaissance walls (together with Lucca, they’re the best preserved Renaissance walls in Italy.)
2) Dance at Ferrara Sotto le Stelle. A festival which takes place in July when a stage is put up and international acts such as Babyshambles and Ellie Goulding play in the cobbled square by the Este Castle. Magical.
3) Drink Spritz! The drink of the apperitivo - drink it with Aperol or Campari (of which I definitely recommend the former).
4) Eat cappellacci di zucca. Yes, pumpkin-stuffed pasta. A traditional Ferrarese dish added with butter or bolognese. Divine.
5) Study in the Biblioteca Ariosto. This library will actually make you want to study!
6) Have a day at the Palio. Siena isn’t the only city famous for its running horses. In fact Ferrara claims that its own is the oldest in the world. Piazza Ariosto transforms into a racing ground for 1 day. Don’t miss the rehearsals of flag throwing throughout April.
7) Go to the High Foundations festival in June. A music festival lasting for one month out by the walls, in Parco Urbano.
8) The Buskers Festival. If you are spending any of the summer in Ferrara don’t miss out on this famous festival.
9) Ferrara Balloons Festival. The best hot air balloons you will see in Italy. Get to Parco Urbano when you arrive at the end of September.
10) Eat Torrone and buy presents for the family and friends at the Christmas Market. It's in the centre by the Cathedral the Market and lasts the whole of December.
11) Eat in a restaurant on a boat at Sebastian. Not ONLY is it a restaurant on a ship, but it also has the biggest pizzas you have EVER seen. What more could you want?!
12) Ride on the crowbar of someone else’s bike. Drunk.
13) Drink wine in the oldest osteria in the world at Al Brindisi. It has even been frequented by the likes of Titian and Cellini, and what with its location over looking the Cathedral. Perfetto.
14) Pick up a croissant after a night out. Head to the Cornetteria in Via Carlo Mayr. I personally recommend the strawberries and ice cream filled croissant....mmm....
15) Feast on the apperitivo at Centro Storico. If you are partial to nibbles, mini sandwiches, pizzas, etc. this will be your paradise.