22 Feb,2017 By Jagabond
Fireworks have never been my favorite thing. In fact, the words disappointment and anxiety best sum up my emotions on the subject. I left Barcelona unimpressed by their famous New Years show, which wasn’t all that different from the less hyped version I saw in Estonia the following year. More memorable are the large number of idiots who somehow have free reign to set fireworks off haphazardly in the streets, nearly singeing passersby with roman candles, or shocking war veterans with unexpected explosions.
I visited Ferrara, Italy with an open mind and found their fireworks show to be uniquely fun. Ferrara is a small city in the Emilia-Romagna region, an area known for its gastronomical culture. For those looking for a different experience on the New Year, one without the overwhelming crowds of other large European cities, consider Ferrara, and my suggested itinerary below.
New Year’s Eve
-Visit the castle, Castello Estense, as a precursor for the show later that night. The museum is open during the day, and will give you some context to what the show is all about. The castle is a grand beauty, and with its giant drawbridge and moat it looks like what you always pictured a castle should look like. Construction started in the 14th century, as the ruling class wanted better protection against the general public, which at the time was prone to rioting. A fire in the 16th century swept through, severely damaging many parts of the castle and necessitating massive renovations.
-Make dinner reservations or else face a series of average meals. I didn’t follow this advice, and thus have no restaurant recommendations to give for Ferrara. A smaller city means less options for eating out, and Ferrara isn’t a secret to Italians, so they still get many tourists this time of year.
-Get a spot outside the castle at around 11:30, and wait for the fireworks. The idea of the show is to recreate the 16th century fire. The videos below document the entire occasion, with the second one just showing the grand finale. The music really augmented the experience, and I recommend going to the eleven minute mark to catch the ‘Sounds of Silence’ rendition, which was one of the most beautiful parts of the show, in my opinion. They also featured music from Pink Floyd, and some Opera standards, while syncing the songs perfectly with the epic explosions.
-After the incredible New Year’s show, close your night with some wine or beer at Birra Frara, not far from the main festivities but surprisingly not that crowded. There are some great local beers on tap (awfully rare to find ‘great’ Italian beer), and the house wine is very good.
New Year’s Day
-If you’re an older adult like I am, this day should start with sleeping in…especially if you’re not used to staying out until the wee hours of the morning. Where to sleep? I recommend Hotel Carlton, strategically situated nearby all the main attractions. They have a great breakfast spread with one of those all-in-one coffee machines, meaning you can have bottomless espresso for free!
-Say goodbye to Christmas at the Ferrara market, which stays open until the first week of January. Take that last swig of hot wine, and sample the regional cuisine at one of the many food booths.
-Did you know the oldest known wine bar in the world, by hundreds of years, is in Ferrara? Visit Al Brindisi, which is right nearby the main cathedral, for a taste of history. The menu there is stocked with local wines and cheeses, and the inside, though modernized somewhat, still maintains that old school vibe. Oh yeah, and this guy used to drink here…
Poland’s most famous astronomer studied at the University of Ferrara for a brief time. I can imagine having a few glasses of vino bianco, arguing into the night with Copernicus about his crazy idea that the earth revolved around the sun.
-Finally, have an easy final night with some of the best beer in the world. Comandamento is a great pub that recognizes the flaws of Italian beer, and thus has a vast selection of Belgian brews, including La Chouffe, my personal favorite. If you get there during happy hour, they have free food laid out on the bar for easy snacking.
How to get there: Ferrara is a 30 minute train ride from Bologna, a great city on its own that can be reached via budget airline flights from many cities in Italy and other cities in Europe.