• Ferrara

    Rider's Journal

  • Riding through the heart of Italian's Renaissance.

    I have travelled across Italy in every mode of transport imaginable. I've walked hundreds of miles on mountain trails; I’ve cycled along cycle paths and unpaved country roads; I’ve paddled across lakes in a canoe; I’ve let my gaze wander over long straights of motorway when travelling by car, the scenery passing quickly by in a blur.

    When I arrived in Ferrara, it certainly wasn't my first visit. I always thought the city walls of the Renaissance city perfectly summed up how the Italian province acts as a meeting place for different cultures, sometimes simply coexisting, but more often than not influencing each other.

    It’s only a few hundred metres on foot from the Palazzo dei Diamanti to the Castello Estense along Corso Ercole d’Estein the heart of the city, but I decided to travel the distance on a pedal-assisted bike that my friend Sergio lent me. Ferrara is not like Genoa, or worse, Rome, where travelling on two wheels puts you in constant danger. In Ferrara, bicycles are part of the citizens’ DNA.

    There is a significant difference in personality between those who are forced to travel to work in the city traffic, or squashed into underground carriages, and those who arrive at the office having been able to take in the changes of season: the cold air or the warmth of sunshine on their skin, enveloped in scents that were changing, softening, intensifying.

    On a spring day, Ferrara may seem too distracted, indifferent, dreamlike. It isn’t like the rest of the towns and cities that the Po river crosses: Ferrara doesn't project a hostile, refractory melancholy. The city hides its secret pain, perhaps because of the magnitude of it. I decided to ride my e-bike through the city centre, skirting along the cathedral, passing through the ghetto area, before finally arriving at the Palazzo Schifanoia museum. I wasn’t the only one using this mode of transport. There are still ordinary bicycles around, but many people – young and old alike – have now opted for the electric option.

    I can truly see that ecological and sustainable choices in certain parts of Italy are not only a wave of intellectual modernity that transcends generations, but also a community making a conscious effort to do good, not wanting to fall behind or be late for its appointment with life. Electric mobility makes life easier for everyone, even for the elderly who do not want to – and should not have to – abandon the places they have always loved to visit, but which they perhaps may find more difficult to access now.

    In the half an hour since I last looked at my watch I had already cut Ferrara in two, from east to west. I stopped at a bar for a cold drink and to sit down at a small table outside. A dozen or so electric bikes and scooters were parked next to the pavement. I parked mine there too. Near the outside table where I was sat, two senior citizens were drinking coffee, discussing politics and reading the front page of the Resto del Carlino newspaper. At a table further away, two young girls were listening to who knows what kind of music, with one earphone in each.

    I didn’t feel that ambiguous level of stress that could explode at any moment, but rather a life lived in its own time, at its own pace. There’s time for chats over coffee here. Concerns are taken seriously but the people don’t deprive themselves of free time, the only kind of time that makes people more human, more respectful and more creative as well.

    An experience of Articolo F. Quaranta