You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
The weather has been vile for weeks, and catastrophic in much of northern Italy. Our usual expeditious trajet over the Grand St-Bernard is impossible -- the tunnel has been closed for months (the ventilation on the ceiling fell in) and not scheduled to reopen until January -- and the other passes are closed by heavy snowfall.
So we set out, 12 December 2017, to take the autoroute the long way round, via Geneva, to the Mont Blanc tunnel, and hope things are improved in the Val d'Aosta.
In fact with weather like this near Montreux on Lake Geneva, we turned back and then, once home, stiffened the sinews and started out again.
Things are not much improved coming up into the mountains near Chamonix and the tunnel entrance.
A slow line at the Mont Blanc tunnel -- with a single lane in each direction and three lines of cars and trucks waiting to enter, officials wait a suitable interval before waving another vehicle forward. The sign says that the town of Courmayeur on the Italian side is inaccessible, but the highway itself is open.
Each vehicle must stay 150m behind its predecessor -- in the disastrous fire of March 1999, which killed 38 people and closed the tunnel for three years, vehicles near the flaming truck were unable to turn around or reverse out in time.
Better weather on the Italian side, but plenty of evidence of recent storms
Only one lane open each way in the upper Aosta valley
Approaching Aosta with signs of blue skies ahead
A brief stop at the restoroute for a little lunch
Back in Settimo Vittone, at the B+B L'Ospitalità del Castello, our usual overnight stop after an easy leg over the Grand St-Bernard before carrying on elsewhere in northern Italy
Melvin bemused by our host family's friendly dogs in the yard
The afternoon view from our corner room. Dinner at our local favorite, the Dolce Vita a kilometre down the road.
Good weather the next morning, 13 December. We've entered a good-weather window that followed us around for the next 12 days, pretty much.
From our window. Next stop, about four hours on the autostrada to . . .
Our hotel, the Corte Estense, a block and a half from the cathedral, and the Ristorante 'Il Galeotto' conveniently next door
A beautiful, renovated old palazzo, and very inexpensive (at least in December)
The hotel courtyard (too cold these days)
We've come to Ferrara to visit the Carlo Bononi exhibition in the national gallery in the Palazzo dei Diamanti, and here we go.
The cathedral in the Piazza Trento-Trieste, with the Christmas market getting underway
The Torre della Vittoria and municipal offices in the cathedral square, the palace of the Este family before they built their fancy castle just down the street.
Some background on Ferrara and on the buildings we're passing now can be seen from our last visit to the city, in 2013.
The Haberdashers' Loggia along the side of the cathedral, and the 16th century belltower
The Romanesque front of the Duomo di Ferrara -- beautiful, no?
The Basilica Cattedrale di San Giorgio in 2013
Just down the street, the Castello Estense, modest home of the ruling Este family in Ferrara from the 12th century to 1598, when the Pope got them booted out (to Modena, actually).
Part of the City Hall, leading to the . . .
. . . Piazza Savonarola, and its ambiguous monument to Ferrara's native son, the self-confident preacher who gave Florence such fits in the 1490s and got burnt at the stake for his trouble.
The Castello Estense, begun by the Estes in 1385 at the then-northern wall of the city, partially to defend against the armies of rival cities, potentially to defend against aggrieved Ferraresi citizens.
The castle of the Estes. The family took its name from its proximate roots in the town of Este in the Euganean Hills south of Padua -- we visited there last May.
The Palazzo dei Diamante, referring to the diamond patterned tiles on its façade, as seen in this photo. Not actually, that's a huge drape printed to look like the original.
We're here for the Carlo Bononi exhibition, a local artist (1569-1632) who led the 'Ferrara School' out of the naturalism of the 16th century into the baroque of the 17th. The exhibition begins with works by some of the local artists who influenced Bononi's early development, like this Saint Cecilia (patron saint of music) by Carlo Saraceni.
And this Saint Agatha being ministered to by St Peter and an angel, by Giovanni Lanfranco
Bononi observed the 17th century post-Council of Trent requirements for sentimental religious art, but as this detail of the Madonna from his Pietà shows, he added originality of his own.
Bononi visited Rome in 1618 and developed his own techniques with light from studying works by Correggio, Carracci, and Caravaggio. The Lamentation over Christ, ca. 1627.
The Madonna and Child with Angels, ca. 1628.
Noli Me Tangere (with a shovel)
Suitably edified, we're back out onto the Corso Ercole I d'Este -- this large northern addition to the old city, the 'Ercolean Addition', everything north of the Castello Estense, was added under the direction of Duke Ercole I in the early 16th century.
Next door to the pinacoteca, this is the Museum of the Risorgimento, with (if I recall correctly) lots of Garibaldi lore along with all the regimental uniforms and newspaper clippings.
The Castello Estense by night
A very photogenic fortress
Ferrara street scene
The Christmas market
Back to the hotel, in the Via Correggiari, and now it's off to dinner . . .
. . . in the excellent Ristorante Il Galleoti, almost adjacent to the hotel.
The next day, a grey morning walkabout -- the Museo della Cattedrale, in the Church of San Romano, is on the right.
Another look at the Christmas market
Kristin collects the handmade Neapolitan figures and accessories of the Nativity crèche or presepe . . .
. . . so picking out the best ones will take a while.
The collection at home. (The Neapolitan artisans we met at the Christmas market in Syracuse five years ago believed that interest in the art has sadly been declining.)
The Christmas market and St George Cathedral
'Arisoto slept here'
The Via delle Volte, in the very medieval part of town
We're looking nostalgically for the restaurant we became devoted to during our stay here four years ago: the Osteria degli Angeli.
The Via delle Volte
The Via San Romano
Imaginative use of bomb damage
The Piazzetta Alberto Schiatti, just off the Corso Porta Reno main street
The Corso Porta Reno on the way towards the cathdral, facing Via Correggiari and our hotel. It's time to be on our way, unfortunately.