Wanting to get to Modena early we sailed down the slip road onto the motorway just after 8am and straight into a police convoy escorting two small noisy vintage racing cars – we were in the Mille Miglia!
Bertha gamely raced along with the red Ferrari and green MG before being ‘encouraged’ by the police to hang back. We surmised these were the last two cars leaving Parma on timed departures as the leaders were well on their way to their final destination of Brescia by now.
At pretty Modena we gasped, along with other visitors, at the beauty of the town’s Piazza Grande and cathedral, a Romanesque masterclass in pink Veronese marble and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Begun in 1099 it was consecrated almost one hundred years later, and continued to be built by the stone and building-work ‘Campionese Masters’ up until the 14th century.
Inside its dark interior, mass was being sung and we were in time for the invitation to pray for ‘Cosmo e Damiano e tutti i santi e Papa Francesco’, due to meet with Donald Trump in a couple of days’ time.
Simon climbed the graceful Ghirlandina Tower for a view across the terracotta roof tiles of the town at 285 feet up.
I looked at a touching monument to victims of Nazi-Fascist terror in the 1940s. Black and white portraits of young men and women, some extremely handsome and stylised, others impoverished-looking and weary, were printed on individual china tiles and set into a wall of the medieval town hall, Palazzo Communale.
Modern Modena is famous for two global exports, Ferrari and Pavarotti. The night before the annual Nessum Dorma festival had ended and the narrow shopping streets were decorated with brightly strung coloured umbrellas.
Many buildings shone in a vibrant yellow, next to faded ochre and terracotta tones. We learned that this is ‘Modena yellow’ and hence the colour of Ferarri’s classic sports cars.
Being a Sunday, the 1930s covered Albinelli Market was closed but would otherwise have been packed with stalls selling local traditional products of balsamic vinegar, parmgiano-reggiano cheeses, Modena prosciutto, hams and stuffed sausages and the local fizz, Lambrusco.
Everyone it seemed was out on this sunny day and we mingled with students, young families and groups of elderly friends meandering through the shady streets and picking coffee shops and squares in which to sit and chat the hours away together. Modena is a relaxed and very pretty place.