Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Chiara Carta, a linguist, teacher, cat-lover, and travel dreamer here to tell us all about Parma – home of prosciutto, the namesake cheese, and amazing architecture.
First, tell us about you.
I was born in Sardinia and, after high school in Sassari, I went to live in Bologna, where I studied German and Finnish. I lived in Berlin for a while, but my love for Emilia Romagna was too big, so I returned.
Today, I live in Parma with my boyfriend and a lovely cat called Harley Quinn. I teach Italian to foreigners and my biggest dream is to live in Los Angeles for a few months. I love translating, watching movies, and reading.
I think Bologna is the best city in Emilia Romagna when you are young and free, but here in Parma you can have a lot of good things, too. Nothing is too far away, especially if you have a bicycle (and everyone here does).
If someone is visiting Parma for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
First of all, Parma is popular for food (and who doesn’t love food?). You can find little shops with the best Parmigiano and prosciutto in the center and sometimes there are cool sales.
Parma is also popular for music. You can visit Il Teatro Reggio for ballet and music, and in September/October there is the show in memory of Verdi.
The best places in Parma: the river (la Parma), the bridges full of flowers, and la pilotta if you like old history. Il Duomo is an old church and it’s so pretty, and nearby is the battistero (baptistery), where you can find some handsome art.
If you like green spaces, visit Il Giardino Botanico (the botanic gardens) and Parco Ducale.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
I chose to live in the center because I can go to the train station in five minutes and find all the shops I want. In the center, there are some small, old streets called borghi; they are not in the principal streets, but close, and they are quieter, but close to the night life.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
Parma is just 90 minutes from Milan and 60 minutes from Bologna, so if you want to go to the best events it could be easy for you!
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
Parmigiano is the best cheese ever! I’m vegetarian, but if you want to taste other typical food from Parma or Emilia Romagna, there is prosciutto di Parma, salame di Felino, tortellini from Bologna, and la piadina (thin flatbread) from Romagna.
And if you are curious, since Barilla is from Parma, you can go to see the big blue factory of Barilla. It’s like a giant box of pasta.
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
I don’t have favorite bars, because I’m more a fan of food than drinks, but you can find a popular bar for young people in Via D’Azeglio. On weekend nights this street is closed to cars and there are a lot of people walking in the street. In Strada Farini there are also some good bars.
The best pizzeria on earth is called La Pizzeria da Luca; it’s close to the train station (at Viale Fratti 24/bis) and you can choose so many different kinds of pizza. You MUST try this pizza.
Misterpizza (on Via Abbeveratoia) is our second favorite. We also found a good Asian all-you-can-eat restaurant called Mishi Mishi (located at Viale Antonio Fratti 28), which is cheap and good!
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
In Germany or north Europe, people walk around with a beer. Here, we just drink close to or inside the bar.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Italian cliché says that we are not shy and since most clichés are true, I guess it’s not hard to get to know Italian people in a bar or just walking around. But since we are in the internet era, you can use Couchsurfing.org or Facebook and search for some events.
Why should people make sure to visit Parma?
If you love food, classic music, art, old churches, and history, there is everything you like here!
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
I love taking photos under the bridge, Ponte di Mezzo, but if you go to the Duomo you can get a good old-style photo (it reminds me of Florence).
Anything else you want us to know?
Parma was a rich city before the economic crisis; now you can (sadly) find some old shops closed. If you want to taste the old Parma, don’t buy food in the supermarket; try to patronize an old food shop. They will be kind and you will have the best food ever.