After Florence I stayed a couple of days in the city of Padova. I was making my way north to Venice, and on my previous trip I had skipped over the towns along the way, so I figured this time I would stop and pay a visit to two of them; Padova and Verona. Nothing too substantial happened in either one, but they offered a chance to see a part of Italy that I had missed on the last journey.
The city of Padova (aka Padua) is something of a college town and has a famous university that dates back to Renaissance times. It also has the creepiest hostel I stayed at during the entire trip, which I came to refer to as “the asylum” because it reminded me of a prison/mental hospital. After checking in and depositing my stuff at the hostel I spent the rest of the day checking out a few different things in Padova. I went over to Prato della Valle, which is a large park/plaza that used to be a Roman amphitheater and on certain days hosts an outdoor market. Near one end of the parkis Basilica di Santa Diustina, which is a large, spacious church with not too much in it. I noted that the exterior bricks have the mounts needed for a marble facade, but since there’s no facade on the church I’m guessing this is another one of those churches that had the funding pulled right near the end of construction. I then went over to the Basilica of St Anthony, which was clearly well funded by its ornate interior and multiple domes. For some reason it has a no-photo policy (the bane of my existence!) so I had to be sneaky to grab a few shots. I ate dinner on a bench back in the main part of town near the city hall. The wifi at the hostel wasn’t very strong, so I couldn’t do too much uploading of photos, but on the plus side that meant I didn’t have a reason to be up past midnight. I did notice that night that I had several mosquito bites on my feet, which probably happened in Florence. Thankfully there was no pain or itching, so I knew they would heal within a few days.
The next day was spent mostly in Verona. I used up the last travel day on my France and Italy rail pass for the roundtrip, since the train to Venice was only going to cost a few euro. Although Verona is well known as the town where Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet play takes place, it has a lot more going on than just that. For example, it has the second best preserved Roman arena (after the Coliseum in Rome) in Europe. Today the arena hosts plays, concerts, and other functions. When I was there I saw a crew setting up the stage for some sort of performance and before I left Verona at the end of the day I passed by the arena and could hear the music of whatever band was performing that evening. After checking out the arena I walked over to Porta Borsari, a gate from the old Roman walls and then passed through it on my way to Piazza Erbe, one of the main squares of Verona. A short distance from the piazza is the Juliet House, which contains a courtyard and balcony that are supposed to be the ones from Shakespeare’s play. There is absolutely no proof that this is true and I have no doubt that the owners of this property have profited handsomely from all the tourism that passes through. In the courtyard there’s a statue of Juliet. If you take a look at it you’ll notice that one of Juliet’s breasts is shinier than the other, and that is because there’s this thing where is you rub the breast you’re supposed to find your love. A big crowd normally gathers in the courtyard and people stand around, waiting for a chance to pose for a photo with the statue. No, I did not rub the statue, in case you were wondering. I observed the scene for a few minutes before returning to Piazza Erbe and then climbing the Torre Lamberti. The tower has commanding views of the city and the surrounding countryside, though there’s not as much to see as in places like Florence. The bell of the tower sounded at the half hour and took my and everyone else up there by surprise. I came down the tower and walked passed the elevated tombs of the Scaligeri Family. The Scaligeri dominated Verona in the 1300s and forced all the other noble families to dismantle their towers. Adding insult to injury, the bricks from those towers were then used to pave the streets of the city. Not far from the tombs, I passed a seemingly innocuous building on a street corner, but a tour group was standing around outside the building and I overheard the guide tell them that this was the Romeo House. While not all that interesting to me, this was one of many instances during the journey across Europe where I got some free tour guide information by simply listening in on a nearby tour group. I came next to the Sant Anastasia church; another one of those churches that spent more money on the interior than exterior. Someone was playing the giant organ, though I didn’t recognize the tunes. It made start thinking about if anyone has done giant organ renditions of various songs. A lot popular songs probably wouldn’t turn out very good, but I bet we could find a few that translate well. I imagine somewhere on the internet there’s someone who’s already tried this. Outside the church I crossed the Ponte Pietra bridge and went over to the Roman Theater, but is was closed for renovations. On the way back I nearby got bumped in the head by a kayak a guy was carrying around. I walked to the Verona duomo and also checked out the archaeological exhibit below the church. Like so many others, the Verona duomo is on top of the remains of an older church and archaeologists are carefully digging up the old one while making sure not to compromise the foundation of the new one. By the time I left the duomo it was the late afternoon and I decided to make the Castelvecchio fort my final sightseeing of the day. The fort itself isn’t that big and the museum inside it has a modest collection of things to see, but you can go up on the ramparts. Behind the fort is a bridge which I went out on half way to get a photo of the fort, and then I made the walk all the way back to the arena. When I got there I still had a little time before I needed to return to the train station, so I listened in on the music coming out of the arena for awhile. The time for departure came soon enough, and I went back to the train station and returned to Padova.
Compared to the day in Verona, the following day in Padova was nowhere nearly as eventful. A lot of people do Padova as a daytrip from other places, and I can understand why. All the biggies can be seen in a few hours and then you can be on your way to other places. Having already seen a decent amount of Padova when I arrived, I spent part of the morning slowly uploading photos to Instagram. The main thing I did that day was my visit to the Scrovengi Chapel. You have to have a reservation to get in and if you miss your entry time you’re out of luck. The chapel interior is covered in an impressive set of frescoes by a guy named Giotto di Bondone, a famous Renaissance painter. Apparently Giotto didn’t have any formal training on how to paint – he just had an absurd level of natural talent. The chapel itself was commissioned by Enrico Scrovengi, whose father, Reginaldo, was a notorious loan shark. In fact, Reginaldo was so bad that he appears as one of the people suffering in Hell in Dante’s epic poem Divine Comedy. Enrico hoped that building the church might somehow atone for his father’s sins and more or less buy his soul out of hell. When you go to the chapel you first have to spend 15 minutes in a dehumidifying room. The frescoes in the chapel are very sensitive and exposure to excess moisture from the outside air will damage them. Once out of the dehumidifying room, the other people in the group and I got 15 minutes in the chapel before we had to leave to make room for the next group of visitors. 15 minutes is just long enough to take everything in, though I wouldn’t have minded having a little longer. After the chapel, I visited a pair of museums that were covered as part of my entry to the chapel and later in the day I went over to an outdoor market which had been set up in the center of town. Normally I just walk around these markets and don’t buy anything, but one stall was selling dried mango slices, which I love, so I bought some. For a few hours in the afternoon I just walked around Padova. Along the way I saw a long line of locals at a shop that was selling some sort of calzone-like thing. I got one myself, though I’m not totally sure what was in it. As best as I can tell, it had potato, meat, bits of tomato and some sort of sauce. It was tasty, so my small effort at trying local food paid off that time. Back at Prato della Valle there was another large outdoor market that had been set up, so I spent an hour looking around. That night after dinner I was uploading more photos to Instagram, but it was a slow process due to the limited wifi at the hostel and the fact that Instagram doesn’t have a mass-upload function, so you have to do each photo individually.
The next day I got up and left for Venice. Padova and Verona had been decent stopovers, though I found Verona to be the more interesting of the two. The next city on the journey was the grand finale of my time in Italy: the lagoon city of Venice.