Sunday, 29 April 2012

Italy part 2: Padua and district

The Astronomical Clock, Padua
We took the train from Verona to Padua - a painless experience, even though we don't speak any Italian (note to self: learn some Italian so you can understand the station announcements though- your luck won't hold!) Trains are fast and on time and I didn't see anyone standing ... not like trains in the UK these days, unfortunately - there never seems to be enough seats).
Il Ragione
The main reasons for choosing Padua were two-fold - we wanted anther destination en route to Venice, and first choice Bologna was a couple of hours out of the way and secondly we saw the Capella degli Scrovegni on Francesco da Mosto's Italy Top to Toe and it looked amazing, so Padua became our second city.
Food stall (1)
I picked the hotel to be close to the station and it was - so close the tracks ran quite close at the back. Our room was at the front though and was quiet enough- the gentle trundling of the overnight freight trains were almost soothing, they were "distant" and rhythmical.  It was a bit different when the passenger trains began stopping - tortured metal brakes got us out of bed, but we wanted an early start!
The staff assumed our stay was to enable us to visit Venice - so they gave us a complementary guide to Venice - but not Padua!
Food stall (2)
Food stall (3)
I don't have any photos of the main target of our visit as cameras were banned from the Capella degli Scrogveni, which was quite an experience!  You get 15 minutes in the chapel, but this is preceded by 15 mins in an airlock, as they maintain the temperature and humidity inside the chapel to preserve the frescoes.. We were worried as we shared our airlock with a school party, but in fact as they were being lectured by their teacher we had the rest of the chapel almost to ourselves.  And what a sight it was. Completed by Giotto between 1303 and 1305 It is a tour de force of painting - truly jaw-dropping, as each picture is impressive and the impact of the complete chapel really needs to be seen and experienced!  I can only share it by directing you to the chapel web site:  and recommending that you make a point of visiting if you are in this part of Italy (but you generally have to book in advance!).
Meringues - 6in across!
Entrance to Citadella
Asparagus, pride of place
We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Padua which has a much more "Victorian" feel than Verona or Venice - wider, straight streets big "four-square" buildings and many statues and commemorations to the heroes of the Resorgimento, especially Garibaldi and Cavour. The atmosphere as a whole was less touristy and more work-like - although this also came with a full share of beggars and illegal street traders - something missing from Verona we noticed with hindsight. It also appeared to be graduation day at the university, as many people were celebrating their class achievements around the university.
The main gate

The highlight of the city though was the Piazze della Erbe and the fabulous Il Ragione building.  A 14thC building which was built to house the Comune - ie local govenment. The top of the building is decorated with 15thC frescoes.  The ground floor is set out in rows of stalls for a huge food market selling local cheeses, meats, sausage, fish and bacala. One fishmonger even had live eels on offer. Outside the square was also filled with stalls many selling other food including big fat spears of  forced white asparagus.
The wall on the inside

Day 2 in Padua, we decided to get out of town, so we took the bus to Citadella - a medieval walled town to the north. The walls are 1.5km around and can still be walked- although as some restoration was underway one part was closed off - and one part has a small section of missing walkway replaced with a wood and metal gantry.  The town was lovely and well preserved.  Some of the houses inside the walls were very prestigious - obviously a desirable place to live in modern Italy.

External view of the wall
As it was very quiet, we made a spur of the moment decision to head back to Padua and try for a bus to the second local walled town - Montegnana, about 40Km to the south of the town. It made for an interesting bus tour, and we had long enough for a quick tour of the town before the rains began and we decided to cut our losses and head back to the hotel.

Exclusive mansion with "wall view"

Montegnana defences

Montegnana central square

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