Viva Italia – 1: Padova – An Oasis of Calm

Padova – An Oasis of Calm

The last time we were in Paris was in March 2012. Our sojourn was the briefest of our stays there – but quite enjoyable at the Radisson Blu Hotel which is ideally positioned closer to Charles de Gaulle Airport (just seven minutes drive), from where we could conveniently catch the EasyJet flight to Venice. La Cockpit, the ground floor restaurant in Blu was the right venue for us to enjoy a delectable dinner laced with French Red in the cozy ambiance of vintage 1900 style décor. It felt good for us to get away from home for sometime as it is always good to get back home, as well.

View from Radisson Blu CDG airport Paris. The hotel offers free shuttles to the CDG airport terminals.

My devotion to Italy had not matured gradually nor as part of a general interest in Europe as a whole. Italy has always been special to me for many reasons. People from everywhere are drawn to its famous charms, the sense of space and air! Like Spain, it’s a country of long and splendid history. Both have excelled in the beautiful arts, in literature which lasts. Who couldn’t visualize the Piazza San Marco of Venice, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Piazza del Campo in Siena, the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Collosseum, Tuscan wine….. or the famous people like San Francesco d’Assisi, San Antonio de Padua, Santa Caterina da Siena, the Borgias, the Medicis, Dante, Savonarola, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Gali..…… they are all special people like Velàzquez, El Greco, Goya, … and I could go on typing forever. It’s a haven for tourists – serious and the “just looking” ones – which brings to my mind a serious traveler who found joy in tallying columns of the Roman Forum with the number stated in a guide book.

From Venezia Aeroporto Marco Polo Tessera, the ideal way to go to our initial destination, Padova (maybe less romantic than relaxing in a taxi) is the SITA bus available right outside the main exit – between the third/fourth pillars to the right with a blue sign. Yes, you can bring your luggage cart up till the bus. The seats are comfortable and there is ample space in the lower locker-holds to tuck away a couple of bags per person. The tickets (Euro:16/- for two) are available in the airport arrivals lounge, less expensive than on board the bus.

On that spring day, it took us about an hour to reach Padova through the bright Veneto region, considering that this blue coloured diesel-powered bus made a brief stop at Piazzale Roma in Venice before it sped through the Causeway up the Route via Mestre to Padova.

Oh, to touch Venice – all those footpaths with no motor traffic, the Canale Grande, the gondolas, Cipriani’s Harry’s Bar…. – it saddens me to think that the place is sinking. Anyhow, more on Venice later….

The premises of the bus stand at Padova is devoid of taxi stand, but, simple enough, they are easily available 5 minutes ahead at the taxi rank at Piazzale della Stazione before the railway station. It felt good to be back in Padova. For us, the way into the heart of Italy is, preferably, more often than not through Padova.

Pic left: The watercourse near Via Beato Luca Belludi leading to Basilica San Antonio. This road is named after Blessed Luca Belludi who was the companion and successor of San Antonio; Pic right: Display of coloured powders in a shop at Via Beato Luca Belludi.

A great part to hold a traveller’s joy is the uniqueness and variety. What is this spell of Padova? Being one of the most important art cities in Italy with an artistic and cultural heritage, Padova has many charms for the visitors. Slide shots flipped over in my mind:

Interior of The Cappella degli Scrovegni all’Arena – Giotto’s canvas.

The Cappella degli Scrovegni (Arena Chapal), is an annex of the Musei Civici Eremitani, and closer to the railway station. It is an ideal place to talk art and admire the famous figurative art featuring the life of Christ, the Last Judgment and the life of the Virgin Mary, by the Florentine painter, sculptor and architect Giotto di Bondone better known simply as Giotto (1266-1337).

Palazzo della Ragione

Besides the many attractions of the Palazzo della Ragione (the Seat of Justice), the “Railing Stone” and the “Wooden Horse” built as a replica of Gattamelata’s horse for a tournament that was held in Piazza dei Signori in 1466, are not to be missed. The bronze equestrian monument to the Commander of the Venetian Republic Gattamelata (known as Erasmo da Narni – died in Venice in 1443) by Donatello (1386-1466) is located in the courtyard of the Piazza del Santo. The tomb of Gattamelata is inside the Basilica de San Antonio which also house Donatello’s reliefs and statues for the high altar. I prefer to write more about the Basilica of the Saint,where my favourite saint is laid to rest, at a later date. A direct live view of the entrance to the Basilica can be seen from http://www.santantonio.info/

Pic left: The Basilica di Santa Giustina (BSG); Pic right: BSG: The unfinished façade.

The imposing Basilica di Santa Giustina, the most ancient Christian place of worship in the city, built in honour of Giustina who was killed probably in 304 A.D, is situated facing the huge elliptical square Prato della Valle, (Prà) the customary site for entertainments and fairs. Constructed in the form of a Latin cross with Byzantine domes similar to the Basilica de San Antonio, it houses the tombs/relics of St. Urius, the Benedictine Abbess St. Felicity, St. Mathew the Apostle, part of the body of St. Luke the Evangelist, besides many frescoes and sculptors by Luca Giordano, G.B Maganza, Giovanni Francesco de’ Sordi, Paolo Veronese (Martyrdom of Santa Giustina) and his brother Benedetto Caliari, etc.

Pic left: Interior of BSG: The central nave with the wooden Crucifix from the first half of the 15th century; Pic right: Interior of BSG: The sarcophagus containing the remains of St. Luke the Evangelist.

From the ancient University where Galileo Galilei taught, to the famous Café Pedrocchi, to Orto Botanico, to the colourful frescoes by Altichiero da Zevio in the Romanesque edifice, Oratorio di San Giorgio, to Palazzo del Capitano with its astronomical clock made in 1344, Padova is a treasure trove of attractions worth discovering.

Top row Pic 1: Interior of BSG: The main altar; Pic 2: Interior of BSG: The Ark of St. Matthias in the right arm of the cross (by Giovanni Francesco de’ Sordi (1562)); Bottom row Pic 3: Interior of BSG: The main altar; Pic 4: Interior of BSG: The Corridor and Well of the Martyrs (1566). Statues of saints made of terracotta adorn the four surrounding pillars.

This time round we stayed at Hotel Casa del Pellegrino (at Via Melchiorre Cesarotti) which is a stone’s throw away from and facing the Basilica de San Antonio. Simple and comfortable, the rooms are spacious, fitted with necessary amenities and they have separate restaurants for breakfast and lunch/dinner. We have had many a happy moments in that room “with the view” and we would go to sleep very late at night, but being an early riser, I would get up in time for breakfast at the hotel’s separate wing, served by very friendly staff. It was nice to wake up to the chimes of the church bells. Reminded me of my young days in Ernakulam.

Top row Pic 1: Interior of BSG: The Well of the Martyrs; Pic 2:Interior of BSG: Some worshippers; Bottom row Pic 3: Interior of BSG: Some worshippers from Poland; Pic 4: Interior of BSG

We had always stuck to our golden rule to visit places strictly according to the freedom of our own itinerary and timing – and never opted for the discomforts of set timing, set food, set places, service (sometimes from indifferent employees) of some “follow-the-umbrella” tour packages – the “I would rather have spent half hour in Milan than never have been in Milan” kind of tour packages. It lifts our spirit in working our own hours, to go around at our own pace, have a good meal at our selection, choice of a comfortable room and bed, and enjoy service from people with friendly attitude – aspects which are all important to us. One example is Hotel Casa del Pellegrino where we can always look forward to that good, old, friendly hospitality.

Pic left: View of Basilica San Antonio from Hotel Casa del Pellegrino; Pic right: A holy procession during Easter 2012 at Prato della Valle.

Time does fly by, doesn’t it? The five days we were there to savour again the spirit and mood of Padova, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet up with our friends, including the dear Franciscan abbots of the Basilica de San Antonio and also to make more friends. Before we left India, I was talking to a friend in England whose passion is music. He knew the entire histories of many individual songs (psychedelic rock) – and many other details such as who wrote it, who and what influenced that song, the year it was recorded, etc. His knowledge in that was exemplary. But one suggestion from him turned out to set us scurrying around seeking food in Padova. No, my friend didn’t pull a fast one on me! He had honestly recommended that, to sweeten the day of arrival in Padova, we eat the initial night’s dinner at a restaurant closer to the Basilica which offered a true symphony of flavours and dishes. We dearly love the delightful cuisine and red wine of Italy. No day is so good that it can’t be made more good with a wonderful night out. But the shape of things to come seldom revealed its presence among us. True to my friend’s word, walking through the entrance a bit late into the night, we found the restaurant fairly full of happy customers around richly laden tables, but we hastily left after a couple of drinks when we knew of the day’s special, a Veneto specialty.  Asino! In Italian, I couldn’t swing it until a waiter named it in plain English “Donkey”. We have sampled Cavallo (horse) in Paris, but couldn’t be connoisseurs of asino on that day! Anyhow, the ass looked great on plate.

My memory wanders back to a night out at Trattoria da Renzo situated up the hills in Albignasego at the gates of Padova where our lovely friends Francesco and Marzia treated us with a delicious dinner. About one km from Prato della Valle it offers great food, best Italian wine amidst décor keyed to the region, fantastic ambience and hospitality (closed on Sundays). Rather a romantic place with a magnificent night-time view of Padova down in the valley below. And don’t forget to have the king of spring dishes, Padovan asparagus, if you are there during spring time.

Besides the opportunity to meet up with the wonderful array of friends in Padova, it also allows us at some point, a quick dash to Venice, for the umpteenth time. (One way fare from Padova to Venice Santa Lucia Railway Station by train is Euro:7/- per person). Likewise, many who stop over at Venice take a detour to cover Padova as well.

The Basilica de San Antonio.

Some places connect with you distinctly. It draws you there and holds you. Most importantly, a visit to Padova is a special occasion for us to visit the tomb of our beloved San Antonio. Every single grace comes to us there and we always leave little bits of us at his tomb – like rags and shreds of our life. The gift of faith.

Pic left: Interior of the Basilica de San Antonio: The tomb of the Saint; Pic right:Cloister of the Chapter (Magnolia) of the Monastery attached to the BSA.

It’s time to bid Arrivederci. Reluctantly, we tear ourselves from Padova to catch our train for the one-half-hour journey to the historical city of Firenze (Euro:74/- one way for two), beckoning us at the other end of the journey. Shortly on arrival at Firenze (Florence), we have got a lot to do before the day is over – especially, a tryst to keep –with none other than Cosimo …, Lorenzo de……. the Medicis! Now that’s another story, for another time. Ciao… Jo

 

 

Above Pics in order of appearance: Interior of the Basilica di Santa Giustina: One of the two aisles on both sides of the central nave;  Brass fresco/door-handle on the main door of the BSG;  Brass fresco on the main door of the BSG;  Brass fresco on the main door of the BSG;   Easter 2012

(Photos & Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive.)

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