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Trip Report Castles and snow.....discovering a piece of Italy. (It was worth it)

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We love to travel altogether, me and my family. Travelling with children can be a great but also very tough experience. Children get soon tired of everything, but spending time with them on holiday can be a fantastic chance to enjoy their company far from the daily and stressing routine. I always wanted to give something different and stimulating to my two sons, Andreas and Heinrich. But someway we never managed to have smart and stimulating holidays….we always ended going to the Adriatic sea and spend a week on the beach eating Pizza in the evening, and doing all the typical summer activities you do on holyday. I wanted this time, to have something different. I wanted a holyday where me and my sons could learn something together. The idea came from the latest interest of my eldest son Andreas, 9 years old. He‘s in love with castles. He reads about them, about military life inside them, about armours and daily life. Andreas found a wonderful picture of a small city in Veneto, north-eastern Italy near Venice. He was so impressed by the castle of this town that climbs up on a hill. He started building a model of it, asked me to buy materials you use to do modelling and I started helping him together with my younger son Heinrich. We all got so involved in the miniature…..what a great time spent together. The name of the little town is Marostica, in the heart of Veneto Region, 25 km from Vicenza and 90 km from Venice. I decided to spend a long week-end with my family and an another couple of friends in that wonderful town. No matter if my sons missed a day of school, sometimes it worth to do something different. I found a nice hotel on the web, with an elegant web-site ( www.duemori.it ) and went to Italy.

Day 1

We left from Klagenfurt early in the morning, me, my family and a couple of friends, Anna and Günter. It was quite sunny to be December and the trip was nice. Both my sons were so excited to see live the castle they had seen in pictures and they had tried to reproduce in a miniature. Arriving to Marostica the view is breathtaking, the castle is there climbing up to the hill. You can see the city and behind it many big and little hills. We soon found our hotel inside the medieval walls: a really welcoming place! We had been lucky because in the hotel they had two near rooms communicating by a door, so we could have two rooms in one and let the children sleep together alone but having the control of the situation. Lovely rooms, with wooden ceiling and modern interior design. We started our day talking to the hotel owner who’s a tourist guide, and she explained us a little bit about Marostica and its castles. The city has been going under the dominion of many lords from many cities. Ezzelino da Romano, the first lord who dominated the city was known to be a bloody and cruel man, who tortured and killed many people. Then Marostica was conquered by the lords of Verona, the Della Scala family, and was this family that decided to build the two castles (upper and lower) and to link them with the walls. Legendary battles were held to conquer many castles in those centuries. With many strange weapons like catapults, burning arrows, battering rams and boiling oil. My son loves all those action things of middle-age. After the dominion of Verona the city passed under the dominion of Venice for four centuries!!!! Marostica is also famous for its living characters chess game. The legends dates back to 15th century: two noblemen from Marostica wanted to marry the daughter of the mayor. They challenged to a bloody duel, but the girl’s father did not want somebody to be killed. So he decided they should challenge to a chess game played with living characters, and the winner could marry the beautiful girl. From that legend every two years in the city of Marostica a chess game with actors impersonating the characters is played on a big chess board situated on the square. They say this living chess game is a breath-taking show, with over 600 actors dressed in typical renaissance costumes. We started walking around the city: we saw the lower Castle and the square with its big chess-board. There is a big Christmas tree just in front of the lower castle and a little ice-rink a little bit further. So many children were skating there with music, and I promised my sons I would have left them skate too. There were also five little wooden houses that were little shops, where you could buy Christmas things like decoration for trees, typical Italian food or woollen clothes. Inside the lower castle there’s a small museum of the costumes used for the chess game: my wife and Anna found it interesting. Andreas and Heinrich were instead attracted by the weapons hall: there were some spears, halberds, bows and armours. The visit to the top of the castle is fascinating: you can walk on the top of the walls where the wards stood and see the tower with the old prisons. After that visit it was time to have lunch and children off course wanted pizza.
After pizza it was time to see the upper castle. The view from up there is great: you can see all the area around the city, you see many church- towers, you see the towns and the fields. We saw the ruins of the upper-castle (so bad you can’t walk on the walls around the city.
Back to the town in the late afternoon we had a surprise: all the main street of the town was covered with Christmas lights. A long wave, a long sheet of lights, made of many rows of little white lamps!! It was like walking under a roof completely stuffed with stars. The atmosphere was really magic. We walked around the narrow streets of Marostica watching shop-windows and enjoying the festive lights and the people going around to make their business or gather in a bar to drink something together. We too, decided to sit in a bar to have a hot chocolate. . The Pasticceria we went in had hot chocolates and delicious little cakes.


Day 2

Today it was the time to see another beautiful castle in Veneto. We had a great breakfast at Hotel Due Mori and then took our car to drive to Cittadella. This wonderful city has a gigantic castle with a shape of an ellipse. The central and old part of the city is all inside the walls. The walls have four gates of access in the direction of other cities of Veneto: Bassano del Grappa, Vicenza, Padova and Treviso. Inside the walls the city is really beautiful. The area is closed to cars so you can walk easily and observe in quiet all the wonderful views the city offers. We walked around a long time enjoying the old houses and taking pictures. There was a market that morning in Cittadella, so there was a lot of people walking around chatting or buying. We saw so may stalls that sold every kind of goods. At one stall we tasted some Italian soppressa ( a kind of Big salami) and decided to buy one to bring home ( gosh!! It’s good!!). My sons were so happy to see a stall that sold roasted chestnuts and wanted to buy a bag of them. It was a sunny but cold morning so it was good for them to have something hot to eat. The same stall sold also a strange kind of hot wine boiled with many seasonal fruits and dried cloves. This strange wine is called Vin Brulè (burned wine) because after it becomes hot you burn the alcohol in it putting a flame on it surface. The taste is strange but good: it seems a kind of exotic oriental drink. At another stall we tasted a slice of Panettone ( the typical Italian Christmas cake) made with dried Sultana grape and candied fruit. We also tasted another typical Italian Christmas sweet, the Torrone, which is a hard and crispy cake made of honey, egg’s white with almonds and nuts: absolutely delicious, maybe dangerous for your teeth health!!
After that tour to the market it was time to have a walk on the top of the walls. They were built in 1220 by the lords of Padua, because they wanted a military castle to protect their territory from other cities’ attacks. The walk on the walls is really enjoyable, you see all the roofs and houses from there. On every gate there’s a tall tower from which you have a superb view. My sons were excited to walk on the top of those gigantic walls and took dozens of pictures. Over one gate there’s the famous Torre Di Malta (Malta Tower). This tower is famous because it was used as a prison for enemies when Ezzelino da Romano became lord of the city. It is the same Ezzelino da Romano who was lord of Marostica and about whom I talked earlier in this report. In this tower prisoners were really badly treated. Historical memories said that prisoners were brought to Cittadella bound only with feet to the stomach of a horse and dragged touching the ground hurting themselves (what a creul man this Ezzelino was!!!). In the tower the prisoners were given very little to eat and when they were freed after Ezzelino’s defeat they were described to be as slim as skeletons. This horrid prison- tower is described also by Dante, the famous Italian poet, in his “Inferno”.
The walk over the walls of Cittadella is something I really suggest to everybody. The walls are so long and it takes two hours to finish all the ring. But you never get tired of the new perspectives from which you can see the city. Over one tower there’s also a 1- euro pay binocular through which you can closer all the landscape and houses. It was so nice that we spent three euros on that binocular. At the end of the tour of the castle there’s a museum inside one tower, but we had a quick glimpse of it because we were late and wanted to see other things. We had a fast lunch with sandwiches in a bar of Cittadella (it’s unbelievable how in Italy food is fantastic, even sandwiches).
We then took our car to go to Castelfranco Veneto, the next city we wanted to visit.
Castlefranco is another castle city. Its castle is smaller than those in Marostica and Cittadella but it is lovely, definitely. The castle is perfectly square and it has three gates of access. On the main one there’s a big clock tower with a huge stone lion decorating it (the lion is the symbol of the Republic of Venice, which dominated also this town). The castle is fascinating because is surrounded by a ditch and it is connected to the rest of the city by three stone bridges. Between the ditch and the castle there are public gardens with lovely tracks on which you can walk admiring the walls, really interesting. We had a lovely walk around the walls in the gardens and then went inside the castle. On a big square in the centre of the Castle there’s the Dome, a big white church in which is shown also a painting by Giorgione, a famous painter who was born in this town. But what we liked most is the “teatro accademico” (the theatre): a precious little theatre beautifully decorated, by the architect Francesco Maria Preti. What I liked most of that theatre were the little terrace balconies set behind the auditorium on three floors, from which you can see the shows comfortably sat on a soft chair. All the walls of the theatre are decorated with golden wooden arabesques and with frescos: a gorgeous jewel of beauty. After the theatre we visited the Bastie. Bastia is a thick row of buildings situated around the castle to provide a stronger protection to the city and to avoid the enemies to bring military machines like catapults too near to the walls. The original Bastie remained are two in Castelfranco, one on the northern side, one on the eastern side of the castle. The northern Bastia creates Piazza Giorgione (Giorgione’s square). Under the Bastie there are long porticoes: people here love to walk under the porticoes, they look to shop-windows, they go to bars to drink something or they just meet to chat or to have a walk. After strolling under the porticoes with my sons, my wife and friends I understood why Italians like it. It’s very relaxing and you can enjoy the life of the city on a slow pace. We watched the gardens outside the castle all decorated with Christmas lights and found it wonderful.


Day 3

We woke up quite late because we all needed to sleep a little bit more. We went to the ice rink in Marostica chess square so the kids could ice-skate. At Due Mori Hotel they have free tickets for the ice rink for the guests. They had a lot of fun, I tried to skate too, but I was always falling down on my bottom. Kids laughed at me!! My friends and my wife watched us from a bar while drinking a coffee. In the early afternoon we left with our car to Montagnana. Montagnana is a beautiful little city 80 km away from Marostica and it has one of the best maintained castle in the world. The first part of the castle was built during 11th century by the Estensi family, who dominated the city. During the 13th century Ezzelino da Romano (the same famous Ezzelino) attacked the city and conquered it. During the assault he set on fire the original castle and destroyed it. This is a famous historical happening for the inhabitants of Montagnana. Every year in the city there’s a special event called Palio, a kind of middle-age style tournament between all the areas of the city and the surrounding towns. During this tournament there are many historical representations with a lot of people dressed in typical middle-age costumes and many shows of battles and knights and military settings. There’s also a show that reproduces the fire of the castle by Ezzelino da Romano, off course using fire-works not real fire. ThePalio is known as one of the best middle-age show to see in this area, and it is held in September. I think I will bring my sons to see it really soon. I am curious to see it too.
Ezzelino after having conquered the city and the castle decided to build it again even bigger and stronger. Later the city went under the dominion of the Carraresi family, lords of Padua, and they decided to build the big walls that surround the city.
Seeing the castle and the walls of Montagnana is an impressive thing. Along the walls there are 24 towers and the walls are almost two kilometres long. We walked on top of the walls and found out that the track on it is very large (almost two metres) and in really good conditions. You can visit few of the towers inside and it is an amazing thing to see. My sons were daydreaming of shooting arrows from the top of those towers like in a real middle-age battle. Inside the castle built by Ezzelino there’s the city museum which shows all the rests of civilization before the building of the castle, during the roman empire and during the barbarians invasions. There’s also a big collection of middle-age ceramics. After having spent more than one hour walking on the top of the walls we decided to visit the dome of the city inside the walls area. It’s wonderful to walk inside the historical centre of this city with all its narrow streets designed during the renaissance period. The dome is at the centre of a magnificent square (Piazza Vittorio Emanuele) surrounded by old buildings. The dome is a very tall church, simple in its façade but wonderfully decorated inside with frescoes and paintings. Opposite to the dome there’s the Monte di Pietà palace, a beautiful building from 16th century. Monte di Pietà is called Mount of Piety in English and it’s a place where people in the past could borrow some money giving something (a precious thing) as a an exchange. The money borrowed were without rate of interest and the Mount of Piety was a non-profit institution. The money loaned to poor people came from donations done by rich people.
Montagnana is the city of foreshortenings, everywhere you can find something interesting to see or to take a picture at. Along the walls I found a little square isolated from the others where clothes were hanged to a rope coming from a window and going to the other window on the opposite side of the square. There are many little streets or squares where you can see kids playing football outside or statues on the top of which pigeons have a rest. At sunset we went outside the walls and there was a little bit of fog. The castle looked amazing in the middle of the fog with winter trees without leaves, like in a ghost tale, like in the Dracula legend.
Outside the castle there’ s also the Villa Pisani to visit. It is a very simple but elegant building of 16th century by architect Andrea Palladio (one of the best architect in world history).
Back to Marostica at about 8 o’ clock in the evening we had dinner in a lovely little restaurant in the centre of Marostica, 20 meters from Due Mori Hotel. There we ate a typical lasagne with radicchio of Treviso, a kind of red chicory. Delicious! Radicchio is a typical vegetable of this area and it is really good, belive me! After dinner Alberto, the nice receptionist at Hotel Due Mori, suggested us to go to Schio to visit a museum completely dedicated to train little miniatures. The idea excited so much my sons that we decided to go there. I have to say the museum of trains is something fascinating also for adults. There are more than one thousand models of trains so well reproduced. I was completely captured by the beauty of those models, they looked real. The fantastic thing is the huge miniature reproducing a typical Italian landscape with four train stations and more than eleven train little models running on it. GREATT!! WONDERFUL!! Never seen a so big and well done landscape miniature, with hills, galleries, railways and roads. The miniature surface is 100 square meters, which is gigantic. I really recommend to see that to everybody.


Day 4

Our last day in Marostica and we were sad of leaving. My sons were so enthusiast of the trip they did not want to go back home. And the adults liked it a lot too. Before going back to Austria we wanted to do something funny with the snow up on the hills behind Marostica. We asked again Monica, our precious suggestion-maker, and she had a great idea. We drove to Asiago plateau (30 km from Marostica), which is a famous ski resort place, but we didn’t want to go skiing. So we stopped along the way at the Turcio restaurant which rents also bobsleighs. We rented two bobsleighs and we had a lot of fun going down the hill next to the restaurant. The slope was quite steep so we reached considerable speed, and that was really exciting. My sons went down and up the hill almost twenty times: they were sweat but really happy.
Finally we decided to challenge each other building snowmen and snow-sculptures. My two sons made a team together and created a nice snow-sculpture of a tall muscled man. My and my wife tried to reproduce the lion symbol of the republic of Venice (not a successful work though). Anna and Gunter created the best snow sculpture reproducing a castle looking like that we saw in Castelfranco. It was a nice snow to use to model, very malleable. The sculptures were not masterpiece but at least we had a lot, lot of fun. It was three o’ clock in the afternoon when we decided to leave for Klagenfurt. We liked a lot this trip. Marostica and the surrounding areas are the ideal places to enjoy life with your family and children. Not so many tourists, not banal things to do and see. You can have fun and culture at the same time. You can visit relaxing and beautiful places and landscapes. I really recommend to visit this part of Veneto, really. Do it!!

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