Part 1: Six Days in Naples
I was feeling pretty good about this trip after a fantastic week in Naples. I saw so much, and yet I still left feeling like I had also missed so much.
It was a pleasant train ride from Naples to Padova, with a change in Bologna. It was nice seeing the countryside change from the dusty browns and golds of Campania to the deep greens of northern Italy. I ran into my first hustlers in the Bologna station. They had two scams going. In the first, they would jam a vending machine so that it wouldn't take euro notes. They would offer to change your note for coins, but would only have 4 euro in coins for a 5 euro note. In the second, they would point out your train (even though you would be standing on the platform and could very well see that a train had just pulled up), or walk ahead of you to your seat & then demand a tip. This was super irritating.
Padova: 2 days
I picked Padova because it was close to Venice, where I was going to meet friends in a couple days, because I didn't think I could afford to spend the full time in Venice, and because I thought it would be nice to spend a few days in a smaller city.
I stayed at B&B Casa Mario, which was a short walk from the train station and a fifteen to twenty minute stroll into the old town. Nice host, nice room, great breakfast, & a large shower - this was a good choice for two nights. The neighborhood itself wasn't super exciting, but it wasn't bad either.
The main city was super quiet. This was my first stop where I truly understood that what chiuso per ferie (closed for the holidays) meant. There were almost no cars on the road, and very few pedestrians outside the historic center. The center had a lot of activity, and seemed to be a mix of Italian, American, and English tourists.
I meant to take it easy the first day day. A site or two, lunch, and nap. Instead I wandered all day, always thinking, there's just one more thing ...
I saw Giotto's frescoes at the Capella della Scrovegni, got lost in a maze of Tintorettos, saw Roman miniatures carved out of precious gems, and visited a shrine built around the uncorrupted tongue, la lingua incorrotta, of Sant' Antonio (as well as his vocal cords and lower jaw, all encased in crystal and gold).
I wasn't as blown away by the Chapel as I thought I would be. I understand how important Giotto was to the history of art, but his work feels (to me) like a prelude of the greater things to come. Most tourists do the Chapel tour and then leave; there were only a handful of people in the attached museums.
The Basilica surprised me. I thought I had had enough of churches in Naples, but this one really was magnificent, and truly felt different than all the churches I had seen in the south.
Where I truly went into geek love overdrive was at the Museum of the History of Medicine at Padova. In 1414 the first modern hospital was founded here, and the museum is an interactive walk through six centuries of western medicine. There were no other kids, so I got to play with the toys all by myself.
Tourists are strange things: there are lots of them here, hundreds all queued up for a few sites - while there were amazing sites around the corner that were completely empty.
I also did an evening tour of the Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova on the second day. It was interesting, though I was tired from walking all day & wish I had done an earlier tour.
Food time - I took my time choosing restaurants, and ate well.
I stopped by La Folperia da Max e Barbara twice. It's a seafood cart on the Piazza della Fruta that specialized in octopus. It's intimidating at first, but my Italian was good enough by this time to say "this is my first time here. I don't know what I'm doing." The owners were cool with that, and talked me through how to order an octopus. From the cart you could take your plate to the tables on the piazza, order a spritz, and people-watch to your hearts content.
I had a nice lunch at Antenore, a small restaurant that focuses on local, organic ingredients.
I cannot for the life of me recall where I had dinner. I'm sure I ate ... I do not skip meals in Italy, ever ... but I'm drawing a blank.
In the end, Padova was a nice interlude. It's a pretty city, and there was more here than I realized. And while I thought I was getting off the tourist circuit, but this town is definitely popular. Two days was enough. I think it could even be done as a day trip from Venice if people were so inclined.
There was a cool gay vibe - this is the center for gay life in the Veneto region. I hit some bars, and everyone I talked to was from a neighboring town or village. And their gay pride is a whole village (Padova Pride Village), every weekend for six weeks, that goes all night long.
Seriously- midnight to dawn, all summer long. There are drag shows, dj's, and cabarets.I stopped by to check it out, but I'm past the age where I can wait until 2 am for a party to really start.
And here's a difference between solo and group travel. Solo: I walk and walk and walk, I don't care that it's 93 degrees, I explore all the random corners, I get lost a lot, and I end the day exhausted & not feeling super social.
If I were with friends I would have seen less, maybe, but I would be more likely to do the festivals, or hit the village and dance til dawn.
Next stop: La Serenissima.
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Part 1: Six Days in Naples