by Anna Maria D’Andrea
I’ve come to notice over the years and among the maybe too many trips to Italy (my family and friends seem to think so and to whom I answer: define too many?) that although each city possesses its distinct identity somehow they all manage to be at the same time distinctively Italian in nature. I’ve tossed up the notion many times in my mind attempting to grasp what the common denominator could be: is it the sweet air that until this day, I swear, bares its own fragrance? Is it maybe the abundance of irresistible and sensual lovers that define this mandolin? Or is it simply perhaps the strong smell of cafe that trails behind everywhere one ventures? My list goes on and on, including obviously good food and great shoe shopping. It then struck me, quite honestly as I am writing these few lines. The commonality or maybe even the trademark of Italy is a dedication to pleasure. It pleasures your ears with the sounds of its soft mandolin gently caressing them, your touch with its sensuous lovers, taste with its crimson or golden wine, and smell…Well what can possibly smell better than a fresh plate of pasta dressed in fresh tomatoes and basil?
Ah yes…And then there was your sight! Oddly enough my mind strolls on to the city of Padova and its beauty still lingers to pleasure my sight.
Padova or Padua, as the locals will have it , is really the hidden gem of the northern peninsula. Shadowed by neighbouring Venice, I strongly believe that its luxurious cousin may have taken away some well deserved credit.
Shakespeare’s Petruchio said it best in his Taming of the Shrew: “I’ve come to wive and wealthily in Padua. If wealthily, then happily, in Padua.” Wealthy or not, Padova possesses enough to make any adventurous tourists happy on his trip. Legend has it the oldest among northern Italian cities was the first to be architected by none other than Trojan Prince Antenor somewhere around 1150 BC. A city born out of a legend is always promising and I was always a fool for a good story. As I stood in the middle of Piazza Prato delle Valle, I was wondering how many different lives and stories flourished here, under the observant eyes of the most famous Padovani. Immortalized by politician Andrea Memmo, seventy five statues of the most important local figures are to be found circling the square, gracefully and silently observing comers, giving you the feeling that they are scrutinizing you individually, or at least this one in front of me seems as though it is. This sensation however is brief as my eyes take then pleasure in gently drifting to the canal that circles in return these statues. It mirrors each and every single one of the perfectly white personas, accompanying them in their lonely and proud stand. This reflection however is obliged to divide this natural mirror with the image of orange and white arches belonging to the buildings, or rather art forms, surrounding the biggest piazza in Italy. It is overwhelming; beauty reflected upon beauty. I simply stare and then stare some more and wonder: how is it possible to have such a symphony of art and such an abundance of it to the point of being oppressing all in one piazza? Given, it’s a big one, but I think Memmo may have gone over the top on this one.
Strategically placed at the center of this perfect circle of Italian spies, one can find a neatly maintained meadow to lay upon. After a vision as such, you definitely need to lay a little. This is most likely amongst the most enchanting places in Padova. I am convinced that if you lay long enough in this little oasis of a meadow you will see every single Padovano pass by, inadvertently walking to reach his own little oasis, lover or maybe just to grab a quick drink at a local pub. In fact if you lay a little longer, you will see that same Padovano return around the soft hours of midnight accompanied by a few friends looking to invade your little meadow to just chat, laugh and simply enjoy the view and each other’s company.
Once you spent your first day engaging in the sweet activity of doing nothing al Prato (I like to think it’s the Italian version of the Bermuda triangle since once you’re in no one knows when you will come out) you need to turn to the many other facets of Padova. And what does this entail? Ease yourself back into the living with a morning walk to “L’orto Botanico” the local botanical garden, which also happens to be the eldest in the world and protected by UNESCO as it is considered to be part of world heritage. Revive your overworked sight with the rainbow of colors painting this garden and regain some spirit with it.
At this point you will have worked up quite an appetite. If you haven’t, you’re in Italy, we don’t skip meals here. Settle yourself in one of the local trattoria and indulge in one of Padova’s specialties: polenta. Yum, just the name is enough for me to book a trip back. Polenta is made from boiled cornmeal and is then dressed in various coats ranging from mushrooms to simple sauce. Any form of it is a delight! If this plate does not tickle your fancy, tortellini filled with pumpkin is also a must. For those sweet and salty lovers among you, this is the plate for you. The sugary pumpkin is contrasted greatly with a hearty fresh tomato sauce and permits your taste buds a glimpse of heaven.
Once you’ve had these high calorie meals, it’s time to hit the road again. Padova still remains to be discovered, and luckily the city is small enough to venture out on your feet therefore no need for a car (thankfully so as your sleeping accommodations are a little pricier here and vary between 70 to 80 Euros for a room with a double bed). My next stop was, and yours should be, the memorable Scrovegni Chapel, decorated by none other than Giotto himself. It houses amongst the most beautiful cycles of frescos in the world detailing the life of the Virgin Mary. I am not particularly religious myself however it is difficult not to be in awe at the sea of color adorning this Chapel. It imposes a respectful and admiring silence to all that dare to rest their sight.
Rarely have I been exposed to a city that is so overwhelmingly beautiful that not only it pleasures your sight, it also wares it out. To be quite frank there are a great deal of more sights to subject your eyes to in dear Padova. The trick to enduring all this beauty? Don’t forget our dear meadow, and just rinse, wash and repeat…With a side order of wine of course!