Padova and Mantova were the leftovers, the ones that almost didn’t happen. Given the choice of Venice during high-season and an awkward meal with relatives, my parents and I decided that visiting a couple new-to-us towns would be the most satisfying way to end our Italian tour. We wanted some new adventures and new places, even if we weren’t quite sure what we were going to see.
Mantova is small, very small. Our less-than-twenty four hours in the city was plenty of time to check off all the necessary sights. We arrived in the city separately; I came from giving an exam in Pavia and my parents had spent an extra night in Bologna. We arrived at the train station within minutes of each other, maps in hand, sunscreen applied, bags on our backs.
What’s there to see in Mantova? The main pull is Mantegna’s famous camera degli sposi in the Gonzaga family’s winter palace. Unfortunately, it was closed due to some damage of questionable intensity during the earthquake in Emilia-Romagna last year. There’s also the camera dei giganti at the family’s summer home, about a twenty minute walk from city-center. Although it wasn’t closed when we were there, it might as well have been as they were installing a modern art piece that dominated the space.
Mantova is also home to the lovely Virgil’s Park, a pretty little canal and questionably famous Duomo. If the city sounds familiar, I wouldn’t be surprised. Romeo Montague was exiled there in that famous play. Let’s just say, I’d rather be in Verona as well.
Padova is also an art lover’s city on a different scale. Where Mantova looks like an ideal little Northern Italian town, Padova is a little more Providence and a little less unspoilt heritage.
We went there to pay homage to the capella degli Scrovegni, even though my art-loving father was uncertain that he wanted to go after finding out you had to reserve tickets for a twenty minute time slot. Luckily, my Itaian skills were useful for something and I figured out that for our evening reservations you could purchase a double ticket, as we did at the reservation desk in Padova. Yes, we spent fourty minutes craning our necks to examine blue paint. More fun for some of us than others.
Padova’s claim to fame is the well-known university, which was unfortunately closed to tours the day we were there. There were other sites, but few that had the same pull as the Scrovegni chapel. We skipped the Duomo, but peeked in the opulent Baptistery. There were the botanic gardens and the cinema museum (that was sponsered by Bristol!). The highlight for me was a caffè freddo on the terrace at the famous Caffè Pedrocchi. Nevertheless, by the time our train was scheduled to leave, we had had our fill of Padova.
The only stop left was Milan.
What would drive you to visit a new, small city?