Padua: Where we did not see the world-renowned Giotto frescoes
Monday, May 13, 2019
Our visit to Padua was not the best experience we had in Italy. This was not Padua’s fault: it was mine. I was the Official Ticket Booker, but I had not yet realized that in order to get into popular museums and art galleries in Italy, even in the “shoulder season,” you have to have a reservation. At least in Padua.
Also, as the Official Navigator I had not yet realized that the only way to find your way around major city centres in Italy (and probably those in other countries, too) is to get an accurately gauged map of the area itself and possibly even to draw your desired path along the streets ahead of time. GPS just isn’t much good — and can in fact be misleading — in heavily populated areas. Especially when your own built-in sense of direction is less than perfect.
We were to have even more convincing evidence of this second rule later in the trip. In retrospect, it would have saved us untold hours if I’d learned my lesson in Padua.
We had to be in La Spezia, on the western coast of Italy, by about eight p.m. There, we would leave our car and catch a train into Cinque Terre in time for our next hotel destination in Monterosso al Mare that night. I had estimated the time required to get to La Spezia as five hours. It was still morning, so we decided to poke around Padua a little before we left.
I loved the architecture of Padua, which for some unknown reason reminded me of Shakespeare. The internet tells me that the only Shakespearean play set in Padua is The Taming of the Shrew, which I have both read and seen onstage at least once, but that doesn’t totally explain the visual association. (I also learned from a most informative and interesting blog post on this very subject, that Padua would have been famous even in Shakespeare’s day for its university — the second-oldest in Italy and the one at which Galileo taught — and for its botanical garden, which I wish we’d visited but… next time.)
We planned to have an early lunch, then see if we could get in to see the Giotto frescoes at the Cappella degli Scrovegni. On our way to find a bite to eat we were distracted by the sight of a spectacular-looking church, which I later identified as the Basilica di Sant Antonio) and we decided to get out and walk around it. This decision led us to a half-hour effort to find a legal parking spot nearby. Once we’d found one, we realized we were totally turned around and had lost sight of the church we’d intended to see. Never mind. There was another spectacular-looking building right in front of us, the Basilica di Santa Giustina, so we wandered around it instead. I am still amazed that there are two such astonishingly huge basilicas (basilici?) less than a mile apart.
We found a cafe/restaurant nearby, ordered grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and coffee, and sat at a table with an umbrella (it was still spitting rain) to watch the world go by. Not much of the world went by: it was a very quiet Monday in Padua. (That restaurant was the first one I had seen that served fizzy water as a chaser for the coffee. I am a total devotee of both coffee and fizzy water, so I was delighted to see that someone had come up with this perfect combination.)
After lunch, we wandered around Padua’s cobbled streets and checked out a few of the 78 statues that form two rings around the Prato della Valle, a lovely elliptical park that is the largest square in Italy. Then we set off to find a parking spot near the Cappella degli Scrovegni, enjoying the walled streets, ancient buildings and huge trees we passed en route.
The museum entrance at the Cappella degli Scrovegni (“cappella” is the Italian word for “chapel”) was packed with tourists and school classes from everywhere, but I still hoped we would get in. Even after the ticket-sellers refused to sell us admission tickets, I still held out hope. I also held out my iPhone, on which I had composed a passionate plea for admission with the help of Google Translate. In it, I explained that we had travelled all the way from Canada (I may have intimated that we had made the journey solely to see the amazing Giotto frescoes), and that we would never have another chance to see them. But the ticket-sellers were steel-hearted and would not let us in.
I later noticed on the museum’s website that they require advanced ticket purchases with no exceptions, but even if I had read that, I would probably have attempted to whine my way in. I am sure that if I had been able to speak Italian and say my passion-infused words of regret aloud, the museum workers would have crumbled before my eloquence. But the words on the face of my phone just didn’t do it, even if they were in Italian.
Crestfallen, we departed, and hit the road for La Spezia.
In a later post, I will explore the whole issue of the names of places used in their home countries vis a vis the names for those places invented by speakers of other languages. The Italian name of the city we were in was Padova, but we call it Padua. We also call Mantova Mantua, and Genova Genoa, and Firenze Florence.
When I googled Padua/Padova I found a site on TripAdvisor where someone had explained to the world that the city’s name was Padova but that (he thought) Shakespeare had changed it to Padua. Don’t believe everything on the internet. But his misapprehension does help me to end this post somewhere close thematically to where I started it. So there’s that.