Padua (Padova in Italian) seemed to me like a know-all. Often being called one myself, I naturally have a strong affinity towards know-all kinds of places and they appeal to me as restless, curious, open minds. You have to agree that one does need an insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge to be a know-all, and Padua has been having those traits forever. Now, if you can overlook the have (know) everything attitude, a worthy know-all can also be a lot of fun (unless it is all big talk with no substance) and Padua, keeping that trait in mind, turned out to be an excellent day trip from Venice.
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With Dante, Galileo as its past mentors, Padua “the Brain of Veneto”
It so happened, that Padua was nowhere on our Venice itinerary when a delayed flight brought us a free day in the floating city. After checking out from our hotel at noon, we looked for a destination nearby to relax, when Padua was mentioned by Subhadip Mukherjee, a fellow travel blogger. Being located close to Venice has its disadvantages and for most of the times, Padua is overshadowed by its world-famous neighbour. Padua’s visitors find that to their advantage and they get to enjoy a Venice free time in a lively, historic city.
Head to Padua for a relaxed rewarding time
Loaded with charm, Padua is most famous for a fantastic collection of frescoes and it is called the La Dotta (“The Learned”) or “the Brain of Veneto”. It is indeed a very academic city and is known to be the site of the second oldest university in Italy. Founded in 1222, Galileo was one of the tutors of the Padua University and the iconic institution is still going strong. A healthy student population thrives in Padua and this adds a unique vibrant charm to this typical Renaissance Italian city. Remember, me mentioning Padua as a know (have)-all and this excellent day trip destination from Venice, indeed has a lot of tricks up its sleeves.
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Giotto and other grandmasters painted their masterpieces here
For starters, Padua boasts of some of the best works of Giotto, Donatello, Mantegna in Europe and the city is a lovely cornucopia of canals, porticoed streets, churches and colourful daily markets. The three main squares of Padua, Piazza dei Signori, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta contain the life of the city within their bosom and they offer innumerable relaxing moments for locals and visitors alike. Imagine, walking along narrow cobbled stone alleys, marvelling at old gorgeous palazzos and churches which are filled with frescoes of Renaissance grandmasters, when you catch a breather at a lively sidewalk cafe. Pigeons coo near you, as families return noisily from grocery shopping, and students double up as guitar strumming buskers. The prices are just right at the cafe and you watch the locals gossip, greet, and joke with each other as they sip their umpteen cup of espresso under the Italian sun.
A beautiful mix of the local life and touristic sights
The noise of vendors packing up for the day fill the air and they are happy to go home after setting up market square shops at the break of dawn. Bent old ladies in black, shop for last-minute bargains of fruits, vegetables, and cuts of meat and more cafes start filling up the square with umbrella-shaded tables and chairs. Patrons quickly select their spot and platters of cicchetti (kind of Italian tapas) and chilled Prosecco gets polished off by the dozen. Time moves molasses slow at the sweet Italian pace and the sing-song local accent add honey to the already charming atmosphere.
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With so much to offer, Padua retains a comfortable homely feel
Such is the charm of Padua. It is an unusual mix of historic, artistic and gourmet excellence, rolled in a beautiful comfortable city and the people of Padua are amazingly friendly. They are one of the nicest and most helpful locals of Italy and I truly enjoyed Padua from the bottom of my heart. It is a perfect antidote of Venice and the floating city is a kind of holiday from which you need an occasional break.
Need a vacation from the vacation called Venice
I remember telling myself, after checking out of Venice, “I need a vacation from this vacation”, and sweet, nice Padua gave me the much-required breather. This is not unusual and throughout time, Padua has been giving happy vibes to its visitors and locals alike. Thus it is no wonder that Galileo called his 18 years of being a faculty at the Padua University to be the best time of his life.
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It is one of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites
The city also draws pilgrims in large numbers and it is more conservative and homely than brash Venice. Home to the much revered Basilica of St. Anthony, believers pour into this Venetto city throughout the year. Hailed to be the final resting place of St Anthony (Sant’Antonio da Padova), the impressive basilica was completed in 1310. A Franciscan preacher, well known for his sermons, St.Anthony was canonised in a record time in 1232 within mere ten months after his death.
The patron saint of travellers, barren women and pig farmers
The patron saint of travellers, amputees, donkeys, pregnant women, barren women, flight attendants, and pig farmers, St.Anthony’s Basilica has his well-preserved tongue as its relic and Donatello’s glorious crucifix rises from the altar. One of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites, the basilica attracts thousands of followers from all over the world and they come flocking to pray at his tomb.
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The Scrovegni Chapel of Padua is a must-see for an art lover
My personal Padua favourite was the Scrovegni Chapel and in my eyes, it is a cult of an art gallery. Giotto went on a fresco painting spree here and he created one of his most famous masterpieces in the Scrovegni Chapel. Made sometime during the 14th century, Giotto was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Scrovegni Chapel by the scion of the family who wanted to atone for his father’s usury.
Scrovegni Chapel, where Europe finally left the Middle Ages
Breathtaking in detail and famous for many avante garde techniques, Scrovegni Chapel frescoes are considered to be the first piece of ‘modern art’of Europe. The great artist painted over 40 frescoes depicting the lives of Jesus and Mary and he placed real people depicting humane emotions in the scenes. The frescoes are famous for their unbelievable 3D nature, bold colours, and are definitely Padua’s most eminent sight.
Padua has one of the friendliest people in Italy
My other most memorable Padua moments center around the old town squares. It was here, that I took a breather from the fresco watching spree in Padua and rested in the collonaded shade of a sidewalk osteria (local eating place in Italy). The sun shone brightly over the grand old square and the magnificent buildings retreated in a checkerboard of light and shade.
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Padua retains the sweetness of age-old traditions
I watched the centuries-old traditional family-owned shops selling salami, meat, fresh fish, handmade pasta and wine and listened patiently to the heavy Italian accent of Paolo Cecchinato, as he told me the story of his ancestral business. Paolo spoke and smoked at the same time, and his friendly faced creased with joy as Akash sucked on his gift of a traditional sweet. Italians are extremely baby friendly in general and Padua takes bonhomie to a whole new level. It was at this covered market of Padua, Sotto il Salone (meaning underneath the hall), that I discovered the sweet Italian joy of watching the day unfold and enjoyed time as it lingered by at a local pace. Incidentally, I got introduced to Padua’s culinary delights there as well and relished the best panino caldo con porchetta (a hot sandwich with roasted pork) at the Bar dei Osei. That was a gem of a tip from Paolo and this local jaunt selling great sandwiches was tucked away under the rooms of the gorgeous medieval Palazzo della Ragione, which was once the city court.
It is easy to make the “Scarpetta”, go local and enjoy it in Padua
Padua showed off her true colours, the moment I gave into her local charms. Filled to the gills with grand impressions of Venice, our minds went blank at Padua and Akash and I enjoyed the joy of doing nothing at the historic city. Chilling out is the exact word for our travel style and we lingered at the lively Piazza delle Erbe until it was time to get back to the airport. Padua’s sunset is rosy than Venice and its broad sweep of streets blush saffron in the golden hour. Cries of homecoming birds fill the air and a happy murmur ripples through the local crowd.
In Padua, do as the Paduans do, take it easy and relax
As if on cue, students spill out of bars with drinks in their hand and they cluster around tall tiny round tables that wobble on the smooth tip of the big cobblestones. They, universally do the same thing, sip their drinks of spritz, dip bread in shallow dishes of rich olive oil and argue loudly. Like them, I too ordered my spritz to go with my bread with olive oil and smiled contentedly as the friendly student complimented, “You make the scarpetta — we call it the “little shoes”. Till today, that is one of the sweetest compliments I have ever received because isn’t travel too, like “making the scarpetta”; dipping into the rich cultural treats of foreign shores, savouring them with the people who call those distant lands home, and enjoying the sensation of feeling at ease with them. In fact, there is no greater travel joy than “making the scarpetta”.
Padua Travel Facts
A romantic warren of arcaded streets, Padua is one of the major cultural centres of northern Italy. Its university is unrivalled and this gives the historic city a young, vibrant student population. Padua makes a great day trip from Venice and is a world apart from the floating city. The Paduan smiles are easy and genuine, and with far fewer tourists in the streets, sightseeing is a breeze there. So, next time you need a vacation from your overwhelming Venice holiday, take a breather and head straight to Padua. This grand academic Italian city will not fail to give you a lovely time.
How to reach Padua
Venice and Treviso are the nearest airports to Padua. The airlines which fly into both the airports include British Airways, EasyJet, Ryanair etc. There is one-hour bus service from Venice Marco Polo to Padua (8 Euro) which stops near the station. The station is 15 minutes from the centre and trams are easily available from there. Frequent trains run between Santa Lucia Station in Venice and Padua, at around 2 Euro one way.
The best way to explore Padua is by walking. Trams can be taken to travel across the city. The ticket costs around 2 Euro and is valid for 75 minutes. Bikes are available for hire and cost around 7 Euro for 1 day.
Padua Sightseeing Tip
The PadovaCard is a sensible buy. Valid for 48 hours, it costs 16 Euro and can be purchased at the Padua tourist offices. It also gives discounted access to certain attractions and use of public transport facilities. It is advisable to book the ticket for the Scrovegni Chapel online in advance, though I did not have any problem getting a time slot on the spot. Due to the fragility of the frescoes, admission to the Scrovegni Chapel is restricted to a certain number of visitors for a limited amount of time per day. Book online at www.cappelladegliscrovegni.it
- The Scrovegni Chapel, also known as the Arena Chapel, contains a fresco masterpiece by Giotto that was completed around 1305. This is a must-see for every art lover in the world.
- The Pontifical Basilica of Saint Anthony is a Roman Catholic church and a popular pilgrimage site. It contains the ‘uncorrupt’ tongue of St.Anthony as its most important relic.
- The Palazzo della Ragione is a medieval town hall building located in Padua. The Palazzo is a wonderful memory of the city’s glorious past and a remnant of its classic atmosphere.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE