Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The best of Padova (AKA Padua)

I realized that, while I have written a lot about language, culture, work, and adjusting to life here in Padua, I have yet to address the city as a tourist destination. The fact is, compared with neighboring locales like Venice, "City of Dreams" or Verona, the small town setting of Romeo and Juliet, Padua (Padova, in Italian) is a low-key, off-the-beaten-path, dare I say, "authentic" Italian city. Authentic in the sense that Padua is a city of Italians: Apart from the area immediately surrounding Saint Anthony's Basilica, you won't see a lot of tourists here.

I have mentioned that I haven't met anyone from the U.S. here, and rarely interact with locals using English. Just a couple of days ago on a bus, I met a man from Scotland who had decided to spend his vacation in Padua to avoid tourists and experience a city where real Italians live, work, and enjoy life.  

Just because Padua is not full of tourists doesn't mean there aren't amazing, historical, and beautiful places to visit here. What's so great about Padua? Here's my Best of Padua, still in development:

1. La Basilica di Sant'Antonio. Since I already mentioned it, let's start with Saint Anthony's. This place is often the reason people come to Padua, and come they do, by busloads… more than five million a year. Saint Anthony, saint of children and lost things, died in 1231, and the basilica was built between 1238-1310. Inside you can find Saint Anthony's tomb, which people line up to touch and submit requests. And yes, the rumors are true, Saint Anthony's tongue (as well as his mandible and larynx) is on display in the Relics Chapel. Of course, the whole place is full of art: elaborate frescos, sculptures, gold ornamentation, marble, stained glass, etc. Devoted or not, it's a sight to behold!

Inside Saint Anthony's Basilica

Saint Anthony cakes: You can get just about any type of St. Anthony souvenir around the Basilica
2. L'Orto Botanico. Just a short walk from Saint Anthony's is the University of Padua's Botanical Gardens. This is one of my favorite places in the city. Founded in 1545 and the oldest university botanical garden in the world, it's a UNESCO World Heritage site, not to mention a beautiful, peaceful reprieve from the city. It's one of those places I would love to visit once a week. Time to go back!

My first visit to the Orto Botanico, before all the flowers bloomed

3. Prato della Valle. Nearby, another great place to walk and people-watch is Prato della Valle, an oval-shaped, park-like piazza that is the largest in Italy. Along with being a prime dog-walking location and hosting a large, Saturday market, Prato della Valle is often the site of city/regional festivals.

Prato della Valle

4. Universit√† di Padova, Palazzo Bo. Located in the heart of downtown and known simply as, "Il Bo", this was the original academic building of the University of Padua, founded in 1222. Sometimes I can't believe I am currently affiliated (as a guest researcher) with such a historic and prestigious university. The Bo is, of course, full of history and tradition. The ceilings around the inner courtyard are covered with painted, plaster crests and names representing the early faculty members of the university. The world's first anatomical theater is located in Il Bo (the university is associated with many important advances in medicine and continues to be the preeminent medical school in Italy). Students come here when they graduate to take photos and cross the threshold, a ritual that represents their graduation and passing from university life into the future.  

The courtyard of Il Bo, Università degli Studi di Padova
5. I mercati. Street markets are plentiful and happen daily in Padua. Piazza della Fruta and Piazza delle Erbe (both with daily, outdoor markets) are separated by the Palazzo della Regione (1218). Inside the lower gallery of the Palazzo is a series of amazing, specialized food shops that sell cheeses, meats, baked goods, homemade pasta, etc. No need to ever go to a supermarket for food (but I have to admit, I do). The biggest market time is Saturday morning, when the entire city is out shopping, socializing, and snacking on gelato in the piazzas. You can feel the Padua energy AND bring home delicious supplies for the weekend meals.

Entering the market scene in Piazza della Frutta (on a weekday) 
6. Capella degli Scrovegni. The interior of the Scrovegni Chapel is completely covered in carefully restored frescos painted by Giotto in 1305. A Padua must-see, this place is a local treasure and truly spectacular. Reservations are required and viewings are brief (about 15-minutes).  

Scrovegni Chapel… this photo from their website,
7. Food. It's all good! May I recommend a gelato? I have tried them all and, believe me, the very best is Gelateria La Romana. How about a cocktail or a cappuccino and pastry? Check out the elegant and historic Caffe Pedrocchi, right across the street from Il Bo. You can sit outside and watch the world go by. Is pizza calling your name? Rosso Pomodoro serves up an authentic pizza napoletana, La Verace! And here's a secret… they have restaurants all over the world, so you might be able to get one sooner than you think.
Pastry selection at Caffe Pedrocchi

I know I am leaving a lot out, but for now, this will give you a good idea of all the great things to see and do -and eat- in Padua. After two months here, I continue to explore, discover, and enjoy this place!

A typical street on my daily walks in Padua

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