Attraction #1 in Padua is the Scrovegni Chapel with its forty Giotti frescoes. There is an elaborate process to securing tickets and arriving exactly on time – or else. There will be no photos allowed, and we fear that full cavity searches may be required. But it is supposedly one of the most sublime sites we will see for quite a while. We have to dampen our impatience until 10:30 tomorrow, but the appetizers around this banquet of 14th-century genius were dangled in front of us all day.
Other experiences had to suffice.
We began by touring a restaurant. But this was not just any restaurant. The Caffè Pedrocchi is a complex of meeting and entertainment rooms built in the 1830’s, when Austria ruled this part of the world and was built to stir up a sense of Italian nationalism. The downstairs is lovely, but the next floor – the piano nobile – is stunning. Each room is done a different style, to recall the glories of the past. There were Etruscan, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Herculaneum, Renaissance motifs – all done in high style. This must have been quite the party venue in its heyday.
Next, the Palazzo Zuckermann, which sounds like an oxymoron. It is a collection of applied and decorative arts from the Venetian Republic – the 1600’s-1700’s, with a few dabs from the 19th century thrown in. (We have to remember we are only 25 miles from Venice and that it ruled here for over three centuries.) Lots of lovely things – but hardly at the Giotto level.-
Getting closer to the Scrovegni Chapel, we finally found its entrance, which is now inside the Civic Museum. It was once a monastery, but now has an excellent collection of 13th to 18th-century paintings. And yes, it has work by Giotto, plus an excellent multi-media room focused on the frescoes we will see tomorrow. Since we only will have 15 minutes in the chapel, and there are three tiers of paintings, it was very helpful to have a view of the entire church and an explanation of the narrative flow of the story, from the birth of Mary to the Passion of Christ. Each panel was displayed and explained in computer monitors, and the meaning of various themes of nature and common 14th-century life were detailed. One could devote a lifetime to this work, so every bit of preparation is helpful.
There was even a life-size recreation of the house of Mary’s mother, as depicted by Giotto. Spooky.
Two works of Giotto we saw today came out of the chapel, moved to the museum in order to be better preserved. The first piece was the crucifix Giotto painted on wood, and a stand-alone painting of Christ, also on wood. It’s easy to see why many consider his work on the chapel to be the first piece of modern art, a sign of the Renaissance to come.
There were many other wonderful things to see in this museum. My favorite came at the end, which I call the “Medieval Virgins Championship Bowling Team.” Don’t they look ready to roll?
So, we are primed and eager for our visitation tomorrow. There’s still much more to see in Padua, so tomorrow should be a dazzling day.
Don’s Food Corner
I checked the guidebooks very carefully today to determine EXACTLY what would be open and what would be closed. Three of the four recommended places in the part of Padova where we would be at lunchtime were officially closed on Sunday. We had one choice left. We approached the door with trepidation. We didn’t see anyone entering or leaving; there didn’t seem to be any lights on. But, amazingly, it was open.
This place was a “cafeteria.” Earlier in our trip we went to a “cafeteria” that expected you to enter at the cashier’s counter and tell them what you wanted and pay for it before you knew what they had to offer. There was no line when you went along, picked out what you wanted and paid for it at the end. Oh, no. Not the Italian way. Mix it up a little. Make it seem like driving in Naples. Confusion that mysteriously does not end up with collision.
Today’s “cafeteria” had a different take on the concept. It too didn’t have a linear organization, but at least you weren’t expected to know in advance what you wanted. Instead, it was set up with different stations — one station featuring salads, another desserts, another fruit, another pizza, another hot pasta dishes, etc. Of course, the trays to carry all these potential different dishes were not at the door when you enter. They were hidden behind the pizza oven near the rear of the room.
So, we spent many minutes pivoting in circles trying to figure out what was where and where to start. (The special challenge for finding a beverage was compounded by the fact that various options were positioned in at least three different locations. The wine, for example, was available by the bottle in one location, but wine by the glass could be poured for you by the cashier at the end. There were no signs explaining this. I just happened to notice that the cashier jumped from behind her cash register and went to another part of the room to pour someone a glass of wine — leaving people standing in line a little bewildered about what was happening and why. To be cruel, when we finally got to cashier I ordered wine by the glass, but from bottles that had not been opened yet, requiring the cashier to stop everything to open new bottles. Hey, when I pay $2 for a glass of wine I want a show, as well as the enjoyment of seeing pained expressions on peoples’ faces standing in line behind me watching their hot food get cold. It’s not my fault the place is “organised” like that.)
Considering the amount of time we spent roaming around the various stations and looking at all the possibilities, we ended up with some pretty prosaic choices. I went for lasagna — which did have an excellent Bolognese ragu sauce layered between fresh pasta sheets. Jo had a mixed salad. Still, as we’ve mentioned before, the only salad dressing in Italy is vinegar and oil. No “vinaigrette” — which is, obviously, a French word and thus, I suppose, should only be expected to accompany salad in France. Jo also selected spaghetti carbonara, although she originally wanted a prominently promoted pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce. But, surprise, there was no tomato sauce left. The carbonara turned out to be a little too ambitious for a cafeteria line.
When we left, we went on to tour a famed Padova Palazzo that we knew we had to see on Sunday because as we were warned at the tourist office yesterday to go on Sunday beause it would not be opened on Monday. Guess what? It was closed. No explanation as to why. But there was a small group of tourists standing in front with their sad little guidebooks in hand that insisted would be open. We all traipsed off to the Tourist Information office around the corner to find out what was wrong.
The office was closed.