Venezia e Padua
For weeks before we took off, I was at odds with a major decision: to see Florence, or to see Venice? Why not see both, you might ask? Though that was the initial plan, lacking a real vacation in years (aside from our honeymoon,) prompted the hubs and I to favor a coastal portion of the trip, cutting our time shorter. Alas, we decided to pick only one. Phew. That was a mouthful. I’m sure you’re relieved to have that background information. I chose Venice, and in my opinion, I chose very wisely.
Aside from seeing the infamous canal-perched city, I had additional motivation for making the trip north. In my lapsed-Catholic life, I’ve preserved a major devotion: endless gratitude to my favorite saint, St. Anthony of Padua. I could not make this trip without making the journey to my own personal Mecca, the Basilica di San Antonio.
First piece of advice when traveling to Venice: don’t stay in Venice. I’m sure it would be great, but it’s expensive and likely requires you taking a ferry from somewhere, and then hauling your luggage through the city center to find your hotel. This is not Capri, where they golf cart your things around for you! We chose to stay in Padova (heads up: it’s also referred to as Padua, the Italian name,) and I would recommend it to you for the price, comfort, charm, and quick train to Venice. Our hotel was, (wait for it,) a Best Western, which shockingly seems to be a luxury brand in Italy. After our somewhat disappointing experience in Rome, we were looking for a slight upgrade. We found it in the outskirts of Padova at Best Western Premier Hotel Galileo Padova. That’s a mouthful. The hotel is much more akin to a modern American stay, with friendly, English-capable desk clerks, a fantastic free breakfast (one of the best we’ve had during our travels,) a fully stocked and well appointed bar, and WiFi in every room. Our room was extremely spacious, (we happened to get the corner room, full of windows,) with great closet space, a desk, lots of lights and electrical outlets (you begin to notice these things after a while,) a mounted flat screen with plenty of channels, including CNN, BBC, and some network that showed David Letterman, and a really lovely, large, modern bathroom. Again, these are things you don’t think about when checking in to your standard Marriot on a business trip, but when you don’t have these basic comforts, you start to truly appreciate them. The bed was king sized (another rarity,) and relatively comfortable. Air conditioning was the only sad amenity. It barely seemed to work. Oh, there was also plentiful, free parking.
So, because we chose extra comfort over location, we were about 10 minutes from the historical center of Padova, no big deal. We drove over, but I’m sure you could easily grab the bus, which we were told was quite good and easy to navigate. The historical city of Padova is absolutely adorable, with a heavy bicyclist population. There must be a place to rent some, (we only spent one evening there so we never found out,) but it’s the obvious choice for getting around. Padova felt like a place I could live in happily. It was charming, a sort of perfect combination of fresh and characteristically old, friendly people, gorgeous architecture, large enough to be interesting, but not large enough to fluster you. If we had one more night, I would have loved to spend more time there.
St. Anthony’s Basilica made me a happy girl. Of course, I’m a tad partial, but I found it to be the most exquisitely breathtaking of all the churches I’ve visited in Italy. I guess St. Mark’s in Venice rivals it, sort of. St. Mark’s is a sell out. Whatev. Anyways, I was surprised by how intensely moved I was to be there. Maybe it wouldn’t be quite as exciting for you, but if you find yourself in town, it’s a must-see. Whether or not you are a Catholic, a lapsed Catholic, or zero percent religious, the Basilica di San Antonio is a true work of art.
A few spots we visited in Padova:
- Our main meal was outside at the first restaurant we sat down at when we were too hungry to think about anything else. Guess what, I’ve searched high and low online, in our receipt pile, and have not been able to come up with what the heck it was called. I was not trying very hard to gather information at the time. Luckily for you, there are way better spots to eat. What I can tell you is that it was directly across from Musei Civici Agli Eremitani in the piazza. It was decent, but probably towards the bottom of my favorite meals list in Italy. The hubs ordered a “pesto” dish with some seafood, but the basil flavor was lacking a bit. It made for a light dish with interesting dark green pasta. I opted for the lasagna Bolognese, because shit, that’s the region it was invented in, right? I expected heaps of delicious meat sauce, but what I got was a pretty plain, and relatively meat-free. It was adequately tasty. I’m gonna come right out and say my Mom and Aunt Donna make a better lasagna! By far. There were so many great places to try in Padova, Keep searching!
- We stopped in for a cappuccino at the cutest cafe while we were, admittedly, lost in the city of Padova. For a Friday night, it was nearly abandoned. That made me a little sad. Anyways, Mela Cafe was super hip, with half the cafe set up as a sexy lounge with meats, cheeses and other snacks laid out for your enjoyment. The lovely woman working at the counter opened up a display of free biscotti for us to enjoy with our coffee and gave us directions back to our car! If I lived there, I’d be a frequent patron, for sure.
The next morning, we ventured out to Venice. Walking from our hotel to the train station was a good 20 minutes (which I would not advise upon returning at 11:30PM- we did it both ways.) There were two available trains, and I must confess, we bought tickets for the cheaper regional one but snuck onto the “fast train,” the train that gets you there about 20 minutes faster. I was very uncomfortable with this, but we lucked out and were not asked to show our tickets to anyone. Sorry, Mom. We hid out in the food and drink train: typical me. I think our tickets cost about 10 Euro, or maybe less, because we’re dishonest.
Stepping out of the train station in Venice was one of those take-your-breath-away moments when you’re like, holy crap, I’m here, and it really looks like I’ve imagined it, and it’s amazing. You can’t help but immediately start taking pictures. We didn’t have set plans for the day, but simply wanted to explore by walking a lot and seeing all the traditional spots like St. Mark’s Basilica, St. Mark’s Square, the Venice tower, and the Grand Canal. There are so many other churches, museums, and attractions that you should probably spend more time looking into than we did. We were lazy travelers. I regret not seeing an opera while in Venice, and feel like maybe you should do that for me so at least someone gets that experience.
Venice is unlike anything you’ve ever seen in your life, and oh so beautiful. We visited on a Saturday, which I would advise you to avoid. It was beyond crowded. Also, my husband surprised me with a gondola ride. That’s very unlike us, to partake is such silliness, but we were both shocked at how much we enjoyed it and felt it was worth the money. I’m not sure exactly what he paid, but I’m going to gander around 40 Euro. He picked up discount tickets from a gondolier in St. Mark’s square when I was busy being enthralled with the sights. Gondola rides have been known to cost anywhere upwards of 80 Euro, so be careful how you spend your money. If you want a private ride, I’m sure it costs even more than that. You’re in Venice once, and it’s probably going to sink soon. Just go for it!
Other Venice tips:
- We had dinner at a yummy restaurant on the canal (but not the Grand Canal, and not right on the open sea,) and paid slightly less than we would have at those places. Still, it’s all tourist oriented, so it’s going to be expensive. We dined at Caffe Vergnano 1822 and spent the whole time pinching ourselves. It was a great spot to reflect on a day in Venice.
- Venice is the birthplace of the Bellini, so you should probably order one. Make sure they don’t scam you out of the real deal by pouring you a Bellini-in-a-bottle. Tell them you want the Prosecco and peach nectar version. Watch them to make sure! They’re very sneaky.
- Another drink that seemed to be everywhere was the Spritz. It’s made with Aperol (an orange flavored liqueur,) Prosecco, and a splash of soda. It’s commonly had as an appertif before meals, and is more popular in the north than the south. FYI- in the south they use Campari instead of Aperol. Both drinks are on the bitter side, but you’re going to find yourself wanting to fit in with everyone else after you see one.
- Get yourself a map and don’t lose it. Venice is a true labyrinth, especially after dark. Don’t find yourself tired and exclaiming, “WHERE ARE WE?! We’re lost in the part people actually live in. We’ve gotta get outta here,” like I did.
- There are fake purse guys everywhere. If you aren’t interested, don’t even GLANCE their way or they’ll chase you down the street! They’ll also take off running if they see Carabinieri (aka cops.) It’s funny.