Matt and Donna joined Sarah at our house for New year’s eve. I know I haven’t published interiors yet but our place is a very small 1 bedroom flat. Not really designed for five adults to share comfortably. However, despite the slightly cramped conditions we enjoyed a quiet night in (compared to last year’s nearly getting crushed to death (I’m serious) in Parliament Square). The main reason we had a quiet night (uncharacteristic for Matt and Donna 😉 was that there was nothing to do in London. We had resorted to watching TV and saw broadcasts from around the world; Sydney Harbour Bridge going up in a blast of fireworks, lots of dragons and festivities in China (even though their year hasn’t finished yet???) and then they cut to London, largest city in Europe and all they can scrape together is about 20 cold looking people standing by the Wheel pretending to be having a great party. Typical of the Poms – the fireworks were cancelled, transport stopped running around mid afternoon. So we sat on the floor and tried to think of things we could bet with in poker (as none of us has any money).
Ok. Back to Italy. One day we caught the train to Padova (Padua). The trains in Italy are quite comfortable on the inside, but on the outside they have discovered that if you clean up the graffiti it will only come back, whereas if you leave it, pretty soon they run out of space to spray. Every train had its own colourful paintjob.
There is one reason to go to Padova, and that is all the reason you need. Il Capella degli Scrovegni (or something, I don’t have my guidebook to hand). Basically this guy was not well liked by the Church (can’t stand those money-lenders) and they wouldn’t let him have a proper burial, but being rich he didn’t care and so his son (?) built his own chapel for his body to rest in. Not only that but he hired this guy called Giotto to do the paint job. This place is truly stunning. The interior is completely covered in the most incredible frescoes. Like Venice, a few years ago they realised it was falling apart and decided to do something to protect it. Now it is like gaining entrance to NASA. They built a little glass lobby on the outside with airlocks. In the control room are a couple of guys sitting in front of a computer, probably playing solitaire all day. We were ushered through the airlocks for a strictly timed viewing of 20 mins and then were abrubtly told to leave, so the next group could breathe their noxious, paint-dissolving fumes around.
Here comes the funny bit. Our ticket included entry into the adjacent Museo Civico so we thought we should have a look. It was marginally interesting but the attendants were so pleased to have some visitors that they made sure we saw EVERYTHING. Whenever we tried to deviate from the suggested route and skip a wing or two a little Italian lady would emerge from behind some sculpture and point us in the right direction. The thing was, after we had tried to cut our visit short, they knew they couldn’t trust us and so each attendant would follow us around, making sure we appreciated our stay before handing us on to their collegue in the next room.
Padua also has a huge Basilica, the Basilica del Santo. It houses the corpse of the town’s patron saint and is still a place of pilgrimage. The tomb is covered in photos of the cured.
Another day we went to Verona, where Romeo and Juliet lived. It is a beautiful city. Dominating the city is the Roman Arena. It was built in 1AD and is now the city’s opera house. Wow.
Off Via Mazzini, the main shopping street, is ‘Juliet’s house’. Here you can have your photo taken on the balcony or rub the left breast of a bronze statue of Juliet for luck.
Separating the Piazza della Erbe from Piazza dei Signori is the Arco della Costa, which has a whale rib suspended beneath it. According to legend it will fall on the first ‘just’ person to pass beneath. Needless to say, I was not impaled…
For a fantastic view of the city we ascened the 12th-century Torre Dei Lamberti. This is an operational bell-tower, so I would advise you to avoid climbing up at a certain time every hour. When you are standing beneath the huge bell as it goes off, it makes a sound that will change the colour of your underwear…
We passed through Castelvecchio – a 14th-century fortress – on the long walk back to the train station.
A week is a long time to spend in Venice, but it really is the most romantic city I have seen – and way cooler than London – and as I look at the covers of Vivaldi CDs at work I often think I’d like to go back.