““Do you like that?” I’ll say in surprise since it doesn’t seem like her type of thing, and she’ll look at me as if I’m mad. That!?” She’ll say, “No, it’s hideous” “Then why on earth,” I always want to say, “did you walk all the way over there to touch it?” but of course…I have learned to say nothing when shopping because no matter what you say… it doesn’t pay, so I say nothing.” Bill Bryson – ‘Notes From a Small Island’
There were some decisions to be made over breakfast today because this was our last day but it would be a full one because our Ryanair flight home wasn’t until late this evening. We could return to Venice but although there was more to see we had filled two days there already, we could go to nearby Vicenza, or we could stay in Padova. As we were lodging in Padova it seemed rude not to visit, lots of tourists bypass the city in the rush to Venice so we all agreed that we would spend the day here in the Shakespearian setting of the Taming of the Shrew.
Checking out was a chore – I have never understood why it takes some hotels so long to produce the bill – It was pre-booked with an agreed rate, we stayed the number of nights that we contracted to and we didn’t have anything from the mini-bar – simple, so irritating therefore that it took a prolonged head-scratching fifteen minutes, endless staring at the computer screen and three attempts to get it right, it was a good job that we weren’t in a rush!
It was a glorious October morning, bright sunshine but with a dainty autumnal crispness to the air and we made our way towards the city stopping first at the site of the ancient Roman amphitheatre where just a few walls now remain, having been demolished long ago as a convenient source of recycled building materials.
Next to this is the Scrovegni Chapel which, on account of the Giotti frescos inside is reckoned to be the main visitor highlight of the city. I have seen it described as one of the most important artistic works of its kind; it takes your breath away, it makes grown men weep, it makes your knees buckle, it deprives you of the power of speech – but sadly none of my travelling companions had any desire to queue and wait to see it so I agreed to bypass this artistic treasure but thought that I might come back later by myself.
This reminded me of a visit that I made to Paris in 1990. I went with a group of work colleagues, we had just lost our jobs in local government through compulsory competitive tendering and were going our separate ways and decided on something special to mark the occasion. Whilst there we visited the Louvre museum and like everyone else went to see Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa. My friend Martin spent a few seconds gazing at what is possibly the world’s most famous masterpiece and then declared, “It’s ok but I wouldn’t want it hanging in my front room!”
So we carried on into the familiar sounding Corso Garibaldi and came across the inevitable statue of the hero of Italian unification. After the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 the state worked hard at making sure Garibaldi would be remembered and the number of streets, piazzas and statues named after him makes him probably the most commemorated secular figure in history.
Such was the romance of his story that Garibaldi was at one point possibly the most famous man in Europe. In London in 1864 people flocked to see him as he got off the train. The crowds were so immense it took him six hours to travel three miles through the streets. The whole country shut down for three days while he met the great and the good. Literary figures including the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson and Sir Walter Scott lauded him as the “Italian lion” and “the noblest Roman of them all“. The English historian A.J.P. Taylor made the assessment that “Garibaldi is the only wholly admirable figure in modern history.”
Although my friends don’t care too much for art, archaeology or history they do like shopping so they were collectively delighted when we arrived at Piazza della Frutta which is a heaving daily market with literally hundreds of stalls selling everything and anything that anyone could possibly want but do not need. Momentarily overcome by the shopping opportunities presented here we stopped for a while at a pavement café to catch our breath and to plan the inevitable assault on the merchandise.
I am sure that I have mentioned this before (most likely several times) but I am not a keen fan of shopping especially of the browsing variety so the prospect of time wasted pushing through a market looking at things I had no intention ever of buying didn’t especially thrill me so whilst the others dawdled through the crowded lanes of the market picking over the merchandise and making the occasional unnecessary purchase I moved on to admire the buildings and the architecture which is something that I prefer to do.
Adjacent to Piazza della Frutta is Piazza dei Signori where there were more market stalls but also wonderful buildings soaring up into the perfect sky and then Piazza del Doumo with thankfully no market stalls and in contrast peaceful and serene with pavement cafés and bars and old meandering lanes and alleys probing through the old Jewish ghetto area but sadly no entrance to the basilica because it was closed for lunch – what happens if I need a Priest in an emergency I wondered, what if I have some sins to urgently confess? Anyway, I thought that I might come back later and the plans for the end of my day were becoming suddenly quite seriously congested.