Five Days in Verona and Padua

After researching where to go in the Veneto, using my DK Eyewitness guidebook, I suggested to my sister that we spend of 4 ½ days in Verona and Padua before going to Venice to take a cruise to the Greek Islands (see Venice post) but in retrospect perhaps one day less in Verona and one more in Venice would have been a better itinerary.  Verona (and the Veneto) has a different ambiance (for lack of a better word) than other towns and cities I’ve visited in Italy and not at all what I expected.

That said, Verona is a lovely city, well worth the visit and we saw all the main sites recommended in the guidebook. We were able to do that in part by buying a Verona card at the Visit Verona site (https://www.visitverona.it/en/explore/culture-at-an-affordable-price).  As mentioned below, however, somehow the 48 hour card, we were sure we bought, morphed into a 24 hours card.  

I’ve divided this post into: Getting Around Verona, Things to Do, Where to eat, or not, Where to Stay and A Day in Padua.

Getting Around Verona

My sister and I traveled by train to Verona on Saturday October 7th.  We left from Firenze where I’d been taking an Italian language class (which definitely did not help me in Verona), taking the high speed train through Bologna and on to Verona.  We took a cab to the apartment for about 11 euros.

As mentioned below (Where to Stay) we rented an apartment in the Centro, not far from Piazza Bra and the arena. Saturday, after unpacking, we decided to walk along the river (the Adige) and after several wrong turns I got us on the promenade.  The views along the river were lovely and we could see what turned out to be the Teatro Romano and Archaeological Museum on a hill across the river.  What we could see of the town seemed peaceful and pretty, especially compared to the chaos of Firenze.  And after getting our bearings, we found it to be a very walkable city.

Castelvecchio

It was late afternoon by then and I managed to get us on the street to Castelvecchio.  We needed to go there first since we had bought Verona cards online and the instructions said to exchange our paper ‘receipts’ for cards at Castelvecchio.

The castle itself and its setting along the river are impressive but I was underwhelmed by the museum  for several reasons.  (1) I was sure that we had purchased a 48 hour Verona card but the man at the ticket office insisted it was only for 24 hours, which meant that we only had 24 hours from using the card at Castelvecchio to see all the other sights.  (2) Based on my travel guide and the Verona tourist web site I thought  the museum had modern art but it was room after room of dark medieval paintings, mainly Madonna col bambino.  My sister likes that type of art but I don’t really care for it.  (3) After walking through the ground level, we went up stairs into another area of the museum, where a man came up to us speaking rapid fire Italian.  I could figure out that he wanted tickets so I pulled out my Verona card and he angrily demanded tickets.  I was completely baffled until my sister finally realized  that what she thought were receipts for our cards were our tickets. (4) After wandering through more rooms, we went outside to the battlements where there are beautiful views of the river.  When we came back through the outside door, a woman came rushing up to us practically yelling ‘uscite’ over and over, forcing us to go back outside, down some steps  and through a hallway to the exit.

I’ve been in many museums in several countries and never been treated like that.  Still it was worth it for the views, if nothing else.

We covered a lot of ground on day two, Sunday October 8th, in order to maximize our Verona Cards so I’ll talk about the sites in the order we visited them. And then continue with the sites we visited on Monday and Wednesday.

The Arena

We started with the arena largely because it was close to our apartment.  According to my guide book the arena ‘is the third largest in the world’ and having just seen the Roman colosseum in September 2016 I was expecting to be wowed. While the exterior is striking, in my opinion, the interior is ruined by the scaffolding, lights and metal seats  used for summer opera.  All we could see were workers tearing down the set for a Beauty and the Beast ice show.     Still we got some interesting pictures, particularly of the exterior.

Piazza Bra

The arena is located in Piazza Bra and I expected to be wowed by it too based on the guide books and online information from the Verona Tourist web site which says ‘A testimony to the city’s vitality and the setting for numerous events taking place in Bra or Arena has been made more scenic by the new cast iron structures, supporting the colored tents designed by master Franco Zeffrelli and designed by architect Gualtiero Rizzi.’ What?

To me it looked like a way station where hordes of tourists meet people off their meds.  And the goofy guys in Roman costumes, trying to get tourists to take pictures with them, only added to this impression.

We walked through the Piazza several times over the next three days,  including our last evening, on the way to and from Ristorante Rubio, when it was actually very pretty and we stopped to watch some street performers. 

Casa di Giulietta

From the Arena we took a pedestrian street (via Mazzini?) that was one high end fashion store after another and so clogged with tourists, mainly Asian, that we could barely move trying to get to via Cappello to see Casa di Giulietta.  My guidebook pooh poohs the Casa saying there’s no evidence it was actually Giulietta’s house and we weren’t expecting much more than a tourist trap which appeared to be the case given the hordes of people in the courtyard trying to touch the boob on the Giulietta statue—and as an aside, I think the city should make people pay to get into the courtyard.

Once inside though, we found the house lovely and walked to the very top floor and back down.  There aren’t a lot of furnishings in the house but I especially liked the fact that on each floor there  is a stand with a page from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and a photo from one of the many movies. And the frescoes and decor in the rooms are charming.

Teatro Romano 

From Casa di Giulietta we wandered through Piazza Erbe (more on it later), past the Duomo where we got some spectacular shots of the spires against the blue sky, (see photo below) then crossed Ponte Pietra to the Teatro Romano. There’s not a lot to be seen of the Teatro, just the semi-circular seating built in the first century. From what I’ve read it’s now used for concerts.  But the area around it and the views are spectacular.

Santo Stefano

From the Teatro we climbed up to Santo Stefano which was Verona’s cathedral until the 8th century.  According to this site, https://www.gpsmycity.com/attractions/chiesa-di-santo-stefano-18209.html, ‘The church sits atop the ruins of a church that was built in the fifth century. An earthquake destroyed the building in 1117 and the cathedral was rebuilt.’    There are lovely frescoes within the church which I found amazing given their age..

Museo Archeologico

From Santo Stefano we walked several more levels to the museum. The original museum was begun in 1923 in the rooms of the ex monastery of St. Jerome.  (My guide book says there’s a lift from the ground floor to the main level of the museum but we didn’t find it until we had completed the last level of the museum.  And a docent or staff member made sure we knew that if we took the lift down, we wouldn’t be able to get back in.)

I thought the Museo was one of the most stunning archaeological museums I had ever seen.  The modern display cases show the artifacts in their best light and provide interesting information.  We were amazed not only at the presentation and preservation of the artifacts but the range and depth of every type of statuary. 

The grounds are also beautiful with more artifacts plus views of the city and the Adige River. At the end of the day we decided il Museo was our favorite place.

Giardino Giusti

From the Teatro and Museo we walked to the Giardino Giusti. According to the map and information sheet, the land was purchased in the 14th century by the Giusti family for a wool dying factory.  The factory was replaced in the 15th century with the palazzo and gardens that still exist.

The lower ‘Italianate’ gardens are divided into 9 square sections formed by box hedges within which there are statues of Roman gods, fountains, cypresses and flowering plants.

We walked through the palazzo which reminds me of a miniature Pitti Palace and then walked along the edge of the gardens to the wooded area on what seemed to be the eastern side, climbing to the grotto.  From there we strolled up and down the paths between the ‘squares.’

Even though the gardens seemed much smaller than they appear online, it was a lovely break.

Verona Duomo

On our way to the Archaeological Museum and Giardino Giusti, we stopped to take pictures of the exterior of the Duomo.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day and we took some beautiful pictures of the spires against the blue sky.

After the gardens we walked through the interior of  the Romanesque  Duomo, starting with the baptistry.  I thought the exterior was far more striking than the interior with the exception of the baptismal font which was very interesting.  After visiting the baptistery, we walked through the cathedral itself.  There was a lot of scaffolding and somehow I missed a Titian in one of the chapels.

St. Anastasia

https://www.chieseverona.it/en/our-churches/the-basilica-of-saint-anastasia

This is a huge church (in fact the largest church in Verona) founded by members of the fundamentalist Domenican order.  You can get a sense of its size from the pictures below.

My sister spent quite a bit of time inside the church and took the pictures shown below. 

Piazza Erbe

We stopped in Piazza Erbe several times over our 4 days in Verona.  It’s a charming piazza with the usual kiosks, surrounded by restaurants.  However, we learned the hard way that not everything being sold was local.  On one visit we bought our apartment owner a new kitchen towel and bought ourselves scarves that turned out to be made in China.  Lol.

On another visit,  my sister bought a cute table runner, which I’m fairly certain was local,  and we took more pictures of the piazza and the adjoining streets.

Arco dei Gavi

On our last morning we walked back to Castelvecchio where we took pictures of the Arco dei Gavi.  The Arco was moved from Corso Cavour to its location next to Castelvecchio after being damaged by French troops in the 1800’s. 

A Day in Padua 

In planning our Veneto trip, Padua seemed like a good day trip from Verona; slightly more than an hour by train with a number of interesting sights from the Scrovegni Chapel  to the Duomo with several lovely piazzas in between, along with Caffe Pedrocchi.

Getting Tickets to Cappelle Scrovegni

After sketching out a possible itinerary, it occurred to me that I should check to see if the Chapel and centro were within walking distance of the train station.  In the process of finding out how to get to the centro, I ran across a Trip Advisor forum saying that you had  to get a reservation for the Scrovegni at least a day in advance using their website.

So on Monday after getting our train tickets (8 euros one way), I got on their website.  OMG!!  What a nightmare!  After choosing a time, I tried to make a reservation but found that I had to set up an account with a user name and password first.  But when I tried to log in, the site wouldn’t accept the user name and password that I had just set up.  After 15 tries, I gave up and decided to wing it.

Then after arriving in Padua and walking across the bridge to the centro, I assumed incorrectly that the entrance to the chapel ticket office would be through the gardens that are visible from the street and we ended up circling all the way around through Piazza Eremitani before we found the entrance. 

Once we found the entrance we got in line for tickets.  A staff member assumed we wanted reservations and tried to make us go to a tourist office.  I finally got her to understand that we wanted tickets for that day and she left us alone.  Then the man selling tickets assumed we wanted the first available time and printed off tickets for 1:40pm before I could tell him we wanted 3:00pm tickets.  So he hand wrote the time on the tickets which came back to bite us.

My biggest mistake in organizing the day trip was not getting earlier train tickets but I was nervous about taking the city bus to the station.  That turned out to be easy peasy though and I regret not giving us more time.

From Giardini dell’Arena to Piazza Eremitani

As mentioned above, one of the first things we saw as we crossed the bridge on Corso di Popolo, was a lovely garden, Giardino dell’Arena and the tower of the chapel just behind it.  At the end of the day we spent about an hour there taking photos.

Padua Centro

From Scrovegni ticket office, we continued through Piazza Garibaldi to the centro, stopping first at Caffe Pedrocchi for a cappuccino, see Where to Eat, below.

From the caffe we wandered through some of the side streets to Piazza Erbe which has a mercato of fruit, vegetable and flower stands and then to the Duomo. 

Padua Duomo and Baptistry

The Duomo itself is free but we bought tickets for the battistero.

We walked through the Duomo and a crypt below the church, both of which are very interesting because the former has some modern sculpture next to the traditional religious art and the latter has some lovely stained glass.

The frescoes by Giusto in the battistero, in my opinion, rival those in the Scrovegni Chapel and were more than worth the 6.50 euro ticket.  You can’t take photos but you can see the frescoes at https://www.wga.hu/html_m/g/giusto/padua/index.html. Also the docent was extremely informative and pleasant unlike some of the other staff in both Verona and Padua.

Cappelle Scrovegni

We arrived back at the ticket office around 2:50pm and initially some officious woman tried to give us grief because of the hand written notation on our ticket.  Eventually we got past the dragon and walked through an interesting sculpture garden to the entry area.

Outside the Scrovegni Chapel
Outside the Scrovegni Chapel

After we were admitted, we watched a video about the origins of the chapel; how Scrovegni paid for the chapel to try to keep his father out of hell for committing usury.  Then we got our allotted 15 minutes in the chapel

And it is spectacular with frescoes of the life of Christ as well as judgement day and Giotto praying for his father’s forgiveness.

Padua Pinacoteca

We had planned to wander through the various museums in the complex until we needed to go to the train station.  What a cluster!  First we were thrown up against the wall by a guy who acted like we didn’t have tickets when you can’t get in without purchasing a combined ticket for the chapel and the museums.  Then he insisted we had to go in the Pinacoteca first. Once in the Pinacoteca, every time we tried to go one way, a staff person jumped out at us, yelling in Italian or French, that we had to go the other direction.

It was totally bizarre and by the time we escaped the maze there wasn’t time to go through the other museums although we walked through the courtyard where there were some interesting archaeological artifacts.

So we went back to the gardens for a while, taking pictures then walked to the station where we had to kill time for 35 minutes before our train back to Verona.  The return trip went smoothly and we got our bus tickets in the Verona station, then got back to our stop fairly quickly.

That evening we ate at Trattoria al Bersagliere; not a good experience.  See Where Not to Eat, below.

Where to Stay

We stayed in an apartment (la Casa Rossa) that was convenient to the centro and the train station, although it took me much longer than usual to orient myself and for the first two days, I took us the wrong direction every time we left the apartment.  

La Casa Rossa

This was my 3rd experience with an apartment in Italy and compared to the others, it was well furnished especially the kitchen.  We had a nice balcony and could sit in the ground floor garden whenever we wanted.

We also found it helpful that the owner lived in the apartment above us.  We absolutely froze the first two days until we had the nerve to ask the owner about heat and she turned it on for us. (You can read about la Casa Rossa and other apartments in my Where to Stay post.)  Plus the owner printed off train tickets for us and helped us get a taxi our last morning.  

 

Where to Eat

An unknown Osteria Near the River

Saturday afternoon, after walking along the river, we tried to find an enoteca recommended by the apartment owner but couldn’t find it then or two other times we looked. So we wandered into a little Osteria where I managed to order two glasses of wine but when I tried to order a plate of meat and cheese the waitress looked at me like I had two heads.  (That was my first clue that the Veronese unlike Italians in Tuscany or other regions don’t jump in to help when you try to speak Italian and seem to like to fluster English speaking tourists. )  Even so she did bring us a huge plate of meats and cheeses with a basket of crusty bread.  It had been a long time since our cappuccini and brioche so we dug in, then had two more glasses of wine, all for 29 euros.  (This little place was about one street off the river, close to the Duomo.)

Signorvinos’s

Monday after a long walkabout, we stopped at Signorvino’s, an enoteca which has several stores throughout Italy including one in Firenze, where I’d eaten dinner with my language class. We had some prosecco along with little sandwiches then a red wine that my sister liked so much that she bought two more bottles.

We stopped again another afternoon and had vino and panini.

We also had good luck at the local grocery store and a store we found selling fresh pasta and sauce, making some dinners and lunches at the apartment.  Our apartment had a lovely garden where we could sit with our wine having a few laughs talking about our day and what we liked.

Cuppa Caffe

We ate here after a long morning of visiting several sites including the Archaeological Museum and Giardino Giusti.  We relaxed over a pizza and a couple of vinos, while enjoying the view of the river.          Cuppa Caffe I didn’t write any reviews but I almost always love the pizza in Italy.

Ristorante Rubiano

Our last afternoon, as we walked to the post office I saw a restaurant about a block off the piazza and after checking the menu, I walked up to the entrance to see about a reservation.  The waiter (manager?) was almost effusive, putting his arms around us and saying he’d save two tables for us.  After the previous night’s debacle, (see below) we were hooked.

When we got to the restaurant, we agreed to sit outside since they had heat lamps plus those plastic ‘curtains’ to keep out the cold.  We dithered about the ‘set menu’ or ordering a la carte.  I would have preferred the set menu but my sister seemed to want the latter. I ordered mixture of fish and vegetable tempura, some of which was good, others not so much.  My sister had a tomato pasta with lobster that was excellemt.

Ristorante Rubiano

When we ordered dessert, a chocolate ‘salami’ with custard, I tried to order a vin santo.  The waiter said that vin santo wasn’t available in the Veneto so I ordered a limoncello for both of us. 

It was a very pleasant and fun 2 ½ hours but it set me back $90.  Yikes!!

Padua

Caffe Pedrocchi

https://www.caffepedrocchi.it/en/

I read about Caffe Pedrocchi in my guidebook which said it was a must see in Padua.  It was our first stop in the Padua centro, after buying our tickets for Cappelle Scrovegni and we had delicious cappuccino and brioche plus used their wifi.

I signed up for their newsletter and get emails every 2-3 months about their concerts and dinners which sound amazing.

Pizzeria agli Eremitani

(http://www.eremitani.info/ )

While trying to find the ticket office for Cappele Scrovegni,  we spotted this restaurant. After exploring the centro, we returned and had a delicious lunch of calzone and wine.

Where not to eat

Trattoria al Bersagliere

After our day in Padua, we cleaned up and went to this little trattoria down the street from our apartment.

The owner made us eat in the bar although at least 20-30 people came in after us and were seated in the restaurant.  We were treated like garbage—poor service, slightly above mediocre food plus I’m pretty sure we were charged for a salad I didn’t order.  The next day I wrote a scorching Trip Advisor review and added it to my ‘Where not to eat’ post.

Overall, it was a lovely 5 days and I would definitely go back.  The only disappointment on this trip was that we didn’t have a car and couldn’t get out in the countryside to visit vineyards. And I could not find an easy way to get to Lake Garda, which I regret.

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