After last week’s informational meeting, I was fairly certain that my weekend trip to the Veneto region would be more structured and supervised than my high school trip through Italy. And not in a good way. As we walked out of the John Cabot cafeteria, Cate, Kathryn, Kelly, Danielle, and I made a pact. We agreed that we wouldn’t complain about the 10:30 p.m. curfew, the seven-hour bus ride, or the 7:00 a.m. breakfast time. Period.
Despite all of these restrictions, we realized that the trip provided us with a great opportunity to see three cities in three days. Also, the weekend trip was a bargain – our 150-euro fee covered transportation, accommodations, two breakfasts, two dinners, and guided tours in the three cities. No whining allowed.
The weekend was wonderful. Although we grumbled a bit at the early starts, we were glad for the forced bedtime. We wouldn’t have gone out after dinner this weekend anyhow since we were so exhausted from walking around and touring. The guided tours were incredibly informative, and we stayed in a much nicer hotel than we would have had we planned the trip ourselves. The hotel rooms even had TVs! Cate and I enjoyed watching American shows dubbed over in Italian, like “Teen Mom,” “Cake Boss,” and “America’s Best Dance Crew.” I was happy to find “I Simpson” (The Simpsons) and a little bit perplexed to see Bill Cosby speaking Italian on “I Robinson” (The Cosby Show).
Padua became our home base for the weekend since our hotel was just off the main square.
Some of the Sights – Padua:
–Prato della Valle: This is the second largest square in Europe (the Red Square is the biggest), and it is the central meeting ground in Padua. Prato is home to a gigantic market in the mornings. The circular area is surrounded by 78 statues of famous men (all men – no women), some from Padua and some who just passed through. Our tour guide pointed out two of the statues in particular – one of Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science and a former professor at the University of Padova, and one of Francesco Petrarca, native Paduan and poet often credited as the father of the Renaissance.
–Basilica di San Antonio: This basilica is one of a handful of churches in Italy that are actually the property of the Vatican. As we approached the church, we passed a low wall that signified the boundary between Padua (under the jurisdiction of the Italian state) and the Vatican state.
Saint Anthony was a Franciscan scholar known for his great skill as a communicator. A contemporary of Saint Francis, Anthony traveled around Italy to preach and teach and convert. Legend has it that when he arrived in a seaside town where the people weren’t interested in listening to him, Anthony turned to face the ocean and began sermonizing towards the water. Upon hearing his words, thousands of fish poked their heads up through the waves to listen. Anthony is the patron saint of communicators, but he is more commonly known for his role as the patron saint of lost things and lost causes. People often pray to Anthony to help them find things, so inside the basilica, people leave pictures, letters, and tokens around his tomb to give thanks for answered prayers. Our tour guide told us that in Spain, young girls pray to Anthony to help them find good husbands, too.
Inside, the basilica is a hodge-podge of different styles of architecture. We visited a Renaissance chapel, a Baroque chapel, and a Gothic chapel. Italians have a great devotion to Anthony, so over the years, people wanted to continue improving his church and modifying it to fit the architectural style of the time. The Baroque style chapel was my favorite because it housed massive glass windows full of “tesoro” (treasure). These valuable goods ranged from magnificent gold chalices that the church had accumulated over the years, to signatures from famous visitors (like St. Vincent de Paul), to the remains of St. Anthony’s robes, to actual relics of St. Anthony. The reliquaries display St. Anthony’s lower jaw (and teeth!), his tongue, and his vocal cords – all symbols of his ability as a communicator.
–Universita’ di Padova: This is the second oldest university in Italy (the oldest is the University of Bologna), and it currently has about 60,000 students. The university is very proud of the way that religion and science have been able to peacefully and freely coexist through the centuries. The first woman student in the western world completed her university studies at Padova in the 1300s. She was the daughter of a noble family, and she wanted to study theology, but the bishop wouldn’t allow it. She studied philosophy instead.
–Basilica di Santa Giustina: Santa Giustina is the ninth largest basilica in the world. It is connected with a Benedictine abbey. The Benedictines used to own all of the land that comprises the nearby Prato della Valle. Santa Giustina, the first patron saint of Padua, is buried in the church along with San Prosdocimus, San Massimo, and San Luca. That last one is a big name – Saint Luke, the evangelist.
We popped in to visit Santa Giustina on Saturday evening. Inside, it was cavernous, dark, and creepy. I could hear Italian voice chanting vespers, booming over the sound system, but I couldn’t see a priest anywhere. As I breezed by the dim side chapels and approached the front of the church, I realized that there were stairs on either side of the main altar. Underneath the main altar, doors led to a subterranean chapel where the service was taking place. I looped around to the other side of the church and wandered my way back through a side chapel with an open door. Down some stairs and around a few corners, I came upon a large cage with a small notecard folded on top. The English translation informed me that the box was the original cage that had held Saint Luke’s remains. This, just tucked in a corner.
–Scrovegni Chapel: Definitely the coolest part of the weekend. The Scrovegni Chapel is home to some of the most important fresco cycles in the world. Giotto painted the entire interior of the small chapel, revealing his development of perspective in art. The chapel is so small and so precious to the art world that only 25 people are allowed to enter the chapel’s microclimate at a time. Advance reservations are a necessity, for visits are limited to just fifteen minutes. We had made our reservations for the last entry time of the day. Before going in to the chapel, we had to sit in an air-controlled room for about ten minutes to get used to the microclimate inside the chapel.
The chapel was absolutely stunning. Photography is strictly forbidden, but the internet is full of pictures of the amazing frescoes. My friends and I were the only people visiting the chapel at the time, so the docents, two cute old men, asked if we understood Italian. When we said that we did, they began to explain the fresco cycles and the details of the chapel to us. Visiting the Scrovegni Chapel in such a private, personal way was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a priceless masterpiece.