Padova, Firenze, Pisa e Venezia 2019
Just returned from another great trip to Italy. This trip we traveled with our 13 year old niece. We chose to return to familiar places to reduce chances of unexpected surprises. It was a great experience for all. She is very mature for her age, but often still shy around strangers. We could see her confidence growing after just a day or 2 in country, and it seems to be the type of personal growth experience we were hoping for her. It was a joy for us all, everything we had hoped for.
We visited Padova 4 years ago. It was chosen because it was close to Venice and we thought it wise to go someplace mellow on arrival to rest and recover from jet lag before venturing into the expected crowded melee of Venezia. We discovered that Padova was a lovely town and liked it so much we wanted to return. We also wanted to give a niece at least a small taste of an Italian town now fully dominated by tourism (unlike the rest of this itinerary)
It turns out that our young niece loved Padova. She loved strolling the pretty quiet portico covered streets. She loved the 3 piazze that make up the center of town. We did some shopping in places that weren't just tourist traps. The market was fun, and the parts of Padova that were busy were bustling with students, not tourists, We were the only English speakers at the restaurants we visited, giving me a chance to practice my slightly improving Italian language skills. Although it was obvious that most people we encountered in shops or elsewhere spoke English well enough that we could have managed there with very little knowledge of Italian language. (But one of my favorite things to do in Italy is to practice my Italian)
We all enjoyed the orto botanica (skipped last trip due to foul weather. This year we had a pretty sunny day).We skipped the scrovegni chapel this time, correctly assuming our niece would be indifferent to seeing it. We did tour thorough the beautiful Basillica Sant' Antonio. We popped in to the museum of history of medicine after walking past it to and from the centro from our room.. Lots of fun for a young science geek, with plans of a future medical career. Lots of interactive fun exhibits. We did not make it to tour the Palazzo Bo and see the anatomical theater there.
We returned to the same lovely B&B in Padova, run by a very gentile and kind gentleman, and had another great stay. I think this was part of the pull bringing us back to Padova, and we are so glad we returned.
The food in Padova is similar to Venice, only less expensive. Before the trip I gave my niece an intro to the foods of the Veneto that we would encounter to avoid menu shock when she didn't find red tomato sauce everywhere. (Tuscan primer too). We were pleased that she was adventurous enough to try just about everything. (although she often seek-ed out “safe choices” like gnocchi and lasagna whenever it was available). The list of new foods she was introduced to is long.
She tried octopus, sarde in saor, and scampi saor too, liked bacala montecato a lot, spaghetti nero from seppia ink, polenta, bigoli with anatra (duck) ragu, bigoli with salsa (anchovy and onion sauce), . Also new to her were fish like Orata, and bronzino and romba as well a clams, and she retried and now likes scallops.
For our second lunch in Padova we had “street food” Our niece spotted a Ramen shop, a rare treat for her. We also shared a piadina, and really interesting panini made on steamed foccacia “nuvole” at Violantes deli at the market. Also munched on fresh market peas and strawberries in season.
In Tuscany there was rabbit ragu (liked it enough for her to try again in Venice) , cinghiale ragu, and more.
She had her first tiramisu,and first panna cotta. We also had more gelato and pastries this trip than usual. In Padova we discover pazientina.Yum! And had really good millefoglie. In Florence we became regulars at a pasticceria with the best cremoni? (brioche filled with pastry cream). Lots of good gelato everywhere. One standout was Lavanda: lavender flavored gelato from Perche No in Firenze. She went back for seconds.. perche no?) I also found a new appreciation for pistachio gelato trying many good examples of it this trip.
After 2 sleepy, but very fun days in Padova we took the train to Firenze It was raining, OK for a travel day. On arrival we could all feel the immediate change in “intensity” The bustle of the city was palpable, even in the taxi ride to our apartment. We found Florence to be much busier and more crowded than we remembered from our previous 2 visits in 2010/11. ( and Venice was surprisingly less crowded!). But upon questioning her,it was not so much the crowds in Florence that were less enjoyable, it was the “color”. In her mind's eye, Italy had a certain look. A look of colorful buildings. Florence, while quite beautiful in its own way, to her seemed monochromatic brick and stone, and didn't match her mental picture of “pretty Italy”. For me, it was the crowds. I would have preferred to spend more time in a smaller town.
We stayed in a great location in Florence, near Piazza Santa Croce. So we were easy walking distance to most of the centro, yet also right near the quieter Sant Ambrogio neighborhood, where we had our morning coffee and pastry and a few meals (including our fun experience with Le Cesarine). This part of Florence seems “real” and busy with residents more than tourists.
We had 5 nights total in Florence. The first 2 days were planned and action packed. We saw the David, and thanks mushroom for mentioning the awesome embroidery on the upper floor of the accademia, spectacular. The ancient musical instruments were cool as well. Then another great lunch at noon at Trattoria Mario nearby. Then the mercato where we tasted and bought many cheeses. We shopped a bit (our niece loved OVS, we stopped in at the one in Pisa as well) . In the evening we attended an opera concert at St Mark's English church.
Day 2 was duomo day, climbed the cupola, lucky in timing for perfect weather after a rainy start the day before, then lunch, then the baptistery and the museum of the duomo, (that I enjoyed even more after reading a book on Brunelleschi's dome) and this trip the actual baptistery doors were open for viewing, last trip they were being restored. Then more shopping strolling and gelato. Then we took a taxi up to San Miniato al Monte. This was disappointing because we arrived just before 5 so we could catch the monks Gregorian chant at 530. The place was surprisingly packed because there was a concert going on and just ending, that we were unaware of. Then after the concert we went to the lower level and instead of the usual monks chanting, there were only 2 priests and a small group of singers from the previous concert. They were doing a service to bless the “palm” fronds as it was the day before palm Sunday, but no troupe of monks showed up to chant. And I thought they lived a regimented life, but no show for the chanting on this day. Still cool to see the 1001 year old church and the great view of the city from up there.
Then after a short reprieve back at our apartment we had dinner with our Cesarine. It was a great experience. She and her husband were very kind and lovely people. The food was good, although not rave about outstanding, but all very very good. Her home was lovely with a rooftop terrace that had a 360 view of the city. It was too chilly to eat out there, but we enjoyed a welcome glass of Prosecco up there to take in the view before dinner. (I'll chat more about Le Cesarine later)
We has planned to go to Pisa on Palm Sunday, but it was very rainy, so we wisely switched our plans and went to Pisa on the next day, which as predicted was perfectly warm and sunny. Instead we spent a lazy rainy day in Florence. We all needed to sleep in a bit so it worked out well. Given the choice of many activities, our niece preferred not to care about seeing any of the other “important” sights of Florence. That was fine with us and not at all surprising. She did have appreciation of the art and architecture that she was exposed too, but at age 13, seeing more of that was not a priority. We did have a nice visit to the Galileo museum, She loves science and it was close by and great for a rainy day. Cioccolata calda at Reviore was also prefect. We almost toured the Palazzo Vecchio, but none of us wanted to wait on the line for tickets. So after looking around the beautiful courtyard, Instead we returned to a nearby leather shop we had visited earlier, and Mrs. AWG found a great jacket.
Pisa was wonderful! Aside from the Piazza dei Miracoli, the obvious attraction, Pisa is a really nice town. It was the first place I visited on my first trip to Italy. That time I had very little time there, and jet lag, and did not have the best of impressions. But this trip I really enjoyed everything about Pisa. After an easy 49 minute train ride (regionale veloce) we arrive on a perfect sunny day. Strolled the Corso Italia, and stopped in OVS and a few other shops. Then had a great lunch in Piazza delle Valleglie. Then walked thorough the lovely portico covered Borgo stretta. For some reason my niece just loved the piazza dei Cavalieri. Maybe it was the picture perfect light of the day, or the pleasing sounds of the guitarist parked there. The tower, duomo and baptistery were spectacular of course. And it was way less crowed than the I expected. We spent a good amount of time soaking in the atmosphere, and the welcome warm sunshine too. We were in the baptistery at just the right moment for the demo of the acoustics by a staff singer. Awesome! On our way back we strolled some of the quieter streets of Pisa, had some mini pastries and coffee at Salza, and then gelato enjoyed outside near the Ponte di Mezzo. Great day.
Venice... details coming soon.