When we rescued Homer in Modena it felt like we received a get a jail free card. The Kangoo and all of our stuff weren’t stolen after all. And now we
could continue on our road trip. Arriving in Padua, fifty minutes outside of Venice, it felt like we dove in safe at third base and just missed the tag. We’d cling to the base in Padua for two nights before heading to the Dolomites on our way back home.
The lure of a great restaurant and interesting sites took us to Padua in the Veneto. Padua is home to Le Calandre, a Michelin three-starred restaurant. The restaurant is number 20 on the 2010 Best Restaurants World list. It didn’t seem that we had enough self-control to just drive on by. We were looking forward to our meal. The second attraction was the old UNESCO World Heritage listed Botanical gardens. Eating at Le Calandre and seeing UNESCO sites was the plan before we arrived in Padua. Once ensconced in the city we’d find that there was much more than this to see and do.
As expected, our meal at Le Calandre was excellent. Massimiliano Alajmo, the chef, achieved his third Michelin star at 28 years of age, the youngest chef ever to receive this distinction. The food was surprisingly fresh, distinctly Italian, and new. As expected, the plates were beautifully presented. (You will have to take our word for this. Per Le Calandre’s request we are required to keep our food pictures secret.) The service was top notch, as expected. C has particularly fond memories of a certain waiter with a dreamy voice. And it’s probably best that I can’t share any pictures of the waiter to grease C’s fantasies. At least it might be best for G. Our summer European road journey included five amazing restaurants, La Cote Saint Jacques, Hostellerie de Plaisance, Martin Berasategui, Osteria Francescana, and Le Calandre. Le Calandre was Becky and my favorite amongst this very distinguished list. But all of these restaurants are brilliant. If you’re paying, we won’t turn down a return visit to any one of these!
On our departure day, we visited the UNESCO-designated Orto Botanico or the Botanical Garden as soon as it opened in the morning. Created in 1545, the garden is historically significant as the world’s oldest academic botanical garden still in its original location. As a modern tourist destination, the garden is somewhat interesting but not unusually remarkable on the modern standard of botanical gardens.
Perhaps Padua’s most famous sight is the Scrovegni Chapel. Visits to the small chapel require reservations. When the time comes to enter, you wait 15 minutes in an antechamber so that the humidity and temperatures can be normalized to the chapel’s interior. Inside the chapel, a restored fresco cycle by Giotto lines the walls. The Scrovegni Chapel is worth a visit even if it isn’t our favorite type of thing to see.
Padua, like Modena and the other towns in this region of Italy, has many arcaded sidewalks. It gives the town a distinctive feel and helps fight the sweaty warmth of the summer heat. Our most interesting personal “discoveries” in Padua were the Prato della Valle (supposedly the largest piazza in Italy), Palazzo della Ragione, and the university. (The botanical gardens are associated with the university.) All of these sights, and much more, make Padua worth visiting.
We spent much of our time examining the university. Founded in 1222, the University of Padua (in Italian: Università degli Studi di Padova, UNIPD) is the second oldest in Italy. Galileo Galilei taught in these halls; Copernicus is an alumni. Neither was around to greet us. We were drawn to the ageless arcades lined with intricate sculptural plaques and frescoed ceilings. With a short stay, there’s much more of the university left to see, including the Teatro Anatomico or anatomy amphitheater. Next time we will see it for sure!
What we did see of the town made us want to see more. Students out number the tourists giving Padua the universal college town feel. It is a good place to sit at a café, sip beer, and watch people. But as it often seems the case, our stop was too short. We departed Padua with yet another vow to return.
More pictures from Padua including the Orto Botanico can be seen on Picasa.