The final day of my epic nine-day road trip around Europe began in Venice and then onto Padua and Verona before ending the trip at a hotel airport at Milan Malpensa. It was again a great day filled with amazing sights and a great way to end the trip in style. Here are the highlights of day nine.
“Aaaahhhhh Venice.” I quote Indiana Jones and agree with his sentiment completely that Venice is that breathtaking. This was my third trip to Venice and first since 2009 and definitely my most memorable.
Venice is such a great place for so many reasons but the main reason is because it is so unique. Venice is jaw-droppingly beautiful, that goes without saying but there is no other place on Earth where the streets are water. Again, I know I’m stating the obvious but it is that cool and that unique.
Being in Venice is special because it is a dream destination. Ask 100 people who have never left the States where they’d like to go if they could go anywhere and I bet you 30% would say Venice. I say this with some certainty.
In 2007, I spoke at an International Travelers Century Club event in London and at the Gala Dinner that evening, all TCC members went around and said their favorite and least favorite destination and why.
To my surprise at the time, out of some 100 or so attendees, about 30% or so said Venice was their favorite place. To me it sounded too obvious or shortsighted but at the time I had only been once back in 1998.
Now, having been back twice since 2007, I can say I may agree with my traveling peers. Venice is that stunning. It is that epic and it is that fantastic a place to be. I am a lucky man to have seen Venice once and to have seen it three times is beyond luck.
That said, this time I did Venice differently. We stayed at a gorgeous hotel right on the Grand Canal. The room overlooked the canal and it was the type of thing where even if you didn’t leave the room, just staring out the window gave you goose bumps and would have been pleasing enough.
Staying in a luxury hotel in a place like Venice makes all the difference. It’s like going to Tahiti and not staying in over water bungalows. It loses something if you don’t do it right.
Steps away from the hotel was Piazza de San Marco. Besides maybe the Vatican or Red Square, it has to be the most recognizable square in the world. It may be swarming with tourists but this is Venice, the word is out, people know about it. So accept the tourists and move on, San Marco is gorgeous and it is a pleasure to walk around it.
But the real fantasy of Venice is strolling the random streets, getting lost in the labyrinth of canals, walkways and bridges. Walking the wrong way and being dead-ended. It’s all a part of the fun as you have your gelato and the stomachache from eating too much pizza and pasta at a canal side restaurant. That is Venice.
Venice is the best and Venice at night may be even better than Venice during the day when all the cruise ship people have gone back to their boats. It is still crowded, have no delusions that you will have Venice to yourself during peak months but it is spectacular.
Venice is timeless. Venice is special. Venice is unique. Venice is a dream destination.
Padua or Padova as the Italians call it is a great little town. My Italian buddy Alberto told me that it was a mandatory stop after Venice so I obliged him and was very happy with the stop in Padua.
Aside from possibly having the worst street signs in history, Padua had a lot to offer and made a great day trip. The main square in this small university town is very cool and boasts a basilica on each end. The Basilica di Sant’Antonio is particularly impressive from both the outside and inside. But 20 minutes walk down the walking street that goes through town is the Cappella degli Scrovegni.
The Cappella is an unassuming little place that is actually pretty hard to find due to the lack of street signs and a confusing layout. However, the frescos inside are breathtaking. Not quite the Sistine Chapel but it is of that ilk.
I actually wasn’t supposed to take these pictures and was yelled at for doing so but before you get to enter the chapel they make you watch this stupid 15-minute video on the chapel-so I felt I was in the right! The video is boring, useless and of poor quality. The reason being you enter as a group of 25 people maximum and you get briefed on what you are about to see. You’re then escorted in for exactly 15 minutes an then that’s it.
I am happy I went, it was a cool sight to see. I wouldn’t go back because of the stringent requirements and that damn video. Nobody remembers anything they ever watch in videos like that. I don’t know why they make you sit through it.
Apparently Shakespeare knew what he was talking about when he decided to set Romeo and Juliet in Verona. The atmospheric place is a great town to walk around. They call it ‘Little Rome’ for its imperial importance but it reminded me more of Florence.
It does boast a massive arena that actually sits 20,000 for concerts and shows right in the middle of the old town square. It is very impressive but what I loved about Verona was walking the back streets and stumbling onto little piazzas back away from Juliet’s house and the shopping streets where a seemingly endless amount of Asian tourists clamor for Prada and Gucci.
Like Florence and Rome and all of Italy, it is packed with tourists of all kind but Verona struck me as a place where you could get away and find your own kind of Verona. You don’t need a map, there aren’t any must see tourist spots. The arena isn’t miss-able so you’ll see that. Don’t bother with Juliet’s house. It is a tourist trap and not what you’d expect.
Just stroll the streets and see the city. Eat at an outdoor restaurant and take in the charm of Verona. You can’t miss it; it’ll just find you.