Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Taste of Padova

September 19, 2008

As promised, this post will be chalk full of pictures! The last few days have been spent exploring more of Padova and visiting some of the famous sites. Thankfully the weekend storm did not carry over to Monday, so it was actually pleasant out, even though the temperature is now noticeably cooler. I can definitely tell that autumn has started, too because the leaves are changing color and the air is crisp : ) After two weeks, I’ve finally come to appreciate the walk to class and how beautiful it is. Along the way there’s a river we have to cross, and that morning it was smooth as glass, perfectly reflecting the trees lining its banks. Of course I couldn’t resist taking a photo or two. The rest of the day seemed to go on forever. During class we had an Italian student come in so we could ask him questions about Padova, universit√†, going out, etc., which was sort of helpful. That afternoon we had another conferenza, aka lecture, this time about the Palazzo del Bo’, where the original Universit√† degli Studi di Padova was founded. I don’t understand why they put these lectures in the middle of the afternoon, right after lunch, when everyone is ready to take a nap. Afterward, we took a walk to centro to actually visit the Bo’. On the way, we passed this wall with some amazing, diverse graffiti. We also got to witness a very unique Italian tradition… With September here, Italian students are graduating, and the tradition in Italy is to make the graduate do all these crazy things in public in front of friends and family. All around the city we’ve been seeing these funny gatherings, some involving stripping, others costumes and face paint. While waiting for our tour Monday, there was a girl in a wig and red dress with face painted silver, surrounded by her friends and family. Seeing these things makes me both glad I’m not going to graduate in Italy and also kind of wish I was. Also, they put up posters around the city center with pictures and blurbs about the graduate, so anyone passing can read about them, sort of like a public yearbook. While waiting, I also took pics of this huge building across from the Bo’, although unsure what it was at the time, and later found out that it’s the Palazzo Moroni, which houses Padova’s city hall. The Palazzo del Bo’ was a lot more interesting than I had been expecting, but paying attention to the tour was rather hard since I was dead tired. At the entrance of the building there are marble plaques with the names of all the students and teachers who fought in WWI and WWII engraved to memorialize their sacrifice. Next to these is also a piece of modern “art”, basically a wall of wooden slabs, the top half smooth and the lower half disorderly, also to memorialize the war veterans. There was also a marble piece dedicated to Galileo Galilei, who was actually a professor at the university hundreds of years ago. As you walk inside toward the central quad, the ceilings and walls are covered with family crests of past students. At the foot of the stairs taking you up to the second level, there is also a statue of Elena Lucrezia, the first female college graduate in the world, who earned her degree at Padova!
Next our tour guide took us into the Sala Medici, where medical students would study. On one wall there were paintings of the human body and form to represent the nature of the discipline. In truth, I was so tired it was difficult to follow the tour guide’s words, especially since biology, medicine, and the sciences in general are not extremely interesting to me. After lecturing us for a good 20 minutes, she led us into the famous Teatro Anatomia, a huge wooden amphitheater where med students would observe autopsies, dissections, etc. down in the center. We got to look up from the spot in the middle, so we couldn't see the theater in it's entirety, but they had a mini diorama of it so we could see what it looks like from above, too. She also showed us some of the gadgets and gizmos they invented back then, like a full-body metal suit to “straighten out the spine”. The worst part, however, was when she started telling us about the vivisection that was done in the theater and showed us the “tools” used. She even said that they preferred to use pigs over dogs because “they died slower”. Thank God that was the end, because I literally felt sick hearing about those poor animals.
Tuesday was a pretty fun and busy day actually. For our oral presentations this week, we chose different university-affiliated organizations to visit and learn about, and my partner and I got the sports and recreation facility called C.U.S., pronounced like cous cous : ) Our appointment to visit was at 4 in the afternoon, so I decided to take advantage of the time before and the nice weather and go check out a few famous sites in Padova! I headed first to the Basilica di Sant’Antonio, known locally simply as Il Santo and named for the city’s patron saint, it’s basically the Duomo of Padova. The outside of the church is absolutely magnificent, made entirely of brick with, with seven cupolas (two being pyramidal), and a gorgeous tower. I can already tell that the churches here are very different than the standard white columned churches so plentiful in Roma, and I think I prefer the ones here better; they have more character I think. The piazza in front of the church is always filled with pigeons, so it was fun to walk through the crowd of them and watch them scamper away : ) The square also has a famous statue of a horse and rider by Donatello, called Gattamelata. I didn’t spend very much time inside because I didn’t have a guidebook to tell me what everything important is, so I just perused since I know I’ll be back in the future better informed. No photos were allowed, but there was one chapel that struck me, beautifully colored with shiny bits here and there, so I carefully snuck a pic of it. But then out of the corner of my eye I saw a security guy start walking toward me, so I quickly made a beeline for the exit.
Next I headed toward Prato della Valle, and along the way passed the river that meanders through the city. It was so pretty, with houses and buildings on either side, and a welcome bit of nature to add charm to the city. Prato della Valle is my new favorite place in Padova. The second biggest square in Europe after the Red Square in Moscow, the elliptical shaped Prato della Valle measures 90,000 square meters with a green island at the center, L'Isola Memmia, surrounded by a small canal bordered by two rings of 78 statues portraying famous citizens of Padova. Not only is it magnificently beautiful, but it’s also the perfect place to come relax on a nice day, have a picnic, read a book, or meet a friend, and as I wandered around it’s perimeter, I saw local Italians doing just that. In the center there’s a pretty fountain, which just happened to have a dog init at the time. He was scared of the water squirting out of the center, and was barking hysterically at it. At first I thought it was funny, but then I began wondering where his owners were and why he didn’t just get out of the fountain. I went a little crazy with the photos here, as every angle was breathtaking. The water channel clearly reflected the blue sky and statues, the bridges that crossed it at intervals were lovely, and in the background was the magnificent Basilica di Santa Giustina, where I headed next. Also made of brick and with several cupolas of its own, Santa Giustina could definitely give Sant’Antonio a run for its money. Inside was pretty, but nothing too notable. The church houses the remains and relics of several saints, so there are many chapels, each dedicated to a different one. Off from the main church, you can visit a special chapel by walking through a corridor. Not knowing who any of these saints were, however, I wasn’t too intrigued. In the corridor, however, was a long, coffin-sized cage, which was apparently the old cage of Saint Luke. Pilgrims and visitors had even stuffed scraps of paper with notes and prayers inside it. As I left, I noticed that in contrast to the rest of the church, the ceiling had a cool modern looking circle design on the ceiling. I met my presentation partner, Katie, by the fountain in the center of Prato della Valle. The dog was gone, so hopefully his owner had taken him home. We waited for Carly and Stephanie, who were doing the same thing for their presentation in their class, then headed to C.U.S. On the way there, I finally got to see some of the remnants of the city walls. Although pretty intact in some places, they don’t compare at all to the ones in Lucca. Their set-up is kind of unique though because they are broken up by porte, these massive arches, all along their length, and some spots even have little bridges for people to scale the tops of them. It took us a while to find, and when we finally did, we were a little disappointed. The facilities weren’t very impressive: just a gym and some tennis courts. I guess they have another location with fields and stuff though. We basically got all the info we needed from some flyers and pamphlets, so there was little need to talk to the guy at the front desk, but we did so anyway for practice.
While we were talking these two guys came in behind us, and as we went to leave they stopped us to ask if we spoke English. Turns out they’re from Erasmus and asked us to give them info on C.U.S. since they don’t speak Italian. We ended us talking with them for a while, and then ended up walking back the same way. It was one of those awkward moments when you say bye to someone and then start walking the same direction, like in Superbad. We decided they were nice though, so we caught up to them and walked with them back to Prato della Valle. That day there was a market with food – mostly meats and cheeses – in the piazza, so we walked along there inspecting the goods. There were even some booths set up playing some really great American music (and relatively small artists – Ben Harper in Italy?), so the whole square just had this really great vibe that day. When we passed Sant’Antonio, I bought some postcards and a cloth “poster” of Italy to hang in my room from the tourist stands lining the front of the church. Then we parted ways with the boys and headed back home. Feeling both exhausted and accomplished, I took it easy the rest of the evening.Wednesday at school was dull, but we did get the good news that our presentations were pushed back til Friday. I decided to spend my afternoon by doing some more Padova sight-seeing at the Orto Botanico, a UNESCO World Heritage site and also the world's oldest academic botanical garden, founded in 1545, that is still in its original location. Admission for students is free and it was practically empty when I went, so those were some nice perks. It’s such a relaxed atmosphere; you can go right up close to any plant or tree without someone looking over your shoulder ready to scream “Don’t touch!” The set-up was very cool too, with a central garden surrounded by walls, with plants both inside and outside, and several buildings housing various special collections. There was such a variety of plants, and they were all so unique looking. I have no idea how they take care of them and manage all their individual needs… It was great being immersed in such a green environment, too.
Some highlights in the garden were the insectivorous and carnivorous plants, the wide array of medicinal plants, the variety of cacti, the Goethe Palm (the oldest plant in the garden, housed in its own greenhouse), and my favorite, the waterlilies! They must have had over 10 different varieties, including these massive, 3 feet wide ones, I kid you not. They almost look fake because of their sheer size! I just couldn’t take my eyes off them. Some of the types of waterlilies had pretty blossoms, while others were simple green lily pads, and still others were slightly spiky looking. Overall the garden was wonderful, the perfect way to spend an hour out of the day. I’ll definitely be going back, just to be immersed in nature again and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. On my way out I spotted a mother duck and her baby in the river below, searching for food in the plants. The baby was so cute, making these quacking noises every few seconds and struggling to keep up with his mother…I followed them for a while, to the other side of the bridge, and I couldn’t help but watch with a big smile on my face. When I got back I found a really great flight to Barcelona online, which my friends and I had been planning a trip to, so later that evening we booked them. We were so eager to get them before the price went up though that it got a little messy. Gabi accidentally typed my credit card info into Justine’s booking, and hers into mine. Hers went through with my card, but something wasn’t working with her card so my booking didn’t go through. Everything got super confusing, we thought we had booked too many, and then we weren’t sure if ours went through, and there was no way of checking really. It ended up being fine, but I had to book mine on my credit card too, so Justine will have to pay me back for hers. But at least that’s taken care of and were going to Barcelona! I can’t wait : )
With no presentations Thursday, we could go out for spritz that night (the famous Wednesday night here) and not have to worry... I wasn’t sure how much fun I would have, since once again, I’d be completely sober, but the night took an interesting twist. While we were sitting in a bar in the “Ghetto” (an alley off of Piazza delle Erbe), I spotted a very attractive guy, and of course pointed him out to the other girls. Them being drink, thought it was good idea to just “go say hi”. Me being sober and awkward about speaking Italian, wasn’t so sure. We went outside to leave, and the guy and his friend came out right after and stood right behind us. For at least five minutes, we discussed approaching the guy, and how he was so hot, and blah blah blah. All of a sudden Carly turns around and says ciao, so of course I have to turn around and talk to them too. The guys friend was closest to me, and to my horror, started speaking English to me! Which meant he understood, or at least got the gist, of the fact that we had been obsessing about his friend for the last 5 minutes! Anyway, they were both really nice, and it was good practice speaking Italian with them, although predictably awkward without a drink to loosen me up. Carly and I ended up talking to them for a while, and finally went back out to the piazza together. The conversation had many random topics though, and at one point a very ubriaca Carly and I found ourselves trying to explain the concept of “potty training” to the guys, in Italian! It turns out the guys live right by Copernico, and since it was super cold, they offered to drive us home, which was much appreciated since it was late and would have taken 20 minutes to walk home. When we were saying goodbye at the door, they both started to pull out their phones to get my number first, but hot guys friend was unfortunately faster. By the end of the night, I wasn’t really interested anymore anyway, but they were nice guys and we had fun talking with them.
Thursday was very blah. I was supposed to work on my presentation, so Katie came by for a bit and we started our power point, but I really wasn’t in the mood and wanted to take a nap, so of course I put it off, wrote postcards and I slept for a good 4 hours instead. I didn’t end up working on it til midnight, and then stayed up til 4am trying to memorize it, so it was a good thing I took that nap!
Friday I got up early to go to my last blood test, and because it took much longer than before, I was an hour late for class. My presentation went pretty well, I remembered all my lines, but I think my nervousness showed through pretty clearly. Afterward, all 3 classes got together to watch a slideshow of pics from the gita, and I’m so thankful I wasn’t there because the pics of everyone were not so flattering. Then our teachers tried to make us play some stupid farewell end-of-ILP game, where you wrote something about the person on a piece of paper stuck to their back. Really, how old are we? Then we walked to the Study Center for a “lunch” they had prepared for us. By lunch, I mean mini pinwheels with mayo and bits of some other things and potato chips.
The highlight of the day, however, was discovering that my package had finally arrived! I was so excited I literally pranced! Everyone was super jealous and wanted to see everything that was in it. The clothes were all wonderful, but it was also great to have all those little knick knacks too. And of course the fact that it came from my mom made it even more special. I waited til I got home to open it and inspect the contents in detail, and immediately opened, unwrapped, tried on, and put things up in my room. I have a lovely calendar to write all my travel plans on, framed photos of my puppy and family and photos of my friends and I for the wall, new headphones for my iPod, lots and LOTS of post its, a book, wonderful clothes I had picked out, and even a crossword cut from the newspaper because my mom knows I love them. There was even rhinestones and super glue, which I immediately put to use bedazzling my cell phone : ) But in the process, I accidently got some in my bangs! I impulsively decided I must cut them myself, and did so not having a clue what I was doing. Luckily, before I did too much damage, I realized that it could be brushed out.
I made a quick trip that afternoon back to the mall to get a few more winter things from H&M. I had had my eye on this really cute houndstooth coat, and I also wanted couple more scarves, plus I saw this really great light-weight sweater that will be perfect for layering. So for the time being, besides boots which I’m still looking for, I’m pretty set with clothes for the new cold weather.
That night I wore my new zebra dress from the package. Even though we didn’t know of anything going on that night, we all got pretty dressed up anyway…I even wore wedges! We went to our bar, Tio Pepe’s, or Uncle Pepper to me, for dinner first, and I got my usual veggie soup (I’ve now been there like 4 nights in a row!). I was a little sad watching the girls drink their spritz, so I asked them for a nonalcoholic drink, and they brought me this pretty, fruity, pink cocktail which was very yummy, and made it very easy to pretend it was the real thing. As I suspected, nothing was going on that night. By the time we had walked all the way to centro and met up with some kids from our program, drunk of course, I just wasn’t feeling it, and rather than stay there in a bad mood, I walked back to the dorm, sorely regretting my choice in shoes for the night.
Overall it was a pretty fantastic week, and I’m loving my new city even more as I get to know it better everyday. I’m not sure what’s planned for this weekend, perhaps maybe a day trip with Gabi and Justine, and probably some studying for our final on Monday, but I’m looking forward to it!

Un bacione!
xoxo

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