On Wednesday 14 June we woke to grey skies. We couldn’t complain, as we’d had glorious sunshine for all six of our full walking days. But now it was time to move on. We took a taxi to the nearest railway station, and a train to Nova Gorica, on the Italian border. Then it was farewell to Slovenia!
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Italy, several times, but we certainly haven’t seen all of it. We’ve long wanted to see the opera in the great amphitheatre at Verona; Bologna was also on our bucket list. Needless to say, while planning and researching this trip we thought of several other places: ‘While we’re there, we might as well…’. We ended up with no fewer than 13 cities to fit in!
Until about a year ago, we’d never heard of Udine. Then Sandie read a Guardian travel article about Friuli, a region of Italy largely undiscovered by tourists. It included a photo of a beautiful square in Udine; we learned that Friuli is in the north-east corner of Italy, making Udine an ideal first stop for people coming from Slovenia.
We were at first rather disappointed with Udine. The castle has an art gallery, but the building itself is unexciting; ditto the cathedral. The Piazza della Libertad has buildings and statues modelled closely on those in St Mark’s Square, Venice, but the piazza is not really a square, more of a thoroughfare, and it is not surrounded by cafés, as we imagined. Part of the problem, however, is that the weather was bad (grey and wet) when we arrived. The next day was fine, the sun was shining, and the city looked much more attractive.
The Piazza della Libertad looked more beautiful, but was still spoilt by the scaffolding and netting put up to cover fountains and statues which were being restored. We actually preferred the Piazza San Giacomo, which has (in our view) a greater claim to be called the main square of the city: a big square with one fountain, and no statues, but surrounded by cafés and buildings in a variety of colours.
The guidebooks refer to Treviso as the ‘little Venice’ – it’s not far away, and has canals! It really cannot compare, but it is interesting in its own right. There are of course a number of churches. Sandie was politely asked to leave the cathedral, as she was wearing a sleeveless top! But after she’d changed, we went back and were able to see the famous painting of the Annunciation, by Titian. Other churches had walls covered with frescoes – there’s no point in our trying to list them all, even if we could remember which work by which artist was in which church.
The centre of the town is picturesque, with narrow medieval streets, and canals with willow trees and water wheels. We walked round a section of the city walls, and returned there in the evening as it was the location of the ‘Elvis Days’ festival, which we thought might be worth a look. Bizarrely, it reminded us of the Italian festival in Venice (Florida) back in February. There were crowds of people, stalls selling all kinds of food, drink and other goods, bands playing and people dancing. The only additional thing here was a contest for Elvis impersonators – we saw three, and were amused rather than impressed.
Prosecco is a popular drink in Treviso, and we enjoyed a number of glasses while there. There is a restaurant which claims to be where tiramisu (Ian’s favourite dessert) was invented, so he had to sample that. We had a very nice apartment for our two-night stay; as it was now 11 days since we had left home the washing machine proved very useful!
Our visit to Padua did not start well. It is no great distance from Treviso, and we caught an early train, so we arrived at 9.15. We’d booked a hotel near the station, so the plan was to dump our luggage there and be free to explore. However… we found the road easily enough, but could see no sign of the hotel. We tried a different road where it appeared to be signed, but no luck. Sandie asked a man who did not know, but used his phone to get precise walking directions to the hotel, which it said was just four minutes away.
Unfortunately, the directions were completely wrong, and we ended up back at the station! What made it worse was that a wheel had come off our big case, and Ian was struggling to carry it. He found a visitor information office on the station, but the woman there had not heard of our hotel either. Eventually we tracked it down – it was further along the road we’d walked in the first place. Not far at all, but we had to use a taxi, because the case was so heavy.
Luckily for us, the hotel receptionist was very kind, and spoke excellent English. She managed to find a room we could check into immediately, and suggested places where we could buy a new suitcase. The nearest was a ‘Chinese shop’, which had a large selection, all very cheap. Ian took our new case back to the hotel, while Sandie went on to the Scrovegni Chapel, to collect the tickets we’d pre-booked for 4pm that afternoon.
The Capella Scrovegni is famous because of the brilliantly coloured frescoes by Giotto which cover the walls. Yet more frescoes … but these really are something special. They are carefully preserved by keeping the chapel climate-controlled and restricting the number of visitors. It is necessary to book in advance for a specific time. On the side of the chapel there is a waiting room – a kind of airlock which seats 25 people. Every 15 minutes, the doors open just long enough for one group to enter, another group to move through to the chapel itself, and a third group to leave the building. It is very highly organised (and if you miss your slot, you’ve had it!) but it works and it was well worth the wait.
The other main attraction in Padua is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio – not really to our taste, but impressive for two reasons. First, the interior decoration is incredibly ornate – as Ian remarked, it’s over the top and down the other side. Second, we were amazed by the crowds of people there: we had not realised that it’s still a major pilgrimage destination. But photography was forbidden, so we cannot show you what it is like.
We also visited the Palazzo de Ragione, a vast hall covered in (guess what?) frescoes!