One for the Road

Friday, May 09, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 18:  Tremezzo, Italy to Padova, Italy
Late morning we checked out of Hotel La Perla, the charming family-run hotel in Tremezzo where we have been for the last three days.  The twin sister owners both had to retrieve their husbands so all could bid us farewell before we left.  All kindly inquired about Ken's health and wished us safe travels.

The day was sunny if a bit hazy as we drove south along the shore of Lake Como (pictured above).  Though we found the scenery in the area stunning, tourists have been flocking to Lake Como since Roman times.  It retains more authenticity than the pancake houses and wax museums of places like Gatlinburg and Williamsburg, reminding us more of Bar Harbor or Jackson Hole.  Lake Como is definitely one of those places we're glad we visited but won't return to.

Leaving the narrow, winding state highway SS340 behind, we entered the Italian motorway system north of Milan, quickly transitioning from A9 to A8 and then to A4, which spans the breadth of northern Italy from Turin to Trieste.  Unlike the state roads, Italy's autostradas are well-designed, meticulously maintained and free of road kill and other litter.  A4 maintained three lanes in either direction for the length of our trip, always with guardrails or other physical barriers between eastbound and westbound lanes.

Pullout areas for emergency use only
Every kilometer or so, an 'SOS' pullout area is provided along the roadside, allowing vehicles to park well away from ongoing traffic in case of emergency.  Typically on this highway, these were screened by hedges from the adjacent property, but we never figured out why.  

After paying more than €18 (about $25) in tolls on the A4, we learned a bit about how the highway is so well maintained.  Still, at least the money appeared to be well spent on the actual road, rather than disappearing into some black hole as tolls on so many deteriorating, potholed highways in the U.S. seem to do.

Number in circles denote speed limits for that vehicle
In many parts of Europe, trucks and trailers are subject to varying speed limits based on their size and cargo and are required to display the limits on the back of the vehicle.  Limits are specified for single and dual carriageways and in some countries a third number for limited access motorways.  Exorbitant fines can befall the owners of vehicles unlabeled.

Arriving in Padua around 4 pm, we checked into Hotel Belludi 37, strategically located between the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua and the city's massive square, Prato della Valle.  Delaying our departure from Tremezzo due to ill health squeezed us to less than 12 hours in this fascinating city, so we hit the streets right away.  Just across the street, the basilica was our first stop.  Constructed between 1232 and 1310 and repeatedly enlarged since, this shrine to St. Anthony draws pilgrims from all over the world.  The interior of the church features spectacular mosaics and frescoes as well as a baroque chapel showcasing the relics of St. Anthony.

Basilica of San Antonio 
Strolling to the opposite end of Belludi Street from the church, we reached Padua's central, square, Prato della Valle.  At more than 22 acres, this is the largest public square in Italy and one of the largest in Europe.  Reclaimed from swampland in 1636, 'Il Prato' (the lawn), as it is known locally, originally was used as a lavish theater for mock battles on horseback.  Later it was transformed into the green space it remains today, a huge grassy oval centered by a fountain and bordered by a canal lined with statues of important figures in Italian history.   On Saturday mornings, the square's perimeter is engulfed with vendors for the weekly city market.

Il Prato
Just a short half-mile walk from the oval square took us to the University of Padua. Founded in 1222, the university is among the world's oldest, boasting a stellar group of student and staff alumni.  Copernicus studied there, and later Galileo taught there.  At the heart of the university is the 'Bo,' a building which originally housed an inn whose sign featured an ox (bo, in Italian).  When the building became part of the university in the 1500s, the name was retained.  Surrounding the old courtyard of the Bo is a double loggia whose walls and ceilings are beautifully lined with coats of arms of students who have studied at the university.

The Bo
 In one corner of the courtyard sits a statue of Elena Cornaro Piscopia of Venice.  A child prodigy who had mastered Latin and Greek by age seven, Elena went on to become fluent in seven languages.  After mastering almost the entire body of knowledge of her time, she became an expert musician, composing music and becoming a maestro of the violin, harp and harpsichord.  In 1678, she became the first woman to be awarded an advanced university degree as she was presented a doctor of philosophy at the university.

With both of us plagued by sore throats and facing an early start tomorrow, we cut our sightseeing short after the university, found some dinner and returned to the hotel, regretting that we didn't have more time to spend in this historic city.

Tomorrow we have a tight schedule as we drive to Trieste, 126 miles away and try to return our Italian car rental in time to get over the border to a Hertz office in Slovenia for another car, thus avoiding a $500 drop-off charge.  And both the rental offices close at noon because it will be Saturday.
FRIDAY, 9 MAY 2014
Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  217
  • Weather:  Sunny, 55° to 74°
  • Tunnels:  27
  • Trucks on A4:  16,283
  • SOS pullouts:  195
  • Statues in Il Prato:  78
  • People enjoying sunny afternoon in Il Prato:  893

Guardrails on motorways often are two sections high