Aside from the amazing site visits in each of the cities, I was extremely fascinated by the cultural and atmospherical differences between each city. Those towns include: Gubbio, Urbino, Padova, Mantova, and Verona (Venice was a three-day stop between Padova and Mantova). Even the drive to each city on our huge tour bus was spectacular. We got to see sites such as the one above for hours at a time.
Gubbio was our very first stop of the trip. During our free time many of us took cable cars to the town’s overlook. I was expecting closed elevators of some sort, but they turned out to be standing, bird cage-like lifts. Being able to stand in the open air while climbing the great hill was thrilling.
Urbino, like Gubbio, is a small hilly town. The scenery was lush and the local cuisine was delicious. The weather was a bit chilly at night as well, so it was nice to bundle up in coats and scarves while wandering the cobblestone streets at night.
Padova was a very short stop, but we were able to see a famous café while there. This café, Caffè Pedrocchi, was decked out in marble, frescoes, grand staircases, and fine fabrics. My favorite room was the yellow ball room where we saw a private party being set up. The rest of the city was quiet but busy – filled with markets, eateries, and shops. For lunch we got to buy fresh fruit from the market, and it was without a doubt the best fruit I have had in Italy. Padova felt like a happy medium between a small town like Urbino and a big city like Rome.
Mantova was similar to Padova in that it was not as remote as Gubbio but not nearly as chaotic as Rome. It shares a similar atmosphere to that of a small college town like New Haven. The buildings were very old, but they were upkept in a modern manner, and the city sits on a large lake with walking paths and boating docks. The restaurants were fantastic and specialized in pumpkin pasta. One night a group of opera singers from Japan broke out into song so the whole restaurant enjoyed a free performance. There was also a street festival on our last night. Every store and restaurant extended their hours, there was live music and street performances, a car show, and tons of people enjoying the activities. My favorite performance was a singing and dancing marching band – they immediately put smiles on everyone’s faces!
Saving the most classic town for last, Verona was definitely the most iconic and touristy of the small destinations. Here we enjoyed much during our free time. I climbed to the top of the town’s clock tower and saw a view of the city, wrote a letter to Juliet under the balcony where Romeo called to her, and then visited a beautiful garden with the class.