April 7, 2012
Three reasons why I chose to spend our trip’s second-to-last night in Vicenza:
1) Venice’s accommodation was ridiculously expensive over the Easter weekend
2) We would fly back home from Milan
3) I wanted to visit Villa La Rotonda
The third point is the most important. Villa La Rotonda is a privately owned villa designed by Andrea Palladio and its opening times is infamously restricted (Admission €10, Wed and Sat only, 10:00 – 12:00, 15:00 – 18:00). While researching on Vicenzia before the trip the one constant thing I found was how people mistimed their schedule and ended up failing to enter the villa.
We booked the night of April 6th at Hotel Continental (€75 for a double room). Compares to what the Venice hotels were asking (for example, Hotel Gabrielli Sandwirth’s rate was €240), staying in Vicenza was an absolute bargain.
The next morning, we intended to store our luggage at the train station before taking the hourly No. 8 bus to the villa but were shocked that there wasn’t any available. To save the trouble and buy some time, we hired a taxi to Villa La Rotonda and asked the driver to wait for us at its entrance. I wasn’t certain that the villa was opened over the Easter weekend until I received the tickets from the doorman – to be able to see a site that so many had tried and failed was curiously satisfying.
And Villa La Rotonda justified the effort. After a week-long onslaught of some of the best cathedrals and palaces on earth, we were still in awe the moment we stepped inside. The fact that it is a private property offered us a different perspective – some form of social gathering in one of the living room might very well take place and a formal dinner could be held in the dining room on any given day outside of Wednesdays and Saturdays. It is a house still in use and apparently very well taken care of, more than four hundred years after its creation.
We lingered at the villa and its garden for a full hour even though every second was literally money. For the ride back to the town centre I requested to be dropped off at another Palladio’s masterpiece and the world’ oldest surviving enclosed theatre – the Teatro Olimpico (Admission €6.50).
I looked after our luggage while my wife went in first; when she came out ten minutes later she said she could have stayed for much longer if I wasn’t waiting outside. Past the reception were some displays on the play, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, the theatre was intended for. The theatre, designed to represent the streets of Thebes, was only in-use for a few productions and has been left as it is since. The highly detailed wooden structure onstage wouldn’t look out of place next to the Roman Forum.
We headed west for the train station on one of the main street Corso Andrea Palladio. Probably because Vicenza is slightly off the beaten path, the street was quite empty and we had a leisurely walk through town, passing by the pleasant Piazza dei Signori and the town’s Duomo and then detouring into some side streets.
Given the choice of spending our trip’s last afternoon in Verona or Milan, I chose the former. For obviously reason Milan doesn’t hold much appeal to me. My wife had already done her shopping in Rome so she was also happy to give it a pass.
The weather turned for the worse as our train approached Verona. Heavy rain poured from the sky – a first on this trip. No surprise about luggage storage this time – it’s located next to the entrance (€5 for five hours). We boarded the No. 13 bus and got off at Piazza Bra where Verona’s most famous attraction, Arena di Verona, is situated.
We took advantage of the suddenly cleared sky to check out the arena (Admission €6). The ancient structure was in the midst of its annual preparation for the summer opera season. Unlike the Colosseum visitors are allowed to climb the tiered limestone seats, which was a slippery ordeal after the rain.
Besides the arena, Verona has a good mix of attractions spanning across the Roman era to the Renaissance like Castelvecchio, the Roman Theatre, the Basilica di San Zeno and the Duomo. Of course there is also the tourist trap Juliet’s House. Given our limited time and general lethargy, we chose instead to focus on what we like best – to simply walk around and count whatever we come across as bonus. It seemed like an infallible decision, especially in what’s said to be one of Italy’s most attractive towns.
But part of the fun of traveling is being wrong. Verona, at least on this day, was as crowded as any place I have ever been, including Venice. The weather was also a factor as the rain returned after a brief halt, giving everything a grey hue. The underlying reason of my rather unfavorable impression of Verona, however, was that the town failed to enhance what we had already experienced at previous stops on the trip. We had seen better roman architecture or churches elsewhere; our casual strolls were more enjoyable in Rome or Venice. Or Vicenza just a few hours ago.
Looking back, we were bound to see only Verona’s downside with just a few hours in town over the Easter weekend at the tail end of our trip. I can see why so many people love it – it is a pretty town with a diverse range of sites. Still, I can’t come up with a good reason to recommend Verona besides the amusing scene of people of all ages gathering to rub a bronze statue of Juliet for good luck.