Today was our last day on the barge. Actually, our last few hours because they wanted us out and gone by 9 a.m. in order to prepare for the rooms for their next, and final, group of the season. So we said goodbye to Rosita, who had to leave at 8 for a long drive to meet her next tour group (not with the barge), ate breakfast and dragged our luggage off to our hotel. Darryl had booked the Hotel Broletto months earlier and it was only about a 10-minute walk from the barge so it was no problem getting there. We had found where it was located the evening before but, because they couldn’t put all 19 of us up together in the main hotel, they put us in an adjunct building (Broletto Residences) across the square and down and alley. The rooms were still acceptable though. One nice discovery was that our room, and all the others, had a huge towel warmer, almost a floor-to-ceiling radiator that was great for drying clothes that desperately needed to be washed!
After stowing our luggage, some of us went off to the Palazzo Ducale for a tour. This is the second largest residence in Italy, after the Vatican, although most of the vast building is now closed to the public. It was the ever-expanding home of the Gonzaga family, who ruled Mantua for 400 years, until 1707. There was a lineup for tickets and Lucille and I got separated from the others. Due to a communication error with a guard (no English on his part, no Italian on mine) who prevented us from going into an area that seemed to be open, Lucille and I were directed to go to another area. There were some Rubens paintings and nice architecture and frescoes in the 4 rooms that we saw but not really worth the entry fee. Later, we found out that the guard only wanted us to see that area first and then come back to wing that he was guarding. The others said that it was quite impressive, like a mini Versailles. I’ll have to take their word for it :(. Clear signage would have been appreciated.
Not knowing where the others were (still touring the castle), Lucille and I went off to find where the Bibiena Theatre was located, as she wanted to go to a ballet there that night. It turned out that it wasn’t too far away but wasn’t open. It is a very ordinary looking building from the outside but supposed to be gorgeous inside. Apparently, Mozart had played there when he was 13 and said that it was the most beautiful theatre in the world. We finally ran into more of our group and had lunch at one of the many patio restaurants on the Piazza Erbe.
Other interesting facts about Mantua: Verdi set his opera Rigoletto in Mantua, Shakespeare had Romeo in Mantua when he heard of Juliet’s death in Verona, and the Latin poet Virgil was born just outside of town. It’s not a tourist hot-spot – most tourists just go to Verona, only an hour to the north – so it’s not too crowded and there are lots of interesting things to see. Mostly churches mind you, but there is a lot of history in that town. The rest of the day was spent visiting said churches, with the odd break for beer/wine/coffee and sampling the free food and wine that vendors were offering in the squares. Some purchases were made.
Chris had made a reservation for all 19 of us at one of the better restaurants for 7 p.m., its opening time, but the place was chaotic to say the least. Six of the group had to head off to the ballet for 8:30 but it took forever for the waiters to get their act together. We were a large group admittedly but speedy or efficient service does not seem to be an Italian priority. The ballet group barely had enough time to eat before running off and the rest of us spent at least another hour there before being able to leave.
Our hotel was on one of the (many) squares in the centre of town and our room overlooked an alley just off the square. During the day, the square and sidewalks were filled with vendors and tents – much like a farmer’s market – even spreading up the narrow alleys.
I figured that the noise of the day would die down at night, but NO. With the bars still open to all hours, and being a Saturday night I suppose, the partying went on until 3 a.m. Yawn.