On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Posts tagged ‘Mantua’

Mantua – Oct 10

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.

One of the hallways in the Palazzo Ducale, though roped off so we couldn't walk in.

One of the hallways in the Palazzo Ducale, though roped off so we couldn’t walk in.

One of the many churches (the Duomo, I forget) had shutters on it's organ. Doubt if they ever close them though.

One of the many churches (the Duomo I think) had shutters on it’s organ. Doubt if they ever close them though.

One of the many squares with vendors. Good place to score free samples of cheese and wine!

One of the many squares with vendors. Good place to score free samples of cheese and wine!

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.

Vendor in the alley just under our window.

Vendor in the alley just under our window.

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.

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Biking Italy – Oct 9

Today was our final day of biking on the bike/barge tour and Rosita led us out of town on a clockwise loop around and through a large nature reserve northwest of Mantua. Our first stop, after 10 km, was in the small town of Curtatone where she showed us the Basilica Santa Maria delle Grazie. Large but unimposing and typically ornate inside, the church is an important pilgrimage spot and is still visited by great numbers of pilgrims. The interior is strikingly different from any church I have seen before. Most churches display pious statues of various religious figures but this one also displays life sized statues of people from different walks of life who represent a particular miracle that saved them from a gruesome death thanks to their prayers to the Virgin Mary. I am sure that the one of the guy with his shoulders dislocated and legs chopped off wishes she had acted a bit sooner though!

Large square but unimposing church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Large square but unimposing church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Statues of people facing gruesome death, supposedly saved by Virgin Mary. Methinks a little too late for some.

Statues of people facing gruesome death, supposedly saved by Virgin Mary. Methinks a little too late for some.

Continuing on through quiet streets, dirt and paved trails, this route was a lot more interesting than our former diet of boring levees. At least we got to travel through a few small towns and park-like settings along with the canal trails.

Through quiet residential streets...

Through quiet residential streets…

...along gravel roads...

…along gravel roads…

...and canal roads, a nice route through the park.

…and canal roads, a nice route through the park.

After 28 km, we diverted into the small town of Soave for coffee, where we also picked up a few bottles of beer and wine for future breaks (thank goodness for panniers).

Typical mid-morning coffee/beer stop. There was always a cafe at a convenient distance on the rides.

Typical mid-morning coffee/beer stop. There was always a cafe at a convenient distance on the rides.

Back on quiet trails, we eventually crossed a causeway between 2 of the lakes around Mantua (Lago Superiore and Lago di Mezzo) and back into town.

Back on the park trails...

Back on the park trails.

The causeway path between the lakes.

The causeway path between the lakes.

Riding beside Lago Superiore...

Riding beside Lago Superiore.

A huge collection of lily pads. Or a collection of huge lily pads. Whatever....

A huge collection of lily pads. Or a collection of huge lily pads. Whatever….

Mike by the lake.

Mike by the lake.

Rather than go straight to the barge, now only a few km away, we decided to have lunch at a vacant restaurant patio located right off the path. With nobody in sight, we took over a bunch of the tables, opened our beer and wine stocks and had a nice picnic lunch. It was a little disconcerting when Darryl somehow set off an alarm but no cops came and it eventually turned off.

Getting ready to take over the patio of an, as yet, unopened restaurant.

Getting ready to take over the patio of an, as yet, unopened restaurant.

Back at the barge, after stowing our bikes for the last time, some of us wandered off to explore the town before supper. The Basilica di Sant’Andrea is a standout – a massive, ornate church with an 80-metre high cupola. The frescoes are deceiving – they appear to be 3-dimensional but are actually just painted in the trompe l’oeil style – you have to get within a few feet before you realize that they are not carvings.

Inside the impressive Basilica di Sant'Andrea. Lovely frescoes.

Inside the impressive Basilica di Sant’Andrea. Lovely frescoes.

I'm still not standing at the back of the church. Our guide told us that the architect of St. Peter's in Rome used this church as a test case for design.

I’m still not standing at the back of the church. Our guide told us that the architect of St. Peter’s in Rome used this church as a test case for design.

Our route for Oct. 9th.

Biking Italy – Oct 8

The following morning, Oct. 8th, we set off from Zelo for Mantua, our final destination on this tour.

Offloading the bikes in Ferrara.

The bikes lined up on the dock in Zelo.

After riding for 15 km, Rosita led us to a cheese processing facility where they make Grana Padano, an absolutely delicious, tangy, hard cheese. I had never heard of it before but others in the group were almost salivating at the hope of getting samples. Our guide explained how the cheese was made, a careful and complex process. Then she took us into the warehouse where the 40-kg wheels of cheese were being ripened. Each wheel is turned every 2 weeks and aged from 9 months to 2 years before sale. Following the tour, we all trooped outside where they did indeed treat us to healthy sized chunks of Grana Padano and, of course, wine. What a great way to start a day of cycling!

Racks of 40-kg wheels of Grana Padano cheese.

Racks of 40-kg wheels of Grana Padano cheese.

That would exceed my baggage limit unfortunately.

That would exceed my baggage limit unfortunately.

The stacks were approx. 22 high, 26 rows, 23 deep. At 40 kg each, that's over half a million kgs of cheese!

The stacks were approx. 22 high, 26 rows, 23 deep. At 40 kg each, that’s over half a million kgs of cheese!

Enjoying the finer things in life - wine and good cheese.

Enjoying the finer things in life – wine and good cheese.

A few kms later, we stopped in Bergantino, where the main industry is making amusement park rides. Not a small-time endeavour, the rides manufactured in the town are sold to amusement parks all over the world. We toured the museum, had a presentation on how the industry has evolved, saw many examples of older rides and carnival instruments (player pianos, calliopes) and how they use present day technology in the new rides. This was definitely a change from touring churches and castles!

The amusement park ride museum in Bergantino.

The amusement park ride museum in Bergantino.

After lunch in Bergantino, we hit the road (levees, mostly) again for another 30+ km. We met the barge, moored alongside another boat, just outside of the small town of Governolo. We hauled our bikes onboard and set off to cruise into Mantua. Sam and Sara, our chefs, fed us snacks while we lounged on deck, enjoying seeing the bird life on the river, including white herons, swans and egrets.

Back on the levees

Back on the levees

The parade of senior cyclists.

The parade of senior cyclists owning the road.

The Vita Pugna waiting for us to arrive.

The Vita Pugna waiting for us to arrive, snuggled up against some other boat.

Cruising with wine (again) and munchies.

Cruising with wine (again) and munchies on way to Mantua.

White heron looking for its own snacks.

White heron looking for its own snacks.

Rosita walked us through some areas of Mantua that evening but she was disappointed that her favourite gelateria was closed. So was the ducal palace but, since we are staying here for 2 more nights, we should be able to tour it another time.

The ducal palace at night.

The ducal palace at night.

Our route for today.

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