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17 May 2020 - Day 36 – Mantua and Verona

When I got up, showering was a challenge. No curtain or partition, I had to use a handheld spray to direct water. So it was a stop-and-go, wet, lather, rinse, shampoo and rinse again. Then I dug out what fresh clothes I needed for the day from the still zipped roller to dress. I squeezed both oranges, ate the yogurt and a croissant, and prepared to leave. Another cool cloudy day ahead, I had to plan extra, as after leaving #Brescia, I’d drop my bag at the hotel in Verona, before proceeding on to #Mantova (Mantua) for the day.

Leaving the key on the table and closing the locked door behind me, I lugged the roller down a flight and then pushed it to the train station. I had enough time there to grab a cup of decaf before getting out to the center platform for the 8:33 to #Verona Porta Nuova. Checking email, I had a Facebook birthday reminder for yesterday: my niece and nephew, and a friend for high school; I posted best wishes. Forty-five-minute ride, I had a tight window once we got to Verona.

So I was on the platform and hustling for the escalator down, through the subway and up, out the door of the station at a fast walk. Supposedly a 10-minute walk to the Hotel Firenze, I crossed the canal and pedestrian walkway, around the rotary of Porta Nuova and walked into the lobby in 8-minutes. Dropping my bag, I would register on my return, and I headed back to the station. The next train to #Mantua left 35 minutes after my initial arrival, so I was hustling. Reaching the train door as the whistle blew, I slipped in and plunked down in the first seat I found. (The next rain I could use, with a diversion and much longer ride, was in 80 minutes.)

The train pulled into Mantova as it is known in Italy at half past ten. I had 4-hours to explore the city. Per my planning, the actual cathedral was 2.3 kilometers away, although the co-cathedral/basilica was on the way. Being a Sunday, I knew I couldn’t “tourist” while Mass was underway, so I’d visit the closer basilica first. It closes at noon for Mass. The Duomo was open from 10am to 6pm. With really only two turns through the commercial district to get to the Piazza Mantegna and the Concattedrale Basilica di Sant'Andrea, I arrived just before 11.

An imposing Renaissance church, a square brick bell tower sits north of the west façade with its deep and tall arched porch. Faced with a cream white stucco, the trim is gold-brown. Over the porch, the ceiling is coffered, a motif repeated inside. Entering into the nave, the barrel vault is painted to resemble the coffering from outside and what is used for many of the side chapels in what would be side aisles. The crossing is magnificent, but the transepts are basically hung with large oil paintings and contain large doorways. Renaissance decorations cover most all the surfaces of the support columns. The sanctuary has an organ console and pipes mounted on the south sanctuary wall, overlooking the plain marble table of the main altar. To its rear the high altar sits against the back of the apse wall with clear lights surmounted by round circular windows. The basilica is known for its relics of Christ’s Blood, which are displayed only on Good Friday. It has been a pilgrimage site since the reign of Charlemagne.

Noon was approaching, so I vacated the basilica and headed towards the cathedral. The old city of Mantua is built at the bend in the Mincio River where it widens to form a “lake”. The Mincio sources at Lake Garda, a boundary between Lombardy and the Veneto. Both the basilica and the Cattedrale di San Pietro are angled so the “western façade” actually faces southwest, in a direct line. The cathedral is a physically smaller building, having a baroque façade with gothic elements. A Romanesque bell tower is to the “south” of the apse. Again, a false top of the façade, not actually part of the building structure. Additionally, triangular brick projections line the side walls, seemingly without purpose. The “western façade” has a central double door (and two side doors) under a rectangular window with clear glass. Four columns support the pediment with a shield in its center and four statues bracketing a metal cross with cherubs.

The interior nave has five aisles, with the outer pairs having a barrel ceiling closer to the center, and a coffer ceiling to the outside, where chapels line those outside walls. The aisles have supporting Corinthian columns the length of the nave. The north transept leads to an octagonal chamber, with the walls hung with oil paintings, with a single altar. The crossing has a small octagonal dome, while the south transept has the altar for the reserved sacrament. The sanctuary is deep, up a set of stairs, and behind a chest high railing. The cathedra sits to the epistle side.

With about three-quarters of an hour before I needed to catch a train back to Verona, I crossed the Piazza Castello to St George’s Castle. Built in the fourteenth century, Castello di San Giorgio was the fortress of the ruling Gonzaga family. Closed, it was on the way to the riverfront. Walking between the riverfront Giardini Marani and the formal Giardino dei Semplici, it was a calming and pleasant walk. The river’s edge came to an inlet, the marina Porto Catena, which has to be walked around, so I began cutting across this protrusion in the river.

Passing more parish churches, I walked in front of Teatro Sociale di Mantova where folks were sitting under partly cloudy skies having late lunch. With only about 8 minutes, I needed to start hustling, and got to the platform just as the train pulled in. During the 45-minute return ride, I was able to get my journal up-to-date on Mantua/Mantova, and have a little snack from my goodies from yesterday’s market. From the Porta Nuova station, it was two and a half kilometers, or a 35 minute walk to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Matricolare. Verona is situated at a double oxbow in the Adige River, with the cathedral at the northern end of the eastern bend. It would be open until 6pm (2.5+ hours), closing at 6 for 6:30 Sunday Mass.

Setting off to the north, I passed my hotel, and stuck my head in to ask if they wanted me to check-in, or if it could wait until evening. While the room was ready, they said it could wait, so I continued on the Corso Porta Nova, a divide boulevard bordered by retail shops along its stretch. Ending at the Piazza Brà, I spotted a public restroom nearby in the park and checked it out. Passing yet another statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, the park ended and I veered left to true north, which carried me through yet more commercial and retail space, including the “Romeo and Juliet Experience”.

Reaching the Porta dei Borsari, the traditional entry point into the city of Verona, I’d reached the river. I followed the river to the right, passing higher end retail and service locations until the riverwalk ended and I found myself int the Piazza Duomo parking lot. The end façade here also faces southwest. There is a projected porch with columns on griffins for support. A second level is over this porch, below a circular window into the vault. Both are rife with statues. There are two access doors, the main at the west front, and a door on the south side. The south side bears striping of light and dark stone, with red being the predominant dark color. A separate 16th century bell tower is at the southeast corner.

Three wide aisles fill the nave with columns of red Veronese marble. The flooring is mainly black and white marble. Side altar/chapels are short and dark. The transepts have much natural light. The main altar is raised two steps, sitting in front of a circular stone cage-like structure. Behind are the choir stalls and chapter seating in the apse with the high altar. The ceiling is mainly white stucco with darker ribs. Partial domes exist only in the transepts. Several organs are found mounted on walls, gilded, with bifold doors with painted scenes.

As closing time approached, the organist began tuning and setting the organ, so I decided to stay for Mass. I determined entry was from the south door, so while I waited, I walked around the cathedral, spotting small parish churches on the north and south sides. By the time I perambulated the cathedral, it had been cleared and parishioners were entering for evening Mass. I walked in and found a spot in back and on the side, and sat in contemplation, and then journaling. Thinking this was my first Italian language Mass (can it be greatly different than Latin?) I began to mentally count how many languages I’ve heard for Mass. I think I now have a dozen. The organist began playing as more folks arrived. There was a good crowd, and the service wasn’t hard to follow. Next week on Thursday is Ascension, so the sermon seemed to be about always being prepared to meet God. The hymns were “new” style, not the classics I grew up with, so the music really didn’t get to me, except for the prelude and postludes, which were Albinoni and Vivaldi transcripts. I didn’t go up for a blessing at Communion, but I asked what the process was as I was leaving, so I might in the future.

With at least a half hour walk back, and wanting to eat dinner sometime soon, I checked with Google and got an alternate route back, taking me away from the river and through the commercial district. That was, until I go to the park at Piazza Brà. At the Piazza Della Erbe, I found a historic square filled with restaurants. Umbrellas cover tables in front of coffee shops, pizza places, bars. I strolled the square, checking menus and plans, smiling at waiters trying to hustle me in for my evening meal. Nothing really screamed at me, so I returned to the street and kept walking.

A small crowd was taking pictures (read selfies) outside the Capulet house, with “Juliet’s Balcony” or her statue as the required background. Next historic point was the Porta Leoni, just part of the old gate. The next stretch, for about 10 minutes, didn’t really have much to offer in the way of dining. Reaching the park and the Corso Porto Nuova, I began checking down side streets, as much of what lined the boulevard was sushi or pizza. That’s how I found Locanda degli Scaligeri. Not keen on eating beef so soon, I asked if I could have two Primi piatto. “Of course,” was the reply.

Then I asked for the seafood risotto, followed by pappardelle con ragu’ di Anatra. The risotto was delicious; creamy, with a crawfish, mussels, shrimp, scallops and whitefish. The waiter suggested, and I accepted, a spumante – sparkling white, dry, and perfect. With the duck ragu, a light red that I didn’t get to see, but I went well too. And I opted for dessert, to see how they handled the crumbly cookie: sbrisolona con recioto. The cookie came pre-crumbled, in several pieces and lightly dusted with confectionery sugar and drizzled with chocolate. It contained bits of berry and nuts, which I liked. The recioto is a sweet dessert wine made from dried grapes, like an Amarone, but more raison-y. It went well. They were able to make me a decaf, so I could counter all the sweet.

The hotel was within 10 minutes by stroll. They’d put my roller in the room, and all I had to do was sign in and show a passport. Up three levels by lift,

I had a large room with a big bed, French doors which opened to look out at the street, and plenty of space to open up the roller. I’d written in my journal before Mass and then while dining, so it was pretty much up to date. While the photos were downloading, I began writing for the blog. There was no urgency for tomorrow. Hotel Firenze is a Best Western, so I guess American creature comforts are part of the deal. Nice comfortable space.

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