Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bologna! No Venice!

Day 1: Mantova
Individual arrival. The cabins are available from 4.30 p.m. The boat is moored at Porto Catena, just a short walk from the city centre. The meeting with the tour leader and the crew is scheduled at dinner-time, at 7 p.m. Mantova is one of the most beautiful towns in Northern Italy, where a lot of worldwide known artists left their master-pieces, thanks to the financial support of the famous Gonzaga family.

We are sitting on the train in the Rome Station. Robin and Bjarne are in the next car. It is 10:45 am and we get off at Bologna after 1pm and find the train to Mantova where we meet our barge and Group.

It is now 3:15 and we've changed trains in Bologna and Medena. We are headed to Mantova.The first train we caught went to Venice by way of Bologna. We jumped off at Bologna (this time we did not want Venice) and got the train to Medena. Yes, Italy has nice trains but walking into a gigantic train station and finding the right track and train is no small feat. Bjarne is leading and Carol is second guessing and Robin and I follow blindly. Actually, Robin is savvy and knows what is going on. I am happy to be oblivious.

Stop at Carpi.

A few times we drag our heavy suitcases down the stairs at a station, under the tracks, then up the stairs on the other side of the tracks.

At Mantua Bjarne reads the map provided by Rad and Riessen and leads us from the train station to the port, about 2 miles of dragging suitcases. Nice city with fewer people. It was great to see our barge, the Ave Maria.

Introducing Mantua

As serene as the three lakes it sits beside, Mantua (Mantova) is home to sumptuous ducal palaces and a string of atmospheric, cobbled squares. Settled by the Etruscans in the 10th century, it has long been prosperous, the Latin poet Virgil was born just outside the modern town in 70 BC, Shakespeare's Romeo heard of Juliet's death here and Verdi set his tragic, 19th-century opera, Rigoletto, in its melancholy fog-bound streets.
Mantua's 400-year heyday, however, began in the 14th century when the city passed to the fast-living, art-loving Gonzaga dynasty, one of Italy's great Renaissance families. It rapidly became an important buffer state between the expansionist ambitions of Milan and Venice, and attracted leading lights such as writer Petrarch, Renaissance teacher Feltre and artists Mantegna, Rubens and Romano. Even now, and despite a worrying wobble after the earthquake of 2012, the city preserves its illustrious and antique history in its fabulous art and architecture. The golden days of 'La Gloriosa' ceased when Austria took control in 1708 and ruled (aside from the Napoleonic interlude in the late 1700s) until 1866, when Mantua joined Italy.

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