One of my favorite traditions of Padova is getting together with friends in the early evening to drink “spritzes”, an aperitif made from fizzy water, white wine, and either aperol or campari (actual recipes change from bar to bar). While one may imbibe a spritz in most bars in Padova (and Venice), to do things correctly, spritz are best drunk in one of the piazzas in the city center. In Padova, the Piazza della Frutta and Piazza delle Erbe fill up with people between 6:30 and 8:30, roughly, and then just as quickly, empty out again as people drift off towards dinner.

It’s a very pleasant way to start the evening after a day of work – you head down and meet up with a friend or two, but because it’s centrally located, you often bump into other friends and acquaintances. In fact, spritzes are usually not consumed while seated, so it’s easy to mingle.

Going to “the spritz” is not just a seasonal pastime. It’s pleasant to go out for a spritz on a crisp, clear, cold winter’s evening, but perhaps they are best enjoyed on a nice spring or summer evening, when it’s easy to sip away an hour or two while chatting and admiring from afar the occasional attractive woman (this is Italy, after all). Mostly though, the ambiance is provided by history, rather than youth. The two piazzas are divided by the Palazzo della Ragione (Palace of Reason), a very large hall originally constructed in the 13th century for purposes of administration and the dispensation of justice. And the piazzas themselves are in the very center of Padova, laid out in a grid-like fashion by the Romans some 2000 years ago on the remains of even earlier settlements.

I’m eclectic in terms of my interests, but also in terms of friends. That’s one of my other favorite things about going down to “the spritz” for a drink – since everyone circulates freely, it’s a sort of neutral territory, compared to this or that favorite bar of a particular group of friends. Anyone and everyone goes, from the hard-core “no-global” kids with dreadlocks and ratty clothes, to lawyers and accountants unwinding after a day of work, to glitzy girls anxious to show off whatever fancy label clothing they consider to be the in thing this month.

I’ve never seen a fight there, either. I think about different crowds mixing, with alcohol flowing freely in a university town in the states, and one can’t help but wondering about things “getting out of control”. Of course, it happens on occasion to have a spritz or two too many, but drinking in Italy is almost always social – a part of going out with friends, but not a crutch.

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