Arrivederci, Italy

Italy 2012, continued — final post

Arrivederci means “until we see each other again,” and that finality lingered around us when we woke up early that morning.  No high water siren last night, and we wanted one last walk in Venice before braving the airplane trip home later in the day.

Venice bridge foggy It was foggy this morning, too early for the boatloads of tourists.  We’ve learned that secret over the years, that the tourists don’t get up much before ten and disappear after dinner, so that you have the run of a town during the night and morning hours.

Bird with Umbrella Sign

I think I must have some thirty pictures of this serpent with the umbrella heads; it’s fascinating every time I see it.  At night, the umbrellas light up.

Foggy delivery

Rialto foggy

Rialto Bridge.

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Rialto Bridge with vaparetto.  The vaparetto has a large number of people on it–I guess working Venice is up and around, just not the shop owners.

Venice bas relief wall

Venice Alitalia

Heading into San Marco square.  It’s amazing how quickly we could get there with no one out on the streets.  We have one tiny wrinkle in the day’s plans: we have to buy a separate ticket for our vaparetto to the airport, as it’s run by a different company.  This was discovered last night, too late to do anything about it, so we figure we’ll walk until 9:00 a.m., head over to the ticket agency, rush back to the hotel and hopefully make the right boat to the airport.

San Marco tourists foggy

Some tourists have arrived, standing on the high water walkways in San Marco square.  The fog makes this place seem other-worldly, mysterious.

San Marco in fog

San Marco flagpoles foggy

San Marco docks in fog

San Marco in fog sweeper

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 I looked past the gondolas, to the vaparetto stop, and poked Dave–“Hey! I think I see the ticket agency.”  “It won’t be open.” “Let’s try it anyway.”  Lo and behold, an outlier: there was one ticket window and it was open and we were able to buy the tickets.  Big Relief.  Traveling is just so many moving parts.

San Marco arch

We walk back up through San Marco.

Venice canal foggy1

Venice street sweeper

Venice Louis Vuitton

Venice Lion bas relief

Hoping it is faster, we jump onto the vaparetto at Accademia, and enjoy one more ride up the canal. The fog is beginning to break, and we look for Dave’s favorite building.

Venice Traghetto

Venice grand canal foggy3

There are several cross-canal routes, done standing up on a traghetto.

Venice grand canal red building

We see the “red” building from last night, and a boat appears to be loading giant loud speakers, or some sort of musical equipment.

Venice grand canal red building sign

Now you know as much as I do.

Venice grand canal foggy1

Venice grand canal foggy2

Venice DAE Fav Building

A foggy shot of Dave’s favorite building, with the golden mosaics on the front.

DAE fav building

Our stop at Ca’D’Or comes up and we’re off.

Ca D'or building

It’s named for this building, which used to be ornate, apparently.

Ca D'or corner

Ca D'or window

From here, we walk to our hotel, eat one more of those perfect breakfasts, gather our things and head towards the Fond. Nuvo stop, where we caught the vaparetto to Burano yesterday.  This morning, though, we join a crowd waiting for the airport water bus.  Suitcases get thrown (and I mean, thrown) in the front and passengers go down three steps to sit in the belly of the waterbus.  We had the usual chaos at the Venice airport (the usual Italian bureaucracy has prevented the airport from expanding, and there are signs posted everywhere to let you know), then a flight to Frankfurt, then to Dulles, Washington, then LAX.  We arrive back to our home around 3 a.m., and even though we both were able to snag rows of seats on the Dulles to LAX leg, and sort of stretch out for some sleep, we are tired.

I could put the usual pithy quote about travel in Italy here, but  will spare you.  We do have the desire to go to Italy again, but next time, we’ll try to avoid All Saints Weekend, rainy weather, bad pillows (the only flaw in the Venice hotel), and remember to always bring the granola bars.

Arrivederci!

Burano, of Many Colors

 Italy 2012, continued: November 2, 2012

Murano and Burano MapWe leave from the Fondamente Nova vaparetto stop, which is on the backside of the main islands, and head straight out past Venice’s cemetery, on an island all its own.  First stop is Murano (glass making) with our final destination for the day Burano (lace making).

Cemetario wall.jpgWe join the throngs of other tourists, load up (we race to the back to get an outdoor seat) and head out past the cemetery, on its own island.

We’d first been to Burano in 2007, when on a tour with our friends to Murano, then Burano.  But the tour guide was in cahoots with the glass-making people and we spent an inordinate amount of time captive in the glass maker’s shop, and only 20 minutes on Burano.  We wanted to reverse that today.

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Deliveries–everything’s by boat.

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We approach Murano and its “furnaces,” or fornaio.  Each building is a different glass maker.  Murano also is a series of islands like Venice, albeit a smaller cluster. They also make lace here on Murano, a dying art, as it’s time-intensive and the best kind is done by hand.

Burano_3 Murano.jpg

We are going on to Burano, a fishing village, or so the story goes.

Burano_4a.jpgWe land in Burano, and everyone gets off the boat.  Most head straight ahead, but at our first opportunity, we take a left, away from the crowds.  When we were here before, we were captivated by the colorful houses–technicolor, brilliantly painted houses.  The tour guide that time told us that it was a way for the fishermen to find their way back home in the fog, since there has been fishing there since the 6th century.  But now Wikipedia notes that “the colours of the houses follow a specific system originating from the golden age of its development; if someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colours permitted for that lot.”

Whatever the original reason, the houses are like being in another world.  This post is mostly just pictures of these houses, as there’s really nothing I know about them. I could tell you someone famous lives here or there (and they probably do), but if I’d known that would it have changed how we interacted with this amazing colorful island?  I think not.  So, scroll, quickly or slowly, and enjoy the houses of Burano.

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Now, doesn’t it make you want to head to Home Depot and repaint your house?  We were saved from that urge by the fact that we’d done it last year.  Around every corner was a new sight, a new color.  We saw the young man on his scooter, and Dave helped two lost Asian tourists who were trying to find their way to the vaparetto.  We wanted to get lost, so were relieved not to see crowds.

Burano Acqua Alta barriersThe acqua alta barriers (flooding of high water) on their doorways were really high, and we found the one below pretty interesting, marking the years the aqua alta was highest.

Burano acqua alta markingsThe fact that we’d arrived during “siesta” probably accounted for the deserted streets, as we could hear the sounds of dishes and people talking inside their houses, but no one was around.

Burano canal 1We turned right and here seemed to be a main canal.  The reflections of the houses on the water captivated us; please enjoy endure the following similar photos as I couldn’t choose just one.

Burano canal 2

Burano canal 3

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Burano arch

Burano DAE ESEA young couple walked by and we snagged them for our Christmas card photo.  Believe me, I was dying to digitally erase those white dots, but I restrained myself.  If I had really thought I would put this on our Christmas card, I might have put on some lipstick or something. Dave always looks good.

Burano lacemaker 1We cross over the bridge and down the other side is a woman who is working on making lace by hand.  I’m sure this piece will sell for thousands in the shops.  We avoided the shops because, after reading Brunetti, we’ve learned that most of the lace goods come from Asia.  I would have loved to have taken a completed piece of real Burano lace home with me, but I’ll have to be content with this photo.

Burano lacemaker 2

Burano lacemaker 3

Burano washing linesWhat I loved about this photo was the way the washing lines were propped up mid-square with two sticks.

Dave in BuranoThe fabulous Dave.

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shrine 12I think this shrine on Burano was one of my favorites: the blue wall, the tiled Saint Fatima, the white flowers in the green box.  Perfect.

shrine 13I also liked this one–these colors were magnificent.  We were really glad it was a bright sunny day, for although we got shots of people’s laundry (including those black undies near the fuse box in the photos above), the sun lit up the houses like they were illuminated from within.

shrine 14It was now late afternoon, and the Tourist Crankies were setting in because we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and regretfully forgotten our Emergency Granola Bars back in the hotel.  We were approaching the main town area and looked at several restaurants but then reconsidered because we wanted to beat the crush back to Venice so we could enjoy our last evening there.  We’d had such a lovely time by ourselves photographing the colorful houses, that we decided just to head for Venice.  There was a crush at the vaparetto stop, but we were early, so did get a seat on the way home.  I found one granola bar in the bottom of my backpack and we shared that, then we both dozed on the way home, awoken when a rogue wave splashed in through the vaparetto windows, drenching the couple next to me.  I didn’t get wet at all.

cemetario church 2I was able to get a better photograph of the church part of the cemetery this time, the whole building glowing in the setting sun.

Cemetario church
Venice Cemetary brick wall
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Rowers in GondolaGondola practice?

Sculpture Men in BoatThen there was this curious sculpture placed out in the lagoon as we neared Venice. The only thing I could find about it (in English) was that it was a representation of a poor fisherman saving Venice through the appearance of celestial visitors.  Or something.

Church CannaregioBack on Venice, we stopped for a small snack in a local shop, then walked home, passing this (closed) church.  Near our hotel is this water spigot/fountain that we mostly see filled with pigeons.

Venice Pigeon's bath

Water balloonsBut today there were two boys, filling water balloons.

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hotelallevitedorataWe refresh, but since we are still hungry, we head out, turning right onto the main drag up through Cannaregio, kind of like we are following their line of red dots (which is direction to Ca’ D’oro vaparetto stop, but in the same direction as we are headed).  Strada Nova is crowded, with shops still vending and people still shopping, a real party and lively atmosphere.  We stop to buy some chocolates to take back with us and some torrone (but it’s not as good as the one by San Zaccharia).

Venice Evening Day2This was a view down one side canal toward the Grand Canal.  We keep going, cross a few more bridges, then wander off to the right, up over two small bridges and see a small restaurant on the canal.

TrattoriaMisercordiaVeniceOut front there’s a guy out front in a spiffy suit, hawking to tourists — hawking to people just like us, who are tired and hungry and ready to eat even though it’s not even six o’clock in the evening and a real Venetian wouldn’t be caught dead sitting down to dinner.  Of course there was the chalkboard with the requisite three courses, the menu with the six languages.  We shrug and say, why not.  It was a good choice.

TrattoriaMisercordiaVeniceDinner2First up, they bring us an aperitivo.  No thank you, we said, we don’t drink.  Shock.  Amazement. Incredulity.

TrattoriaMisercordiaPolentaInstead, a plate of some delicious polenta topped with bolognese sauce was brought to our table for a “starter.”

TrattoriaMisercordiaVenicespaghetticheesegrilledvegDave had pasta with cheese, which looked like to me it was leftover spaghetti pressed into a mold, then cut and lightly baked, then broiled (?).  I think this is a good idea, especially if grilled vegetables are added to the plate, then a drizzle of vinegar.

TrattoriaMisercordiaVenicespicy spaghettiMy pasta course was spicy spaghetti with vegetables.  I had never thought to ramp up the spiciness on spaghetti before, but it was delicious.

TrattoriaMisercordiaVenicesalmonWe both chose the salmon, again, with grilled vegetables.  And the Italian way — the salad at the end of the meal (below).

TrattoriaMisercordiaSalad.jpgHe tried to offer us an after-dinner drink again, but again, we declined.  No dessert? He asked?  No, I said.  I prefer to have some chocolate.

TrattoriaMisericordiaDessertSo they brought us each this delicious treat, on the house.

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We really enjoyed talking to the owner, as we were the only ones in the restaurant for most of the meal.  He grew up in Venice, but after marrying, moved to Maestre, but still runs the family business.  We talked about the aqua alta (he was in early that morning, sweeping out, vacuuming, washing down our tables and chairs), as this was his livelihood.  I’d go there again in a heartbeat, as the food was delicious (and the owner spoke English).  He said he moved out to Maestre because it was really hard to raise a family in Venice–not even a place to play soccer.  We say goodbye, but are not ready to say goodbye to Venice yet, so we hop onto a vaparetto and ride down the Grand Canal.

Red Building Grand CanalThis is when you know you are really on the Outside, Looking In.  It’s when you see a building on the Grand Canal all lit up in exotic red, with boats of the glitterati stepping up onto the private loading dock and entering this building.  It looked fabulous to all of us peons on the vaparetto.  Even the drivers were pointing at it.

Nighttime Rialto BridgeRialto Bridge

Nighttime Venice Fish MaketThe Fish Market, after dark.  The action happens here in the early morning.

Nighttime Santa Maria della SaluteSanta Maria della Salute

We get off at San Zaccharia, buy our last wedge of torrone to take home, then walk slowly back to our hotel through the streets, and the happy tourists, and the business-like Venetians, back through the chilled air, Dave and I together in Venice for one last night.

Coming up: one more post before we say good-bye to Italy.

Venice Churches and Sights

Italy 2012, continued

 

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Water overlapping a doorway, across the canal from our hotel

Late in the night, we hear the aqua alta (high water) sirens go off.  A website tells us the following:

So, first a siren is used to alert everyone of the high tide alarm.Next, a signal indicates the expected level of high tide – this signal has between 1 and 4 notes.

1 long sound (8 seconds) on the same note = 110cm level of high tide
2 sounds in an upward scale (4 + 8 seconds) = 120cm ” ” ” ”
3 sounds in an upward scale (4+4+8 seconds) = 130cm ” ” ” ”
4 sounds in an upward scale (4+4+4+8 seconds) = 140cm and above

But we are sleepy and tucked in our bed in our perfect hotel, so can’t quite distinguish the sounds.  It is interesting, though, to think that all around you the sea is rising, covering sidewalks and plazas and streets.

Hotel Breakfast 1

Breakfast is a smaller array, fitting for a smaller hotel (only five rooms, with one on the canal–no, we didn’t get that one).

Hotel Breakfast 2

The breakfast room is cheery, and the woman who is running the breakfast brings us fresh-fresh-fresh croissants with chocolate, another warm roll and some hot cocoa.

Venice breakfast

Just outside is that waterlogged door at the top of this post.  We enjoyed the picturesque setting for our breakfast.  I always love the little “trashcans” that Europeans put on the breakfast tables to hold the trash you might generate (the silver tin).

VeniceHotCocoa

The cocoa is served in a double-walled glass mug.  It was the best of the trip, I’d say.

Acqua Alta puddle

Lingering effects of the aqua alta in the night

Over breakfast the reality of the high water does change our itinerary for the day, as we’d planned to jet right out to Burano, but read that when Venice has high water, Burano will have it worse.  Since we don’t want to borrow the boots from the hotel, we decide to see some churches in the morning.

Acqua Alta barrierA high water barrier in a doorway.  We saw many of these.

AcquaAlta walkwaysWalking the high water walkways–moveable platforms that criss-cross affected areas.

Canaregio Street

We step out of our hotel to see this: a cobbled street, still wet from the high water, and lovely vine growing across, bringing some greenery to the brick walled passageway.

Canaregio Market

Just down from us is this market.  When we’d passed by it late in the day, none of this was out, and then *poof* in the morning it all pops out.

Canaregio Sun

We are so happy to see the sun, and enjoy how it lights up the Venetian buildings.

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CannaregioBalconycanal

DAE canal

Walking in Venice is always a series of ups, downs, take a right–no, left–through that plaza, up those stairs, down those steps, so even getting out and getting around is an adventure, a lovely adventure.

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And while we’re walking, I snapped a few photos of shrines.  I noticed that the coin slot for this one had been filled with cement.

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I’m a sucker for this rich cornflower blue, no matter how it is used.

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Venice Doorway

VenetianFlagThe flag of Venice, with its Lion.

Venice ESE

Behind me is what’s known as the jewelbox church, as the marble slabs on the outside of the building are in many colors.  It’s a perfect little church and when we first came to Italy, we could go in with no charge.  Now they will sell you a “church tour” ticket for about 15 euro each ($20 bucks) that lets you in there, plus four other churches that we’d never heard of.  We pass.  Here’s some photos of the outside.  It’s in tight quarters, so hard to get the whole vista.

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Venice Jewelbox Church

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Venice laundry

Must be laundry day.  I rather think we saw so much laundry hanging out because of 1) we were in less-touristy venues, and 2) the sun was out so the clothes could get dry.

Venice laundry2

Venice with DAE

What we do a lot here: study the map.

We spot the Civil Hospital–Yay! we’re almost there. We’re actually headed to the St. Peter and St. Paul church, which is right next door.  From Wikipedia: “The Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo, known in the Venetian dialect as San Zanipolo, is a church in Venice, northern Italy. One of the largest churches in the city, it has the status of a minor basilica. After the 15th century the funeral services of all of Venice’s doges were held here, and twenty-five doges are buried in the church.”  Now you know.

Hospital from afar

Venice graffiti

You don’t see much graffiti here in Venice, but here’s some.

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The exterior doorway.  There was a modest fee, and then we were free to explore the church.  It’s cavernous, with many chapels, funerary monuments in the walls, and the sun was streaming in, lighting up the church.

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I love this shot of the ceiling that Dave took.  He does “landscape” or big picture shots really well.  Somewhere along the line, between here and Burano, his camera developed a problem with the sensors and so went out of commission.  I remember when we used to travel and had only one camera.  Travel is much nicer now that we both have our own, as our photographic interests compliment each other: I like the details and he likes the bigger picture.  After Burano, we shared my camera, but only had a day before we left.

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A side chapel.  The ceilings were wonderfully ornate, but I kept taking pictures of the floors, as they were interesting-to-me interlocking patterns. (I won’t bore you with photos.  Okay, maybe one.)

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Back to the ceilings.  Do you think they built scaffolds and did all the plasterwork and painting while laying on their back, or made it down on the ground and then affixed them to the ceiling?  I vote the latter.

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Beautiful, subtle colors of the aged glass.

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SSPeterPaul rosy floor

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What is this?  A layered image of a painting in a chapel and the chapel’s glass door reflecting the stained glass window on the opposite wall.  It’s also a sign that the tourist has Church Sights Fatigue and needs to get out and walk around the town.

Venice utility boats

From the sacred to the utilitarian.  This clutch of boats has all kinds: construction, delivery, personal water boats.  But we turn left out of the church and head to San Francisco della Vigna, a church I’d read about on a blog I love to read: Venezia Blog.  The writer of that blog is living my fantasy, of having a home in Venice.  But it’s only that. . . a fantasy, not real.  But I wouldn’t mind if for a month or so.

Venice Glowing Buildings

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More glowing buildings.

San Francesco della Vigna Approach

After walking for a few minutes, passing delivery people, a postman and residents, we come down this narrow calle and can see the front doors of the church.

San Francesco della Vigna Exterior

San Francesco della Vigna facade

San Francesco della Vigna Chapel

Because Dave’s camera is on the fritz, we didn’t get an overview of this quiet church, done in grays and blue-grays, but here’s one (below) from the web:

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This is the first church that Palladio built in Venice, and it reminded me of Santo Spirito in Florence (except for the garish touches of red in the above photo–I don’t remember those when we were there).  I made a beeline for the Virgin and Child Enthroned, by Fra Antonio da Negroponte, a painting described as the most beautiful painting in Venice that most tourists never see.  I’d agree.

San Francesco della VignaMadonna

I spent several coins keeping that light going, trying to get a photo of this.

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I love the putti swimming in the celestial waters above the Madonna’s head.

Virgin and Child Enthroned detail

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But the one the priest wanted us to see was Bellini’s Virgin and Child with Saints.  I’m standing on the steps to this side chapel, as the priest was mopping the floor.  I thought of how our congregations back home clean our church, but I’d never seen it in a Catholic church.  This made me suppose that this was a poorer church, as it didn’t charge admission.  That’s one reason I was happy to donate my coins to the light box on the other painting.

San Francesco della Vignaceiling

Ceiling medallions in nave.

San Francesco della Vignacourtyard

San Francesco della Vigna courtyard2

SanFransiscodellaVigna wall plaque

SanFransiscodellaVigna gift shop

This was the “gift shop,” a side chapel filled with postcards, magazines and newspapers.  I bought three postcards of the glorious Madonna.  One adorned our refrigerator for several weeks after our trip.  The painting is huge, tall, so the postcard didn’t do it justice.  Such is life.  I find that often when I get home from a trip, with the sights and memories fresh in my mind, all my photographs are fairly disappointing.  They are so puny, so lifeless, compared to what I saw.  But after a while the two–my memories and my photos–seem to come to a point of balance, of stasis, and I now, several months later, I find they do an adequate representation of our trip.

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Just for reference, this church is in Castello (upper right), just over the border from Cannaregio (upper left).  Our hotel is in Cannaregio (sited at about where the “r” is in Cannaregio).  That notch in Cannaregio on the upper side of the island is approximately where we will catch the vaparetto for our trip to Burano. We’re getting antsy now, and really want to get to Burano, so we retrace our steps to pick up a few things at our hotel.  Some of the sights as we quickly walked back:

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Looking left out of the front door of the church.  Apparently this courtyard stood in for the Police Headquarters in the German television series based on the Guido Brunetti novels.

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This little girl made us homesick for our granddaughters.

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Venice Shrine3

Venice Shrine 6

Venice canal late in day

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Next post: Burano.

Venice, at last!

Italy 2012, continued

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Marble Sign next to Convent Door

We’d been reading about the Acqua Alta — high water — that had flooded Venice this year, and seen the photos of tourists wading up to their knees in San Marco plaza, so we decided to stay a while longer in Padua to do some shopping.  That would have been a great idea, but it was All Saints Day, November 1st, and most all of the shops were closed.

Padua Street Musicians

So we stopped and listened to some street musicians, had a sweet at a fancy cafe, then walked back home. . . in the drizzle, packed up and headed to the train station, where we grabbed some lunch and caught a train.  There was some discussion about that, as the train that was supposed to be on our track wasn’t, yet there was one on the track behind us and everyone seemed to be going over there.  Of course we can’t understand the announcements over the garbled loud speaker, although we pretend to listen and try to catch something, anything, of what was said.  In the end, we boarded the train behind us and hoped to play Dumb Americans if it didn’t work out.

Venice Train Station

Venice Train Station.  Notice the woman leaning over taking a drink?  She’s wearing rubber boots that go to her knee.  Nearly all the “real” Venetians had some of those on.  We queued up for the vaparetto pass (long lines) avoiding the few puddles that were on the pavement, and bought ourselves a 3-day pass.

Venice Waiting for Vaparetto

We caught a vaparetto down the Grand Canal to our stop at Ca’ D’Oro , and then a short-didn’t-get-too-lost walk to our hotel.

Arriving Cannaregio Hotel

Alle Vite Dorita Hotel

Hotel Alla Vite Dorata, Cannaregio, Venice, Italy

Alle Vite Dorata landing

Looking out to the small side canal from the breakfast room.

Alle Vite Dorita breakfast

Breakfast room.

Alle Vite Dorita room

We checked in, dropped the bags, and like true web addicts, checked to see if we could get on the internet–PERFECT!  Happy, we went out again.

Venice Jugs of Wine

We could see evidence of high water: the elevated walkways, puddles, damp pavement, and the vino guy sweeping out his shop (notice the soggy bottoms of his barrels).  Apparently Cannaregio has less high water than San Marco, and in addition, the hotel was up two steps, and we found out later that this was done expressly to cut down on high water problems.  We watched people bringing empty bottles to this shop, then taking away filled ones.  Maybe that’s one way they get their wine?

Canaregio Building1

We are pretty happy to be here: Venice is familiar and it’s not raining, even a bit of blue sky.  This was just down the street from our little five-room hotel.

Quilt shop Venice Cannaregio

We walked down the shopping street for a while and found a quilt shop–unbelievable prices, so I didn’t buy any fabric, but it was still fun to see.

Venice Purse Seller

We saw a lot of these, and remembered the Guido Brunetti novel where these purse sellers figured prominently into the plot line.

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Venice glowing Lights streetseller

Several street merchants sold these glowing lights; this shot was taken on our return home.

True Venetians

True Venetians.  The city is mostly overrun with tourists like ourselves, and those who live and work in Venice are dwindling.  There was just enough language that we could communicate with so we understood that they were residents.  They obliged me with a photo at our vaparetto stop.

Venice Rialto Bridge Day1

Finally we are here.  Finally we were on a boat headed down the Grand Canal.  The sun was behind us, making the water dark and lighting up the buildings in front of us, and yes, the Rialto Bridge is still here.  Everything is still here, and it feels lovely to be out on the vaparetto taking in the sights.  Dave and I can’t stop grinning like the pair of happy tourists that we are.

Venice Building on Canal1

Venice Fish Market

Rialto Fish, and sometimes, Produce Market.

Venice Canal Day 1

Venice Building on Canal2

I’m always in love with the hues and rich burnished colors of the buildings, as well as the interesting shapes of the windows, the tiny patios and big balconies, the rich heritage of Venice.  I don’t think you go to Venice to see something new; it’s always about the old, and perhaps the art and the food.  But always always it’s about the Grand Canal and the water.

Venice Building on Canal3

Venice Building on Canal4

Wouldn’t this little glassed-in room be a great place for a study? Although you might not ever get any work done because of looking out the window constantly.

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Venice Canal Building 10

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Venice Academia Bridge Day 1

The wooden span of the Accademia Bridge.

Venice Building detail roof

Detail at top of building as we round the corner to see San Marco Square and the Doges Palace (below).

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We are headed one stop further away from San Marcos — down to San Zaccharia.

Venice Crush of People

We cannot believe the crush of tourists everywhere.  We’ve been several times to this city — from December over the Christmas holidays to June in mid-summer — but we’ve never seen it this bad.  We also had a hard time getting rooms in a hotel and we did this four months from departure date.  Someone in the paper shop later that night finally explained to us that all the countries that are Catholic have these days off from school and work, so everyone took a weekend holiday. . . to Venice.

Venice San Zacharia church 2

We remembered how to get to this church, San Zaccharia, for I wanted to see the Bellini Altarpiece.  They’ve improved it with a light (.50 euro) and I gladly contribute as it’s easier to see.  My photo was a bit blurry, even with the light, so here’s one from the web:

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Venice shop soaps

Across the courtyard, a shop selling soaps.

Venice with Dave

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We walk on, headed to the torrone shop.  The best kind ever is purchased here, in Venice, and it doesn’t really keep.  I did bring some home in my suitcase, and it was all gone within a few weeks after being home.

Gondolas passing

I love how this gondoliers is pushing off of the post with his foot; many of them use such resources to keep the boats from jostling or hitting each other.

Venice doorway with medallion

Walking Venice1

See that golden sign up there that says “Per Rialto?”  We learned to follow these toward our destination as we wended our way through the labyrinthian Venetian streets.  Yes, we had a map, and sometimes it even helped.  Mostly you accept that getting lost is part of the experience.

Venice Shrine2

I love the small shrines tucked into the walls, and I determined I would try to photograph more of them on this trip.  Notice the small door with the barely visible coin slot underneath.  Coins for alms, for an extra miracle?

San Marco twilight2

San Marco twilight1

We’ve arrived with the thirty billion other tourists at San Marco square at twilight. The pink light made the marble glow.

San Marco tourists

It is a lovely evening.

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We linger in San Marcos plaza, watching the street vendors pitch the toy of the moment: a whirring, spinning light which they launch high up into the air–a flying globe of wonder, which drops back down to the plaza, sometimes where it was supposed to.  The bells begin to chime and we are surround by the voices of the crowd, the pealing sounds from the bellower, the excitement that everyone feels for being out in the beautiful twilight, in beautiful Venice.

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We start walking toward home, up and over and avoid the tourists.  It’s made a little more difficult by the presence of the aqua alta walkways that go right up the middle of the “street,” cutting down the available walking space.  And of course, we have to stop for pictures like this one.

Dinner night 1

Dinner Stop.  And yes they had a menu in seven different languages, but we are near San Marco, so expect this.

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This was the best part of the meal: a moderately delicious bowl of minestrone.  And the waiter spoke English to us and the two other American couples in this place.  I’m pretty sure the Italians come much later, if at all, to these touristy spots.

Venice Paper maker

After dinner, more winding ways back to our hotel.  I have to say it feels like a big party out here, with lots of people, lights in the shops, action everywhere.  We stop at Il Papiro, a favorite paper shop of ours, then push on.  We found another shop, Paolo Olbi.  That’s Mr. Olbi up there, wrapping up the purchased folios for me to carry home to America.  I rather like this shop–better than Il Paprio, I have to say.

Shrine Venice Rialto Bridge

A shrine with the face worn off, just under the Rialto Bridge.

Gondola shop window

Where the gondoliers shop?

Venice Canal Night

The view from Rialto Bridge at night, looking San Marco direction.

Venice Hotel Chandelier

When we see this beautifully lit Murano glass chandelier, we recognize where we are–two more turns and we are home to our hotel.

Alle Vite Dorita hallway light

We let ourselves in with our key, and there’s another Murano light in our hallway.  We check our emails, get ready for bed, which includes pulling the shutters on the window slightly shut, and head to bed.  The only unfortunate thing in this nearly perfect hotel are the pillows: one is a slab of foam about the size of a bread box and the other is longish pillar of foam about 5″ in diameter.  There were some more regular-looking pillows but they had fancy pillowcases on them, so I thought they were decorative.  It’s when you travel you realize how much you like your own bed, your own pillows, and your own home.  But it is grand to be in Venice!

Menu II

Italy 2012, continued

I left off after that first night in Bologna, at the place that had a giant golden tortellini hanging outside its door. The next morning we went to the breakfast area in Hotel Porta San Mamolo and saw this:

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It’s really easy to become a glutton when you see a spread like this.

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I took one piece of this but it was coconut cake.  Not a favorite. I swallowed my bite and gave the rest to Dave.

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Our choices.

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The breakfast room.  I just want you to know that our breakfasts at home look like this.  Every day.  Right.  This room is a courtyard between the three buildings that has been renovated into a warm and cozy place to dine, as long as you weren’t caught in the draft between the two doors.

Eataly Rush Lunch

For lunch that day, after bebopping around Bologna for a while, it was like someone rang an invisible gong and all of a sudden all the trattorias on the “food” street were packed.  To the brim. When last in New York City, we’d wandered through Eataly in midtown Manhattan and after ducking in and out of several lunch places, we went upstairs in Eataly — in Bologna, Italy.  The waiters were moving at warp speed, as shown in this photo.  We snagged a table for two after only about a ten-minute wait.  We felt blessed, frankly.

Eataly

After placing our order, we looked around.

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EatalyPasta

We were on the second level in a small alcove with pasta on one side of us for sale and vinegars on the other side.

BalsamicVinegarEataly

After lunch I would pick out a vinegar, trying really hard to approximate what I’d seen in the farm and have it wrapped up in bubble wrap and carry it in my suitcase all the way home.  It arrived safely, and I pull it out and feel like I’m in Bologna again.  Plus, I loved the heart-shaped dollop of sealing wax on the top.

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Dave’s dish was some kind of circular noodles, with pork, leeks, and vegetables.  As usual, we played the game of what we thought we ordered was not what showed up on the table.

Eataly LUnch DAE

EatalyBolognese

I ordered Taglierini Bolognese, of course.  After all, we were in Bologna.  The noodle could have been tagilatelle, though.  I didn’t quite get which one.  Apparently they only serve the Bolognese sauce with this thin, flat noodle.  Mine was divine.  I could have it again tomorrow, if I were in Eataly.  In Bologna.

EatalyBologneseESE

That night we tried a couple of places for dinner, but they were already booked up.  We had been warned by the hotel concierege to make our reservations early, but did we listen?  No.  We like to keep our options open, which meant that we only had one option for dinner: Osteria Le Mura across the street from the hotel.

DeMuraRestaurant

We were the only ones there at 8:00 p.m.  We came in, and no one was around–we called out–and finally, from the back the owner/chef? came out and seated us.

DeMuraMenu

He brought around the chalkboard, which was our menu and patiently went through EVERYTHING on the menu. He tried to sell us on one of the 46 euro fish, but we didn’t quite have that in mind.

DeMuraFish

We must have waffled a bit too long, because he said “momento” and returned with this, showing us our fish possibilities.  Um, that doesn’t really help, but at least we know this is fresh fish. I think we ordered the pink one.

DeMura dinner Bologna

Bread basket with the requisite vinegar and oil for our salad.  The bread in Italy runs the gamut from very good to eh.  This was eh.

DeMuraFishEntree

Really terrible picture of our fish with vegetables.  Maybe I should take this down, but here it is.  We didn’t have any dessert, but after paying, walked across the street and went to our room.

Bologna Yogurt Shop

Here’s a few more sights and sounds of Bologna food: first, a celestially decorated frozen yogurt shop.

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A cautionary sign near the tomatoes.

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An array of artichokes, like a wedding bouquet.

BolognaRadicchio

Sinewy radicchio.  All of these vegetables disappeared back into the shops during the afternoon lunch break.  Actually the whole town about dried up and disappeared.  They take their afternoon lunch hours very seriously.

FaveCookies

I’d read in one of my Guido Brunetti books about fave, an almond-flavored small cookie that is only sold around All Saints Day.  I exclaimed excitedly over this basket in one of the shops.  We bought one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.  They were delicious.

Bologna Train Station Sandwiches

This was our last meal in Bologna–warm ham and cheese sandwiches, purchased from the train station.  This is one of those times that the bread was amazing–a foccacia with just the right amount of saltiness.

PaduaCafeteria1

For some reason, we thought that eating at BREK cafeteria in Padua would be a good experience–after all the guide  book that came with our Padua Tourist Card said it would be great.  Bad idea. Imagine high school cafeteria does Italian food.

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Dave was the enthusiastic champion of eating here (we were tired and hungry and it was close by), but after he tasted my entree, even he agreed that it was pitiful.  On the way home, we sampled some  of previously-purchased chocolate and mine, again, was “icky,” as I wrote in my journal. Maybe we were just tired–tired of traveling, tired of fighting the internet at our hotel (it never did work properly), tired of the rain, but just like home where some meals are just cheese sandwiches or their ilk, some meals while traveling are equally forgettable.  This was one of them.

Padua Breakfast1

These pictures show our breakfast choices at this hotel.  While it looks like quite a spread, I think we’re homesick for our hotel in Bologna.  The girl running the breakfast behind the counter stared at us the entire time, like we were some captured species in a zoo (we were the only ones there).  At one point, she stepped outside on the balcony leaving the door open and smoked a couple of cigarettes, which “perfumed” the entire breakfast area.

Padua Breakfast2

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This was a really strange hotel.  We took to calling it Hotel California, if you know that song. We walked over to the marketplaces and enjoyed all the sights of the markets.  See the regular Padua post for more photos.

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We’re still talking about this veritable vegetable with a fractal design, apparently known as Romanesco broccoli.

Padua Market Food Couscous

And one stall’s version of prepared foods: bags and bags of different kinds of grains mixed with dried vegetables.  I liked this presentation where you could see all the flavors and ingredients, and found it more enticing than our boxed-up supermarket foods.

Before coming to Italy, I’d done a bit of homework and looked up a couple of restaurants.  We made our way to one for lunch, Enoteca Ristorante La Corte dei Leoni.  We stepped in out of the rain, and felt like we’d come back to civilization.

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You’ve got to understand: we’ve been in rain about 90% of the time since we’d arrived in Italy, and the warm red wall, with the fireplace that contained a painting, and lovely place that was oh-so-different than last night’s dreck-at-BREK was like heaven.

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PaduaLunchMenu

Luckily, the waiter could translate the menu. I wrote down what he said so he wouldn’t have to repeat it.

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This is the Insaltona Vegetariana, with lettuce, greens, tomato, apple and other stuff, which I have no idea–I think they were squash seeds.

Enoteca2pork

I ordered the pork with mushrooms and roast potatoes. I think Dave had the exact same thing because we only have pictures of these two items.  But for dessert, we chose differently:

Enoteca4apricot

I had the Panna cotta with fig and apricot in chocolate sauce.

Enoteca5redgrape

Dave had “Sugolo di uva fragola con yogurt magro, which we thought was panna cotta with grapes.  No, it turned out to be grape panna cotta in yogurt sauce.

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In the back we found Guido Brunetti’s newspaper that he reads–we love that we read so many of those mysteries before coming back to Italy.  The waiter tells us about the special Halloween menu–it’s all pumpkin.  I laugh, and we decide to make reservations and return here for dinner after seeing Scrovegni Chapel.

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I paused to take a photo of their fall display in the courtyard.  Apparently in the summer, people gather to come and have a lazy moment or two with some wine and live music.  but now, we dash through it to get to Scrovegni on time.

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Another display was there when we returned, along with a lit Jack-O-Lantern (which didn’t photograph well).

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The special Halloween Menu.

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First up is a pumpkin flan, which was pretty interesting.  And no, I can’t remember what that dark thing on the top is.

Culatello

Dave had the culatello, which is one reason why I wanted to return here so badly.  I’d heard about this cured meat–kind of like the Ritz Carlton of cured meats.  It was really tender and delicious and reminded me of prosciutto in terms of texture.  But it was oh, so, amazing.

EnotecaDinner2pumpkinrisotto

Next course for me was the pumpkin risotto, which I had Dave help me eat.  It was a lot.

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Dave had a salad, with that really great vinegar.

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He had some kind of spaghetti carbonara for his entree.

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Mine was medallions of roast pork with pumpkin sauce.

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I’m wearing the necklace I’d purchased from the market–pumpkin-colors all around!

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For dessert, these two little sweet treasures.  Your guess is as good as mine.  The restaurant is on Via Pietro d’Abano 1, in Padua, and is on a side street just north of the Piazza della Fruta.  Our last meal in Padua was another really great focaccia sandwich, again in the train station, as we waited for our train to Venice, but I have no photos of that.  You’ll have to imagine it.

Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

Italy 2012, continued

This is all you see from the outside, and of course, no photographs are allowed on the inside (all my photos are from the web).  But I’d done my homework, creating a slideshow of the images and titles of each, and had been reviewing them for a few weeks before we left.  I’d first heard about Scrovegni Chapel when I was taking Art History at my local community college some twenty-plus years ago.  The woman who taught it did not hold a degree in art, but she was well traveled, loved art and museums and was really knowledgeable.  She told us all that whatever we did in life, we should not miss seeing Giotto’s frescoes in Scrovegni Chapel.  So the seed was planted.  We’d tried a couple of other times, on trips to Italy to get here, but either we couldn’t warp the itinerary around it, or else it was closed for renovation.  All the stars aligned for this trip.

We walked around the side to see a small glass room with an airlock door.  The procedure was that you would enter with a group, sit and watch a video while you acclimated to the chapel’s temperature and humidity levels, then they’d let you out the other side into the chapel. The door would airlock shut, then the outside door would open–for just three minutes–then it would begin again..  We could see the video going on, and the chairs were half-empty: not a crush of tourists today.  We stood there, wondering if they’d let us in early, when a whole tour group walked up behind us.  The tour guide spoke English to these tourists (Americans?) and asked us if we were on her tour.  We explained we were there early. The group in the chairs got up and filed into the chapel.  The airlock door opened.  I got a crazy idea. (Best not to consult with Dave on these things.)

I leaned over to the tour guide.  “Maybe you could ask the guard, that since there is room in your group for us and since our time isn’t until the next opening, that maybe we could stay for two visits?”  She scowled.  “They won’t allow it.”  “But could you please ask?” I said.  A miracle occurred.  She asked.  The first Scrovegni guide/guard said he’d have to check with the second guide/guard.  We sat down with the group, wondering if we would be able to stay twice, as they have a strict fifteen-minutes-and-you’re-out policy.

We went in with the group after our acclimatising video had finished, pausing to look enquiringly at the second guide/guard, listening to the few spoken words in Italian. He gave the briefest nod,  as if to say, Yes.  You may have two times.  Dave and I squeezed each other’s hand and filed in.

Scrovegni Chapel is not large, but it is tall, and an average person’s eyes would be about even with the first row of frescoes.  There are three rows of frescoes detailing the life of Christ, plus some history of his parents.  We tried to verify that particular history–it’s not in the scriptures–but a touching story nonetheless. And at either end are more frescoes, and in between are small paintings of the Allegories and Vices.

The English-speaking tour guide was giving it her go, loudly coughing (along with the rest of the group; they sounded like they belonged in an infirmary) and loudly narrated the cycle of frescoes.  Dave and I went quietly to the other end, located the beginning and I narrated for him what I had learned.  The older Joaquim took the virgin Anna for his bride, and unfortunately they remained childless.  Joaquim fled to the wilderness in grief, feeling like it was his age that contributed , and takes refuge with shepherds, falls asleep.

He has a dream where an angel visits him, and when he awakes, makes an offering to God.  I love the detail of the hand up in the sky, blessing his offering and accepting it.

He rushes back to the city where he meets Anna and they exchange a kiss–all is forgiven, as she is pregnant with Mary–having been visited by an angel announcing this turn of events.

Giotto was on the cusp of art that made room for the body in paintings, breaking from the tradition of stacking iconic saints up like fence posts in paintings.  His colors are rich and dramatic and he makes use of diagonals to draw the eye into the important parts of the fresco.  Dave and I work our way through the frescoes, working around the loud tour guide (bless her! bless her!) and her band of hacking tourists, and we work our way through Christ’s birth, his childhood, baptism.  A loud chime sounds, the voices raise, and Dave and I move off to the side.  The second guard comes in and says something, the tourists file out. He looks at us, nods with a hint of a smile while the next group files in.  We continue with this amazing work of art.  (There is a slide show of all the images after this post.)

Giotto made use of transparency in this fresco, showing Christ being baptized.  While the frescoes have been restored, many sections are still in disrepair.

We continued through the Betrayal, the Crucifixion, and when we got to this image, I fell quiet.

The diagonal begins in the upper right, leading the eye to the central figure of Jesus, cradled in his mother Mary’s arms.  John the Baptist, in the center, is distraught, his arms flung backward in disbelief over Christ’s death.  The artist rendered the horrific reality that the crucifixion did occur, that Mary and Mary Magdalene and John and apostles were all there, perhaps wondering how this could have happened, wondering what they would do now. It is all too much to take in.

And then Giotto’s skill comes forward with this little angel, hovering over the body, profound grief on his face.

There in that little chapel in  Italy, on a rainy, dark day, the story and impact of his sacrifice came full force to me, and I could not speak, nor hold back the tears.  Christ was slain, all was lost, all was gone.

But the story does not end there.  Christ returns, then ascends to His Father, like we all may do.  Dave and I stood quietly together, the voices whispering in Italian around us, which left us to our own thoughts and emotions.

We stood for a few long moments, and we noticed the breaking of the border of the canvas denoting another place, more space. Heaven.

We moved to the The Last Judgement at one end of the chapel, noting the different figures in different places, the writing souls in Hell, the whole scene as Giotto and his workshop must have imagined it.

And then our time was up.  The bell chimed.  We took one last look around, then walked out into the falling rain.

 

Padua, Italy–I

Italy 2012, continued

We leave Bologna around noon, first grabbing a sandwich from one of the shops at the train station. Arriving in Padua, we find the tourist office, get our all-important tickets to Scrovegni Chapel (the whole reason we are in Padua) and wend our way to our hotel.  We’d changed our hotel at the last minute because the new one promised high-speed internet in our rooms.  First lie of the day.  We checked in, logged in.  Nothing.  Then we heard Lies 2-10 on why we couldn’t get internet (famous line: “Ours is working just fine.”).  I never knew I was such a lily-livered wimpie internet-addicted tourist until I tried to get online at this hotel.  We finally gave up settling in (checking emails from our children is one of our usual tasks), and headed out.  Did I mention that it was raining here in Padua, too?

We take the tram and get off at St. Anthony’s Basilica, where we see the above, up from the bus stop. This is one of the big sights in the Catholic world, the place where St. Anthony’s tomb resides and pilgrims come from all over the world to touch, leave mementos of their healings, and pray.  No photos are allowed inside, but the gift shop is quite extensive, if you wish to buy a postcard, or twenty.

Here’s a shot of the cloisters, where they do allow photographs, but since the daylight is waning, and the cloud cover was thick, it’s hard to get good photos of this buildings.

They actually had FOUR cloisters; that ought to give you an idea of how big this place is.  Here’s the well inside one of them.

Leaving the basilica, I nearly stepped on her face–a chalk painting in the square in front.

We walked up a side street, catching one last glimpse in the twilight.

Dave in front of a salumeria.  We’d done some reading about this area of Italy and found out it was known for its food, especially its cured meats.  We have nothing like their cured meats in the US, although we do approximate it with salami, mortadella, bologna, and the like.  It’s obviously one of those things that you can’t really export very well, and if you did, it would be prohibitive in price.

My turn in front of the shop.  We wander up through the side streets, passing all sort of shops selling St. Anthony medals, prayer cards, T-shirts, icons, statues proving that marketing St. Anthony is big business.

One lonely tent is pitched in the center of the Plaza of the Fruit (Piazza della Fruta), selling concoctions.  I was fascinated by the fellow in the front of this booth, tossing roasted chestnuts in a large black pan, sparks flying in the air from the fire underneath and the airborne chestnuts falling like clackety autumn leaves back into the pan.  There’s a chill tonight; autumn is here in Italy. 

We wander through the arcade underneath the old Palazzo Del Raggione, and in one shop we buy some buttons and elastic–elastic so we can affix large trash bags around our legs like galoshes when we next head to Venice, which is having Aqua Alta (high water) episodes.  In travel, your mind is lingering on what you’ve seen in the last place, and thinking about what you’ll see in the next.

We knew there was an old old university here in Padua, and we enter one of the courtyards of the buildings.  The tours are not when we can tour, so we content ourselves with what we can see of the buildings, and enjoy the energy of the young around us.  The students are all around us in the town.

We found our way to a marginal restaurant–more like a cafeteria, and while all the displays looked nice, it was just that– a cafeteria.  We walked home through the intermittent rain, tried again to get on the Internet — a joke as it is still not working — then crashed.

We walked into tow the next morning, headed for the plazas and the markets.  Padua has a river that runs through it, flanked by multi-colored houses, and sporting a few ducks.

I told Dave that graves in the ground were small potatoes compared to having the Madonna statue on a bridge for your memorial, but then he pointed out to me that there was no place to put the flowers, and wouldn’t you want flowers at your tombstone?  I thought to myself: Have you seen our graves?  Slanted?  On a hillside?  All the flowers will roll down the hill.

Perhaps it was the rainy weather than put us in such a grave mood, but we continued on.

So this must be a civic-style heartbreak. You pay tons of money to have your old church fixed up with new plaster and all, and then there’s an earthquake that leaves big cracks in the facade.

Morning newspaper.  Something to do with cell phone photos and a vendetta and a sexy announcement.  Because we are reading the Guido Brunetti series, we immediately think of our Venetian detective and his wife, reading these newspapers.

We are here at Piazza della Frutta, as so are the vendors. The big building overlooking the plaza is called the Ragionne Palace, but is now empty.  We notice that it is mostly vegetables and fruits on this side, we head to the other, to Piazza della Erbe.

We dive in.  I’d been moaning to Dave that I hadn’t purchased an Italian purse this trip, so guess what?  He found me one.  And then a leather tote to go with it.  Cheap.  The guy said that they were made in a factory just down the road.  Near Padua.  We joked that perhaps they used Chinese labor to keep the prices so low.

This is the view of the market from above, on the balcony of the Palace.  Everything’s a little gray, a little soggy.

Those hairy things in the lower right are chestnuts, still in their covering.  Everything in this market was so alluring, in terms of wanting to take it home in a cloth bag to a small apartment and cook up some fabulous feast somewhere.

I fell in love with the little strawberries in the lower left corner, and did buy one of those rosy pears in the upper left.  Yes.  It was amazing.  I’ve noticed that in many dishes we’ve tried thus far, there are fewer ingredients, but they are higher quality.  Take the tortellini en brodo that we had that first rainy night in Bologna.  Three ingredients: tortellini, broth, cheese.  But it was delicious.  I’ve since made it since coming home and it’s easy and good, provided you use high quality ingredients.

We can see that the walkway above us in the palace has some pretty ornate decoration and we try to climb the stairs to see it.  A bulky man starts motioning with some agitation that we cannot come in, and then he makes a circular motion with the other arm.  Go around, we wonder?  But we’ve been on the other plaza and didn’t see any entrance.  But he is adamant.  No one is going up there.

So we leave the area, trying to walk around.  We rejoice!  Sun!  Bliss!  Better photographs!

Some sights while “walking around.”

We made our way to Palazzo Bo, which apparently was the “way around,” and its Palazzo Moroni.  I kid you not.  The architect Andrea Moroni started building this area in 1541, with a courtyard, symmetrical staircases and lots of portico, columns, arched doorways and most importantly: the “way in.”

That’s a statue of Moroni there in the front on the pedestal.

Doorway at the landing of the stairs.

We pay our money, and they let us into this giant hall, with a roof shaped like a ship’s keel–upside down.  There used to be frescoes by Giotto here, but first the building burned (then was reconstructed) then a hurricane blew the roof off (which was then reconstructed), but by then the original frescoes were too damaged to be saved.  At one end is a giant wooden horse, placed here in the early 1830s, modeled after the Donatello horse at St. Anthony’s.  (Which we could not see because it was “in renovation.”) The long display tables in the center were an electronic art exhibit of some kind, but I chuckled when I went in for a closer look and saw this sign:

Computer malfunction.  Looks like we weren’t the only ones with no signal to our computers.

The walls were heavily decorated with frescoes, just not by anyone you and I would know.

The bulky guy left, others came in by this door, and we realized that’s where the beautifully decorated portico was.

The bulky guy came back and takes our photo:

He points to my water bottle in my day pack and shakes his hand no, no, no.  I’m thinking that no drinks of any kind are allowed in here and now they’re going to cart me off to Tourist Jail. Then he breaks into a big grin and says “Vino!  Prosecco!”  We laugh, and realize that he is right.  If we were Italian, we’d be drinking wine and prosecco.  Hey, if we were Italian, we wouldn’t be at the market in the rain, in sneakers, carrying guide books.

One last look as we descend the staircase.  We’ve traveled to many of the number one tourist sites in Italy, and are now exploring the second tier of towns and sights.  We know that while this palazzo isn’t on the order of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s David, or other sights, we try to enjoy what we see here, find new ways of looking at a small town’s Big Deal.

We don’t want to miss our appointments at Scrovegni Chapel–the whole reason for coming to Padua, but I’m definitely not going to be eating in the place where we ate last night.  I’d done some searching on Frommer’s before leaving and they recommended Enoteca, just in between the two plazas on a side street.  We’re wet and tired and hungry and hightail it over there.  This is the fall/harvest display they have in the courtyard area.

More on this restaurant in Menu II.

We see on our tourist map given to us in the train station, that there is a something or other two streets over, so we head over there.  Only the small battistero (baptismal building) on the right is open so we head over there.  On the interior ceiling is a giant fresco detailing the life of Christ? Anthony?  I’m never too sure in this town, but of course photos aren’t allowed.

We head out, walking along streets, headed north to the area where Scrovegni Chapel is located. No, it is not lost on me that we are seeing a series of frescoes about the life of Christ, a reverential experience on Halloween.

First we check into the Visitor’s Center, attached to the Eremitani museum, containing bits of carved stonework.  We had about an hour to kill, so we took a look around, hit the movie area downstairs (English version), and saw some exhibits.

The cherubs (above) are in this circle.  I’m pretty antsy now, anxious to get over there, we head over in the light rain to Scrovegni Chapel (continued in next post).

Menu I

Italy 2012, continued

This area of Italy is known at Emilia-Romagna, also known as Italy’s breadbasket where Parma ham, aged balsamic vinegar and other amazing food is found.

But this is what we got on the way there, the airplane breakfast: hard roll, not-bad omelet and potatoes and iffy fruit.  Duly prepared, our first meal in Carpi was a feast of Emilia-Romagnan fame.

It began with a reception with little snacks, and my favorite was the prosciutto wrapped around a grissini–a crispy breadstick.

After the reception, we were sent into the restaurant area where long tables were set with crisp white tablecloths, and set before us was a broccoli mousse in a white sauce, with what looked like chocolate drizzled over it.  Chocolate?  I take my fork, dip into the dark liquid–it’s vinegar, but rich and almost a sweet rich taste.

This blurry picture is the oil and vinegar that were on our table.  This was my first introduction to aged balsamic vinegar and it was a revelation. We had a rich lasagna for the next course, then a knuckle of pork, both of which I only had terrible pictures (nothing worse than terrible food pictures).

This was the breadbasket–a supple cloth-like paper basket filled with chunks of bread–which I used to sop up the delicious vinegar on the bread plate.  Our dessert — after 2 hours of eating — was a rich, flourless chocolate cake, with languid marscapone cream.  We’d been eating for 2 1/2 hours, talking over the alcohol-enriched voices of those around us.  We went upstairs to our room, ate a Tums antacid, then fell into bed.

The morning’s breakfast was a spread of everything breakfasty under the sun, including these golden-orange eggs, sunnyside-up.

I’ve been to a lot of hotels and bed & breakfasts, but this was a vast array of delicious food items.

Croissants of all kinds: plain, chocolate and raisin along with some breakfast cakes.  Good thing we don’t eat like this every day!

I don’t think the Italians eat this way for breakfast, either.  I imagine they have to have the meats for the Germans, the croissants for the French, and the cold cereals for the Americans.  Pretty pathetic that we are the cold cereal people.  Maybe we can own the scrambled eggs, too.  Or those beautiful sunnyside-up eggs of golden orange.

The tables were set with beige linen, square plates and a tiny potted plant.

These were little shortbread biscuits, two wrapped in cellophane.  I snagged a couple for my backpack and it came in handy later on.

When I went out walking in Carpi that day, they had Halloween Cookies for sale–love the molten liquid mouths of the ghosts.  This was the day we went out to the Vinegar Farm (see the Carpi post), and came back to a luncheon in the restaurant of salad, grilled endive, a pasta dish with vegetables (like a deli salad), and last night’s leftover flourless chocolate cake along with bite-sized fruit tarts.  That night we had a banquet in a local hotel/restaurant.

The first course was a variety of grilled vegetables, and firm polenta cut into bite-sized cubes and browned on all sides.  About this point, another group joined us in this banquet hall and the noise level went from noisy to WAY noisy, and the pace of the servers picked up to frantic.  Our section of the long banquet table nearly missed the second course of risotto with asparagus.  Very creamy, but it was interesting how there was a gritty bite to the risotto–not how we serve it in the states.  Salads came next drenched in that luscious balsamic vinegar from the region, but we had to practically do a dance on the table to get salad served to us.  I politely held it for the lady next to me, who then whisked it on down the table, and then I had ask firmly to get it back.  Please.  I needed it, for they came around with platters of dry roasted pork, and the dressing from the salad helped out that bleh entree.

They redeemed themselves a little on the dessert: apple cake with cream anglaise.  I could tell things were difficult in the kitchen for my spoon was a demitasse spoon–what we’d use to serve our babies their food.  Teensy.

The next morning, was the breakfast spread (see above), but still stuffed from the last two days, I had a streamlined version–very streamlined.

Lunch was our final meal together.  They started with a platter of these cured meats, and no I don’t know the names of all of these, but they were light and delicious.  I have to assume some of it was salami (in lower right), prosciutto (in upper left).  I had that, mostly.

We were served gnocco fritto–little puffy, light-as-air bread pockets. We ate them alongside the meats, but sometimes people open them up, stuff the meats in them and eat them like little sandwiches.  If only we had known. . .

They had put red wine vinegar on the tables for lunch, but I convinced a server to bring me the balsamic vinegar, which you see drizzled above.  Dave and I each had two platefuls of the above, but then they took away the meats, salad and gnocco fritto.  I guessed we were done, but no. . . we had another course coming.

A rolled up pasta filled with a light tomato sauce and cheese, as well as a rich and luscious lasagna.  At this point, the clock was running out and we were supposed to be out in the van for our ride to Bologna, so I wolfed down the rolled pasta and left the rest.  I kept wondering what they would bring out for dessert, but I was stuck in the van for the next 45 minutes, while we waited for others to arrive, so never found out.  Of course, it was at this point, realizing that I’d never have that amazing vinegar again, that I wished I had persevered at the Vinegeria Farm and purchased some.  Luckily we were still in the area for another couple of days and I determined to look for some.

In Bologna, we ventured out that rainy night to Da Nello, a place recommended by the hotel and these crates of mushrooms were on the table in the abandoned front “porch” or eating area.  I could imagine it full of tourists in the summer, for this was a place with a menu in seven languages–a telltale giveaway that this is a “tourist” restaurant.

Dinner breads on the table.

We shared a salad, which the young woman made by gathering together our lettuce, then reaching up and taking things from the stacked plates on the counter.  None of those pesky food-safety gloves for her.

Later on I took a photo of them.  The one closest to us is mushrooms, then strawberries, raspberries(?), and regular salad fixings.

A view from above from the other end of the counter.  I’m sure she thought we were nuts.

Dave had pasta Bolognese–it looks like tortellini from this (dimly lit) photo.

I had a dish recommended to me by the man at the hotel: Tortellini en Brodo: tortellini in broth.  The server sprinkled a little cheese over the top, and it all melted into a delicious warming supper.  It was more satisfying than I ever thought.

We went back out into the rainy night.  This golden tortellini was hanging inside their menu case.  A website I found discussed the origin of this piece of shaped pasta as having come from Bologna, and since I’m posting this around Christmas time I thought the quote on the website was terrific:

Gazzetta di Bologna about 100 years ago said that “Christmas should be celebrated in Christian fashion, that is to say by eating until you burst, drinking until your head spins, and in general loading down the human machine with choice wines and edible of all sorts, varieties and origins. But precede everything with a great dish of tortellini. Without tortellini there can be no Christmas in Bologna.”

Italy 2012, to be continued.

Bologna, Sights and Scenes–final

Italy 2012, continued

I thought these lights looked like hanging prom dresses.

Waiting for Dave, back in the hotel, I caught up on journaling and thought about the woman I’d sat next to at dinner the last night in Carpi.  I’d met her at the vinegaria farm and as we exchanged pleasantries outside, she dropped into the conversation that she was a widow . . . of six months.  She’d come back because her husband was prominent in the Collegium Ramazzini and they were doing a memorial for him that night at the final session.  I didn’t attend the meeting, but as happenstance would have it, we sat next to each other that night at dinner in the large, noisy banquet hall, filled with not only our group of nearly 100, but also a younger, noisier group.  I could hardly hear her when she did converse with me, as she spent most of her time talking to someone she knew beside–and across from–her.

I thought of my sister who has gone through this experience, and from watching her and from a lot of reading for my graduate fiction novel learned that many widows considered the first year after their husband’s death to be the time they felt like they were living in a bizarre world. I felt sad for her–here she was in a foreign country, stuck next to some scientist’s wife at some noisy dinner and with whom probably had neither the inclination nor the energy to carry on a conversation. Although out of politeness, she tried.

Back home, if I met someone like her at church, I would probably know what to say, and we would have the luxury of a long-term relationship to carry us over the rough spots.  But when traveling, the rough spots glare a little more, and although she was cordial, she wore her sorrow like a cloak.  I sat next to her seatmate the next day at our final lunch in Carpi and found our more about her, but it only confirmed those early impressions.  I wish we could have visited in other circumstances, for like my sister, she is a studio artist who has mounted several independent shows.  For some reason, either because I was in Italy, or just the crazy conversions of my brain, thinking of the juxtaposition of her husband’s recent death and the art show that he never lived to see, reminded me of that oft-quoted Latin phrase:  Ars long, vita brevis.  Life is short, art eternal.

The key turns in the lock, pulling me out of my journal–Dave’s back and now my universe can turn in its ordered path once more.  Where had he gone?  Up into the university area, strolling the streets and taking photos, like the one above, and the pictures below, with fragments of the setting sun painted onto the buildings:

Neptune fountain from the front.

Detail.  (Couldn’t resist)

Hand in hand, we head out for a walk together.

These candied fruits were like jewels in the window.

I splurge and buy one of a clementine, a pear, and a couple of others.

I expected them to taste differently, but later, in the hotel room that night we ate a piece of each and while they look so divine, they were just gooey candied fruit, like the fruit in fruitcakes, Dave says. But I don’t regret trying them.

We are amazed by the salumerias that we pass by.  Here’s view A (above) and view B (below).

The Bolognians don’t buy regular meats in these shops–they are just for cured meats and some cheeses (in the deli cases below).

We were on the hunt for a vinegar stopper like the ones I’d seen at the vinegaria, for my new bottle of vinegar.  One man told us the name of the device was a “tappo salva soccia,” or “top catches drips.”  Sounds right to me.  We found one in a hardware store.

I wished I could have bought some spiffy sneakers with studs in them, but we figured out (after never seeing a price tag, nor the item in the shops),that these were for display only.  Still . . .

When walking in the evening, the window displays show to their best advantage without the glare of the daylight on the glass.  Couldn’t decide if this display was in sympathy with the American holiday of Halloween, or the European-Catholic holidays of All Souls Day/All Saints Day.  We walked back home to eat dinner near our hotel, and on the way, Dave noticed a purse in the window of a shop.  Yes, we bought it.  I had kind of given up hope of that kind of a souvenir.  I’ve found the best policy is to not to have a pre-determined specific idea of what you want to take home, as you’re likely to be disappointed.  I was happily surprised at this outcome.  (I love my purse!)

We walked back home by way of another fabric shop he’d seen that afternoon (didn’t buy anything, but admired Dave for his fabric-shop-finding skills), and I had him pose by the shadow of Neptune on his fountain.  That’s Dave there, against the wall under Neptune’s knee.  We had dinner at a restaurant across the street, Osteria Le Mura, then went home and ended the day.

The next morning at breakfast, we try to figure out what kind of tree this is outside the breakfast room window, guessing at different things and finally wondering if it were a fruit germaine only to the local area.  I ask the waiter for more information.

He says it’s a “pursey-man” tree.  Pursey-man?

When the lady behind the counter brings out this dish, I understand immediately: persimmon tree.  I hadn’t seen them ever as golden pieces of fruit.  (And now Dave and I refer to them only as pursey-man fruits.  The influence of travel is broadening.)

In talking to some other tourists at breakfast, we find out about a short walk to a lovely church and a viewpoint, so we head out, passing these rows of brilliantly colored trees on our way to San Michele in Bosco (the name of the church).

This is the view of Cathedral St. Petrionous in the center of the city (zoomed in).  You saw our shot of the two towers (complete with satellite tower on top) in the previous post.  It’s a lovely panorama and a fitting way to remember the city.

We head up the hill to the church.

The insignia, inside the church on one of the chapel gates.

The interior is divided into two parts: an upper and a lower, with this saint guarding the stairway.  We tread quietly, as a man is kneeling silently in the first pew.

Around the corner in the sacristy (?), a woman is tending a rack of postcards, in the ubiquitous “gift shop.”  We inquire in our best raised-eyebrow-fake-Italian if there is a cloister.  The torrent of words in reply didn’t help. I find a postcard and point and then there are smiles and lots of pointing, with her hand going this way, then that way.  We pay for a postcard (any one will do) and try to find out where this cloister is.

We walk out the door on the upper left of the church into a long hallway, which used to be part of the church, but is now a hospital.  This ancient fresco clock is high up on the wall.

We focus initially on this wonderful ceiling in a play of light and shadow.  Then I happen to glance down at my feet.

Dave!  It’s a meridian line!  I’d seen it in another one of the churches yesterday, but theirs had Plexiglas over it, so we wouldn’t walk on it (it was in that church that didn’t allow photos), and here this was, just laid out in the hallway where anyone could walk on it.

Linea Meridiana.

We try to follow the directions given to us, but realize that we need to get back to catch our train, so leave the cloister for another day.  I saw later that it was a unique octagonal garden cloister.  Bless the web.  And curse it, for showing me what I could not see.

The train we’ve chosen is just like this one: sleek and shiny and looking like a stalled slithering snake, there on the tracks.  We’d grabbed a snack for lunch, then found our seats, and enjoyed the hour-long (about) ride to Padua.

Because we were in first class, a woman brought around a little cart with snacks, just like an airplane.  Only our flight attendants don’t wear surgical gloves when they pass out the pretzels.

We sat next to a British man who was the registrar for a large university in England, and he said he was pretty worn out by the last round of admissions, so was taking a holiday–first to Rome, then to Venice.  We chatted with him on how the system worked in England, and he told us about the change-over from a government-financed education for the students, to one where they paid for it themselves (with government loans). After talking to him for the entire ride, we agreed that he needed a holiday.  Academics will find each other wherever they go?  We said our good-byes and got off the train in Padua.

Next post: Padua.