Sunday, October 2, 2016

Venice, Lido Island, and Padova

Fondamente Nuove street
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
We lost our way through narrow and dark streets, barely big enough for a tall person to walk through. The streets were old, decayed with time, yet sturdy and lasting. I was worried that someone would decide to throw their bath water out the window into the narrow alleys. It was possible, given the patina and stench we encountered from time to time. Generally, Italians are very clean with their surroundings, fastidiously sweeping the street in front of their homes and shops, but the arrivals from third world countries are not so kind to their environment.

One of the narrow passageways in Venice
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016

We finally reached Rialto and had our slice of pizza at the foot of the bridge while people and boat watching, sitting on the cold steps. Dave bought an oil painting for 20 euros, a good size to pack in the suitcase, the same painting we could have bought further away for 15 euros. The painter said, it will rain tomorrow and he will not get customers at all, as he cannot display his canvasses in the rain. We bought one from him as well.

One of the Venetian churches, Chiesa di San Vidal, was advertising on the door a free lecture by Fausto Bertinotti, pushing the Pope's global warming platform with his encyclical, Laudato Si.

Poster on Church of San Vidal's door
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Shop window
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Narrow walkway to a church
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
My favorite jewelry store in Rialto
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
One of two oil paintings we bought in Venice
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
We went back to my favorite jewel shop and found two pairs of cuff links for Dave. A gorgeous turquoise ring in 18k gold was calling my name. I don’t know why the color of turquoise makes me happy, unlike any other stone, including diamonds. We walked alongside the Grand Canal, watching a portly sea gull come very close to us, begging for food, a German couple eating stuff out of a vending machine, probably traveling on a budget or just plain stingy.

Lido Island and hotel Panorama on the right
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Lido Island on a sunny day
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons
Water lines on buildings in Venice
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Gondolas were floating by; the dusk is a lovely and romantic time to take a ride in the black, seemingly flimsy but very sturdy boats. To my surprise, three Muslim women I saw earlier dining alone on the left bank in an outdoor restaurant we happened to walk by, their colorful burkas were hard to miss, boarded a gondola for a ride. There was no Muslim male in sight to accompany them.

Very narrow canal near Ponte Rialto
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Grand Canal near water bus stop
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
The famous Ponte dei Sospiri
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
We took the water bus the long way back to our hotel on Lido Island, a total of 13 stops. It was a marvelous opportunity to see more palazzos on the Grand Canal and take more pictures. We made it by 8 p.m., dropped off the paintings, and headed for the last cozy dinner at Gran Viale. The table for two was outside, but it was covered by plastic, a typical way to keep the cold Mediterranean night winds at bay. My favorite dish was the appetizer comprised of polenta mixed with pureed fish – it was divine, tiny, and expensive, 16 euros.

One last image on the Grand Canal on the way back to Lido
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
We woke up on Lido Island the following morning to the sound of rain drumming on the tiled roof and to foggy air, just like the street painter had told us. We had our leisurely breakfast in a comfortable but tiny solarium overlooking the lagoon. The Panorama Hotel had its pluses but I still thought it was three stars, pretending to be four. We were too exhausted every night to care about the number of stars as long as the bed was comfortable, with clean and pressed sheets.

Lido Island of Venice is a 7-mile long sandbar which is home to 20,000 residents. It is where the Venice Film Festival takes place every September in the northern part of the island.  There is a public airport, Venezia Lido, on the north east end of the island that brings in wealthy foreigners who own small planes that can land on the 1,000 mile grass runaway.

There are three settlements: the Lido in the north where the film festival takes place and the Venice Casino and the Grand Hotel Excelsior are located; the center part called Malamocco is where the Doge of Venice used to have a home; the southern end is called Alberoni and has a golf course. Rich people must have their golf no matter where they are. Buses run alongside the island on Main Street.

On the Adriatic side of Lido there are sandy beaches belonging to various hotels and they are private. There are large public beaches too on the northern and the southern ends of the island. The famous Excelsior and the Des Bains hotels are located here. Thomas Mann’s classic novel, Death in Venice, took place here. The water is clean save for the occasional jelly fish that disturb the swimmers. The water is still pretty cold in April-May.

The clock tower from the lagoon
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
But the heart of the island is Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, a wide street 700 m long that runs from the lagoon and vaporetto stop on one side across to the sea on the other. There are many hotels, small shops, a modern grocery store, the first I have seen in Venice, and touristy restaurants that also cater to locals in a much more caring and special way as I observed on many occasions.

We packed our suitcases again and lined up the car at 11 a.m. for our 11:40 ferry ride back to terra firma. The ferry pass for the car was 21 euros but our passes were still valid until 8:30 p.m. The ferry ride was quite different from four nights ago. I took some spectacular photos of San Marco square, the Campanile, the Bridge of Sighs, and other Venetian landmarks.

We saw Lido Island and our Panorama hotel one last time before we crossed the bridge to the main highway heading west. It made leaving Venice a lot easier as the lagoon was encased into a foggy mist and it was cold and damp.

Last view of the Port of Venice
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Dave drove west in the pouring rain for 49 km. We took the exit to Padova after we stopped at an Autogrill to refuel. Padova was, in many ways, a decision we quickly regretted. The city appeared very much industrial and modern, peppered with several old churches, villas, and the oldest square in Italy.

Almost too dark for photos in the rainy Venice
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
A young motorcyclist who drove fast like a maniac wiped out in the driving rain, his motorcycle skidded sideways and he laid it down scraping the ground in a sickening metal screech. He was unhurt, thank God. We decided right away that we did not want to stay very long in Padova. Our decision was confirmed by the extended wait at a rail road crossing where three freight trains were struggling to chug along.

Padova’s most important claim to fame is the University of Padova, founded in 1222, where Galileo Galilei was a lecturer. The dense arcaded streets opening into “piazze” and the bridges crossing various branches of the river Bacchiglione made the city picturesque in sunny weather, but it is hard to appreciate beauty in driving rain. Bacchiglione River used to circle the ancient walls like a moat.

The Euganaean hills in the south west were praised by poets like Lucan, Martial, Petrarch, and Shelley. Even Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is set in Padova.

Historians date the founding of the city by the Trojan prince Antenor around 1183 B.C. Padovani believe that their city is the oldest in northern Italy.  In 1274 bones were found in a large excavated ancient sarcophagus and officials declared them to be the bones of Antenor. The scholar Lovato dei Lovati wrote:

“This sepulcher excavated from marble contains the body of the noble Antenor who left his country, guided the Eneti and Trojans, banished the Euganeans and founded Padua.”

More recent tests reveal the date of the tomb to be 4th-3rd centuries B.C. Other archeological finds confirm the date of the town’s founding to be 11th-10th centuries B.C.

Saint Prosdocimus, the first Bishop of the city, introduced Christianity to Padova and to the region of Veneto. His deacon, Daniel, a Jewish convert, was another patron saint of the city.

Padova has been ruled by the Venetian Republic, by Austrians, and finally by Italians. During WWI Padova was central command for the Italian army and the king and the commander in chief lived here for the duration of the war.

During WWII, Padova was bombed repeatedly by Allied planes. The worst hits were the railway station and the Church of the Eremitani that was decorated with priceless frescoes by Andrea Mantegna. The destruction of this church is considered to be “Italy’s biggest wartime cultural loss.”

There is a Commonwealth War Cemetery in the western part of the city that commemorates the sacrifice of the troops. Since its liberation on April 28, 1945 by the British Eighth Army, Padova grew and became a successful part of one of the richest regions of modern Italy, Veneto.

There are more than twelve churches, dating from 10th-16th centuries, and seven villas of renown in Padova. The Scrovegni Chapel is the most interesting, with frescoes completed in 1305 by Giotto, frescoes detailing the life of the Virgin Mary and commissioned by a banker, Enrico degli Scrovegni. It stands on a former Roman arena, hence its nickname, “Arena Chapel.” Entering the sanctuary means spending 15 minutes in an air lock in order to control climate inside the church and preserve the frescoes.

Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova contains the bones of the saint in a chapel carved in marble by many sculptors and architects, including Sansovino. There is a Donatello equestrian statue of the Venetian general Gattamelata in front of the basilica.

Prato della Valle
Photo: Wikipedia Commons
The most famous landmark of Padova is Prato della Valle, an elliptical piazza of 90,000 square meters with a center garden surrounded by 78 statues of famous citizens of Padova.

The Abbey of Santa Giustina houses the tombs of many saints, Justine, Prosdocimus, Maximus, Urius, Felicita, Julianus, and relics of the Apostle St. Matthias and the Evangelist St. Luke.

Café Pedrocchi
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons
The city’s downtown is encircled by 7-mile long city walls built in the 16th century. What is left are the ruins and two gates. Coffee lovers can indulge their tastes in Café Pedrocchi, built in 1831, and still fashionable today with a flare from faraway lands.

French novelist Stendhal and Lord Byron were some of the more famous patrons of this coffee shop located near the University, town hall, markets, and the post office.

In the heavy rain, we set out to drive to Verona, our beloved city where Dave and I spent a lot of time years ago.



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