Friday, September 29, 2006

Travel Chronicles VII - Winter - From Ferrara to Ravenna and back

Saturday 12th - Ferrara - Italian drivers

Saturday we got up relatively late for our standards, finding an ever greyer sky than the day before and a slightly chilly air. We got out of the bed and headed out looking for breakfast that, I had found out the evening before, wasn't provided by the hotel. We fell back on the typical italian breakfast (cappuccino and croissant or equivalent) which, I'm afraid, left Susanne deeply unsatisfied.

We made it to the station at a much quicker pace than the evening before and found out an unpleasant surprise. Despite the fact of having purchased all the train tickets in advance in a travel agency, we discovered that the Ferrara-Ravenna rail line was out of business due of maintenance works for the whole month of August and until Sunday 13th september, the day after (our usual luck). As an alternative means of transportation, a couch, stopping in every little station, so to make a 50 minutes train trip a 2 hours drive.

Having no other choice, we boarded the couch and we unwisely choose the very first places, right behind the driver, so that we could be overly pleased to see the driver answering his mobile phone and driving with a single hand for 4 times, one of which while passing a dangerous crossing and another while making a hard turn. As I disembarked I was really tempted to go to the police.

Saturday 12th - Ravenna - Rain and the miraculous drive back

As we disembarked in front of Ravenna's station rain started to fall thickly on us. After a moment of loss of directions (it happened surprisingly often to me during the week, which is somewhat surprising to me as I had always had a very good orientation sense), we headed towards the north-east part of the city, towards one of the most peculiar monuments of Ravenna, Theodoric's Mausoleum, the first of eight locations in Ravenna (probably a record for such a small city) in the UNESCO's world heritage list. What I didn't know before this visit and left me with quite some awe is that the roof of the mausoleum is made with a single stone of 10 meters of diameter weighting 300 tons and I still wonder how did they raised there (it seems that as they dropped it, its weight created a fissure in the rock). The body of the barbaric king did lay in a porphyry (regarded by romans as the "imperial" stone) tub, originally from some roman baths, which is still there today.

Once finished there, we started walking towards the city and it's many byzantine, mosaic ornate, churches, but a particularly intense rain forced us to seek refuge under the remains of the city's castle, Rocca Brancaleone. As we could move again, we headed towards the San Vitale / Galla Placidia's mausoleum complex, famous for its magnificent mosaics showing Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora. Still under heavy rain, we moved out and entered the first place providing food and there, as a miracle, the rain stopped to start again as soon as we moved towards the Neonian Baptistery and the, unimpressive, city Dome. Moving to the archbishop's palace, we found out that the famous Archiepiscopal Chapel was closed, but the
museum, on the other hand, was open and presented two unusual objects, the "Ivory seat", the bishop's throne all covered with ivory bas-reliefs, and an universal Easter calendar on stone.

As we moved out from the Dome the rain, if possible, increased even more and was somewhat hard to reach the next objective, the basilica of Saint Apollinare Nuovo, famous for its "political" mosaics and its tower bell (on the right, taken from the church's cloister).

Moving out of Saint Apollinare I tried to locate the burial place of Dante, which, unknown by many, is in Ravenna, near the church of San Francesco. The monument itself is nothing impressing, but the story of the relics of the italian most important poet is novel material with attempts by Florence (from where he was exiled and could never return) of taking it back, the bones being hidden, lost, recovered, hidden and lost again and finally resting in peace. The church itself is interesting, with its crypt flooded by water in which fishes happily swimming among columns and mosaics (left).

After Dante's burial place, the rain won and we gave up the idea of reaching San Apollinare in Classe. We moved towards the train station and sat at a bar for a warm cappuccino to recover our strengths or at least a bit of warmth. Then, an inspiration fell on me and I decided I had to play the lotto with Susanne, so we looked for a bar where they could take the bet (for the chronicles, we got 2 numbers out of 6).

And here starts the odyssey of our return. We reached the train station under heavy rain (as indicated by Susanne in the picture) and there two coaches were waiting, one stopping at every station and another that would had stopped only in the major ones. We boarded, obviously, the second and in the whole 62 places bus there were only 3 people, Susanne, me and another girl. The driver was a new one, but with the same habit of the old one, as he started speaking on his mobile while driving but, surprisingly, at some point he asked us if we did mind switching over a minivan. We agreed, even because it would had been faster, and at the next station our coach drive became a taxi drive as the other girl disembarked. A nightmarish taxi drive, as the driver sped, surpassed on a straight line street which was far from being in good shape and without much light at all. Eventually, Susanne and me were holding our hands tight, sending each other looks of anxiety and wondering if we would had made it alive. We obviously did and the driver was even nice enough to deliver us at the castle rather than at the station, which spared us 2 kms of walks under what had became a real storm.

Saturday 12th - Ferrara - The quiet after the storm

Even if dropped at a few hundreds meters from the hotel, we arrived totally drenched. Quite obviously, by the time we were ready to go out again to have dinner, the rain was over. Yet, we were exhausted and we headed straight to the restaurant right under the hotel, called "La gatta sul tetto". I had suspects about the place (bad experiences taught me never to trust a restaurant without a menu where checking the prices), but eventually I was pleasantly surprised as we had the best dinner of the whole travel and the prices were reasonable. Too tired to explore Ferrara at night, we called it a night. A night without toothpaste, obviously.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Travel Chronicles VI - Autumn - From Venice to Ferrara

Friday 11th - Venice - Up and Down, Right and Left

Friday night we were awoke by the extremely heavy rain that was falling and that worries us a bit for hat would had been our second and last day in Venice. As the morning came, for the first time in my life, I ad breakfast in a bedroom and I must say, it was nice. The rain had stopped by then, but it started exactly as, fully loaded, we walked out to the bed 6 breakfast to reach the station and leave the main backpack there for the day. We waited for the worse to pass and then, still under the rain, we marched back to the station.

From the Station, we marched to San Giovanni and Paolo's church, known in Venice as "San Zanipolo", the second most important church of the city and traditional burial place of the venedian doges and most important captains (for instance, the Venedian admiral Sebastiano Venier, leader the fleet at Lepanto is buried here, together with the last defender of Cyprus, Marcantonio Bragadin, eventually flayed alive by the Turks). We visited the basilica thoroughly and then moved towards Rialto.

Once arrived at the bridge, we had to face a problem which presented itself greater than expected. we knew the ferries would had been on strike, but I had read, and consequently erroneously believed, that a few runs would had been there anyway. I was wrong. As we found out, not a single ferry was running besides the ones connecting the main islands with the minor ones. So it was that we haded towards the "Accademia bridge" and from there to the church of Santa Maria della Salute. And we went right, and we went left, and up the bridges and down the bridges, occasionally got on the wrong track and walked back, and the few hundreds of meters that by air separated us from our arrival point became kilometers that we covered in over a hour, only to find the church closed for lunch.

We gave it up and took a long walk back passing along the "zattere", the northern side of Venice, and noticed how much high was the water, so much to occasionally invade the platform (indeed, the day after the water would had raised another 10 centimeters and flooded the city for the first time this year). We looked for something to eat and then we went to visit the "Ca Rezzonico" museum, also known as the museum of the '700 where, among many interesting things giving an idea of how a venedian noble mansion would had looked during the XVIII century, are hosted some wonderful frescoes by Tiepolo (which is one of the painters I like the most together with my father and in fact at the end I got him a book about these frescoes).

As we headed out from the long visit t the museum, our time in Venice was already close to the end. We took the long walk to the station again and then decided to eat something, first at a kind of self-service restaurant we had discovered the day before (called "BreaK") serving big mixed salad and where I was tempted to leave without paying after that no one present himself at the cash-machine for a very long while (No, I did pay in the end) and then at a macdonald which the signs called to be at "8 minutes walk" and that revealed itself to be at twice as much distance. As we headed back to the station and boarded our train to Ferrara, a shy sun poked out of the clouds. I think I heard him laughing.

Friday 11th - Ferrara - Spiders! Spiders everywhere!

By the time we arrived in Ferrara, we were pretty fatigued and having to walk from the train station to the cathedral (the hotel I got in Ferrara was right behind that) with the main backpack on my shoulders finished the work, totally exhausting me. The hotel itself was great, if not for a little problem.

While I was dealing with check-in, Susanne appeared with a strange face. Turned out, over the wall of the room there was a spider and a pretty big one at that, to be honest. Now Susanne is scared as hell by spiders and I jumped at the opportunity of filling the role of my dreams, the white knight in shining armor running to help the damsel in distress. Funnily enough the woman in charge of the place for the night gave me a kind of sweep ending in a spear-like broom. But it happened that the spider survived a perfectly aimed and pretty strong hit, falling down and hiding, and in the meanwhile another one, smaller but not less menacing, appeared from behind the bed. At that point, we decided to leave the ground to them and accepted the other room we were offered. And there we finally collapsed, the thought of the toothpaste only briefly passing through my mind.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Travel Chronicles V - Autumn - From Montagnana to Venice

Thursday 11th - Montagnana - "Oh, noooooooo"

When the alarm clock rung (or sung, whatever) at 5:45 am, the second thing I heard in the total silence of montagnana was a painful "oh, nooooooo" coming from under the blankets on my right. Truth to be said, we had ended up in bed after midnight to prepare everything and the few hours of sleep hadn't been enough at all, but the thought that in just a few hours we would had been in Venice, together with an abundant breakfast, quickly rekindled our strengths.

Montagnana was almost eerie when we got out and soon I realized why: the sky had totally changed and was a dark grey. Our luck with weather, that until the day before had been a full summer, had gone and exactly in the moment we would had liked it the least. In any case, by 7.15 we were on the train in route to Venice, with a brief stop in Padua to switch and by 9.30, in perfect time, we arrived to Venice.

Thursday 11th - Venice - Lost in the maze

Venice's train station in probably the only one in the world surrounded by the water. As soon as you walk out of it, you already are faced by one of the major venetian channels, crossed by a a somewhat steep bridge which we crossed readily. To be noted, I was loaded with the large backpack which was hosting most of our belongings and that was probably weighting a good 20 kgs. Passed the bridge, we entered the intricate maze-like streets of Venice, sometimes so narrow to not allow two people to walk side by side, and sometimes not allowing a single person to pass if not turned on its side.

Soon, too soon as it turned out, we reached the B&B that where we would had stayed the night and where we counted to leave our stuff before proceeding in the exploration. We had to wait a while as the previous guests checked out and the room was put in order, but we were then positively impressed by the room, with XVIII century venetian-style furnitures.

Unfortunately, as we were waiting for our room, an unwelcomed guest showed up that would had been with us for the days to come: the rain. To be honest, we were lucky in the misfortune in Venice. The first day it made just a few quick appearances to remind us of her during the day, but then, despite a grey sky (which gives Venice a given atmosphere I do not really dislike), it mostly spared us when we were outdoor, just as much as the second day when it made a much stronger appearance, but again limited to about a hour (just the time needed to go from the apartment to the station, obviously).

Taken possession of the room, we headed out and walked to the "Frari", one of the main churches of Venice, not too far from our B&B (Which I chose very close to a "vaporetto", the Venice ferries that take the place of buses, and to the Rialto bridge). In front of it, and not unlike Padua, we were welcomed by music in the shape of a lone player of lute.

Leaving the description of the church itself to more appropriate venues, I shall just comment on one thing peculiar of Venice and that I'd like to be introduced in Rome: you do pay a small fee to visit churches and other historical places, but not if you are a resident of the city. I didn't mind paying 2 euros to visit this and other churches in Venice (as I didn't mind paying such small fees in other churches in other cities), but I think it's just proper that a citizen of a city to be allowed to visit his own places without having to pay. Mutatis mutandis, I'd like to be able to enter the Colosseum for free, as I used to when I was a kid: it's my city, i have the right to live it fully, I do pay taxes to it, after all!

Leaving the church, we headed to San Marco passing over the Rialto bridge. There, we were part of a funny incident. As we were at the very top of the bridge and looking at the "Canal Grande", I noticed what I classified as the largest woman I had ever seen next to me, giving me her back and saying something really loud in german. She was indeed huge, with shoulders of a wrestler. Then she turned and I said to myself "ok, correction here, it's the largest transvestite ever" while at the same time a wide smile appeared over Susanne's face. As the woman/man kept acting in a weird way I issued another correction "ok, that is the largest german crazy transvestite ever", but as a TV camera appeared Susanne finally explained to me I was facing a famous german comedian, Hans-Werner Olm in her "Luise" character.

Crossed Rialto bridge, we walked in the maze of narrows streets until I finally had to admit my orientation sense was badly failing me and, not without shame, I passed the lead to Susanne who, honestly, seemed to feel more at home in such a situation and not much later finally took us to Piazza San Marco, where I was immediately nauseated by the stink of thousands of pigeons people think funny to feed and have all over them (literally). We headed for the cathedral (after having left our small backpack at a near church turned into a wardrobe) and thoroughly visited that, included the presbiterium with its majestic "Pala d'oro", occasionally annoyed by the loud voice of an american guide leading a group of only slightly noisy people (in a church where, in theory, you should keep silence all the time).

Having left the cathedral, we went in search for the tourist information office to buy a daily ticket for the ferries and an integrated museum ticket. There, we got to know that, being the lucky ones we are, the ferries would had been in strike the whole day after. once we got the ticket, we headed and visited the truly magnificent Palazzo Ducale, prisons included (note for erudite italians: we crossed a group of people saying things like "Ah, is it the way DOWN for the Piombi prisons" or "Ah, such prisons are so bad, no wonder Silvio Pellico wrote "Le mie prigioni" here".. no comment). Left the palace, a good 3 hours later, more or less starved, I paid the first of several visits to a MacDonald (which, by hindsight, was a wise choice as future experiences would had led me to create a whole theory about eating in given cities) and then, in order to rest and at the same time not wasting any time of the few precious hours we had in Venice, we took the ferry that runs all along the Canal Grande and we were so lucky to get immediately the two places right at the tip of the boat, enjoying a great and unimpeded view for the whole cruise.

It was, as I did remember it from my first visit 15 years before, a breathtaking experience: the palaces and their peculiar style, S. Maria della Salute's church, the gondolas, the flags, the wooden taxi-boats, Rialto's bridge... everything seemed just perfect to me and even the cloudy sky, in my opinion, added to it, making it melancholic but not gloomy. And Susanne's expression of awe and joy just made it even better, I must say.

Disembarked once again at the train station, we took another ferry, this time towards Murano, where we would had liked to see the glass-blowing artisans. We got an interesting cruise again, seeing the much less touristic and therefore usually neglected northern side of the city from the sea and we arrived on the island in a sudden, violent but luckily quick shower of rain. Unfortunately, we discovered that the glass-blowing activity, especially after the summer, goes on only during the morning. I then took Susanne to visit the little but wonderful church of San Donato, with its mosaics and external abside, and then we spent a bit of time looking for something for my mother (I eventually took her a necklace made of tiny glasses of different colors).

We got back from Murano, again under rain, and we headed home to dry ourselves as, amazingly for such an organized person as she is, Susanne's shoes weren't waterproof and got totally soaked at the first drops of rain (which proved to be a problem in the next days and was solved in Venice with a hair-drier...) and prepare for dinner. And here I elaborated a theory: in places like Venice (and London) you better go at a MacDonald unless you are up for leaving 50 euros per person at a restaurant. In fact, we did indeed go to a restaurant where I had the displeasure of eating one of the worst pizzas I ever tried and Susanne the strangest mixed salad I had ever seen... everything for the price of an averagely abundant meal in a nice restaurant in Rome, which is not famous for being such a cheap city itself. After that, another ferry cruise along the Canal Grande at night (a bit sad, truly) and to the Arsenal. After a long, aimless, walk around the area we decided to get back home and call an end to our first day in Venice.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Given that our moving to Venice signed the turning point of our travel, I take a little break here for the events of last week, which was intense.

About monday and tuesday I wrote already. Wednesday was Susanne's 20th birthday (tanti auguri a te, tanti auguri a te...) and I had planned a dinner out, but we were so full still of african food that we postponed. So, having to improvise, I took her to an exhibition ("Italy - Brazil 3 -2") of an italian comedian called Davide Enia (left) which was taking place inside the yearly convention of the Italian Communist Party (my friends couldn't believe it when I told them, one actually warned me that they could had had some conservatives-detector at the entrance...). It was funny, but I'm not sure Susanne enjoyed it so much, being in italian with a sicilian accent.

Thursday we went to a concert organized in the cloister of Villa d'Este, a magnificent renaissance villa some 30 kms away from Rome famous for its fountains and "jeaux d'eau" (with not much display of fantasy, the concert was titled "Jeau d'art a la villa d'Este"). It was cool, in both ways. The concert, an ensemble of sonate and other pieces for piano, offered music by Mozart, Clementi, Chopin, Paganini, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Ravel. We arrived 10 minutes late due a traffic jam I couldn't foresee, which was bad and made us feel a bit uneasy, but nothing like the mobile phone of a lady which rung full force right in the middle of a very quiet adagio.

Friday was the day that broke my physical resistance. The whole week we had been out, meaning returning somewhat late, and I had to wake up early to go to work. Friday was no difference and I had already some troubles standing up. Work and everything, in the evening it was time for the bi-weekly VCN Happy Hour (again in the Cafè Oppio I wrote about a while ago) and then to fulfill a promise I had made to Susanne a while ago, taking her to dance. We headed to the Piper, kind of a legend among the discoes in Rome, and there we danced until well in the early hours of the morning, joined at some point by a handful of my international acquaintances in Rome. It was good, especially the latin music moments, and on the way back home I tried to have Susanne trying another of the legends of Rome, the "Sorchetta con lo schizzo" (left, a kind of croissant with cream, whipcream and nutella) in via Cernaia, but once home I basically passed out and I didn't recover ever since.

Saturday we should had slept, but my mobile accidentally left in Susanne's bag rung as usual at 7.20. Unknown by many, it was the first of the two "European Heritage Days". Unfortunately, the site of the Italian Culture Minister, which hosted the list of the hundreds of italian sites open and of the dozens of special events organized went down exactly on friday evening and didn't come back for the whole week-end. Eventually, we headed for two of the less known, and yet really interesting, roman Museums, the one in Palazzo Altemps and Palazzo Braschi. Afterwards, we met Liesbeth for an aperitivo and we were joined later on by Alessandro (my best friend) and Andrea. The atmosphere was nice (with Alessandro trying not so subtly to explain to Susanne why it is so important to learn italian... professionally, of course) and the drinks went on and the original plan for the evening (which saw a trip to a place where covers of the Dire Straits would had been played) was abandoned.

And Sunday came, the last whole day i would had spent with Susanne. Finally sleeping a bit, we left home around noon to take advantage of the celebrations for the 2006 vintage, which saw several of the larger or historical vineyards around Rome open, offering tours and a taste of the various wines. With little incidents here and there, we visited 4 of them, enjoying various wines and olive oils (it isn't a rare occurrence that places that produce wine deals with oil as well). At about 6 I took Susanne to Castel Gandolfo (the Pope's summer residence) and the best view over the wonderful Albano's lake (right) which peacefully lies in what was about 30.000 years ago the crater of an immense volcano. After that, we headed to Nemi where I offered her a dinner at this famous restaurant overlooking Nemi's lake (truth to be said, neither of us was very hungry with all the wines and little things we had during the day). At the end of it, as if planned, fireworks started over the lake.

Yesterday Susanne left. I took a half day at work to take her (and my brother) to the airport in the middle of a mighty storm that flooded totally the city. To get back home and finding it totally empty and quite was... well... not the nicest experience, I must say. Even falling asleep wasn't easy, despite the huge amount of sleep to recover I have, as something was definitely missing.

Today, news at work, which are changing every moment, and from friends: I sent a sms to a friend of mine (and my first international huge crush of all history, years ago) in Belgrade to wish her a happy birthday and I got one back with amazing news: over the last 6 months she got married and became a mom. What can I say... wow!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Travel Chronicles IV - Summer - From Montagnana to Padua and back

Wednesday 11th - Montagnana - The unusually quiet morning

Wednesday we took it easy. We woke up, had a long breakfast (personally, enjoying the sugar "conquered" the night before), prepared with all the calm in the world and headed out in the quiet streets of Montagnana. Knowing that Padua was just 50 minutes away and with plenty of trains connecting the city indeed was a pleasant thing and for once we weren't running to the station with the "that train or nothing" feeling.

At the station, we found a different kind of people to share the trip with: if the previous two days we found ourselves surrounded by secondary and high school kids, on our way to Padua it was mostly university students around us.

Wednesday 11th - Padua - The crazy guide in the laid-back city

The one in Padua was possibly the most relaxing of the ones we had over the whole week, with one single episode counting as an exception. As soon as we got out of the station and headed for the city we encountered a bookshop offering a "pay 2, take 3" on already discounted books, a hardly resistible offer for two people like Susanne and me. Being it closed as we passed in front of it, we took mental note to visit it again on our way back.

The first thing on the list, and conveniently on the way from the station to downtown, was Giotto's "Scrovegni's chapel". There, a ticket seller in a particular good mood (and with a ticket system with a lot of problems) decided to award us two reduced-fee tickets for the turn of visits starting at 10.15 am. In fact, only 30 people at any time can visit the chapel and only for 15 minutes, to avoid the frescoes' deterioration, which are preceded by another 15 minutes of introductory video explaining what the visitor is going to see.

We moved directly to the chapel and the guardian there was so nice to actually let us joining the previous turn than the one we were assigned, which counted only a half dozen people, sparing us a half hour waiting and having to see the place with the much more numerous group that was coming soon. The introductory video was really well done, in italian with english and german subtitles (which, funnily, was a problem for Susanne, with her hears following the italian audio and her eyes on the german and her mind on the english subtitles). The chapel itself was, as had been for me the first time as well, stunning, particularly the "inferno" part of the last judgment (bottom right section in the picture).

Finished our 15 minutes in the chapel we headed for the civic museum attached to it, hosted in the former monastery of the "Eremitani". And there, the only bad moment of the day happened. The first floor hosted the antiquity (mostly roman and egyptian) section, included some very interesting mosaics. Unfortunately, we couldn't appreciate much most of it as a scarily weird guardian, of maybe 25-35 years of age, decided to attach himself to Susanne and me. At the beginning it looked quite harmless, It all started with a general question he asked me which I interpreted as an attempt at breaking the monotony of the day and to which I politely replied. Unfortunately, it followed another question and yet another one that met my, still polite, increasingly colder replies as we marched from room to room and he kept chasing us. As he started talking with Susanne my patient was to the limit, also because the topic of the questions were becoming more and more personal and they were mixed with long blabbering (which I stopped following early one).

At some point, it occurred to me that the guy could had been not in its full mind and my attempts at leaving him behind redoubled, with scarce success. Luckily, as I was just about to turn and flatly ask if he didn't have other rooms to check and people to control, he was intercepted by two other visitors who asked him something, allowing us to put a room in between us. At that point, we were seriously playing hide and seek with the guy and once we arrived at the end of the first floor it was with some anguish we realized we had to go back in order to continue the visit. With no other solution, we turned on our heels and with a quick marching peace walked back, crossed the guy who made a step towards us only to be met by a nod and a possibly increased tempo of our steps, and off we were, up to the second floor where, seriously, for the first 5 minutes we expected to see him materializing behind us. Creepy experience indeed.

The rest of the museum was huge, filled with paintings (more than 3.o00!) and bronze statues, and even interesting, but slightly maze-like and ultimately exhausting. As we walked down, once again looking around for the weirdo, we paid a brief visit to the Eremitani's church (with its Mantegna's frescoes unfortunately almost totally pulverized by a a couple of air bombs during the last stage of WWII), not before having made a call to my grandmother in the occasion of her 85th birthday. As we walked downtown, our mood was already back to normal and a nice trio playing Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi at a street corner made it even better.

After having been closed in a museum for almost 3 hours, we walked for a long while around the centre of the city, finding the two main central squares of the city used in the very same way they were used 500 years ago: fruit and vegetables markets. We were also looking for a very specific thing: brown thread and a needle, but we were unlucky in our search for the better part of the day. And we walked, and we walked, saw the tower of the clock, the various important palaces, the side streets and reached the cathedral... once again closed for lunch. Through the former ghetto's narrow streets we walked to "prato della valle" (left), an immense open space in the middle of the city with at the centre a nice little park surrounded by a channel and ornate by dozens of statues, where we (ok, I, on the right) finally decided to have a break.

Next step, the "Chiesa del Santo", meaning the church of Saint Anthony from Padua, famous and venerated for his miracles and where I myself stood in prayer next to the saint's coffin, probably to Susanne's surprise. Having visited the whole church and his many, wonderful, cloisters, we left the church, smiling to the scores of visitors, especially americans and russians, rejected at the entrance for inappropriate clothing (despite the warmth, Susanne had been wise enough to bring a jacket to cover her shoulders every day, and Saint Anthony's guardians are notoriously among the most strict enforcers of the dress code for churches, second only to the ones of Saint Peter in Rome).

And there we went again, walking around the city, having a quick lunch at a sushi bar (I love sushi...) and then looking for the university and it's hall frescoes with the coat of arms of ancient students. At that point, we call the cultural visit over and we indulged in a typical pleasure of Padua: the "Spritz", which is a kind of light cocktail made of prosecco, soda and campari or aperol. We sat in piazza delle erbe and enjoyed a bit of relax when I was called by a friend of mine from Padua and recently mom, Sveva, who regretted the fact she was just back from another city and couldn't meet me. She also revealed me that another old friend of mine, Federico, had his law firm at less than 200 meters from where we were and so, as soon as the call was over, I gave him a call and half a hour later, there we were, reminiscing old times (between Federico and Alessandra, I bet Susanne has joining ELSA at the top of her "never to do" list).

Said goodbye to Federico, we set towards the station, paid homage at the library we had seen in the morning (without buying anything, amazingly) and boarded the train, reaching Montagnana once again with a bit of anxiety due the renewed difficulty of identifying the right station coming from the opposite direction that we had gotten used in the previous days.

Wednesday 11th - Montagnana - The last night

Once arrived in Montagnana, we made a last tour of the city before the sunset, taking a couple of pictures of its walls. Then, a quick grocery shopping for the next morning and a kebab were arranged and we headed home to prepare everything for the day after that would had seen us heading at a very early hour towards Venice where we would had stayed for the next two days .

And yes, if you are wondering by now... the bloody toothpaste was forgotten again.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Travel Chronicles III - Summer - From Montagnana to Mantua and back

Tuesday 10th - Montagnana - The forbidden cathedral

On tuesday the first objective was to see the cathedral of Montagnana, which we had failed to see the day before and that I meant to visit since the time I had originally discovered the place, two years ahead.

One thing is to be said of Montagnana's cathedral: it is not really a cathedral, being that there is no bishop or cardinal, but it could very well be considering its size, which is huge in general and gargantuan if compared with the dimension of the city itself. Practically speaking, in a city that is about 800 meters long, this church measures 64 meters: with the same proportions, Saint Peter in Rome would be something like 2 kilometers long .

The internal turned out to be partially under work (what is, the restoration year of the whole italian north-east?), but all in all quite rich and interesting for such a minuscule city and once again, actually even more, I got the feeling everyone was staring at us wondering something on the line of "who are these invaders?".

Tuesday 10th - Mantua - Don't say "rabbit", ever.

If Verona was the city of the Scaligers, Mantua was the city of the even more influential Gonzagas, who ruled it for almost 4 centuries starting in 1328. And while Verona could had been Catullus' city, Mantua is Vergil's' one and is so proud of it to represent it in the city's coat of arms (see the little face in the upper left quarter?).

Anyway, Mantua was probably the most tense of our visits, not because of the city itself, but because of a "little" diplomatic incident happened towards the end of the day. Anyway, Mantua was also the city where we walked around the least and the only one where we missed one of the major venues we had listed as "must see" before leaving (yes, we actually sat down before leaving making a list of "must see" and "to see if possible" venues).

What we did was to walk to the church of Sant'Andrea, which for a moment I incredibly identified as the cathedral of the city and from there, passing in fro,t of the "palazzo della ragione" (left) and it's wondrous tower of the clock, to Piazza Sordello, where the real city's cathedral and the main entrance to the ducal palace are. It would indeed be more correct to say "palaces", being that the Gonzagas spent centuries connecting all their properties in town and even the castle of the city in a single, huge, entity.

We headed for the palace first and there the ticket seller made me smile. As I asked a full and a reduced (under 25 years) ticket she looked at us and said "who's the reduced one?". Still smiling, I decided to get also an audio guide, despite having my faithful guide with me, just because they look funny consisting in a cd player with two connected earplugs. So it was that we marched in the palace, Susanne holding the guide and, consequently, me at a kind of a leash (which I suppose she enjoyed a lot) and for almost three hours we adventured in the palace, included Pisanello's rooms and the overly famous and truly magnificent Mantegna's "camera degli sposi" (while we couldn't see the Castle of San Giorgio, being prepared with a large exhibition right about Mantegna for the 500th anniversary of his death).

Out of the palace, tired, we looked for a place for lunch and, being my favourite (and only) restaurant in Mantua was closed, we walked back and settled right in front of the ducal palace where I had a sandwich and Susanne... yes, a salad. Which, by hindsight, would had brought the catastrophe later on, but I didn't know, then.

Anyway, after lunch, we moved to Mantua's cathedral, with it's painting and frescoes by Giulio Romano (who is also the architect of the whole building) and the wonderful sagrestia painted a fresco, and then took a wide walk around the castle and along the lake that surrounds the city on three sides, finally heading towards "Palazzo Te", the last of the things we meant to see. But it happened that along the way we noticed a shop offering sales and Susanne decided for a brief check.. which became a 90 minutes stop while she tried this and that, and then again. So it was that by the time we were out, it was too late for Palazzo Te and we instead headed towards Piazza Virgilio, a nice green spot in the heart of the city created by a general of Napoleon, at the time military governor of the city, at the end of the XVIII century.

And there it happened. I can't remember how we actually got to the topic (lunch could had helped), fact is we were suddenly talking of rabbits. Quite insanely, at Susanne (proud owner of a huge black rabbit) saying how much she likes rabbits I happened to reply "oh, I like them too... roasted, mostly". Yet we were still evidently (to both) joking at that point, but then she expressed her concerns about what to do with his rabbit now that she's moving and how taking it to Mainz could had affected, with her living on her own and having no one to leave him, her possibility of coming again to see me in Rome. At that I, joking, I swear, replied "I suppose you'll have to choose between him and me, then". She got it seriously and got annoyed, said something I, in turn, misunderstood totally (lovely things happening when two people have an argument in a third language) and the consequences were two hours and a painfully long train trip in almost absolute silence .

Tuesday 10th - Montagnana - The drink offered and the one denied

By the time we were back home, anyway, the situation had been defused and things were made even better by the owner of the apartment where we were staying who, when I went to settle the bill, offered us two large glasses of a drink made mostly of Ananas juice (which I hate, but Susanne loves) and I do not know what else.

As we went out for dinner, tho, we saw the other face of hospitality in Montagnana when, sitting at this kind of bar, we ordered a mix of cheeses and hams, which were adequate, and a glass of wine which was basically empty, made even worse by seeing the others around us getting routinely the same glasses but half filled up. I didn't particularly feel as a quarrel and gave up, but we got back to them anyway... by the end of the evening, between by camera's bag, Susanne's pockets and my shirt's right sleeve we took away twelve sugar packets (the one you usually get in bars with coffee) for next morning's breakfast.

Relaxed and chuckling for our little bravado, we finally got home and prepared to go to bed when a "Oh bloody hell" was heard "the toothpaste, AGAIN!" followed by a "Oh, we'll buy it tomorrow" as an answer. With a hint of a snicker in it, I could swear.