Village Italy Tour

Day 2 Sunday May 15, 2005
Venice - Padua

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I slept like a dead man. I finally noticed the light in the room at 8:20. I cannot remember the last time that I slept so late.

Sue greeted me with extremely bad news. She had forgotten to switch her sleep machine over to 220 volts before she turned it on. It blew up and was now dead. The problem was probably just a fuse, but there was not much that we can do about it in Venice on a Sunday morning, and we were not about to waste our one day in Venice searching for a hardware store that was open on Sunday. We were hopeful that we might be able to take care of it in Padua on Monday. In the interim neither of us is likely to sleep well – Sue because of the difficulty in breathing without her machine and me because of the resultant snoring.

We had a pretty decent breakfast at the hotel. It was self-service. The cappuccino from the machine was mediocre, but they had corn flakes and milk, hard rolls, and orange juice. The best part was a fruit-filled tort for dessert.

The San Marcuola church, a block or two from our hotel.

Sue figured out how to get the TV in the hotel room to work. We watched a lady dancing in some kind of religious service. When she finished, she struck an awkward pose and pulled her skirt around to cover her legs. I don't think that it was a Catholic ceremony, or at least not officially Catholic. I didn't see anyone wearing vestments or acting sacerdotal.

I wonder if they told the crews that the Grand Canal also serves as Venice’s sewer system.

The plan for the day was to check out of the hotel by 10:30. However, we planned to leave our bags at the desk, take the vaporetto to San Marco to visit the Correr Museum and the Doge’s Palace, then take the vaporetto back to the hotel, walk to the Santa Lucia train station, and catch the train to Padua. We therefore set out for the San Marcuola vaporetto stop. There seemed to be curiously little activity there. Occasionally a shell or two with four or eight oarsmen in it would skim past us in the Grand Canal. One, evidently from Lausanne, had a different letter on each person’s back. I tried to get a photo of them, but they were too fast for me. After about fifteen minute we got a little concerned. The vaporetto was supposed to come every ten minutes. Finally a young lady showed us a sign that indicated that the service had been suspended this day because of the race. Our only way of getting to San Marco would be on foot. I was again surprised to hear that my companions were agreeable to walking. From my perspective the main problem was that the lack of transportation would eliminate virtually all of our spare time. At least the weather was nicer than it had been on Saturday.

The route to San Marco was simple. Basically you just followed the same road, which the Venetians called a “calle”, all the way. It was extremely crowded because of all of the well-dressed locals on their way to church and the slovenly tourists walking to Rialto or San Marco. The most interesting incident was when a female carabiniere rousted some itinerant handbag vendors. She was extremely upset at them. Nevertheless on our return walk they were out in force, or maybe there were some different guys the second time.

Despite the fact that it was a Sunday – and Pentecost at that – nearly all of the shops were open. Patti and Sue kept stopping to look in windows. We were beginning to risk running out of time, so I proposed that they meet us at 1:30 at Piazza San Marco. At that point we were within shouting distance of it. They both readily agreed. I don't think that they really cared much about seeing the museums any way.

Tom and I saw a huge cruise ship in the lagoon near San Marco. It must have had ten decks above the water.

If a Venetian wanted to turn someone in to the Doge, he put the accusation in the mouth.

I had already been to both the Correr Museum and the Doge’s Palace, but I thought that Tom would enjoy the experience of seeing both of them, especially the Doge’s Palace. I had hoped to get a look at the Veronese exhibit at the Correr Museum, but I could not find it very easily, and by this point we had no time whatever to spare. Tom was more interested in the weapons and other memorabilia in the Correr than I had been two years ago. He seemed to appreciate the ornate grandeur of the Doge’s Palace, too. He was definitely awe-struck by the gigantic Tintoretto in the council room. He also liked the clock that did double duty in two different rooms.

The view from side of the Bridge of Sighs away from the Grand Canal.

I got some really nice snapshots of the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale. The photos that I took from the bridge of sighs may be the best ones of all.

The view from the Grand Canal’s side of the Bridge of Sighs.

I already wrote my room-by-room impressions of the Correr Museum and the Palazzo Ducale in 2003. The main difference this time was that most of the paintings by Veronese that had been in the Palazzo Ducale had evidently been borrowed for the exhibit in the Correr Museum.

We were supposed to meet Sue and Patti at the flagpoles in front of the basilica. We arrived fifteen minutes late (and we really had to rush to get there that early), but we still beat them by about ten minutes. The long walk back to the hotel was not too eventful. Some time after we had passed the Rialto bridge, the ladies started to get hot and tired. Tom found a small gelateria with benches in the shade outside. We each sat down and enjoyed a coppa (mine was pistacchio again) and then we headed to the hotel, which was, in fact, just around the corner. We picked up our bags, made a pit stop, and then walked to the train station.

I had much the same reaction to Venice that I had experienced two years ago. It was interesting, but I was happy to be going somewhere else.

In the train station I found the bigletteria and attempted to buy the four tickets for Padua. They were only 10€ in total! I made sure that they accepted credit cards before I tried to pay with my MasterCard. Nevertheless each time that I attempted to give him my card, the guy just kept repeating the price in an increasingly condescending tone. I was glad that Tom was with me to validate how surly he was. It brought to mind the ticket salesman at the Centrale station in Milan in 2003. On that occasion he had made a big show of correcting my pronunciation of Varenna.

We got the tickets and went to track 16. We probably should have gotten them “convalidated” in the yellow box, but I did not see such a box anywhere. I wasn't really looking for one. I just wanted to plant my tush in a seat.

The train was nearly empty when we climbed aboard, but by the time that it was ready to depart just a few minutes later, it was quite full. We put our bags up on the rack. It was quite an effort for me to lift my suitcase, which contained both my computer and Sue’s CPAP machine, up over my head. Most of the others on the train were day-trippers without luggage, so there was plenty of room up there.

We made five stops before we got to Padua. By then the train was jam-packed. We fretted about getting out all of our luggage before the people getting on at Padua could fill up the aisles and make it difficult to exit. A few stops early Sue got down her stuff and pushed her way into the exit area. She let us know when the Padua station was coming up. We pulled down our luggage from the racks. We could not immediately make our way to the platform because half of the people on the train were trying to get to the exit. Nevertheless, we eventually descended onto the platform with no difficulty. We found a cab with no difficulty. I told the driver in Italian that we were going to Albergo Al Fagiano. The cab driver found our hotel with no difficulty.

When we arrived I told everyone, “My job here is done.” I had to admit that I had been pretty nervous about all the arrangements for the first two days of the trip. An awful lot could have gone wrong, but it all seemed to have worked out.

Bonnie Shannon, who identified herself as a member of our tour group, was reading La Repubblica in the lobby of our hotel when we arrived. She told us that she was from Kinderhook, NY. As we were checking in, our guide, Nina Bernardo, appeared and introduced herself. She could not be much more than 30, although she had graduated from Xavier and had lived in Italy for the last eight years. Everyone noticed her nose and ear piercings. From Nina we learned that the orientation meeting would be at 5:30 p.m. in the breakfast room. Tom and Patti got room #30. Our room was #55.

I have to mention the bizarre artwork in this hotel. I guess that it would be called ultramodern. Most were three-dimensional works consisting of toys or household objects glued onto painted canvas. The one in our room was of a naked woman. Her arms were aluminum foil. One elbow and both tits were shells. The pubic area was something more difficult to identify. I took a photo. Nina told me that these were done by the proprietor’s wife. He probably wouldn't let her keep them in the house.

The floors in the hotel all seemed to be made of marble or something that looked like it. My brown shoes definitely squeaked whenever I walked on it.

The view from our bathroom window in Padua.

Sue discovered the really nice view from our windows, especially our bathroom window. The towers of the basilica of San Antonio were clearly visible above the well-kept stucco apartment buildings across the courtyard.

They should dispense manuals for the TV sets in Italian hotel rooms. I finally figured out how to get the one in our room to function. Oh, rats. A.C. Siena lost to Chievo, a team that they had previously defeated. They are in serious trouble again.

The only seat left at the orientation meeting when we arrived was at the table on which the wine bottles had been arrayed. This was, in my opinion, the direct cause of something that happened much later in the evening. Nina told us to pair up with a “buddy” for the tour. I asked Barbara Doggett to be mine. She and her husband Tom are from Beaverton, OR. Sue’s buddy was Bill Churchill. Even though neither he nor his wife Cecile announced this fact in their introductory speeches, they were Memphians. Tom’s buddy was Wayne Beckett, the other bearded member of the group. He and his wife Pat lived in Portland, OR. Patti’s buddy was Claudia Ebsworth, a pharmacist from Mt. Vernon, WA.

Most of the people had already been on Rick Steves trips. Practically everyone seemed to have traveled extensively in Europe and elsewhere.

We learned that we will eat half of our lunches and suppers together. Each person would kick in 50€ for wine for the entire trip. Tom was thinking about buying two subscriptions. A better solution might be for him to buy one for himself and one for Patti. Then he can drink 175% of normal, and she can drink ¼ of normal. Among other things Nina told us that if we wanted to make a phone call to the U.S., we should go to a Tabacchi and ask for a 5€ phone card called the Carta Europa.

Tom Doggett right outside the hotel in Padua.

After the meeting we then went on an orientation walk of Padua, the temporary home of 60-65,000 college students. It seemed like a really nice place. There was no campus; the buildings were spread throughout the town. The students were therefore everywhere. We walked past the Prato Delle Valle, the very large piazza just across from the hotel, the main building of the university, several churches, and the Palazzo di Ragione, which was flanked during the day by a fruit market on one side and a vegetable market on the other.

Sue, Nina, and Dorothy Gist on the streets of Padua.

I was disappointed to learn from Nina that the museums would not be open on Monday. This fact made it difficult to plan what to do on Monday afternoon, which we would have free. Our highest priority certainly was to get Sue’s sleep machine working.

We saw a pair of Polizia Finanzia officers wearing brown uniforms. Nina explained that these guys audit books to make sure that everyone pays their taxes. They also accost people leaving stores asking to see the receipts for their purchases. If they don't have them, both the store and the customer could get fined. Their primary responsibility, however, seemed to be to chat up unescorted young women.

Bill Churchill, Dorothy, Nina, Pat and Wayne Beckett, Barb Krause, Bill Corley, and Jan Engle in front of the Palazzo di Ragione.

Nina told us that when a student had passed his final exams, his friends would dress him up in something embarrassing. They then would give him a bottle of wine and walk him around town. Along the way they would make up challenges for him. Every time that he failed, he had to take a slug of wine. We were warned to be on the lookout for such a situation on Monday.

After the orientation walk we all followed Nina into the Antica Trattoria al Bersagliere for our first meal together. Nina had selected the menu. The antipasto was a pastry with some kind of unusual stuffing and a sauce on the side with lettuce and a little cabbage. The primo was risotto flavored with fresh asparagus and pasta. The secondo featured two kinds of baccalà (dried salt cod) and two kinds of polenta. The risotto, which I ordinarily do not care for, was by far the best part of the meal. I liked the baccalà, too.

Ruth Abad sat next to me at dinner. She seemed to me like a very interesting person. She has lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Hawaii. Now she lives in the very progressive town of Olympia, WA. She is traveling with Dorothy Gist, who evidently knows a lot about Hawaii. Ruth said that I should ask her any questions that I have about Kauai. Ruth and Ed Mazur, the other couple at our table, seemed to travel all the time. Ruth Mazur told about her trip to Turkey. She said that although she liked the food, everyone in her group got the “Turista.” She seemed a little put out when I told her that the evening greeting in Italy was buona sera, not buena sera. Ed didn't say much that I could hear.

Our main project before we left Padua and were immersed in true villages was to restore the functionality of Sue’s CPAP machine. She had figured out how to open it and had removed the fuses, one of which had obviously blown. I had never encountered the word, so I had had to look it up in my trusty dictionary. The Italian equivalent was “fusibile” (masculine). I added it to my spreadsheet of new Italian words. I had done all of this well before the orientation meeting and walk. Some time after we got back to the hotel Sue asked me what the word for fuse was. I erroneously told her “fusilare” rather than “fusibile.” I blame this failure on the fact that I was forced to sit beside the wine bottles during the orientation meeting.

Two things seemed to dominate my emotions on this evening. I felt great relief about the first part of our trip, all the arrangements of which I was responsible for. The other emotion was excitement about the upcoming two weeks. The tour seemed to have started very well indeed.

Note: I several times saw a long-haired dachshund that seemed very content to stroll the alleys and streets of Venice without human companionship. Another short-legged dog in Venice was obviously having a great time chasing pigeons in the Piazza San Marco. I was not successful at getting a picture of either one. I was still much too slow on the draw.