Village Italy Tour

Day 4 Tuesday May 17, 2005
Padua, Chioggia, Classe, Montone

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I slept so much better. However, my hip started bothering me as soon as I got out of bed, and no amount of stretching seemed to make the pain go away. Occasionally I felt a really sharp pang. I may have to pay a call on St. Anthony's relics in the basilica before we leave. For the time being I decided just to grin and bear it.

The basilica in the morning light.

I got up early enough that I was actually able to get caught up on my journal. Sue got up, too. We made it to breakfast shortly after 7:30. I wore my Lewonczyk Kielbassafest tee shirt. Breakfast was rather meager – pre-packaged toasted bread, crescent roll, orange juice, and cappuccino. I managed to spill a little grape jelly on my white shirt. Sue avoided the Bel Paese cheese, on which she had assessed the blame for an embarrassing physical condition.

Sue in front of the store that saved our vacation.

After breakfast Sue guided me to the electrical store at which she got her fuse. It was called G. Fanton. On the way back I got a good snapshot of an incredible place down below the street that appeared to be aspiring to be Hawaiian. This picture and a picture that I took of the side of the basilica came out exceptionally well.

Padua, not Hawaii.

I stopped at a Tabacchi and asked the man at the counter for a Carta Europa so that I could call the office from the hotel room. It set me back 5€, just as I expected.

Sandy and the Corleys (Billie and Dick) cross from the Prato to the Piazza della Pace Ytzhak Rabin.

The group assembled at 9:30 to leave Padua. By the time that I got my bag to the bottom of the stairs, my hip was quite sore. The pain only lasted a second or two, but it was intense. Dorothy even commented upon the strained look on my face. We assembled, conducted a buddy check, and then trooped across the main square, the Prato della Valle, a very large open area that actually has grass. On the other side was the Piazza della Pace Ytzhak Rabin, in which a carnival company was unloading and assembling its rides. Beyond that was a large stadium. Parked next to the stadium was our bus and its driver Mario. All in all this was a long walk, but nobody complained.

Italians call a traffic jam a coda.

Nina had coached us to say “Buon giorno, Mario. Che bel pullman che hai.” I jumped the gun a little and told him, “Il suo Pullman č molto bello.” He smiled and thanked me in English.

We left the fragole on the windowsill of the hotel room. I knew they were there, but I had no intention of carrying them with us. They would probably have turned into a messy paste in the suitcase or a backpack.

A field of poppies in the Veneto.

Sue and I seated ourselves near the back of the bus. After all of us were settled, we dutifully chanted our greeting to Mario. Nina collected for the wine. Our first planned stop was at Chioggia, the town that is right at the base of the barrier islands for the Venetian lagoon. As the bus was on the outskirts of Padua I was surprised to see a shop with the sign, “Macelleria Equina” – horse butcher. Later in Chioggia I saw another shop (I got a picture of this one) with a similar sign with a picture of a horse on it. I also saw some cattle just out of town. We saw field after field of poppies. I finally managed to get a decent picture of one field from the bus window. We also saw fields that Mario identified for us as “bietola” (chard) and “orzo” (barley). Then we ran into our first traffic jam. Mario swung the bus into the left lane and passed a long line of trucks, a maneuver that is strictly illegal. If he had gotten caught, he would have been fined. Everyone joined in a round of applause that Nina orchestrated for him. I noticed that one of the vehicles that we passed was a police van.

Chioggia, a poor man’s Venice.

Garibaldi said, “Being among you is just like being among my family.”

I considered buying a live eel here.

We arrived in Chioggia at about 11:15 and congregated in front of a government building from the balcony of which Garibaldi gave a speech in 1867, the year that Italy was founded. Nina told us a little about Chioggia, and we established a time for reassembling back at this very spot. We went through the fish market as a group and then split up. Sue and I wandered around a little bit. We stopped on a bridge near the edge of the lagoon. There we saw some ladies guiding a large group of children with identical baseball caps. Their group had something to do with agriculture and Rome, which struck me as an unusual combination. A few minutes later we stopped for lunch at the Ristorante al Buon Pesce. We split an antipasto, mixed grill of seafood, and a primo, spaghetti with tomatoes. Both dishes were very good. We seemed to have found the key to dealing with Italian restaurants – sharing.

A picturesque canal.

Ruth and Dorothy approach.

Two people enjoying an excellent lunch.

We took some pictures of one another at our table and enlisted the help of Ruth and Dorothy, who happened to be walking by, to snap one of us together. To me the most interesting part of the whole Chioggia experience was the way that our waiter reacted to the passing by of a very well-endowed lady and the behavior of a dog who tried to water some of his plants for him. In both cases there were few words but significant gestures, which even I had no trouble interpreting.

Tom somehow missed lunch. I found this truly incredible. I could not fathom how he and Patti had spent the time.

Dick Corley had a large road map on which he struggled to locate Montone. Dorothy, who had located it on her roadmap, helped him.

We drove by several Agip gasoline stations. Sue and I determined that the animal (wolf?) on the signs has six legs. I do not see how this is possible even for a mythical creature.

The sign lists the stores in the mall.

We were able to see the Pomposa Abbey, which was built by the Benedictines in 1570. At about this point we were entering the region of Emilia Romagna. We had been driving through the very flat valley of the Po River, which flows almost straight east from the mountainous French border to the Adriatic. The Po valley has long been the breadbasket of Italy. We drove past miles and miles of farmland, largely orzo. The orzo shoots looked like corn, but many people remarked that they were too close together. There were often trees on both sides of the road. I don't remember ever observing anything like this on the Best of Italy tour. Of course we mostly drove on the super-highways on that trip. This time we also spotted several supermarkets and even one mall. I only noted one supermarket in Naples in twenty-nine days two years ago.

We reached the Ravenna area and headed toward Classe, which at one time was a port that could hold 250 or so ships at one time. Just about all that is left of the town is the old basilica, and I do mean old. It was built in the 530's, during the bizarre period after the sack of Rome but before Charlemagne. The façade of brick and limestone mortar was designed and executed by Giuliano Argentario, who is famous for his use of long narrow bricks. The rest of the town was evidently destroyed by Lombard invaders.

It looks pretty good for a 1,435 year old church.

Sue was allowed into the church even though she was wearing her “skorts.” If she hadn’t, she wouldn't have all missed that much. The huge mosaic behind the altar is still in excellent condition. It is a rendition of the transfiguration, when Jesus supposedly showed John, James, and Peter his divinity by appearing to them with Moses and Elijah. In the mosaic a divine hand was in the middle. On one side were Moses, a lamb representing Peter, and six lambs that stood for gentile converts. I am not sure what Moses did to get himself lumped in with the Gentiles. On the other side were Elijah, two lambs representing James and John, and six lambs representing Jewish converts. Above all this were Jesus and the animals that have traditionally represented the four evangelists – a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a human.

The translucent windows were made of alabaster. The floor was covered with marble at one time. It had been stolen by Malatesta in the 15th century for the cathedral at Rimini.

I probably could have taken a photo or two, but I didn’t.

When I was sitting or was moving, my leg felt OK. However, when I stood still for more than a few minutes, I felt pain in my leg. While we waited at the bus for the people using the restroom, I showed my exercises for stretching the IT band to Billie Corley. By coincidence Jan Engle was doing the same thing.

A bridge seen from the bus.

Countryside near Montone

As we drove to Montone, I saw the following: Mirabilanda, an amusement park; a dog kennels; garlic fields (strong smell); free range chickens; sheep; a red clay tennis court; an ostrich farm, several tunnels, several herons; and a beautiful black horse with one white foot. It started raining as we stopped at L'Oasi for a toilet break. Then Nina gave everyone a Bacio chocolate as a pick-me-up. These chocolates come from Perugia. Nina assured us that, despite what we may have heard, they have no calories at all.

By the time that the day's journey was over I had seen two horse butchers and only three horses. This ratio did not bode well for the equine population in the area.

We drove up to the hilltop town of Montone. We got all of our luggage off of the bus and ported the bags down to the Locanda del Capitano. Bonnie and Sandy were assigned to stay in the cantina.

We unpacked and the went on the usual orientation walk. As we passed Bonnie cried out to us from the barred windows of her squalid semi-subterranean room, “Liberame! Liberame!” We ignored her plight. The views from the top seemed spectacular, but the low-lying clouds made photography futile. I made a mental note to try to get back up there if and when the weather improved.

This walk was in a steady rain, and my leg hurt. I had to admit that I did not pay much attention to where we were going or what we were doing. Only about half of the people showed up for the orientation walk. Nina had thoughtfully scheduled a second one on Wednesday for people averse to walking in the rain.

The first thing that I did after dinner was to get out clothes to launder. The approach I developed on the last trip was to use the sink for washing and the ever-present bidet for rinsing. I strung up the clothesline and nearly filled it. I just hoped that everything would dry by the time that we had to leave Montone.

Supper was much more formal than anyone could have expected. The waiters were dressed in formal attire. Mario wore a suit. The rest of us felt like slobs, at least for a few minutes. Then everyone relaxed. There were no fashion police in Montone.

Our table at the locanda.

We were served ravioli with ricotta and spinach; perch with some kind of vegetable from nearby Lake Trasimeno; something I forgot to note for dessert; and Orvieto Classico as the wine. Everything was excellent.

I learned that Bill Churchill, who sat next to me at supper, had worked for W.R. Grace Chemical. He helped with the computer system that they developed to keep track of their trucks carrying dangerous chemicals. He retired from Grace a few years ago, but he said that he still consults for a computer software company in Texas. Bill and his wife Cecile started going together in 1951. They got married as soon as she finished college (a year early). Cecile said that she worked three days a week at a private school in Memphis that was attempting to help children from under-privileged backgrounds get caught up with other students. I told them about my experiences at Wayne State with the students from the inner-city of Detroit.

Ruth Abad was the other person (besides Patti and Tom) at our table. She said that she was feeling better, but she still didn't partake of the wine. Evidently she had just been suffering from a cold. She had deliberately been reclusive in order to avoid spreading it to the group. Ruth also apparently had extreme problems with her connections in getting to Padua. At one point it brought her to tears, but everything worked out in the end.

After supper I tried to call the office using the phone in our room. I discovered that the guy at the Tabacchi in Milan had sold me the wrong card. The one that I got only worked at Telecomm Italia public telephones, and it could only be used for calls within the European Union. I was certain that I asked for the right thing, but the young man at the Tabacchi evidently misunderstood me. It was my fault. I should have checked more closely. I was too cocky.

Patti showed me how to focus my camera. At one time I had known how to do this, but I had forgotten it. I felt like a dope. I wish that I had talked to her about it early in the trip. Quite a few of my pictures up to this point were out of focus. I was stupid not to devote at least a couple of hours before we left to studying the 177-page guide on how to use the camera.

Tom came to the rescue. He let us use his phone card. Sue tried to use it to call Connecticut, but she got a tape-recorded message that said that all lines were in use. She tried again a few minutes later, and she got through with no difficulty at all. I talked with Lucia, and she told me that everything at the office was fine.

Note: I have determined that Bob Walker must be taking the time to shave his head every day. This seemed incredible to me.