A Travellerspoint blog

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A day trip to Padua

sunny 70 °F

My grandfather, who passed away when I was only three, used to have a lot of hobbies. One of them was making model buildings out of cigar boxes and scraps of wood, which he would then wire for lighting and setup in a room in the basement during the Christmas season. Many of the "Christmas Houses" he constructed were passed down to the grandchildren.

The one that always held the most fascination for me was his model of the Basilica of S. Anthony in Padua. He had never seen it, of course..although his family was from Alvignano, he was the only one of his brothers to be born in the U.S. He did, however have a postcard with a photo of it, and built his model from that. Naturally, it was only a partial view of the grand basilica, and he really didn't know anything about church architecture, so he only built what he could see in the postcard, 3/4 of the Basilica. Here's a still from an old 8mm movie that showed the model church when it was in its prime, probably around 1954.

Model of Basilica of S Anthony

Model of Basilica of S Anthony

In 2011, I had the opportunity to see a sophisticated model of the church in the Vatican Museum, and that made up my mind...one of these days, I was going to make it to Padua to see the real thing!

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Since we had an extended stay in Venice this year, we decided to take the short train ride to Padova to visit the Basilica. When we arrived at the station, we exited from the closest door, and couldn't figure out where to catch the tram that rides down into the historic center. Rather than wander around looking for it, we decided to strike out on foot downhill through the busy commercial district, stopping briefly for a panini and some refreshing lemonade.

Recommendation: Take the time to find the tram. The commercial district is not appealing at all.

As we arrived at the historic center, I tried to make sense of the directions I had jotted down. Off in the distance, on the far side of an enormous piazza, I saw what looked vaguely like the basilica I was looking for. We struck off across the immense piazza, the Prato delle Valle.

Prato delle Valle

Prato delle Valle

Prato delle Valle

Prato delle Valle

There it is! At last!

There it is! At last!

As we approached the church, I felt a sense of disappointment. This was not nearly as ornate and beautiful as I had imagined, and a large portion of it was wrapped in scaffolding. Something just didn't seem right. We circled the church, looking for the view that my grandfather had used to make his model.

Santa Giustina

Santa Giustina

When we reached to parking lot at the back of the church, we realized we had gone far astray..this was the Church of Santa Giustina. We had missed the basilica by half a mile! We backtracked across the Prato.

Gattamellata by Donatello

Gattamellata by Donatello

...and there it was. The Basilica was as beautiful as I had imagined. I noted with amusement that my grandfather had missed half the nave and an entire arm of the transept.

Basilica of St. Anthony

Basilica of St. Anthony

Basilica of St. Anthony

Basilica of St. Anthony

Basilica of St. Anthony

Basilica of St. Anthony

Small scale model for the blind to touch

Small scale model for the blind to touch

Inside, the church contains a number of relics of St. Anthony, as well as his tomb. At the time of our visit, the small side chapel that contained the relics was closed. On a large display at one end of the tomb were pinned dozens of votive offerings, silver molded into the shapes of hearts and lungs, signifying people who's ailments were miraculously healed by the intercession of St. Anthony. As we watched quietly, a steady stream of the faithful came up to the tomb, leaned their heads against the black granite, and pressed slips of paper with prayers or names against the tomb, saying a quiet prayer.

It was a profoundly moving experience to witness the faith of the supplicants that come to this church. Of all the churches we have seen in Italy, this one has the strongest feeling of a sacred place, more so even than St. Peter's in Rome.

Leaving the basilica, we find that all of the Tabacchi shops are closed, and we don't have enough coins for the automated machines to buy a tram ticket. Wearily, we trudge back uphill to the train station, and return to Venice. Our trip to Padua has been both frustrating and rewarding.

Posted by Zukini 17:44 Archived in Italy Tagged padova padua Comments (0)

Venice Wrap-up

semi-overcast 69 °F

Our final day in Venice is spent revisiting some areas we've seen before, as well as exploring areas we've yet to visit.

We start off by heading up into Cannaregio. The traghetto crossing near our apartment is closed (perhaps permanently?), so we backtrack and cross into Cannaregio near the railway station.

Our first stop is the Jewish Ghetto. This is located on a small island, with only two entrance points. Since the Jewish population had no room to expand, they had to build up, resulting in buildings 7 stories tall, the tallest residences in Venice.

The Jewish Ghetto

The Jewish Ghetto

Entrance to the Ghetto

Entrance to the Ghetto

The Campo of the Ghetto

The Campo of the Ghetto

In one corner of the central Campo, there is a wall topped with barbed wire, with a series of plaques depicting the Holocaust. It is a very moving memorial.

Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust Memorial

Departing the Ghetto, we are approached by a restauranteur offering samples of his lunch fare. We decide to have lunch canal side at Gam Gam Kosher Restaurant, and it's absolutely delicious. The food is distinctly Mediterranean in style. For example, here is the mixed appetizer platter, which included falafel, marinated mushrooms, chickpeas, celeraic, humus, eggs, and onions.

Varieties of Mediterranean appetizers

Varieties of Mediterranean appetizers

I enjoy a delicious moussaka and Mrs. Zuke digs into some chicken shwarma. It's a great place to lunch, particularly if you grab an outside table beside the canal.

We continue our trek through the quiet and picturesque Cannaregio district, stopping to view the "three moors". One has had a rhinoplasty.

Looks like he had rhinoplasty

Looks like he had rhinoplasty

Here and there, we see banners flapping in the breeze, which read "NO Grande Nave", protesting the huge cruise ships that call on Venice. Even having once been an avid cruiser, I understand the sentiment...these large ships are (in my opinion) destructive to the city. It's a chilling sight to view one of them entering the basin and working its way up the grand canal to the cruise terminal. On one of the days we were in Venice, three mega-ships were also calling there, disgorging almost 10,000 tourists in one mighty horde.

As we reach the eastern end of Cannaregio and the marina, we're treated to a view of the lagoon. On the right is the Cemetery island of San Michele, surrounded by a brick wall. On the left, you can see the white Faro lighthouse of Murano, the island known for its many glass factories.

Cannaregio marina

Cannaregio marina

As we cross over the bridge, we spot a couple of ladies learning how to row with Row Venice. They shout out their email address so I can send them a photo.

Some folks learning to row a Barca

Some folks learning to row a Barca

Our stay in Venice has been wonderful. We've really had the opportunity to enjoy the city, and the evenings have been enchanting. Tomorrow, we'll be taking a fairly short train ride to Florence for a one-night stay, but for tonight, one last opportunity to enjoy La Serenissima.

Dusk on the Grand Canal

Dusk on the Grand Canal

Posted by Zukini 14:33 Archived in Italy Tagged venice jewish_ghetto Comments (0)

A Short Stay in Florence

sunny 70 °F

For Thursday, May 15th, we're going to take the train from Venice to Florence, and make a day out of it, staying overnight and departing the next morning for points south. We're not big on Renaissance art, so we're skipping the museums during this trip.

The train from Venice to Florence is, as usual, a breeze...I really enjoy using the Italian train system for transportation. We've booked a room at the Hotel Laurus Al Duomo, and it's really very nice and centrally located. Here's the view from our room:

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After a light snack, we head over toward the Duomo complex. Our plan is to climb both the dome and the bell tower. To do so, you first need to stop at the ticket office, on the south side of plaza, opposite the Baptistry. The ticket is now a combined fare for all of the Duomo complex.

The Baptistry itself is currently undergoing exterior renovations, and is covered with canvas.

The Baptistry is covered with a tarp for restoration

The Baptistry is covered with a tarp for restoration

We do, however, get to see the replica of the "Gates of Heaven":

The bronze doors of the Baptistry (actually replicas)

The bronze doors of the Baptistry (actually replicas)

First up, the climb to the cupola of the Duomo. Brunelleschi's dome is an engineering marvel, and architects are still trying to figure out how he managed to accomplish the construction of this vast dome without the use of timber forms or concrete. This journey is foot powered, all the way. Your first ascent is through spiral stairs ascending through the transept of the church.

The Duomo

The Duomo

Fine mosaic work

Fine mosaic work

Entrance for the stairs to the dome

Entrance for the stairs to the dome

Narrow spiral stairs

Narrow spiral stairs

Eventually, you reach the base of the dome itself, where you have an incredible view of the fresco. You're also surrounded by a plexiglass wall, which inhibits photography somewhat.

Reaching the fresco at the base of the dome

Reaching the fresco at the base of the dome

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171 feet down

171 feet down

The Last Judgement

The Last Judgement

The next phase is a circular climb between the inner and outer shell of the dome. It's dark and crowded, and you often have to squeeze over to make room for groups of people descending, but eventually, you reach the hatch to the cupola, and rewarding views.

Climbing through the hatch

Climbing through the hatch

View from the cupola

View from the cupola

View from the cupola

View from the cupola

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The Bargello

The Bargello

Even up here, attention to detail

Even up here, attention to detail

375 feet to the rooftops below

375 feet to the rooftops below

After a while, we squeeze back down through the hatch, and navigate the stairs back to ground level. So, what to do after you've seen an engineering marvel from the inside? Hey, let's climb a bell tower!

The Campanile has four platforms, so you have an opportunity for breaks and views at each level.

View of the Baptistry from the top of the Campanile

View of the Baptistry from the top of the Campanile

View of the Cupola from the Campanile

View of the Cupola from the Campanile

The climb up the Campanile has 4 terraces.

The climb up the Campanile has 4 terraces.

3/4 of the way up

3/4 of the way up

The views aren't much different as those you can get from the cupola, but you have the added bonus of seeing the dome from the outside. If tight, enclosed spaced bother you, I definitely recommend the Campanile as an alternative to the Cupola.

Weak-kneed from our back-to-back climbs, we wander around Florence for a bit, catching some of the iconic views.

Palazza Vecchio

Palazza Vecchio

Rowers on the Arno River

Rowers on the Arno River

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

We decide to have dinner at Trattoria San Lorenzo. Normally, I would expect a restaurant in such close proximity to a major tourist site to be mediocre, but this was an unexpectedly nice meal. We both chose Papardelle pasta with Cinghiale, a broad ribbon pasta with a wild boar sauce (our first time eating boar). Delicious! Intense pork flavor with the al dente pasta was a great combination, and worked well with the house red.

In the morning, we'll be taking the long commute on a fast train south to Salerno.

Posted by Zukini 15:04 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

South to Amalfi

semi-overcast 69 °F

Thursday morning, we get ready to depart the Hotel Laurus Al Duomo in Florence, but not before stopping at the rooftop restaurant for breakfast. The hotel provides a rather nice buffet with a definite European slant. One of the items on the buffet is a wonderful cheese, very similar to the type we've enjoyed on our many lunchtime panini. I'm curious about what type of cheese it is, so that I can attempt to find it in the USA, so I stop by the prep area and ask one of the servers. She obligingly shows me the wheel it was cut from, and explains that it really doesn't have a name...it's just their "local cheese". As we learn through the rest of our trip, that's pretty typical. Each area we stay in has it's own local cheese...the only cheeses that have names seem to be those (gasp!) imported from other areas.

After breakfast, we gather are belongings and make the short trip uphill to the train station at Santa Maria Novello. We've prebooked our tickets for the fast train to Rome, where we'll switch over to the Frecciargento to Salerno. As we reach Naples and Vesuvius, heavy clouds have moved in, and it's beginning to rain.

Rain over Vesuvius as we arrive by train

Rain over Vesuvius as we arrive by train

From the train station in Salerno, it's an easy 10 minute walk down to the harbor and our boat to Amalfi. We're thankful once again that we've learned the art of minimal packing...we each carry a 17" suitcase and a small backpack, making travel incredibly easy. Our boat is about half full, so we head up to the upper deck, but the drizzle is persistent, and we ultimately seek shelter below. The trip from Salerno to Amalfi is pretty, even in the rain.

Taking a rainy boat ride from Salerno to Amalfi

Taking a rainy boat ride from Salerno to Amalfi

We're renting an apartment in Amalfi, so we're met at the dock by a rental agent from TechnoCasa to escort us to the apartment. We've rented this through FlipKey, and we're very satisfied with the experience. The apartment, Dolce Vita A, is perched at the south end of Amalfi beach, up a flight of about 70 steps. It has two long but narrow balconies overlooking the beach, and the views just speak for themselves. We couldn't be happier.

Our apartment is the second balcony up

Our apartment is the second balcony up

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

Our apartment balcony

Our apartment balcony

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Just imagine waking to that view each morning! The only minor drawback is that directly below is the busy coastal highway, which means there is constant noise from motorcycles, cars, and buses until about 11pm each evening, but balanced against the beautiful views (and the opportunity to watch locals celebrate a birthday party on the beach), it's no problem for us at all.

A Birthday party on the beach below

A Birthday party on the beach below

Night in Amalfi

Night in Amalfi

Each morning we are there, a different small cruise ship is anchored offshore, using tenders to bring cruisers to Amalfi.

Star Clipper

Star Clipper

Tonight, we enjoy the ambiance of the town, and admit we've fallen in love with it already. While it's busy with day tourists, in the evening things quiet down, and you get a real sense of the place. Tomorrow, we'll start walking the trails through the hills of the coast. Stay tuned for breathtaking views and hair-raising stories!

Posted by Zukini 17:10 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Valle dei Mulini

sunny 70 °F

We spend Saturday relaxing and visiting the town of Amalfi, familiarizing ourselves with the alleyways and the ebb and flow of daily life. We're finding this town to be utterly charming. During the day, the town is flooded with an influx of day-trippers, but most of them only stop for a short while to visit the Duomo or the seafront, perhaps stopping at one of the tourist restaurants on the square. Then, they move in a rush to see Positano or Ravello. In the evening, though, the town is mostly locals, gathering in the Piazza and going about their business.

We find a wonderful restaurant, La Taverna di Masaniello, run by Andrea and his brother Pietro. It's a small place, with a few outside tables, tucked away in the corner of the Piazza dei Dogi. There are much showier places right outside their door, but they are the real deal. Delicious food, simply and wonderfully prepared with fresh ingredients. When the present you with a plate, the pride that they have in the food they have prepared for you is evident. We felt like family and ate there frequently.

On Sunday, it's time to go adventuring again. Mrs. Zukini's knees have recovered from all the stair climbing in Florence, so we decide to head off on a hike through the Valle dei Mulini (The Valley of the Mills), named for the three ruined paper mills that once operated there. This trip starts from the far end of Amalfi town, and winds its way gradually up through the valley, eventually bringing us to the town of Pontone, high above. From Pontone, we'll take a side trip to the ruins of Torre dello Ziro, then head back down via the long stairways to Amalfi.

For the most part, the photos and captions will speak for themselves.

Valle dei Mulini - Valley of the Mills

Valle dei Mulini - Valley of the Mills

Lemon groves

Lemon groves

Apricots or Persimmons?

Apricots or Persimmons?

A private zip-line

A private zip-line

Ascending to the upper level of the valley

Ascending to the upper level of the valley

Ruins of paper mills

Ruins of paper mills

Valle dei Mulini

Valle dei Mulini

As we wind our way through the valley, we are seldom far from the sound of rushing water from the stream. Periodically, we get glimpses of the many cascades and waterfalls, and the icy cold, crystal clear mountain water.

Clear, cold, mountain water

Clear, cold, mountain water

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Ruins of a paper mill

Ruins of a paper mill

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Water is bursting from the rock face of this waterfall

Water is bursting from the rock face of this waterfall

Archway to the old steel mill

Archway to the old steel mill

Not a good sign

Not a good sign

Panorama

Panorama

Amalfi is far below

Amalfi is far below

As we reach this point, noon arrives, and we hear the Sunday church bells from Amalfi come drifting up through the valley.

Pontone is up ahead

Pontone is up ahead

We break for lunch at the Blu Bar in Pontone, where we get a great Neapolitan style pizza and icy cold glasses of fresh-squeezed lemonade. Fueled up with carbs, we'll be off on the side branch to Torre dello Ziro shortly.

Time for pizza at the Blu Bar in Pontone

Time for pizza at the Blu Bar in Pontone


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Posted by Zukini 16:10 Archived in Italy Tagged amalfi valley_of_the_mills valle_dei_mulini Comments (0)

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