A Travellerspoint blog

August 2014

Dorsoduro and DaVinci

semi-overcast 68 °F

After departing San Giorgio Maggiore, we decide to take a stroll through the Dorsoduro district, an area we missed on our previous visit to Venice. Our first stop is the minor Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, dedicated the the Virgin Mary in the 1600's in the hopes that Venice would be spared from the plague.

The church is a vast octagonal rotunda, and it's mind boggling to realize that it's foundation is thousands of wooden pilings driven into the mud of the lagoon nearly 400 years ago.

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute

Leaving the Basilica, we wander through the quiet back streets of Dorsoduro. It's altogether more peaceful here than the hustle and bustle of Rialto and San Marco. We pass many art galleries and small workshops, a completely different experience than the tourist ticky-tack that inundates other parts of Venice.

A quiet canal

A quiet canal

Triple smokestacks caught our eye

Triple smokestacks caught our eye

From across a canal, we spot woodworkers cutting timbers on an old bandsaw. They're making replacement oarlocks for gondolas, and the shop is filled with handmade pieces designed, not for the tourists, but for the real Venetians plying their trades in the city.

A woodworker makes gondola parts

A woodworker makes gondola parts

As we stroll through the quite campos, we come across a lutist, playing melodies on a beautiful old instrument. We chat with him for bit before he plays a song for us. The lute is a quiet instrument, but it's airy strains still fill the small campo.

A lutist performs for Mr. Zukini

A lutist performs for Mr. Zukini

Further on, we encounter a shop filled with sculpted wood. Rather than practical boat parts, this shop features fanciful objects, like coats, underwear, valises, and socks...all fashioned from wood with an amazing eye for realism and detail.

Shop selling carved wooden clothing

Shop selling carved wooden clothing

Eventually we arrive at the Accademia Bridge, and cross over.

Accademia Bridge

Accademia Bridge

Purely by accident, we stumble across an exhibition of DaVinci reproductions at the decommissioned church of S. Barnabas. We hem and haw a bit at the price, but ultimately decide to pony up and go in. The space inside is filled with accurate models made from DaVinci's designs, and we spend a pleasant hour browsing through.

DaVinci exhibition

DaVinci exhibition

A DaVinci Helicopter prototype

A DaVinci Helicopter prototype

Wooden Bicycle

Wooden Bicycle

Hang gliding, anyone?

Hang gliding, anyone?

A Pivoting Swing Bridge

A Pivoting Swing Bridge

Finally, we swing by Ca' Macana, one of the more famous artisanal mask shops in Venice. Indeed, in addition to beautiful renditions of classic Bauta and Plague Doctor masks, the shop features some very unusual steampunk-inspired works as well.

Ca Macana Mask Shop

Ca Macana Mask Shop

We stop by Do Spado near the Rialto for cicchetti tonight, enjoying some stuffed squid and other tasty goodies, along with an umbra or two of their house red. It's a tiny little place, tucked under a sotoporteggio, and we hang around outside for a bit, watching other patrons, to understand "how it's done". Easy really. Point to what you want, find a seat, and they'll heat it up and drop it off at your table. Very informal, and very tasty. Just be sure to ask for an "umbra"...if you just ask for wine, you'll get their more expensive product, rather than the house red. When you're done, just go to the counter, and pay your tab. Prices aren't marked, but nothing is more than a Euro or two per portion.

Tomorrow, we take a day trip to Padua.

Posted by Zukini 14:22 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (0)

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!

CIMG0134.jpg

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)

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