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Eastern and Western Europe -- Part II

Author: WFDoran
Email: WFDoran@aol.com (More Trip Reviews by WFDoran)
Date of Trip: June 2006

We worked our way over Piazza San Marco and as soon as we got there we decided to leave. It was far too crowded and far too touristy. We walked through smaller less crowded neighborhoods on the way there. As we were leaving the Piazza San Marco I noticed Harry's Bar. I said to Pat, "Let's go in for a drink." I opened the door, walked in and the maitre d' dressed in a suit told me to leave because I didn't meet their dress code. I had shorts on, so much for the drink in Harry's Bar.

Venice is a place you must go to but I wouldn't recommend staying in the city. I would do what we did and stay up in Padova and commute in for a couple of days. Really I was prepared to hate the place but when I got there except for Piazza San Marco and the area around the train station I found it quite interesting. The first day we were there we had a nice little lunch of sandwiches and mineral water for about $15, which is certainly by no means outrageous.

I must tell you though, navigating your way around all the little streets and alleys and piazzas is quite difficult. The map was helpful but not all of the streets are on them and it's very easy to get lost. But if you do get lost just enjoy your surroundings. Keep on walking and eventually you'll find where you're going. The topography of Venice is much like New Orleans, in fact when you take the train in and out you go over a railroad bridge that sits slightly above the water level for a fairly long distance.

While we were in Italy we rediscovered beer. We found that a small draft beer at lunchtime is very refreshing and Italy does make good beer.

When it's late in the afternoon and you want to get back to the train station and head back to Padova one of the smart things to do is take 5 euros and jump on one of the many water buses that run all around Venice. You get a great view of the city from the canal plus you get the cooling breeze from the water and you don't have to walk because by that time your feet are usually pretty tired.

That evening we had dinner in Padova at Osteria del Fabbri, which is located in the heart of the university district. The address is Via del Fabdri 13. This place did not have outdoor dining but they did serve good solid food in a rustic atmosphere. I didn't see not one male working in this place, the chef and all the serving people, etc. were all females. The tab for dinner that evening was 55 euros.

I started off with a complimentary Prosecco, which is sweet Italian champagne. Then I ordered a starter of pasta with a light pesto sauce with fresh tomatoes, it was wonderful. Pat had another version of the chicken arugula over salad and sprinkled with cheese. This one was especially different as the chicken was sliced from a whole big chicken breast. I had a pigs knuckle and polenta topped with a great mushroom gravy. On the way home we stopped for a gelato and a grappa at one of the local bars.

As we turned the last corner before our hotel on the Piazza de Santo we came upon another serendipitous moment. As we came around the corner we heard what sounded like choral singing. Well it really was. They were a group of eleven men standing on the corner across from the cathedral singing. The first song we heard I'm sure was a hymn then they moved into something more contemporary then back to religious hymns then onto other choir music. A small crowd gathered and they were vigorously applauded after each and every song. We stayed there for at least half hour enthralled by the whole occasion.

Saint Anthony is the patron saint of Padova and on the square where we were staying is the basilica of Saint Anthony. Attached to it are a number of other ecclesiastical buildings and residences, etc. They also have formal gardens inside the walls of the compound. The church is gothic and is extremely ornate. Pilgrims come from all over to touch the tomb of Saint Anthony as he is considered the patron saint of lost causes. People come and pray for his help and then when they get it they return and put pictures and notes, etc. all over his tomb. Every time I look at one of these huge medieval churches I wonder how they were able to build something like that. I'm sure it took 25-50% of the GDP of the area for a number of years to construct and decorate this mighty edifice.

Padova is a big university town. The university was started in the year 1222 and is still going strong today. There are thirteen separate schools within the university including music, medicine, literature and I don't know what all. Some of the more famous graduates of the University of Padova include Donatello, Giotto and Galileo. They and many other of the graduates left their mark on the city in terms of art, architecture, medicine and other disciplines.

The university gives the town a vibrant life. In the daytime you pass the university there always seems to be a demonstration or an outside meeting or gathering of some sort. They also post giant newspaper articles on the walls attacking some professor or some situation which I couldn't quite understand. One smart thing we did was hop on an open air tour bus that gave you an overview of the whole city. Once you saw that then you could decide the areas you wanted to go back and explore deeper.

The second evening we were in Padova we ate at Al Fagiano, which was in the same building as our hotel but not a part of the hotel. When we passed by there on Sunday the place was packed. However, it was only open for lunch and closed at 4pm on Sunday. I guess that's where all the people were, having lunch rather than out on the streets.

Continue to Part III.

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