Friday, October 14, 2022

More Puglia and Rome


Day 10: Trani, Alberobello, Bari

The weather does not improve in the morning. Last night we had braved the two blocks to a sushi restaurant, the rain still running down the centuries old stone. This morning, the rain still comes in waves, and we eat breakfast inside. 

The plan was to leave and go straight to Alberobello. However, Todd had been exploring the map and found a typewriter museum. So, Todd, Dad, and I meandered off to the Duomo piazza, where we found two floors of 150 years of typewriter history. We can’t help but thin of our Poems While You Wait friends in Chicago. These typewriters are real beauties. Some stand a foot tall, some two feet wide; others are so small that you could cup them in your  two hands. Most are in English, but there are Braille, Hebrew, Arabic, and Japanese. Many are standard black, but so many are glorious colors. Down in the Olivetti room, it’s a riot of color: from a special edition typewriter in the Italian flag colors, to turquoise, pink, green, red, purple. They are so, so pretty. Even the Olivetti Lettera 22 that our friend Eric helped me find as a wedding gift for Todd is there. As in Venice, our biggest disappointment is the lack of a book we can buy. All we can get are a few postcards. 

Back out in moody Trani, the stormclouds still ominous, we load up the car to head to Alberobello. An hour twenty minute drive, passing by fields of olive trees and vines heavy with grapes, Dad expertly navigates another crowded, narrow town, finding a perfect parking space. The view to the Trulli homes is so pretty. 

The problem is that Alberobello’s sky looks a foreboding color, and the weather is chill. We find a restaurant with seating outside, ordering hot meals and hot tea, in the hopes that we won’t get rained on, even under the restaurant umbrellas. The food is good, it only spits rain, but the wind is still chill. 

We decide to meander the Alberobello streets and admire the Trulli buildings: small white houses with stone cone roofs, many adorned with chimneys, symbols. They are not quite uniform, versions of a traditional style. But they are beautiful. They remind me, in a way, of the Taos Pueblo, the buildings individualized with flowers and colorful doors, but speaking of a long history. When everyone is done roaming, I take 15 minutes for a photo shoot and wander around on my own. It’s so easy to capture places like this, especially when the blue sky peaks out momentarily. I come across a small photography shop in a Trulli and buy a great black and white photograph for myself. 

We then drive the hour to Bari, a coastal city popular for ferries and cruises. We park along the Adriatic waterfront, the water and sky so blue. We walk into the old city walls and check in. Our room is right off a main strip, and it’s half cave/stone walls. Meeting back up with Dad and Margaret, we meander to find an open restaurant. It’s too early and the wrong day, so we eat at the simple cafe near our place. 

After dinner, we walk into the still-open Basilica of St Nicholas. It’s dark, with only prayer candles and some scattered lights. The ceiling looks to be primarily gold leaf frescoes, but they are impossible to make out right now. We go down to the tomb, which is well-lit and not as creepy as I expected. It’s clearly used often for prayers, lined with pews and offertory boxes. It’s a quiet night back out in the world, and we all say goodnight. 

Day 11: Bari to Rome

Dad and I meet up for coffee as we await our partners to join us for breakfast. Locals are out, mopeds and motorcycles delivering produce, parents taking kids to school, a few travelers already up and out. 

After breakfast, we check out of our rooms, Dad and Margaret checking into a larger room the next two night, and we load up the cars. With a few hours before our train to Rome, we decide that we have time to visit the castle, Castello Svevo di Bari. With a clear fortress intent, complete with a moat, this castle took its sea location seriously. There’s great stone work, excavated ruins, and a museum that houses plaster molds, along with other artifacts, like pottery, found on the grounds. The blue sky puts the castle stone to its best view. I realize that this is the third castle we’ve seen on these six days with Dad and Margaret—clearly a record!

Soon, we need to head to the train station. While we’ve spent almost half our vacation with them, it still doesn’t feel like enough. More chats to have, more time to explore, more hugs to give. But I do enjoy our video chats, so we will keep those up. One final selfie and round of hugs, and we are on our way. We buy lunch and water and wait for the train. 

It’s on time, speedy, and mostly comfortable. Since this is a fast train to central Rome, it’s busy and there’s a staff person that walks around with a cart of drinks and snacks. There had been only one first class coach on our Bologna-Vasto train, but there are many on this one. 

We arrive in Rome just after 5pm with throngs of others. Making our way to the taxi stand, we are quickly in a cab and making our way to the hotel. He drops us off and points to the wrong direction. Another hotel Concierge sees our confused looks outside of the wrong hotel and points us in the right direction. 

We check-in and make our way to the room. It’s a large room, a definite splurge for us, but it’s nice to have a couch and chairs. Unpacking a bit, we decide to forgo a passegiata in favor of dinner. 

Todd finds a vegan restaurant five minutes away, and we head there. He is eager to have a dairy free meal, and I’m just thrilled to have a whole vegan menu. We sit outside on the piazza, watching and hearing city traffic pass is by: buses, cars, garbage trucks, bikes, people. As we peruse a menu, talking to each other about what to order, a young woman at the table next to us, leans over and says, “it’s all vegan.” We just smile and say “we know,” but what I think is, “I’ve probably been vegan longer than you’ve been alive.” That thought doesn’t make me feel old AT ALL. The meal is delicious: fried olives, focaccia, a rice/mushroom/cheese dish, truffle pasta, sausage pizza, and tiramisu. All vegan, so filling. 

We then decide to take a slow meander to see the Trevi fountain. We saw it briefly six years ago, but Todd wasn’t feeling great, and he wanted to experience it again. We zigzag through the crowded thoroughfare, prepared this time for the onslaught of people, restaurants, and vendors selling flying lights and other wares. We make it to the fountain and stake our claim along the railing. The Trevi is always beautiful at night, more dramatic and romantic. The shadows on the statues, the play of light off the water. I am reminded of the first time I visited the Trevi over Christmas in 1994, a young man coming up to us college aged Americans, flirting, asking us if we like white wine or red. I don’t feel like 28 years have passed, but somehow they have. 

We head back to Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon to get a good view of this at night. Again,  I’m reminded of 1994, and again 2004, and 2016. Previous trips flooding me with memories. 

Day 12: Rome

It’s raining! Luckily, we have the Galleria Borghese booked this morning, so we hope to avoid most of the bad morning weather. It’s definitely a taxi morning. Rome is humid, and the taxi windows steam up, so we lower them a bit to see landmarks we pass. 

The Borghese is a timed entry situation: every hour on the hour, booked ahead. Umbrellas line the entry, and we check our bags because only small purses are allowed. We are guided up to the second floor, where we start with mostly old masters and Christian art. There are some beauties up here, like Titian’s “Sacred and Profane Love”, a Botticelli, Raphael, Reubens. It’s downstairs on the first floor where all the gorgeous statues are. Bernini is the star of the show, at least for us. His sculptures are emotive and fluid. His “Apollo and Daphne” is spectacular, with Daphne transforming into a tree, roots and leaves emerging from her extended fingers and toes. 

Not to be undone, there are brilliant pieces by Caravaggio (especially his gorgeous “Saint Jerome”), Canova’s beautiful marble “Venus” that Justine Bonaparte sat for, and gorgeous mosaics. Of course, when an art gallery is in a palace, you must always look up and down to admire the beautiful frescoes and the gorgeous marble floors. The whole place is a work of art. 

When we emerge from our time slot, rain still falls. We grab a taxi that is dropping someone off. We head back to our hotel, where we finish our pizza and pasta leftovers from last night and create a game plan. Our last afternoon and evening of vacation. We stroll to the Pantheon and step inside this gorgeous building. I never get tired of this place: the seamless open air rotunda, the ancient brick and stone mingling with the centuries old marble, the play of light. 

We then walk the few blocks to Piazza Navona to complete our Bernini tour of the day. We notice lots of reporters and their crew following people down streets, and a crowd of people and police stand in front of a building. When we search later, we discover that it’s the Senate building, which opened today for the new session after the election. A 92 year old Holocaust survivor opened the session, just before a new speaker was elected—a right-wing, fascist supporter. Everywhere there is this resurgence of anti-democratic, far-right conservative movements; no country seems safe from it. 

We admire the Bernini fountain sculptures and choose a cafe for a snack. Todd asks about vegan items at one, while I check out the menu at another. When I approach, the man says, “I am vegan, too” and gives me a fist bump. We sit in the piazza, safe from spitting rain, and enjoy vegan appetizers: bruschetta, artichoke, and mushroom/potato balls. (What is a major disappointment is that we cannot find plain fried squash blossoms, just ones stuffed with cheese and anchovies.) We then hunt down vegan gelato, the third place being the charm. Chocolate and fig; this time the fig tastes like fig!

We meander back to the hotel to pack and prep. I stop in San Luigi to see the Caravaggio chapel, which is in another beautiful church. Bags get packed, and we decide to head out to a ceramic store we passed. We’ve hardly bought any souvenirs. It’s closed when we get there, but it’s near the Temple of Hadrian. They have a great digital light display over the ancient columns, which shows the evolution of the building from Temple to ruin to repurposed. It’s a fun display, a bigger scale show than the mosaic digits recreation in Padua, and a fun final Roman moment. 

We decide to forego restaurant hunting and instead head back to Buddy for our final meal. This time, we order olives, falafel, and a seitan mushroom truffle dish. The hotel has provided us with vegan breakfast items for the morning, including yogurt and chocolate croissants. So, we finalize our packing and attempt to get to bed early for our 5:15 wake-up/6:15 taxi/10am flight. 

So, here we are, at the end of our vacation. 13 days, 6 cities/towns, 1 family reunion. It’s been three years since the last long, international vacation. There were things to relearn, new experiences to enjoy, stress and anxiety, masking, joy and beauty. I’m so glad we came, and I hope for another trip soon. There are friends to see and hug, new places to explore. I’ll try to post another blog for all that we did. Thanks for following along! 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Abruzzo and Puglia!

Day 6 continued!

We arrive mostly on time in Vasto, and Dad and Margaret are there waiting on the opposite platform. Hugs and kisses and excitement all around. We’re here!

We store our bags in their new used car, and go for a stroll through Vasto. The city has all the best Italian landmarks: piazzas, churches, old and new architecture, and stunning views. Many of these places come with stories from Dad and Margaret’s adventures the last six months. We take a stroll along the city wall, and Margaret and I walk down to the ruins of the Roman baths. The church we pass is open, so we duck inside. It’s decorated more “simply” in white plaster/marble and gold leaf. The resident churchgoers are friendly and full of smiles and “buongiorno” greetings as we take a look around. Next door, the ruins of the Roman baths are covered in scaffolding protection; it’s closed, but we can see inside to make out the rooms, the mosaic out of sight. The ruins were fortunately/unfortunately discovered during a landslide in 1956, which claimed a part of the church that was never rebuilt. The small info plaque on the fence calls it one of the oldest ruins in Italy, which does make you go, really? Is this like the same “Chicago’s best hot dog” claim to fame? 

Margaret had made a reservation at one of their favorite restaurants, so we sat down and had a lovely meal as the sun set in front of us. Seafood for the three of them, including clam pasta for Todd, and a great veggie pasta for me. On our way back to the car, we stop for some vegan gelato, and the night is complete. 

We pull up to their house in the dark, but we get the evening view, lights dotting the hills with distant dwellings. When we take the inside tour, I can see all the places where I’ve video chatted with them the last six months. I’m in their Italian home, and I love it. We sit and chat, and Todd and I put in laundry so it can start to hang dry overnight. We all peel off one by one to sleep, and I sit in the quiet of their living room for the machine to finish spinning, feeling at home. 

Day 7: Roccascalegna

The next morning, we wake up earlier than expected, yet the morning light hardly filters into the shuttered up windows. I look out the bathroom window, and see a great view, as Margaret had suggested. Dad is downstairs playing coffee barista, prepping the decaf French press and the espresso stove-top percolator. Todd and I hang our clothes outside to dry in the Abruzzo sun. We get an outside tour of the house, the trees, and flowers. Dad hands me the shears to clip some fresh figs. Margaret picks a fresh pomegranate. We get a tour of house #1 next door, the smaller house they originally rented. It’s super cute, but no AC and heat (except in the kitchen), and I remember one video call where they were bundled up in bed with hats and scarves and blankets back in March. House #2 has heat and AC, making it more livable, which they’ll put to the test this winter. 

We eventually pack ourselves up to go explore for the day. The drive is a beautiful one through the countryside, passing by olives being harvested and endless rows of vines. We stop at an old ruin, which is pretty in itself but comes with a good view. Our first stop is Tornareccio, a local town famous for two things: honey and mosaics. Today is the start of the honey festival, and we hoped to swing by before the festival. Unfortunately, it started already and parking was nonexistent. So we did a slow cruise down the streets to see a few mosaics. They are a meter square, and a few new ones are put up each year. To no surprise, many of the mosaics are bee-themed. 

Our drive then continues to Roccascalegna, where we will visit the castle and have lunch. Castello di Roccascalegna sits atop a rock outcrop that you can see clearly as you enter the town. It’s an ideal vantage point in the valley, perched as it is. Even I wonder how we will get up there. The approach takes us through the cute village. We wind through the main drag with houses built into the rock and decorative paintings on their electrical covers and rocks. Eventually, we start walking up the steps to the castle entrance. The views are already spectacular across the valley, full of ridges and forest and fields. 

The castle is part ruin, but many sections, like the tower that are visible from far away, have been maintained. Definitely a working fortress, it’s complete with torture chamber, holes in the walls to shoot a crossbow, and ramparts with strategic views. Every part of the castle is photogenic, and I can’t stop shooting. With the rolling hills of the Abruzzo countryside around us and a perfect blue and cloud speckled sky, it’s a photographic dream. These views remind me how vacation rejuvenates us, giving us new experiences and space to breathe. 

After seeing every nook, we make our way down. Uneven stones make it careful going, but on a dry day, it’s easy. Margaret made a lunch reservation for us at Civico 20, a restaurant they visited a month ago, asking if they could do vegan meals. The owner/chef said she was excited and would pull out the traditional Abruzzo meals. When we arrive, there is a vegan menu, and all of it sounds delicious. I order a farmer’s stew as an appetizer: greens, potatoes, and polenta. My main dish is a rintrocili pasta with mushrooms and truffle sauce. For dessert, apple streusel. All the food is delicious, and I only wish I had a larger appetite to try it all! Thank you to Margaret for arranging!

After enjoying our lunch with a castle view, we drive back home to prepare for dinner with the neighbors. Five of the local friends are coming over for drinks and appetizers. These friends have made Dad and Margaret a part of their community, even dropping heavy hints about them buying a house (not going to happen, they keep saying). Hearing about the rehab projects of the neighbors, which are certainly labors of love over years, you really have to want it! It was a lovely evening on the patio, the moon rising, conversation in English and Italian, food and drinks and laughter. 

Day 8: Casalanguida to Trani

A somewhat busy morning, as we repack and Dad and Margaret prep the house for the owners who will return in the wee hours of the morning for a week. We won’t have a chance to meet Julia and Valerio, but we’ve heard good things. 

Finally, we pick up the car with all our luggage, Dad and Margaret packing much lighter than us, though they will travel another three days when we leave them. We say goodbye to their neighbors, Maria, Robert, and Paul and head south to Trani. 

Located on the coast in Puglia, it’s often mentioned in the guidebooks as worth a visit. The drive is just over two hours, and we make it fine, navigating the crazy tight streets, finding excellent harbor parking, and then struggling to find our hidden B&B. Looking for the street and the number is challenging, but we finally find the right #41.

The B&B Palazzo Paccioti is lovely, and we all have nice big rooms. Ours has Botticelli’s Venus looking over us. After settling in and taking a load off, we head out to the harbor for the evening passegiata. Tonight is the most Italian evening we’ve experienced. Mostly Italians and few tourists, parents walk kids, young girls and women come out all dressed up, dog owners walk, people have a smoke. With the sun setting and music from a bar further down the harbor, the excited chatter of so many people, it feels quintessential Italian. 

We choose a restaurant along the harbor wall that Margaret liked the look of, and the food impresses us. The bruschetta bread is delicious, crispy and airy. The pizzas have a spectacular crust, and my eggplant and arugula pizza brings back a memory of ordering salad topped pizza in Lucignano back in 2004. Dad and Margaret both close their eyes and make moaning sounds of approval. Todd orders a burger and it comes without a bun and bacon strips atop the side of potatoes, and the flavoring is totally unexpected. 

By the time we are finished, the sun is fully set and the harbor is still busy. After dinner, Todd finds a vegan gelato place, and Dad coins him “The Gelato Whisperer” when they take their first taste. We meander to a quiet nearby square and enjoy our gelato under the date palms as kids play.   

Day 9: Trani

It’s a cloudy start to the day, and rain is in today’s forecast. Our B&B serves breakfast on the top floor, and we sit under an awning and enjoy the temperate morning. Todd battles a sinus infection (but he brought antibiotics just in case), so he decides to give his body more rest. 

Dad, Margaret, and I head to Castel

del Monte, about a half hour outside Trani. About a mile or two out, the castle becomes visible atop a hill. There’s no long walking approach today, as we can drive right up to the parking lot. The castle was built in the 1200s in a unique octagonal shape. The castle is solid stone—even the roof—so no wonder it survived! We walk the two floors, each tip of the octagon giving us unique views across the Puglian countryside. In 40 minutes, we’re done, as there aren’t really any informational displays or furnished rooms. Just the stone and architectural wonder on full display! 

Back in Trani, I collect Todd, and we join Dad and Margaret at a harbor restaurant. Soon, it starts to sprinkle. We move under the stone facade and enjoy our meal. Dad and Margaret have a seafood of the day (mussels with rice and potatoes), Todd has pasta with scampi (having to dismantle them), and I enjoy pasta marinara but with a new kind of pasta—oriccheti. The sauce is delicious. 

As we finish the first part of our meal, we hear the wet sound of a car driving. It’s suddenly pouring. It doesn’t let up for at least a half hour, and we try to wait it out, but dad’s weather app confirms that it won’t let up for quite awhile. So we put on our rain-ish gear and start the three block trek back to our hotel. The pretty little stone lanes have become mini rivers, and it’s careful Hopscotch, trying to avoid the streams and puddles and keep our footing. We arrive with wet shoes and some wet clothes but without incident, decamping to our rooms to dry out. 

Todd and I play uno, listen to the rain and chill, the rain never really letting up. We can hear the gutters and drains still emptying in the lane below. Let’s see what we end up doing for dinner: delivery anyone???

Tomorrow, the weather will improve, and we head to Alberobello, ending in Bari for the night. 

Friday, October 07, 2022


 Day 4: Venice to Padua

Our last morning in Venice, we had breakfast (including a double espresso soy latte), did a repack, then went out to say our final good-bye to Venice. A walk to San Marco through now familiar streets. We were headed to a cafe overlooking the Grand Canal, just past the Doge’s Palace, where we had espresso on our honeymoon. It was almost 11, so it was busy and not quite the peaceful spot we remembered. However, we had an espresso and sat in the moment. 

Both Todd and I brought our journals, so that we could sit in cafes and write in them. The only thing I’ve managed to write is this blog. Part of the difficulty is not having comfy spaces in our hotel to sit, the other part is Covid reality (though maybe 10% of people are masking), the other part is wanting to be outside and not in full sun in comfortable chairs. The other part for me is that it’s much easier to photograph and move/walk, than to sit down, order a drink, and be still. 

We bought some paninis for lunch (took some hunting for a vegan one), then picked up our bags. The vaparetto stop is close to our hotel, so soon we were on a boat, heading to the train station. A quick half hour train ride, and we hopped off in Padua. 

Why Padua? We had five nights at the start of our trip to do our own thing before heading south, so when we chose Venice, we had to decide what next. Since our train south to Vasto leaves out of Bologna, either we go there or Padua, which is on the way. Padua seemed a good option as a smaller town (300K college town), and I’ve always wanted to see the Scrovegni Chapel. 

When we arrived in the train station, where we should have been able to pick up our 48 hour pass, we were told that we had to go to the chapel to pick it up. A fifteen minute walk away with bags, having gone the wrong direction thanks to incorrect info, we arrive at the entrance a bit sweaty, tired, and annoyed. But we get the tickets and can now ride the tram for free. We head across the street and wait for a tram. 10 minutes later, we are in our gaudy as hell hotel room (I’m sure this art appeals to many, but not us), horizontal and airing out. 

It’s warm and humid, nearly the same situation we were in six years ago. Mostly the temps have been decent, but our clothes are definitely for cooler weather, not

75F. So hopefully it gets cooler soon so we can wear half the clothes we brought!

Needing food, we head into the pedestrian center, finding a historic 191 year old cafe that shows a tofu salad and a quinoa pesto! Protein! Yes! We sit down to order and are told we can only order small bites. The restaurant part of the menu doesn’t open for a half hour (7pm). So we order small bites and bide our time. Then, we get excited to order food, and are waiter tells us they aren’t going to do the restaurant tonight. Annoyed, but realizing all we can do is throw up your hands and say “it’s Italy!”

We think we find a vegan restaurant, but it turns out to be more of a food stall for you to take items home to cook. I pull out my Rick Steves photocopied pages and find a

place a block away. Tables for multiple restaurants adorn the middle of the piazza, and we get to enjoy the vibe of the city. A six year old is celebrating her birthday, and kids play and laugh, the large #6 and fairy castle balloons being dragged across the piazza by the birthday girl and her tormenting brothers/cousins/friends. It’s a perfect weather night, the building facades are beautiful, and the food delicious. I have rigatoni in red sauce with eggplant, with marinated artichokes for an appetizer. Todd has stuffed olives breaded and fried as an app, and salmon and veggies as a main. Too full, we don’t hunt down dessert (poor excuse), but head to the hotel to crash. 

Day 5: Padua

I must have told Todd a half dozen times that we had to be at the Scrovegni chapel at 9:45am for our 10am tour, and we were there early. I mean, they are really serious about timing and being late and having to pay again, so let’s make sure we are early. 

There’s an interesting sculpture garden around the chapel, and we pass interesting pieces, along with Roman ruins. Sitting outside the chapel at 9:45am, we are ushered in with the group. They only let 25 people in every 15 minutes, and they are serious. An entry lobby was erected to help stabilize air pressure and keep the air purified, preserving the frescoes (they hope) from future decay. The video was informative and narratively dramatic (so serious), and then we were let in. 

It’s a small space, and you are given 15 minutes to take it all in. So many images, so many themes, so many narratives! It’s amazing that this has survived (mostly) for 700 years. There is so much to restore, and much of it probably has been, though you can’t tell what colors are bright because of restoration and what have just survived on its own. Regardless, wow. The expected scenes of the life of Mary and Jesus, but also reminders of what you shouldn’t do (ie vices) and the end result (being tortured by Lucifer and demons).

And after 15 minutes, we are ushered out for the next group, a full one, to come in. I overhear a man ask if he can go back in, and he’s told he’ll have to buy another ticket. An: they’re serious!

A brief walk through the museum, and we decide to exit and save our steps for other sights. We decide to head to the Palazzo della Ragione, included in our Padua card, and which we had admired last night. We stop in a cafe in the Piazza della Erbe and have great little sandwiches for lunch. It’s market day and all the piazzas are full of food, flower, and clothing vendors. It’s great people watching. 

The Palazzo della Ragione is a football field size large hall, originally built in the 1300s, then partially destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the 1400s. Its hundreds of frescoes show the various professions and their tools of the trade. It also houses a large horse built in 1466 to commemorate a joust. It’s a spectacular hall, as imposing inside as it looks outside. The porticos on either side look out into the squares, as market day is still in full swing. It’s a beautiful place to photograph, and I take many. 

Todd heads back to the hotel, and I take an hour to do a photo shoot of the piazzas and buildings. So many things to notice, and I keep my feet busy. The market stalls get packed up, and soon the restaurants will start putting out their tables and chairs for afternoon drinks and dinner service. I find a gelateria with vegan options, and I eat my chocolate/hazelnut and pistachio in the same square where we ate last night. I feel mildly guilty that I’m eating gelato and Todd’s not, but I figure we’ll get some more later. I make my way to the tram stop and pass by some cool University of Padua buildings, highlighting their 800 year anniversary. 

Back at the hotel, I take a load off, and we ponder what to do in the afternoon. It’s only 2pmish, so the day is young. Do we go for a short walk for gelato? Without question. Todd has to help orientate me because I was going to take us in the wrong direction. 

I am thrilled when we enter into the Prato della Valle, as I’d seen pictures of this lovely circular park with statues and a little moat of water. We bought our chocolate and strawberry gelatos (and I confessed to my earlier purchase once Todd was happily eating his), and sat in the park on the pretty blue sky day. One has to love a good city park.

We meandered back to the Basilica near our hotel, and while Todd had a cafe snack, I did a walk through the church. Since the tomb of St. Anthony is here, it’s set up for pilgrims. I walked through the church and its  many chapels. It must be packed at certain times of the year (apparently 6.5 million people visit every year), but today just a few small groups toured the quiet church. I did not visit the reliquary with its body parts on display. I did walk past St Anthony’s tomb as there wasn’t a line and witnessed the boards with hundreds of small photos of people pegged on them. Since St Anthony is the saint of lost things/people, I assume these are people lost in some way. Whether through death or disappearance or something else.

So, on our second/last night in Padua, we decided on a place called Kai Sushi for dinner. We were the first ones there, and it remained relatively quiet while we were there, allowing us to eat mask free. The food was delicious and vegan dishes were mostly clearly marked (something with oyster sauce or egg is not vegan). There were no vegan noodle dishes, but all the sushi and apps were enough: miso soup, edamame, veggie tempura, fried spring rolls, avocado maki, avo/cuc/radish maki, avocado sesame salad. Todd got some fishy sushi, of course, and I always feel slightly sad for him that I can’t partake in a full sushi dinner with him.

Full and needing to go back to the hotel to repack our exploded bags, we bid a farewell to Padua. 

Day 6: Padua to Vasto

Today was another full travel day. Our 10am train would take us to Bologna, for an hour layover before catching the next train to Vasto. Things went relatively smoothly, catching the tram, buying snacks at the station, catching the second train. Everything mostly on time and efficient. 

The second train is a 4.5 hour journey, mostly down along the east coast, so about an hour into the ride, we have delightful views of the Adriatic. Palm trees, vacation homes and hotels, people wind surfing, and water as far as the eyes can see. We opted for first class seats since it was such a long trip, and the car is mostly empty. Worth the extra 20E just to have extra leg space and a quiet car. 

In about a half hour, we will arrive in Vasto, where Dad and Margaret will be waiting to show us their new home. We will have a few days with them, then we will all go down to Trani and Bari!

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Three Days in Venice

Day 1: Chicago to Venice

When planning this trip, we had to decide where to go on our own before meeting up with Dad and Margaret. We don’t have long (thanks American vacation time), so I asked Todd what he most wanted to see. In choosing between Venice and Florence (one should never have to choose), Todd astutely said, “with climate change, who knows how long Venice will be here.” So, Venice it is. 

In a surprising turn of events, everything was on time in our travels. Security at O’Hare: speedy. First flight to Philly: on time. (We definitely got in our steps going from one gate to the next.) Second flight to Venice: on time. Venice Border/Customs: speedy. Aligaluna boat to our hotel: long line, but fast and efficient boarding (and a totally new water transit terminal). It was all a delightful surprise, which meant we arrived at our hotel too early to check-in. So we organized our day bags for a few hours of aimless wandering and went off to find lunch. 

The recommended restaurant was not yet seating for lunch (in fact, every time we’d try to eat here, they weren’t yet seating), so we found another restaurant near Teatro La Fenice. They had just opened, so we sat down in the pleasant alcove and let ourselves feel both tired and excited. The menu was a simple one, and my vegan choice was expected: pasta marinara. Yet, it was delicious and just the right welcome meal. 

My photographer eyes slowly woke up to all I love about Venice: the aging buildings, the textures of the old walls in various colors in contrast to the greenery and flowers everywhere. The people watching is just as interesting: people from all over the world mixing with the Venetians and Italian tourists. Let’s not forget the dogs and pigeons. 

Back at the hotel, we crammed into the little elevator to head up to our room on the third floor. More spacious than the hotel we stayed on our honeymoon, I laughed to see that it was still a red velvety wallpapered room. Is this a Venetian thing? We threw open the screenless windows to a light breeze and a quiet view to the next building and a small canal. 

Giving into the tired, we took a short nap (neither of us slept a wink on the plane, so we broke the cardinal jet lag rule). Closing the windows just enough so that pigeons didn’t fly in, we slept to the sound of the gondoliers rowing past outside, the slap of their oars, the chatter between them as they followed each other down the narrow canal. 

Refreshed, we dressed for an evening meander. People out for the passeggiata, tourists shopping, locals walking dogs. Just a regular Sunday evening. We stepped into the church of San Moise just to see, and come across a Tintoretto and an interesting altar piece of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. Entering San Marco square, we hear the familiar sound of pigeons and pianos and people, the square not too flooded with people. 

Wanting to find the gardens, we meandered near the Doge’s Palace and along the Grand Canal. The gardens are tucked in behind all the souvenir vendors selling masks and hats  and all things Venice. A pergola runs down the center, and people telexed on the benches around the gardens. I particularly enjoyed the fragrant pink blossoms adorning the pergola. 

The thing about vacation is that you do things between eating. So, naturally, the question was: where are we going to eat for dinner? Which was definitely followed by: where will we get vegan gelato? Rick

Steves helped with the first question, and we headed towards a pizzeria chain called Rossopomodoro. With a vegan pizza and bruschetta on the menu, it made the perfect shared dairy-free meal for both of us. 

Todd engineered the answer to the second question, leading us towards a gelateria with vegan options. We zigzagged towards the Rialto and arrived to a serious line. When it was our turn, I told the staff woman in Italian that I was vegan, and she launched into a quick Italian response that of course I caught nothing of but Chocolate. Again in English, she told me there were four vegan flavors, and it wasn’t much of a contest. A scoop of chocolate raspberry and rice milk cherry. So, so good. 

Now fully satiated and jet lag kicking into high gear, we came back to our hotel. We made the mistake of opening the windows, hoping that keeping off the lights would keep out the mosquitoes. I found out at 2am from a determined buzzing near my ear that was not the case. 

Day 2: Venice

I’m familiar with my body on jet lag, so even though I hardly slept, I still felt ready for the day. I requested a vegan breakfast at every hotel, but I wasn’t sure what I’d find this morning. They had special vegan rolls with peach jam inside and soy blueberry yogurt. Perfect. We brought some peanut butter, so I added that to the roll. With an espresso and some fresh fruit, it was a champion breakfast. 

With no set plans for the day, we decided on a slow morning stroll. It was about 60F and a clear, blue sky day. Winding our way to San Marco, we pass by closed shops and cafes setting up for the day. We arrive in the square just in time for the clock to chime 9am. Just as we remembered from our last trip, it’s the hour for photo shoots: a woman in a tiara and poofy blue ball gown, a couple in wedding attire, a woman in a glittery gold gown. I’m not sure if they were all models, or if some were real people doing their own photo shoot. We stand in the Basilica line for a minute, but the church doesn’t open for another half hour, and Todd is already crashing despite the espresso, so instead we meander back home. The Grand Canal vendors outside the garden are just setting up, the garden closed. 

Back at the hotel, I drop Todd off and go for a photo walk, planning to meet up with him in an hour. Before the trip, I visualized what I wanted from my first vacation in three years: wandering the streets of Venice at a relaxed pace, photographing. And that’s what I did. I let the tiny lanes lead me to the Grand Canal for a photo of the Rialto, which was still in shadow. (Todd has requested a Rialto photo in full sun, as the one he has in his office is half shaded.) Atop the bridge, I find the same couple being photographed,  dogs and people walking past, all of us taking photos of them. The vendors selling roses are not yet out, and the bridge is relatively quiet. 

I continue my meandering, deciding to try to find the quirky Aqua Alta bookstore mentioned in guides. I pass by several small churches, whose facades you can only fully see staring up, the lane too narrow for a full-on view. Votive prayer candles glimmer in the quiet, as I walk through.

My walk leads me to the Campo San Maria Formosa, with its Scuola facade of marble and stoic lions. The church has a large sign, indicating the paintings found within, but I instead opt to keep outside. With no clouds in the sky and the sun starting to warm me up, I shed my sweater. I find the bookstore, intending to come back with Todd.

Meeting back up with Todd, we head towards the Accademia Bridge, treading our honeymoon steps. Our hotel in 2016 was in the Dorsoduro, and it feels a bit like coming to familiar stomping grounds. We pass by the Guggenheim, giving a passing glance to the Goldsworthy stone in the entry garden. The Basicala is wrapped in scaffolding, getting a cleaning or a facelift. Our destination, the contemporary art museum at the Punta della Dogana, looks out over the Grand Canal to San Marco. The north side is still shaded, and the moored gondolas bob with the choppy waters. At the tip, the sun is intense, glaring off the water. 

The museum proves an interesting experience, as the warehouse space is currently devoted entirely to Bruce Nauman’s work. It’s newish work in conversation  with a few pieces from 1968/1969. The works from past and present incorporate video, audio, performance art, sculpture, and according to Todd, “interrogates the Body in space and time, using image and sound through electronic mediums.” 

After an hour of interrogating art and admiring the views, we went in search of lunch. Outdoor tables are full, people settling in. Crossing back over the bridge, we find a table in San Stefano. Gnocchi with Tuna for Todd, pasta and veggies for me. Seagulls and pigeons fight over pizza crust, as we eat. 

At the hotel, we take a brief rest for our feet and backs, where the gondolas again return: this time with music! Afterwards, we did several food stops. First: a pasticceria with vegan pastries (frolla al farrow, cookie with a jam center for me). Then, a ciccheti stop for Todd (five different toasted breads with a traditional Venetian item on each); I ordered some bruschetta, fries, and my first spritz. Finally: a later dinner. The nearby vegan friendly restaurants were closed, and the Chinese restaurant did not have tofu dishes, so we found a restaurant with a free table and tucked into pasta. 

Back at the hotel, we collapse. Almost 20K steps for me, but still 15K for Todd. We sleep hard, no mosquitoes buzzing. 

Day 3: Venice

In choosing not to overbook ourselves, our mornings are delightfully unrushed. We enjoy breakfast, taking our time to get out in the day. I’ve been to Venice many times, but there are still so many new things. Yesterday’s museum at Ponta della Dogana was new to me, and today we choose the modern art museum at Ca’ Pesaro.

A short vaporetto ride later, with a great seat for Rialto photos, we hop off and walk the two blocks to the palace. Donated by an Italian woman for this purpose, I am reminded of how Peggy Guggenheim donated her home and collection. Women have done well for Venice’s art scene. 

While yesterday’s museum was a warehouse with one artist on exhibition, Ca’ Pesaro offers a selection of famous artists (and new Italian ones to us) exhibited under mostly preserved frescoed ceilings. Familiar artists: Rodin, Chagall, Klimt, Moore. New to me Italian artists: Zecchin, Rossi, Casaroti, Martini, Deluigu, Afro. Wildt’s sculptures really drew me in, but Bice Lazzari’s work (drawings, paintings, and collages) floored both of us. So much so that Todd ordered an exhibition book when we returned to the hotel. (Side note: it always annoys me when museums don’t have more postcards/prints of works for purchase—even a full

Permanent collection guide. We would have bought the shit out of that shop, but only spent 10E.)

After lunch at the museum cafe and a final hour of art, we headed back to the vaporetto stop. With no machine to purchase tickets, a frustrating half hour of trying to purchase tickets online and downloading an app resulted in the QR codes not being read by the machines. #technologyfail

We made it eventually to San Marco, where Todd bought a hat he had his eye on. Because he has great ideas, we then went in search of vegan gelato. I’m surprised at how uncrowded San Marco is, compared to the crowds of 2016. It’s still busy, but not like that. 

When we arrived in Venice, I noticed signs for Vivaldi’s concerts. Luckily, a local ensemble was playing the “Four Seasons” tonight, so I booked us tickets. (The opening of “Spring” played at our wedding when I walked up the aisle.) Of course, Italians start things late, so it was at 9pm. Held in a deconsecrated church with 8 ensemble members (all men this evening, though there’s one woman apparently in the ensemble), the audience was packed in. I usually listen to this piece, not watch it being performed, so it was a wonderful experience to watch the violins, viola, cello, and double bass play (couldn’t really see the harpsichord). The body movements of the musicians, their facial expressions, their fingers on strings, the bows doing their fine dance. A few other pieces were played after the “Four Seasons,” but not pieces that I knew. 

As I walked home at 10:30pm (Todd left at intermission as his back was sore in the chairs), the temperature perfect, I enjoyed my last view of Venice lit up at night.