Visiting friends in Padua
Padua Travel Blog› entry 8 of 29 › view all entries
March 6th, 1997 – by: jsbuck1
Stephen, Thursday Night, March 6
We have arrived in Padua after three days of travel by many of the accepted means. We started off at the Shipyard, the bar at the Northwest Terminal at Logan, with a beer and then flew to Amsterdam, getting off about an hour late. Once in Amsterdam, we took a long walk in the terminal to our Paris flight. Here, we took off about a half hour late and landed only twenty minutes behind our schedule, which was to get to Paris Est and get on the afternoon train to Basel, Switzerland. We got through customs easily, and got some money changed and bought tickets and found the train to Paris Nord and then walked to Paris Est, initiated our rail passes, got some more francs, all with fifteen minutes to spare.
Six hours later, we arrived in Basel to find the tourist/reservation office closed. About an hour later after visiting the eight or so hotels near the station, we found one, still more than we wanted to pay, but suitable enough. The next day we took the Transalpin from Basel through Zurich to Innsbruck and changed to the train to Padua (with only five minutes on the schedule between our arrival and departure) and rolled into Padua at 6:30 PM to be greeted by our friend Elena. Today, we got a little break from traveling and walked around Padua seeing churches containing famous and wondrous art and then drove up here to Cortina with Elena and her fiancé Michael.
I have to say that having lunch in the dining car with a changing panorama of mountains and Alpine villages made me feel like Greta Garbo in a great old movie! It was indeed elegant. However, our Austrian waiter was a bit stiff and rule-oriented. I did not want a complete meal, I said I was a vegetarian, and asked if I could just have the vegetable soup. He said he did not think so, that he would have to ask the boss. Five minutes later, a brown consommé arrived which smelled a lot like beef broth. Stephen tasted it, and sure enough, it was beef consommé with noodles. I was too intimidated to return it, but Stephen did and eventually I got a salad, but I did not get a very cheerful waiter. By contrast, when we boarded the train in Innsbruck, jumping on quickly and dragging our luggage awkwardly though the dining car, the Italian crew was all “Buongiornos” and smiles. From such stuff are stereotypes made.
Padua is not a city on many tourist agendas. After all, Italy has Rome, Florence, and Venice. However, Padua is a lovely city and, like so much of Europe, has a Centro filled with ancient piazzas, churches from the 12th to 16th centuries, history and art everywhere. Our wonderful young friend Elena found us a hotel right in the center of the old town. The highlight of our walk there was my rediscovery of Giotto, the great fresco artist who painted so many of Italy’s church walls in the early 1300’s. His work fills the Scavegni Chapel. From 1303 to 1309, he painted the “Poem of Redemption” with scenes from the life of Christ as well as scenes from the Old Testament, mythology, and “virtues and vices.” Not only is the quality of his painting so beautiful, the detail and color, but also the expressions and sense of humanity of his subjects is so moving. Moreover, he had a sense of humor; i.e. painting a pair of upside-down, flailing legs with body disappeared into water and whale for the story of Jonah, and painting one angel riding right on top of another in one of those celestial scenes!
Saturday evening -- Stephen:
I have just gotten back from skiing at Cortina. Quite an experience. It is Spring skiing here now so we took two large trams (75 and 50 people) and then a chair lift to get to the top. We skied far above the tree line next the shear rock cliffs that go straight up to the ridge. I was skiing with Michael, Elena’s fiancé, whose family lived in Cortina when he was growing up. He started skiing when he was four and when he was young skied in ski school with Alberto Tomba. He was the best skier that I saw today on the mountain. I was not, nor was I second best, but I managed to keep up, although with nothing of his economy and elegance of style. The valley is beautiful because twenty years ago they stopped the construction of new buildings in the area. When you drive along the road or look down from the ski runs, there is plenty of green space.
Sunday -- Dawn:
Rushing off to Email now, but we will tell you about the spectacular dinner we had with Elena, Michele, and Elena’s parents at her family’s elegant apartment. For now, all I can say is “Wow!” we are off to Asiago and then Venice for the rest of the week.
For those of you who do not know who Maria-Elena is, her aunt’s cousin is a friend of “our” Carlo's grandmother! When Elena was coming to Boston a few years back, the Italian contingent asked Carlo to help her find a place to stay while she was doing some post-graduate work in engineering at MIT. Carlo asked if she could stay with us until she found a place in Cambridge. We were delighted to have her in our home, and thus began our friendship. While she and Michele are young enough to be our children, we have a wonderful time with them ( which is not really a big surprise since we have a great time with my children too, and they are a few years younger than Elena & Michele.)
So dinner at her mother’s house was her beautiful way of thanking us for “taking care” of Elena in the USA. Somehow, having heard what a devoted mother Senora Valcher was, always cooking and ironing, I imagined her as a stereotypical short, plump, Italian mama in a house dress with a big apron. Imagine my surprise when a slim, blonde, chic woman in leather pants greeted us at the door of her Victorian style apartment replete with crystal, silver, formal furniture and a lot of original artwork! After some sort of apricot/vodka cocktail, we sat down at a beautifully set round table for the first course, which was a triple layer terrine of a kind of ham mousse and caviar, very delicate. (I abandoned my vegetarianism for that evening.) Then we had some incredible crepes in a creamy sauce, followed by roast veal with an almond sauce and baked fennel with perfect seasonings and a bit of corn, and spinach on the side. Then the salad course with two separate bowls, one of greens and the other of tender, young radicchio. Two desserts! Pana Cotta, which is a mold of milk, cream & vanilla confection with a deep red berry sauce drizzled over it. Then we had to refresh our palettes with a fruit cup topped with lemon gelato! Oh my, and three different wines, too. They must have been washing dishes for days. And how did she manage to have everything perfectly cooked and just at the right temperature to serve at just the appropriate intervals? Astonishing, really.
The sad part was that Senora Valcher spoke really no English, and apart from the Italian phrases that I had practiced, my Italian (and Stephen’s for sure) is quite limited. Nevertheless, they charmingly complimented me on my accent, and all was hugs and kisses at the end of the evening. As Michele was driving us back to the hotel, I said that I didn’t really think that we had done so much for Elena when she was in Boston to warrant such royal and effusive treatment. He said that in Italy, it is very unusual for a family to take in a “complete stranger”-which essentially Elena was, so they were indeed grateful, and we were very lucky to have such generous and warm hosts for our stay in northern Italy. Elena’s dad, a professor at the University of Bologna, did quite well with English and was the quintessential charming Italian, right out of the movies.
A simple breakfast of two cafe lattes was enough to get us started and after a short walk we packed up our bags and stored them at the hotel while we went to get our rental car. We stopped off at Padua’s beautiful open air market to get some flowers for Elena and her family, and once we got to her office tried to do some e-mail. Except for one to Amber, it was not successful, so we headed to the hotel to get our luggage and started out of town.
We had just as much trouble getting out of Padua as we did in many Costa Rican towns for the exact opposite reason. In Costa Rica there are no signs. Here there are so many signs that by the time you read them all the time for decision is long past. Also, the Italian in the car behind you is gently reminding you to keep up the average speed of cars driven in the country to twice the speed limit. Elena referred to this habit as “efficiency”.
The roads are wonderful here and the kilometers on the map melt behind you when you are doing a hundred and twenty of them an hour. Asiago is a location like no other that I have been to. We drove right up to the base of a three thousand foot mountain and then continued right up the side of it with ten switch backs in all until we reached not the top, but a large plateau with another set a mountains behind. Here were the seven communities of Asiago. We rolled into town with only the name and address of our hotel. We couldn’t find the street and it took us a long time to find the tourist office, but the women behind the desk gave us a map, but when we got there it was closed! Strange. We went back to the tourist place and she found us another, the Hotel Milano.
The skiing was great, even though there was no snow in the town itself. When we drove up to the Centro Sci da Fondo, we found a charming ski haus. . .
Actually, half the hotels in Asiago had closed prematurely because they had had 20 days of unusually warm weather -70 degrees and no snow, and business was kind of slow. So we were very happy to find the Hotel Milano, with only Italian-speaking staff and 20,000 lire less than the place we were supposed to stay at, and with breakfast! On day one, we ended up doing a 19 kilometer trail, with no lunch and no water. I did get a little cranky, what with feeling my age and my out-of-shapeness, but it was gorgeous country. At a rest stop on the trail, I stripped down to my sport bra, took a few rays, and watched the crocus start to bloom. Next day, we were tourists, supposedly to give our bodies a rest from skiing. However, walking in beautiful Renaissance hills towns sometimes makes you feel like you’ve been skiing for 19k. The third day we skiied the same trail (it was the only trail open) but in the opposite direction. A trail or a road always looks so different when you take it the other way. Moreover, we brought lunch with us on the trail & took a couple of leisurely stops. It seemed like we got more nice, long, graceful downhill runs that day, but I was still dragging by the time we got back to the lodge for a beer and sunset on the deck. Ah, life is tough here.
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