Padua and Carnivale

February 14, 2012

It’s another long one peoples….sorry about that.

Verona to Padua was only 45 mins and it was nice day.  You are going to have to get used to me calling it Padova because that’s what the Italians call it.  If you call it Padua they don’t know what you are talking about. Padova isn’t as nice as I was expecting it to be.  Whereas Verona had the open, light feel, Padua has a closed in dark feeling.  The main streets are narrower and the buildings are darker and dirtier…hard to explain but I found the hotel, thanks to a kind bus driver and I am quite literally just down the street from Basilica St Antonio.  This town loves it’s domed churches.

The obvious first port of call was the Basilica St Antonio and it is another massive and amazing church.  It has the tomb of St Antonio in it and he’s supposedly the patron saint of just about everything.  It was quite eye-opening to see the constant stream of people who come to the back of the tomb and place their hands on it and pray to St Anthony as their protector.  The church is massive and has many sections including the Church of Reliquaries, Cloisters, a multimedia exhibit, museum and just outside the main church the Oratory of St George and the School of the Saint and that’s just the bits that are open to the public.  The had a really big confessional room and I was really tempted to go in and say the devil made me do it….but I thought they might not see the funny side.

I then went to the Botanical Gardens which were closed…how rude and wandered to the Porto della Valle which is a massive square, well really it’s a round but for argument sake it’s a square.  It was once a Roman theatre but is now used for fairs etc.  It an oval, green island divided by 4 avenues corresponding to 4 bridges surrounded by a canal along which stand 78 statues of famous men.  It’s quite impressive.  There is, of course a huge church, Basilica S. Giustina, at one end, this one has 8 domes and is massive inside although this one had the feeling of space as it’s not so overly decorated.  It also has some modernish sculptures near the altar.

It’s only occurred to me in the last couple of days that for someone who isn’t overly religious I spend a hell of lot of my holidays at religious places.  Two years ago it was temple after temple in Bhutan and Nepal and this time its church after Catholic Church and I’m not even Catholic.  I’m wondering if there’s a message in this somewhere.

And that pretty much took care of day 1.

Day 2 was really cold. It had snowed a little overnight and it was overcast and windy and bitterly cold…yuk and it’s back to 5 layers of clothes. I headed for the markets, there’s about 4 of them which all run off each other I got very disorientated when I was in them.  There is a produce market and two of the stalls sell an incredible array of pre-mixed risotto (that’s the uncooked version) however the number of opportunistic birds picking away at the rice was a little off-putting.  Another of the squares sold clothes etc however quite a few of the store holders were packing up because it was so cold.  Yet the women that run the ‘wagon’ stalls outside Saint Antonio’s were there all day in the cold…tough women them.  The Italians love their kitsch religious souvenirs, the stalls, shops and wagons are everywhere….no worse than all the places selling carnivale masks I suppose.

Checked out the Palazzo della Ragione – its 13th century palazzo which once held the medieval law courts.  The first floor is a massive hall 80 x 27 metres with the walls covered with 333 frescoes done in the 15th century.

Then I went to the Scrovegni Chapel which has 40 well preserved frescoes by Giotto, painted in 1303.  They have an extensive art gallery there so I did the obligatory viewing but in record time.  There was some great work there but I’m galleried out.

I ventured out in the freezing cold to find somewhere for dinner and wanted anything except pizza.  The only place open was pizza….bugger!

Day 3 off to Venice…woohoo.  It’s bitterly cold again but who cares, I’m heading to Venice for Carnivale.  I am so excited.

But now I’m back in Venice…..yippee ki yay, I love this place.  The hotel I stayed at on the first trip was holding a box of stuff for me and as I was walking there to pick it up, I was so excited to be back here, I was close to skipping down the street.  I don’t know what stopped me, it’s not like I know anyone.

Venice is simply amazing and Carnivale is awesome.  Once I’d picked up the box of stuff, I headed straight for San Marco Square.  The vast majority of people are wearing masks and while I’d bought one for the wall when I was here last time, I still didn’t have wearable one.  I was going to go for the full face sort just to keep my face warm but you have to take them off to eat, drink and pick your nose….oh sorry, I meant wipe your nose (it’s a constant habit in this weather), so opted for the cover the eyes style mask.  They aren’t particularly comfortable to wear and I found getting it tied up tight enough was difficult especially as I was having to do it on my own.

The streets are just heaving with people, such a change from my last visit.  Funny how a lot of the shops and restaurants that were closed three weeks ago are suddenly open now. San Marco has a massive stage set up at one end and there are people everywhere, it’s fabulous.  Wonderful to see so many people getting into the spirit of Carnivale.  Every man and his dog is wearing a mask…..and yep, I even saw a dog with a mask.  There’s everything from Tele Tubbies, guys in tutu’s, clowns, the big giant guy out of Harry Potter (obviously I can’t think of his name right now), 4 Kinder surprises!!, plenty if medieval costumes and lots of period costumes and I’m pretty sure that some of the guys dressed up as ponsy dandies isn’t far from their normal attire.  Then of course there are the simply amazing costumes that are the epitome of Carnivale.

Unfortunately, it was so so so cold I lasted just shy of 2 hours in the square and had to come back to the hotel to defrost, so I could  go back again in the evening.  I also noticed that the Campanile (bell tower) which was closed for repaired last time is open however there was massive queue.  The line up to get in to the Basilica was even worse….hohum, been there, done that…..teehee!

I went back in the evening and they had a band playing on the stage but there was another random band of 10 or 12 just trumpets, trombones and various drums wandering round the place and they were brilliant, gathered quite a crowd.  There’s things happening all over the place.  Various campo’s around Venice have different things going on.  But I’ve discovered Vin Brule…hot fruit wine and it is great.  And even better, you can wander round drinking,,,yeha.  A few glasses of the Vin Brule and it was a very enjoyable evening.  The only thing with Venice is if you are going out drinking there are two important things to remember – where the hotel is and that you have to be capable of walking back there because you can’t call a taxi to drop you home.

Sunday (Day 2) was a beautiful day, still cold but nowhere near as bad as yesterday and the sun is shining, the birds are singing and all is good with the world and I’m in Venice for Carnivale…..damn I know how to string it along.

I went in to San Marco and got there just in time for the parade.  I’m learning the Italian way of pushing and shoving and managed to get two people back from the parade line so got an ok view.  After that I made a dash for the Campanile and only had a very short queue for the ride up the elevator, 92 metres up for awesome views.  They had put a sign up saving that it was cold and windy up there and damn they weren’t kidding.  The wind was straight off the arctic, it literally took your breath away.  People keep asking me take photos of them (they obviously see my hulking great camera and figure I’m not about to run off with their piddly little cameras) and I had an American lad ask me to take his while we were up there.  We had a few issues with his camera and we were chatting away but seriously the guy needed to wipe his nose severely.  I know it was cold up there but I could feel when my nose was running.  It made it very difficult to talk to him so made a quick getaway.

By the time I got down from the tower, the square was packed and everyone was looking up.  I’d forgotten about the Flight of the Angel, which only happens on the first Sunday.  The Angel flies down from the top of the Campanile to the stage (kind of like a really cool flying fox…yeha).  Now it was freezing where we were in the bell tower but she was up higher again.  When she finally stepped off the tower she hung there for a good 8 minutes and then they very slowly lowered to the stage.  She must have been absolutely freezing, she was in a period costume and the wind was blowing her skirts around and having just been up there, I was feeling for her.

I’d booked a “Life of Casanova” walking tour, which showed up a few different areas of Venice and was really interesting.  I’d always thought Casanova was fictional but he was actually a very educated man.  He was a  lawyer, and economist and wrote 36 books, one book had 12 volumes (his memoir’s), he also happened to be very much a ladies man.

In the evening I’d booked a Venetian style Pub Crawl.  Hmmm, they need to be taught what constitutes a pub crawl.  The first place was really nice but then they walked us for miles to the second place and it was closed….ooops!  So they found another bar than was really small and very crowded as it was and we couldn’t all fit into the place, so we ended up standing around outside in the cold….not happy Jan.  The next place was just over the campo and was pretty much a hole in the wall that was already packed.  I was talking to an  Aussie couple from Gunnedah and they were with an two other girls and we all decided to make a break for it and find a pub.  They said they kidnapped me but I called it a rescue mission.  And we went in search of a pub.  We couldn’t believe it when we stumbled on an English style pub, honestly if people hadn’t been speaking Italian you really wouldn’t have known.  Several drinks there and a lot of laughs and we made our way to San Marco because there was supposed to be jazz band playing.  Unfortunately, the square was pretty quiet even the band were just starting up.  We stopped at one of the lovely tea houses on the square and hooked in the Vin Brule.  The others decided to call it quits, pikers and I hung around the square and listened to the band for a while and drank more of the Vin Brule…yum. And I very very slowly, savouring the quiet of the Venice streets made my way back to my hotel, a large Vin Brule in hand and not being entirely sober, I mulled over the spectacle of Carnivale and the beauty of Venice and shed a wee tear and then kicked myself for not staying longer and set about working on how to emigrate.  I will definitely be back to Venice and Carnivale although next time I will bring someone with me because there is serious mischief to be had and a partner in crime is important.

So now I’m in Milan.  I’ve picked the cruddiest place to stay and I might find somewhere else to spend my last night (just sucks that I had to pay in advance but you get that).  Milan is yet to make an impression on me but admittedly, I haven’t seen much of it, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings.


Lindy, your blogs are so interesting, I can’t wait for each instalment. Aah Italy. I’ve always wanted to go there and even did 2 Italian courses for-fun-and-travel. Alas, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, Canada & America don’t have what Italy has – history and Italians!! Never mind, I’m LOVING your accounts of the place!!

Hi Lindy, if you emigrate you could start up a tour business called the Aussie Pub Crawl in Venice, and show them how to really do it. Glad you are enjoying your highlight of your tour, except for freezing to death. Have a safe trip home and will talk to you on the weekend luv Yvonne & Digby