Services are underway in the two synagogues in the upper rooms of the four story buildings just down the narrow walkway from our hotel. As we turn out from there into the wider canal path we are swept up in the great swarms of weekend visitors arriving in Venice at the train and bus stations. It is a good day to be leaving town.
We purchase our tickets without confusion, remember to validate them, find our platform (among the two dozen choices), and soon are rushing over the low causeway, past four massive cruise ships, and out of the city. The twenty-five minutes ride costs less then ten Euros. Venice has been a splendid four days but we both are happy to be back at a slower pace in a less crowded setting and, tomorrow, to be on the bike again.
We lunch again at Pedrocchi on a simple ham and mozzarella (or, for Mrs. C, provolone) sandwich made with what she deems the best baguette yet in Italy. Outside kids are playing on all four of the stone lions guarding the broad steps to the building. (I was secretly hoping I could perch for a few minutes on one of the beasts.)
We drop our bags at the Casa del Pellegrino where familiar faces recognize and greet us and then head across the street to the Basilica of St. Anthony. It is an enormous space with multiple domes and side chapels, one of them holding the tomb of the saint who is the object of many pilgrim visits, some deep in prayer with hands and foreheads pressed to the stone side of the tomb. While much of the art — paintings, sculpture, and frescoes — is from centuries ago, the (side) Chapel of Saint Sacremento, done in the 1920s and 1930s, hints of Surrealism. Behind the main altar, another chapel holds a small air force of angels and other flying figures in fresco, stone, and plaster.
The Botanical Garden of Padova dates from 1548 and in its UNESCO World Heritage citation is described as “the original of all botanical gardens.” Operated by the University of Padua today, the garden still holds thousands of plants specimens, especially those with medicinal uses. Its massive trees include a ginko dated to about 1750 and a grandiflora magnolia from 1786, both looking immensely vigorous.
The greatest surprise in the Garden is a very new massive glass and white metal building called the Garden of Biodiversity. It contains examples of trees and plants from the major climate zones along with explanatory panels and audio-visual projections that discuss broad issues of the relationships of humans and plants and the environments they share. The English translations are highly readable and the visual techniques as well done as anything I’ve seen in the museum world. The building has two floors enabling visitors to walk among the specimens at ground level and then look down on them from high above, a unique perspective on the symmetry (and its opposite) in the plant world. In all, it is an extraordinary marriage of architecture and a cultural landscape.
Last week we were unable to find a seat at Antica Trattoria Dei Paccagnello, but at 7:15 the place is empty and the manager takes us in, a stroke of good fortune because it will be my best meal thus far in Italy and Mrs. C’s best ever-anywhere fried squash flowers stuffed with cheese. My antipasta uses bacala, a regional specialty of dried and salted cod properly spelled with an accent mark on the last letter. Mixed with milk and other ingredients, it is made into pine cone shape forms and presented slightly chilled accompanied by warm polenta slices on a plate thinly ringed with olive oil and finely chopped parsley. The flavor is mild but unmistakably from the sea and it gives life to the otherwise bland polenta.
My main dish of roast pork sirloin is baseball sized, wrapped in prosciutto, and cooked beyond rare but still pink. A dark sauce of juices keeps the meat moist and flavors the accompanying polenta while a small stew of unsweetened rhubarb adds tartness to it all. Tomorrow we will bike through the Colli Euganei region just south of Padova, the source of our merlot wine, a 2012 bottling from the Cantina Colli Euganei. The wine is dark, balanced, with good body and, at ten Euro, a great bargain. While we await the check we amuse one year old Penelope whose mother is carrying her about in an effort to quiet her, a scene any parent or grandparent can immediately visualize. My baby Italian and Santa beard again are guaranteed one-year-old pleasers.