Often, the best things in life happen by chance. So it was that, while waiting for our Dublin flight at the gate, Vito and I met Chiara and Giovanni, a lovely couple based in Padua. While chatting, I learned that Giovanni, a piano teacher, is extremely passionate about rowing, boats and history and that he recovered an old gondolin da fresco (a small and colourful gondola used by Venetian nobility in summer to enjoy some fresh air), had it restored and now uses it to row along the Piovego river in Padua.
I was impressed, so I asked if could visit them to see what they do and write about it.
So, last Tuesday I went to Padua. I had agreed to meet Giovanni at the Monumento Memoria e Luce at 1:30 pm, and because I had a free day, I decided to go earlier and enjoy a walk around the central market and a lunch in an old-style osteria called L'Anfora. My train arrived at 11 am and I immediately went towards the centre.
The day was dull and the light horrible, but I was in a good mood. In Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Signori all the fruit and vegetable stalls were open, but I was more interested in investigating the shops under the porticos. Lots of butchers and cheese shops, two fish stalls, some inviting bakeries and lots of what we call alimentari, offering quality take-away meals (like lasagna/cold and warm salads/etc.) and cheese, cold cuts, specialty olives and more. I could have spent the whole day there, but I wanted to check that I would have been able to have an early lunch at the restaurant.
The first time I went to Osteria L'Anfora was about ten years ago, it was Vittorio who brought me there. It's an old style osteria that had already been open for ages and still hasn't changed management, where at lunch time you see the local pensioners of the area and in the evening, university students and locals. I've always liked this place, dark but with a warm atmosphere, with photos and posters all over the wall, a well selected wine list and an honest and traditional cuisine. The menu is short and written by hand (it changes daily) and is based on regional peasant recipes, in fact I had an exquisite pasta e fagioli alla Veneta, which I found wonderfully creamy and soupy and with a generous amount of black pepper. The staff is very helpful and the value for money very good, with the first courses ranging from 8 to 12 euros and the second courses between 12 and 15. Anyway, it was time for me to get going.
So I headed back towards the station and turned left in Via Giotto, opposite to the park, from where I could see Giovanni coming out from under the bridge on his lovely gondolin da fresco. After a couple of minutes we were reached by his father. Giovanni had planned to do the longer tour and wanted a hand to row through the parts where the water flow is stronger. Both proved to be expert rowers and story tellers and I was touched to see how close father and son are (Vittorio almost cried when he saw the photos...).
Padua seen from the water is a completely different thing. One just forgets about the traffic, the noise and the people and is carried away along the river, surrounded by the green and red plants and by birds like ducks and herons. We passed in front of a boat with four bee-hives and under all the medieval and the newer bridges until we reached La Specola, the astronomic observatory, from there we returned to proceed towards the old port, and I was impressed by the old Venetian boats I saw along the tour.
At the time of the Serenissima, it was normal for Venetian nobles to use these boats to seek some fresh air and enjoy a day outdoors and to prove that gondolas were used in Padua, at the side of the small church there is a marble slab with the tariffe (fees) of the different boats and services engraved.
The part of the old port was the one I enjoyed the most. I thought that the bridge before the longer staircase was the nicest of all and loved to see the Saint Mark's lion at its sides. The pastel colours of the buildings reflected perfectly on the water and the sight of the students enjoying their break conveyed that sense of normal city I am always happy to see. After a few metres, at our right, more boats and the old walls with what remains of a former marble door with the statue of a lion on top.
Although Giovanni provided me with lots and lots of historical information and curiosities, I recorded only a couple of things, so if interested in a tour or you want to learn more, I suggest to contact him directly. You will be asked to join an association and a fee for the tour.
In addition to the passion and dedication proved by Giovanni and his dad, what impressed me most was the peaceful atmosphere and all the shades of green of the water plants. Being on this brown and red gondolin da fresco gave me a sort pastoral and bucolic feeling, as if I was one of the protagonists of an early 19th century landscape painting. As previously mentioned, the weather wasn't great, yet I had the best of times and thought everything was beautiful, so now I'm curious to go on a bright sunny day to see the difference. After all, Padua is only 40 minutes by train from Venice!
My suggestion is to leave early morning by RV train (fast regional), explore the city centre, if you have time book a visit at the Scrovegni Chapel and, after a good lunch, discover the city by water.
Have fun and let me know ;-)
For info & bookings: (+39) 3286140146