Birthday Weekend—Saturday

We slept extremely well in our cozy room, and enjoyed a nice Italian breakfast (no, not a cigarette and espresso) downstairs. Had a great conversation with the hotel manager, of American parentage but raised in the Veneto. Oh, and bought a few bottles of Amarone to schlep home. We talked about what to do with the beautiful day, and Larry remembered that I had mentioned the Palladian villas around Vicenza. I told him I was taking a day off from planning, so he was in charge. A bit of Googling, and we were on our way.

The towns in this area have swallowed up most of the old buildings, so most have a modern, workaday atmosphere. It is somewhat startling to go through streets of small apartment buildings and shops, the road narrows, and suddenly you’re facing a gated 16th century villa.

Our first stop was Villa Rotunda (Villa Capra), begun by Palladio in 1566. No parking lot, so you need to creep along the road looking for a space, in competition on a Saturday with carloads of Italian families. Scored a space (the miniature car a blessing), we eventually got to the villa. With columned entries on all sides, views across its park and toward carefully placed outbuildings and statues, it is impressive from the exterior. Viewing this, you can see how Palladio influenced American 18th century architecture, from Monticello and the White House, to the porticoed whitewashed buildings in New England towns.

Inside, it has soaring ceilings, huge windows, and although the rooms are heavily frescoed and filled with objects, it still manages to feel inviting. Still privately owned, you could imagine an elderly couple reading in the comfortably furnished drawing room.

The central rotunda is amazing. No photos inside, so take a quick Google visit.

Next we found the nearby Villa Valmarana. The main Villa, La Palladiana was started in 1669. The smaller “guesthouse” La Forestina, in 1720. The Tiepolos, Giambattista and Giandomenico, father and son, painted elaborate frescoes in both homes. Father mainly painted in La Palladiana, son in la Forestina. It is interesting to see the differences in subject matter and style–one with dramatic moments from mythology; the other less about narrative and more about romantic moments or popular themes. My preference is for the son’s work.

The Villa is privately owned, it is neat to see family photos around the rooms.

Up on a wall are statues of dwarves, illustrating the legend of Princess Layana, whose parents surrounded her with other dwarves so she would not know how different she was.

For lunch, we drove up to a restaurant I had read about, Olio e Burro in Arcugnano. Slow on a Saturday, the only other table was an extended family who obviously knew the owners and chef. Excellent food, both our pastas were outstanding. Larry had a delicious thin lasagnette of radicchio and mushroom. I had fresh pasta with a farm egg yolk and shaved white truffle. So damn good.

Our last stop of the day was at the massive Villa Pisani in Stra. Either 114 or 144 rooms, depending on which source you read, it is quite the early 17th century pile. Room after room, it goes on and on, some rooms chock full of furnishings; others tattered and bare.

The gigantic ballroom was decorated by Giovanni Tiepolo, full of mythological heroes, partially hidden satyrs, all sorts of richly painted details. It is fascinating and overwhelming, I wanted to waltz In it. The Pisani Family fell into debt and sold the villa to Napoleon, so some rooms have more Regency decoration. And yes, Napoleon slept here.

We didn’t have time to explore the museum or grounds, but we know we want to come back and spend time in the Veneto some future trip. There is a lot to see and do here, and I could see renting one of the apartments at Massimago.

So back to beautiful Mestre and the train station, where Larry had an adventure trying to return the car to the closed office; and we met a young Canadian with two huge suitcases who didn’t know she couldn’t catch a cab to a hotel. She didn’t even have a place to stay–after helping get her bags off the train we pointed her toward an info desk and wished her luck.

Our London friends Jonathan and Phillipa were in town, so we had dinner with them at Alla Frasca, an old favorite in Cannaregio. Excellent food, (grilled octopus; gnocchi with shrimp and mint; mixed grilled fish; a Friuli white wine) and even better company.

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