Heading East

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Friday morning we packed up our belongings, and headed out to do some last minute errands and absorb a tiny bit more of Venice before our 1:45 bus to Croatia. We hit the lovely gastronomica in Campo S. Barnaba for prosciutto, mortadella and mozzarella, and the bakery for bread, and topped off Jane’s phone account. We spent some time with Tintoretto at the Scuola di San Rocco. I love that they have mirrors available so you don’t have to strain your neck while looking at the amazing ceiling.

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We made sandwiches for lunch, and then headed to Tronchetto to catch the bus. Had some amusing interactions with two Italian-born brothers in their 60’s who had emigrated to New Zealand; now visiting Italy and Croatia with their wives. The bus trip was enjoyable, though we ran late because they had oversold seats in Trieste, and that needed to be sorted out. (one woman spent the first part of her trip cheerfully sitting in the bus stairwell, another on her boyfriend’s lap)

As we turned into the Istrian peninsula, the landscape turned hilly, with grapevines, green valleys, and pine forests. In Rovinj we were met by the charming Zelko who walked us to the apartment, showing us recommended shops and restaurants along the way. The apartment is right over the market and has a lovely view out the windows of the waterfront. It feels like a Croatian grandmother’s house, with doilies and dated features and furnishings. It’s spacious and comfortable, so who cares. Happily it has double-glazed windows, so things were quiet.

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We wandered out, enjoying the lively atmosphere. The Old Town streets are of Istrian stone like those in Puglia, beautiful with the gleaming white color and treacherous when wet. Most of the tourists seem to be German, with some Brits and Italians.

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Lots of tourist-oriented shops, but at least many were selling local products–wine, olive and truffle oils, truffle products and local crafts. And there seems to be a bakery on every corner selling breads and pastries from both European and Middle Eastern influences. We found the Piassa Grande wine bar, and conveyed Shannon’s greetings to Helena and Mandy, who were as lovely as rumored. Sat and enjoyed three different glasses of local wine with a plate of sausage with truffles, then shared a salad and pasta with yup, more truffles. I particularly loved one of the Teran wines; Larry preferred the Cab.

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In the morning, Larry went for a run along the water, and came back with a  warm borek from one of the bakeries and a SIM card.

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We went downstairs to have a coffee and do some shopping. Bought salad vegetables, ripe apricots, and some sort of sweet green/purple tiny plum from an adorable old lady who will probably become “our” market lady. Some sort of whole grain bread with seeds from the bakery.  We also wandered into the butcher shop for some local prosciutto called prsut, and got a slice of fresh tuna steak for dinner at the fish market. The tiny supermarket was a bit mystifying, as the only Croatian we’ve yet learned is Thank You, and the text on all the packaging was Croatian. Bought what we thought was yogurt, butter and cream, we’ll see when we get home.

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Yup, the stuff in the cup was cream, score.

Zelko came by to walk Larry over to the car rental place and then show him where to park.

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We went for a walk along the water, and looked for a place for lunch. Nothing jumped out at us, but as we doubled back to the apartment we saw people eating appealing looking food at the tiny kanoba right next to our apartment,Taverna da Baston. This turned out to be a great choice, as we loved our fish lunches–I had grilled branzino with sautéed potatoes and spinach; and Larry had a plate of grilled sardines with salad. Extremely fresh fish cooked over a fire–it doesn’t get much better than that. The owner brought over some grappa, Croatian jet fuel. The couple at the neighboring table had a three year old daughter who spent her time playing with the shopkeeper of the junk store across the street, and was given a little bracelet as a goodbye present. Sweet.

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Larry has been battling a local cell service provider over their plans–their web page gives details of a package plan that he found out doesn’t in fact exist. At first their customer service rep had been happily helpful, but once Larry started challenging the misrepresentation, there was radio silence. Avoid Bon Bon.

Spent more time walking around. There’s some guy making balloon animals for children, most of the kids using them to swat at each other. Some of the “animals” look like long penises, complete with testicles. Go ahead kid, smack your brother with a neon green penis.  We sampled cheese from a gentleman selling them in his doorway down the street from the apartment, and bought a hunk of local pecorino with truffles. Found the “beach” in town, with steep stairs down to the rocks where people were sunbathing. The earlier tour groups had largely departed by now, and town was quieter. The sparkling water, multicolored houses climbing the hill with the old church on the top does look like postcards. It’s unashamedly a tourist-oriented town now, but with a charmingly upfront air to it.

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Dinner time. I made a tomato vinaigrette to go with the tuna Larry seared, and a salad. The fish was fantastically fresh. A bottle of local Malvasia plonk from a nearby store was just OK, need to find a better source for wine.

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After dinner we went downstairs to sit on the sea wall and watch the sunset, lovely.

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Last Day

We met up with Jan and Ken at the Arsenale section of the Biennale on Thursday. We moved through the enormous structure housing the many installations, stopping at those that caught our eyes. This area seemed to be somewhat less political, more wide-ranging in topic than what we’d seen at the Giardini. Here are some of those that particularly resonated with me.

Riccardo Brey created a room of tables of assemblages using a huge variety of found and created materials, with fascinating textures, colors, and ways the pieces referenced each other. This one had gleams of bronze on black, very beautiful.And although I abhor Georg Baselitz’s patheticly stupid comments about women artists, I can still appreciate his unsettling upside-down figure paintings with their layers of texture.

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There were many wonderful artists in the Italy pavilion. A room showing a video montage by Peter Greenaway called “In the Beginning, Was the Image” explored the stock images that appear over and over again in art, using visuals, sound and text in a fascinating way. Also liked this figure sculpture in a room of painted walls, with a tiny video monitor in the background playing scenes titled “memory”

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How about a room filled with thousands of tiny, perfect portraits, suspended on walls and ceiling? I could have looked at the individual photos for hours. And these fragmented women you peer at through a crack in a wall were also affecting.

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Hanging in an old boat dock were two absolutely stunning phoenixes from Chinese artist XU Bing, all made from construction debris.

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We were hungry by this point, so we walked over to via Garibaldi. One of the Venice food aps suggested a “workingmen’s trattoria” nearby, so we sat down to lunch. It was a total comedy of errors, with the four of us peering at our uniformly lousy food in disappointment. Over salted pasta, stringy overcooked fegato, ugh. The really bad house wine was the highlight. Ah well, a run in with bad food at some point is part of the Venice experience, I guess.

Back on the vap, we went to an exhibit at the Palazzo Tiepolo Passi called Dialog of Fire, where artists created installations in glass and ceramics. I especially loved this roomful of softly glowing glass pillows.

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Home to rest, and sadly, pack. We met Jan, Ken and Nan for a late dinner at Estro, and had another enjoyable meal there with good food (the crudo plates were fantastic, except for some oysters that could have been better), wines, and conversation.

Buona note, Venezia. Off to Croatia tomorrow!

Island Hopping

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Wednesday morning we had a slower start (if you can call leaving at 9:30 slow, it is for us) and took the vaporetto out to Torcello. Along for the ride was possibly the sleepiest dog in the world, the poor dear couldn’t even manage to not drape her tongue on the vap floor..

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We sat in the open out back, along with a quartet of young people who were taking selfies  and shots of each other all through the 45-minute trip. What do people possibly do with hundreds of photos of themselves? I am baffled.

We took the short walk along a canal, stopping to admire the Ponte del Diavolo, the bridge still without parapets, one of two remaining in the Lagoon.

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Torcello is almost deserted now, but early on its population was higher than that of Venice, with the main economy devoted to wool production. Today you see large stretches of grassland. The cathedral Santa Maria Assunta was started in the 7th century, but the building that stands today was built in 1008. It’s in a lovely setting, with marshland and gardens around.

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It is famous for its 11th century mosaics, especially the large last Judgement. It’s a beautiful place, with some smaller mosaics besides the Last Judgement, and some lovely carvings. The floor is also extraordinary, made of countless shaped stones in a rainbow of colors. Photos are not allowed, but I am probably going to Hell because I sneaked one.

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And here’s one off the internet .

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We were getting hungry, so we stopped at one of the restaurants on the path.

Al Trono di Attila (referencing a stone chair found on the site, probably intended for a bishop) looked like a simple snack bar from the front, but inside was a comfortable restaurant with a pretty covered patio in back. We had a delightful lunch, sharing first a dish of feather-light gnocchi with shrimp and arugula; and then sharing frito misto, the best we’ve yet had in Venice.

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We took the vap to Burano next. It was traditionally an island of fisherman, where each painted his house a different color so it could easily be identified by water. The vivid colors made walking the back streets exciting, and are also a good reason to escape the overcrowded and touristy main street full of shops selling made-in-China lace and cheap pizza.

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The women of Burano were famous starting in the 16th century for their needle lace. The art pretty much died out n the 19th century, and there was briefly a lace school on the island to try to revive the skill in the local women. There are still a few elderly ladies making lace who work at the museum. I adored the tiny museum, with its video about the tradition and its drawers of exquisite lace and displays.

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We walked back streets of the island. Love the saturated colors.

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And here’s our first and probably last selfie.

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The vap put us back on F. Nova in Carreggeio, so we walked around for a while, looking up to see architectural details, through gates, and around corners. We grabbed a table in Campo Santi Giovannni e Paolo for a sprintz, and whiled away some time.

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Oh, we found the house where Titian died of the Plague.

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And here’s another current fashion–tourists who have wedding photos taken of them in Venice. We’ve seen them everywhere. Here’s a pair taking the vap after their photo shoot.

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Back on the other side of the Canal, we wanted a light dinner so went to Impronta Café. A modern vibe here, the place feels more Milano than Venezia. The food is plated in a contemporary style as well, and was quite good. We first shared an antipasto of tuna tartar with burrata and shaved vegetables; followed by tagliata (slices of rare thinly-sliced beef) with arugula and potatoes.

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Home to bed.

Walk Through Time

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Tuesday morning we met up with David Lown, an art historian living in Venice who runs a site and blog that is a great resource, A Guide to Venice. We negotiated our way through the hoards swarming towards San Marco, feeling rather like salmon pushing against the oncoming current. A brief history lesson along the way highlighted how ignorant I still am about Venice.  We turned inward at Santa Maria della Pietà, the foundling hospital and school. Interestingly, many of the girls were highly trained in music,(Vivaldi worked here)  and the orphanage became so renown that it became necessary for the Pope to install a plaque threatening excommunication for parents who abandoned children there who could otherwise provide for them.

We continued through the quieter reaches of Castello, pausing to find hidden courtyards with wellheads, plaques, churches, notable buildings and bits of history we’d otherwise never have seen.

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Arsenale, and a Bocca di Leone (denounciation box) on a church

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The narrowest street in Venice, a hedgehog as part of the Rizzi family crest on a palazzo

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Palazzos on streets so narrow its impossible to get a good photo, secret courtyard gardens, flowers decorating a balcony as the palazzo crumbles

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So much of Castello has emptied as the population has shrunk. You pass by empty storefronts, deserted streets,  crumbling buildings, a palazzo disintegrating into a rio,  and the occasionally overwrought reconstruction turned into luxury hotels.

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Here’s the 16th century Sotoportego de la Corte Nova, a tiny chapel built to protect the residents of the courtyard from the Plague, also invoked as protection from bombing in WWI.

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And the lovely courtyard of San Francesco della Vigna.

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We continued into northern Castello and then  Cannereggio.

Amusing to see the plaque on the Colleoni sculpture depicting the supposed anatomical representation of his manliness in battle.

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We reentered present day Venice among the tourist throng, and said our goodbyes. I highly recommend walking with David–he’s thoroughly engaging, passionate and knowledgeable, and his rates are a good value.

We decided to head up to the Giardini for the Biennale. First, some wine and sandwiches at El Refolo. As we were eating, I saw a cruise ship raw staggeringly close to the street. Criminal that these ships are allowed anywhere near delicate Venice.

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Saw a bit of the Biennale, but frankly did not have the energy to weed out what might appeal. A thunderstorm broke, so we huddled in the bookshop before heading back home.

Threw together a spaghetti carbonara for dinner.

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Art All Around

Monday morning we met up with Jan and Ken to go to the Palazzo Fortuny, the museum dedicated to artist/designer Mariano Fortuny who made the palazzo his home and workshop. It is known for the collection of the artists paintings, photography, studies on light, fabrics and stage designs. There is also a special exhibit currently there on the Golden Ratio, the mathematics behind proportion. As we soon found out, the majority of the Fortuny collection had been temporarily moved out to make room for this exhibit.   No matter, this was a really interesting exploration of proportion through a vast array of media–classical sculpture, renaissance painting, contemporary sculpture, textiles, video and photography, architecture.

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One of my unexpected favorites was tucked away in a tiny room at the back of the first floor, a hauntingly beautiful video called Night Time by Hans  Op de Beeck.  I found a little slice of it on YouTube. Night Time

There was a little corner of Fortuny on the first floor. I guess we’ll have to come back to Venice, right?

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I had told Jan I wanted to do some simple jewelry shopping, so after hitting up a bakery for some bread and cookies, we walked to a shop she likes in San Polo. And surprise–it was the same shop where I had bought my favorite earrings 12 years ago! I bought a necklace to go with those silvery-grey earrings. We parted from Jan and Ken, and Larry and I wandered around in search of some lunch. We wound up at Ai Do Farai, a cute place with a few tables filled by old Italian guys. We figured why not, they looked happy. The charmingly wacky owner set us up with a mixed seafood antipasto, filled with Venetian low tide goodies. Four different kinds of shrimp, seppie, pulpo, sarde in saor, mantecato, cozze, polenta. All simply dressed with oil, salt, and the occasional drip of lemon.Very nice. We then shared spaghetti with clams and mussels, a tiny bit oversalted to my taste, but still quite good. We enjoyed listening to the political chatter and Dino the owner pulling out a chair to chat with everyone, including us.

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In walking around, I stopped by an old building with different grates in each window, very cool.

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And across the calle, this contemporary one of a dove.

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Went home to rest up a bit, and in the late afternoon went to Tronchetto to see where we’ll be getting the bus on Friday. No ticket office there, so perhaps the perpetually closed one in Piazza Roma actually has some open hours we’ve missed. Continued on the vap to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

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There we visited the new gallery of contemporary glass, currently running a show on Finnish glass. This piece really caught me, with all the layers in a simple form.

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Outside is the Mondrian Glass Tea House.

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By now the rain had started, so we continued walking along the island, ducking into the several Biennale exhibits open. Some things that didn;t really speak to me, but I did enjoy this huge room of textured figures called “crowd.” As you first approach, all the figures look the same, but as you walk through them you can find the differences in feature and posture that make them individuals.

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Also loved these enormous sculptures of girl’s faces.

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Inside the church of San Giorgio Maggiore were two more sculptures, one of a peacefully featured head and the other of a hand in benediction.

We took the elevator up the belltower, into an extremely dramatic and windy sky, complete with rainbows. I had some trouble with my pleated silk skirt, which desperately wanted to billow up to my shoulders. I now know why they make parachutes from thin silk. Breathtaking views made it more than worthwhile.

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And for those who complain that I’m never in my own blog–doesn’t my hair look pretty in the wind?

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Took the vap over to Guidecca, and sat for some spritzes across from San Marco.

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By now we were hungry, so went to Pizzeria Ae Oche on the Zaterre. Too wet to sit outside, so we enjoyed pizzas inside along with tables of students. Good stuff.

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Home to bed.

Stormy Weather

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Sunday morning we were scheduled to go on a walking tour with David Lown, an art historian living in Venice who I “met” through SlowTrav. The online weather forecast called for overcast skies during the morning, with thunderstorms starting in the afternoon. The streets were deserted as a drizzle started. As we boarded the vaporetto at P. Roma, I wondered if the weathercasters had looked out the window–there were big fat drops falling, and the wind was picking up. Those drops rapidly escalated into a rollicking thunderstorm that tossed the vap around and made docking interesting. By the time we ran under the cover at the Palazzo Ducale, most people were completely drenched, including the unfortunate bride who was hoping for photos in San Marco. We were thankful for our raincoats–so many people obviously hadn’t brought anything, and were doing the best they could with thin plastic ponchos given out by the cruise ships, and even trash bags. It looked like a Hefty commercial, and don’t get me started on people wielding both umbrellas and selfie sticks in narrow streets.

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We met up with David, and mutually agreed that a bit of rain is one thing, this thunderstorm was quite another, and rescheduled for Tuesday morning. As we were already at the Palazzo which no one seemed to be entering  and our museum passes covered it, we figured why not spend the morning there. We had visited and done the Secret Itineraries tour during our long-ago trip, so it felt fresh.

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We managed to time things so we entered rooms just as the few tour groups were leaving, and enjoyed wandering, reading through the Blue Guide on my phone, and marveling at the opulence and the artworks that proclaimed the wealth of Venice’s own 1%.

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By 11:30 the rain was stopping, and glimpses of sun emerging. We wandered a bit, discussing what to do with the afternoon. As we walked, we saw one of the cruise ships beginning its entry into Venice. Not even one of the huge ones, it was still jarring.

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Ended up wandering across the Accademmia bridge and into Dorsoduro, visiting the gastronomica in Campo San Barbara for some salumi, winding up sitting for a long time at a table outside Café Fontago with a pitcher of wine and a plate of chichetti. Just watching people go by, drinking and eating tasty fishy bites.  I glimpsed possibly the most beautiful young man ever, standing shirtless in the window above the café. Seriously, he should be one of the sights of Venice. No photo, sorry.

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The sky was darkening as another storm rolled in, so we spent the rest of the afternoon in the apartment, napping, reading, and eventually throwing together dinner. (pasta with zucchini and tomatoes; and sauteed eggplant) Relaxing after the busy past few days.

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Saturday with Saint Anthony

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When I learned that six cruise ships would be in Venice on Saturday, I figured that would be a good day to get out of town. Padova is only a 1/2 hour train ride from Venice, and the Giotto frescos in the Capella degli Scrovegni have been on my bucket list. I’d also heard there was a great market on Saturday.

We walked from the train station to the park where the Roman remains, Civic Museum, and Scrovegni (which Larry insists on calling the Scrotum Chapel) are located. We arrived with time to spare before our 10:30 reservation, and they were able to get us into the earlier group.  (You must reserve your 15 minute slot, as only 30 people are allowed in at a time). First you watch a little video about the history and painting of the Chapel, and the reasons for the need for such intense protection. You then enter through an airlock door for your 15 minutes of frantically trying to take it all in. The colors, the faces, the narrative is all wonderful. The Judgment scene is particularly fascinating, with its depictions of sinners meeting all sorts of bad ends. And I kind of thought the Vices a lot of fun than the Virtues. No photos, so take a look here: Scrovegni

My unfortunate footwear choice led us to buy a few bus/tram tickets to get further into the Centro, and we caught a bus heading in. We decided to go to the Duomo and Market area first. The market looked huge, with many stalls selling produce and food; and another area with the usual housewares and clothing. We spent some time in the Baptistry looking at the frescos, a few minutes in the Duomo, and then caught a bus over to the Botanical Gardens, started in 1545, the oldest in the world. Lovely place, with the simple early gardens that focuses on medicinal plants, trees and some exotics like succulents. How about a 16th century palm?

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Through a narrow ivy path you arrive at a huge, modern greenhouse filled with plants from different ecosystems. Just lovely.

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For lunch, we chanced into a nearby trattoria filled with Italians. Those of us waiting were asked if we’d be agreeable to share a table, and so we found ourselves sitting with two delightful gentlemen in town for the Festa. Neither had more than a few words of English, but we managed a conversation over lunch. We had two good pastas–one a pici with duck ragu; the other thin pasta sauced with arugula pesto and pieces of salmon. Here is one of them with Larry, who is looking up one of their vacation recommendations, Ponza.

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We walked through the crowds to the Basilica, and went inside. Beautiful place.  It was a party in there! I’ve never before seen a church in Italy so filled with Italians instead of foreign tourists. There was a Mass being celebrated, and all around people talking, lined up to view St. Anthony’s tomb, go to Confession, see the relics, or interestingly, have their purse or wallet put on a large statue of the saint for a few minutes, perhaps in hope of assistance in finding financial success.

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We bought one of the St Anthony cakes being sold, and got on the tram back to the station.I never did get to the market, or the museums I was interested in. Another time, certo.  Easy trip home, and then Larry napped while I read.

We had a late dinner reservation to meet up with the delightful Jan and Ken at L’Orto dei Mori in Cannereggio. We took the Vap up, and Larry grabbed a photo of me knitting on Knit In Public Day. Yes, it’s a thing.

Much fun was had. Wine was consumed. Food was enjoyed. Larry and I shared a  salad of octopus and fennel, green gnocchi with swordfish, and a frito misto. I think Jan had the winning dish, pasta with a scrumptious sauce of shrimp “bisque.” Even dessert was good!

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