After a Saturday night "red-eye" special of FLL-EWR-ZRH-MXP, then two hours with SwissAir to arrange forwarding our luggage which they left behind in Zurich (the first lost bags in all these years, though), we arrived Sunday afternoon by train from Milan to Padova. Our friend and fellow Amel Santorin sailor Attilio Siviero was waiting at the station and whisked us to a local hotel where we instantly crashed for a desperately needed nap. But we rose to the occasion later on for a most welcome home-cooked dinner that Maria, Attilio's wife had prepared. Of course, with mangiare
being of pivotal importance to Italian culture, we must tell you the ingredients: olives, large capers and sun dried tomatoes with a glass of Prosecco to start, fresh peas, mint, basil and pasta for our primi and grilled fennel, melanzane, and peppers for the secondi. The next course was a selection of lovely local cheeses and toasted bread, all followed by the tiniest, sweetest strawberries we have ever tasted.
During dinner Attilio filled us in on the plans we had been emailing each other about, which were to tour the MOSE project. That's the a massive gate system under construction across the ocean entrances to the Venetian Lagoon - it is literally going to save Venice from being lost to rising sea levels and frequent storm surges. Attilio is a retired civil engineer and a fellow engineer, Hermes Reddy, known to his friends as "Ever Reddy", is the MOSE project manager who most graciously arranged a private tour for our party which included us, Attilio's brother and three other friends.
In this first series of pictures, above, you see us having just arrived in Venice where a MOSE fast launch was waiting to whisk us past the Grand Canal to the MOSE project headquarters.
The headquarters are in the old Venetian Arsenale ship yards at the head of the island of Venice, which are entered between the two towers in the upper left, above. The administration offices are inside the ancient, but restored ship construction buildings, and are thoroughly modern as you see in the lower right picture.
We started with a presentation by Sr. Reddy who used us as a practice audience for the talk he was to give later in the week to the UN in New York, as the MOSE project is of keen international interest. "Ever" explained that there were two major concurrent phases to the work. The first was extensive shore side rehabilitation throughout the hundred mile long laguna to raise seawalls, redirect all sources of erosion and effluent runoff from the land to stop any pollution and create extensive marshes that have a cleansing action on the water as well as providing excellent natural wildlife habitats. The second is constructing the gate system that will actually close off the entire lagoon from the sea during times of inordinately high tides - "acqua alte". These tides only occur about five times a year, mostly when the southerly winter Sirroco winds blasting up the Adriatic from Africa combine with regional storm systems, and, without the MOSE will over time eventually destroy Venice.
After the lecture we toured the administrative grounds, including the control center you see in the two bottom left pictures (where Kath is standing outside the door). We thought the statue atop the building bore a good resemblance to Engineer Attilio and deserved a pic.
Finally, we reboarded the launch and motored out to the main lagoon entrance, where the massive concrete underwater caissons were being constructed. These structures (top left), some 270 tons worth each, are moved on a short multi-rail section to the water's edge, then lowered onto floats, towed to the exact position across the lagoon entry channel and lowered to the sea bed. Next, the yellow steel gates in the lower right picture are towed out and sunk onto the caisson such that their hinge pins engage a mating retainer on the caisson. Some 78 of these yellow gates will be side-by-side across the ocean openings. They are normally flooded with water and rest on the sea bed, some 40 feet under water, so ship traffic passes by unobstructed. But, when "acqua alte" threatens, air is pumped into the gates, displacing the water, and they float up, rotating on their hinges to form a massive gate to hold out the sea.
It was, indeed, a fascinating day, as Katherine snapped a pic of the "boys" as we took our leave back in Venice proper.
Back in Venice we weren't quite done with our engineering tour as Attilio gave us a tour of a project he had done to preserve an ancient structure and turn it into a library for the University. The top middle shot has Attilio explaining to Craig some of the finer points of the skeleton they made inside of the original wooden structure to support floors and book shelves. At right you can see the steel reinforcing on the wood beams and the bottom left shows the student study tables. Across from the library we strolled past the gondola factory in the bottom middle picture, where you see stacks of lumber waiting to be turned into these beautiful symbols of Venice.
Finally, we had a great walk through town that brought back grand memories of our time there aboard Sangaris. It was hard to believe that was five years ago in 2009 - my how tempus fugits!
Tuesday morning was our first day to tour Maria & Attilio's "hometown" of Padova, where they had met during their university years. We're not sure how many students attended then, but the city now boasts 65,000 students each year! But more on Padova's famous Uni later ...
Easy public bus transportation took Maria, Kath & Craig into the historic center dominated by the imposing Palazzo della Ragino, commonly called Il Salone. It was built in 1208 to house the court of justice on the upper floor and shops on the lower where a bustling daily food market was in full swing upon our arrival. Next stop was the Piazza dei Signori, attractively enclosed by buildings including the Palazzo del Capitanio with its impressive Torre dell Orologio, a 24-hour and astronomical clock dating from 1344 (top left pic). It may be hard for you to see the dates in the blue corners, but we were happy to record our important anniversary day -27 and month - Maggio. Attilio joined us at a leafy shaded courtyard café and a round of "spritzes": Campari, Prosecco and sparkling water, a traditional drink in this area of northern Italy. Salute'
Our next wanderings took us by the Piazza Duomo and through typical, narrow mostly pedestrianized streets of the old ghetto to Palazza Bo, the main seat of the university which was founded in 1222 - the second oldest public university in Europe (Bologna was #1). In the photo collage above, in the top middle right you'll see an ornate gothic building, the original "Bo" and next to it the neo-classical Café Pedrocchi, a famous meeting place for scholars. Across the street is another historic section of the university with a mid-16th century courtyard and a small bar where students over many years have begun graduation celebrations, including our hosts Attilio and Maria seen in the top right photo. Many academic galleries and theaters surround the courtyard and some special sights are part of our next day's tour.
We walked by St. Anthony's, the city's largest cathedral, and then to the beautifully (and we understand constantly) restored Prato del Valle, a massive former Roman arena that is now a public park adorned with statues of historic scholars and leaders. Today it's also "adorned" with 100s of students lounging on the grassy fields and taking in the bright sunshine. Our last stop was the Scrovegni chapel which is regarded as one of the greatest monuments of figurative art of all time. It holds, entirely preserved, the most complete cycle of frescoes painted by Giotto in 1303-1305. Tours are limited to small groups and tickets often organized by advances reservation. How lucky we were to get 4 of the remaining 5 admissions for late that afternoon ... and the frescoes were truly wonderful. Giotto was a master at creating and communicating emotional expressions of his characters using vibrant hues like the vivid blues that adorn the star studded vaulted ceiling. No photos allowed in this carefully maintained space, but you can see the garden and chapel exterior in the bottom center photo.
After a rest for us all (a daily routine that definitely helped us manage our jet lag), we dressed up for a special anniversary dinner out at la Finestra - a remarkable restaurant near the Duomo center. An excellent meal and celebration for all!
Wednesday, while Maria was off to meet her brother near her family's home in Friuli, Kath, Craig and Attilio bicycled into town via canal and river paths and through blocks of university property. A fun sidelight along the way were embellishments of existing graffiti like that in the top left picture. No one seems to know who the mystery artist "Kenny Random" is - his work just pops up now and then around town - but then it is University territory. A more sober artistic feature of the area is a memorial pictured at the bottom left called "Memory and Light" that was dedicated to 9/11 victims. The modern glass tower representing the NYC's World Trade Center provides a poignant juxtaposition with Padova's adjacent old city.
We went on to visit the Padova Botanical Gardens per the middle five shots and then returned to the Palazzo Bo for a tour of the University's inner sanctum (no pictures allowed). Highlights were the lecture hall with Galileo's actual lectern and chair on display (he taught in Padova from 1592 - 1610), the Aula Magna with generations of scholars represented by a rich collection of decorative coats of arms and the famous Anatomy Theater (built 1594). The original many-balconied theater still stands where early physicians performed and up to 250 students could witness extensive autopsies to learn about the human anatomy. Amazing to see the old wooden structure in situ, especially since the 'procedures' were all conducted under candle light alone!
The evening was cool and rainy but cozy for the four of us in a local osteria where we all enjoyed typical Padovan cooking and each other's company on our last night before departing for Sicily the next morning.