The Brenner and the Brento

11. Feb, 2018

We left Pettneu on Saturday morning in bright sunny weather, no hint of the previous night's rain, and joined the motorway winding down the valley. This is a spectacular road, most of the time, with high snow-capped peaks on all sides, high waterfalls appearing and disappearing, high viaducts spanning turbulent rivers in deep gorges.  It could have been a permanent high, but for the tunnels.  Just as a new vista opens out we plunge into yet another tunnel.  The only thing more boring than driving through several miles of tunnel is driving through several more miles of tunnel a few miles further on.  In fact, in an hour we drove through more tunnels than in the rest of our life put together!

Eventually we reached Innsbruck and swung south onto the Brenner Pass, a long slow climb to the Italian border at the summit.  Then a long drift downhill to Bolzano.  We had hoped to stop for a break but all the services were packed with caravans and motorhomes, as well as the usual cars and lorries, so we pressed on to our destination.  This was Camping Al Pescatore at Calceranico on Lago di Caldonazzo, a pretty little lake a few miles south-east of Trento.  The lake is set, as are all the Italian lakes, in a ring of mountains, and we had chosen it because it's a lot less built-up than Lake Garda. 

The campsite was one of several set just across the road from the lake, with good facilities and erratic wifi.  We picked a quiet spot, set up camp then went for a stroll along the lakeside and into the village of Calceranica, which unfortunately was closed for the afternoon.  On our return we found three large expensive cars parked by us, radios blaring, three dubious looking adult males and a mass of noisy teenagers pitching tents and setting up a barbecue.  Was this a night out for deprived children?  A pick pocketing gang?  Three genuine fathers with their kids?  Who knows?  The noise went on til close to midnight and started again early next morning.  The moral of the story, don’t choose a pitch in an empty area, choose one close to some quiet campers.

The village having been closed, there was no shopping to be done, so we were forced to eat out.  What hardship!  The "campsite" restaurant was a proper public one, set on the lakeshore, serving a huge range of dishes.  We settled for pizzas, cooked in the way that only Italians do, delicious.  Then we walked along the lake to a gelateria for an ice cream and a coffee.

Sunday was to be a rest day, just local travelling, so we went  to Trento, famous for the Council of Trent.  The what? The Council of Trent, which took place here between 1545 and 1563, eighteen years in which the Catholic Church decided what it was all about and how to react against the surge of Protestantism.  Whether it achieved anything in doctrinal terms is a matter of opinion, but what it did achieve was the building of a great many palaces in Trento to house all the popes (there were three of them in this period) and emperors who attended, off and on, for the 25 sessions. This makes for an interesting architectural mix.
 
Trento was celebrating a new Council that weekend, the Festa del  Popolo, where groups of people from all over the world were singing, dancing and generally enjoying themselves in their national costumes.
 
From Trento we took a narrow mountain road over the hills to the west, to Lake Garda. We had spent a pleasant holiday in Riva del Garda many years ago with the kids, and were interested to see how much it had changed.  There was a bit of new development, but otherwise it was much the same in appearance.  What had changed though were the crowds.  It was absolutely heaving.  And motorbikes?  There were at least 34,567 of them.  More than you would see in Douglas during TT week.  That aside, we had a pleasant walk along the lakeside followed by some excellent gelati.

On our way to and from Lake Caldonazzo we had noticed  that the road went on to Padua.  We had intended to visit Padua on our way back from Umbria, but thought, let's do it now!  The Scrovegni Chapel, which was the target of our visit, is one of those places with timed prebooked visits, so we logged on to the website to see how bookings were.  Yes, there was a slot available at 3pm Tuesday, so we booked it, or at least tried to.  When the site took us to the “verified by visa” bit we lost our wifi connection and had no  way of telling whether the booking had been accepted or whether we had paid!  What the hell, we thought, we'll go anyway. Meanwhile, the noisy campers had packed up and gone so we had a nice quiet evening.

Next morning (Monday) we packed up and set off down the scenic  Brenta Valley towards the Adriatic coast.  At Sottomarina, near Chioggia, we found a camp site on the sand dunes right by the sea, Camping Miramare.  It’s a nice site, with its own stretch of beach, a superb pool, restaurant and minimarket, very relaxing.  By now the temperature was in the 30s, so we spent the afternoon doing not much, cooling off in the pool and drinking Peroni.  

Tuesday, so to Padua for the day.  Padua has a number of claims to fame.  It was the birthplace of Livy, the Roman historian, without whose work we would know so little of the history of the early republic.  At the time of his birth Padua (Patavium as it was then) was the second wealthiest city in Italy. It now has the second oldest University in Italy (after Bologna), founded in 1222.  Famous lecturers have included Galileo Galilei, founder of modern science, and Giuseppe Fallopio, discoverer of the tube.  And of course the Scrovegni Chapel, an unimpressive brick building which houses what is regarded by many as the best series of frescoes in the world
 
We headed first to the Chapel booking office to sort out our visit, and that done headed for the town centre for a macchiatone (large espresso with a touch of froth) and to watch the world go by.  It is a busy university city, with thousands of students bustling about, chatting and doing what students do best (riding their bikes on the pavement, snogging and writing political graffiti).  Italian cities have changed so much.  I miss the persistent and irritating buzz of the Vespas, now it is the even more irritating roar of the pseudo trail bikes.

From the café we wandered through the two market places, Piazza delle Erbe (vegetables) and Piazza della Frutta (fruits). It seems that for fruit you go to delle Erbe, while for handbags or tablecloths you go to della Frutta!  Between the two are the meat and poultry markets with the Palace of Justice over the top. 

Nearby is the Duomo,a huge but unimpressive pile of brick with a tiny dome, doors all locked and no way of accessing it before 4 pm.  Beside it is the brick built baptistery, which was open, fortunately, the interior covered with frescoes by  Menabuoi .  Interestingly the frescoes in here were commissioned by a woman, very unusual in those days, and in the usual ceiling picture of Christ at the centre surrounded by all his saints the front row is populated entirely by female saints! 

The main church in Padua is known as Il Santo, in full the Basilica di Sant’ Antonio. This is a large and splendid brick and stone concoction of domes and spires, built to rival St Marks in Venice.  The ornate interior contains the tomb of the saint and the altar above the tomb is covered with letters, photos and gifts from pilgrims seeking the saint's assistance or blessing. Outside is a bronze statue of a man on a horse, allegedly Gattamelata, allegedly by Donatello.  However they have put this magnificent and artistically significant statue on a plinth so high that it is hard to tell whether it really is what it says on the packet! It was the first large bronze equestrian statue to be made since Roman times, but to appreciate it properly the only way is to study a photograph. 

Then to the Chapel. Here Giotto’s frescoes are truly awesome.  They are slightly damaged at one end of the chapel as a result of some bright spark deciding to remove the rendering from the outside of the chapel, thus losing its waterfproofing, and another bright spark deciding to demolish the house attached to it, again without due care.  As a result the city is going overboard to prevent any further damage.  Visits are strictly controlled to 25 people at a time.  On arrival you have to sit in an air conditioned decontamination chamber for 15 minutes before you are allowed in Then, at the end of your 15 minute session the bell rings and you are all shepherded hurriedly out through the airlocks.
 
The frescoes themselves, as always seems to be the case, depict scenes from the life of Christ to his resurrection, and the subject matter is very unoriginal.  However the way Giotto has dealt with the subject, the detail, the texture and plasticity of his work and the real emotion showing on the faces depicted mark these frescoes as groundbreaking at the time they were painted, and they had an enormous influence on later artists.  And this is coming from the non-artistic partner!    Lesley was absolutely in awe, seeing at last something that she had dreamed of seeing for many many years. For her it was definitely one of those "50 things to see before you die".

Well, that brings us up to date.  Today has been a quiet day,getting up-to-date with the laundry and other household tasks, doing a bit of shopping, and risking a swim in the sea - we're fans of the Donna Leon books about a Venetian detective, and the illegal dumping of toxic waste into the Adriatic seems to feature regularly!!  But it was nice to cool down, as the temperature has been in the 30's. 

In the late afternoon we went and had a look at nearby Chioggia, which is like a miniature version of Venice.  It's an important fishing port, and the town centre is built on a couple of picturesque canals and has some lovely old buildings. The pedestrianised main street is lined with bars and restaurants, all of them busy. A ferry goes from Chioggia to Venice, and it was tempting to spend a day there, but Venice really needs a lot more than one day and on this holiday our destination is Umbria. So we returned to the campsite, had a meal then took the awning down ready to move on tomorrow.

 

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