1 - 7 April 2004

The last time Eitan and I visited Venice was on our honeymoon 40 years ago. It was a miserable trip: It was the depth of winter and freezing cold. Eitan had failed Math I at Natal University and was about to fly back to Durban to re-write the exam (which he subsequently passed with distinction) while I continued to Israel alone and angry. In fact when we talked about it, the only thing about Venice we remembered was being miserable in a gondola.

How different was this wonderful trip, with the sun shining and us relaxed and happy. Even leaving our camera behind (these pictures were taken with a throw-away camera) and my being pick-pocketed were taken in our stride.

There is no picture of us in a gondola; instead we either took the vaporette, the efficient waterbus, or walked. The side canals were almost deserted but the Canale Grande looked like a Brueghel painting. One time as we approached the vaporette station I saw that the waterbus was already there, ascertained that it was the right direction and rushed to catch it. As I jumped on, Eitan who was close behind said, "You know that you're not on the boat?" I was so surprised that I nearly fell over, picking up both feet as if on hot coals. The boat hadn't yet arrived; I had rushed madly to jump on the floating station platform tied to the canal edge.

No visit to Venice would be complete without the San Marco area, its churches and the parade area, which were crowded with people. There was much else to see: many piazzas and churches, outstanding among them were Tintoretto's frescoes at Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

Of course we visited the Venetian Ghetto Nuovo, the first ghetto in the world. The word 'ghetto' means foundry, the area to where the Jews were forced to move in 1516. They were locked in at night and almost all aspects of their life were limited. The Jews were allowed to build synagogues but had to keep a low profile, so they built their places of worship above apartments. The five windows, hinting at the Pentateuch, were the sign of a synagogue inside.

Markets fascinate us and the mercato behind the Rialto Bridge was no exception.

Good food and frequent sex are two things that make holidays a special delight. And Italy…..!  Here Eitan is sitting with various pastramis and cheeses prior to a picnic lunch. Eitan watching me as I was moaning with delight at the delicious mozzarella de buffala remarked, "Doreen, really. You've already come twice today."  A few days later at Urbino after making love in the morning I said to Eitan, "I hear bells!"  We lay listening as all the church bells in Urbino started to peal after which I had to add, "Sorry, it wasn't THAT good."
Towards the end of our trip, while buying more mozzarella, the market shopkeeper suggested we try burrata pugliese, a type of fresh mozzarella with an incredibly creamy center.  We both agreed that burrata pugliese was a four-bell cheese.

Although Venice deserved much more time we left on the third morning, stopping in Padua, remembering that The Merchant of Venice linked Portia to that city. Since we had tickets for the opera in Ravenna that night, we saw only one thing in Padua but it made the detour well worthwhile. We were fortunate to get tickets to the Cappella degli Scrovegni at the Civic Museum to see Giotto's frescoes (a World Heritage site). We were ushered into a holding room for 15 minutes while we saw a video about Giotto and the chapel, but the purpose was to acclimatize the room to new people and then we were ushered into the chapel for exactly 15 minutes. (This picture is from their website.)
Although we had been to Ravenna before the wonderful mosaics of San Vitale and other churches were just as enchanting as on our first visit.
That night we attended Verdi's Rigoletto at the Teatro Alighieri. The baritone Alberto Gazale was amazing. Not only did he have a rich strong voice, but he was charismatic and a wonderful actor as well. It was a great performance.

Photo: Prospero Cravedi

Despite misgivings that it was the "Republic of Kitsch", we made our way through The Marches to the tiny Republic of San Marino.  The town perched high on a hill was pretty but misty weather masked the spectacular scenery. We drove from there to Urbino on the small windy country roads, stopping on the way by the roadside for a quiet lunch. Later the mist cleared enough to glimpse the gorgeous scenery.

My copy of the Lonely Planet is dotted with stars, marking places that we have previously visited. Although Urbino was not marked both Eitan and I were certain that we had visited it before. On the other hand the next place, Gubbio a medieval town, which was marked as visited did not look even vaguely familiar. Today elevators move people up to the churches perched on the hillside.

Our next stop was in Perugia, home to the famous Baci chocolates. Like all the other towns there was an art exhibition of the famous painter connected to the town, here Perugino. The poster is above the entrance to public escalators that move people up and down the various levels of this hilltop town.

We were fascinated by the porchetta, a whole deboned roasted pig that is sliced and served with a ciabatta or pitta - something like our schwarma.
Our last stop was in Ostia, not far from Rome airport. Ostia Antica, founded in the 4th century as the port on the Tiber River, has ruins that cover a huge site. On our last night, we asked a passerby for directions to the local supermarket. When we told her we were from Israel she urged us to make sure we visited the synagogue in Ostia Antica, which was not on the regular posted path. The Jews of Rome claim to be the oldest Jewish community in the Diaspora, settling in ancient Rome thousands of years ago, from the time of the Macabbees (2 BCE). They pride themselves as being neither Sephardim nor Ashkenazim but followers of the ancient Roman Rite. In Ostia they built the first synagogue outside the Middle East. Note the column with the menorah carved in bas-relief. The lulav, etrog and shofar are not visible from this angle. Often the last day of a trip is hard because one is already preparing to return home. We heartily recommend spending the last day at Ostia Antica - close to the airport, fascinating and entailing a good walk before the long hours of the flight.

Back at home we quickly slipped back in to the old routine of doing lots of things at the same time.

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