Travels with Papillon




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We entered Italy via the Brenner Pass and headed down the mountain to the town of Bolzano, there to meet a new friend.  A man that they call:


The Iceman

5,500 years ago, give or take a century, this man of the mountains died near the top of a mountain pass and was frozen in a glacier until recently recovered.  What a treasure trove of information he brought with him.  Simple artifacts: clothes, tools, weapons.  But all one of a kind:  Rain cape, leggings, underwear, shoes, quiver, arrows, bow, repair kit, knife, copper axe.

And from the contents of his stomach they could tell what he last ate, where he ate it, and where he was headed.  They studied his tattoos and came to the conclusion that they were for medicinal purposes.  They even reconstructed his face from his remains - and that is him to the left, peering into our world,  just as we peered into his in the museum.

The town of Bolzano has been described in the tourist literature as a nasty mid sized industrial wasteland straddling the Autostrada.  Yes and no.  From the autostrada that is a correct painting.  Come into the heart of the town and you will find a dozen blocks of pedestrian only charm and beauty.  This is the south Tyrol region - predominantly German speaking, with clean neat streets and squares, and a gothic church with a Burgundy tiled roof that would rival any in eastern France.  We discovered all this when we bicycled in from a mile away parking area.


It was not a good day for us.

Started out nicely, waking in the vineyard camping spaces of the Agritourismo near Lake Garda.  We then drove to Padua to see if we could get into the Arena Chapel to see the series of paintings that some have described as the "birth of modern painting" - the frescos done by the artist Giotto in 1305.  The Chapel website states that one must have a reservation at least 2 days in advance in order to be admitted, but I thought that there would space available on game day.

It began with a minor navigational error which had no real impact.  The fun began toward the town center, where just like Paris the previous Sunday, there was a big marathon being held and the police had sealed the entire center city.  Thus began a counter clockwise movement around the town to get near the Chapel, through difficult streets with a 7 meter box.  Finally, near the chapel we mounted bikes and headed in.  As is our custom I was in the lead with Judy trailing.  Coming down a narrow street with on coming traffic I turned onto the sidewalk at a flat spot in the curb.  Behind me I heard the sound of metal and stone - you know what it is without seeing it.  I turned and saw the bike on the ground but no Judy.  She had fallen into a little alcove.  Making my best speed back I arrived as she sat up.  Shaken with a bruise or two, but no real damage.   We rested a moment and then we both knew that she had to get back on.  She did and we proceeded.

The Chapel indeed does have same day places available for the walk up tourist.  At 11:45 AM we stood before the cashier hopefully and she assured us that we could get a spot on the next available tour at 17:45 PM, 5:45, 6 hours from now.  Sadly we turned away and choose to proceed to Venice.

We arrived at the Fusina (near Venice) campground in early afternoon, bought some boat tickets, did a chore or two and then walked to the boat ramp a 1/4 mile away.  Boats leave hourly and we were just in time.  However the 10 Euro each roundtrip ticket was still in Papillon.  We bought another one.

After a delightful 6 hours in Venice we arrived back at the boat landing for our return to the campground and decided to read the fine print of the schedule at 9 PM.  The fine print stated that the 9:30 and 10:30 PM departures were in June, July and August only.  The last boat this Sunday had left 30 minutes ago.  Yep, we had missed the boat.

A friendly maitre d' suggested the city waterbus to the ever busy Piazza Roma where we could catch a bus to the campground.  We opted to take a very expensive water taxi and arrived back home near 10 PM.  As we entered the campground we stopped at Reception for bus literature and the young clerk told us that we would have had to take Bus number 2 from Piazza Roma to the Mestre train station, cross the street and find Bus #11.  However, make sure it is number 11 to Fusina as there are 3 different bus number 11's.  After this day we just knew we would have gotten on the wrong bus and then missed the last bus to Fusina.

Fortunately these were all just speed bumps.



To us, Venice is all about the narrow streets and canals.  Oh there are many sights to see and visit, but often, our most enjoyable moments are just rambling along, catching the ever changing views and occasional panoramas when you walk into a larger Campo.  And of course San Marco's square with the basilica and the Doge Palace.



The Glass Making Island


In the 13th century the city fathers of Venice evicted all the glass makers from Venice in fear that their fires would burn the town down.  Most resettled on the nearby island of Murano and have since become a world institution.  A smaller, slower, less tourist hectic place, we enjoyed the afternoon of strolling the streets and shopping the glass factories.

A must do again venue for us.






At the head of the Adriatic Sea on the east side of Italy lie a number of small little towns of minimal consequence, one of which is Aquileia.  But during the Imperial period this was The City of the region with well over 100,000 inhabitants.  It was a trading port joining the central Empire with the entire Mediterranean world, and as such it had few rivals.  Thriving along with the rest of the Empire, it began to suffer assaults as the power of Rome declined.  Destroyed by Attila during his last gasp campaign of 452, the town slowly recovered and then prospered once again under Venetian rule starting in the 1200's and continuing under Patriarchal rule for 7 centuries.  (We shall hear more of the Patriarch as we travel Croatia).  Today there are many remains, especially of the 1/2 kilometer long river wharf docks.  We also toured the city museum with its extensive collection of Roman Era artifacts.

What we like best of these regional museums is the displays of small stuff - the little daily tools of life that we take for granted - like combs, keys, locks, perfume bottles, tools.

The Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Saints Hermangora and Fortunatus and was begun circa 315 AD.  The church has been  rebuilt four times after various outrages, and the surviving floor mosaics are from the early 4th century.  "At 760 square meters the floor is the largest Paleo-Christian mosaic in the western world", and possibly the oldest.




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