Posts Tagged With: vicenze

Vicenza: A Man’s Castle is His Home

Yes! We are staying in a castle! And not some hokey Medieval Times castle with guards in polyester costumes and Fiberglass alligators in the moat. A real castle, in which we are the sole occupants! Here it is:

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Not your typical B&B

It has an iron gate, and a narrow spiral marble staircase, and dark scowling portraits on the walls, and all that cool stuff. What it does not, regrettably, is a suit of armor or (more importantly) wifi. The former prevents us from re-enacting old Scooby Doo episodes; the latter is a bit of a hindrance and is the reason that you may be reading this a few days late.

No set of photos can possibly do this place justice, so I have shot a brief walk-through video which I will try to post to YouTube later in the trip. But for the moment here is a shot of a corner of the living room.

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No suit of armor, but a 17th century flat screen TV

At the top behind the chandelier you have a glimpse of the exposed beams, which are elaborately painted. What you cannot see in this photo is the flat-screen TV, which seems a little anachronistically out of place. It gets about 100 channels, all in Italian. I suppose it would have a little more period-appropriate verisimilitude if it only showed 17th-century cable TV stations (“Monarchy Central”, and “The Anti-Semitism Channel”, the latter being timelessly popular).

Basanno Vicenze-4We do not actually know the age or history of this place; the owner never told us any of that. What the owner did tell us – and I am not making this up — is that every night upon retiring we are to close, bolt, and bar, with owner-supplied wooden 2 x 4s, a set of iron shutters on each of the doors that look out onto the extensive grounds. (You can see them in the picture above.) Why must we do this? We don’t know. Werewolves, perhaps. But when someone tells you to do something like that, it seems wise to do it.

Our initial view of the place triggered a classic “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” moment. As the iron gates swung open and we drove onto the grounds we all simultaneously started our respective gender-stereotype paroxysms. This actually happened:

ALICE and ELAINE: “Oooooh! Romantic!” “Scottish lairds!” “Does it have a ballroom?” “Women dancing in big puffy dresses and enormous wigs!”

RICH and JIM:  “You rannnnng?” “It’s pronounced ‘Eye-gor’!” “Uncle Fester!” “’What knockers!’ ‘Thank you, doctor.’” “What hump?”

And remember: we’re the enlightened ones.

Basanno Vicenze-6Since the serfs were off duty, the logical thing to do was to go into town and check out the walled city in the daylight. Vicenze is the birthplace of Andrea Palladio, a famed neoclassical architect of the mid-16th century. His style heavily influences the region, and the countryside is dotted with Palladian-style villas and palazzos, some designed by the master himself. (He designed the covered bridge in Basanno that I mentioned last time.) A number of his buildings are in or near the center of town, most notably a gigantic basilica with a copper roof, a rotunda on a hilltop outside of town, and a Greek-style performance venue called the Olympic Theater.

The latter was most impressive, the stage set being a masterpiece of trompe l’oeuil that makes it seem like the stage is a 100-yard deep classical Greek village.

We admired the theater for a while and generally walked our feet off, eventually spending a half hour or so in a nearby park whose most notable characteristics were an idyllic Greek rotunda on a tiny island in a lake, and about ten thousand rabbits.

Basanno Vicenze-8Yes, rabbits. You know how you sometimes go to a park with a lake and are surrounded by ducks and Canada geese? In this park you are surrounded by bunny rabbits. They were everywhere, all sizes and colors, loping around in their hoppy fashion, sleeping, munching on the vegetation, and generally doing what rabbits do. (They were lots of young ones, so yes, they were clearly doing that too.) It was an utterly charming sight, and as the sun lowered and the shadows grew long, more and more of them emerged from the vegetation to forage. By the time we ambled back to our car, they were absolutely everywhere, and if you are of a sufficiently dark state of mind it would not be hard to imagine ominous warnings about not staying in the park after dark. Nosirree, you do not want to be alone with the Vicenze Killer Rabbits in the dark. When the police find your body the next morning there won’t be anything left but your gnawed bones and adorable bits of fur.

We left the park in search of dinner, determined not to repeat our restaurant debacle of the previous night. But all of the restaurants in the old city seemed to be either run-of-the-mill sandwich places or exorbitant gourmet restaurants with things like sheep navels on the menu. So we retreated back to our castle, stopping and dining en route at a very pleasant restaurant barely 200 yards from our very own iron gate. Said restaurant also has wifi and an easygoing staff, wo if I am lucky I may be able to post these most recent entries without having to wait the few days till we reach our next destination.

Our goal today is the ancient university town of Padua. Alice has come down with a cold so we are probably not going to be too ambitious.

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Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Under the Not-Altogether-Tuscan Sun

…Which is to say, that though we are not technically in Tuscany (yet; we are still in the region called Veneto), the “look and feel” of this part of Italy comports quite perfectly with your mental image of sun-drenched hillside vineyards and rustic farmhouses. (Please note that, as in Greece and similar Mediterranean tourist destinations, “sun-drenched” is the officially-approved adjective and must be used at least once every three days in all missives back home. I have now fulfilled my quota.)

Anyway, our particular farmhouse was a lovely two-story structure with two bedrooms and a comfortable modern kitchen and living room area, accessible by a tortuous narrow (and unlit) road, and situated on a you-know-what-drenched hillside full of vineyards adjacent to a stereotypically charming village. And here are the pictures to prove it:

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This was essentially an overnight way station en route to our next “real” destination, which were the towns of Asolo and Bassano del Grappa. (Pay attention to the “del Grappa” part of the name; it’ll become important later.) Both are medieval towns – they’re all medieval towns around here – of about 50,000 people. Asolo is known primarily for having been the site of a gruesome World War I battle. It is all steep cobblestone streets and narrow alleys, like this:

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I should mention that while I was taking the picture of the bicycle I was observed with great interest, and then engaged, by an elderly local gentlemen, spectacularly drunk and straight out of Central Casting with the largest, most mottled cauliflower nose I have ever seen, about one-third the size of an actual cauliflower. He commented at cheerful length in heavily slurred and fully incomprehensible Italian, nearly incapacitating first me and then Alice with breath that, were an open flame to have passed nearby, would have incinerated us all.

The town is dominated by a tall bell tower and by a castle built as a sort of a consolation prize to house the reluctant bride of a local nobleman.  You can enter the grounds and ramparts of the castle (via a steep cobblestone path, of course) to get an excellent view of the town and surrounding hills, including of course the bell tower, as you can see.

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We spent the morning and early afternoon in Asolo before moving on to Bassano del Grappo, which in overall appearance is pretty similar, right down to the alleys:

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Bassano, however, has two claims to fame, one being this attractive covered bridge that was built in 1569, repeatedly destroyed by fire, and rebuilt most recently about 50 years ago.

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We walked across the bridge, of course. But the part of its history of which Bassano is most proud – and probably makes the most money off of – is the “del Grappa” part, which is to say that Bassano, in particular via the efforts of the highly venerated Poli family, is for practical purposes the birthplace of grappa. Grappa, if you are not familiar with it, is the highly potent, multiple-distilled product of, essentially, the dregs of the winemaking process. It is cheap, flavorful, and highly toxic to carbon-based life forms. Some people love it. Some people are crazy.

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Do not drink.

 

Now, needless to say, the city fathers of Bassano would like to encourage you to consume their home-grown claim to fame, and so the Poli Grappa Museum gives you the opportunity to do so responsibly, if somewhat surrealistically. The museum displays a variety of archaic distillery apparatuses, tangled collections of flasks and retorts that would be right at home in any mad scientist’s lab. The culmination of the self-guided tour (immediately prior to the gift shop, of course) is a sampling gallery. But they are smart enough not to let you actually drink the stuff, which would be catastrophic. No, they let you smell it.

Huh? You enter a room lined with what appears to be about 20 coffee urns, each representing a flavor of grappa. You push a button on the counter in front of the “urn”, and it blasts a mist of some kind of synthesized ersatz grappa with exactly the correct smell and (sort of) taste into your face. See Alice imbibing the aerosol below:

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The world’s only olfactory hangover

 

At that point, if you’re anything like me, you react exactly as you would to a real swig of grappa, which is to say your olfactory system seizes up as your entire body briefly convulses.  Jim managed to give himself a zinger of a headache by performing this exercise once too often. This may be the single most bizarre interactive display I have ever experienced. It was a fitting end to our brief stay in Basanno. You have been warned.

We continued on to our destination of the next four days: Vicenza, about an hour’s drive further. Vicenza is a somewhat larger town of about 100,000, somewhat spread out with actual suburbs but enjoying an old walled city in the center, the nexus of its cultural heritage. Our plan is to use it as a base of operation for the next four days, visiting some of the surrounding towns like Padua and Verona. Our B&B – a quite spectacular one that I will describe at length in my next post – is located on a hillside outside of town. We arrived around 7:00 PM, settled in for an hour or two, then struck out to find some dinner.

We had passed a couple of reasonable-looking trattorias not far from the B&B, but decided that we would take the opportunity to find something a little more interesting in the downtown area, near the walled city. This turned out to be an impressively poor plan, as the narrow, poorly-lit streets were nearly deserted and most of the restaurants closed. We wandered and wandered, the hour grew later and later, and we got more and more lost, finally giving up altogether and deciding to return from whence we came and settle for one of the local trattorias after all. This proved to be far easier said than done, because:

  • The streets were not only narrow, dark, and deserted, but there was virtually no signage;
  • Our GPS was blissfully unaware of things like pedestrian streets where traffic was not allowed;
  • Our GPS does not speak Italian and thus mangled the often-lengthy street names as though they were being read by a female version of George W. Bush; and
  • The narrow streets often caused the GPS to lose lock and thus become as confused as we ourselves were.

The upshot was that we followed an essentially random trajectory through the seamiest, Fellini-esque back alleys of nighttime Vicenza. Our GPS gamely struggled to keep up, occasionally emerging from its electronic ataxia (“Recalculating route!”) to attempt to tell us in Bizarro Italian that in 100 feet we should turn left at Viata Santo Ciccianizolo Aleghieri Cruce del Roseannadanna, as we all went “Wha….?” and cruised past the intersection, which didn’t have a street sign to check and was one-way the wrong way anyway.

By 10:30 PM, primarily through Alice’s heroic navigation efforts,we somehow stumbled back into our original B&B neighborhood and walked sheepishly into the very first trattoria we had seen hours before, which was thankfully still open, and where (I am happy to say) we had an excellent and very inexpensive meal. Which just goes to show…something, I guess.

Tomorrow: a description of our jaw-dropping lodgings, and our first full day in Vicenza. (The walled city by daylight!)

Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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