Venice and Milan: what says “Italy” better than art and food?

IMG_20150905_182319Saturday (5 September), we checked out of our four-star hotel and rolled into a brilliant sunny day. The Bologna Centrale station lay less than 400 metres away, but we ran into a problem with the train. Whoever assembled the train failed to include a bicycle car, even though the train was scheduled to handle bicycles. The capotreno refused to let us on board. “If I let you on, I have to let everyone, and the train is not equipped for bicycles,” he said, eyeing a large American family with a half-dozen bicycles at the end of the platform. While we waited for the next train, the family disappeared. IMG_20150906_131027It turned out to be fortuitous that we were delayed, because my friend Angela Zorzi was running late. On the platform in Verona, she gave us the keys to her mother’s apartment in Venice. That generous act made all sorts of other things possible in what would prove to be a memorable week. We jumped back on the train and continued across the monotonous expanse of the Po River Valley.

IMG_20150906_160613Venice was one city where bicycling was out of the question, so we wheeled our steel steeds to the San Marco parking garage near the train station. We settled into the flat in the Polo San Severo neighborhood. The historic regatta took place the very next day. This unexpected treat only comes around once a year. IMG_20150906_160733Only a papal audience at the Vatican would have attracted a thicker crowd, but a considerable police presence kept the people moving.

Seafood comes naturally to a place surrounded by water. This pair of seafood lovers ate better this week than at any other week of the trip. Not only were there many excellent restaurants within a block or two of the house, but the Rialto market was at the end of the street. Being able to eat in counted as much as the varied cuisine in town.

COLLEZIONE PEGGY GUGGENHEIM, VENEZIA - 2010 SPAZI MUSEALI ESTERNI - AFFACCIO SUL CANAL GRANDE

Monday, we walked to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Peggy Guggenheim lived a remarkable life, a moving force not only in American and European culture but in the art world globally. Like the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York and at the Walters Museum in Baltimore, this collection in Venice contains a breadth of variety that makes it hard to believe that a single person collected it. In my opinion, though Peggy Guggenheim collected less than the other two, she focused on certain genres, supported new artists, and collected only the best quality.

IMG_20150907_163852We caught the vaporetto to the Lido di Venezia, the site of the Biennale Cinema Festival. The Biennale actually includes several different festivals: art, architecture, cinema, dance, music, and theater. The cinema festival and the international art exhibition draw the biggest crowds every two years. When we arrived on the Lido island, we learned that the tickets for the public were sold out. We pored over the program, and decided what we would try to catch the next day. It was not an easy choice, because there were so many concurrent movies that it was impossible to see everything in just a couple of days. We decided to see Heart of a Dog, and 11 Minutes. The movie that we really wanted to see the most, Viva Ingrid!, was closed to the public just before we got there. Before we left, we saw some stars posing on the red carpet.

IMG_20150906_192822Walking around Venice is a special treat night or day. We had both visited the city before, and its reputation for romance picked up more points as we checked out the many museums and sights included in our tourist cards.

Tuesday, we visited the Ca’ Foscari University for a special tour, and the Correr Museum. IMG_20150909_142408After a drink at the Danieli Hotel, we rode back out to the Lido for the double header movie. The next day, we walked past the Naval Base (the Arsenale) to the Biennale Gardens for the Art Exhibition. Each country had put so much special character into their show that I could not choose a favorite. I thought that the Japanese exhibit with keys and red string made for some interesting photography.IMG_20150909_170026

All things must end, and Thursday we made our way back to the bicycles. A light mist created an overcast to the day, and fog banks hung over the damp fields. It was about as picturesque as the Po Valley ever gets. In Verona, we returned the keys to Angela, and got into Milan after dark. Accommodations presented a special challenge during the World’s Fair (Expo 2015), but Cheryl got us a nice apartment for the first night and a hostel near the station after that.

IMG_20150911_130130Cheryl had been to Milan, but I had never stopped to enjoy it. Driving through on the way to somewhere else did not count. The Duomo and the Diocesan Museum amazed me. Walking among the spires and gargoyles far above the city streets created a mix of terror, vertigo and delight. The modern sculpture garden on the roof surprised me, too. We enjoyed a string quartet outside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (one of the first indoor shopping malls in Europe), IMG_20150911_131433and window-shopped the high-end fashion district. All summer, Cheryl had been helping me look for fabric for a sports coat and some slacks. I had donated all my suits and other dress clothing before leaving the United States. It made no sense to me to tote outdated American clothes to a fashion-conscious country like Italy. I resolved to replace everything, and Cheryl relished the challenge. IMG_20150911_141544We let the staff in the Ermengildo Zenga flagship store fawn over us, and let the experts at Valli fabrics fill us with ideas and resources. They identified a fabric that we had seen in Rome, and suggested that we return there for it. But our main reason for being in Milan was the Fair.

Cheryl’s anticipation about the World’s Fair balanced my dread. For months, my Facebook account had been filled with photos from colleagues of one disastrous translation blooper after another. News feeds painted a picture of snafus, low-ball bidding, and organizational nightmares. Cheryl had enjoyed the Fairs in Vancouver and Montreal, and expected no less in Milan.

IMG_20150912_162807Expo 2015 was what you made of it. If you had a low tolerance for lines or had problems getting wet, it could be miserable. But we found that the rain washed away some of the crowd, and we found plenty of shelter under the awnings hanging across the large boulevards. We spent two full days in the industrial suburb of Rho, walking from one end of the vast fairground to the other.

IMG_20150913_172117The theme (food and sustainably nourishing the human race) allowed for limitless variety. The national pavilions showed that off to good advantage. Cheryl had a list of the top ten recommended pavilions, which predictably had impossible lines at them. After checking them all, we narrowed our focus to the Italian pavilion and those that were not on the top ten list. We enjoyed Sardinian specialities and Spanish wine. The Swiss pavilion and the German pavilion had exhibits that inspired and made one think. We stood in line for an hour and a half to go through the Italian pavilion, which closed just as we got in. 2015-Expo Tree of LifeComing out, we caught the Tree of Life light show, a real treat.

Europe 2015 was running out of time. Sunday night when we got back to the hostel, we packed for the trip south. We planned to make one more stop, which Cheryl assured me that I would enjoy: Lucca.

Until next week,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

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