Sunday, July 31, 2016

History of the Po Delta inadequately described

Well, as I was writing that entry yesterday, I got kind of misty about missing Lecce. Lecce is creeping back into my draft itinerary!

And then as reported, I discovered that we could take cruises around Mantova, and with the same company around the Venice lagoon. So I wrote to the cruise people and in a weekend workday instant I got this beautifully expressed email back, in language I am so pleased to see surviving in Mantova, language of a beauty which came over my desk in Rome in 1968, in curly cursive hand, but which seems more generally out of vogue these days:
Gentilissimo Sig. Dennis, in Aprile non vengono effettuate le navigazioni Mantova –Venezia in un unico giorno. Il programma può essere effettuato solamente come da locandina allegata.Restiamo a disposizione per ulteriori necessità e La salutiamo cordialmente.Elisa/Navi Andes
In which Elisa concludes so elegantly "We remain at your disposition for any further necessity and we send you cordial salutations." Also the letter says they have a different, two day, rather grand tour in April, which I have in a document and which we will consider. Not cheap. But cop this:
Ore 12.30 Pranzo a bordo con Desinar Mantovano:Antipasto: fantasia di salumi mantovani, primo piatto: risotto alla pilota (specialità tipica), secondo piatto: Arrosto alla moda dei Gonzaga con patate al forno al profumo di rosmarino, Dolce: Torta Sbrisolona (di produzione artigianale è il dolce simbolo della pasticceria mantovana), bevande Lambrusco mantovano DOC, acqua minerale.La navigazione offre scenari d'incomparabile bellezza; bisogna percorrere il Po navigandolo per comprenderne tutta l'attrattiva, e allora ci si meraviglia di scoprire quest'oasi naturale di silenzio dove par d'essere fuori dal mondo.  [translation below] 
At 12.30, dinner on board, in Mantovanian style:  
Antipasto: a fantasia of Mantova salamis. First course: risotto a la captain (local specialty). Second course: Roast Gonzaga style, with potatoes baked with roaemary. Dessert: a brisolona (of artisanal production and a sweet symbol of Mantovan pastry). Drinking Lambrusco of Mantovan origin and mineral water. The journey offers scenes of incomparable beauty... attractive... marvellous to discover this natural oasis and its silence, all out of this world.
Day 2 the Venice lagoon...

I have researched the history of the Po delta at greater length and discover that while the valley was altered by floods and calamities through the middle ages, critical things conspired to make big changes.

The map at right in this text (link also in right column) shows the delta in 1570, before effects of an earthquake that year. Note the great lake in front of Bologna, Mantova in a lake and Ravenna out to sea. Chioggia is in the northeastern corner of the map. Venice off the map just north of that.
Note Ferrara - pointer from the bottom. Ferrara a great rival of the Venetian Republic and hostile to Venetian desires to muck around with the delta and steal water. But then the Este family who had made Ferrara great (their works are what people go to Ferrara to see) ran out of legitimate heirs—and so Pope Clem 8 in 1598 sent in his army and grabbed the city. But then the same Clem 8 declared a Holy Year in 1600, meaning he would do no warring. The Venetians quickly upped spades and in four years diverted much of the flow away from their lagoon. And then in the south the land grew and the delta marched out to sea (continuing).

This growth of land creates a wonderland of low country which we can explore with a week with a car based in ....Forli? Or the delta? [more later]

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A couple of weeks of planning and re-planning

I have been busy writing advice for the footworn at TripAdvisor, brushing up my recall of how to get around, especially how to get around Rome, and along the way being a bit seduced by other people's ideas.

We decided to shift from our plan to visit Rapallo, in the Italian riviera, perhaps because we are just not resort town people, perhaps because the maddening crowds desperate to go to the Cinque Terre made me want to go somewhere far away.

This photo of ancient Lecce apartment presents a wonderful dilemma
of things to look at from the sofa, if you rent it :
impossible Italian TV or the stunning fresco? Click to enlarge.
I then grew apprehensive about the prospect of the north being still chill in the end of March and saw that we could go to Lecce, way down in the boot heel of Italy, five and a half hours at rocket speed in a Frecciaargento (Silver Arrow) salubrious insulated race through the environment. To stay somewhere like this for $AUD100 a night
... a lovely town.

And I discovered that from there we could take a not quite so fast but also salubrious White Arrow at 8 in the morning all the way up the coast to plonk us in the centre of Bologna just after 3. Writing this brings on the hankering again.

Then I gave thought to taking a rental car through snowy mountain peaks from Venice and Vicenza to Rovereto and Trento in the Alto-Adige, etc etc. But then, reflecting on having once long ago spun a car through about 600+ degrees on sudden ice, hastening for a ferry in Dunkirk, my mind went to the closing scenes of Michael Caine's 1969 The Italian Job.

But then a realisation of my persistent inclination to over-complicate things (though not nearly as much as people arriving at TripAdvisor wanting three countries in seven days, Italy to include Venice, Rome, Florence).

So back to the life principle: you can't have everything. Which is also the first law to apply when standing in the gelateria trying to make up your mind. With the second rule: maybe you can grab at everything, but you'll regret it. Even in a small and remarkable gelateria, like the Gelateria del Teatro in Rome, whose proprietor is quoted as having this perspective, which applies to touring as well as eating gelato:
"Il gelato è una magia che nasce dalla combinazione di solidi e liquidi che per loro natura non amano stare insieme; il segreto è trovare un equilibrio, il giusto bilanciamento che li faccia rimanere insieme”.
"Gelato is a spell, born of combining solids and liquids which from their nature do not like to be together; the secret is to find a balance, a just balance that makes them hang together."

Well, you can't have everything on one visit, but if you can visit often you are very fortunate.

So: adopt a fresh and slightly more languorous perspective with time to let flavours have their way.

To arrive in Rome on Friday 17 March, just for a few days to refresh memories, to walk about.

To proceed on Tuesday 21 March by insulated salubrious Freccia red or silver to Bologna.

To stay at Bologna for a week. This is a fabulous piece of blog writing, on staying a while somewhere in Italy.

Then a car for a week basing ourselves in Forli, a good base from which to scout a number of places in the lower Po valley and adjacent hills including Ravenna, and itself a different kind of small city, next to the smaller home town of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini lavished Forli with projects and institutes.

Then drop the car, take the train to Chioggia, with the hope of a sunny day to take a day trip to Venice over the water.

From Chioggia to Mantova by small and slower trains.

A week in Mantova, a difficult choice between Verona and Mantova: perhaps elegance victorious over romance, also fewer tourists.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ravenna not Chioggia

We had been attracted to Chioggia, the working person's Venice, at the southern end of the Venice lagoon.

However, my health leads me away from places with staircases, so we turn to another option - Ravenna. Also at this eastern end of the Pianura Padana, the valley of the Po river. Where Chioggia is on the sea, Ravenna was on the sea but a thousand years of silt have placed the town inland.

These two places are very different from each other, but they share in common that they are slightly off the main tourist track.

Capital of the Western Roman Empire a millenium and a half ago, Ravenna retains astonishing mosaics in remarkable condition. A small town easy to walk. And with places either at ground level or with elevators.

Photos are from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 11, 2016

At and from Mantova

We identified Mantova as less travelled by tourist mobs, though providing easy access to a number of places of interest. And there is much to see in Mantova too. It may be a little busy in 2017 as it will then be the European Capital of Gastronomy.

See this.

And some pictures at YouTube,

From Mantova perhaps a bus trip to little Sabbioneta, relatively unknown, see previous blog entry.

North to Verona, 49 minutes on the train every hour at 28 minutes past the hour. More frequently visited, not least thanks to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and an enterprising person in the 1970s who created Juliet's balcony in a pretty courtyard in Verona. It is possible that we may stay in Verona, not for Juliet's sake but its great and romantic beauty, rather than Mantova. There is a tugh, but then half a dozen places tug in this extraordinary wide valley of the Po and Adige rivers.

North beyond Verona is Lake Garda and also the rail line to Austria. Before reaching Austria are small cities of Trento and Rovereto which have interest, Trento historically important as host to the Council of Trent. (Off the map) to the north of Rovereto. Roverete has fine ancient buildings, also a museum of modern art.

We could of course be rude to Roverete and promptly jump on the bus for Riva del Garda, at the northern end of Lake Garda, and from Riva take the ferry down the lake for several hours to Peschiera del Garda at the southern end, by train a few minutes from Verona.

These journey depend on inclination and weather and the potential for Mantova to keep us sitting in the sun and dawdling about.

from Mantova to Sabbioneta

My friend Davide suggested that from Mantova we could visit Sabbioneta.

I discover that like Mantova, Sabbioneta was by built the Gonzaga family.

Here is the bus timetable, to be reconfirmed at

a first (after many) plan


Depart Sydney 2145 Thursday 16 March

Arrive Roma Friday 17 March 1240
A380 x 2         14 + 6 hours + 2.45 in Dubai            $3028 


Friday 17 to Monday 27 March              say                                 $A1300

             then Frecciabianca 11.57-16.18 Euros40 for 2

Monday 27 March to Friday 31 March                                           $A560

            then two trains, 11.36-16-10 Euros46 for 2

Friday 31 March to Friday 7 April                                                     $961

            then three trains 12.38-1628 Euros 29.50 for two

Friday 7 April to Tuesday 11 April                                                   $287
            then one train, frequent, 1.5 hours Euros 15 for two

Tuesday 11 to Saturday 15 March
or                     488

Depart Bologna on Emirates 15.20 Saturday,
B773 + A380 6 hours +14 hours + 3 hours in Dubai
arrive Sydney 22.10 Sunday
Accommodation total                                                                            3578

Long distance trains  Euros133                                               say         200

Other travel                                                                                              200
Shopping etc allow $150 per three days for <30 days                     1500
Food out allow $150 per three days                                                   1500
International terminal valet parking
16 March - 18 April (in case return delayed)                           370

Total         about $10,000