Saturday, May 06, 2006

Day 3: Pavia

Our new room at the hotel--looking out over an interior courtyard--is blessedly quiet and we have a much more peaceful morning than yesterday.

Today we are going to the Certosa di Pavia, a large church/charterhouse located about five miles north of Pavia. It was built by the strongman Galeazzo Visconti from Milan for his family burial place as well as a monument to the greatness of the Visconti . We are going to meet our friend Livio Misgur (from nearby Alessandria in Piedmont) whom we met years ago through the Italian Forum of Compuserve. We have a good reunion with Livio in front of the Certosa and spend some time catching up with each other before starting our tour.

A bit about the Certosa...according to the Cadogan Guide, it is "the pinnacle of Renaissance architecture in Lombardy". It was started at the end of the 14th century and was intended to be a major monument for the hoped-for Visconti dynasty. The heavily decorated facade--filled with statues, carvings and bas-relief--is overwhelming in its detail and we only saw one half of it--the other half is currently covered with scaffolding. The interior is Gothic and the antithesis of the style of the facade--the main church hall is vast and empty and dark. The most memorable parts of the Certosa for us were the finely carved statues on the tombs of Ludovico Il Moro and his wife, Beatrice d'Este and of Gian Galeazzo Visconti and the beautiful intarsia (inlaid wood) choir stalls with distinct portraits of saints and Biblical figures on each of them--my favorite was the one of Moses with the Ten Commandments written in Latin. There were also two beautiful cloisters--one ringed with the two-story cells (each topped with a chimney) where the monks live--and some finely carved washing fountains. I was happy to see a Last Supper in the refectory that I could add to my "collection".

We spend about an hour wandering through the largely empty Certosa....a couple of times, we meet a big Italian group being taken on a guided tour--and we have a very leisurely, enjoyable visit. By the time we finish, the sun is shining and we sit at a table in the sun at the bar, have coffee and continue catching up with Livio.

Livio has suggested lunch at a country restaurant near Mortara, which is one of the centers of goose production in Italy. The restaurant--La Guallina--is a simple, attractive family run-place. We all have the specialty of the house for our antipasto---a cold-cut plate all made from goose....prosciutto, mortadella and salami..and all very tasty. Diana and Livio have excellent ravioli filled with duck and I have parpardelle in a rustic sauce---very well done. We drink a very refreshing Pinot Blanc from Tiefenbrunner in the Alto Adige with lunch. It is a very pleasant reunion and we plan to get together another time later in the trip.

We head back to Pavia and spend some time in the hotel...recovering from lunch and catching up on e-mail and work. About 4:30 we walk over to the center of town where the Saturday afternoon shopping passeggiata is going on. We stroll with the crowds for a while and then decide to do a little sightseeing and visit a few churches. Lesson learned....on a late Saturday afternoon, anyone in Pavia who is not strolling up and down the street or sitting in cafes drinking wine or coffee is likely to be in church. In all four churches we attempted to visit, there was some kind of mass or service going on. So the insides of these churches are left unexamined by us.

After a little more strolling, we head back to the hotel for an hour or so until it is time to go out for dinner. Since we had such a nice lunch, we are looking for a low-key, informal meal and, since it is Saturday night, we expect that some places might be crowded or filled up. I drive over the covered bridge to the Borgo Ticino and we spend some time trying to find the street that runs along that side of the river. Finally, I realize that the entrance to the narrow riverside street appears to be too narrow for cars from the angle you approach it but in fact it is quite possible to drive on it. After a few false starts, we make it to my first choice but they are completely booked. I maneuver off the riverfront street and head for an informal, very crowded trattoria called Ca' Bella, located in a residential neighborhood a few blocks away. Parking is isn't a problem, but the hostess confers with her colleagues and after a few minutes, offers us the last table available. We gratefully sit down and proceed to enjoy an unpretentious and straightforward meal--a combination of three pasta dishes--gnocchi with four cheeses, ravioli with walnut sauce and a very spicy rotini arrabiata--followed by a tagliata with rucola for Diana--perfectly cooked rare steak topped with rucola and a delicious beef carpaccio for me. The house wine is so drinkable that we have a second carafe and we finish with a refreshingly tart liquid lemon sherbet. All this food for Euro was just what we were looking for.

It is a quick ride back to the hotel and into bed.

Tomorrow we leave for Reggio nell'Emilia.


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