Thursday, April 07, 2005

Padova - una citta chiusa

(Scusi - don't know whether "chiuso" declines with gender or not ...)

Our objectives with regard to visiting Padua were based around the fact that it was where Galileo had lived. Since both of us have science backgrounds, we understand some of the significance of the change of worldview that followed Galileo's confirmation of the Copernican model of the universe. So we wanted to see where Galileo had made his observations, and also where he lived, if possible. However, we only had a guidebook for Venice, a European road atlas and an Avis map of Italy, so our knowledge of the local geography was pretty sketchy.

We arrived there at about 11 - we found a car park in the northeast of the city, close to the station. The attendant spoke to me in English before I even had the chance to say, "Salve" - I suppose I don't look particularly latin.... From the car park, we walked towards the nearest shops. We found a map attached to a lamp-post - surrounded by bikes. We peered over the top of the bikes to try and work out where was where on the map. A local - who, judging from his immaculate English, may have actually been a British resident - parked his bike in the mass of bikes, and apologised that they were making the map inaccessible - "We have nowhere else to park them." He pointed south, and said that was the way to the centre of the town, and there were more maps in that direction.

So we headed that way - across a bridge, past a statue of Marco Polo (thanks to Civilization II, inextricably linked in my mind with the ability to talk to all the other nations), past a pleasant looking park and some unexplained ruins, to the pedestrianised area. We bought a map, and discovered that there was an observatory south of the town centre, and although no house of Galileo was marked, there was a via Galileo Galilei, which might be worth investigating from the point of view of where Galileo lived.

We walked around for a bit, enjoying the usual crop of old buildings that attract no attention in Italy but which would attract swarms of people selling cheap plastic souvenirs in England. I discovered the batteries in my camera needed replacing. I tried a tabachi first. I pointed to some AA batteries the assistant had displayed in the counter, and asked if he had any. "No, all gone," he said. His grasp of existential properties of non-sentient objects was obviously more subtle than mine, so rather than getting stuck into a philosophical discussion, I said, "va bene" and left the shop. An audio/TV shop proved no better - plenty of batteries, but no AA ones. Fortunately, there was a supermarket nearby, and I managed to choose and pay for some before anybody was able to think of a reason to stop me buying them.

We walked south in the pedestrianised area towards the duomo. It was huge - it looked comfortably large enough to double as an indoor football stadium. However, it was closed. We walked round the mews, particularly peaceful around the back away from the piazza, apart from the psychotic teenage scooter drivers that shot past every 20 seconds.

We were getting close to the observatory, but we were also some way from the car, and I didn't want to overdo the walking on the way back. So we headed back to the car - pausing only for the daily gelati. We then drove south, marvelling at the uselessness of a street map which doesn't show one way streets.

Eventually, we managed to find somewhere to park close to the observatory (see below). It was in a delightful setting - close to the river, with a magnolia in full bloom in the grounds. It was also closed. Well, nearly. The gate was openable, and we walked in to look around. It was generally deserted, with the exception of a security person in reception, who told us that it was closed every day except Saturday and Sunday. So we wandered around, looking at the bits that we thought we could get away with looking at and not risk being thrown out, wondering whether or not to go and talk to the astrophysics department next door and appeal to their fraternity and love of children to see whether we couldn't get a guided tour.

We decided against it, and instead decided to drive to v. Galileo Galilei. We drove past a large, open area with statues and another unfeasibly large church, through various streets, and ended up back at the observatory. So we drove past the open area again, through some more streets that I think were supposedly only for authorised vehicles (not that anybody seemed terribly bothered by us being there), and eventually came to the conclusion that we couldn't get to v. Galileo Galilei from the west.

So we drove past the open area again, this time aiming well east of our target, but still found ourselves being turned away. Eventually, we parked again, and walked there. Sure enough, when we got there, we discovered that it had indeed been where Galileo had lived. There didn't, however, seem to be anything there that even could be opened - just a sign pointing at a house with a plaque on it. I suppose it's not that surprising - Darwin's room at Christ's College, Cambridge is just another student room. But, if you change people's view of the universe, don't expect much fuss to be made.

We decided that the children were going to bed too late, and that a change from the late Italian dinner would be a good idea. We had seen what looked like a shopping mall on the drive into town, so on the way out, we looked for it, in the hope of finding a plastic, MSG-full syntho-meal. We didn't find it. Instead, we found the industrial area, and explored it for 20 minutes, trying to find a way out. Oh well, I suppose it was better for us to eat real food.

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