There is a scene in The Green Mile where Arlen Bitterbuck, played by Graham Greene, asks Paul Edgecomb, played by Tom Hanks, if when we die, we get to go back to the time when we were happiest and live there forever. He goes on to describe this beautiful memory of when he was young and married to his wife and how they would make love every night with the mountains as their backdrop. “That was my best time,” he says.
If I could choose a time on this trip to relive over and over again as my happiest memory after I die, it would be our one and only day in Padova.
Before making our way to Padova for our second (instead of our third) Pearl Jam show, though, we made a pit-stop in Venice. Now, Jaime and I have two very different opinions of Venice. Me–I love water, which makes it very easy for me to love Venice. There’s just no city like it in the world, and watching the boats and gondolas pass through the canals has such a romantic charm to it that there’s no wonder you see so many couples kissing in the alleyways here.
Jaime, on the other hand, thinks it’s a tourist-trap hell-hole jam-packed with cruise ship passengers clogging up the streets. She didn’t enjoy Venice when we were there in 2014, so I knew I had to make a concentrated effort to get us out of the touristy areas so we could spend some time away from the chaotic masses.
The beauty of Venice, though, is in the journey. The best advice when visiting Venice is to just go ahead and get lost—you’re on an island, so it’s not like you’re not going to find your way back (but it’s a really good idea to have Google Maps up when you’re trying to find your hotel because that’s not a journey you want to make while dragging 40 pounds of luggage on cobblestone). When you visit Venice, just know you’re going to take wrong turns, walk down dead-end alleys and have to turn around, and not find what you’re looking for while still finding exactly what you need.
You’re also going to run into cruise ship passengers from about nine in the morning until six in the evening, so my suggestion is to get lost away from St. Mark’s Square and Rialto Bridge during the day. The first day we were there, we made our way to Cannaregio, which is the Jewish Quarter of Venice. With most of the tourists hovering around the touristy areas, we were able to enjoy the north end of the island and look out over the Adriatic Sea to the island of Murano without much of a crowd obstructing our view. Once the cruise ships leave around 6:00 p.m., Venice gets much quieter, so we made our way through St. Mark’s Square to the water and looked over to the other side of the island. The last time we were in Venice in 2014, we tried to figure out how to get to the other side of the island, but we never made it. We set out to make our way to the tip of the fish tail and along the way ditched even more of the leftover crowds. We crossed over a bridge and found ourselves on the opposite side of St. Mark’s looking back over the water at the mainland. We continued making our way to the tip of the island and took up a spot at the tip, taking in the scenery and admiring the stillness around us.
After about ten minutes, though, we noticed that there was a growing group of Italian speakers standing around us. Jaime looked out into the water and noticed a number of boats parked out there. We figured something was about to happen, but we had no clue what was going on. I turned to an older gentleman standing next to me and asked him what was going on through Google Translate. He pointed to the sky, which I assumed meant we were about to get some sort of aerial show. That’s when the Italian air force answered our question and delivered one of our favorite moments from our trip so far!
Italia! Fuck yeah!
The next day, we scheduled a Best of Venice Tour through Dark Rome, which took us off the beaten path through the back streets of Venice. We also took a tour of the Doge’s Palace, where we caught the last view of Venice soon-to-be executed prisoners would ever have through the Bridge of Sighs windows. I too sighed as I looked over the sparkling turquoise water to San Giorgio Maggiore, which we made our next stop.
We took Vaporetto #2 from Rialto Bridge for a long ride through the Grand Canal, around the cruise ship harbor, and finally out towards open water to the San Giorgio stop. Only a few people were on the island with us, making it a lovely afternoon retreat for the day. After grabbing a sandwich and enjoying it on the edge of the island with our feet dangling above the water, we made our way up the San Giorgio Maggiore’s campanile, which stands nearly as tall as the St. Mark’s campanile but is much less crowded and provides a stunning view of the island of Venice. From there, we headed back to Cannaregio for a romantic dinner at a small restaurant along the inner canals of the Jewish Quarter.
We had made good use of our time in Venice, using it more as a port for relaxation than for sight-seeing. When the time came for us to leave, we got up early the next morning—the day of the concert–and started our last morning in Venice with a run along the south side of the fish belly–from St. Mark’s Square to a park on the east end of the island. There, we did a bodyweight workout in the park using the exercise bars European countries have everywhere in their lush parks (gotta burn off all that pasta and wine!). After that, we jogged back to St. Mark’s Square and ate another pathetic Italian breakfast (come on, Italy…croissants?! Where’s the bacon and eggs?!). We checked out of our hotel, caught Vaporetto #2 at Rialto Bridge, and cruised over to the train station to catch our 30-minute coach to Padova. It was hard for me to leave Venice because I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in all of the world, and any place with that much water makes me feel at ease. With waves rolling in my thoughts, the Adriatic Sea made such an inviting appeal to me to stay longer, but our bags were packed and our train was ready to depart for Padua—our third stop on our European tour…
There is a Padua in Minnesota, halfway between Sauk Centre (population 4,366 ) and Brooten (population 743) on County Road 22. Padua, MN, has a church on one side of the road and the Padua Pub on the other side of the road.
But if you’re from that area of Minnesota, the thought of Padua brings you great joy because you most likely have eaten chicken drummies at the Padua Pub with your family on a Friday night (in the bar with the locals, of course, because if you’re old enough to see over the counter, you’re old enough to be at the bar there), or maybe you took your mom there for their Big Tent Mother’s Day Brunch, or maybe a friend from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa or Getty Township got married and had their reception there. The town of Padua, with it’s two structural occupants and cornfields, finds a way to breathe meaningful experiences into the lives of the families who intentionally make a stop along that strip of road—whether through a Sunday mass or a sit-down pub ‘n’ grub (or sometimes both!).
Italy’s Padova (pronounced Padua) connected Jaime and me to Padua, MN, in a variety of ways. First of all, Padova is, without a doubt, the smallest and most non-descript town on our journey. The average population of the other nine cities we’ll be visiting is 2.284 million people. Padova’s population is 210,444–a far cry from metropolises like London, Rome, and Paris. These two small town kids were greatly looking forward to getting away from the noisy city-life, so we greatly enjoyed the quiet isolation Padova has from it’s more popular Italian destinations.
Another pleasantry about Padova is that it does not have the same bravado of major cities. Padova is home to St. Anthony’s tomb as well as one of the oldest universities in the world, so their focus is more on their faith and their intellect than their sense of style or architectural prominence. The buildings are more humble but still leave an impression. The Prato della Valle in the center of the city is lined with statues of the great men and women who helped build the city, but the casual visitor would never know who any of them are or what their contributions were to the city. Yet this is the same city that educated the likes of Casanova and Galileo, as well as the first woman to ever earn a degree from a university–Elana Cornaro Piscopia– way back in 1678.
The prestigious university itself is not located in just one area—instead, it is spread out all over the city because as the university has expanded the number of educational programs offered, it simply had to find space where they could, but instead of building one central location, they utilized the buildings already in place.
Our hotel was located on the north end of the city, just outside of where parts of the old city wall still stand. As we checked in, we could hear “Yellow Ledbetter” playing overhead which then segued into “Better Man.” I pointed up to the speakers and gestured to Jaime: “Nice!” I said.
“Yes, the whole town is shut down for the concert tonight,” the man behind the desk said. He explained to us how to catch the bus to Stadio Eugeno, the city’s soccer stadium where the concert was being held.
(Side note: Italy’s soccer stadiums are massive—Stadio Eugeno seats 32,420 people, which is tiny compared to Milan’s Stadio San Siro, which seats 80,018 and Rome’s Olimpico Stadio, which seats 72,698. Traveling with Pearl Jam during the World Cup the last four years has certainly opened my eyes to soccer!)
We asked him if the hotel was filled with Pearl Jam fans. He lifted his eyebrows and his eyes got big.
“Yes, there are many fans staying here tonight. I am hoping they all get here before 6:00 p.m. because I too have tickets to the concert!”
Jaime and I laughed and told him we looked forward to seeing him at the show. The small town vibe was alive and well—the local big event had shut down the city and all of its inhabitants were going to enjoy the show!
After settling in, we got in contact with a friend of Jaime’s who lived in Minnesota three years ago. Azzurra moved to Minnesota to teach English as a second language for a year, and in that time, she and Jaime got to know each other through a running group. When Azzurra found out we would be in Venice, she said she would meet us there, but we told her to stay put because we were coming to her in Padova! Azzurra kindly offered her services to be our tour guide and provide us with a home-cooked meal (and an opportunity to do laundry, which we desperately needed to do a week into our trip!).
Azzurra took us to her apartment, just south of the city center, where she and her boyfriend Marco both live. The two of them took every opportunity they could to make us feel at home. Marco took the time to prepare us a delicious lunch—pesto pasta with fresh, homegrown tomatoes plucked from their balcony. We cracked open a large bottle of beer (it felt more appropriate at that moment than wine) and enjoyed each other’s company in the solace of their kitchen, far away from the hustle and bustle of large-city life. There wasn’t a sea of lost and confused tourists deciphering maps and clogging up the streets, and there was no need to dodge oncoming Vespas speeding down narrow backstreets. Instead, the sounds of friends catching up with each other—questions, stories, and laughter—gave Jaime and me permission to forget about schedules and sight-seeing for a few hours.
After our relaxing and refreshing home-made lunch, Azzurra took us into the city center, around the park with Prato della Valle, and through the Jewish Ghetto. I was able to take a picture in front of St. Anthony’s Church and I was also able to find a pub with the words “Padova” on it, so my quest to connect Padua to Padova was complete. Azzurra then took us to the town square where Padova’s very own astrological clock looms over hundreds of tables protected from the sun by umbrellas. There, people enjoy spritzes on gorgeous days like the one we had that afternoon. Azzurra and Jaime reminisced about her time in Minnesota, catching up on old friends and new adventures since moving back to Italy, and I sat back soaking up both the sun and the stillness of the day—both filling me with gratitude that opportunities and experiences like these exist in my life.
I made it to the church and the bar in Padova thanks to Azzurra and Marco!
The moment came when we needed to grab our clothes, hanging on racks in Azzurra’s bedroom, and head back to our hotel so we could catch the bus to Stadio Eugeno for the perfect ending to our perfect day. When the bus arrived, my jaw dropped and I just laughed—Pearl Jam fans were pressed up against windows and it looked like life and limb were hanging by a thread out the windows! There was still enough space for Jaime and me to file onto the bus’s front steps, but I feared we would collide with oncoming traffic and fly head-first through the front window or out the front door. Luckily, our bus driver navigated his way through the herds of Pearl Jam faithful who were hoofing it to the stadium without running any of them over or tipping to one side or the other around the sharp turns of the winding roads leading to the venue.
We knew the atmosphere was going to be electric because when we saw Pearl Jam in Milan in 2014, we were in awe of the party-vibe exuded by the Italians in attendance, and this was no different. Outside of the stadium, there were two stages where music had been playing earlier in the day. A caravan of food and beer vendors stretched as far as the eye could see, and wherever we were, merry revelers clogged the walkways. Because Pearl Jam doesn’t make it over to this side of the continent very often, we were told many people from Slovenia and Croatia had made the trip to Padova to see Eddie and company, which added another layer to the melting pot of Pearl Jam fans stewing for another great show from their favorite band.
The only question left was this—how would Eddie’s voice sound? He was on vocal rest after the first London show, meaning the second London show was cancelled. Their next performance was scheduled for Milan three days later, so people were glued to the Pearl Jam forum and social media sites to find out if Eddie’s voice was going to be able to handle the vocal load, or if they’d hand over duties from time to time to Stone for “Mankind” or “Don’t Gimme No Lip”. Maybe Jeff would contribute with “Sweet Lew”? Speculation ran rampant in the fan community, but the report from Milan was that Eddie sounded much better and that he was ready to continue the tour.
Outside the venue, the lines outside were long and we were in desperate need of something to eat and drink, so we headed into the stadium around 8:00. My 10 Club tickets put us in the 10 Club general admission section, which meant we had an excellent view of the band and a front-row seat to the madness that was about to ensue. As the 9:00 start time grew closer and closer, Jaime and I finished up our beers and our pizza and headed to the bathrooms. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones with that idea, so when the band walked on stage, we were next in line to use the Port-a-Potties. As I stepped into the john, I heard Boom’s piano strike the opening three notes to “Pendulum”, one of my favorite songs from the Lightning Bolt album. Jaime and I made a mad dash around the fans in the general admission infield to the 10 Club gates and were shocked by what we saw: with all of their might, security was holding back hundreds of fans trying to crash the 10 Club GA section. I wasn’t sure how we were going to slip passed this mob, so we made our way to the corner of the gates, showed our green bracelets, and watched as a security guard stepped to the side just enough to allow only us to squeak by him while keeping the rest of the fanatics behind the barrier. I give those Padova security guards a lot of credit, and if you’re reading this and you were at those barriers that night, I’d love to buy you a drink the next time I’m in Padova!
It wasn’t just the mob on the infield who wanted a piece of the Pearl Jam action—it was the entire stadium! Without a doubt, this was the most lively crowd I’ve ever seen at an audience, and I could feel their energy the entire show. The set list fed off of their energy as well, charging ahead with songs like “Last Exit”, “Do the Evolution”, “Animal”, “Corduroy”, and “Given to Fly” in the 3-7 slots. During “Evenflow”, we made a quick dash to the back of the infield for a bathroom break, and as we did, the crowd’s power rained down upon us from the bleachers during the chorus. “Red Mosquito” buzzed around the stadium with newfound enthusiasm. Echoing shouts of “This is not for you!” filled the stadium, and “Spin the Black Circle” made its tour debut, which meant I got to watch Jeff and Mike spin around each other around the right side of the stage during the bridge before Mike took off for his own spin around the entire stage—one of my favorite Pearl Jam song routines! Songs like “Inside Job”, “Once”, and “Smile” also made their tour debuts during the encores, bringing the show to a beautifully climactic close with “Alive”, “Baba O’Riley”, and “Indifference” closing out the night.
Once Jaime and I got back to our hotel, we simply could not believe what we had just witnessed. In the Rolling Stone special edition issue on Pearl Jam, they write about how much the Italians love Pearl Jam, even way back in the early 90s. But if you’ve never witnessed a Pearl Jam show in Italy, you simply wouldn’t understand what the atmosphere is like when this band gets together to put on the performance of a lifetime for the Italian people. If you’re a die-hard fan who’s never seen a Pearl Jam show in Italy, add it to your bucket list! It’ll make you smile!
Today’s title is taken from Pearl Jam’s “Smile” off the album No Code,
released in 1996.
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