Our Dutch friends in San Damiano were very jolly. Cheerful to the point of annoyance as far as I was concerned, but Stephen chatted away to them and they had lots of things in common. Especially a belief in the power of holy water. San Damiano had some sort of spring, and sipping some of the water or sprinkling some over you is a good thing to do. I have absolutely no problem with that. But our fellow pilgrims were determined that the water should be available to their friends in England and asked us if we would take some back with us. Of course said Stephen. This was in the days when liquids were not prohibited, so it really wouldn’t have been a big deal – except that as we were about to leave, one of the men came bounding up to us with two five-gallon plastic canisters full of the stuff.
I was about to refuse but Stephen, obviously much kinder than me, said we would take them. So we did. Walking to the bus stop. Catching the train to Padua. Tramping through Padua in the heat of the day trying to find somewhere cheap to stay. Eventually we found a tiny hotel with one room one bed and an armchair. Stephen, ever the perfect gentleman, chose to sleep in the chair. I did not refuse the bed. We deposited our gallons of Holy Water and our luggage and went out in search of food. It was Sunday. The amazing basilica of Saint Anthony was open, of course and we went to Mass there. It was magnificent. Hundreds of tall candles everywhere lit up the gloom and the atmosphere was wonderful. Much more my sort of religious experience than open air praying in circles. We explored the basilica, lit candles for all the causes we could think of and then we went to look for food. St Anthony is one of the most useful of saints. the patron saint of lost items he will help you find them in return for some money for bread for the poor. I am sure e spends a lot of time hiding things from me and only lets me discover them when I have upped the promis of money to a good cause that he finds sufficiently acceptable. But that is by the by.
I wasn’t the size I am now but I always needed to eat at regular intervals, otherwise I wither. And that Sunday I was withering fast. Stephen was full of energy and hope and metaphorically pushed me along through the old town. Lots of lovely little shops. Firmly closed. Lots of little restaurants. Tightly shut against the world. But – minor miracle number five – we found the only fast food place I have ever seen in Italy – a tiny little place which sold cooked pasta dishes in little cardboard boxes – and gave us a little wooden fork to eat it with.
I was needless to say overjoyed – Stephen less so as it happened – he would have preferred a proper meal. But there it was.
Suitably fortified and sustained we then went to explore further. Now I can’t remember if this was where the Giottos were. I think it must have been because we didn’t go anywhere else except for Venice, and I don’t think they were there. But we found a church or monastery where there were the most beautiful frescos. If only I had had a digital camera or a Smartphone then. I would be able to show you all my snaps. As It was I don’t think we had a camera with us – at least I can’t find any photos from that time at all. I had never heard of Giotto or frescoes at that time, so the sight of them was quite wonderful – it was also very special because of Stephen’s enthusiasm and knowledgeability.
The next day we managed to find breakfast quite easily and garnering our belongings and the jerry cans we took the slow train to Venice.