I have noticed over the years that many weather reports, especially those posted on the Internet contain information not only on actual temperature but what the temperature feels like. Although I have not really thought too much about the wind chill factor it seems like an intuitive and useful concept.
Being from the west coast of Canada I have paid no attention to weather concepts such as relative humidity or the heat index and what their interaction means in regards to perceived temperatures. My most memorable encounter with humidity was almost 30 years ago at my eldest brother’s summer wedding in southern Ontario. It was during the wedding photographs in a local park that I discovered it was possible to perspire to such an extent as to soak an entire suit jacket. Much later in life, I was in the interior of Brazil when an unexpected winter heat wave took the temperature to the mid thirties centigrade. The temperature was exhausting but by tropical standards the air was merciful dry and was quickly followed by the coldest weather experienced in Brazil in decades-in one day the high went from 35 degrees down to 4 degrees. In both these cases I knew it was hot but I never had a figure to quote that would quantify what I was feeling.
Our European adventure has until late, been one of abnormally cool temperatures which has conditioned us to hold our body heat like polar bears. We have been lucky to skirt the excessive rains of central Europe but have encountered some of the aftermath. Fortunately we have not sprouted webbed feet in addition arctic animal features. It has been only over the past week that we have experienced an almost alarming spike in temperatures. In Austria, temperatures reached thirty degrees making for some challenges on the hiking trails. The weather was manageable due to the proximity of flowing mountain streams, light breezes and the shade provided by the trees. Unfortunately, the mercury has risen even further in the Venice area of Italy and we are without much in the way of natural features to mitigate the heat.
Yesterday we were well-roasted on the open beach, so at the behest of our kids we skipped another coastal foray and explored the inland University town of Padua instead. This is the town, whose most famous student was Galileo. Perhaps his preoccupation with the sun being the center of our solar system has some bearing our experiences here.
From our research we learned that Padua contained at least a couple of parks with trees and the largest city square in Europe, complete with water features. In addition, the town has many narrow cobble-stoned streets with arcade style walkways that block the sun. According to local weather forecast it was going to be about 4 degrees cooler than our beach day so it seemed like it a promising outing in a town that could offer some reprieve from the heat.
We found parking with little difficulty, although it was not the specific parking facility we were seeking. The computerized parking attendant was a classic display of poor design. There was signage in both Italian and English which read like the small print on a software license. It talked all about your liabilities and lack of rights and how the city could not only take ownership of your car and kids but your very soul and said nothing about the hourly parking fee or how the parking system actually worked. The large computer screen was nearly unreadable due to its unshaded location. There were audio instructions in several languages, including English, that made it clear that you needed to enter the license number of your vehicle. Regrettably, that is where the helpfulness stopped. The next instruction was to press the enter button to complete the transaction at which point the automated attendant politely informed us that we did not need to pay anything but also refused to produce any kind of ticket stub by which to mark our arrival time at the lot. We stepped back from the machine to let others try and get a different response but to no avail. There was a fellow who had taken up a position right next to one computer console in order to solicit funds. He communicated with each Italian customer about how the parking lot worked and then stuck out his baseball cap for a donation which nearly everyone complied to do. When we went to try his machine he gestured a lot but still spoke to us in Italian. Unlike with others before us, he pointed to cameras at the entrance to the parking lot. These cameras recorded your license plate number upon entry, and we finally understood it was only when you wanted to leave that you needed to punch in your license number in to the unreadable computer screen and hence be informed of the fee owed. Upon exit, the camera would your read your plate again and open the gate if you had paid. We were appreciative of the sign language type explanation and like the others before us made a small donation.
It would seem the automated attendant which was likely put in place to save the city the cost of paying the wages of parking employees was unwittingly the contracting out of such work to a freelance attendant. The fact that there was a constant flow of customers and that the same man was still there when we returned several hours late, it was a fairly lucrative undertaking. For all we know, the guy might make so much money he owns a villa on the edge of town and owns the red sports car parked in the middle of the lot.
Prato della Valle
At the exit to the parkade we got some directions in English from what appeared to be a university student who just happened to be passing by. He told us to take a pleasant stroll through the park and once we were on the other site just follow the main road and the accompanying pedestrian signs to get across town. The park although pleasant was nothing to write home about and was actually quite small. It was almost puzzling that our University friend would have chosen to emphasize the pleasantness of this route. We were to discover for ourselves, and have it confirmed by a person we met when we got home, that most of Padua is quite devoid of trees except in two parks and some greenways along a stream that ran through a small section of town. It is in large part a cobblestone desert. Our university good smaritan may also have known that the weather forecast for the day was actually for warmer weather than the day before with temperatures reach 35 degrees which, when adjusted for humidity, would feel like a withering 41 degrees. Any kind of shade on a day like today would warrant at the very least a description of pleasant.
Needless to say our impressions of Padua were largely shaped by temperature. I can report that there are a number of brilliant clothing and department stores that we will fondly remember because of their air conditioning. There was also a grocery store that we also thought was quite divine, especially the freezer section where they were selling small tubs of gelato for only a euro a piece. We liked the store so much we visited it twice, first to get salads and cold and then to return for the gelato. It was so hot outside that we could see our salad wilt while we were eating it.
We did our best to navigate our way on foot to Prato della Valle a 90,000 square meter elliptical square in are on the far side of the historic section of Padua. It is the largest square in Italy, and one of the largest in Europe. According to Wikipedia, the square “is a monumental space of extraordinary visual impact, with a green island at the center, l'Isola Memmia, surrounded by a small canal bordered by two rings of statues.” Our impression in the sweltering heat was of a green space lacking in sufficient numbers of shade trees and woefully lacking in water volume, sitting in the middle of an asphalt dessert that would make Death Valley seem balmy. Sightseeing really is all about perspective. I am sure Padua is considered delightful and beautiful by many-but just not today.
The most memorable and delightful part of our visit to Prato della Valle, and perhaps Padua as a whole, was the air conditioned cab ride we took back to our car across town. The digital thermometer in the car reported the outside temperature as 38 degrees, which was later supported by our car’s temperature gauge.
By the time we were two-thirds of the way home we had cooled down sufficiently to consider grocery shopping before we returned to our air-conditioned home. We did not emerge again into the outdoors until around 8:30 in the evening. We decided that very early the next morning we would attempt a bike ride along the Pave River. We wanted to check over the free bikes that were at our disposal and take a short ride to discover where the riverside bike path started. Before Muriel and I could head off on our bikes we heard someone at our landlord’s house calling to us in French (our Kangoo license plates are from France). When we confessed we were unilingual Canadians from BC who spoke English, the fellow who was addressing us started to speak to us in Italian and then shook his head and chided himself and started to talk in English. It was a friend of the eldest son of our landlord. The son subsequently appeared. They were university students and quite eager and able to engage us in conversation. We ended up sitting on our patio for a while talking. They thought since it was approaching 9:00 pm that they would likely be interrupting our dinner preparations. We had to confess that we had not fully adapted to Italy and had finished our dinner at an ungodly early hour of 7:30 pm . It would appear these two young men would not be eating until closer to 10:00 pm. It was an animated and enjoyable chat about their lives as high school and university students. They were constantly correcting and teasing each other about their English. It was a remarkable display of fluency since one of them claimed only to have reason to speak English about once a year and never watched English movies or listened to English music.
When the young men were called into their house for dinner, Muriel and I headed out for our bike ride. We returned 45 minutes latter glistening with perspiration. We were less certain about the wisdom of a morning bike ride but left it as something to ponder in the morning. We just wanted to cuddle up with the air-conditioner before taking a cool shower and collapsing in bed.