Where Italy Meets Bainbridge Island: Long-time Islander’s Leap into Italian Tourism

Dave Spooner Geezers of FuryWhat do you do for an encore after nearly three decades working as a dentist on Bainbridge Island? If you’re Dr. David Spooner, who still sees patients for vacationing colleagues occasionally – and is a member of the Bainbridge Island Medical Reserve Corps and an Island Covid Clinic Vaccinator – you do something completely different.

Dr. Dave’s new passion takes place a continent away in Europe: “I am assisting my friend, also my Italian instructor, Dr. Claudio Mazzola, in reintroducing his Veneto travel service, Palladio Tours, on his new website – https://www.palladiotours.com,” he says. “The site provides insight and information for travel to this fascinating region beyond the Rome-Tuscany-Venice circuit that many people associate with a trip to Italy – a region steeped in Italian culture, art and cuisine. Mazzola’s firm offers small-group, six-person travel for those in search of both discovery and pleasure.”

But before we delve further into the roots of Palladio Tours, whose website Dr. Dave is helping to build, let’s do a bit of a background check on his fascinating career path and lifetime arch:

Dave Spooner 1967The good doctor grew up in Pittsburgh, PA., and graduated with the U.S. Naval Academy class of 1968. At the Academy, he led the Midshipmen’s Division 1 basketball team – in his words, not ours – “to two consecutive sub-.500 seasons and back-to-back losses to arch-rival Army.”

Other than a handful of games in which he scored in double figures, one minor highlight in what he describes as an “otherwise unremarkable career,” was playing against that same West Point team, then coached by a young Bobby Knight, who went on to fame and notoriety at the University of Indiana. During that contest, Dr. Dave found himself facing a spry Army point guard named Mike Krzyzewski. Mike later matured into Coach K, who led his Duke University Blue Devils to several NCCA basketball championships, as well as leading the U.S. men’s basketball team to Olympic Gold. (He also blocked the shot of future NFL Hall of Famer and fellow Midshipmen Roger Staubach in a pick-up basketball game, but that’s a story for another day!).

Following his Academy career, Dr. Dave earned an advanced degree at the Naval Postgraduate School, then qualified as a nuclear engineer. Three deployments to the Vietnam combat zone behind him (all, thankfully, far off the coast), his naval career terminated 14 months after his ship steamed into Bremerton’s Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for an overhaul. It was September of 1975 when the future Dr. Dave entered Dental School at the University of Washington.

Dave Spooner at the Vaccine ClinicDuring our many rides together over the years with the Geezers of Fury bike group, Dr. Dave has described himself – tongue in cheek – as a “Jack of all Trades, Master of Some,” and as someone who, along with his many accomplishments in the Navy and Dentistry, has pursued many other exciting activities – dabbling with Italian and French, earning a certification in teaching English as a Second Language, becoming a Wilderness First Responder and working with the aforementioned Bainbridge Medical Reserve Corps.

So, on one of our recent biking pit stops, I asked Dr. Dave three questions that came to mind: Why is someone named “Spooner” studying Italian; what and who is Palladio; and, by Veneto, do you mean Venice?

Dave Spooner Palladio Tours - website image“Let’s take your last question first,” Dr. Dave replied, after taking a sip of water. “No, Veneto is a region and Venice is just one of a constellation of cities one finds there. Among them are Padua, Vicenza and Verona. Palladio Tours also offers small-town accompanied journeys to Asolo, Possagno, Marostica and the Prosecco Hills. It might come as a surprise,” Dr. Dave adds, “but Veneto is the leading wine producer in Italy. Prosecco (one of my favorites!) is its most famous white, and the delectable Amarone, its highly regarded red. Vicenza is known for its goldsmiths and porcelain fabricators while Padua houses illustrious works of Giotto, considered the first of the early Renaissance artists. In our many trips to Italy, Veneto is our favorite region and the one to which we have returned the most.”

Dr. Claudio Mazzola - Owner - Cultural Director of Palladio Tours
Dr. Claudio Mazzola – Owner – Cultural Director of Palladio Tours

Ok, so why this pre-occupation with the Italian language? “In the mid-1990s, (his wife) Marie and I, having taken a wrong turn while skiing in the Italian Dolomites, found ourselves isolated in a mountain village and unable to communicate. Planning to return, we vowed that this would never happen to us again. We spent the next 25 years studying Italian and making annual trips to Italy, visiting Marie’s extended family there. Her father had emigrated from Italy in 1928. Over the course of that study, we were fortunate to meet Dr. Claudio Mazzola, an Italian professor at UW who ran a weekly Italian language and culture class for adults.”

Mazzola, it turns out, is soon to be retiring from the UW, is reintroducing the small-group travel experiences he cultivated in the late ’90s. Says Dr. Dave, “I started helping him on his website, doing simple text editing. In this continuing trajectory of my 20+ year student-mentor-friend rapport with him, I find myself continuing with his website’s design and management.”

As you navigate the Palladio Tours site, a visitor will find numerous itinerary choices, Veneto’s three largest cities and this remarkable region’s small towns are among them. “We have just added visits to Friuli and Emilia Romagna and can individually craft a custom tour.” On one such adventure, “two of our Bainbridge friends traveled through Veneto with Claudio, enjoying a Palladian Villa itinerary enriched by an introduction to the regional food and wines.”

Palladio Tours website imageAlright, now let’s address this Palladio character. Unbeknownst to me, and probably others reading this piece, Andrea Palladio was a preeminent architect of the 16th Century – during the height of the Italian Renaissance, Dr. Dave says as he was finishing up a call with one of his grandkids.

“He was greatly influenced by Roman and Greek architecture, reintroducing it to Europe in response to the highly ornate Gothic style that preceded it,” Dr. Dave explains in as much of a professorial manner as he can conjure up while sitting on his e-bike. “Palladio designed buildings throughout Veneto as well as villas along the Brenta River, running from north of Venice to just south of it. His influence was such that, even 200 years later, Thomas Jefferson used the classic Palladian style of domes, porticoes, columns and symmetry in his designs of Monticello and the Rotunda of the University of Virginia. From these timeless seeds, Mazzola designed his original tour business.”

You might assume that architectural tours by an Italian professor would put most folks to sleep, but Dr. Dave begs to differ. “Yes, Claudio’s background is education, but I have often seen him spark enthusiasm in groups of travelers interested in learning. He can bring to life not just Palladio’s works, but (also) the region’s art and history, in one of the most interesting parts, not only of Italy but of the world. Palladio Tours is truly traveling in search of discovery.”

Dave Spooner and grandchildIf you are a traveler interested in Italy, especially if you have previously visited there – and are looking for the next level – this is your ideal choice, advises Dr. Dave.  “The overarching difference with Palladio Tours is your comfort and the cultural and the historical intimacy of your small (six-person) group,” he notes, sounding like the seasoned traveler he is.

All right, Dr. Dave, you convinced me. If folks have more questions, where do they go?

“You can go to the website above, call Claudio at 833-4-VENETO (833-483-6386) or contact Dr. Dave at david@palladiotours.com.”

Author’s Note: Dave Spooner and his wife Marie have been Island residents since 1976. He arrived, first as a dental student, then continued to serve the Bainbridge community as a dental practitioner. Dave is an avid road biker – touring regularly with the Geezers of Fury – a hiker, traveler, raconteur (well, he thinks he is!), and a life-long learner who enjoys immersing himself in new languages and adventures.

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