I’m booked onto
an easyJet flight from Gatwick leaving at 6.55, so even with some
extremely good friends living nearby (thanks again, Carole) I’m still up
well before 5.00!
Sitting around waiting to board at around 6.30 it occurs to me that I’ve never before been in a crowd of so many people so early in the morning. The whole easyJet ticketless thing works smoothly and we’re up and away on time and I even have a window seat. At Marco Polo Airport I take a savvy friend’s advice and spurn the noisy, smelly and slow Alilaguna boat and take the bus – ACTV No.5 costing 2 Euros and taking less than a half hour to the Piazzale Roma bus station. A short walk to my hotel on the edge of the Ghetto, and I’m out pounding the fondamente and buying lunch well before midday. The Ca' Pozzo hotel is at the end of a somewhat odorous covered alley lined with restaurant side-doors, and with a fish stall at its entrance during the day, and smelling somewhat zoolike at night. But the hotel when you reach it could not be more of a contrast – clean and shiny and modern with some of the most pleasant staff it’s ever been my pleasure to be looked after by. I recommend it whole-heartedly (except the fainthearted might find the whiffy passage a bit of a turn-off) and that’s a first for me and Venetian hotels. But back to our hero, who has now bought lunch and is strolling along the Fondamente Nuove nibbling his olive and cheese focaccia and gazing out across an expanse of lagoon filled with boats towards San Michele as the comfortably hot sun beats down. Sigh! I do a long loop down to San Marco, of course, and then back up to my hotel for a rest. In the early evening I walk down to the Rialto and in a fit of laziness resort to a filet-of-fish meal at MacDonald’s – a bit shameful I know, but when you’re traveling on your own sometimes a quick fill is preferable to the whole restaurant sitting and waiting thing. Send a few expensive e-mails – internet access can't be had for less than 10 Euros an hour in Venice, it seems – and then to bed. It’s been a long day.
I’d left my
window open, as it looked out onto a quiet, if scadgy, courtyard and so was
awoken by some typically clanky Venetian church bells at 8.00am. Not the
worst alarm call in the world. Eat a good breakfast, and then stroll up to
the railway station to try and buy a Venice Card, which gets you various
museums, some discounts and all vaporetti and toilets, for varying
periods. The woman in the kiosk tells me she has none but the next kiosk,
which is literally two steps around a partition for her, has them, and a
queue of 14 people waiting for hotel reservations. So helpful. She also
doesn’t tell me that I can get them from the vaporetto ticket office
which is 26 seconds walk out of the station, so I have to discover this
myself, by accident, on Friday evening.
Sigh! Anyway, back to pleasure and my first church of the day – S.Giobbe.
It’s run-down, of course, with exposed brickwork, but some nice grey stone bits too. It’s most notable for the quality of the art which it
once contained, but which now graces the grand second room in the Accademia
Gallery. Through the ‘backstreets’ of Cannaregio towards S.Alvise,
stopping off at a neighbourhood shop that sells the divine San Bernadetto
water for 40 Eurocents, which is about a third of the cost of a bottle in
the main tourist drags. At S.Alvise I’m told that the church is closing
in 15 minutes for a funeral, and so I can have a quick free look around.
This is one of the churches run by
Chorus and so you pay to get in, but
the churches are well maintained and you can also buy a pass to get you into
all of them, which I do. Each church has a number and with each visit your
card gets that church’s number crossed off, so it appeals to the
collector/train spotter in all of us. I leave
the campo outside the church as the funeral boat arrives. It’s not a
black and ornate boat with plumes, unfortunately, but is sombre enough.
– the crusty white roll with butter and blackcurrant jam becoming an
essential part – I walk via S.Canzian to Campo Santa Maria Formosa, and its
nice compact church. Then into the Fondazione Querini Stampalia to admire
some ‘new’ Giovanni Bellinis, and other stuff. I then wander off up to the
Garibaldi gardens to sit and eat a spinach and cheese pasty thing and
watch people pass by, some of them seemingly not entirely well mentally.
It’s a Biennale year and as I want to see inside the Arsenale, and the
bits the Biennale uses are the only areas you’re ever allowed into, I buy a
ticket and so have a look around the main exhibition pavilions in the
gardens to get my money’s worth, as it were. The pavilions themselves
are architecturally interesting, but the exhibits leave me cold, mostly. One darkened space contains a bank of
slide projectors sending images into the corners of the room, but as the
slides change you realise that each projector has
exactly the same slides. Hmmm. A pavilion full of a labyrinth of wooden steps has
a sort of pine Piranesi charm, but that’s about it. I do the long walk
back to my hotel - foolishly as tomorrow’s blisters will prove - but San
Giovanni Grisostomo, a church that had scaffolding inside and out on my last
visit, is open and so I get to tick off another Bellini, if a slightly
murky one. After a rest I try the kiosk in the station for the Venice Card
again, but it’s closed, and only then do I spot that the vaporetto
ticket huts out front sell them. I get a three-day one that’ll get me onto, it
turns out, a fair few vaps, and into the Correr Museum and Ca’ Rezzonico
over the next few days.
vaporetto to the Ca’ Rezzonico stop and walk to Santa Maria dei Carmini, which
is gloomy and dusty and fine, and then to San Sebastiano which has some
impressive frescoes, by
Veronese. Frescoes are rare in Venice, as the damp atmosphere doesn’t
help the quick-drying the medium demands, so these came as a bit of a
shock. On to San Nicolò dei Mendicoli, which had a mass in progress, so I
spent more time typing its name just then than I did visiting! Back to,
and into, Ca’ Rezzonico, and I decide to try the audioguide. A
longish wait, three players and two sets of batteries later I’m equipped
and start my tour. It’s actually a pretty good guide although, I realise
later, it mentions the Brownings not once. Robert Browning’s son buying
the palazzo, and the family’s time there, is mentioned in most guides,
admittedly as the last episode of interest in the palace’s history, so to
not make mention is a little eccentric, or at least Italo-centric. There
are some frown-inducing bits of lost-in-translation description, which are
at least entertaining. My favourite was a portrait, by Rosalba Carriera, I
think, described a revealing the sitter’s ‘pungent sensuality’. And
later we are told to admire ceiling paintings representing the four senses
‘although taste is missing’. The
top-floor gallery contains much poor art, but has some good vistas up and down the Grand Canal.
and as I photograph the usual views across the canal towards San Marco I
notice a group of people on the church steps getting naked, or at least
topless, changing their clothes from a couple of big suitcases. Funny how
a topless woman is less exciting when you initially think she’s a man. Walk back
towards the Accademia and nibble a slice of artichoke pizza sitting in
Campo S. Vio, with it’s superb views across the canal to Palazzo Barbaro
(where Henry James often stayed) and palazzos east. Having read much
fiction about HJ,
and his relationship with Constance Fenimore Woolson, in the past year I
had a - borderline ghoulish - desire to find the palazzo where Miss W
had committed suicide, by jumping out of a window.
The Palazzo Semitecolo is to the left of Casa Salviati as you face across
the Grand Canal from the Santa Maria del Giglio vaporetto stop opposite, and I’d just walked past the back of it before buying
my pizza. No courtyard could I see, though, just the calle behind the
crumbling palazzo, which seems to have been unoccupied for a good while.
Update - this calle does turn out to be the pavement
that Miss Woolson fell to. See here.
Update - this calle does turn out to be the pavement that Miss Woolson fell to. See here.
I cut down to the Zattere, the fondamenta that faces Giudecca, and visit the Gesuati church and the more modest Santa Maria della Visitazione, on the way to Nico for one of their fine gelati. I admire the Swiss chalet charm of the San Trovaso gondola workshop, as I eat my cocco & limone, and then visit the same-named church, where an organist and singer are practicing Ave Maria and such like. I make for the Accademia boatstop and head back to the hotel to rest my throbbing feet. There had been some rain today, after three hot sunshiny days, and out walking this evening I get caught in a thunderstorm that borders on the biblical, but furnishes me with a fine photograph, I think, of a rain-lashed Piazza.
And the rain keeps falling, all day say the hotel staff, so a museum visit seems wise. Vaporetto to San Marco and the Correr Museum. The Venice pass lets me bypass the long queue, which seems to be mostly for the Lucian Freud exhibition. No accounting for taste. Still fascinating on a second visit, the Correr has enthralling maps and other interesting bits and lets you get nose-to-nose with the paintings. These are strong in the International Gothic and Byzantine, but with some interesting, if not sock-off-knocking Bellinis and such. A highlight is the Madonna Who Looks Like Uma Thurman. This time I have a gander at the archaeological stuff too, and so make it to the library, which has some good Veronese ceiling panels, and a very rude sculpture of Leda and the Swan. The Piazza is semi-flooded as I head to the Arsenale, getting caught up on the Riva with a political demonstration which my Italian is not good enough to comprehend, although there are a lot of banners with green leaves radiating in a circle, if that helps. (I've since found out - thanks Francesca - that this was the annual Festa dei Popoli Padani, where Lega Nord supporters take some water from the river Po to Venice as part of some weird pagan 'celtic' celebration. Funny, they didn't look like a bunch of loony fascists.) The bigness of the Arsenale architecture is indeed impressive, and some of the art’s OK too. The huge floor-to-ceiling chandelier which looks to be made of Murano glass from afar, but close up reveals itself to be made of millions of tampons is…impressive. Some of the projections on the floors of enclosed spaces were clever, and the flat stone hippo and the Chinese projections on the rusty tanks at the end I liked. Vaporetto back to my hotel to wait out the rain a bit with my mp3 player and plug-in speakers. Listening to a playlist of old favourite tracks in your hotel room in Venice on your own has a way of making you ponder your life, and life decisions, I can tell you. Later I send some e-mails (which also gets me some needed human contact with the chummy chap in reception) and then scurry out for some food. In a shop I find a book called The Secret Venice of Corto Maltese, derived from the lives of the author and creation mentioned on my Comics Page, and indeed, it turns out, it's pretty fascinating. Read this and Venetian Life by W.D.Howells when I get back to my room as the rain unstops falling.
To the Accademia under more dark clouds. All the usual joys, and I notice that all the gems in the second room were once in S.Giobbe, which I’d visited on Thursday. Never felt sorry for a church before. A Giorgione altarpiece new to me in the changing exhibition room at the end on loan and mighty fine. Leave the gallery, into sunshine! Get what can only be described as a cheese roll from a stall outside the gallery and cross the bridge and eat it behind the Palazzo Barbaro with some hungry pigeons, of course. Church of Santo Stefano and then on up to San Zanipolo. Have a lovely ice cream before I go in, from the shop in the campo, served by a young woman of goddess-like gorgeousness. Left somewhat unmoved by Zanipolo’s mediocre Bellini, I trek down to San Zaccaria and worship at the feet of the lovely one there. My worship somewhat curtailed by having no 50 Euro coins for the light and having to wait and leech off others' coins.
Up to S.Alvise, not open until 10.00, and so I decide not to hang around for 15 mins as I’d had a little look on Thursday. On to the church of the Gesuiti – still the weirdest church in Venice, with its walls of flock wallpaper done in stone. On my way to the Ca d’Oro I pass a shop selling little plug-in elements to boil up a single mug of water. I’d searched everywhere in London before my holiday, so I could brew myself up my current addiction - vanilla redbush tea – in my hotel room, and had been told that they were no longer made as they’d been found to be dangerous. So now I finally get one on the last day of my trip. Ca d’Oro’s courtyard almost a water feature, and the art entertaining and interesting, if not full of favourites. Eat lunch up at my new favourite photographic spot with my pigeon pals and a large seagull. Walk to, and over, the Rialto Bridge and more evidence of high water, and a visit to the expensive toilet. Wander around and about and end up at S.Giacomo Dell’Orio – a church I’d not been inside before. Strolling back to my hotel I find a new ice cream shop – near San Simeon Grande – and have the most delicious – if not the only – pear ice cream I’ve ever tasted. In the evening I go to Piazzale Roma to check bus times for tomorrow, and down the short and direct round-the-back way towards Campo Santa Margherita – new ground for me, and not as dominated by boring modern buildings as I’d imagined. Cut across to the Rialto, and notice that the water level has fallen by about three feet since earlier in the day. It’s getting late so I patronise PizzaPause for a quick slice of pizza, some fries that seem to be actually made from real potatoes, and some peach iced tea, all for 5 euros. And a (last) chocolate and coconut ice cream on the way back to my hotel on a sentimental and somewhat circular walk back along Cannaregio canals and down through the Ghetto.
Eat last breakfast, pay bill, bid farewell to the friendly hotel staff, almost forget to hand back room key, swift bus to airport, spot two Renault Twingos on the way – a cute car we aren’t allowed in the UK – and check in. Wander around shops and drink last bottle of San Bernadetto water. Get a window seat again! Flight delayed 40 minutes by UK air traffic control computer failure – read lots of Howells as we wait. Happy to be home to noisy cat greetings, but unhappy with my own computer failure: my PC on/off switch is busted.
Venice // Florence // London // Berlin // Trips