September 2013
more photos here

Wednesday 11th

So, my 13th visit to Venice, with last year having been the first year I'd missed since 2005. A bit of a been-there-done-that attitude had infested my looking forward to this trip, but some recent book reading had made me realise that I had quite a few favourite places and paintings that I was going to have to make pilgrimages to. That and the need to check out various developments and changes for my churches website, and the rarely-open Biennale venues, meant that a fair amount of looking-forward-to started creeping into play.

The journey was pretty standard, with a 2.00pm flight making for an unearly rising.  The security queue at Gatwick was a bit longer than lately, the departure lounge pretty chocka, the BA flight delayed by about half an hour, the cheese and tomato wrap very edible and the passport-checking and case-collecting at Marco Polo unusually swift. I had bought my weeklong vaporetto pass (with added airport buses) online, but was having no luck finding the machine to collect it from in the airport, the desk where you did so having disappeared. A more than somewhat unhelpful chap at the ACTV desk seemed perversely intent on not revealing to me the location of the machine but I eventually found it out in the forecourt by the bus stop. It was not that tricky a business once I found it, though - I just had to type in my code number, and soon I was on a no. 5 bendy bus bound for Piazzale Roma.

Not far then to the Ca'Pozzo Hotel, stopping on the way to take some photos of churches with added weather (see right). Leaving the threatening skies outside the hotel check-in process was swift, but extended enjoyably by a good discussion of the dire state of Italian politics, still inexplicably dominated by Berlusconi. I was given the same spacious and tasteful room as last time, and after unpacking I went out for an evening stroll up around to the Misericordia and back through Cannaregio, encountering four cats - an unusually high tally - mostly tabby and mostly not friendly beyond a tentative finger sniff. Back to Al Faro, my restaurant discovery of last time on the calle leading into the Ghetto, for a Bufala - a pizza with chunks of mozzarella and fresh tomato and  rocket.

Afterwards I headed over the bridge in front of the (totally scaffold-covered) Scalzi church in search of gelato. And I got lost! I finally found myself by the Frari and then found a new branch of Grom. So, with a tasty tub of vanilla and fig, I wandered back towards my hotel. And got lost again! But it was interestingly lost rather than utterly lost, so no panicking was necessary. Back to the hotel to type this up, quaff some herb tea, and head for bed.


Thursday 12th

My room is very quiet, which is why the thrumming of (I think) a nearby boiler at 7.20ish woke me up, I suppose. My breakfast featured tasty muesli, good strong coffee and some tempting pastries I didn't bother to resist. But the orange juice is as nasty and watery as it always is in Italian hotels.

So I was out quite early, heading into Cannaregio and checking out the progress and scaffolded states of various churches before getting to the Madonna dell'Orto just as it opened at ten. This church has recently famously quit the Chorus scheme. The woman taking the money (€2.50) said it was the priest's decision, and despite my gently badmouthing Chorus she revealed, or knew, no more. No surprises inside - a familiar interior, but it's always an enjoyable visit, what with the Tintoretto Presentation (but I hadn't noticed the gilt decoration of the steps before) and the superior Cima. I'd never noticed, though, how second-rate Domenico (the son) Tintoretto was - even being outshone by the usually yawn-inducing Palma Giovane in one chapel. On to the Gesuiti, where there's still scaffolding inside, supporting work on the central dome, it looks like. And the chapel where Titian's weird and  dark Martyrdom of St Lawrence lives was also full of scaffolding, with the painting presumably not yet back after its recent restoration and exhibition elsewhere. I was very surprised by the sacristy this time, though, because it has 21 paintings by Palma Giovane and they are mostly surprisingly good. Am I going to have to stop being rude about him?

To San Zanipolo next, a church I've never loved but which I liked much more this time. They've relaxed their no photo rule to no flash lately, and there's a new guide book for €7.00. So I took lots of photos and bought the book. This church is doge-tomb central, with twenty-five of them buried here. There are some very impressive ones, to be sure, and some of the best are by the Lombardos, especially on the inner façade, where the religious content in the carving takes second place to celebrating the doge's military achievements.

A falafel lunch with some pushy pigeons on one of the benches in the campo by the side of San Zanipolo was followed by a limone and fior di latte coppa from Rosa Salva and a good wandering walk back to my hotel. I am happy to confirm that I've just had a day full of all the good stuff that Venice has to offer, and one to make me love the place again.

In the evening I made for Piazza San Marco, roughly. I was going to catch the vaporetto from San Marcuola, but there were lots of people waiting, some of them wearing oppressive aftershave, and no vaporetto in sight, so I decided a walk would be good. I managed a pretty direct route to that bookshop behind San Marco, and found a tempting book of early photographs of Venice, which includes a DVD promising 8,500 photographs. It's called Venezia tra Ottocento e Novocento: nelle photografie di Tomaso Filippi. After a quick check on the San Lorenzo Dingo cats (not many left, but they seem pretty chipper) I settled for some gnocchi in tomato sauce and a side salad at Da Roberto near San Zaccaria. I chose it for nostalgic reasons - it's not a joint I'd recommend exactly, although it filled a hole, as they say. A walk along the Riva in front of the Doge's Palace soaking up the dusky atmosphere, through the Piazza (scaffolding on the Basilica, but the eyesore gift shop has gone) and on to the Accademia vap stop, where I caught one back to San Marcuola. A slow evening vaporetto along the GC is one of life's unmissable pleasures, is it not?

Friday 13th

No thrumming this morning, so I slept until my alarm at 8.00, hallelujah. Tried to catch a vaporetto from the Ferrovia stop to San Zaccaria, but the crowds put me off - at least on the rush hour tube in London you can usually get on, even if you don't always get a seat. So I walked, around the back, by San Pantelon to the Accademia, where I did get on a vap to San Zacc. Having seen the early, and unlovable, Giovanni Bellini in San Zanipolo yesterday, and popped in to see the one in San Giovanni Grisostomo yesterday evening, which is better, but...well after all this time I just needed to soak up the one in San Zaccaria, and it never disappoints does it? I went out into the San Terasio chapel too, and had it to myself. The gold and Gothic altarpieces here are rare in situ in Venice, and they're good ones, with Vivarini involvement. There's an Andea del Sarto frescoed fan vault too, also rare in being by a Florentine renaissance artist in Venice. The flooded crypt is a treat too, but the sacristy currently has scaffolding on one side and the other chapel is closed. On the bright side, this church is another which now allows photography with no flash.

On to San Lorenzo, to see inside while it has a Mexican Biennale exhibit in it. I knew what to expect thanks to photos supplied by others, but it was nice to see it's dilapidated splendour for myself. Similarly Sant'Antonin, recently restored inside, was open due to having an Ai Weiwei exhibit in it. I'd been warned about guards aggressively preventing photography but there were just a couple of women who were ignoring people photographing the exhibits and the church, although I was the only one doing the latter. One of the guardian women was so short, in fact, that you couldn't see her behind the exhibits, which were huge metal boxes with scenes of the artist's incarceration visible through windows on the top and in the sides. The church is pleasingly square and light, and I look forward to seeing it unencumbered by art, and with the floor visible. The painting on the right-hand side of the choir showing crowds of people and a bonfire of sheep was a little worrying and puzzling, though. My third Biennale-related visit was to Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, where the darkness of the exhibit meant not getting a good look inside the church, and I was given a torch to take me through the later, even darker, rooms and corridors, which added a certain excitement. I think that the last room was just a storeroom, although there was a recording playing in it so it too may have been art. Whatever.

A slow vaporetto back along the Grand Canal means I can now report that the Palazzo Dario façade is currently obscured by scaffolding, but that the canal front of the Ca' Da Mosto, although still covered in scaffolding, is now looking sparkling and clean. I got off the boat at San Stae, to walk through to Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio and get myself a broccoli parcel and a spinach finger-thing to eat on a bench in said campo. On my way back I found myself passing the Alaska gelateria, famed for it's unusual flavours, and chose the almond and the pear, which were both divine, with the almond especially subtle.

In the evening I headed over to the Zattere for a stroll and a sunset. I found Santa Maria della Visitazione open with a Biennale installation and so had a poke around, and in the cloisters also. The Gesuati had a service on but is big enough that I could take some discreet photos from the back, usually impossible with Chorus guards on duty. And the evening sun lit the interior nicely. And I can scotch reports that the handy mirror that's provided to ease viewing the Tiepolo ceiling painting has been taken away. Returning from the Dogana I was chuffed to find a new vaporetto stop had been installed right by Santo Spirito, making an ideal platform for me to get a better photo of said church. Thoughtful. I stopped at Gianni's for a rocket and cherry tomato pizza in the gathering dusk and walked back in the dark, but warm. Last week the forecasts said it was going to be cloudy and rainy here, but there's been neither of those so far, only blue skies and fluffy white clouds.


Saturday 14th

A seriously churchy day today, chasing up questions and reports and, it turned out, discovering stuff. First, passing San Nicolò da Tolentino open and taking advantage, I didn't discover much, except that having written about lots of churches since gives a person a new perspective on ones visited years before and you spot things you didn't spot before. Then to the Carmini, which was on my list, due to reports of a copy, it is assumed, of the central part of Titan's Assumption from the Frari lurking behind the altar here. And it's true, being made by a painter called Tagliapietra in 1856. I found a lot more to like in this church this time. All of these churches will be getting new entries on my churches website soon, so I'll not repeat myself here. But the Carmini has earned a place high on my must-visit list, due to its Cima Nativity (well worth 50 cents in its light box) and the Lorenzo Lotto St Nicholas in Glory with Saints John the Baptist and Lucy (also worth the €1 that this one's light costs). Lucy's eyes floating weirdly above a little chalice in an oddly frog-suggestive way is worth the visit in itself. There's also a small Veronese Holy Family that once lived in San Barnaba, recently moved from the chapel to the right of the choir to a spot near the Lotto.

San Sebastiano I've been unable to do justice to in many a year, due to long-lasting restoration work. There's still a column of scaffolding inside in front of the Lando chapel and up to and around the gallery, but Veronese's paintings, ceiling panels, frescoed walls, organ doors, and his earlier work in the sacristy can all now be seen, and get only a little exhausting. This was my first Chorus church so I bought a pass. The leaflet doesn't feature the Madonna dell'Orto any more, following the church's leaving Chorus, as I mentioned on Thursday, but the Chorus book about the Madonna dell Orto and Tintoretto is still on sale. As is a new, tasteful and grey, version of the Chorus tote bag.

I just had time before lunch and my bladder needs becoming less ignorable to make for the Frari, and thereby complete my quota of lovable Bellini's in situ. The entrance is now through the main entrance, the side (chapel) entrance now having work done on it. A large party was entering so I made swiftly for the Bellini in the sacristy, just as a large party was leaving. Lucky. I sat and contemplated for the requisite soul-uplifting period and after had a wander, admiring Vivarinis and Titians, except the Pesaro altarpiece is away being restored, sadly. I can think of many more major paintings in Venice that seem more in need, but...

I received an email this morning from a correspondent we'll call Terry, because that's his name, saying that whilst he was enjoying this report he was finding the details of my vegetarian lunches so disturbing that yesterday's nearly put him off his bacon sandwich. So, to show that I'm not immune to reader influence, I took a photograph of today's lunch. On the left is a 4 cheese bun, on the right a spinach and feta lattice. They were both yummy. The bakery is called Barozzi.

I passed the Gelateria Alaska again too, and had a coppa of chocolate and orange and again the keyword was subtle -  the orange being utterly fruity and not at all sherbety.

An evening of mysteries. Firstly why have I never seen ducks in a canal in Venice before? There were two opposite the old scuola by the Misericordia this evening, and in fact in the dark arched opening to the left of the middle photo on Thursday. I later found myself in a little campo with a large plaque identifying the house where Guardi lived and died. Why have I never found it before. And will I ever find it again? Also, why do hotels, even those which cater for your every need, toiletry-wise, never supply toothpaste?

I wanted to get myself early and quietly back to my hotel tonight, to avoid the Saturday night bustle, so I got myself a falafel wrap and wandered nibbling around the peaceful canals in the Santa Marta district near the prison. On my way back I walked through the new shopping precinct that's now between the Calatrava bridge and the railway station. It goes from shiny new shops and cafes to a building site to heaving platforms in a way that cannot honestly be called attractive.


Sunday 15th

Today I took me dearly to Padua. My reasons were many. Having been there in March and bought myself a Giotto travelcard holder I had to return and get one for my envious n&d. I also wanted to get a better look around the art in the city museum, attached to the Scrovegni Chapel, and buy the booklet about Altichiero's frescoes in St Anthony's, which had been sold out in English back in March. Also I'd managed to miss the main town square and its picturesque canals.

The train from Venice to Padua takes no time at all, well less than half an hour. My out ticket was strangely much more expensive (€16) than the return (€3.55) which I discovered was because I'd booked myself onto the plush fast train to Rome (and Florence) which also stops at Padua. The swishness of the seats and the smooth swiftness of the ride was almost worth the extra. Almost.

The street into the centre of town runs perpendicular opposite the station entrance and the Scrovegni Chapel and Civic Museum complex is very soon reached. I decided to forego the airlock jiggery-pokery of another visit to the chapel and head straight into the museum. There's lots of art, and bits of old stone too if that's your thing. The art is mostly not major, but lots of it's pretty good and none of it is really bad, and the museum is not small. I enjoyed myself, and the rooms were not crowded at all. Lots of pseudo-Bellinis, one by the man himself, some Veronese, a Tiepolo, a Giotto crucifix, some other nice early stuff and bits of fresco, and absolutely no postcards or catalogue to remind you of what you liked. Which all adds to the hazy elusiveness of the experience, I suppose.

I then headed towards St Anthony's Basilica and the main square, roughly. OK - I got lost, but found my way back in the right direction, found the square, and found that it had a huge antiques and collectables fair all around it. A slice of onion foccacia from a place around the edge was lunch, and then I went to have a look at the stalls full of old stuff, not all of it junk. After some photo-taking I went into the  Basilica complex, found the shop, found the Altichiero frescos book, bought it, found my way out of the shop, and then found the frescos themselves (see right) which are shamefully unvisited. I soaked them up for a while, wandered around the rest of the place, and discovered the also impressive (and recently restored) Chapel of Blessed Luca Belludi painted by Giusto de Menabuoi. The front of St Anthony's is now covered in scaffolding, by the way, which it wasn't in March, and most of the chapels around the back of the high altar are undergoing work too.

I found my way back to the station with only minor amounts of lostness (I should really have got a map, I admit it) and was swiftly back in Venice. The crowds between the station and my hotel confirmed the wisdom of my getting out of Venice and into somewhere quieter. Amongst the most annoying people were the woman who was gazing continuously into her mobile phone and smoking as she walked through boring old Venice, and the two stupid blokes with those annoying aggressive (penis-substitute) dogs kept macho-ly not on leads, who of course got into a noisy fight (the dogs not the blokes). Thank goodness for happy fresco memories at such times.

Last week the BBC website was forecasting rain every day for the beginning of my trip, so I'm happy the first rain only started falling around 6.00 this evening. It lasted about a half hour and then I went for a walk - the classic circular up to the Misericordia and back. I saw the two ducks again, near the boatyard this time, and a couple of blokes sleeping rough in the arcading along the canal behind the old Scuola. Also a large fluffy tabby cat. Back to Al Faro for another Bufala pizza, and for a dolci - a rice pudding with coconut, pistachio and raisins, which was very nutty and not too sugary, with a cherry on top. Back to my hotel, all of 5 minutes away, in the rain.



Monday 16th

It was standing room only on vaporetto 42 to Murano this morning. I went there because regular correspondent David Orme had found the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli open earlier in the year, on a week day, and not just for a service. He was lucky, I was not. Oh well, I took its picture anyway, looking handsome in the sunshine, (see right) and made my way to Santi Maria e Donato. The floor is the draw here, and the wonderful back end outside. Inside there were many red ropes strung around the pews to make negotiating the place in search of a sit down more akin to finding your way through a maze. Odd. Saint Donatus is the patron saint of Murano so his remains and the bones of the dragon he slew by spitting at it are, of course, in the church. To San Pietro Martire too, as I'm never one to pass up a Bellini. The other Bellini, which I've never seen, The Assumption of the Virgin, is still away in restauro, an attendant tells me. They sure are making a good job of it! The sacristy and museum where open, though, and so I paid my €1.50 and admired the carved dossals and some interesting displaced altarpieces; and paid not too much attention to various cases of vestments, goblets and reliquaries.

Back on the 41 vaporetto to Fte Nove. Walked past Titian's house, according to an inscription above a garden door. This seems to be my trip for finding artists' houses. Too early for lunch and so passing the Miracoli I went inside. Always a treat - them Lombardos sure knew their stuff. Just as some couples know how to have a row about whether or not they're going into a church, when I just want them to go in or go away so I can take a photo that doesn't include their unattractive shapes and colours. Over the Rialto for a €1.50 pee. My lunch pastry thing, for the making of which no animal was harmed, was filled with ricotta, tomato and mozzarella. This was bought at the place which makes the Marzipan tarts, and so you can guess what I was doing in there. And my walk back took me by the gelateria behind the Frari and so I had dark chocolate and coconut - good separately, but together...

Coming down the alleyway to my hotel who should I meet but a sweet kitten, and what should I hear coming from a nearby window, but The Simpsons theme.

In the evening I went to meet Robin Saikia, the author of the best book on the Venice Lido, who I helped launch said book at the Italian Institute a couple of years ago, if you can remembers back that far. We met at Bifora, a bar near his flat, where two more friends joined us and helped us right Venice's wrongs. Then it was back to Robin's place for gnocchi and admiration of his fine and big garden, with its attendant trio of fluffy, but scaredy, cats. Knowledge was shared, invitations extended and my Venetian life now looks much fuller of possibilities and breadth. A good evening.



Tuesday 17th

How many churches can one person visit in a morning in Venice? Well, nine. The Strada Nuova was not too congested, as I made my way towards the churches in the San Marco sestiere that I needed to visit. This population sparseness meant I even got a photo of the Maddalena church without even the one annoying loiterer wearing orange or intrusive step-sitter. I popped into Santa Sofia and Santi Apostoli because they were there. San Lio was on my list because I'd read the Muttoni painting of The Crucifixion described as 'disturbing' and I was wondering why it was thought so, and why I'd missed it. Well, Christ has a twisty body and Mary does look distraught, but both these elements are hardly rare in crucifixions. Maybe it's the weirdly uninvolved trio of burghers gazing blankly out at us from the bottom left hand corner. I waited until the church was empty before trying to take a photo, but a grumpy woman jumped out from a hidden doorway and shouted at me before I could even take one. I went into San Cancian whilst looking for Santa Maria della Fava. In the former I got some interior photos, in the latter I did a better proper note-taking visit than before. San Salvatore for the hell of it - the favourite Titian Annunciation was away at an exhibition at the Pushkin museum, with a dull reproduction taking its place. The labelling confusion about the artist responsible for
the stiff Supper at Emmaus seems to have settled back to studio of Bellini which is pretty sensible. To San Zulian, because I'd read about a Virgin and Child with Saints by Boccaccio Boccaccino that was supposed to have a 'sweet air of Bellini and Giorgione' about it. And it did indeed.

Making for Santa Maria del Giglio I got a bit lost trying to avoid crowds, as in 'finding myself at a dead end and having to backtrack'  lost. Twice. But this lostness did result in the photo below.

Over the Accademia bridge, I went into the bookshop, found an attractive little book (in English) on Venetian domestic architecture, and then got thrown out because the shop closed at 1.00. Passing San Pantalon and finding it open I had to have one last visit - the spectacular ceiling, the almost-humourously overpopulated Antonio Vivarini Coronation of the Virgin, the Veneziano triptych bits: how can you resist?

I had almost the same lunch, in the same place, as Saturday. The differences being a mozzarella and tomato pastry instead of the four cheese bun, and that the gusty wind made the sitting by the canal a bit nippy. There was a patch of sun, but it was full of students from the nearby college clustered very close together so as no-one had to sit in shade. I also got me a pear and chocolate pastry to go with my herb tea back at the hotel.

A last evening stroll, up the Zattere again. To Gianni's again too, as the sun was setting. I had the penne all'arrabbiata and, at the waiter's recommendation, their special home-made panna cotta with frutti di bosco. It was an odd combination of panna cotta with cheese cake, complete with a biscuit base. It was subtle, whereas  one expects lip-pursing sharpness from frutti di bosco I think. On the walk back there was an even more spectacular sunset happening than on Friday, with added big boat action.




Wednesday 18th

The Ca'Pozzo has been quiet, as usual, but the women in the next room these past few days seem to be in training for some sort of European laughing competition. Not as bad as some disturbances many times do you laugh per hour? Having my window open has been good as, although it's above head height and you can't see anything more than foliage, upper floors opposite and sky, you can hear people talking and washing up, televisions showing crap Italian game shows, washing lines squeaking, a cat meowing to be let in (most evenings)...real life in other words.

For a reason now long forgotten I booked a late flight home, so I have until about 3.00 before I need to get going to the airport. I haven't been to the Accademia this trip, but I've also not been very much around the San Polo/Santa Croce district. As a fitting end to a trip where I got back in love with Venice's sheer Venetianness the latter won out. Not the warmest or most wind-free day so far, but Venice's two smallest sestieri didn't disappoint with their usual waywith quiet calle and calm backwaters. And some good photo opportunities. San Giacomo dell’Orio, San Stae, and San Polo all got good visits too. And I even found the very mysterious place depicted (see right) in a painting we bought from my old mate Kim, who I've mentioned on past visits, but who's now moved to San Francisco. Lunch was falafel in pitta, eaten in my regular spot on the Fondamenta Malcanton.

Got to the airport too early, read a bit, wandered the shops (more upstairs now, including two bookshops), the flight was delayed a bit, had the same mozzarella and tomato wrap to eat on the plane, got through passport control and baggage collection swiftly, presumably as it was late evening and more peaceful. Met by J. and whisked home on a train. Cats awaiting. Time for bed.



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