March 2014

More photos here

Tuesday 18th

A trip bordering on the last minute by my standards - I booked it barely six weeks in advance! The promptings they were many. Firstly a pair of tempting exhibitions. One being at the Ca'Rezzonico, devoted to Pietro Bellotti, another member of the Canaletto/Bellotto clan, and the other a tasty-looking show of images of The European City from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment on at the Correr. Additionally I wanted to check out the recently spruced-up-and-opened rooms at the Scuola di San Marco just by San Zanipolo, and the new rooms in the Accademia. Plus my recent infatuation with Padua means I plan to spend at least one day there again, photographing and scribbling, with a view to covering the churches of Padua on an offshoot page of The Churches of Venice.

My flight didn't leave until 12.25 so a relaxing extended-breakfast morning was planned, and executed. A hitchless journey, characterised by trains waiting when I got to platforms, and further presaged at Gatwick by my finding a nice table to sit at with my Pret Americano and bakewell tart, and at that table finding a copy of the Guardian supplement which had had the sudoko completed but not the crossword, which is a fought-for morning fixture in our house and which I polished off smartly, which isn't always the case. Omens and portents looking good, or what? BA's sweet potato and feta wrap was tasty, but contained almost half of my recommended daily saturated fat intake and over a third of the recommendation  for salt.

On arriving at my hotel near the Ghetto I was recognised as a regular, and given a different room from previously - isolated from other rooms but next to the breakfast room. We'll see. The previous occupant had busted the toilet seat and so I was told a man was coming to fix it at any minute. He came just after I'd finished unpacking, and so I took this as an indication I should go out for an early evening stroll. Not long into the stroll I managed to not see a step and fall down it, and twist my ankle and jar my wrist. Luckily the stream of smart female students from the nearby college had dried up at that moment so I managed to pick myself up, gather my wits, stop swearing, and check my camera for damage before the next mobile-waving party emerged, so saving myself the embarrassment of being laughed at or offered help. The pain was more than a little, though, although I managed to get as far as the Misericordia church, and so I hobbled back slowly and early. I did see four cats, though, before encountering the little one living near my hotel's entrance, who I photographed last September, and who was very noisy and purry and appreciative of some head rubbing.

An early and ankle-resting night, then, with hopes for a good deal less pain in the morning.


Wednesday 19th

A disturbed night due to the ankle but otherwise nicely quite quiet, even with the breakfast room next door. I asked at reception and confirmed that Italian pharmacies also offer medical advice, and some have doctors out the back. So I went to the one a couple of doors up from the alley access to the Ca'Pozzo, and came away with painkillers called Voltadvance, containing diclofenac sodico, and an elastic bandage. The very helpful young woman drew me a picture of a foot showing how to wind the bandage, and even offered to do it for me out the back. I politely declined. Back in my room I made the discovery that winding bandage around your foot and then realising that you have no scissors is not wise. I borrowed some from reception, and was later loaned a UK/EU plug converter too, as I'd foolishly forgotten mine. Verily a morning of services beyond the call, but all readily and cheerfully offered.

Drugged up and bandaged, I thought that it might be good to have an exhibition day today, what with that meaning less walking. I waited for a vaporetto down to Ca'Rezzonico, and was puzzled at how few vaporetti there were about. Long story short: vaporetto strike, with just a minimal shuttle service between the railway station and the Rialto. A helpful local with good English  came and told us - admittedly rather few - foreign waiters the news. Bugger! My planned visits and exhibitions where, I realised, all in distant sestieri. The only task I'd set myself in Cannaregio was to see if Titian's painting of St Lawrence on his griddle was back on display in the Gesuiti church. I hobbled my way slowly there, and it was nice. Not many tourists, a few cats, and my walking improving all the time. I took photos, wandering slowly, as you do when photo-taking, so I didn't look too stricken.

This being my sole spiritual experience of the day, it was looking like, I lingered in the Gesuiti and did the church more justice than previously. It really is a church like no other, decoration-wise. The Tintoretto Assumption is worth a look too, as are the statues of the archangels by Torretti, with Michael's squirming demon an oddly Hollywood creation, and Raphael's fish a bit of a whopper. (Did you realise btw that all the Archangel's names end with el, meaning "in God"?) And I can report that the Martyrdom of St Lawrence is back and looking as smoky and dark as ever, so the recent restoration hasn't spoilt it a bit.

Heading back to my room I realised how the pain had eased and that I was walking almost normally. So I headed over to my favourite picnic pot, by my favourite supplier of veggie nibbles, and they even had frittelle, which I had yet to sample. (They turned out to be a true treat - chewy and raisinful - and much more of a real cake than the elderly big biscuits that usually pass for a cake in Venice.) On my way back I noticed that a very discreet Burger King had opened up on the GC opposite the (still-scaffold-covered) Scalzi façade. But, as is not uncommon outside the UK, it doesn't do a veggie or bean burger. Shame.

After an afternoon read and sleep I headed for the Toletta bookshop, where last trip I'd seen a sweet little book called Venetian domestic architecture, but had been turfed out of for shop before I could buy it, it being lunchtime. I managed to buy it this time. As I was near the Zattere I headed down to Gianni's by the Gesuati, but it was very closed up. I ended up with a superior falafel wrap scoffed on a bridge behind San Pantalon with stray bit of my salad falling into the dark and sparkling canal. A romantic image, no? On my way back I decided chocolate was a necessary treat with my evening herb tea, and so I bought an intriguing bar of milk chocolate flavoured with mandarin, with a hint of salt and black pepper. Today had not been a day wasted exactly, but it was a day on which I'd done none of the things I'd come here to do. There's more to life than ticking off lists, though, isn't there?



Thursday 20th

So today, desperate to tick at least one thing off my list, I made for the Ca'Rezzonico. The San Marcuola vaporetto stop was reassuringly populated, and a vaporetto soon actually turned up - a big improvement on yesterday. I got an outside front seat too, and the sun was shining and...well, you know, life seemed pretty darn good. And of course I did the classic tourist taking photos of palazzi from a vaporetto thing.

The Pietro Bellotto exhibition was a little underwhelming. He has more turquoise water and bluer skies than his brother and uncle, but otherwise his views are very similar to theirs, even often being based on their prints. Only three rooms, but the majority of the paintings were from private collections, so not seen often, and the capriccios in the last room were a treat. (Exhibitions devoted to vedutisti now seem to always have to have capriccios in the last room, I don't know why.) I visited the rest of the place, which is a mixed bag, with Giandomenico Tiepolo’s frescoes from the Villa at Zianigo and the Longhis still a highlight, and the Egidio Martini picture gallery on the third floor still a big yawn. I had hoped that the decade or so of art appreciation since my last visit might have given me a different perspective, but no: this stuff is still not remotely first rate. The later rooms with the 18th Century works are better, and this time I noticed some nice blobby Venetian views by one Emma Ciardi, who might repay investigation.

I then strolled photographically in the sunshine towards the Salute. On my way I stopped at the shop which sells the best selection of Pastiglie Leone digestivo sweeties. I got little boxes of orange, vanilla and fruits of the forest flavours. I hesitated over limone e salvia flavour, and the helpful chap in the shop had trouble translating salvia into English for me, except to maintain that it was what you have with lemon, which didn't help me. I later looked it up and it's sage - lemon and sage? Not sure. (I should have not been confused, in fact, as one of my earliest favourite pasta sauces, a mainstay of Spaghetti House back then, was burro e salvia.) There were some very excitable Australian children acting up a storm in the Campo San Lio, so I nibbled on my slice of pizza margherita on a closed shop's wall over the little canal opposite the Peggy Guggenheim shop. Then I took off my coat! And almost wished I'd packed some t-shirts. Another sunny photographic vaporetto trip back to San Marcuola and a doughnut bought for tea accompaniment. The small large-eyed cat in the courtyard outside my hotel was lounging on some building materials but was keen for some stroking and to show me his belly. Aaah. He has the habit of laying in the most unpretty of spots, but I'll try to take his picture again before the trip's done.

My evening walk was to the Rialto and over to the Zattere. On the way I slipped into San Giovanni Grisostomo to see the Bellini, as one must, and was struck again by what an unloved, noisy  and grotty church it is, despite some fine art. Passing San Silvestro, whose encircling scaffolding is becoming one with nature, and Sant'Appolinaire, which still has scaffolding up its campanile, did nothing to lighten my mood. And then I got to Gianni's by the Gesuati at 6.15 and found out it didn't open until 7.00...well, only when I hobbled back to
Al Faro, the restaurant near my hotel, and the waiter remembered me from last year from my my pizza bufala, insalata mista and birra media did my dark mood lighten.


Friday 21st

This morning's fun development - a planned power cut, in order to mend the equipment serving this bit of Cannaregio, which had exploded spectacularly a while back, I was told. No wi-fi this morning, then, but coffee at least, somehow. So I left the hotel a little sooner after 9.00 than usual, and was able to walk straight onto a vaporetto going up the Canale di Cannaregio and round to the Fondamente Nove. I was making for the Scuola di San Marco, but on my way I found the church of San Lazzaro di Mendicanti open! I'd never been able to spend time in this church before, only having poked my head in during a funeral a few years ago, but here it was open and I had it to myself. It's big but aisleless, grey and grubby and stony in effect, with some very reputable art. The highlight is Tintoretto's St Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins, although only forty-odd are visible. It's the best and brightest thing here, but the Veronese Crucifixion opposite, Salviati's Annunciation, and Guercino's St Helena are worth a look too. The high altarpiece is a schmaltzy let-down, however, but the church's impressive 'blimey!' element is the extravagantly populated Mocenigo Monument, which takes up the whole back wall. A few well-dressed people were gathering in the grand outer entrance hall of the church as I was leaving, so maybe another funeral was in the offing.

The Scuola di San Marco has just recently been spruced up and had its upper rooms opened. Entry is up stairs from the also-cleaned large vestibule (see photo below right) which is still the entrance to the hospital. You know to go up the stairs because a hastily-photocopied A4 sheet giving opening times is sellotaped sideways on to an easel-type stand. But once upstairs you're in for a treat. The Chapter Hall has a spectacular gilded ceiling, some big impressive paintings, and large display cases full of medical bits and books. It's good that the tags in the cases already look dusty and fly-blown, like at the best neglected museums of medical equipment. So you find yourself staring at a waffle-ironish thing, thinking how rarely waffles have a pointy design on them, and then you translate the Italian and learn that you're looking at a suppository press. The Sala dell'Allbergo is the other, smaller room. It has had reproductions of the paintings originally sited there inserted above the bookcases. The originals are elsewhere (the most famous, the Bellinis' St Mark Preaching in Alexandria, with a weird building in the background looking like a cross between the Basilica San Marco and a teapot, is in the Brera) but the reproductions are impressive.

As I was out of the scuola before 11.00 I thought that I might do the exhibition in the Correr Museum this morning too, called The Image of the European City from the Renaissance to the Enlightment. It was in about six small rooms, took a while to get interesting, and then was quickly over. I also had to pay €5 on top of my museum pass payment to see it. I needn't have bothered. Really. I soothed myself with a good long look at the museum's art, which has some good stuff, especially amongst the earlier gold-ground works. Puzzled by the painting of The Martyrdom of San Mamante, though. Who he? And how do you martyr someone by poking him with a long stick? (Actually, probably it was the trident with which the Saint (aka Mammes) was martyred.)

I had lunch in the museum. I ordered a mozzarella and tomato panino with a bottle of water and was told that they were doing a deal so I could have a fruit salad with that for €10.20. Not sure which marketing wizard had decided that €10.20 was a good round price to tempt consumers, but what do I know? A tasty warmed-up panino, though, and a nice sharp-tasting fruit salad.

I caught the vaporetto from the Accademia back to my hotel, with my much-improved mood from last night only slightly dented by the young couple slurpily snogging behind me the whole way, and the boat not stopping at San Marcuola. La-di-da, it'll take more than that.
Bought myself a Pescatore di Vaniglia on the way back, despite it looking like one of the aforementioned Pane di Doge big old biscuits. And it duly clagged around my teeth like they do.

In the evening I went to the station to post some cards and buy me a ticket for Padua for tomorrow. Avoiding the much more expensive luxury train that goes on to far romantic places like Rome and Florence that I booked myself onto last time, I'm looking at a train leaving at 10.42. A bit late, but it still gets me there just after 11.00.


Saturday 22nd

A morning of amazements began with a pre-breakfast chat to my man on the desk about yesterday's electric works. I hadn't realised that the men working on the ground floor of the block opposite and the electricity supply fixers where one and the same. The electric substation is underneath several floors of flats! The fact that he saw them carry in a huge metal insulating pod the size of a room is only a little reassuring. Anyway, he also revealed that they had found an ancient tunnel, presumably once connected to the well that was in the courtyard, and that this is not uncommon. This got us on to things that are found underground during building work but have to be left there if the work is to continue. And he said - wait for this - that there is a crusades-era sunken wreck in the curve of the Grand Canal just before the Accademia Bridge, but that the extreme and lengthy disruption which would result from raising it means that there it remains. Amazeballs! Have you ever heard about this before? Me neither.

Having some time to kill before my train to Padua I decided to have a stroll in the sunshine up to Santa Maria delle Penitenti again, as it had looked very fine in the raking morning sunshine, I'd noticed from my vaporetto yesterday, and it was a fine sunny morning. Imagine my puzzlement at seeing crowds of people in front of said always-closed church, which soon changed to more amazement as I realised that the doors were open. It seemed to be an open day of some sort, after all the recent building, with tours of the school being built in the complex and talks being given by students in the church. My second never-open church visit in two days! I took photos, found an English-speaking talk-giver to tell me who the artist of the two altarpieces and two ceiling panels was - Marieschi, he claimed, did all of them. It is hoped that the church might begin opening a bit more permanently later in the year. It has a lot of its fittings and art still in place, so it'll be worth a visit, but there's lots of piles of materials still, and patching up to be done. A separate chapel to the left of the church was especially full of picturesque dusty old stuff.

A brisk trot then, rather than a slow amble, to the station, and off to Padua. Arriving at 10 past 11 meant that I didn't have much time before most of the churches would close, but I had much finding and exterior photographing to do, mostly. I spent some time in the Ermitani and later in Santa Maria dei Servi, found some more to photograph with the help of my trusty new map, and even found a useful - and not just glossy - guidebook to Padua in a big bookshop. I eventually made my way to the Prato della Valle looking for lunch, and from the same place I went to before I got a foccacia al patate - like a more refined version of the famous French-fry pizza. There had been an antique market ranged around the canals last time I'd visited, this time it was cheap clothes and carpets and such. I sat on a low wall facing the canal, and found myself chucking bits of foccacia to pushy pigeons. Some of the bits were bouncing down into the water and I then noticed I was feeding fish too, and that they were big ones.

Regular readers might have noticed my odd avoidance of gelato this trip. I don't know why, maybe the coolness, maybe the dark evenings. Anyway, I passed a promising-looking joint on my winding way to the station and had a coppa with a scoop each of coconut and cinnamon, and very nice they were too. I arrived at the station very sore of foot and caught the first train saying it was going to Venezia S.Lucia. I realised it was the stopping train, but the distance is so short how long could it take? Well it didn't take very long but boy did it stop at some odd places. Places I'd never heard of, I'm not sure they even existed, or at least didn't until recently. I tried writing a few station names on a piece of paper, but I just looked and it's now blank. The station's platforms were free of adverts, machines, or even service guides, and no one got on or off. Having nobody on the train with me within sight was spooky too. Back in Venice it was raining.

And to further distance me from reality...I've just looked at my photos and, well, you see when I was in the Ermitani church I noticed a fair-haired young woman in a pink raincoat on her own. After much wandering, and no little time passing, I again noticed her in the bookshop where I bought the Padua guide. And now, looking at my photos, there she is again, in front of the Scrovegni chapel, walking away from the Ermitani where I would first spot her a little later. What does this all mean? Does she maybe live in one of those unnameable 'towns' served by the slow train?


Sunday 23rd

I had decided that today was going to be my day for visiting the Accademia; a decision reinforced by the morning's relentless rain. A steamy-windowed vaporetto up to the Accademia stop, then. This has been one of my less populated stays, and this morning there were even fewer people about.

The Accademia now has a bigger entrance hall, with a small bookshop and a lone ticket desk. This desk has an odd sign telling you to not lean too close to the ticket sellers. Upstairs the galleries are largely as ever. The old room 4 where Giorgione's Tempest used to be is open again, but half of it has some of the small Bellini's, and the Vecchia, and the other half confusingly contains their nice Canaletto Cappricio, and similar academic stuff, all out of chronological sequence. And where is The Tempest? Little room IX that used to be the shop has paintings now, seemingly all by out-of-towners. The huge room of the major Tintorettos and Veroneses is missing two Veronese paintings because they've been loaned for the current big show in London. The substitutions include a big Madonna and Child with Saints and members of the Marcello family by Battista de Moro, which is attractive and pretty Titian-like.

The next big room is confusingly half filled with later works by Carlo Saraceni, because there is a special show devoted to him just started, which runs along the corridor of small rooms usually devoted to 17th and 18th Century stuff, which is

now not on display - Carriera and Longhi fans take note. Saracini is a new name on me - he came from Venice, went to Rome, probably sponsored by Papist elements in Venice, and can broadly be described as post-Caravaggio. The room devoted to the works he made later in Toledo was the one which did it for me, though.

In the room of Carpaccio's Saint Ursula cycle the Arrival is away being restored, in preparation for the renovation of the room, we are told. The room made out of the upper part of the old church has the Bellini bits, various gold-ground altarpieces and fragments depicting saints, as usual, and The Tempest! In the corridor outside you'll also see signs to new toilets, which are three flights down, and then three flights back up afterwards, of course. There was a small guide and large catalogue to the Saracini exhibition for sale in the shop, but were either available in English? I think that you know the answer to that one.

On my way back to my hotel I found my selection of lunch suppliers somewhat curtailed by Sunday closing, so ended up with a somewhat pallid panino with cheese and tomato, a tub of paprika flavoured curly potato chips called Crik Crok Plus, and a cake called a pinzia, which was bread-pudding like, but not so spicy.

I had a long afternoon of reading and dozing and only went out into the evening chill to eat. I often search, mostly in vain, for onion-topped pizzas, but tonight I ordered a margherita pizza and requested added onion at Al Faro, and lo it was most yummy.


Monday 24th

Nothing is remaining from my must-do list. So, freedom to...visit some churches, go to a city museum with my not-much-used pass, or vaporetto it somewhere. In the end I decide to get the vaporetto around to Fondamente Nove again, this giving me quick access to Castello, where I've not visited much this trip. I planned to visit San Francesco della Vigna, where I've not been in a fair while, and then take in the San Lorenzo cats, my favourite Bellini in San Zaccaria, and that nice bookshop behind Basilica San Marco.

On my way to San Fran I pass by the site of the famous streaky red-plastered wall which has provided this site's banner for many a year, and find the plaster all off and bricks revealed. I am at once sad at its passing and happy to have captured it in its prime.

San Francesco della Vigna quietly contains some art well worth venturing out into darkest Castello for. Castello's not that dark a sestieri, I admit, but today is dingy and rainy and so the one chapel in here with light falling from its dome tended to shine. The last chapel on the left also shone when I put 20 cents into the light to better appreciate Veronese's Sacred Conversation which became a new favourite. Noticeable features include a baby John the Baptist wrestling a reluctant lamb and Saint Catherine having a hog, for some reason. Veronese also has a Resurrection opposite, in the 4th chapel along, but I liked it less, despite its undoubted dynamism. There were six randomly-spaced space heaters in the church too, which was a bit incongruous, but probably had some numerical significance, as this church was built on arcane numerological principals. There's the nice, but not prime, Bellini in the sacristy, with some saints looking decidedly studio-of. The eccentric and tapestry-like  Madonna and Child by Negroponte in the right-hand transept is justly famous, although I hadn't noticed that the lunette of God the Father is by a different artist, Benedetto Diana.

Making my way towards San Zaccaria I pass the Valdese church, and find the gateway open, signs encouraging entrance and lots of welcoming glass doors. At the reception desk of the complex I ask nicely if I can look inside their church. The nice woman says I can and finds the keys and lets me in. She is not happy for me to take a photo, so I'm left with just words, to describe a very protestant small space, with dark wood panelling two-thirds of the way up, a minimal cross on the wall behind the altar and a small gallery at the back with an organ. All very plain and protestant.

It's too rainy for the San Lorenzo cats to be out, and so I make straight for San Zaccaria. It's damn dark in there but a coin in the slot makes the Bellini shine out fittingly. Sigh!

In the Libreria Studium bookshop I find a surprise new book on that most enigmatic of places, the Garden of Eden on Giudecca, by Annemette Fogh. I have to have it, of course, to embellish my page on the place, which generates more than its fair share of emails, but I blanch to find that it costs €50. It's a glossy paperback of roughly A4 size, a handsome volume, with a considerable bibliography and many photos. And I have bought no exhibition catalogues at all this week, have I? Equally tempting is a book of 19th Century photographs called Calli e Canali in Venezia. The print quality in this one is excellent. I take both to the counter and confirm the price of the expensive one. The owner confirms it's correct, agrees it's expensive, and offers me a couple of free bookmarks.

I walk back to my hotel via the Rialto, lunching on the way on a frugal but tasty slice of pizza margherita. I also pick up a sticky-looking twisty cake with a long name ending in mandorla. It effortlessly won my coveted Best Cake of the Week prize.

My last evening stroll and, despite a couple of days earlier on (due to the ankle problem) when I just wanted to be home, Venice has done its thing again and made me crave a longer stay. It did this through a memorable combination of the quiet blue evening/warm windows thing (see right), the nicest falafel I've ever had in Venice, from the unprepossessing place I got the pizza slice from earlier, and that huge fluffy tabby in the boatyard photographed on Wednesday coming up onto a stone column to be stroked behind the ears.

I got a swift reply from the author of that new book on the Garden of Eden, who I wrote an obsession-sharing email to earlier in the afternoon. She apologises for the price and impresses with her commitment, which sees her still researching the Edens and the garden. So, there's packing to be finished, a last cup of tea to be made, and the burden of a bag of marzipan chocolates to be lightened a little before I pack them.


Tuesday 25th

An almost tediously easy and problem-free journey home. The last hotel breakfast was followed by the paying of the bill, and the forgetting that there's the Venice hotel tax that has to be paid (in my hotel at least) in cash, but I had enough euros left. Just. The bus to Marco Polo was waiting for me in Piazzale Roma, and was half empty. No queue at the BA check in, speedy through security, and just time for some wandering and a bit of a read before the flight, which got into Gatwick 10 minutes early. A bit of a wait for my baggage, but only 10 minutes wait for the train, and home in time for afternoon tea with a welcoming cat on my lap. Sigh.

Final thoughts: a trip not without its ointment flies, but one of my best, for getting into some new places and taking some pretty photos. Also good for fluffy cats, falafel, finding essential new books and a new favourite chocolate flavour. The weather was mostly mild and the crowds mostly non-existent - a good time of year to visit, I'm thinking. And can the story about the Grand Canal shipwreck be true?

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