September 2014

re photos

Sunday 14th September

Why Verona? Well I'd had a brief visit as part of my guided trip to Padua last year and saw enough then to know that a longer look was necessary. There's the lure of another exhibition devoted to Veronese too - doubly tempting after the heart-opening show devoted to him earlier this year at the National Gallery in London. Thirdly I'm thinking of adding pages devoted to Padua and Verona to my Churches of Venice site as they have many artists and architects in common and lots to recommend them in themselves.

Smooth was the journey. I was maybe a bit to early checking in, as my flight was quite late and I was going to need lunch, as I thought. So after plenty of time to dwell, lunch and read I made for the distant gate. The waiting area was taken up mostly with a mildly boisterous party of Italian teens, and when I got on the plane one was sitting in my window seat, with some strange suggestion that I should swap with another of their number elsewhere. I was having none of this, needless to say and was soon snug up against the window reading on. And although it was a 2.45 flight we were given the usual snack, the veggie option being the small cheese and pickle roll and the hummus wrap.  The Italian teens turned out to be pretty polite and controlled, I have to say.

Arriving at Verona the only hitch was some carousel confusion, involving a bit of swarming between belts, led by the Italian speakers who could understand the announcements. If, like me, you have a preference for catching trains or buses from airports, leaving cabs for when essential, then you should know that the (€6) ticket for the atv bus from the airport to the railway station in Verona is bought from the car parking service window which is along the wall on the left as you depart departures. The bus stop itself is out the doors and to the right.

Leaving the railway station vicinity to head towards the centro storico was a bit guessworkful, but I was soon heading in the right direction, roughly. After a street of attractively dilapidated houses, featuring one barking dog who seemingly wasn't happy we'd made eye contact and a pale ginger cat, and then a few too many dual carriageways, and a river that was in the wrong place...well the Arena was reached eventually and the Hotel Accademia found tucked in around the back. The route to my room is a bit labyrinthine, but it is is tucked away in a distant corner so I'm hopeful for quiet. The bathroom is all marbly, the wifi easy and free and the room is not dominated by a flat-screen tv. And amongst the bathroom supplies is a little pack with a toothbrush and toothpaste, which is something I've never been provided with in any hotel before, no matter how swank, which has long puzzled me.

A post-unpacking evening walk  took me past the Arena, which was filling up for some sort of Italian rock concert, I think. Some street wandering took in a tastefully-lit archway, a house with a faded fresco on the front, some junk food I'm not proud of, and a gelato consisting of almond and pink grapefruit flavours which was very special. I'll be visiting Gelateria Savoia again, to be sure.

Monday 15th September

An undisturbed night's sleep, the only disturbing aspect being that I woke up in the wrong half of the room's double bed. Never done that before. Breakfast choice impressive - to suit me there was good fresh orange juice, comprehensive muesli selection (with solo ingredients to tailor your own), a range of really fresh fruit, a vat of plain yoghurt and a choice of croissants - filled, plain, wholemeal and salty! I'll stop there, but suffice to say - no complaints.

Being out a bit early (before 9.00!) I took myself to the area around the Piazza Erbe and the Palazzo del Comune for some relatively unpopulated photography. And church number one, Santa Maria Antica, the one overshadowed by the extravagant Scaligeri monuments. Inside it's all rough stone, buff and antico with some stripey brickwork.

Next was Sant'Anastasia where I bought a three-day Verona pass and a plush guidebook to the big four churches (which charge entrance). This is the biggest church in Verona and has some very nice bits of fresco. The most famous bit is Saint George and the Princess by Pisanello over the chapel to the right of the apse. But there's also impressive work by Giovanni and Antonio Badile and a panel by the well-represented Second Master of San Zeno (see right) which has tasteful ancient graffiti scribbled on it. All of the chapels at the apse end are frescoed but frustratingly fenced by iron grills, even the one with the typically impressive scene by Altichiero. There's also a hunchback holy-water stoup supporter supposedly carved by Veronese's dad.

To the Duomo next. I liked this one for its frescoes of wall-height architectural extravaganzas around the rearmost chapels and its very strong smell of lilies. They were preparing for a funeral, which work included removing a large board by the entrance which was blocking my taking the statutory wide view of the church from the back. The only Titian in Verona is here, but it's a bit dull. Some more work by Antonio Badile, making him the man of the morning, and two more churches accessible under the organ. These are the baptistery (San Giovanni in Fonte) and the church of Sant'Elena, with much excavation under the latter, which along with a Romanesque atrium make for some initially confusing spaces, but worth getting the hang of for the fresco fragments and mosaic floors. And there's a (much needed at this juncture) public toilet here too.

Making back through the Piazza Erbe I picked up a cheese and tomato calzone and found a square with an equestrian statue of Garibaldi, of course, to sit in. I also found that the calzone had dripped two lovely dark grease spots onto my trousers as well as on my shirt. Sigh! Back to the hotel, where the woman on reception remembered my room number (already!) and I encountered about six more employees on the way to my room, all of whom needing politely bon giorno-ing.  

On my evening perambulate I discovered a shop that sold the flavoured candied chocolates I discovered in Ravenna and a restaurant that did my favourite pizza (mozzarella, fresh tomato, rocket) here called an Italiana and with the mozzarella chunks unmelted. The restaurant is called M27, for some reason, and is within spitting distance of my hotel. I may revisit as it has an unusually high number of veggie options, including a vegetable curry and a tofu burger. I followed the pizza, which was fine with fresh toppings, if a little chewy, with a stracciatella and mango coppa from a branch of the reliable Gelateria Venchi.

Tuesday 16th September

This morning I had fresh pineapple bits and pear halves with yogurt and tried the wholemeal croissants, which were sugared but not filled, and bordering on a taste sensation. Then to the Castelvecchio, which takes the Verona Card, provides a good audioguide, and is my kinda gallery - you've nearly reached the end, in rooms and stamina, and you've still only reached the 17th Century. This is a gallery which ends with Tiepolo and Guardi. Lots of altarpieces and such from closed or much-rebuilt churches, with new-name Giovanni Badile making a good showing. Also a lovely and, dare I use the clichè, jewel-like Madonna and Child by Pisanello. The latter shares a room with a gem of a tapestry-like painting by Stefano da Verona called The Madonna of the  Rose Garden. A painter called Cavazzola is a new one on me, and impressive, as is Girolamo dai Libri, both in the same room as Caroto's portrait of the smiling boy with his drawing of a stick figure, which shows why there are so few paintings of very smiling faces - they can look really creepy! A gallery I fully recommend, then, and intend to visit again.

To San Zeno next, to get my money's worth out of the Verona Card, and to see one of the bestest Romanesque churches in Northern Italy. The inner walls are full of bits, large and small, of frescoes of various ages and sometimes on multiple layers. Most are anonymous, although there's a biggy attributed to Altichiero. There's also a Paolo Veneziano Crucifix. You'll be struck by a part of a Last Supper here, a half-dozen different Madonnas with Children over there and then be surprised by marble columns that look like they've been knotted. The Mantegna altarpiece is one of his masterpieces, and not being able to get close may be authentic, but it is also frustrating. Talking of which emotion - upon leaving the church I noticed that the table with the guidebooks and postcards had been all packed away, and it turned out they'd gone to lunch.  The sweet cloister soothed my frustration somewhat. As did a panzarotte with cheese and tomato, which was everything yesterday's lunchtime calzone wasn't: adequately filled, tasty and no danger to trousers. I ate it in front of the Arena, admiring the skills of the man from the snow-making van as he constructed a miniature, but cute, snowman. There must be some sort of on-ice event there next.

My evening stroll started out as a vague finding of churches in a direction I'd not walked in before, and ended up with visits to two. San Giovanni in Foro is small and seems to be very used. It has some modernish art and even some excavations, so seemingly a church of ancient foundation. Then I found Sant'Eufamia, a big wide church, but aisleless (see right) and continuing the day's theme of layers of fresco fragments. Also unlabeled and unlit altarpieces by names come across of late, like Caroto, as well as Stefano di Francia. For tonight's post-junkfood gelato I decided to try a semifreddo, which is what us Brits would call a wafer, but it's square. And in this case almond-flavoured. Very nice.

Wednesday 17th September

My breakfast was a repeat of yesterday's, but with wild berry jam replacing raspberry. You can't accuse me of lacking the adventurous spirit. A woman talking on her phone in American came and sat near me, and when the waiter asked if she wanted coffee or tea she asked for a decaff cappuccino with soy milk. This being Italy I expected contempt bordering on physical violence, but they made it for her! I'm not sure how the resulting (revolting) beverage would have differed in flavour and effect from hot water.

Having decided to do the Veronese exhibition today I left the hotel with an hour to kill before it opened, at 10.00. So: churches. I first found Santi Apostoli, which looked encouragingly ancient on the outside, but was disappointingly  much modernised inside, with only a Giotto-y Crucifix to hold any attention. Over the road is San Lorenzo, though, which is confusing and hemmed-in outside, but has a flipping lovely authentically ancient interior - all stone and brick banding (see right) and tall with a big gallery around the sides and back and lots of bits of fresco. An under-visited and unmissable gem.

The Veronese exhibition in the Gran Guardia had a slow queue for tickets but was not uncomfortably crowded.  The exhibits duplicated this summer's London show, but not as much as I had expected - maybe about half the paintings here were in both. The best were in both, I think, but there was certainly no shortage of impressive or interesting works that were here only. And there were lot of drawings, which there were none of in London, and which spoke to a new enthusiasm of mine following course I took in August. The room arrangement was chronological, mostly, but with an attempt at theming. The final room was mostly dedicated to how Veronese's brother and sons carried on the family business, with pride of place going to Verona's own huge Feast in the House of Levi, recently restored, done by the aforementioned Haeredes Pauli, or Heirs of Paulo, and not too shabby.

Not too exhausted by the Veronese, I headed for the last of the big four churches in Verona that my pass gets me into. I must say I'm loving the Verona church way with brick and stone stripes and fresco fragments, and San Fermo comes up trumps on both counts. It is also a church on two levels, with the lower church (and we are talking church here - this is no mere crypt) earlier and much older, unsurprisingly (see right). I could have done without the apse end of the church upstairs being cluttered up with an art exhibition on display boards, though.

Returning via Piazza Erbe I got my lunch from the stall opposite the one I patronised for my sparsely filled and leaky calzone on Monday, and the mozzarella, tomato and rocket panino I got was much better, I can report, and I ate it in the same square but with no resultant trouser staining.

For my evening stroll I headed straight for the churches I'd had in mind last night when I got detained by Sant'Eufamia. San Giorgio in Braida (see right) has a Veronese, The Martyrdom of St George, which was in the London exhibition but is now back where it should be. (It's part of a short Veronese trail to coincide with the exhibition here, and so access is being guaranteed for the duration, to two churches!) I'm not sure if one is always allowed into the choir area to admire it, but I was happy to do so. There are a fair few gems amongst the rest of the altarpieces, by the local likes of Caroto, Brusasorci and Girolamo dai Libri. There's also an oddly simple Tintoretto Baptism of Christ over the door, and a Pentacost by his son over an altar. I then made for Santo Stefano but it was closing. The nice man let me have five minutes but I'll need to return. Caroto and Brusasorci are in evidence here too. In the usual way I'm enthusiastically bandying around these new names and then finding out that there were many family members in the same trade, and in the case of the Badile the word 'dynasty' is often used, there are so many. Antonio Badile was Veronese's first master. Veronese also trained with Caroto, and later married Antonio Badile's daughter Elena, I've just learned.

On my way back to my hotel I decided to try some local falafel. Whilst chomping and looking for some church steps to sit on I noticed a military-coloured jeep leaving a parking spot as another jeep pulled up to take its place. Puzzling, but less so when I saw I was passing a large synagogue. I assumed that observant soldiers would think that a terrorist trying to blend in would not be seen passing a synagogue eating falafel, but I hurried away anyway. My evening gelato was lemon sorbet and vanilla - sometimes you have to go with the classics.

Thursday 18th September

For my last full day it was a toss-up between staying in Verona doing some more churches or a day trip to Mantua, which I'm due to visit on a tour next year. The staying-put option won. Less than a minute from my hotel is Santa Maria della Scala. A service was on so I just snuck in the back and took in an interior almost totally remodelled after WW2 and with the spiritually enhancing qualities of a railway station. Opposite is San Nicolò, which is large and baroque, nicely proportioned and airy inside and has a neo-classical facade grafted on in the 1950s, it having been taken from a church called San Sebastian, all but destroyed during WW2. Passing the Arena and going through the city walls I found myself in the somewhat charmless Cittadella area. In a square with many modern banks and a drive-through Burger King I tried to find a church marked on my map. I found it, with a cat stalking though its manicured graveyard, and discovered that it was now a bank too. All of which made finding the very lovely church of Santissima Trinità a much needed infusion of charm and old frescoes. It has a sweet cloister-like entrance atrium (see right), is long and stony inside with characterful 14th Century frescoes, and also later frescoes and altarpieces by the ubiquitous Brusasorci.

I then thought it a good idea to visit the Cavalcaselle Fresco Museum, which incorporates the church of San Franceso al Corso and the tomb of Juliet. I didn't exactly regret this decision but... The rooms of frescoes from various periods are interesting, but not numerous. (See right for a bit of an Altichiero sinopia.) Fascinating to see examples of the frescoes painted on the outside of palazzos, but almost all now lost to age and pollution, and a model mocking-up the effect. The church usually displays some altarpieces, but they were all crammed into a side area as the church was being worked on. (they also mostly looked unconvincingly over-restored.) I was taking photos, to link the frescoes with the churches they came from, but an attendant almost had a fit when I photographed the explanatory text sheet to prompt my memory later, and insisted that I delete the photo. I dutifully visited Juliet's tomb, which was rescued from being used as a horse trough, we are told, having horrified Charles Dickens so much at this misuse that he evidently chipped bits off of it to keep as protesting souvenirs. A dubious relic in a dank and squalid crypt embellished with graffiti - what's not to sneer at? I also ventured down into an area labelled Roman Amphora, which is a basement filled with rows and rows of...Roman amphora. An odd museum, to be sure, which I find myself unable to recommend unreservedly. And I could find no good explanation as to why it was named after the venerable and admirable art historian.

Over the river, then, to complete my two-church Veronese trail from yesterday by visiting San Paulo Campo Marzo. It has the man's Madonna and Child with Saints and Donors in the Marogna Chapel, the Marogna being the donors. The high altarpiece here by Brusasorzi is impressively architectural on its flat plain wall. There's also a very likeable Girolamo dai Libri M & C with Ss, that I feel I've liked already - it's the lemons! (I checked - there was another M&C in San Giorgio in Braida yesterday, also with lemons on branches behind Mary, but a different composition.) Lunch was a repeat of yesterday, with its tomatoes even tastier.

In the evening I made for San Bernadino. So many of the works in the Castelvecchio gallery came from here that I was intrigued to check out what was left. Much, it turns out. Some of the works here are copies made after the originals which are now in the Castelvecchio, for some reason, but there's still much to make the trip here worthwhile. The church itself is huge and quite bare and lop-sided with only one aisle, on the right. It's pretty dingy inside, with very few lights on the altarpieces, which only makes the harmonious and bright domed Pellegrini chapel designed by Michele Sanmichele all the more appealing.  A glowing altarpiece by Bernardino India helps too. Entry to the church is via a cloister with frescoes in the lunettes in a simple style bordering on what one might call naive.

I went back to the place I'd had the OK pizza at on Monday, planning on trying the soya burger, but noticing it was €12.50 I was glad to discover that it was 'off'. So I plumped for the spaghetti al arrabiata, which was fine and spicy. For final evening gelato - bitter chocolate and coconut from Savoia.

Friday 19th September

Having booked a late flight I have what amounts to another day. I asked if I could keep my room until 4.00ish so as I could come back and type and crash after lunch, as usual, but I was told that ordinarily yes I could, but as they are fully booked, no I couldn't. So I am typing this up on a cool mezzanine in the entrance hall of the hotel at around 2.30 with no real need to leave until 4.00.

This morning I made for Santo Stefano which was closing when I got to it Wednesday evening. What I'm liking about Veronese churches is no two are alike. Santo Stefano has a very raised presbytery up wide steps, and mixes pastel-coloured new frescoes in the dome and lateral thingies, by Brusasorzi, with much older and darker bits on ground level. And has a very odd raised stone corridor around the back of the altar. Paintings by del Moro and Caroto are around as well, of course. Santa Maria in Organo, my next visit, also has a raised presbytery, but it's a mere step up compared to Santo Stefano's steep climb. (And both are different in effect from San Zeno) This church is famous for the intarsia (marquetry) panels on the choir stalls, done by a monk called Fra Giovanni and praised by Vasari, but is covered in frescoes inside too, by the likes of dai Libri, Caroto and Giolfini. I was turfed out before 11.30 (I wonder again if my Fawlty-esque parting grazie mille! translates into Italian) and made for San Giovanni in Valle, which looked lovely (see above right) but was closed.

The Archaeological museum was closed for building work so I took advantage of a bargain look around the Roman theatre for €1 - lots of bits of old stone, basically, which I'm far from averse to. Then I trudged up to Castel San Pietro, for the exercise and the views, which are spectacular. I also saw two small lizards, which is always nice when one's home environment doesn't include such creatures. My lunch was another repeat - the pushy pigeons in Piazza Indipendenza seem to have expectations of me now. So now I sit finishing this, listening to an American couple's repetitive complaint about an automated car park charging them €60, and just wanting to go home.

And in no time I was on my way. The bus to the airport leaves from the side of the railway station, the atv ticket office is inside the station - it's back faces onto where you wait for the bus, but has no window or door outside so you have to go into the station. After negotiating all this the journey to the airport was swift, check-in and security ditto, having your passport checked after security still odd, but we're used to it in Italy now. An aeroplane full of middle-class English people was all boarded about 15 minutes early, but it didn't get us any earlier a departure. Such drivel being talked in the seat behind mine I was glad to have a mewling baby two rows ahead. No real problems, then. Good to be home. And good that England was warm in it's weather so that I didn't have to rummage in my case for my jacket, and still connected to Scotland.

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