Sunday 24th September
As I sit typing these words into my laptop there are vaporettos chuntering past a few yards away and the Grand Canal is slapping up against the Palazzo walls beneath my window. Or to put it another way: I'M HERE.

The day started - flipping heck! - 16 hours ago, as I had to be awake at 4.40 to be driven to Gatwick Airport (thanks Jane) to catch an early EasyJet. The heightened security rigmarole was not as bad as some have experienced. I had to take my shoes off, and my laptop out of its bag, to be scanned, but this was nothing to the mother with small baby who was having to taste some of her baby's liquid foodstuffs and leave some behind. The flight was delayed, but one of the flight attendants was called Clint, which sort of helped. Passing through  Marco Polo was a breeze, but the moving of the window where you buy the bus tickets to Piazzale Roma threw me a bit. The shortcut from there to the Accademia, via Campo Santa Margherita, I discovered last year meant I was soon being greeted by my host and hostess and installed in my gorgeous Grand Canal-side flat. They took me to lunch, too, and after ice cream number one from Nico (fior di latte and cocco) we returned so that yours truly could do some much needed collapsing. After an early-evening stroll I got to find out first hand how smug you feel sitting on the terrace of a palazzo watching the plebs go past on vaporettos looking up in frank admiration and envy. What a difference a year makes, as last year I was that pleb! And still am, really, which is probably why I'm enjoying myself so much. After a guided tour of some new sights to me, all the more fragrant for it being late and dark and the calli deserted, I am now by the aforementioned window, drinking vanilla redbush tea, but feeling like I need sleep like a gondolier needs his pole.









 

Monday 25th September
Gently woken at 8.30 by the sound of my hosts leaving from the water gate, leaving me in charge! The day looks grey and rainy as I look out the window, and when I get out in it it turns out it is. Walk wetly to Santo Stefano to start on the old church visiting and get my Chorus card. Not a good church to visit in dingy weather unless you like your churches dark, cool and looming. I'm not averse to some of this atmosphere so I'm content. Walk wetly towards the Rialto and find San Salvador open - a church I've not been in before! It's impressive: not colourful or full of great art (although the late Titian Annunciation is worth a visit in itself). Ejected before I'd done the rounds as the church was closing for lunch. Mentally mark this one for a later fuller visit. At least the rain has stopped. Through the Rialto market picking up an olive focaccia and walk to Campo San Polo to find a damp bench under a tree to sit and eat it. As I'm about to leave an Italian woman of a certain age approaches my bench and looks in distress at how wet it is. But as I chivalrously get up to leave she is grateful for the use of the patch I'd personally dried with my own fair, now cold and damp, bottom. Into the Frari to gaze enraptured at the Bellini Madonna. Eventually shake off the spell and take some photos of the spruced up cloisters. Then back to the flat, via a handy supermarket at the bottom of Campo Santa Margherita,  for a rest and a cup of tea with...

Venetian Cake No. 1 - the torta di cocco.


A stroll in the evening takes me past the Museo d'Arte Erotica which was causing much jollity amongst a passing group of American tourists. It only opened last February and caused some small Catholic fussing. I may have to visit it in the interests of journalism or the blogosphere, or whatever the hell it is I'm doing here. (Update: I didn't, and it closed soon after.) Back to the flat and an e-mail from my hostess asking me to fit the water gates - the knee-high metal panels you see in front of Venetian doorways. I manage one, but the big one just won't fit in its grooves, despite much sweating and swearing, which turns out not to be my fault. After a flurry of e-mails the builder is booked to come tomorrow at 9.00, and may want to check the paratia in my flat too.


Tuesday 26th September
The builder arrives, not late, and confirms that there is a problem with the gate and that he'll be back later today to fix it, but after checking the gate in my bit he needs me no more. So I'm out - the weather not looking too bad - thin cloud with blue tinges.
Stroll and wander up towards San Zanipolo and find myself in an area I was not previously familiar with, which is always refreshing. Especially when it has many photo opportunities and a rambling and slightly ramshackle big bookshop with three cats lounging on the stock. I asked the owner the Venetian cat question (where have they all gone?) and he confirmed the story of the ecologisti and the island cattery. He shared with me the picturesque view out of his watergate and said that the water level was rising, a thing he could tell by the direction the flotsam moved past his gate. I left the shop with a few tasteful and architectural postcards and found myself standing respectfully by as a funeral barge pulled up and the coffin and family made their way into the church. On a previous trip I saw a gondola wedding but this was my first funeral, although the boat was a plain blue motorboat and not the black and plumed affair that some famous films had led us to expect.
Venturing deeper in Castello I came to San Francesco della Vigna. A church I'd not been in before. It has a fine big and plain interior, with some nice art, including a Bellini, Virgin and Child with Saints, which is decidedly uninferior. And there are two cloisters! I'm a sucker for cloisters and Venice doesn't seem to have that many.
After some takeaway pizza (olive and onion) with a bottle of peach iced tea sitting on a wall by San Zanipolo I treated myself to an ice cream coppa of cocco and lampone and came back to the flat for a siesta, after some tea and...

Venetian cake No. 2: the torta alla mandorle.















And the water gate had been fixed.
An evening stroll down to the Zattere, photographing sunset over the refineries, and some more night-time picture-taking rounded off a day on which I took a somewhat staggering 110 photographs, including the one below.

 


 








I call this one Small fish eat a soft white roll
by a gondola mooring pole.
Isn't nature wonderful?

Wednesday 27th September
Today I mostly did 18th Century painting and plasterwork, with some unexpected bits of fresco. I started at the Scuola dei Carmini, just by Santa Maria dei Carmini. Upstairs it does the dark wood thing familiar to visitors of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, but the stairs are barrel-vaulted with gilt-edged stucco decoration and putti that make you think that you're heading up to cake-decoration heaven, but not quite. You actually arrive at a fine Chapter House with ceiling panels by Tiepolo, of whom I'm not a huge fan, but I like his colours and these are good glowing examples full of odd and puzzling allegorical figures. The other two rooms are where you'll find the looming woodwork and impressive floors. I spent some time here and only as I was leaving did another person turn up, and the woman taking my money had turned on the lights for me, so I was the first visitor, at 10.30. An undervisited gem, then, which I enjoyed having all to myself.
I went into the Carmini church next door which is a bit dark and baroque, but with an especially fine bit more confectionery stucco work on an altar with a frescoed ceiling by Sebastiano Ricci. There's also a sacristy you shouldn't miss with some fresco fragments. But you might have to tune out the conversation of the, in my case, priest and the disreputable-looking man replenishing the candles, and ignore the presence of floor cleaning equipment, as this is what you might call a working sacristy. You can visit the cloisters next door, to the left as you come out of the main door, despite the fact that it looks like you can't, but the presence of assorted bits of old board and some shouting youths made for a certain lack of atmosphere.
Next was San Raffaele Arcangelo church. Smaller and lacking in works by big-name artists, it's nonetheless a pleasing Greek cross-shaped space and has an impressive organ, with paintings of the life of Tobias on the parapet. Just as I was about to leave I noticed that the man who had been telling two English ladies about the church was leading them through a door way marked Baptistry. So with my best look of turistico innocence on my face I followed them around the back of the altar and into a small low room with the whole ceiling covered with a fresco by Fontebasso, a pupil of Ricci and Tiepolo. It's been much altered, but recent cleaning has left it bright and glowing,  and you could reach up and touch it it's so close. It's said that fresco never took off in Venice because the damp atmosphere makes the drying hard to control, but here I was having a frescoful day.
My last church before lunch was San Nicolo dei Mendicoli, which has always been shut when I've visited, but was open today. The interior is a bit like a scaled down version of the Carmini, with the mix of periods and the figures looking down. As I was about to leave I was hailed by a woman in Italian who'd been talking to the woman on duty. After some communication confusion, during which I thought I was merely being asked to contribute something to the upkeep, the two women called me and led me around the back of the altar, up a very modern staircase, past a kitchen where a table was set and lunch was on the go, and then up a steep staircase past an offering box where the other woman put a note, so I did too, into a small room up in the eaves of the church with plaster putti propped against the wall, and bits of fallen architecture, but dominated by a lovely fragment of fresco on the wall (see left). I understood little of what the was said but I caught 'school of Giotto' and indeed it did look that early and that good. A secret treat, and a fittingly impressive end to my morning of frescos.
I had some pizza walking back to the flat, and a fior di latte and limone coppa from Nico. At the flat I had some tea and...

Venetian cake No. 3: the zaletti vaniglia.


This is, I think, a more authentic example than Nos. 1 & 2, and of the type I'd not much enjoyed before, verging on the biscuit as it does. But this one was yummy, more like stout sponge in consistency and with a pleasant not-too-sweet vanilla flavour.

I will draw a discreet veil over my evening shop/stroll during which I attempted to loop back to San Marco in a new way and ended up by Rialto, except to say to sooth the trauma of getting so lost I indulged in...

Venetian cake No. 4:
the small Venetian apple-turnover thing.

Thursday 28th September
On my way to San Pietro di Castello I was waylaid by a couple more 18th Century experiences. Firstly Santa Maria del Giglio, as I was passing and hadn't had many of my Chorus card churches ticked. It's an OK church, and is disproportionately rich in 18th Century art, it says here, but not great art says me. Similarly admirable if not loveable is San Moise - the church at the end of the wide Calle XXII Marzo that makes you go 'blimey!' or whatever is your country's equivalent. The masses of baroque ornament crawling up the facade is matched by a weird high carved altarpiece scene of Moses receiving the tablets. My guidebook uses the word ungainly, and it's politely right there.
I needed some respite from this 18th Century overkill, so took refuge in San Zaccharia - a lovely space with one of my two favourite Bellinis. If you visit you have to pay your Euro to visit the chancel of the older church, as there are three exceptional and grand gilt-framed polyptychs, and the walls and ceiling have some considerable fragments of fresco. Yes the lesson of the last two days is that Venice does have frescos - they're just a bit the worse for wear and usually to be found hidden away. Under this chapel you'll also find a romantically flooded crypt (see right) where several damp doges are buried.
I then attempted to follow my guidebook's walk around the area to learn about some palazzo, but had trouble following the instructions and ended up wandering in a generally unfettered way. So I visited some fave spots (see right), found some new ones and ate a funghi pizzetta sitting in Campo San Zanipolo. (Who knew pigeons liked mushrooms?) Which was followed by a pistachio and fior di latte ice cream.
At the flat I had some tea and...

Venetian cake No. 5: the mezzelune di marzapane

This one made me flinch a bit with its 4 euro price tag, but I'm a big marzipan fan and the shop looked superior and it indeed turned out to be worth it - like a big spongy/crumbly amaretto biscuit.

This evening I went to get supplies in Campo Santa Margherita. In the supermarket I got some grapefruit juice and a bag of Allegrotti con uvetta sultanina (raisiny pastry things) for breakfast, and at the fruit stall I bought some tiny wild strawberries and some uve fragola (strawberry grapes). The latter had been recommended to me by mine hostess in an e-mail suggesting flavour sensations I might like to try, and she did not exaggerate. They taste like grapes with a tinge of strawberry, yes, but they also explode out of their skins in a pleasing way when you bite them and have a tendency to citrus sharpness too. I cannot recommend them highly enough - try them if you get the chance.
 













 





Don't you just want to live here?


 

Friday 29th September
Is it really Friday already? Today I did a bit of the map-reading canal-parallel  walking thing - making my way from the Accademia to the Rialto parallel to the Grand Canal, nipping up towards the Canal to take photos and generally trying to keep off well-beaten paths. I only did it for a bit, and then plunged purposefully up to Cannaregio to visit two favourite churches and the area most visited (and loved) on my last visit.
Sant'Alvise is a small church that I like for its odd big gallery for the nuns from next door and the pleasantly overpowering architectural painted ceiling. And Alvise being the Venetian for Louis, and my cat who died earlier this year being called Louis,  I just had to trek up there and light a candle for him. I don't have much luck with my visits to this church, though. Last year I got chucked out to make way for a funeral and this year there was a yacking film crew, there to video some of the paintings, it seems.
Madonna dell'Orto is bigger but not immense. It has some fine Tintorettos, it having been his local church and the place where he and his family are buried. And today is his birthday! I should also point out that my wander around here yielded four cat sightings - things are looking up.
Got a fior di latte and cioccolata coppa on the way back, where I had some tea and...

Venetian cake No. 6:
the Venetian coconut macaroon

Which was very nice and moist and coconutty, and not too sweet.

Went for an evening shop/wander. Standing on the Accademia bridge I noticed that the Peggy Guggenheim Museum was covered in candles, probably some kind of 'do' as there were quite a few water taxis pulling up. Considered gate-crashing but went back to the flat to watch an episode of  Nip/Tuck on my laptop instead.

Saturday 30th September
Woken at 8.00 by much clonking and shouting in Italian to find three huge rubbish barges parked under my window, into which much stuff, including old furniture, wood and what looked like the contents of a garden were being flung, which makes breakfast by the window less than enjoyable. And my connection's not working! I tried everything I know, but can't connect to the internet or my e-mail, although the laptop tells me the line is working. So, I'm writing this but don't know when I'll be able to upload it. Oh gawd they've started using the crane/grabber!
They pushed off just before 10.00, as did I, but I went to the Accademia. I couldn't come all this way and not go see The Tempest, I thought. But I was wrong, as the room where it's hung was roped off, closed and empty. There's plenty of other wonderful stuff, of course, but still. This day is proving a bit of an unfortunate one. I walked to Campo San Barnaba for some lunchtime pizza and the church was open! I've never seen San Barnaba open, so I took advantage. Not bad - smallish, tall and aisle-less with some middling art and, you guessed it, some fresco work, this time on the ceiling over the altar. Not sure what the ceiling of the church is like as it was covered in scaffolding due to, presumably, work in progress.
A nocciola and cioccolata coppa on the way back from the place I've been calling Nico, but which I now see has been renamed Lo Squero, and then back to the flat for some tea and...

Venetian cake No. 7: the slice with no name
but it sure looks like marzipan and nuts to me.

And it sure was nice. Maybe a little too sweet, but like a
softer version of panforte.

Went for an afternoon photo-taking walk around the western part of Dorsoduro up to Piazzale Roma, where I bought my bus ticket for the airport tomorrow morning and checked out the times. Passing a favourite ice cream shop from my last visit along Fondamenta Minotto I stopped to check out their flavours and...cinnamon chocolate! Well, teamed with an eye-wateringly sharp limone in my coppa this was as close to gelati heaven as this chap has got, and I've been pretty darn close all week. And to sit and eat it in another one of my old favourite spots - the Fondamenta del Malcanton (above right) was just the kind of spiritually uplifting experience my last day needed. And on my way back to the flat I discovered the area between the main drag from Campo San Barnaba to the Accademia and the Grand Canal. Some nice nooks and, indeed, crannies and a good vista across the Grand Canal up one long Calle. Back over the Accademia bridge - saw another one of those enormous liners pulling in (right).


8.30pm:  Connection back up! Thanks to an emergency phone call (from mine hostess who was missing the update) and some wire pulling and router rebooting, and here I am.
 




















Sunday 1st October
Up early to finish packing and get the flat in order, then off to Piazzale Roma to catch the bus to the airport. I was out just before 9.00, so not that early, but not many people were about and it was a misty morning. Last night I'd been up by the Rialto and noticed TV trucks on a flat-bed barge, with thick wadges of cables running to the Goldoni Theatre. TV crews need their trucks and there are no roads in Venice, so I suppose it makes sense.  It also makes for an odd photo if you happen to catch them heading off out into the lagoon the next morning.
The flight home was uneventful, but plagued by queues and long waits and loveable types who think queues are there to ignored. My flight got into Gatwick only 30 minutes late. Met by J. and taken to lunch with the family, and home to sunny (intervals and showers) Tooting. Not too cold, and the leaves have not gone too brown and red in my absence, as sometimes happens taking holidays this time of year.
Thanks for your attention, and the kind comments by e-mail and in places like this.  Until the next time...



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