This trip was made to celebrate my birthday in March 2007 and, as I decided to travel unwired and to not do a daily blog thing, I'm here writing it up as a few themed observations and updates, with other hopefully helpful and/or entertaining stuff, and some nice pics. I'll begin, as I don't mean to go on, alphabetically, with...





The Accademia
Well it's still covered in scaffolding and the room containing The Tempest is still empty and closed. The good news is that The Tempest itself is now in Room 13 towards the end of the gallery's sequence of rooms, and so somewhat disconcertingly plonked into the 18th Century. It can't be said to work or to be ideal, but at least it's back on display, unlike the other fine small stuff in Room 4, which includes a couple of fave Bellinis. The screens on the scaffolding around the gallery entrance are still an eye-sore mess of graffiti and fly-posting, which leads neatly onto...

Graffiti and dog s***
The twin modern plagues on the face of Venice's buildings and paving, respectively. The graffiti seems to remain unfading in place for years and years and to be concentrated around schools and other educational institutions. The phenomenon is annoying enough in other cities, but when the unlovely tags are on canal-side gothic palazzos it grates on the senses even more. The prevailing wisdom is that the best discouragement is cleaning it off immediately, like within days. But Venice's graffiti remains for years and years.
And the city's dog owners know nothing, it seems, of modern developments in canine care like poop-scooping, although we did spot one chap chucking his dog's crap into the canal.

Scaffolding update
The Piazza San Marco clock tower is now uncovered and looking very white and clean. My favourite picturesque imitation palazzo, The Palazzetto Stern, looks like its scaffolding and sheeting is coming down, or maybe just falling down. But the classic view towards the Salute church from the Accademia bridge just gets worse, with three palazzos covered, and now the dome of the church itself! (See below.)

This trip was mostly about visiting old favourites from past trips, for the benefit of my companion, but there were a couple of new ones on me.

San Pietro di Castello is out at the far East end of town, just beyond the end of the Via Garibaldi. It was Venice's cathedral, until 1807 when, the Republic having fallen, San Marco took over this role, it having previously been the Doge's chapel. So it's a biggy, and very calm and grey inside. There's no big name must-see art here, although the St Peter and Saints by Basaiti has a Bellini-like lustre. The interior makes the trip more than worthwhile, though, as does the grassy and peaceful campo in front of the church with its mighty and chunky white campanile by Codussi (see pics right and below). There's also a tastefully ramshackle cloister next to the church, which on our visit was blessed by a man singing a gondolier song with operatic gusto and a fine voice which, echoing around the cloister's columns with an accompaniment of birdsong, was pretty spine-tingling.

The Ognissanti church couldn't have been more of a contrast - a small and very used convent church near San Trovaso in Dorsoduro, with even more crumble than usual and artworks by locals and kids, it was a small and modest treat. There was also a puzzling sheet of hand-written text by which donations were sought, which was in Italian and not easily understood by us, except that it did mention both Jesus Christ and Elvis Presley. The latter, we think, being an indication of the life of sin the writer had renounced by embracing the former.


Worst Audio Guide Ever?
There's a fascinating exhibition of artists' self-portraits leant by the Uffizi on in the Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti until the 6th of May. Fascinating, but spoilt more than a little by unreadable text panels due to the gloom of the gallery and the lack of lighting on them, and the worst audioguide ever. My experience of audioguides for Venetian galleries has not been good, involving coughing narrators and desperate searches for working batteries, but this one! It was a translation of a commentary by someone from the Uffizi and the English narrator attempted, badly, to reproduce the chatty style of the original, which was itself totally interest-free and trite. The exhibition maybe tried a little hard to be crowd-pleasing, firstly by including almost every one of the few female painters you've ever heard of (including Tintoretto's sister) and by featuring rather a large number of added animals, but it never lacked interest. Go and gaze at the paintings in silence, and take a torch, is my advice.

Furry animals
I've written about the trickling back of Venice's stray cats elsewhere. More cats on campos seeming to belong to people were spotted this time too, and a ferret. A young boy walked past me with a small furry grey face peering out from inside his coat, and it was a ferret, I kid you not. And in Cannaregio there was a man walking his cat along a long fondamenta, and carrying him over his shoulder past distractions, before putting him down and encouraging him along again, and out of his temptation to explore doorways. And a very cute grey fluffy-faced cat it was too. Lastly, a narrow alley was considerably improved by the sight of a stripy tail wafting back and forth many feet above, as a woman stroked her cat who was perched on a window ledge.



Having made the mistake of thinking that the fine gelateria on Fondamenta Nani opposite San Trovaso was called Nico, I this trip discovered the delights of the real Gelateria Nico, mere minutes away on the Zattere, and their lovely pear flavour; which combined with stracciatella became a highlight of this trip...several times. In case you're confused, have you ever crumbled up a Cadbury's Flake into some ice cream? (Sorry if I'm being too Brit-centric here.) Well that's stracciatella. But my try-new-flavours drive had one notable failure - lemon and chocolate. The creamy/fruity balance thing didn't work here as the chocolate was too bitter to form much of a contrast to the sharpness of the lemon.

My pear-thing thing
I have this minor obsession with the question of why there are so few pear flavoured things available in the UK - like NONE! I find this lack odd because we do grow lots of them in this country unlike mangos, say, which are the current fruit of choice for almost every new drink, yoghurt, dessert, and even potato crisps! This puzzlement was further deepened by the fact that in my short time in Venice I was able to buy and consume pear yoghurts, pear chocolate, and the above-mentioned ice cream. I've also bought some rather nice pear jam in France in the past. Isn't life strange?

My cake consumption was mostly a case of revisiting old treats too. But one big favourite from past trips that I didn't photograph last year is the marzipan tart, selflessly bought and photographed for posterity this time. And eaten.

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