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May 2016
More photos here
 

Tuesday 3rd May
Since adding pages devoted to Padua and Verona to The Churches of Venice I've visited Verona twice, so that city is now pretty comprehensively covered. Padua's page, on the other hand, has been slow growing, due to me only having managed a couple of short day trips from Venice. So, I've booked four days in Padua, to remedy the situation, followed by four days in Venice, to get material for my planned pages devoted to the Scuole.

The flight from Gatwick is at a very civilised 11.30, comfortable after two recent alarm wakings in Heathrow pre-dawn darkness. I wait for my first train mere minutes, the connecting train at East Croydon pulls in as I get onto platform. Trains, platforms and heads are mostly very empty - a single loud idiot on his mobile giving his girlfriend post-dentist medication advice and a trio of noisy and sweary idiots unaware that the f-word is best reserved for special occasions. The bag-drop queue is a bit long, but not easyJet long. Security is a bit rebuilding-confusing in its (circumferential) entry method and (unsignposted) exit, but a good pat down always gets a trip off to an exciting start. A little modest wandering amongst the books, gadgets, Swatches and Toblerones and then off to the usual distant high-numbered BA gate, across the long bridge whose people-movers are now equipped with many speakers playing the natural sounds of the Yangtse.

The in-flight snack was a cheese and pickle white bread sandwich which was about the size of four fingers but still contained a quarter of my day's fat and salt. No annoyances in flight, plenty of reading done. My plan was to fly to Marco Polo, get the bus into Venice, and then catch the train to Padua. But it turns out there's a bus from Marco Polo direct to Padua. It was 2.38 as my case hit the carousel at Marco Polo and I'd read that the Padua bus left at 40 minutes past the hour, which turned out to be true. Having to wait nearly an hour I decided some coffee and an unspecial strudel was in order.

The bus was waiting a good 10 minutes before, at the last stop on the right, labelled SITA, cost
€10 and stopped in the centro as well as at the station, the taciturn driver informed me. There were four passengers, including me, the journey was so similar to that of the bus into Venice that soon we were approaching Venice bus station. I should have known, but I didn't. A tantalising glimpse of some domes and campanili, an impression of a comfortable lack of crowds, some more passengers, mostly natives, and we were off.

The bus heads toward the centre after the railway station, and skims it due to the centre being blissfully pedestrianised. A short walk to my hotel, the Majestic Toscanelli. My room is fine, if eccentric - it features what you might describe as built-in bedroom units, around the bed, rather than a wardrobe. And the units contain an iron, an ironing board, a coffee machine and a microwave. In the desk drawer I thought I'd found some condoms, but they turned out to be mosquito repellent pellets. Out for some church-focused wandering, ticking off San Cancian and the Duomo, the latter is just SO BIG, but a bit boring. My wander also took me by a church devoted to Thomas a Beckett (there's one in Verona too) and over the river, passing the picturesque observatory - La Specola -  erected in the 18th Century in the high tower - Torlonga - of the Carrarese castle (see right). Then past the Oratory of San Michele, which looks worth a look inside, and into the very baroque and odd Torresino church, where a well-attended evening service was going on, but there is a seminary just over the road. Thunder had been threatening for a while, and it was here that the rumbles  and approaching darkness came fully upon me, and lo it all got a bit biblical. The torrents prevented me finding the vegan joint I had passed earlier, so I settled for something toasty, from the Capatoast toasteria - the parmesan, sundried tomato and pesto; with a pistachio and extra-dark chocolate gelato from Grom after, taking advantage of Padua's surfeit of pavement arcades to not get too wet walking back to the hotel. Writing up and fiddling with photos back in my room I had the door to my balcony open and the sounds of life and the smell of the tree below wafting up. Lovely.

Wednesday 4th
A quiet night and a good sleep, except for the people in the room above moving furniture about on the parquet floor a bit before alarm time. Breakfast featured below-par orange juice and coffee, but good cereal and pastries. And special coffee can be ordered. Out before 9.00, beginning a morning which would - spoiler alert! - approach perfection. First to the Santo, which is now clean and scaff-free on the outside. Into the Saint George Oratory frescoed by Altichiero (see right) and the Scuola, with early frescoes by Titian, both of which I had entirely to myself - for the scuola the nice chap unlocked, showed me the stairs to go up and trusted me with the door bolt and to come back and tell him when I was done. Then to Santa Giustina, another big one but with some fascinatingly frescoed crannies out of the right transept. A walk around hoovering up some odd churches to the South and East followed, ending up back at the Santo, for a short visit, as it was too early for lunch, and an appreciation of how dauntingly full of stuff it is. Then it was lunch time. A mozzarella, tomato and basil baguette was bought and eaten in the sunshine in the Prato della Valle. On the way back to the hotel a cinnamon gelato with pear sorbet was consumed and a slice of almond thing bought to be taken with afternoon tea. Perfetto.

The early evening stroll took in San Francesco which was covered in scaffolding at ground level, something about having its lunettes restored, but it was open, and a treat of idiosyncratic plan and surprise frescos. There was also a Veronese altarpiece in the wrong place and a helpful monk to tell me where it used to be, despite the language barrier. Then a bit of a trek finding odd, and sometimes open, little churches, ending up around the back of the Santo which was looking gorgeous in the evening light. I then managed to find the vegan restaurant passed yesterday - UniVerso Vegans. I had a fresh and tasty tofu-based burger with potato croquettes, and a fractured conversation with the owner about the rarity of veggie eateries in Italy and its being a cultural thing. A stracciatella and coffee gelato on the walk back.

Thursday 5th
Today I headed off towards I Carmini and its attached Scuola, the latter only being open Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the way two churches, both worth a detour. San Niccolo is oddly asymmetrical inside, has an appealing fresco patch and a likeable Virgin and Saints by Tiepolo's son, looking very like one by his dad. San Pietro Apostolo is odd for having what my guide calls aisles separated from the nave by walls, but you may think are odd-sized laterally-attached chapels. Lots of dark recent frescoing in the choir. The massively frescoed choir in I Carmini is quite modern too, with an air of the Pre-Raphaelites about it. 17th century artistic ordinariness otherwise, but the Scuola next door is a treat - the life of the Virgin around the walls in mostly bright and well-preserved frescoes by Giulio Campagnolo, his adopted son Domenico (a pupil of Titian), Girolamo del Santo, and Stefano dell'Arzere. The stylistic changes from the Mantegna-inspired early 16th century to the Titian touches later are mentioned and noticeable.

I was near the Scrovegni shop so popped in for a pee and to buy a few Giotto angel travel-card wallets, as I'd lost mine and various friends had needs, but they'd sold out! A south-westerly looping return got me external photos of San Bernadetto and mixed fortunes identifying some of the blue boxes with crosses on my map. I did find a friendly bakery that did slices of very nice cipolla pizza, though, and followed through with a mascarpone/fig and limon gelato from Venchi. The slice of pizza, four little shop-made almond biscuits and a bottle of water in the general store came to
€3.50, my gelato was €3.00.

Finishing finding churches in a North Easterly direction was my evening task. Ending up by the station, so checking train times to Venice seemed in order, and some junk food. A vaniglia and nocciola coppa on the way back and I found, seconds away from my hotel, a tea and chocolate shop selling my fave Venchi mandarin and pepper bars, spicy redbush teas (much sniffing from tins) and Lubeck marzipan.


Friday 6th
The Oratorio di San Michele was first on the list this morning, but as it opened at 10.00 I went a bit further south to identify some more churches on my map, with mixed success. The Oratorio di San Michele experience was mixed too. It's a lovely small space, once a chapel in a larger, latterly demolished, church, full of glowing frescoes by Jacopo da Verona, but through an arch curtained with plastic came the sounds of a building site. Not a help to the spiritual experience, but the art just about drowned out the drilling. Then a trot up to San Benedetto, which was open, but a bit of a brick barn inside. Back to the centre, heading for the Baptistery, I noticed signs for the Carraresi Palace - the remains of the once grander home of the Carrara lords of Padua. The approach was somewhat uncertain. I wasn't sure where I was going or who I should talk to, but soon had a personal, and very personable, guide explaining the history and the art, and she was happy to learn that I am a writer, which I suppose I am. The building, also known as The Reggia, contains most of the frescoes, painted by Guariento, that covered one of the walls of a chapel, showing scenes from the Old Testament. Other fragments are on display here and in the Museo Civico.

Then into the Duomo's Baptistery for more fresco wonderfulness, but my jaw had only begun to drop when an enormous party of school children arrived, like maybe 50, and so I let the ticket man know I'd be back, and returned after a strolling scoff of some more cipolla pizza from the same place as yesterday. My previous visit to the Baptistery had been when it was all covered in scaffolding inside, so I was ill prepared for the full effect of being in amongst and under Giusto de Menabuoi's masterpiece (see right). As ever photos just don't do justice to the full immersive effect of such fresco cycles in situ. A classic limone and pistachio gelato on the walk back.

Legambiente, the voluntary organisation who staff the Carrara palace, also open the Scuola della Carita opposite San Francesco, I learn from their leaflet. (They have no website but are part of the countrywide environmental group legambientepadova.it  So, trotting along there after my afternoon snooze, I stop off first first at San Gaetano, where another helpful guide/attendant, this time with less English, shows me the sacristy, and the interesting cupboard with monk's nameplates, each having odd hooks and compartments beneath. A choir was practicing in the, um, choir, but were a bit too strident for my taste. The fresco cycle in the Scuola della Carita tells the life of Mary, but missing out most of the Jesus bits, which means a couple of the less common scenes get a look in, including The Death of Joseph, which I don't think I've ever seen before. A little light CD buying followed, at a shop I passed yesterday which seemed make a thing of its musica antiqua stock, and where I indeed found three discs to buy. Then another vegan burger and an early return to base and night.

Saturday 7th
Today is travel day, and I was dithering over heading straight to Venice after breakfast or having a last morning of churches in Padua. Checking my list last night I realised I'd not done my planned visit to the Eremitani for better interior photos and the guidebook whetted my appetite by mentioning a chapel by a gate where Venetians would stop before sailing off. And Ognissanti out that way looked more interesting than its blank closed facade had suggested. Also there was Santa Sofia, which I'd rush-visted on Tuesday. So: a plan. Which worked well, on balance - Eremitani photos were took, the gate and chapel turned out to be a worth-the-detour photo op, Ognissanti was still firmly closed, but Santa Sofia (see right) was an eccentric ancient treat inside, with the baptism of little Freya for authentic background. A visit to the tourist information office, spotted yesterday, for bus/train info, netted me a new chum, discussion of Padua's veggie options, the mention of a cat sculpture nearby, and the recommendation of her cousin's crepery in Venice. She also informed me that the trick with the trains is to go for the Regionale Veloce, which is quicker than the stops-everywhere Regionale, but not wallet-emptying like the Frescia Rossa. I ended up getting the stopping one, though, as it took 20 minutes more, but the Veloce wasn't due for another 20 minutes. And as there were very few seats on the station platform...

As I leave I'm left liking Padua a whole lot more than before and thinking that this Padua/Venice split might be the way to go next year too, for my big birthday 'Happy Freedom Pass' trip with Jane.

 

 

 



Arrived at the Ca Pozzo to Nichola the manager looking pleased to see me but surprised. Profuse apologies, changed system, lost booking, only the emergency room available tonight, but tomorrow a proper room. But the emergency room seemed sweet - not big but tall, with no windows but a skylight and white walls (so passing the no-light-needed-in-day-time test), a canopy bed and a long shower room with a roomy shower. I might stay here. Mozzies a bit in evidence though, and I already was bit a bit in Padua.

Making the decision that my acclimatising evening stroll not be the traditional one into Cannaregio towards the Misericordia but a deep-end one along the main drag to Rialto and over towards San Polo, was not sensible, maybe, on a Saturday. But it prompted the realisation that the thing about Venice attracting the crowds is that it draws people who wouldn't visit the other art hubs I've been to in recent weeks, they probably wouldn't even have heard of Brescia and Padua. Not a blindingly wise observation, I admit, and it begs the eternal question about what they do come for, but still, we can't all be Bellini and Titian fans, I suppose, he said grudgingly. The crowds petered out by the time I reached the shop that sells the marzipan tarts just before Campo San Polo, and finding San Silvestro spruce and scaffolding-free, inside and out, for the first time in years, helped raise the old spirits also. As did a pizza bufala sitting outside Al Faro in the Ghetto. Returning to my room I couldn't help but noticed a strong smell of drains, which may explain some things, and puts paid to my temptation to just keep this room. Closing the skylight seemed to help.

Sunday 8th
Luckily the smell of drains doesn't keep one awake, so I slept well. After breakfast I left the hotel before 9.00 with the promise of a nice new room on my return. I headed for the Scuola  di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni but on my mojo-restoring walk through peaceful Cannaregio I found San Girolamo open! Amazeballs! The priest was preparing but let me wander, write and take photos. As if this wasn't enough, the doors of little San Bonaventura were open too. Double amazeballs! A service was on, and well attended, with an elderly chap in shiny robes sitting in what looked like a Bishop's throne, and lots of nuns. I loitered at the back and took photos discretely.

On my way past the boat yard with the big maine coon cats one of them was wandering outside and appreciated a head skritch and even followed me and rubbed around my ankles. Another cat appreciated some affection over by San Lorenzo, and then I was at the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. The famous and wonderful Carpaccios are all in the lower room, but from then on - into the sacristy and upstairs - even the Scuola's own guide speaks of works  'of little artistic value' mostly from the 17th Century. The carved wooden altarpiece upstairs is quite interesting and it's flanked by a pair of panels, depicting Jerome and Tryphone described as painted within the 'influence of Antonio Vivarini'  But the ceiling and the walls are all well covered in the aforementioned 'little value' panels. Back via the bookshop behind San Marco, and the scrum of the Piazza. It was not as tricky as I'd thought it would be finding the facade of the old Scuola degli Albanesi (see right), and finding a mozzarella and tomato panino (without meat) was unusually untricky too. It was eaten at my usual spot, with the help of a single pushy pigeon. I then found my way to Alaska Gelateria, congratulated the owner on his UK TV fame and chose a flavour duo of cinnamon and celery. Yum. After yesterday's oppressive crowd-shock today got me back loving Venice. Two new churches, three cats (two affectionate and one asleep in a shop window) and a mozzarella and tomato panino by a peaceful canal, followed by weirdly flavoured gelato will do that to a chap. That and my new room being airy and bright.

The evening stroll was focused on finding somewhere to replenish my dwindling redbush teabag supply. It took in the station, which is a very airportish shopping experience now, and some Frari-vicinity al fresco falafel and a Grom gelato (vaniglia and cassata). Followed by some final Cannaregio 'there used to be, near here... ' type time-wasting, until I found the ideal place, with a tempting box in the window, seconds from my hotel, and I would've spotted it when it was still open, if I'd made the same main-drag mistake as yesterday. Irony! Listened to the surprise new Radiohead album before bedtime. I had to get up in the night and as I passed the window I peeked through and saw a vague cat shape on the gently sloping tile roof. I opened the window and it was a cat, who came and sniffed my finger and swiftly skedaddled. A sweet nocturnal encounter nonetheless.

Monday 9th
To the Scuola di San Rocco. The area between the San Niccolos and the Frari is one of the bits of Venice I find it easiest to get lost in, and this morning I did. Twice. It's all those interchangeable tall blocks of flats blocking views of campanili. The Scuola was pretty empty, but the final flight of the grand staircase was full of scaffolding and had the builders in, which made for various rates of racket and drilling. But... that Crucifixion... phew! I had the room it's in to myself mostly, with most people devoting all of one minute to it, sometimes just as much time as it takes to take a photo. Then on to the Cini for some palate-cleansing early Tuscan. Much was made of the permanent collection having all paintings of this nature when it opened, but they currently have a temporary exhibition of more Venetian stuff on the second floor (not at all well signposted) and there are gems - some desirable little Guardi capprici, a room of gold-ground goodness, and a Crivelli you'll want to take home. Works by Titian, Tiepolo and Canaletto also. Also a shiny toilet not easy to find, on the first floor.

Lunch was the usual fave savoury pastries in the usual favourite spot, with a marmalade turnover-type pastry bought for later. Evening walk, buying tea, boys on bridge with huge waterpistols filled from canal squirting passing boats, San Zanipolo, mums leaving their children trapped playing with chalk behind the (gateless) iron railings around the Colleoni monument, getting a bit lost, Filet-o-Fish, pear and coconut gelato.

Tuesday 10th
Yesterday I visited a large Scuola and a small gallery, today... the Carmini, the last of my scuole to visit, was on the cards and the Accademia. But the Scuola not opening until 11.00 and the Manuzio exhibition at the Accademia being tempting but not essential, I ended up visiting a few churches, casually rather than with the pressure of need. I was drawn especially to the Frari, to do my annual commune with the Bellini, of course, but because of having just finished a big Titian biography. On the way I visited...

San Geremia The mass of PC-printed A4 sheets telling you what not to do have gone. St Lucy in her silver mask with withered limbs is still lying in her glass box.
San Simeon Piccolo an impressively realistic Pieta (a full-sized chap on a woman's lap is never going to be comfortable) spotted in a niche to left.
San Nicolς da Tolentino The right-hand side of apse and the right-hand transept is full of scaffolding and sheeting. the first chapel on the right now has a weird diorama of ruins with a cross of lights.
San Rocco Struck by Tintoretto, of course, but also noticed large works on left wall and ceiling by Fumiani (part 1).
San Pantalon Fumiani Part 2: that ceiling! They sell a small poster of it now.
Frari Titian's Pesaro Altarpiece is still being restored. The replacement photograph is still not labelled as such and still fools the unwary.

The Carmine is not my fave Scuola, but it's a little gem nonetheless, and a Tiepolo treat, with a superior Joseph's Dream and Rest on the Flight by Antonio Balestra. Also noticed a mellow Judith and Holofernes (him with his head still on) by Giambattista Piazzetta. This was looking clean as it was restored in 2014. Lunching took place in my same sweet spot, but was samosas this time. Taking the shine off my room somewhat is the person playing loud music over the way. Yesterday was hits of the 80s (Wham!) and today it was some crappy late Madonna.

For my evening walk I decided on some San Polo sestiere. I got a bit lost trying to find non-standard routes, but the map in the oldish Blue Guide I brought didn't help with its cartographic lies, frankly. Strolling back I picked a place almost at random for a last pizza, as I'd spotted the magic words Pizza Cipolla on the board outside. I say almost random because it had been recommended to me by a resident, but about 10 years ago. Amongst the less magic words on the menu were 'shredded horse meat' as a pizza topping. My pizza was good enough to banish all queasiness though. The place is called Ai Bari and is very near the Alaska Gelateria and the gelatomeister himself brought the chef in a spontaneous coppa as I was eating. Maybe they trade regular gelati for pizzas. Sounds like a perfect arrangement. For my last gelato I went for a classic coconut and lemon.

Wednesday 11th
After a few days of dinge today the rain fell endlessly. I hadn't had one of our world-to-rights chats with Nichola, the boss, yet. But this morning we began with why Italian has both his name and Niccolo, people in England expecting him to be a girl, progressing to the naming of his son, then the very German bit of Italy he grew up in, which is very subsidised and identity-conscious and then Italy's attitude to Germans and the war, and all before I'd had my coffee! Later as I paid my bill, reduced due to that first night inconvenience, we covered Brexit, Italian state deception, the migrant crisis and national attitudes generally. And still it rained. I've said it before but the number 5 airport bus leaves at 10 25 40 & 55 past the hour, the stop being sharp left as you come over the Calatrava bridge. The trip costs €8 now, btw. I caught the 10.10, a bit tardy for me but I'd seen online that the flight was running 20 minutes late. But a combination of rebuilding chaos, the slowest British Airways bag-drop queue ever, my misplaced confidence that having already checked in online helped and my pass not being print-outable despite the flight being due to depart in half an hour... I missed my flight! I was sent to the SAVE desk to buy a new ticket, there having the choice between one at 1.10 for €600 or at 4.10 for €147, both BA. So, five hours to kill. Enough time to return to Venice? I'd been told, twice, that BA now expects you to check in 3 hours before. Thereby giving you even more time to buy Toblerones, I suppose. Deciding that some leg-stretching and getting away from building-site noises was in order, maybe with a sit down, I made for the water bus area. There's big building-work extending the airport towards where the boats dock, which may even be to improve the ease and speed of access to the boats. Or maybe just provide more places to buy Toblerones. I'd not been there in many years and it' s no anyone's idea of a pleasant walk or a pretty spot when you get there. I found a stone bench to sit and type this stuff on my tablet, but then it started raining on my screen and so it seemed a good idea to head back to the airport for some indoor seating and a consolatory slice of almond tart.

I checked in really early for my new flight. No queue at all, same woman, who recognised me and, when she told me my flight would be 50 minutes late, congratulated me on my philosophical attitude. During the security process my person and the contents of my bag were swabbed with a piece of paper, with apologies, but I remain puzzled. In the less busy upstairs shopping area I found Homeburger who did a veggie burger. It was soya, made to imitate meat, which I don't mind as it's eating actual dead animals that I don't like, not eating something that tastes like animals. It came with aubergine slices, salad and pesto sauce and, considering my negative feelings re. aubergines, was pretty tasty. The fact that with fries and a bottle of water it came to
€17.50 took the shine off a bit, but be fair: I wasn't having a good day and deserved treats.

The flight ended up an hour late and the sandwich choice was pastrami or egg and tomato (I hate egg) so I got nothing to eat - today definitely not my best experience of British Airways. Met by J at the airport, though, whisked home on speedy trains, cats fed, selves fed, early to bed.

 

 




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