January 2017
More photos here

Wednesday 18th January
As a plan-ahead unimpulsive kinda guy the fact that this trip was conceived and booked around two weeks before it was to happen was unprecedented. The unusual circumstances that prompted it were our cat Peter's illness since October and his loss just after Christmas. We felt that we needed a treat - something good and soon to look forward to. This feeling was combined with several recent correspondents recommending Venice in winter and my resolution to celebrate 10 years of The Churches of Venice with an entry for the Basilica, hitherto self-consciously excluded, but surely easier to visit in the winter.
Our BA flight was at a civilised 12.35 and unsurprisingly for a midweek midmorning journey our progress was smooth. Easiest bag drop ever, with no queue and even a choice of desks. My forgetting to take my tablet out of my bag and my money out of my pocket lead to some extra scanning of my belongings and person at security, though. As BA now sell M&S food in-flight rather than provide unexciting complimentary snacks we got us two Pret baguettes. Further excitement was provided by our gate not being one of the usuals far out over the bridge, but a close-by one at the right end of the lounge.
Waiting for our baggage at the carousel at Marco Polo I thought I'd save time by getting actv bus tickets from the machine, but when we got to the bus stop we discovered that there was a one day strike affecting actv boats and buses. But ATVO, the other bus company, was unaffected and so we went with them. Hopefully our unvalidated actv tickets can be used on our return to the airport. Some snow was seen and photographed in the Giardini Pubblici (see right) as we walked to our hotel, but this turned out to be an uncommon remainder. The Palazzo Stern hotel (the photo right dates to before it became a hotel) turned out to be as lovely inside as out, and the rooms plush and warm, with good strong WiFi. The bath has a worrying panel of lights and buttons, though, which turned out to be jacuzzi controls. Out looking to find somewhere to eat in the evening we found that Gianni's by the Gesuati was closed for the winter, as were quite a few places including the nearby gelateria. We ended up in a menu touristico sorta place called Al Vaporetto, beyond Campo Sant'Angelo, which was fine, if a tad expensive. It was too cold to dawdle, though, so we hastened through almost deserted streets back to our warm hotel.

Thursday 19th January
A morning to myself, as Jane was going to do the Guggenheim,  so a Basilica visit for me. There was no queue, and it was just as overwhelming on first entering as I remember from 15 years ago. No lingering was possible in the scaffolding-full narthex and inside your progress is roped-off and guided with nowhere to sit. The plan is less confusing than I remember. You pay to get into the apse and see the Pala d'Oro (behind the altarpiece) sparklingly lit but behind glass. The no photo rule applies but is patchily enforced. You pay to enter the Treasury too - on the left after paying is a small sanctuary full of reliquaries and saint's bits. Much better is the room opposite, the actual Treasury -  an impressive square and domed space with some lovely icons and glassware. I found the treasury inessential but the museum, up a steep staircase to the right of the entrance to basilica, is verily a treat. Mosaic fragments, up close views of the mosaics in the left transept, the horses, models and plans, and the view from the outside terrace, make this a bargain ticket.  And there's the new Sala dei Banchetti, housing mostly tapestries, but also the Paulo Veneziano cover for the pala and cases of graduals.
I headed towards San Giovanni di Malta, which has recently become open 'every day'. I stopped off at San Zaccaria to see the Bellini, of course, and wonder why it seemed so much brighter inside.  San Giorgio dei Greci had a service on, with the congregation in small clusters, which turned out to be around the heaters. San Giovanni di Malta was closed, despite it not being 1.00 yet, which is when the sign on the door said it closed. I wandered back via the Rialto, taking photos of churches in campi usefully empty of people and restaurant seating.  A small Xmas market remained in Campo San Polo - two stalls selling hot wine, one selling sausages and cheese, and an ice rink. I was tasked with acquiring lunch, so I got some savoury pastries from Barozzi by the Frari and ginger-flavoured crisps and bottles of water from the supermarket in Campo Santa Margherita and headed back to hotel for a picnic lunch in the warm. I also bought my first ever frittella, which was very pleasant.
Finishing our afternoon rest around 4.00 we went for an evening visit to the Accademia. This turned out to be a treat, due in no small part to the number of works loaned to exhibitions, in Denver and Osaka mostly, and these works having odd and usually unseen works put up in their place. The corridor where the 18th century stuff used to be had large and impressive Bonifacio de Pitati arched panels showing two scenes involving Solomon, an Adoration of the Magi, an Annunciation and an Enthroned Christ. I must follow these up as they were new to me and they looked fine. In the room which used to be the church there was a well-attended talk about a Bellini exhibition and a small Bosch display of three works restored for last year's exhibitions. The St Ursula room was closed for restoration of the cycle. More new rooms were open in the basement, some empty, some with works in them, mostly Canova sculptures and mostly impressive.
After an evening wander through deserted Dorsoduro we ended up at a restaurant behind San Pantalon called Da Silvio which was OK - fresh ingredients and all, but a bit bland tasting. The Grom near our hotel IS tempting, but it being so cold is seriously off-putting.

Friday 20th January
My usual hotel is right by the ghetto, but I've never done the synagogue tour. So off we set this morning to right that wrong. On the way I noticed San Simeon Piccolo (the one opposite the railway station) was open, which is very rare, so a quick visit was in order. Getting inside we discovered that the famous crypt was open too, which has never been known. I say famous but, although what I've read has been tantalising, it's very rarely mentioned in guidebooks and the like. You pay the sacristan €2 and he gives you a candle. There is one light down there, so another source is needed to explore properly, and I wished I'd brought a torch. It's a warren of tunnels, totally painted on the walls and ceiling, with spooky niches and chambers leading off, all decorated too. There's a central domed space, with a light. The painting is rough in execution and macabre in style, with reclining bodies and skeletons featured amongst the colourful decoration. The sacristan says the place is now open every day except Monday and I recommend the experience if you get the chance. (There are more photos in the entry for San Simeon on Churches of Venice.)
The synagogue tours run at half-past the hour and start in the Ghetto Museum as the first two synagogues are upstairs at the museum, entry to which involves airport-like security. The first two synagogues are old but have been baroqued up later - a fate they share with many Christian churches, of course. They are impressive nonetheless - the first, the German, looking a lot like a Venetian theatre (see right). The second, the Canton, has unusual small inset painted scenes from the Old Testament, with Jerusalem looking a lot like Venice. The third synagogue, the Spanish, requires a walk and was built later with Longhena's name mentioned, but maybe only as inspiration. It is visitable in winter as it is hard to heat and alternates seasonal religious use with the Levantine synagogue opposite, which does have heating and so is the one used in winter. Back at the museum we indulged ourselves, me with a hot chocolate and some typical Venetian Jewish almond nibbles, Jane with tea and a cheesy pastry. We then explored the museum. Things learnt included the three stages of the growing of the ghetto, with vecchia and nuova referring to the age of the original foundries not the later use of the word to denoted the confinement of Jews; and how few Jews live there now, although it remains a travelled-to centre.
We picked up two stout brown panini, with mozzarella and tomato filling, in the railway station, and another fritella for me from a bakers. If you've never had one these are small seasonal Venetian doughnuts. Yesterday I had a crema one, which had custardy stuff inside, and today's was a Veneziana (see right) which has raisins inside. The zabaione is a boozier version of the crema, and there are chocolate and apple ones too.
This evening we visited the Frari, which was open until 6.00 and was almost empty. A treat. The Pesaro altarpiece is still away being restored, with a photo in its place, but at least there's now a sign admitting this fact. Their Christmas crib was still in place and was very impressive - a veritable model village which changes lighting as its short day progresses, with sound effects, moving figures and a projected star and angels. I also noticed that the obscure little Madonna I have been attracted too and photographing on each visit in recent years, by Giovanni Battista Salvi (Il Sassoferrato) 1609-1685 is featured in the Frari 2017 calendar, reduced to a very reasonable €3. Tonight was our best meal yet - at the Taverna San Trovaso - the food flavoursome and the atmosphere convivial.

Saturday 21st January
To the Palazzo Fortuny first, where there's an exhibition devoted to the Cadorin family, a Venetian dynasty who worked in a variety of media and to varying effect. Mostly good stuff in the exhibition, though, with some especially fine photos taken by their friend Augusto Tivoli, who also comprehensively captured the collapsed campanile in San Marco and its rebuilding. The exhibition was in several rooms, but also spread through the regular rooms in the Fortuny, which are always a joy to visit.
Then on to Sant'Apollonia, the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, where we were literally the only visitors for the whole of our visit, which was another real treat. After paying at the new entrance you climb stairs into an enormous room, the upper half of the old church, empty but for a huge Giovanni Bellini altarpiece depicting the  Madonna in Glory with Eight Saints. It is from San Pietro on Murano, has been being restored since the 1990s and went on display here last October, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Bellini's death, with the expectation that it will be returned to San Pietro if the restoration has 'taken'.  Well it's still here and suffering visibly from its damp and unsuitable surroundings. Its eventual destination and fate is still unknown. Next there are several rooms containing far too many modern Russian icons, before the museum proper starts. This has a weird and rather wonderful selection of art - paintings and sculpture and silver work - from closed or demolished churches. There's lots from San Clemente, including the famous statues stolen and dragged away along the lagoon bed wrapped in tyres. Also an oddly large number of life-sized doll-like Madonnas with doll babies, dressed in lacy frocks and presumably carried in possessions. The place was perishing cold in most rooms, but there was an unusually knowledgeable and honest attendant who braved the coldest rooms to amaze us, and let us visit the cloister, which used to be the first thing you saw on entering, and which contains stone fragments from the original San Marco. It also bizarrely has a full-size photographic reproduction of Titian's Annunciation from San Salvador, in a corner laying on its side. Back to our hotel after stops for panini and another fritella (another Veneziana but nicer than yesterday's for tasting fresher and having more raisins) to be eaten in the warm of a hotel room.
Realising we hadn't yet checked out the snazzy repurposing of the Fondaco de Tedesci we went this evening, and it's very swish, almost oppressively upmarket, and the roof terrace has stunning views - shame it wasn’t daytime. For our last meal we ended up in the Osteria Doge Morosini, off Campo San Stefano. It had four veggie options and two entrances, sufficiently far apart - one in a calle and one in the Campo - that a group arrived as we were leaving that only realised they were in the same restaurant as the night before when they recognised a waiter. That's four random restaurants on four nights for us, and three and a half successes (one was a bit bland). I also racked up three pasta e fagoli soups, one vegetable soup and no ice cream at all, sadly, due to the bitter coldness weather.

Sunday 22nd January
We checked out, strolled the very deserted calli and campi to Piazzale Roma, used the tickets unvalidated on Wednesday because of the actv strike, swiftly dropped off our bags in the upstairs departure lounge, got scanned, got biscuits and sat to read and wait. The flight and trains were boringly free of problems or delays and we were soon home to give our one cat - happy to see us back - some treat tuna.



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