September 2017
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Wednesday 13th September
This trip was booked as a low-fuss week embellishing the nearly-finished Padua & Verona pages on the Churches of Venice. Leaving a London severely gripped by Autumnal temperatures and fierce winds, it took a leap of imagination and faith to be packing t-shirts, but I gritted my teeth and managed. And the dinge and dark clouds of recent weeks lifted this morning to send me on my way with blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Having a train waiting on the platform at Balham to whisk me to East Croydon, and when I got there the train to Gatwick just pulling in, all went for the further lightening of my mood. The longish Automated check-in wait wasn't too bad and the security rigmarole went OK. However getting into the departure lounge and finding that your 12.10 flight is displaying that gate information is due at 12.35 is going to harsh anyone's buzz. The flight eventually left two hours late, and so we got to Venice Marco Polo just before 5.00. The pavement of the bus stops at Marco Polo is now further out, nearer the car park, and the bus to Padua is at the far left end, as you come out. The helpful actv chap who told me where it was also told me that the company that runs it, BusItalia, was on strike. He said I might wait, as it was due in 10 minutes, but if it didn't turn up there was his company's bus, to catch the train from Venice. Waiting with an Italian chap with good English we eventually decided that the bus wasn't coming and that the bus to Mestre was best, catching the train to Padua from there. With his Italian and my previous experience we had no problems. Except having to stand up in what was the rush hour train from Venice.
It was just after 7.00pm when I checked in to the Majestic Toscanelli and room 312 is seeming pretty perfect so far. It's a good size with a kettle, a sofa(-bed actually) and a marbly bathroom. And as I type this it's getting all dusky out my open window and all I can hear is church bells and a distant dog barking.
Venturing out into the dusk I made for UniVerso, the vegan burger joint I had patronised last time, crossing my fingers it hadn't closed. But it was open, had five customers (all female) in its now-nicer seating area, and a longer menu, with an English version even. I had the Vegan Chop - a tofu burger in a long seedy bun with cheese, mayo and salad, rosemary potatoes and a lemon soda. All v. tasty.

Thursday 14th September
My room is so quiet I left my window open. I'd set my alarm for 7.30 but a soft local church bell rang at the same time. Breakfast was pretty much as I remember it. Orange juice not too nasty, and I asked for a black coffee, rather than resort to the stewing stuff in the urn, which was much better. Muesli and pastries fine, except for the sugared-up croissants. Only a few tourists too, amongst the Italians, who mostly seemed like business people.
To churches today. The plan being to tour around some that need updating with regard to scaffolding, restorations and such, before getting to one not open last time, due to some big building work. Weather-wise it was dull and cool as I left the hotel, and so it continued, managing neither blue skies nor rain.
To Santa Maria dei Servi first, to see if the Donatello Crucifix was back from restoration. It was, and the work had inspired the removal of the quotes around Donatello's name. And the visit served to revise my entry for the church - I'd been a bit harsh originally. Then to San Francesco, to find the exterior scaffolding gone, and to add observations and details to my entry. Then to the Eremitani (see below right) to settle opening times, and because I like it. Santa Lucia had had the builders in last year - they were gone, but the church is uninteresting. The Scuola di San Rocco next door looked much more interesting on the frescoes front, but was temporarily closed due to electrical problems. I shall return. My plan was then to go and find something to say about the art I'd previously dismissed in the rather boring Duomo, but on the way I found San Clemente open - a first. The main interest here is the supposed Jacopo Bellini fresco fragment of the Madonna & Child. The side door of the Duomo was open so I snuck in, but a man with keys and squeaky shoes approached, making some unambiguous gestures.
I retraced my steps to get some savoury pastries and a slice of apple strudel for lunch and made my way back to my nice quiet room.
In the afternoon, after a snooze, the Bishop's Palace was almost empty. The service was very personal as the nice man took me upstairs to the second floor and the woman on duty up there followed me around a bit. Some good panels and canvases in the museum rooms, mostly from the Duomo next door, but some from other Paduan churches. Having the place to myself helped too, of course. No photos though. Some nice manuscripts in cases on the first floor.
There's nothing to even politely describe as nice in the Duomo, where there was annoying flashing as I sat typing this. But they were professionals with umbrellas and so that was alright then. After a wander in here - even the crypt is boring - I had to visit the Baptistery for a necessary Giusto fix. (I found out afterwards that several euros can be saved by buying a joint Palace/Baptistery ticket.)
A stroll down to the river followed, with the discovery of an information board telling of a lost church called Sant'Agnese, with nothing left but cloister remains in the nearby barracks, itself all overgrown and running to rack and ruin. I then took more photos of my all-time favourite Observatory tower (see above right) and did a winding walk ending up at the Prato della Valle, also finding a service on in San Daniele and managing a photo inside. Back to Capatoast for a mozzarella and tomato toasty and then to Venchi for my first gelato - a classic stracciatella and limone coppa.

Friday 15th September
Today was going to be a train trip to Treviso, but I decided to go with relaxing, remaining and sticking to my agenda of church-site improvements. It was very misty when I woke up but by the time I'd finished breakfast it was blue-sky sunny. I made my way indirectly to the Santo. A service was on, with benches in the centre in front of the high altar, so I sat on a bench by a pillar to begin to flesh out my entry with more detail, and not just the highlights. After a good circuit of the chapels and ambulatory (the very baroque Reliquary Chapel, which has the Saint Anthony chin reliquary as well as the better-known tongue one, I didn't linger in) I made my way through the cloisters to the museum. It costs
2.50 and begins with a bewildering maze of glass cases containing votive plaques and offerings and too much weird stuff for a non-believer to comprehend. This is followed by a room of facsimiles of Donatello's works around the high altar. But it's the unsignposted upstairs where the good stuff is displayed. There are sweet fresco fragments, including the lunette by Mantegna for the Basilica’s doorway and 18th century altarpieces by the likes of Tiepolo, Ballestra, Pittoni, and Piazzetta painted for the ambulatory chapels. Also a Carpaccio Madonna & Saints altarpiece on long-time loan, painted for the convent San Francesco di Pirano, it was looted by the Nazis and eventually returned here. The Santo website says that the original altar it was taken from has been readied for its return since at least 2000. A Titian sinopia from the scuola next door is so faint as to defy any comprehension. There are robes and silver stuff here too. After buying some books I went back into the Santo, having identified a painting by finding a postcard, and realised I had lost the handsome felt pouch I keep my tablet in. I suspected I'd left it on the bench where I'd first sat down, and I was right. Phew!
Back to my room, collecting a spinach and ricotta slice and almond tart on the way. They were too spinachy and too sugary respectively.
Later in the afternoon I took the new Padua Guidebook I'd bought in the Santo shop to the Duomo, too see if knowing a bit more about the altarpieces helped. It did, a bit. Then on to the Oratory di San Rocco, which was now open, but still had an electrician in. Just one hall of frescoes of the life of the Saint, but some good vivid scenes, by Gualtiero Padovano and Dominico Campagnola. A couple of them cunningly work the oratory's real oculus windows into their compositions. Back to UniVerso for their big vegan burger this time, potato croquettes with a ketchup dip and a LemonSoda. A bar of Lindt dark-choc covered marzipan found in a shop earlier embellished the evening tea experience nicely.

Saturday 16th September
Torrents fell in the night but a bright morning dawned, with just a few mosquito bites. I headed for the Eremitani Museo Civico as rain was forecast, and falling by then. On the way I visited Santa Maria del Carmine to see if I had been unduly harsh on it last time. I hadn't. The Pinacoteca in the Museo Civico has lots of good stuff, from Giotto to Tiepolo, with even some Flemish stuff, including a 'circle of' Rogier van der Weyden. The quality improves as you get into the 16th century, which is not something you'll hear me say often, as do the numbers of works. I spent a solid, and tiring, couple of hours, mostly recording paintings from churches, but also enjoying. The rain had stopped when I left, and I got myself a repeat of Thursday's lunch.
For my post-doze walk (in sunshine!) I headed first for a revisit to the finely-frescoed Oratorio San Michele, which should be open on the weekend from 4.00, but wasn't, so I headed north west in search of churches maybe open for Saturday evening services. I found one such, discovered three 'new' ones, one newly covered in scaffolding and one I'd identified all wrong! I also saw two cats (including one who meowed hoarsely at me and let me scratch his head), making five so far and three small basking lizards. I was also approached by four beggars, on streets where I was more or less the only other person. More beggars noticed this year, and mostly they approach you, or at least stand in porticoes, but never seem to sit down.


Sunday 17th September
Yesterday the woman on the hotel desk had asked if I was leaving today, and I said yes. And wondered. Checking my booking I realised I'd booked until Saturday only, possibly as my Verona booking began on Sunday, or something. I 'fessed up and apologised as I paid, anyway. I left my case and made for Santa Giustina, via the antique/junk/book market set up in the Prato della Valle. A well-attended service was on in the left transept in Santa Giustina. I did some improvement of my entry. I then strolled down to Santa Croce, a small church, which had a service on and was rammed! The service ended as I hesitated, so I had a little look around. Heading back to the hotel I took a shortcut and found a small church totally unknown to me previously, this close to my hotel! I caught the 1.40 train to Verona, walked to my hotel, the Accademia,  from the station, through the Piazza Bra crowded with some children's play event. Checked in, room smaller than the one in Padua, TV bigger, no view out the window but it seems quiet, and the toilet is less cramped and more marbly.
After a rest I went out, to find the games events are a four-day festival and have taken over the whole heaving city, but it finishes today. By the time my chosen restaurant, Da Mario, opens at 7.00 calm has descended and sweeping up well under way. I feel I've waited long enough this trip to have a pizza - man cannot live on toast and vegan burgers alone - so a cipolla pizza it is.

Monday 18th September
Breakfast at the Accademia is now served in what used to be the restaurant. The juice is still diluted (€4 for the real) and more disappointingly their destination wholemeal croissants (still a rare find) now come ready-stuffed with apricot jam. This morning's first task was a search for the scant traces of the church of Santa Cecilia, where Paolo Veronese got married. Then into Sant'Anastasia, because you have to spend time soaking up the good stuff too. I bought the four-church ticket, and there's now a good audio guide. Coming to Verona and missing an opportunity to see the Pisanello fresco in here is not a thing to be contemplated
Next I made for San Tomaso Cantuariense, mostly for a better exterior photo but I had a look inside too, as it has some oddly fine paintings. When a chap approached me I braced myself for an early chuck out, but he was just tempting me with a useful €5 guidebook, also showing me some frescos and a monument in a corridor, letting me look in another chapel, showing me where the Saint's reliquary is stowed in the altar and generally being very helpful and friendly. He still chucked me out at 12.00, though, and I headed for San Fermo, which you now enter from the cloister at the back, and which has a huge column of scaffolding in the middle of the upper church. The Pisanello-decorated tomb can still be clearly seen, though, to complete a uniquely Pisanello-full morning. The lower church is unaffected by works, and a treat of early frescos and Romanesque atmosphere. A mozzarella and salad panino was bought on the way back to the hotel, along with a florentine, a delicacy not often seen in Itay, and here called a Florentina, and not a Fiorentina..
The late afternoon search for some recently found and hopefully open churches was undertaken in mizzle, which eased off in time. Success on most fronts, including some unexpectedly open churches, and one I'd read was being used for art, but which was now a bank. Last time I was here I'd found another such conversion. In the UK banks are closing and being turned into Pizza Express branches, here churches are being made into banks. I was also much taken with the area east of the Arena just by the river. I was hungry, a bit damp, and a bit early, and so succumbed to the lure of the McVeggie, with a Venchi mascarpone/honey and coconut coppa to follow.

Tuesday 19th September
Persistent rain was falling in my dingy light-well this morning when I woke up. A Castelvecchio visit was planned - a good choice for wet weather. I asked the woman taking my money if the paintings famously stolen where back yet, and she said no but they were due to be back up this weekend. But they mostly were back, except the little room with the little Crivelli was being worked in, and there were many pairs of chaps with lanyards measuring walls and carrying cables and tools and stuff. Myself I made notes on my tablet and took discrete photos. It wasn't quite 12.00 when I left, in more mizzley rain, so I thought I'd go and soak up San Zeno as it was part of my four-church deal and I love it. And I now love it even more, as they now allow you to get into the apse and right up close to the Mantegna altarpiece - a treat. The place where I bought my panino yesterday had nothing without meat today, but the helpful woman offered to make me up something, so I had a crusty brown baguette with brie.
In the rainless late afternoon I headed over the river towards the Porta Vescovo, along via XX Settembre, a rough and busy road with much run-down but interesting architecture and one very dilapidated church discovery. I was out to find Santa Toscana near the porta, and did. And then I followed the walls north and uphill, and then down to the Teatro Romano area. After checking out the scaffolding on San Giorgio in Braida, and the new riverside walk nearby, it was time to head for another pizza at the place I ate at on Sunday, only to find it closed, and so go get a rather tasty bufala and tomato one in Impero in the Piazza dei Signori, then a pineapple/ginger and coconut gelato from a place called Pretto.

Wednesday 20th September
On my last day I had some final photos and visits to tick off. The photos benefited from the sunny blue-sky morning. San Benedetto was on my list because of the Sala Morone, a library frescoed by Domenico and Francesco Morone, but closed on previous trips. Due to ambiguous opening times on their website I think it was closed today, but a nice woman went and got the key and so I got a look. The frescos are many and impressive, but more admirable than moving, being mostly trompe l'oeil friars on plinths. The church itself is a solid fave, so I had to go in, and found it all the better for morning light, as I'd previously come in evenings.
I next had to make for the Archaeological museum, and decided that a direct route east from San Zeno, taking me through the Arsenale, might be interesting, and so it was, a bit. The Arsenale was a typically Italian mix of the offices of mysterious organisations, overgrown ruin, warning signs on temporary fencing and manky green spaces with benches for use by groups of noisy youth and African men. The Teatro Romano Museo I needed to visit not so much for the bits of stone and mosaics, as for the church of San Girolamo which is part of the museum complex and has frescos by Caroto and an altarpiece by Farinati. I got a toasted mozzarella, tomato and rocket panino from a stall in the Piazza Erbe I'd found last time. And two dischi di mandorle from a cake shop around the corner.
Another visit to cross off, after my snooze, was to the graveyard of the Scaliger tombs, next to Santo Maria Antiqua, recently opened by those nice Legambiente people and, in this case, their spaniel. A stroll afterwards to capture churches in the sunshine eventually found me hungry early and ideally placed to succumb to another McVeggie burger, followed by a semi-freddo and an early return to my room.

Thursday 21st September
I decided that I had enough time that I could make my way to airport for my 11.30 flight by bus from the train station without stepping outside the comfort zone of my usual morning schedule. At breakfast I overhead: 'I was going to explain but you went off on a tandem'. After the two-hour BA flight delay and BusItalia strike which began my trip, I was hoping for the gods' favour for my return. The ticket office for the atv airport bus is still in the corridor parallel to the front of the station but the stop is now to the right as you leave the station. The fare is €6, the buses are every 20 minutes and you can see mountains as you wait. I caught the 9.30, was at the airport by 9.45, check-in, security and passport-checking where all a queueless breeze. The flight even got into Gatwick 10 minutes early. I was home in time for (a pretty late) lunch!

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