November 2019
More photos here

Sunday 3rd
It's been a while, January 2017 was my last visit. Aside from it being a while I'm visiting this time, again in winter,  for some churches opened especially for art shows in this biennale year. There's also an exhibition on in the Doge's Palace devoted to paintings from Antwerp, including a Tintoretto altarpiece that used to be in the demolished church of San Geminiano.
After a day of relentless rain and dinge it can't help but be heartening to walk to Balham station under cloudless blue skies. The happy chap on the platform feeling the need to share his pleasure at his mum getting a new carer, replacing the previous rubbish one, was gently spirit-raising too. All smooth at Gatwick, apart from my setting the body scanner beeping. Reassured to learn that the machine was over-detecting, but the wand-scanning and the prodding was still necessary.

The windy wildness of the weather in Venice meant that the plane's first approach had to be abandoned and one from another direction made. Which took an oddly long time and was all the more perplexing as the clouds out the window meant you couldn't tell how near or far the ground was or whether we were approaching it. Marco Polo airport is looking a lot shinier and snazzier nowadays, and progress was swift through the electronic passport gates and with my case found to be already carouselling. No trouble finding the yellow ACTV machine and scanning in the QR code printed out during my online booking last week. The airport bus ticket and the 3-day vap ticket are separate things, so dispelling my fear of activating the latter before I needed it. The bus ride through dark and rainy outskirts could have been nicer, but it rarely is, and it doesn't take long.
A wet walk from the Piazzale Roma to the Palazzo Stern, but nice to be greeted there by name and provided with a complementary bottle. Not sure if I'm up to drinking a whole bottle of Prosecco on my own though. I'm on the third floor at the back and my high room faces towards the west end of the Giudecca Canal and through the open window there's the weird sudden sound of distant cruise ship announcements and a view of its xmas-tree bulk.
On my way out for a damp evening stroll I gratefully declined the prosecco at the front desk and got offered fruit instead, which is more my thing. (This promised substitution never happened, mind you.) I made for Gianni for an early pizza bufala and a piccolo birra. When I left the rain had stopped and it was oddly mild so... gelato! Nico is nearby so I have an apple/cinnamon and lemon coppa, whilst strolling along the Zattere in the dark, taking photos during a wander back.

Monday 4th
Having developed the habit of waking around 8.00 in recent years I figured a man whose head was hitting the pillow last night only just after 11. 00 was not needing to set his alarm, and I was indeed awake by 7.30. Church bells rang and my first daylight view out my window did not disappoint. My trips this year have been characterised by unoverlooked rooms with many windows and/or a fine view. A happy change from light wells. In the night I was awoken by an irregular bleep, which turned out to be an organic squeak from the shutters I'd opened, blowing in the wind.
All of the churches open for Biennale-related exhibitions close on Monday, except for San Samuele, so I headed there first this morning. It's right opposite my hotel's entrance, but across the Grand Canal, so I could see that it's door was open. After crossing the Accademia Bridge I had a linger in the Vivaldi concert hall and CD shop that is San Vitale, admiring the Carpaccio and also registering the lesser side altarpieces. Some where not as negligible as I remembered, as indeed was the case in San Samuele too, but the art made of screwed up tissues was an unwelcome distraction. The mythical new guidebook for the church, spoken of by some correspondents with my website but not seen by man, was on sale at the exhibition's desk, so was bought, from the polite but uneffusive chap in attendance. Through the busy, but not heaving, Piazza I made for San Zaccaria to treat myself to one of the top Bellinis and the chapels and crypt, but the latter was too waterlogged to do more than admire from the bottom step. Then it was up to the Arsenale and to San Zanipolo just for the joy of it, and the photo opportunities on the way. And I even discovered a new view (see photo right) - a cute cranny not encountered before. Heading vaguely back towards the Accademia Bridge I found myself deposited on the Strada Nuova, as you do, and there lunched on a roasted vegetables and hummus bagel. I picked up a Kranz too (see right) a pastry that I've been meaning to try for ages, for taking with the afternoon tea. It's a cake brought to Venice by the occupying Austrians, we're told, and it did not disappoint in its raisiny and apricotty moistness.
In the evening I headed for my old evening wandering grounds in Cannaregio, through the Ghetto and along to the Misericordia. A disappointing lack of cats, probably down to the chill of the evening, until I came back through the Ghetto and noticed a white and black one gazing out of an artist's shop window, with a tabby washing on a work table inside. How sensible to be in a warm atelier, I thought, as it started to rain.

Tuesday 5th
I broke in my vaporetto pass this morning, from the Ca' Rezzonico stop outside my hotel to San Marco. The From Titian to Rubens exhibition was my main reason for visiting the Doge's Palace, for the first time since my first trips to Venice in the early 1990s. As is often the case the attention-grabbing exhibition title didn't really tell you what the exhibition was really about, which was Antwerp, and its connections to Venice around the time of Rubens. The connections varied in weakness - the Rubens works had little connection to Venice and the highlight Titian was unconnected to Antwerp, for instance.
The draw for me was the Tintoretto from the demolished church of San Geminiano, bought by David Bowie and sold at his death to a private collector who's now given it to the Rubens House, from where it's to be on long term loan here. A few too many Rubens works on display for my taste, but I like van Dyke, and the Titian portrait of (probably) his mistress and their daughter, until quite recently hidden under a later hand's conversion of it into a Tobias and the Angel, is a gem worth the entrance fee in itself.
I was also struck by a portrait of two glum and pasty-faced little girls posing as martyr saints, which was evidently a thing they did during the Counter Reformation, in this case Saints Agnes and Dorothy and by Michaelina Wautier, a new neglected female artist on me. One girl was petting a lamb, the other had a bowl of fruit. Saint Dorothy was said to have been mocked by a pagan lawyer called Theophilus on the way to her execution, saying 'send me some fruits from your bridegroom's garden' and the fruit she sent him just before she was martyred converted him to Christianity and lead to his own execution.
A later room of still-lifes did the added-interest thing with cases containing Venetian wine glasses, as featured in the paintings, which actually did add. A room devoted to Adriaan Willaert the imported Netherlandish composer did less for me. Overall a worthwhile exhibition, I thought, with some odd good Flemish stuff noticeably not, as I was expecting, from the Antwerp gallery that's still closed for rebuilding, but mostly from private, and odd, collections.
And so to the Palazzo Ducale proper. My memory of lowering gilded ceilings in vast interchangeable meeting rooms full of uninteresting 17th-century art on all surfaces except the floor, mostly allegorical paintings for doges keen to celebrate victories at sea on their watch, or suck up to the Virgin, was not entirely a false one. But there is pleasure too, in the mostly-admirable works by Tintoretto and Veronese, and the surprise of the huge detached fragmentary fresco of The Coronation of the Virgin in Paradise by my old Paduan mate Guariento. The walk through the prisons was impressively confusing and endless, the gift shop surprisingly tempting, and I nearly missed the works rooms on the ground floor with its pleasing array of bits of stonework, old columns and such.
The vap back I took to Rialto and walked back via the Frari, scoffing a mozzarella and tomato panino on the way, and picking up another Kranz, smaller this time but still delicious.
Up to the Dogana in the dark of the evening, taking photos and avoiding puddles and those slippy stretches of marble paving. Back near my hotel I decided on a takeaway felafel in padina (pitta) and the bread was baked for me from dough in the pizza oven. 'Twas a good one, but I had to eat it by the side of a canal so the fish could share in my fallout. The new San Pellegrino mandarin drink was very tasty too. And it was a warm enough evening for a Grom fior di latte and pistacchio conno. (I'm eco-centrically changing over to cornets to save on the waste of cardboard tubs and plastic spoons that the coppa entails.)

Wednesday 6th
At breakfast this morning I couldn't help noticing Ridley Scott at another table. Today's plan was to tick off the churches specially open for biennale art shows. Also to buy some cream for my mosquito bites, but paying €9.90 for a tube was not part of the plan. An early visit to the Frari got the morning of to a fine start - the number of visitors being barely into double figures. The Titian high altarpiece is being restored, though, by Save Venice, as a sign tells us, before going on to name all of the donors, Americans not knowing the meaning of the words 'anonymous' or 'modesty' it seems. Or is it a tax thing?
I did some checking of the opening status of the other churches I passed too. So I can report that San Simeon Piccolo and it's super-spooky crypt does seem to be as open as promised, and that San Giobbe was closed, despite the Chorus website claiming it open. The modern art in Santa Maria delle Penitenti was unobtrusive but no more information was available about the church, in fact less than I already knew. There was more art to be seen in the attached ex-hospice, now a care home, once the staff let you in, but the spaces - a small courtyard and a hall with columns - weren't exciting. Passing the Gesuiti on my way to my next stop, I thought I'd pop in, and discovered that they now charge an entirely reasonable €1 admittance. The place is never less than a jaw-dropping florid treat. The adjacent monastery buildings are now something called Combo, which seems to be part art and meeting place and part coffee bar. But it is worth a wander, for a couple of courtyards and a painted staircase, but you have to ignore the piped music and the lounging packs of youth.
In San Giovanni di Malta the new art was more obtrusive but it was good to get inside this church at long last; and to tick of another Bellini, even if a very 'studio of' one. When I left the church it had started to rain, so it seemed a good idea to get thoroughly lost on my way to the next church. Why do some calle just end with canals? Do I look like a pigeon? Santa Maria Ausiliatrice was housing the Welsh Biennale presence again, but at least it wasn't all dark for video installations, as it was last time. I caught a no. 1 vap back, and picked up veggie pastries from Barrozzi, of fond memory in years past, for my late lunch.
The evening walk took me through Santa Croce and San Polo, a couple of my least-visited sestiere this trip. Things got spicy (and peary) pretty quickly, with visits to old fave confectioners Tonolo for the purchase of some little cardamom chocolate bars in a new Spezie range by Lindt, some Caffarel ricotta and pear choc-coated almonds, a marzipan pear and a box of my favourite vanilla flavour Pastiglie Leone. A mozzarella and tomato calzone was scoffed sitting on a gondolier's bench in front of the Frari and a Grom pear sorbet and banana creme conno was later slurped, the latter scoop being additionally flavoured with peach and cinnamon. So delicious was this combination it is already pencilled in as tomorrow night's gelato finale.

Thursday 7th
After breakfast with my mate Ridley again I made an early start in the Accademia. All was pretty usual until Room 3 which is now an even more Bellini-ful treat, and the 16th century gets generally more spread out, with a room for the Giorgiones (major and questionable), a room reproducing the Scuola di San Marco and the big room with The Feast in the House of Levi is now the total-Veronese room, even with the ceiling paintings from San Nicoḷ della Lattuga. Tintoretto and Titian are a bit squeezed at the end, and as the corridor of small rooms is now completely closed for rebuilding you have to backtrack to Room 1 and head off through the other door, for the restored Saint Ursula cycle, the room of stuff from the Scuola San Giovanni Evangelista and the old church space. The latter has some usually unseen stuff, partly because the Bellini panels have been moved into their right place in the room sequence. I still find the ground floor 18th and 19th century rooms a bit soulless after the rooms above - all that white. The gift shop is expanded, with more books, almost all in Italian, and there's a table full of books with paintings on the covers, setting up hopes of a catalogues, but they are all plain notebooks in hundreds of styles and sizes. And there is still no guide or catalogue. Another annoyance is that their new range of products all have a red spot graphic on them. Not so bad on a big canvas bag with lettering, bloody stupid on a fridge magnet - your instinct is to try to scratch it off.
Deciding to head off to Rialto, as I'd not walked that way this week, I noticed that the Benedetto Marcello Music School had some Biennale in it's rooms and courtyards, and as it's usually never open to the public... A small photo-fest was had (see right). In a burst of investing in local businesses I then patronised the lovely card shop by Santo Stefano, the art book shop just beyond Campo Sant'Angelo (an Italian book on Girolamo dai Libri reduced to €15) and the general bookshop nearer San Salvador (a new book called Discovering Tintoretto in Venetian Churches). The good Bellini in San Giovanni Grisostomo was admired, San Felice was found unusually open and visited, and savoury pastries were eaten in front of Santa Fosca with the help of a plethora of pushy pigeons and one handsome seagull.
The last evening was going to involve a night-time vaporetto up the grand canal, but the boats were so rush-hour crowded I decided that a final dark-alley wander was best - window shopping up past Ca Foscari, around the Frari, ending up at a slightly rough and ready bar, near the Alaska gelateria, remembered from past trips that does good pizzas, and sitting down for a pizza cipolla, a birra alla spina, unsparkling service, and some local colour. On my way back to the hotel I repeated last night's gelato, as planned.

Friday 8th
My final awakening was to dinge and pouring rain - I had to switch my Murano chandelier on! I blew my last chance to thank Ridley for Blade Runner, even though he probably wouldn't have minded some light conversation as he waited by the toaster. And then I had to listen to two pairs of Americans, breaking the ice by asking each other where they came from, of course, and then detailing their travels in Italy in raised voices across a gap of three tables. Churches and art galleries were not part of the conversation, but both parties were transferring to cruise ships after one day spent in Venice, and when George Clooney was mentioned in relation to Lake Como the louder guy spluttered and said he didn't share George's politics. This is the same guy who had just wisely informed the room that our hotel was the oldest palazzo in Venice (it was built in the 19th century) and that it was even older than the one next door (the Ca' Rezzonico, 18th-century). They are in fact two of the newest. He was presumably a Trump supporter for whom the concept of the truth was flexible.
When checking out I was asked if all had been well and so I had to make my traditional complaint about Italian fake orange juice, and was told that the real thing was available to special order, a secret I'll have to remember next time. The rain hadn't stopped and the water was alta by the hotel entrance, so I was let out of a side door, put my hat on, and headed for Ple Roma. On the way I detoured around some high water via a misjudged puddle/lake that almost reached my ankles. I exaggerate slightly. The bus to the airport was waiting, bag-drop and security not slow, and Marco Polo is so big and full of shops now! Also my BA flight boarded and departed early and arrived at Heathrow almost a half-hour early. Early arrivals having become an oddly common factor on my BA flights this year. Having taken my shoes off in flight my socks were almost dry by the time I met Jane at arrivals, and we were home in time for a late lunch. Travel is great, but so is coming home.
A closing observation: I noticed two closed bookshops this trip, but my three favourites remain. The tacky souvenir mask and glass shops continue to spread like a sparkly Black Death, but there are also more bakeries doing lunch-time treats and filled panini and more supermarkets. I thought that the latter were a good sign, but it turns out they're not, being an indicator of the needs of another population-sapping phenomenon: Airbnb.

Venice // Florence // London // Berlin // Trips