Being my third post-Covid trip abroad
but my first one not part of a tour group. It had to be Venice, of course,
as my last visit had been in November 2019, and Ferrara chose itself too
as I'd spent the tripless years doing all the work on a page devoted to
Ferrara's churches that could be done without being there.
The need for the personal locator form for entry into Italy ceased on the
1st of May and the NHS covid-jab proof is only needed for entry into the
country now, not restaurants and galleries. FFP2 masks are still
compulsory on flights into Italy and on public transport there. A minor
pain, and weird after the UK's relaxation of all rules, but not as bad as
what was needed for Florence in February.
My journey to the airport had its sheen somewhat dimmed by my getting on
the wrong train at Clapham Junction and finding myself at Sanderstead.
Having to wait 40 minutes for a train back to East Croydon made me later
to Gatwick than I intended but the queue-free experience at bagdrop and
security made for no trouble at all and I was speedily boarded, equipped
with a Pret cheese sarnie, and I even had an empty seat next to me.
The torrid temperature felt on leaving Marco Polo was a bit unusual, but I
had no trouble catching the ATVO coach to Mestre station. Even the train
to Ferrara switching platform at the last minute couldn't harsh my buzz
and, having learned the nicer tree-lined walk into the centre last time, I
was soon checking in to the Mercure. My room was found to be spacious,
with two comfy chairs, a desk and a very long sofa. Not a spectacular
view, but the scaffold-clad side of an empty-looking building is not going
to create a need for strict curtain closing.
My evening acclimatising stroll ticked off a fair few churches to the
north west. A pizza margherita with onions accompanied by a Franciscana
beer in Slurp was followed by gelato number one from the very excellent
Gelateria Baluardi - ricotta with fig & nut teamed with coconut. An
Breakfast was somewhat chaotic when I arrived - half of the twelve tables
were occupied, half had uncleared cups and plates, and there were half a
dozen people waiting. Things got better a little later. The odd serving
method involved asking two women behind a glass-fronted counter for what
you wanted. I don't know if this is a late-Covid substitute for a buffet,
but it was not efficient.
I headed north-easterly this morning, finding many churches, but finding
most of them closed and many crumbling and surrounded by metal fencing.
Knowing this was likely going to be the case I took advantage of the Gesu
always being open for a cool interior reappraisal - have I mentioned how
hot it is here? - and the adding of details. But later I also found Santo
Spirito open, and a big square pale baroque treat inside, with fresco
I got my lunch from the Spar supermarket: a pre-packed mozza/tom sandwich
with this season's limited edition San Carlo crisps - Pesto flavour. A
packet of biscuits and a peach iced tea also. I had a pasticceria in mind
for a cake but it mystifyingly had closed for lunch, so I got a Leon d'Oro
from the bar opposite the Duomo.
To the Casa Romei after my snooze, a museum which I got the impression had
some frescoes from lost churches, but which actually has a whole floor -
seven rooms - full of such fragments. And all fully placed and explained
in bilingual panels. It also clusters around a lovely cloister (see
right) which has ancient game boards scratched into the upper
Some more evening church finding afterwards, in an
easterly direction. A big church had a comprehensive panel giving all the
details of the considerable work being done on it but nonetheless failed
to mention its name. The chemist opposite proved very helpful and
informed, coming over the road to point out stuff in his white coat even.
And I later not only found the ruins of the famous Sant'Andrea complex,
but I also made meaningful contact with the Sant'Andrea ruins cat. Another
discovery was that San Pietro, the church that had been converted into a
porno cinema has now closed. My evening gelato was a pistachio and lemon
cono - classic!
(Counting up later - today I photographed twenty-eight churches.)
Learning from yesterday I got to breakfast a little later and things were
calm, the room sparsely occupied and I'm getting the hang of the counter
A break from finding closed churches this morning, with the Pinacoteca and
the cemetery planned. As the Pinacoteca doesn't open until 10.00 I thought
I'd go and revise Santo Stefano, but it was closed. A church near the
centre, called San Michele Arcangelo, was reported as now being a car
park. I thought that this meant that its cloister or churchyard had been
converted, but no - the church itself has had a dirty big door punched in
its side. It's in the middle of a very grimy and unloved area, oddly very
much in the city centre. I checked out the Friday market nearby,
photographed the front of the long-closed church of the Teatini, whose
front yard is now a very busy car park.
The Pinacoteca was empty of visitors but full of good art, if not truly
great art. I'm still most enamoured of Garofalo, but there is other gently
good stuff, which I appreciate more each visit. A hot walk around the
Certosa cemetery afterwards, spotting many small fast lizards and
photographing dusty tombs etc. On the way back to my hotel I picked up a
small carciofi pizza and a cipolla bread thing, with a cherry tart.
After my siesta I found Santo Stefano closed again and did a somewhat
organic walk eastwards, which ended up hoovering up some churches I'd
pencilled in for tomorrow morning, including Santa Maria della Visitazione
and Sant'Antonio in Polesine, both of which had services on, allowing some
discrete interior photography. The former is right over by the old walls/ringroad
and the latter is a church you have to ring to get into, but which then
has much more to see than the external chapel being used this evening. On my
return to the centre Capatoast provided their tasty Vegano option, which
contained hummus, mushrooms and rocket, and my cono was cocco and
After the obligatory diversion to find Santo Stefano closed I made for
Sant'Antonio Polesine. One rings a (somewhat raucous) bell and waits for a
nun. And waits... An Italian couple turned up and so I rang again, and was
rewarded by rustling on the intercom speaker. It turned out a school party
was being shown around so we had to wait (about 15 minutes) for them to
finish. By then we were a group of five to be shown around the nuns'
church, which is behind the high altar and through the screen from the
'external' church I visited yesterday evening. We were also shown the tomb
of Beatrice II d'Este, the founder, whose tomb slab famously drips 'a
portentous trickle of water' from October to March. The nuns' church is
much the bigger, with intarsia choir stalls and three end chapels full of
fine old frescoes, in a bewildering variety of styles and mixture of
patches, but a fresco feast to be sure, that should be better known.
There's another small chapel beyond, with a polychromed terracotta
Lamentation group, by an unknown Ferrarese artist.
I then made for San Giorgio fuori la mura over the river, for photos and a
longer visit than last time.
Santissimo Crocifisso di San Luca is even further out than San Giorgio and
not easy to walk to. I wasn't expecting an open door, but was pleasantly
surprised, and quite quickly booted politely out, but not before taking a
few photos. A good morning's church-exploring, then, with much fresh
material for the website.
After my snooze, having no more churches to find, I thought I'd explore in
the south-westerly direction, previously unexplored. On the way I thought
I'd confirm Santo Stefano's closedness one last time, but it was open! A
service was on but it was one of those evening masses where six woman sit
spaced around while someone runs through the service, in this case a chap
in robes, but this seems not essential. Then further on in my progress I
heard bells, and so found the door to Santa Maria Nuova open, where a
similar situation applied, but with no visible priestly presence. I though
I'd loop back via the station to find the train times to Venice, and so
passed within sight of Piazza XXIV Maggio and its huge temple-like
aqueduct. It was built during the Fascist period and was called Piazza
XXVIII Ottobre, to celebrate the March on Rome on 28th October 1922, and
completed in 1932. In 1945 the name was changed to Piazza XXIV Maggio, to
commemorate the day in 1915 of Italy's entry into the First World War in
1915. It's a bit of a surprise in this ordinary residential area.
Walking by a hotel recommended by a friend I found the K2 Gelateria. My
chosen flavours were pesto di mandorla and mango, and my cono was
constructed by placing a central core of one flavour and building a wall
of the other around it. Eccentric and generous, but a bit perilous. I sat
inside to eat it to prevent catastrophe.
Santa Maria in Vado
Sant'Antonio in Polesine
I was toying with spending the morning in Ferrara, maybe finding churches
open for services, but I found myself instead impatient for Venice, so caught the
9.48 train. I would have caught the 9.29 Frecciarossa fast train but it
was four times as expensive and not four times quicker. Venice was busy,
but not heaving, and seemingly full of Italians on the weekend. I was
remembered and greeted warmly at the Ca'Pozzo by Nicola, catching up on
Covid and political developments, but my room wasn't ready yet. So I
strolled up through Cannaregio, saw the boatyard marine coon cat, too
zonked by the heat, what with all that fur, to be sociable; poked my head
into a few Biennale venues, including cushions and darkness and nets in the Misericordia church
(see right), the one
that an artist transformed into a mosque a few years back, before he was
closed down. The Madonna dell'Orto was open, so I had a cool visit there
too. Lunch was a tasty sundried-tomato, olive, endamame soya and caper
sandwich from the coop, eaten in my fresh cool room,
along with an almond tart from a place up near Santi Apostoli. My room is on the first
floor, looking out to a back-wall of house windows, with an expanse of
roof tiles between. The room number is 203, and my room in Ferrara was 202
- spooky! As I was resting after lunch I heard a noise and found myself being
stared at by a startled -looking cat through my open window, who nonetheless scooted off
when I stood up.
My evening stroll was through Santa Croce and into Dorsoduro, taking
photos and reacquainting. A couple opposite Angelo Raffaele seemed lost as
I passed and so I offered help, but it turned out they were just
disagreeing over routes they'd previously taken. We had a good chat anyway and parted
company confident we'd bump into each other again. After a Burger King plant-based
Whopper, my first Venetian gelato was vanilla and strawberry sorbet, from
a new place.
After The Ferrara Breakfast Experience the classic buffet breakfast this
few patrons was a joy. Asking Samantha at the desk for the nearest place
to buy vaporetto tickets I got the information (the kiosk at the end of
the sotto out of the hotel) and greeted warmly and remembered from past
stays. A pretty crowded vaporetto to San Marco, a visit to San Zaccaria
(as always - the Bellini!) and the bookshop between them, was followed by
getting a bit lost getting to San Samuele, which I had noticed from the
vaporetto was open for
the Biennale but not, as I discovered, on Mondays. Still, by getting
lost I found a small and dusty bookshop that had a selection of old black
and white postcards new to me, including a few good ones with odd scenes
involving churches, and made an impromptu visit to San Salvador and
freshened up my entry, as it were. Titian's Transfiguration over the high
altar usually hides a 14th century silver-gilt reredos revealed only at
Christmas, Easter and at the feast of San Salvador in August,
but it was on show today, not sure why.
Santo Stefano's cloisters and San Pantalon got some attention too, before
I bought myself a couple of savoury pastries to, as tradition demands, eat
seated on Fondamenta Benbo of the Rio Malcanton. A sweet and fresh little
square apple-turnovery thing too, for taking with afternoon tea.
In the evening, more churches got their photos freshened. San Felice was
open, and I noticed some bones of Saint Tryphon in a glass-fronted box lying on
cotton wool. He being the co-dedicatee of the scuola of
San Giorgio degli
Schiavoni and of importance to the Eastern Orthodox church. In Santi Apostoli I noticed that they let a local merchant
store his clothes on racks in the back of the church behind screens. Then
later as I was getting more of the Gesuiti facade into a photo it was noticed that
there was a stout grey cat at the feet of one of the saints about ten feet
up the façade. Similarly to when cats are spotted on more prosaic high points there was much hesitant
almost-jumping before he scampered down, as he probably often does, and
scooted across the campo and up into the window where he lives, to much
admiration from a small crowd. It was raining as I vapped back, and for
the rest of the evening it spectacularly thunderstormed, for hours.
I've noticed American voices around town, hardly any Brits, but in my
hotel it's mostly Germans, for some reason. To the Frari this morning, and
around the sestieri over there. The Frari was not too busy, and I got some
good no-one-about photos. The Titian Assumption is still only a photo
though, as it's still away in restauro. In front of the Bellini an
couple were reading from a guidebook that said that the last saint on the
Sean Connery, and now you mention it... After expressing my agreement I shared with them my anachronistic experiences with religious
art - Saint Stephen often looking like Mickey Mouse, the Madonna that
looks like Uma Thurman in the Correr Museum, the statue in the Pisa Campo Santo that's the
spitting image of Scarlett Johansson, the saints in Crivelli altarpieces
with Abba haircuts, etc.
In San Giacomo dall' Orio I was
told I had to wear my mask, and in the ensuing discussion the attendant's
attitude was roughly 'tell me about it - I have to wear one all day'. She
said she thought things would relax in June. The church is an eccentric
treat though, as ever, although there are too many paintings by Palma Giovane, but which
church in Venice can't you say that about? San Zan Dagola was as closed as
despite what it tells you. Santa Maria Mater Domini was open, with two blokes
shouting at each other. One of them told me I needed to put on my mask.
The church was full of puddles, but it was worth a paddle to get a look at
a fave Catena altarpiece. At San Canzian I had the church to myself,
except for the young female attendant, who told me I couldn't take photos
nonetheless because, well, that was what the signs said. At San Polo the Chorus chap was more easy-going mask-wise. San Polo is...big, isn't it? Not impressive art-wise, but
there is an
interesting and odd Veronese which I'd forgotten.
A shop by San Toma was found to have cinnamon biscuits of its own making,
then a couple of savoury pastries were eaten in my favourite spot, again
(see the video above).
Novelty was provided by a dog showing interest in my mozza/tom pastry I'd
foolishly left on its bag beside my perch after taking a photo below. A good
morning, then for feeling happy to be here.
Post-snooze I went to the Accademia to check out the new downstairs
18th century rooms, which are indeed full of grand and impressive works,
if not favourites, but there's plenty of those upstairs. The downstairs
galleries are not exactly signposted - they are through the door back left
of the entrance hall, beyond the giftshop. You might think that all this expansion and
rearrangement, which reportedly doubles the display space, might result in a big new catalogue, but you'd be wrong to
the point of certifiable madness.
Looping back along the Zattere I found the Gesuati mostly free of its
scaffolding and looking bright and fine. I even got to wander inside as a
service had just finished. The façade of San Sebastiano is now looking similarly
Not needing to be at the airport until late lunchtime, I had a
morning to get some more numbers crossed off my Chorus card. As they don't
open until 10.30 I detoured via San Nicolò dei Mendicoli and found it open. It has NO
FOTO signs up, but the place was deserted. San Sebastiano has been
suffering restoration and mass scaffolding for decades, but is now looking
fresh and clean, with only the chapels flanking the presbytery still
fenced off. The only other annoyance is the chapels having plastic signs
telling us the names of the rich Americans who stumped up the cash to
restore them. Being too cool to take a Chorus laminated sheet and being
puzzled by a painting in a chapel which had no sign giving painting info,
I asked a passing fellow visitor, who helped me out, and then suggested
that the rich b******s are probably donating for tax purposes. A man as
cynical as myself! The Carmini
has lower-key pleasures - a few good altarpieces in an unusual long high
space. After the these two lingering explores it was time to head back to
the Ca'Pozzo for my case and a fond farewell. The ATVO coach is more
comfortable and less crowded than the ACTV bus. It costs €8, the same as ACTV's.
A queue-free crowd-free journey home,
hallelujah! During landing at Gatwick I looked out the window to see white
letters in a field saying WELCOME TO LUTON, which made me grin. But later
I found out that it was the work of a YouTube prankster and that he had
spent £4,000 having the letters made. Which all went to make the whole
thing seem too contrived to be amusing anymore.