& Ferrara
May 2022
More photos here


Being my third post-Covid trip abroad but my first one not in a tour group. It had to be Venice, of course, as my last visit had been in November 2019, as the big flood was beginning; 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 hasty relaxation of all rules, but not as bad as what was needed for Florence in February.

Wednesday 11th
My journey to the airport had its sheen somewhat dimmed by my getting on the wrong train at Clapham Junction and finding myself in 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 its platform at the last minute couldn't harsh my buzz and, having learned the nicer tree-lined walk into the centre last time, with its special art nouveau houses, 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 relaxes the 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 excellent start.

Thursday 12th
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 fragments even!

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 balustrades.

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.)

Friday 13th
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 odd counter regime.

A break from looking for  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 grow to appreciate more each visit. A hot walk around the Certosa cemetery afterwards, spotting many swift small lizards and photographing dusty tombs, etc. On the way back to my hotel I picked up a small carciofi pizza, a cipolla bread thing and 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 cioccolato.

Saturday 14th
After the obligatory diversion to find Santo Stefano closed again 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, which 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, and loved. 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 dayof Italy's entry into the First World War in 1915. It's a bit of a surprise in this very 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

Sunday 15th
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 one of the boatyard maine coon cats, 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 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 not lost, 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.

Monday 16th
After The Ferrara Breakfast Experience the classic buffet breakfast this morning, with 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 - that 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, I'm 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.

Tuesday 17th
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 American couple were reading from a guidebook that said that the last saint on the right was 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 ever, 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 façade 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 clean.

Wednesday 18th
Not needing to be at the airport until late lunchtime, I had a morning to get some more numbers crossed off my Chorus card, but 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 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 and costs €8, the same as ACTV's fare.

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.



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