September 2009


 Wednesday 23rd

Up at 6.00am and most kindly driven to Gatwick by Jane.  The old security rigmarole is much quicker than previously - I had to take my belt off, but bypassed the Random Shoe Check, or was that an advert for a new band? The flight is only a little delayed, there's the fastest passport check at Marco Polo ever, baggage is reclaimed pretty swiftly, only a few people in the queue for bus tickets, a bus waiting, the bus ride to Piazzale Roma eventless and very free from annoying people with e.g. mobile phones...this is all going too well. Find the L'Istituto Ciliota with no difficulty, check in, find room - it's spacious, and cool, and quiet. It has oodles of storage space, a big shower room, and even a fridge. Unless a heavy metal fan with a sleep problem lives opposite, or the breakfast provision is poor, I'm thinking I've struck gold here. Fingers crossed. 

I unpack and then go out for a wander, and boy is it hot. My decision to not pack chinos or shorts is now looking pretty darn foolish. Late lunch is the traditional slice of veggie pizza (and a can of zingy Lemon Soda) eaten sitting in Campo San Vio looking over one of the prettiest bits of the Grand Canal. Stroll up to the Salute, whose doors are wide open and beckoning, so I don't resist a short visit, and a photograph. Then it's up around the recently-reaccessible Dogana, because it's one of the classic Venetian walks, and I need to see the stupid sculpture (above right) with my owns eyes. Back along the Zattere to Nico for the first gelato - stracciatella and pear - and it's mighty fine. (With thanks to Jillian from Cambridge, who has generously sponsored the gelati on this trip - I raise my cono to her). Eat said gelato in the traditional spot opposite the San Trovaso gondola yard. Don't resist a quick visit to the church and then check out the nearby serious bookshop, weaving through the hoards of mums collecting their kids from school, and then head back to my room to write this stuff. On my way to my room I notice a machine dispensing drinks and buy a bottle of mineral water, for 50 cents! I think I'm going to like this place. Also, it may be the thick walls, but I'm hearing nobody, just the odd door closing and chair scraping, and then not loudly. Peace! A fair few mosquitoes about, mind you, and a plug-in repeller thing is provided.

Out early evening to find a cyberplace with wi-fi, following directions provided by the young chap on the desk at the Ciliota. Find it, and lo it's opposite Santa Maria della Fava, a church I'd never found open, but it is now. Go in and find two darkly dressed chaps sitting near the front, and no service going on, it seems. Sit with a leaflet and admire the tall and not-wide space - not thin exactly but nicely looming. Pale walls with dark detailing and curvy edges (see right). I'm just admiring a glowing Tiepolo Education of the Virgin when a third chap, with a book, joins the two sitting down the front and something akin to a service seems to begin. I discretely leave, and avail myself of some expensive wi-fi  (6 Euros an hour!) After some uploading of this stuff and email checking I grab some quick and junky food nearby and have a wander - including a bit of a detour over the Rialto Bridge that just happens to take me past the place that does the marzapane cakes, and it's still open! Back to my room for a shower and some marza-supper, with a cup of vanilla redbush tea. And so to bed.


Thursday 24th   


Regular readers will know that my last year's trip was not my favourite, and that a combination of dingy weather and a poor hotel on that occasion did bad things to my mood and my Venice-love. Well, today saw my Venice mojo return mightily. Breakfast was a good start, and again the key word is 'spacious'. It's so pleasant to breakfast in a room the size of a refectory rather than one the size of a bedroom. Further brownie points were earned by there being croissants available without the jam already inserted. A luxury most rare in Venetian hotels, I've found, and such a treat for us jam lovers who like to make their own choices. There was also five sorts of cereal, juices, yoghurts, fruit salad, fresh fruit, a wide beverage choice, bread rolls and those packets of rusk-y biscuit things. People are strange though, aren't they? I make this sage-like observation because of a trait I've noticed whereby one can park one's self somewhere in an otherwise sparsely-populated breakfast room (or car park) and guarantee that others will then appear and cluster around you, despite the acres of space, and often talk distracting drivel. Funny that.

Due to my (for me) early start initiative I was out and tramping the campi before 9.00 and heading off towards darkest Castello. First stop was San Zulian. Inside it's square and aisleless and very dark. The only substantial architectural details are the Corinthian pilasters either side of the chancel, but there's lots of gold and works by Palma il Giovane including, I have to admit, quite a nice Assumption. Appreciation of the painted ceiling is much improved by putting some coins in the light but this is verily a light of most stingy duration. I had to pop into San Zaccaria, of course, due to my strong Bellini-love. After lingering, and taking some photos too, I headed for San Giorgio dei Greci, a first visit for me, and a real treat. Firstly the courtyard around the church is rather lovely, with olive trees and two well heads. Inside the church consists of an aisleless nave with a frescoed central dome (see left). The narthex has a ladies' gallery on top of it and there are those dark wooden pew-carrel things (I'll look up the proper word later, honest) all around the plain and grubby walls. But the thing is the icon screen - a gold overload all covered in icon-style paintings that have to be contemplated from a fair distance away, it has to be said. It was very enjoyable to sit in here in peace, as the fact that this church is  little off the beaten, and accessed through a gate, seemed to keep visitor numbers low, so I had the place to myself most of the time.

Venice does seem much less crowded to me this trip. There are lots of people, of course, but I've not yet felt oppressed, even on the main drags from the Rialto and San Marco. I can best illustrate it by saying that I was taking a photo along a canal today and I didn't have to wait long at all for the bridge in the shot to become depopulated.

After checking on the San Lorenzo cats and finding a couple dozing I made my way to San Martino, another church I'd never been inside, and another very pleasant surprise. Carrying on the day's aisleless theme, this church is Greek-cross shaped with pairs of chapels at each corner and it gives the impression of greater width than depth. There's a large ceiling fresco with surrounding trompe l'oeil architectural detailing imitating the actual walls. Some attractive monochrome wall painting too. I liked this church a lot. The left-hand chapel near the front has signs pointing to a sacristy leading you through open doors, which I took as an invitation. The sacristy itself can best be described as a 'working' sacristy (i.e. a bit of a tip) but has an interesting fresco covering the ceiling with regular stripes of missing paint, looking just like it was painted between beams which were later removed. But that seems unlikely. Anyway maybe you better not go and look as I was politely ejected after a minute by a chap who did not take my point about the signs looking like they were meant to be followed. And that the box by the door inviting donations from visitors to the sacristy...well, you see my point? An altar by Pietro Lombardo is another draw, even if it is hidden in a dark corner.

I then headed off towards the Via Garibaldi, where I got some brief photographic time in San Franceso di Paola before it closed. On to San Isepo for some scaffolding-free exterior shots, and into the public gardens to find and photograph the arch that's all that's left of the demolished church of Sant'Antonio di Castello. A warm walk back, detouring via San Zanipolo for a slice of pizza topped with (very thin) courgette slices. Find a quietish bench to eat in the campo, only to be soon joined by a mother and two noisy kids. Sigh. Sooth the breast with a coconut and lemon gelato. Back to room (picking up a fornarina on the way) to type this, and feel most happy.

An early evening mop-up of a few random church interiors was followed by the walk to the cyberspot to upload the above and eat something nearby. Then a detour via Grom for a coppa of pear and coconut which was just gorgeous. I also picked up a bar of Lindt dark chocolate - poire intense with almonds. Life is good, and pear flavoured. And I spread the goodness by giving three lots of directions tonight. I must've been looking particularly helpful.

 Friday 25th  

I'm not sure why people would be needing to knock on each other's doors after midnight and at 7.00 in the morning. But they did, so I was well awake by the time my alarm beeped at 7.30 and so was down to breakfast pretty sharpish. I was rewarded with a somewhat slapstick moment when the automatic juice machine decided to not stop serving my favoured blood-orange juice, leading to some semi-gory overflowings. I got help, despite not knowing the Italian for 'Madam, your juice machine's gone mad!'

Over to Dorsoduro this morning, and into the Gesuati, a church I'd not visited in a couple of years. It's a Chorus-run church but the cubicle was unpersoned. Like all the churches I've visited so far this year it's aisleless, with three chapels either side of the nave linked by a corridor. The effect of the walls and detailing is pale grey, getting darker for the domed chancel, with its unplain tabernacle (and ciborium?) by Massari. This church is a good one for Tiepolo fans, with a fine altarpiece in the first chapel on the right and some ceiling painting well worth the neck ache, or the easier perusal using the handily provided (and correctly shaped) floor-standing mirror. There's also a Tintoretto Crucifixion taken from the nearby church of the Visitazione, which my guide book says was badly restored in the 18th Century, and one can only agree. And then we were all slung out by a white guy with dreadlocks and very few person skills, even though it was not yet 10.00  and the church wasn't due to close until 12.00. I suspect it was the Chorus cashier arriving late and ejecting us so that he could put up the signs and barriers and start making money, but I didn't hang around to confirm this.

Heading towards San Nicolo, I diverted to have a look at Le Eremite, which has had work done recently, but it's still not open, ever. Then passing the church of Ognissanti, I found it open. This is not a common occurrence. I'd visited a few years back but had not taken to it. This time, with more time, and with the church deserted but for a monk reading a newspaper, I liked it much more. It's still a crumbly and used-seeming church - aisleless (of course!) with a ceiling divided into compartments where small paintings might be, but aren't. There's a big nun's gallery at the back and two wall-attached altars each side. The apse and two side chapels have frescoed ceilings, and for these alone I'd recommend a visit.

On to San Nicol˛ dei Mendicoli, and it's good to see some aisles at last, with the three-arched screen between the nave and the apse (see right) here giving the impression of aisles on three sides. The three deep chapels in the right aisle make for a pleasing asymmetrical impression, and it's this spatial interest that appeals here, and the atmosphere generated by the darker upper parts. There's no big-name art here - even the Marieschi painting is labelled 'attrib' and there's a lot of  'anonime' works too. The varied and attractive frescoing on all of the chapel ceilings, though, is appealing. And do put a Euro in to illuminate the place - it cuts down on some of the shadowy atmosphere but makes it much easier to see what you're looking at. I should add here that another reason I visited this church was because a correspondent had assured me that the fašade had a cannon-ball embedded in it, but I think that he is pulling my leg. (Update: my mistake, it's San Nicol˛ dei Tolentini that has the cannonball.)

I then headed towards the railway station for some...relief. The toilet at the bus station wanted 1 euro fifty to let me pee, and I was even going to pay, but was told by a woman with a mop that I'd have to wait five minutes. I headed for the railway station, were I was allowed to do my business for only 80 cents. Phew. While I'm providing this valuable tourist service I might add that finding myself in need in Castello yesterday I found that the toilets in the Biennale Arsenale galleries are in the bookshop, and so usefully before the ticket-checkers.

Heading leisurely back through the Santa Croce sestiere I stopped off at the nice bakers by San Giacomo dall'Orio for a mozzarella and rocket panino and an almond kiffel. I also picked up a carton of pear juice and made for the steps in front of San Stae to take luncheon. Heading towards the Rialto afterwards I was strangely drawn to a window display and picked up a bag of praline-coated almonds. A fior di latte and lemon gelato on the way back completed my afternoon of denial.

To the Accademia after a rest, enjoying being out without a laden bag. I've found in recent years that the gallery is most civilisedly empty in the late afternoon/evening. So I swanned casually around reacquainting myself with old friends and being struck by newer objects. The old Room 4 with The Tempest is still closed due to the eternal building works but the replacement room with it and the smaller Bellinis is now tastefully established, and the Bellinis are not annoyingly in Rome, as they were on my last visit. The big room at the end is still closed but there's what looked to me like an exhibition about the rebuilding all covered in sheeting inside. I bought a couple of books in the gallery shop including a guide to the reserve collection, which is no longer displayed, masking this book a treasure-trove of unseen gems. I passed comment to the guy serving me that he spoke to me in English even before I could speak any of my poor and accented Italian at him. This prompted a discussion of the merits of speaking in English and pointing, set against the pitfalls of bad Italian. Afterwards I realised that he'd've known I was English because that's the language the books I bought were in. Duh!

Out in the evening to upload and eat, I was chatting on my mobile on the bridge outside the cyberjoint and saw my first Venetian rat - a small one slipping down some canalside steps, and then climbing back up. Sweet! And the cat (right) is called Lilly and lives opposite the Domus.



Saturday 26th  



To the Lido today. I've never been before and was expecting to like the place, but not to love it, it being like Venice, but not very, or so I thought. I bought a 3-day vaporetto pass for 33 euros at the Zattere stop. I asked for a map and got sold one for 2 euros, which turned out to be just like the ones you get free from your hotel, with a small map of the vaporetto routes. A no. 52 chugged up almost immediately and I was off across the briny. The boat passed one of those huge multi-storey cruise ships which was moored by the Giardini. They are so high and ugly and out of scale and just obscenely... wrong. Getting off at The Lido it's the cars that strike you, of course. Suddenly it's all roads and no canals, and the joy of trying not to get road signs in your photographs. I had my itinerary roughly planned but Santa Maria Elisabetta, the church nearest the boat stop, had a service going on.  So onward and Eastward. I passed and photographed Santa Maria della Vittoria, which might be a church or might be war memorial, but it sure is big, and undergoing restoration. Then on to San Nicolo di Lido, the most famous church on the island. Inside it looms - high grubby/sandy walls with mid-grey architectural detailing. Where perspective makes the gap between the walls narrow behind the high altar this detailing looks somewhat too big and out of scale, but elsewhere it's fine. The church is aisleless with connected chapels, three on each side and there's a Baroque high altar with a riot of polychrome marble inlay and a sarcophagus on top, where a pediment should be. This contains the remains of three saints, including Father Christmas. No big name art but a nice and warm fresco of Venice Paying Homage to St Nicholas over the entrance by Girolamo Pellegrini and an attractive Ascension by Pietro della Vecchia on the first altar on the left as you enter.

I now headed a bit South and back West. My next church is in the  grounds of a hospital, the Ospedale al Mare, and when I reach it it's obviously a huge complex, but the buildings all look overgrown with weeds and long-derelict, and I'm wondering how long it's been closed. I spot the church through a gate and take a poor sideways-on photograph in case I can't get in. Reaching the front gate I find it open, but seemingly deserted. As a man who likes a bit of ruin and dilapidation I was immediately in desolate heaven, photographing rusty doors and tastefully weathered walls, with no-one around, to my heart's content. As I got nearer the church I did see a woman sitting on a bench reading, and noticed some elderly people walking along a path further into the place. The church itself was surprisingly well kept, with a modern power plant (I think) behind it, and some vans parked next door. Having photographed the outside of the church and found it firmly closed I explored some more, of course, finding courtyards so overgrown the weeds were covering the benches, collapsed balconies, piles of old toilets, and doors with peeling paint, dusty windows, and one with a sign warning of ACIDI. And then I found what looked like an old ballroom (romantic or what?) and tried poking my camera in at the high windows. I took some photos that whetted my appetite (see below) and slipping around the back I found...a fence pushed down and an open door! Only a passing thought that if I fell down a hole my bleached bones might not be found for decades made me hesitate a bit, but I took the plunge. And was rewarded by dusty tables, decorated ceilings, fallen lumps of plaster, and a spooky long-disused ballroom with an unnervingly bright circular ceiling painting, a collapsing gallery and a billowing stage curtain. There were some occasional noises coming from upstairs, which might have been the wind, but I was not about to try the crumbling stairs anyway, so I took some more photos and left. A very dusty and spooky treat. Some of the buildings were in use, it seems, but most weren't, meaning that patients and visitors would have pass considerable depressing dilapidation to get to the usable bits. Weird.

Update - I made a page of dilapidated hospital photos and Googling the place when I got home it seems that the hospital was newsworthy a year ago
click here to watch a news report from 2008


Back out in the real Lido I continued West along the road behind the private beaches, passing the swank hotels and some very covetable villas. There were some modern art pieces spaced along the road (see below left) and I even quite liked some of them! What a wondrous strange day this was turning out to be. I trudged along, passing some large-scale building work, until I got to the Via Emo and deflected up to the church of Sant'Antonio - a clean and modern church, built in 1936 in a Veneto-Byzantine style, evidently meant to echo that of the churches on Torcello. Inside it's an impressive and bricky tall space redolent of train stations and Westminster Cathedral, with a pleasing light-and-shadow thing going on. I liked it. And the sweet tabby cat that was wandering outside and who rolled over and let his belly be rubbed and then posed on the monumental marble bench handily provided (see below left). My camera battery and feet were about giving up by this stage, and so Santa Maria Assunta (still a fair walk away up the Malamocco end) would have to wait for another year. Heading back to catch a boat I found a mystery church, and just about had enough juice in the battery to capture it. I rewarded myself with some mirtilli and giugiole as I passed a fruit and veg shop, and scoffed all of the former before I got to the vap stop. Arriving back at the Zattere I made for my room, stopping only for the scoffing of a slice of pizza in Campo San Vio. Finding the Accademia bridge much more crowded that it'd been so far I added smugness to my day's good feelings as I realised I'd chosen the best day to escape to the empty churches and deserted ballrooms of the Lido. Oh, and I also stopped to buy an (ordinary) apple tart from a bakers with very unenthusiastic staff near to my Domus. Uploading my photos from my card I found that I had taken 137 photos in three hours.

 Sunday 27th

Having been entertained, fed and wined last night in their lovely home by semi-Venetian friends Michelle and Graham, and their friend Kate, I awoke with a head that throbbed lightly. I hadn't overindulged, I'd just mixed my drinks I suppose - prosecco, red wine and some desert wine. Nothing some fruit juice, muesli, coffee and a pain au chocolate couldn't cure though.

Then out in the fresh air to explore more fresh ground today with a trip to San Michele, the cemetery island. I'm a big cemetery fan so this is one weird oversight, my never having been out here before. Hopping off the vaporetto I read signs telling me that the church on the island is closed for restoration. Oh well, never mind. And mind I very much didn't, as the cemetery turned out to be a huge rambling joy. Similar to the lido yesterday the change was refreshing - here it's the trees and grass and sky. It was busier than it would be in the week, I imagine, as there were lots of (mostly female) relatives bringing flowers and tending graves. And there is a lot more tending in Italian cemeteries, it seems, than I'm used to back in Britain. The proportion of graves and tombs with flowers that are fresh and colourful seems far greater than in London cemeteries, but maybe I tend to visit the historic ones rather than the working ones, so my view might be a bit skewed. I passed a happy couple of hours wandering in the sunshine whilst admiring sundry cloisters, tombs, and stones, for their design, statuary, embedded photos and even fonts. The photos can get a bit creepy, especially the more modern ones, often of smiling grannies in care homes. Or healthy looking young people on their holidays.

Weariness and biological need eventually drew me to the entrance facilities and then the boat on to Murano. There I finally got inside Santi Maria e Donato, there to mightily admire the floor of marble and mosaics (see right) and the gilded mosaic in the dome of the apse, with the nicely-frescoed wells below. I then strolled up to Santa Maria degli Angeli to see if it was by some weird chance open. It wasn't, but there does seem to be restoration work going on.

And so back to San Pietro Martire, and a very necessary sit down. It has a
nave and two aisles, which are divided from each other by rows of four arches. The spandrels are nicely decorated with saints and some attractive lettering (see  right), tie beams across the arches and a trussed roof. There's a wide and deep chancel and a pair of apsidal chapels, also wide and deep. Good to see the big Bellini that was away in Rome last time I visited,  but it would've been even better to see it lit better, or at all. There's also a recognisable (early?) Tintoretto and an unconvincing Veronese St Agatha, along with a better St Jerome by him too. In the left-hand apsidal chapel there's a hard-to-see painting by Domenico (a.k.a. son of) Tintoretto. Covering both side walls of the deep chancel are a pair of  huge paintings by Bartolomeo Latteri, including an impressively architectural Nozze di Cana. The cloister was closed, unfortunately, so depriving me of another Bellini fix.

It was now well past my lunch-and-siesta time. On the boat back to Fondamente Nove I hatched a plan to grab a pizza slice near San Zanipolo and eat it on the bench in the campo, again, thereby being well placed for a gelato from Rosa Salva, again. (Did you noticed that I didn't have even the one ice cream yesterday? No, neither did I, until just now. Pah!) In the pizza place I asked for what they had that was vegetariano and was shown the one with mushrooms,  courgette and peppers or the one topped with chips (french fries). I went for the former. I sat on the same bench as before, this time next to a couple speaking Italian - she was speaking quietly to him, whilst he sat listening with his legs crossed high and one foot twitching agitatedly. When she stopped he replied, but not quietly. Funny how even if you can't understand the language you can get the gist of what's going on. Collected a coconut tart on the way back, and reached my room around 4.30. A late siesta, or what?!

Out later to upload etc. It was dark by the time I came back, down the Grand Canal on an uncrowded vaporetto - always a treat, with the glimpses inside softly glowing windows of dark beamed ceilings and plush painting-filled rooms. Some herb tea, a sprucing up of this here sparkling prose, and then a shower before bed - my mosquitoes like me clean.



Monday 28th  


After a night of much mosquito annoyance I awoke with a blotchy neck and laid into the little buzzing buggers with a map in a way that cannot be called vegetarian. After washing and dressing I left my room, only to discover that I'd left my door open all night. It closes on a spring thing but you need to turn the handle and pull it shut and turn the other knob to lock it, none of which had I done last night. At breakfast while I was eating I was idly trying not to watch what other people were having, as you do. I noticed a young woman putting fruit yoghurt on her muesli, which I'd not tried but which appeals, but then whilst eating it she would frequently spoon dollops of said mixture into her coffee and drink it.

Today it'd been arranged that me and Michelle and Kate were to make up a party to explore some churches in Cannaregio. We caught a vap up to San Marcuola, an unspectacular church which we'll now remember for all the wrong reasons. Michelle, being an Italian speaker, had made contact with the attendant when we walked in, and reported him grumpy and unhelpful. He feigned ignorance of some paintings we were interested in and denied that they were in the sacristy, where we weren't allowed to venture anyway, he said. Oh well. So we sat and read a bit about the place and looked around a bit, and as we were about to leave I ambled over to a somewhat hidden corner to take an interior photo, as the attendant was chatting to someone, and...well, you would've thought that I'd peed in the baptismal font. The guy shocked everyone as he began bellowing at the top of his voice and his mate joined in and the sacred space rang with much loud shouting. A lot of churches have 'No Photo' signs but most are pragmatic as long as you don't use flash or climb on the fittings. I am always discreet and polite, and would never even enter a church if there's a service on. Here I was reminded of the rude and aggressive Vogon guards in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy whose job satisfaction levels were pretty low but at least they got to shout at people a lot. Not a nice start to our morning. (Update - I've since heard from another visitor who was actually ejected from this church for attempting to take a photograph.) We tried San Leonardo next as it currently has a Biennale something inside, but Biennale things are closed on Mondays.  Here Michelle soothed our nerves by taking us to where a Venetian lady keeps three rescued cats in a not unfragrant little storeroom off of a calle nearby. The boss cat was called Attila, and the state of his ears showed him to be a cat who'd fought his share of tough battles. 

Then we walked to San Felice, with its
sweet interior that's so like a mini Brunelleschi (see above left). Then on to Santi Apostoli, which is a big, dark and impressive box with some good art, and a very helpful attendant. After coffee and an almond tart we three went our separate ways until later. I looked for, and found, the cannon ball embedded in the fašade of  San Salvador, so I wasn't being spoofed about this one. Had a little look inside too, but as it was nearly 12.00 so I just got to look quickly at the Titian Annunciation and see if they'd changed the label on the painting that may be by Bellini, Carpaccio, or neither of them, more like. Last time there was some confused scribbling on some masking tape, this time there was no label but the young woman attendant was saying it was definitely by Carpaccio, to some rightly sceptical people who were enquiring. And why are the attendants in San Salvador always young women?

I realised I'd not spent enough time in the Campo Santa Margarita area this year and so decided to take lunch there. I bought a mozzarella, courgette and tomato panino and went to sit in the Garafo basin bit near my crap hotel of last year. It's such a nice spot I can forgive it even this. A new bakers nearby supplied me with a muffin di pistachio  (one of the few green cakes I've ever consumed) and then it was back to the old Domus Ciliota for some typing up, afternoon tea, and a little rest. Before this I asked if I could see inside the deconsecrated church attached to the Domus. I was told 'of course' and shown which doors to go through and found myself in a functional little space with charm, some unspecial art, a stage and projection screen at the back, and a TV and video player on the altar. I'd heard that there had been some talk of turning it into a supermarket some time back - not the most imaginative fate for what must have been a sweet little church in its day.

In the evening I met up with Michelle and Kate again and we vapped up to the Giardini, there to meet with Lucio Sponza, an historian friend of Michelle's who was going to take us on a tour of his favourite parts of Castello, his home patch. We took in some lovely out-of-the-way reliefs, cloisters, fragments of demolished churches, and more than a few cats. We also got insights into the centuries of working-class life of the area - the large blocks in the area had been until quite recently home to the Arsenale workers. These included a fast-crumbling block of apartments in a style that looked modernist 1950s, but turned out to be mid-19th Century. As it got dark our fascination hadn't waned but we were getting limp and hungry. Lucio took us to a neighbourhood restaurant that served very good pizzas. Luckily they served them somewhat slowly and so we were able to continue our conversation about things Venetian, literary, and historical, taking in London life too, and languages. As we'd been walking around Lucio had been pointing out to us the high proportion of people who were speaking Venetian dialect, this being an area where true Venetians lived. Also how the street signs mix the dialect with 'proper' Italian, sometimes both in the same sign. We parted company with Lucio quite late and with warm farewells and headed back on a semi-deserted vaporetto to the Accademia. A mighty stimulating evening, and I hope not the last such.


 Tuesday 29th

My last day, and so a day of mopping up some places that I'd missed. I headed for the Rialto, in the hopeless expectation that San Bartolomeo might be open as advertised. I killed some time waiting for the time when it was set to (not) open by boat-watching from the Rialto - watching the delivery men unloading ice cream and the postmen loading stacks of mail. Finding San Bart still closed I went into San Salvador as I'd always previously gone in 10 minutes before closing time. It's a monumental and plain church, as well as being historically important, with the words 'big' and 'dark' applying to. The late Titian Annunciation is becoming a favourite of mine. And in case you're wondering why Mary is lifting up her scarf and showing the angel her ear it's because that was evidently the organ through which God...well, you know. There's another Titian over the high altar but the truly bad restoration job done on this one means that you'd probably never guess. The remains of St Theodore, Venice's original patron saint, are in the chapel to the right of the apse. And the right hand wall of the apse has a large painting of something nasty happening to a naked chap. (The labelling is a bit patchy in this church.) Many tombs and altars, including an altar to the luganegheri (sausage makers) with statues by Vittoria of Saint Sebastian (with a metal arrow embedded in the stone) and Saint Roch (with a very discreet sore on his leg). The organ doors and the frescoes outside over the side-entrance (under the organ) are by Francesco Vecellio, Titian's brother.

Heading towards Cannaregio I came across San Lio and realised that I'd never been inside. It's a surprisingly plush and interesting little church, aisleless with four unsimple side altars, one with a Titian that's not in the best of states. The chapel to the right of the apse is the work of the Lombardos - the overall design is by Pietro and the pieta panel by Tullio. It's also said that the chapel contains the tomb of Canaletto. The ceiling fresco of the Apotheosis of St Leo in Glory and the Exhaltation of the Cross is by Giandomenico Tiepolo. A modestly impressive church, then, quietly hiding some big names and well worth a visit, I say. The attendant was chummy and very helpful too, and so I even asked respectfully if I could take photos and when he said no I accepted it. Even though he left with me and went into a local cafÚ getting money out of his pocket...but no I was good and didn't take advantage.

I was slowly heading for the Scuola Grande della Misericordia, a tempting great brick pile that has been closed for many years but which now was housing a Biennale exhibit. Inside the art was tosh but the space and the barely-still-standing building's details and vistas were well worth the visit. Aside from the main hall there's another huge meeting hall up the stairs at the back. The walls here were covered in scaffolding and sheeting, but through tears some tantalising bits of wall painting could be seen. I had read somewhere that the walls of this hall had been totally covered in paintings by Tintoretto.

Another Biennale exhibit nearby provided some somewhat ordinary views out over roofs, but yet another one, put on by Warwick University, over the canal from the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia (near the Scuola Grande) was disappointingly all closed up, and so the rumoured spiffy views over towards the church were not to be seen, or photo
graphed. I had to trudge up several flights of stairs to discover numerous closed doors, but I did meet a plush cat called Pedro (right) back outside, though. I then ate a slice of olive and mozzarella foccacia on a wall by the canal outside the Scuola, sharing it with just the one lucky pigeon, and then headed back to my room with an apple turnover. I realise now that I ate it before I could photograph it. Sorry, proxy-cake fans.  And so the final evening stroll, which took in a walk back from the Rialto through San Polo to Campo San Barnaba and the final ice cream from Grom - fior di latte and extranoir chocolate, a marvellous mixture of the creamy and the bitter and a fitting gelato finale.


Wednesday 30th  

It's an art submarine, parked outside a palazzo on the GC.

The last breakfast, enlivened by the unyoung woman with the grey hair died with blotches of black and red. Paid my bill, said a genuine thank you, and promised to be back, hoping for less mosquitoes on that occasion. Round at Michelle's by 10.00 as we were catching the same flight and she was letting me share her water taxi -  and here it is...

At the airport I had my backpack randomly (and politely) rubbed all inside with a small piece of paper by a security person, and our flight was delayed, but all other connections and collections were achieved smoothly. I was quite swiftly home to Tooting and a pair of vegetable samosas. With the two traditionally confused-looking cats too, of course - well Oscar seemed to know me immediately, but Peter took an hour or two looking relaxed but a bit perplexed before climbing onto my lap.

Last year I ended up by saying that that trip was not one of the best, but this one most definitely was.


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