March 2023
More photos here


Wednesday 29th
A journey without hitch or hiccup saw me smoothly through easyJet bag drop and security and midday-lunching on a tasty falafel and halloumi hot wrap in the north terminal Pret which has grown a lot in a year.

The London I'd left had been 12° with no sun, in Verona it was 19° with no clouds. The bus from the airport to the Porta Nuova railway station was far from full. My room at the Accademia Hotel is spacious and beige, in a good way, and very quiet so far. An evening walk found some rogue churches and the city seems quiet and quite empty. But stages are being built in some central spaces for VinItaly, some sort of winefest. A big thing on the Verona city calendar, I later found out, and the reason why I couldn't include Saturday night in my hotel booking.  First gelato, from Gelateria Savoia: stracciatella and almond.

Thursday 30th
Breakfast was an odd mixture of self-service and ask-the-nice-man buffets. As in ask for a croissant, but the jam and the the muesli and the self-serve slicey cakes, including the pineapple sponge, are over there. All good and fresh stuff, though, and the Americano is brought in pots that give around three cups. Perfetto.

This morning I had resolved to start my investigation of the church-visit options offered by Verona Minor Hierusalem an organisation that doesn't function Monday to Wednesday, the days I'd been in Verona last time. Their HQ is at San Pietro Martire, just over the river, but they don't open until 9.30, so I had time to go and see if San Bernadetto al Monte was open, it being one of the hitherto missed churches I had tracked down yesterday evening. It's not exactly off the beaten, being down an (admittedly narrow) alley off of Piazza Bra. It was open this morning, and a little unexciting. You'll read that it has some good recent archaeological finds in the crypt, but the staircase railing was locked.

The VHM HQ wasn't open, which was annoying, so I resorted to some refreshing, involving visits to faves and photographing them. Santo Stefano, where a friendly lady sold me a plush guidebook, in Italian; SM in Organo, where a helpful chap let me into the sacristy and the coro; then to San Fermo where I bought my card for the big four churches in town, and the two new guidebooks just out, for two of the four - Sans Fermo and Zeno. All three churches visited this morning comfortably qualify as fresco heaven, especially in the vibrant fragment category. In San Fermo (see right) the north side chapel was closed off and full of scaffolding, with the Caroto altarpiece, of the Virgin and Child and Saint Anne in Glory with Saints removed and undergoing restoration in public in the presbytery.

All of which left time, before a late lunch, to explore the Monumental Cemetery, quite nearby. It is huge, with three big areas, but lacking the dank catacombs and gothic appeal of the lovable likes of Bologna and Siena. Worth a visit, still, with the left side of the first field, as you enter from the bridge from the city centre, a particular highlight.

Coming back over the bridge, on the corner of the first road on the right I found a food shop which did sandwiches, and the unusually helpful woman made me an excellent fresh mozzarella, pomodoro and ruccola ciabatta panino, which I ate in the park behind the city walls over the road, with some friendly pigeons.

After tea and a snooze back at the hotel I made for Sant'Anastasia, another of the big four with another Pisanello fresco, the other being the one in San Fermo, and here it's even higher up and harder to see. Wandering casually towards a tempting pizza joint I spotted last night I found Sant'Eufamia open, and took advantage, and photos. The pizza place, Il Bacaro dell'Arena, between the Arena and my hotel was tempting for it's separate menu list of six vegetarian pizzas. I had the one with buffala and ruccola, called La Rucolata, and got them to add cipolla, and it was the best pizza I'd had in ages. Even the nearby patrons ordering pasta with sauces containing dead bunnies and (I kid you not) donkeys could not harsh my post-pizza buzz. They were Germans, who along with Brits seem to make up most of the tourists in town. Whilst paying my bill the waiter asked if I'd enjoyed my meal and when I said that the pizza had been excellent he said 'I know!' Tonight's gelato, from Gelateria Savoia, was fior di latte and malaga, the latter a flavour with raisins I can't believe I've never had before, but will again.

Friday 31st
The breakfast room was again not full, but the young couple with the noisy child left just as the middle-aged American couple with the pushy and fussing wife arrived. They sat right near me, of course, but her demands and complaints involved the whole room, the whole time. Some people sure do get their money's worth. But I sure didn't dawdle.

I made for the Duomo first, not realising it doesn't open for visits until 11.00. It was open, but all dark inside, with people waiting for confession. I experienced the unilluminated and visited the fine cloister, but I will return, for illumination and the extra spaces. To San Lorenzo, which continued the darkness theme, and then the  Castelvecchio art gallery, which in an age when galleries are keen to embrace modern fashions and novelty, is always the same excellent range of stuff in the same places. Then along the river to San Zeno which like the breakfast room this morning, was mostly below double figures inside (see right), which was a fine treat by me.

I picked up a mozzarella and pomadoro panzarotto (called the Classico) on the way back and ate it in front of the Arena. A pasticceria off Piazza Bra, called Alpigusto, is the only place in Italy where I've ever found a Florentine(r) on offer, so I acquired one there, which was rather pale (see right), to take with my afternoon tea.

Afterwards I headed back to the Duomo, which was now much brighter but the extra bits were closing at 5.00, and then they turned the altar-lighting off in the main church. Walking towards old fave San Bernardino I found the tiny convent church of the Clarissan Monastero Sant'Elisabetta open for a service and took one photo before beating a discreet retreat. San Bernardino was open, but another unilluminated experience - the theme of the day. I made my way back to the pizza place from last night, where the waiter asked me if I wanted the same seat. I did, and the same pizza, but a different beer - a  Paulaner Weissbier this time. For my final gelato in Verona, from Gelateria Savoia again, I teamed yesterday's Malaga with Zuppa Inglese, which is what Italians call trifle, and found the trifle tasted more boozy than the malaga, which was odd.

Saturday 1st
I decided that today was a day for mopping up over the river, and for giving Verona Minor Hierusalem one last chance. Their reps in San Giorgio in Braida, the first church in their Saturday repertoire that I visited, were apologetic at having nothing much in English. They referred me to their HQ up the road, where they were equally apologetic. But things were going to get much better. In San Giovanni in Valle there was a very helpful and knowledgeable chap whose English was as shaky as my Italian. But he made me understand and I communicated my understanding, and we got along fine. Next I trudgeded up and south, along the Via Scala Sante, coming across a church (San Zeno in Monte) in the plush complex of the Mother House of the Opera Don Calabria, where a friendly young man from the Philippines on the door was happy to have someone to talk to in English about photography. The complex has a viewing terrace with spectacular views over Verona.

Heading down hill I found myself by Santi Nazaro e Celso. There was no one inside, except the older man shuffling about preparing for a service later, who cheerfully let me through the gates of the highlight chapel
of San Biagio (see ceiling right) which had been firmly and frustratingly locked on my last first, without being asked, found me an English leaflet, without being asked, and then beckoned me into a side chapel, where he tipped up a heavy wooden lecture, I thought to maybe show me something underneath, but he was actually getting me to help him carry it into the presbytery. He was very grateful and even got his wallet out. I cheerfully declined and he cheerfully let me investigate the sacristy, and even turned the lights on.

On my way back to the river I encountered Santa Maria del Paradiso, which I'd never found open, but which was another Verona Minor Hierusalem Saturday special opening. The attendant this time had better English and told me that the church itself was not fascinating, but it's reliquary chapel was spectacular. And he did not lie! Collected here from demolished churches around Verona were comfortably more relics, mostly brought from Jerusalem by the orders of knights, than I'd ever seen in my life, let alone all in one place. All neatly arranged in cases around the walls, individually labelled and sometimes certified. There were even A4-sized red fabric relic calendars, with a tiny relic attached to each saint's day. My mind duly blown, I bought a book, shook hands with my new mate, and promised to return.

Checking out of my hotel, strolling to the train station, and catching the 14.22 to Venice presented no problems. The ordinary train costs €10, the express three times as much, but it's hardly any quicker.

Saturday 1st (continued)
Checking in at the Ca'Pozzo is swift, and my request for my old favourite room (204) has been successful. I unpack, have some tea and a snooze in said room before heading off for a wander. The busy bits are heaving a bit, it being a Saturday, but the voices are mostly Italian. It's busier than when I came last year. I came in May then, but it was just after the relaxation of Covid restrictions,  and masks were still compulsory on flights into Italy and on public transport there. I buy biscuits in a Conad supermarket, walk as far as the Accademia bridge and loop back to the Pizzeria Al Faro in the ghetto for one of the same pizzas I had in Verona, but here it's called a Bufala. I beat a path through the canal-side bar crowds along the Cannaregio canals so as to slurp my first Venetian gelato - peanut and vanilla.

Sunday 2nd
At breakfast I find the hotel has a new machine for orange juice. You drop a few oranges onto a short helter-skelter and press a button. If only more hotels in Italy...

The big two questions of the morning, as I visited churches on my stroll east through Cannaregio, were: 'Why are those ladies carrying branches into a church?' and 'Why is this lady offering me an olive twig?'. And the answer is... it's Palm Sunday! But before those questions came the surprise of finding the doors of La Maddalena open, and the bigger surprise of finding it housing a display of many small crib-like dioramas telling the story of the life and passion of Christ. Some of them had moving parts, but not many. Below, appropriately enough, is The Entry Into Jerusalem. Even odder was the fact that visitors are free to photograph the little boxed scenes, but not the church inside. Following the full-on incense and free branches scene of Palm Sunday at San Salvador (see right) (which is indeed now free of scaffolding) I crossed the Rialto Bridge and trekked to my favourite lunchtime spot, by the Rio del Malcanton, having picked up a mozzarella salad wholemeal panino and a bottle of pear nectar on the way. It was as peaceful as ever, but with ducks for company and the water level very low. A slice of apple strudel was purchased to go with afternoon tea, and proved a moist treat.

In the evening I headed up towards San Giobbe (now eternally closed) so that I could take another, more northerly, stroll through Cannaregio. But first I joined in the stroking of two cats on a barrel outside a bar, with a woman who turned out to have good English and so we shared the Venetian cats story. The cats were black and tabby, one of each, and both were not slim. The walk was leisurely and sunny and the return up the Strada Nova involved the exploration of alleys between the main drag and the Grand Canal, which had varying amounts of charm. My gelato was coconut and mango from Amarena and the gelatorista made such a good job of building alternate petal-like layers on my cono piccolo I almost applauded, but restricted myself to an appreciative 'perfetto'. Good gelato too.

Monday 3rd
I got a 2-day vap ticket from the newsagent kiosk outside the noxious alley to my hotel and caught a not-too-busy no. 1 to San Marco. The Carpaccio exhibition in the Palazzo Ducale is a good size with some worthwhile loans from odd places. Seeing the Albanian Scuola cycle together is a treat, even if the quality of the panels themselves varies muchly. It's a shame that none of his major cycles have panels in the exhibition, only drawings, but they are to be seen elsewhere in Venice in situ. Seeing the Saint George from San Giorgio Maggiore up close sure brings home it's goriness. The ticket for the exhibition doesn't include entry to the rest of the Palazzo, by the way, so you are swiftly exited via the giftshop and cafe. Even I was overwhelmed by the choice of fridge magnets, but underwhelmed temptation-wise. Luckily I already had the catalogue (reviewed here) because it is a stout suitcase filler.

Time to go see the Bellini in San Zaccaria, where there seems to be a new NO PHOTO rule. I say seems because the poster says No Photo Without Flash, which makes mixed sense - so you MUST use flash? Also the attendants who take your money for the crypt, etc (now three women instead of that same man it's been for years) don't venture far, and there's never anyone attending the out back crypt, etc.

I headed back over the Rialto, and made for the Frari. The bakers by San Toma was open and had the bicotti di canella, discovered last trip and the bakers beyond the Frari, where I always get the spinach and ricotta and mozzarella and tomato pasties came up trumps with same, and a torta de mele for later. My usual picnic spot, on the Fondamenta Malcanton, was cold today, out of the sun, and there were no ducks, so I didn't linger, or get a gelato afterwards.

In the evening I walked towards Santa Marta as I had seen on Google maps, in the university buildings out that way, a vegan restaurant! The last such establishment, to my knowledge, was a vegetarian restaurant up near the Miracoli which we tried in the early 1990s visit, found wanting, and which closed soon after. It was too early when I found it but it's pencilled in for the future. I hadn't explored the area in a while and the converted and new buildings are quite pleasant, but not worth a special trip. I found myself passing the old cigarette factory by Piazzale Rome, which seems to be getting transformed into a swanky new court building. I was getting my bearings for a few seconds on the marble forecourt of what I took to be a hotel when a short woman in uniform came and told me it was forbidden for me to stand there. I thanked her in a sarcastic tone which I don't think made it across the language barrier.

I returned via Burger King for an excellent Plant-Based Whopper. The receipt from the ordering machine was about a foot long, and included the entry code for the toilet, which was the same as the pin number for my BT euros cash card. Spooky.

Tuesday 4th
Today the weather was what the experts refer to as 'effing parky'. But sunny. I decided to make use of my vap ticket and head for Murano and Torcello, with a possible detour to the San, Michele cemetery on the way. The boat from Fond Nove was so crowded I decided to get off at the cemetery for comfort, ease of breathing etc. As I wandered lonely it soon became clear to me that my memory of San Michele as lacking in the tombs and atmosphere departments was decidedly false, or maybe my recent obsession has opened my eyes to the joys of such places. I must have spent two hours a-wandering and a-photographing because my next real-world indicator was the bells of midday. I got the boat back to the Ospedale stop and got tempted by San Zanipolo. It was also much more fun than I remember. Another factor in both my joys this morning could be that I'm liking sculpture more lately. Joy number three came, when walking back and looking for lunch I found Studio Sạr, a shop selling prints in various formats, mostly featuring architectural drawings of Venetian churches (see right) which couldn't be more up my sites' alley, but is actually in Salizada San Canzian. The friendly shop owner was happy to discuss books on the lost churches (her next project) and the lack of vegetarian restaurants in Venice. Lunch was an arancini with a mozza/tom centre, with a cocco canoli for tea time, which looked more like a cream horn back in my country. But it was too crunchy and too sweet, and so a typically disappointing cake this trip.

In the evening I crossed over the Scalzi bridge and turned left and did that walk towards San Stae that manages some good views across the Grand Canal and then looped clock-wisely back via the Frari.

Wednesday 5th
Last breakfast, stroll to get ATVO bus ticket, and I noticed San Geremia was open, but they charge €3 and now have NO PHOTO signs. I then bid Nicola at the hotel a fond farewell, with hopes that his deputy Samantha will be all well and on duty when I come next time.

All the airport stuff went smoothly and with hardly any queuing. Coming home to Heathrow gave me my first chance to try the Elizabeth line, which seems quicker, or at least goes through less of those depressing West London stations with repetitive names involving all the points of the compass and Hounslow and Ealing.

I usually keep my head down and relish my alone time on this sort of solo trip. but I think that this trip will go down as the one which brought home to me the joys of some more meaningful friendly contact, even across language divides.


Guidebook corner

Verona and Lake Garda: an Architectural Guide
Sergey Nikitin-Rimsky

Finding interesting guide books is even harder in the 21st century than it was before everything went online. This book is therefore to be cherished. It calls itself an architectural guide but this is not a book about pediments and mouldings. It’s more about appearance and anecdote. The buildings of Verona are explored in the form of four walks. Additionally there are chapters devoted to Verona Surroundings and Lake Garda. Modern buildings get more than an equal look-in with the more historical fabric. More space is devoted to photos than text, so each translated description is far from detailed, sometimes so sparse as to make for annoyingly incomplete histories, at least as far as the churches are concerned, but some are better than others, with enough odd fascinating facts to make this book recommendable. These details do tend to refer to people and spaces rather than art, though, and there’s no index of buildings, making it less useful.

Blue Guide Venice 2023
Alta MacAdam

You know what to expect from a Blue Guide - a solid and detailed survey of the art and architecture, free of fashion and recommendations of what's 'happening'. And so this new edition is satisfying and unsurprising, except it's now illustrated fully in colour! And not just the photos - the maps, plans and drawings get a clarifying colourful spruce up too. It's like a Dorling Kindersley guide mated with a Blue Guide. Almost - there's still much more text than illustrations. Anyway, this book is now even more the best.


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