May 2010


Wednesday 5th May
Caught the EasyJet lunchtime flight, rather than the crack-of-dawn one I usually go for. Nice not to have to be waking up while it's still dark, but not so nice arriving in Venice around 6.00 rather than before lunch. Oh well, the journey was pretty trouble-free, apart from the two dim blokes ahead of us who only seemed to realise about the security restrictions on liquids and such like just before they had to put their hand-luggage through the x-ray machine. Sigh. Oh, and probably the most bumpy flight I've ever experienced. I noticed a ticket machine in the baggage-reclaim hall at Marco Polo, so even no queuing for the bus ticket. You have to tap in the code of the ticket you want (bus or boat) and then how many tickets, and then you put 3 for each bus ticket, and you're done. The rain started as we rode in on the bus, but left off for the walk to our accommodation. Staying at the Istituto Ciliota again, and I was remembered from last time. Worrying.

An evening acclimatisation walk was accompanied by torrential rain with added thunder and lightning. A bit biblical, so we stood in a church doorway for a while, retiring damply to a restaurant (Acqua Pazza) for superior pizza. I had a Marinara (tomato and garlic). If I'm going to do this properly I suppose I have to tell you that two pizzas with a salad, a bottle of water and a glass of wine came to 55. The waiters taking four askings before they brought our bill was hardly a balm to tired and dampened spirits. But a stroll over the Accadamia bridge into Dorsoduro and to Grom, for gelato no.1 - cocco and fragola, was. Very few people about too. A splashy walk along the Zattere and then back to the Istituto. They have wifi now, which'll make this business you're reading now a whole lot easier. And 5 for three hours is a positive bargain, as you pay that much for an hour in the cyber cafes in Venice. It works in the ground floor public areas, and I was told it might also work in my room as I'm overlooking the courtyard, but no. I got a weak signal if I opened the window and leaned out, but this was not comfortable, or dry. So I'm planning on beaming this to a waiting world tomorrow at breakfast, croissants crossed.

Thursday 6th May
Awake at 7, uploading at 8, breakfasting at 8.15 and out soon after 9. Find the little chapel in Camp Sant'Anzolo uniquely open. It's sweet (see right), used to be called the Oratorio dell'Annunziata and now calls itself the Chiesa Sant'Angelo degli Zoppi. Not sure it's called a church anywhere else, usually being referred to as an oratorio, it was founded in the 10th Century, rebuilt in the 14th and modernised in 1530. The art's mostly modern, as is the stained glass, but there's a pleasant 17th Century Annunciation by Antonio Triva, who's new to me. Revisit San Salvador, San Giacomo di Rialto, San Cassiano and Santa Maria Mater Domini, to acquaint Jane with their varied delights. And sneak some interior photos. It was early enough for the Rialto area to be quite civilisedly empty too, as were the churches, even San Salvador.

We were heading for the Museo d'arte Moderna at the Ca' Pesaro, a new experience. My artistic appreciation fast expires as the 20th Century progresses, but there are some strange and interesting paintings from the late 19th and early 2oth Centuries here. The rooms have been pretty comprehensively converted, but you still get to appreciate some fine old ceilings and even get some glimpses of painted walls. Most of the paintings seem to have been acquired from past biennale exhibitions, and there are even a few Venetian scenes. One of my faves of these also had my favourite title: Neve e nebbia, Snow and fog by Ippolito Caffi. Amongst the symbolists and the strangeness (including the derelicts, the disturbed and the abandoned) was a Woman in Pink by Paul Lavery, a Belfast-born artist. She has the presence of Henry James heroine, as the museum guidebook notes, and looks like someone I'd like to meet. There are also paintings here by Italico Brass, the father of famed porn-film director Tinto. The Museo Orientale on the top floor we left for another day, as feet were aching and lunchtime swiftly approaching. A cheese and rocket panino in Campo San Giacomo dell Orio filled a hole, before we headed back via the Rialto (not so civilised now, in fact it was a scrum) for an afternoon 'rest'.

An evening stroll to Piazza an Marco, as you do. Another thunder storm as we got there, but not as biblical or as long as last night. Checked out the San Lorenzo Dingo colony, but just one black cat was snoozing in a box. Spotted a couple of more posed cats later (see below) near the famous ramshackle bookshop with the gondola and the cats. Across to the Rialto for an evening meal of such fast cheapness that we'll draw a discrete veil. Weary feet then dragged back to the Ciliota for an early night, pausing only for gelato no.2 - pear and fior di latte.

Friday 7th May
Wake early and switch on the TV and the BBC to check out the General Election results, and it's looking like a hung Parliament. At least our local MP (Sadiq Khan) is back in and Nick Griffin and the BNP have been trounced. After breakfast we make for San Giovanni in Bragora, a church I've never been in. It's a nicely lofty but compact space - a nave and two aisles with a pair of chapels in each. Unusual gilt decoration on the capitals of the pillars, with the last pair before the altar being square, carved and gilt pillars. This last pair were once part of a decorative screen, the work of  Sebastiano Mariani da Lugano, which was dismantled in the late 16th Century, with some panels used to line the chancel. Painting over the arches too. The apse is a bit of a surprising burst of rococco, with the altarpiece a Baptism by Cima de Conigliano. And there's even quite a likeable Palma il Giovanne on the left-hand side of the chancel, of The washing of the feet, which has a touch of the Tintorettos to it. This is the church where Vivaldi was baptised, in 1678 (two months after he was born, as he was sickly and thought likely to die) and so the font is swamped with wreaths of flowers, mostly blue, or some reason and one in the shape of an oversized violin (see right). The sprightlyVivaldi concertos playing loudly through speakers (as if my bank had put me on hold again) I could have done without - did they not have any CDs of his church music? There was also a party with a Greek Orthodox priest when we arrived, gathered around the chapel of San Giovanni Elemosinario,  Leaving the church by its side entrance takes you into a sweet little tucked-away campo. It's called the Campiello del Piovan and Giorgio Massari, the architect, was born at No 3752.

Making for San Francesco Della Vigna we passed, by accident, the convent church of Cristo Re alla Celestia, a modern church I'd never even found before, let alone visited. We peeked around the door but there were off-putting praying nuns inside, so I just grabbed a quick pic. There was a service on in San Francesco Della Vigna too, but the entrance to the cloisters (left of the facade) was open so we had a solitary stroll (see right) and then a look at the Bellini in the Capella Santa. The door to the sacristy was open too, with one of those easel thingies that explain which painting is which inside the door, so we went in, admired a Sansovino altar and some not-great paintings, before the priest came in and started changing out of his vestments, so we took the hint and left. The church itself is big and tastefully plain. The nave has two rows of five chapels, some of which are very much not plain. The first on the left is very finely frescoed by Battista Franco (called Il Semolei) with an Adoration of the Magi over the altar by Federico Zuccari. The third on the left is a shiny white marble box with much carving, and some trompe l'oeil painting in the corners by Tiepolo. The ceiling, which looks like the work of Tiepolo too, is actually by Girolamo Pellegrini. The fifth chapel on the left contains a (very early) Sacred Conversation by Veronese. In the transept on the other side of the church is the Negroponte Madonna and child - an eccentric and lovable work full of fruit and flowers. The only real attraction amongst the chapels on the right side is a Veronese Resurrection of Christ, but even it's an attrib.

Bought some pizza slices on the way to a sit in Campo San Zanipolo. We passed the church of Santa Maria dei Dereletti, where a fire outside the church last week had supposedly smoke-damaged a painting inside. All we could see was a fenced-off area by the door where there were a few cinders. No damage to the wooden door, no blackening of the walls. A couple of gelati from Rosa Salva in Campo San Zanipolo and then back for a rest.

Into Cannaregio in the evening to check out the impromptu celebration of the retrieving of the head of the famous statue of Signor Rioba - stolen and found in the past week. Speeches were made (in Italian, so search me as to what they were about) jokes were told (at the expense of tourists, I think) and songs were sung. There were also people with their noses painted black in honour of Sig Rioba's brass nose. We soaked up the atmosphere for a bit then headed for food. (Before arriving at the celebrations we'd encountered the friendliest and fluffiest tabby cat we'd met in a long time. He was well into my crouching down and stroking his chin, so much so that he tried to climb onto my lap - not easy when a chap is just crouching. I couldn't take his picture either because every time I tried he trotted up for more attention.) We ate at a restaurant I thought was called the Antico Capon in Campo Santa Margherita. It seems to be called something else now, but the wall still has the old name painted on it. Anyway, the pesto gnocchi and the spinach and ricotta ravioli were both most tasty. We sat outside, despite it being a bit chilly, and the evening rain came down again, only less so. To Grom on the walk back, for the nuttiest pistachio I've ever tasted, paired with the extranoire chocolate sorbet - perfect! 


Saturday 8th May
A cloudy morning, so to the Fortuny Museum, the first of two repeat visits. There's currently an exhibition of tall perspex boxes on the ground floor, printed with city scenes on one side with shapes cut out of the other. It's interesting only in that it spreads into some crannies, a smelly water gate, and storage rooms not usually accessible. The first floor is the draw, as it's big and full of fab fabrics, paintings, hangings and atmosphere, and you just want to live there.

Then a Dorsoduro wander, ending up at the Scuola Grande dei Carmini, a smaller and later-established scuola with some nice Tiepolos, and less visitors than other scuoli you may visit. Not an essential destination, but one for the committed Venetian visitor nonetheless. You will need to know what a (devotional) scapular is, though, as there are lots of paintings of the Virgin giving one of them to various people here, and if you don't know what one is it'll surely bug you. Lunch was some savoury pastries, from a bakery along Salazzida San Pantalon, eaten on steps by the nearby Rio del Gaffaro. And we even saw a crab, and not a small one, chewing on the weeds on the step under the water. Nature! Back to the Istituto for a rest, first making some tea and eating a cake. I've not mentioned (or photographed) any cakes so far this trip as I've just been eating repeat pastries from previous years, but this one was new to me, and called the Venexiana. Tasted to me just like a nice soft sugar-coated brioche/bun.

Took an evening stroll around the Dogana, and the annoying naked boy with the frog is still there! I thought that he was just a Biennale thing for 2009, but he remains, now in a big plastic box. He gets put in the box after hours, it seems, still getting his own guard during the day - money so well spent!. We eat outside at Gianni, looking out at Giudecca and observing the vap-stop action.  The  rocket and cherry-tomato pizza here is a firm favourite of mine. Jane had the grilled vegetables, ditto for her. Gelati from Nico and a stroll back in the evening chill. Tomorrow's supposed to be warmer.

 Sunday 9th May
We made our way slowly towards the Rialto and then the Frari today. Sunday mornings are not good for church visiting, so it's a good time to wander. The slow way up to the Rialto took us past the long-closed Cinema Rossini, opposite the church of San Luca,  now being rebuilt as three screens and a supermarket. Just beyond San Luca you can get to the Riva del Carbon and walk all the way along the Grand Canal to the Rialto Bridge, bypassing the switchback crowded calli taking you past San Salvador and points East. Had a look at San Silvestro on the other side of the GC, as I'd heard it had closed due to some roof-falling-in problems. The church was indeed closed, with a small chapel accessible from Campo San S. being used for services. You can see into the church through a closed glass door to the chapel, and the pews are covered, but it doesn't look like there's been major collapse. There's an absolute warren of fragrant alleys west of San Silvestro. Not spectacular but very atmospheric, and with a splendid plushy (and quite friendly) cat in one calle. Through Campo San Polo, with the church completely covered with scaffolding, but open, to the Frari, which was still closed for a service. So into the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, for more Tintoretto than can be taken in in one go. He's not one of my favourites but this place is always worth a visit, and usually gives you something memorable. This time it was the birth of Christ in a split-level manger and St Sebastian with an arrow through his forehead - unusual as they're usually just stuck into his limbs or body.

Up to the railway station to answer nature's call, then eat a mozzarella and tomato wrap each on San Geremia's water steps. Decided to walk back through Santa Croce across to the Rialto. The walk took us by the gelateria that does the interesting flavours, in Calle Large dei Bari, called Gelateria Alaska di Pistacchi Carlo, I learn from the receipt. I had, wait for it, ginger and peanut, and they were both very special. And the ginger even left my mouth tingling.

Strolling over to the far side of Piazza San Marco, but avoiding the main drag, we found the Armenian church! This one being one of the last unfound churches for my other website. It's very well hidden, and it's campanile pretty hard to get a good view of, but we managed, sort of. We then had a people-watching sit down on the Riva della Schiavoni. And were rewarded with a triple whammy: the sight of someone actually buying a cheap imitation bag from one of the itinerant sellers,  a woman showing her companion one of the tacky sparkly masks she'd bought, and someone buying one of those primary-coloured blobby plasticine creatures. Wonders never cease. We ate at a restaurant between San Zaccaria and San Marco called Aciugheta, and it was something of a find. Superior pizzas (I had a yummy Caprese) and a very special almondy apple tart with ice cream. Back through Piazza San Marco with small ponds forming from the water bubbling up through the drains.


Monday 10th May
Raining relentlessly. Jane to the Guggenheim and me off in search of some churches that I've not yet been in. I start well with Santa Sofia - it's hidden behind shops along the Strada Nova and is never open, usually. It's compact, with pale walls and stone, and not much decoration (see right). The aisles are separated from the nave by two pairs of three widely-spaced columns. There are two side altars in the aisles and small altars either side of the chancel. The one piece of non-plainness is the apse, which is decorated in a gently rococo way. The best piece of art is the Baptism of Christ by Daniele Heinz over the high altar. The priest and the attendant went around emptying the candle coinboxes during my visit, which was a bit jangly. I then tried Santa Fosca and Santa Maria dei Servi, but both were closed, a word-processed sign on Santa Fosca now giving the open days as Tuesday and Thursday. So I went to the Frari. Always a fave, my enjoyment was improved this time by a surprisingly good audioguide. It gets a bit mixed up with the present and past tenses a bit, and the pronunciation occasionally gets a bit entertaining. So, cherubs become kerubs and gilding becomes jilding, and so on. Still, I learned stuff about the Vivarini family/studio - who are well represented here - and the circumstances of the commissioning of the Bellini altarpiece, so all is good. Oh, and the altar full of relics (i.e. body-parts of saints) is supposed to have some of Jesus's blood. The rain had stopped by the time I left the church. I picked up some lunch and headed back through drying alleys for a rest. The cake I bought is called a lunette with apple and creme, but it's very far from being the most interesting-looking cake in the world (see right). It was fresh, soft and very appley, though.

An evening walk through Dorsoduro as far as the Stazione Marittima, which it seems easier to wander into these days, at least from the back - the front entrance/bridge still says no unauthorised admittance. It started to rain as we came back along the Zattere, so we ducked into Gianni. I had penne al'arrabiatta this time. We also got to share in the experience of the couple on the next table, who ordered sea bass cooked in salt, and got to admire the fish pre-preparation, in its pre-cooking salt-covered state, and then to eat it. To Nico on the way back for an apricot and stracciatella cono.

Tuesday 11th May
An indirect wander towards the church of Santa Fosca this morning - a new sign on its door having seen earlier in the trip  promising Tuesday morning opening. Our route took us past the also-always-closed Lutheran church in the Scuola dell'Angelo, opposite  Santi Apostoli. But the door was open! We tentatively walked in and were greeted by a friendly man, who may have been the pastor, who invited us to go upstairs and see the church. It turned out to be a plain squareish space, with undark wood fittings and a few fine paintings. Foremost of these was the altarpiece by Sebastiano Ricci The Madonna in Glory with the Archangel Michael, which contrasts with the portrait of Luther to its right, by the studio of Lucas Cranach. There's also a Titian painting of Christ given to the church when it was in the Fondaco de Tedeschi. We were told that the church is now going to be open Tuesday mornings and that they are intent on opening up and attracting tourists, and maybe even art exhibitions in the entrance hall, which is a more interesting space than the church, I think (see above right).

On to Santa Fosca, also open. Inside it's aisleless and stony coloured with a pair of altars on either side and a pair flanking the chancel. No great art and plenty of patches of damp and crumble. Some of the paintings have hand-written tags. This is very much a working church, with more old ladies lighting candles than visitors. Odd as its on the Strada Nuova, which is becoming  even more the main-drag, it is said, what with the opening of the new Calatrava Bridge siphoning everyone that way from Piazzale Roma.

To the railway station for biological relief and some stamps, then a bit of a wander around the odd area East of the station, including the park (see right). It was raining for most of this stroll, and lunchtime was upon us, so we got some falafel in pitta bread and scoffed them in the, now dry, Campo Santa Margherita. Then it was time for the afternoon rest. Walking along the fondamenta in front of the station, towards Piazzale Roma we had, by the way, had our only encounter with the filming of the The Tourist, which had been making news for a few months, due the presence of Brangelina. Some scaffolding was poking cameras into windows of  the building to the left of the station, and there was a sign warning us that if we got filmed it was our own fault. Glammy!

An evening visit to the Accademia. The ticket office is now a portakabin in the campo to the right of the entrance. Room 2 is closed, which is a shame as it has some of the best altarpieces. It also means that you have to enter the gallery's sequence of rooms from the end. We took the opportunity to visit the rooms in reverse order, so as not to be knackered by the time we reach, for example, the St Ursula paintings. There's a large display explaining what to expect after the rebuilding finishes, if it happens in our lifetimes. But it's all in Italian. It does look, though, like the visible collection will expand to fill twice as much space as now. Something to look forward too. More walking in the rain after - this has been a day spent mostly under an umbrella. To the Antico Capon in Campo Santa Margherita again, but indoors this time, and they even had the heater on. Back to my room I turn on the TV and learn that Gordon Brown has resigned and that David Cameron is to be our new prime minister - the youngest and poshest MP in decades. And as I look at the screen there's a photo of Cameron formally meeting with the Queen posed in front of one of her many Canalettos.

Wednesday 12th May
A trouble-free journey home. Of course everyone swarmed to the gate when the staff turned up, meaning everyone has to stand up while they get organised, and then we had to stand and wait in the bus. But these were minor annoyances placed against swift check in, smooth-moving security checks, trains that arrived as we got to the platform and two cats glad to see us home.

So, although this trip was shaping up as more of a holiday than a church-fest I managed a few surprise openings and subsequent list-tickings and gap-fillings. The weather was wet but not cold, the gelati were undisappointing and the restaurants mostly worthy of repeated visits. (With thanks to generous Jillian for gelato sponsorship again.) I'm still undecided about whether I'll be making the traditional solo visit in September this year as well. We'll see.

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