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A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

Melbourne, Australia
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A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

This trip report covers a couple of months in Venice, 25th March to 25th May, 2013, my wife and I staying in an apartment near San Giacomo. It’s a bit long, for which I apologise.

Melbourne, Australia
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1,169 posts
28 reviews
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1. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

March 27, 2013

Well, we've arrived. About 30 hours door to door to door. The starting door was in Melbourne, the ending door in Venice. Travelled via Dubai, the airport that keeps just getting bigger. They've installed a railroad between terminals A and B/C - I'm anticipating that next they'll create a small airline to provide transport between terminals.

Dubai's like that - big stuff, even bigger stuff, the world's biggest you name it.

Sigmund Freud would understand. Mine's bigger than yours, so there.

Italians have emigrated to Australia in big numbers. I remember meeting Phillipo, a concrete layer, who returned to Australia after being held in Aus as a POW. He liked the place, and returned to the land of his captivity, and trowelled up my uncle's sheep dip in 1954. Well, we Emirated to Italy, Venezia. Arrival was fairly well painless except for the weather.

I believe that the northing equinox was about 20th March, marking the start of the northern Spring. So this had me wondering why on earth it was SNOWING in Venice on March 25th. Yeah, climate change, global warming / cooling, whatever, but I just put it down to Venetian perversity. Venice is a bit like that - a town built in a swamp, becoming a huge military and commercial power, before yielding to the excesses of Carnivale, gambling and hairdressing. Great big wet flakes of snow drifting down as we traversed the lagoon in a water taxi, small snow drifts making the bridges slippery.

There's nominally a ten hour time difference between Melbourne and Italy - but in the case of Venice, make that time difference about one hundred and fifty years plus ten hours. It's rather delightful - dragging our stuff down Calle del Oche - the Street of the Goose. I don't know why we are in Goose Street. Maybe there was a goose butcher here five hundred years ago, maybe there was a bloke living here who was nick named "the Goose". Giuseppe the Goose, maybe. Who knows, and there are probably a dozen explanations. Venice is like that - Carlo Sarpi, Venetian philosopher, once said "I never tell a lie, but the truth not to everyone".

So I've given up on trying to find the truth about Venice.

March 28, 2013

I guess that we've spent a day or so just becoming re-acquainted with Venice, after a two year absence. Which can lead to some interesting conjunctions, like running into Yvonne, and reassuring her that our cats are healthy.

Yvonne comes from rural Queensland in Aus, was our house sitter in Melbourne two years ago - so it's a bit odd to meet her in the street in Venice when she was in search of Daniel Manin's birthplace round the corner from our apartment near San Giacomo. But EVERYONE worth meeting has been to Venice (think Truman Capote, JFK, Princess Di and QE2) so maybe it's no surprise.

There's this expectation, truly false, that Venice is sort of immutable, static, unchanging. Things that one liked in the past should still be in place. So we were disappointed to find that the pharmacy in Campo S. Stefano is now a jewelers shop, doing that high end bling that boasts shops in Beirut, LA and NY. The only reminders of several hundred years of pharma are the circular indentations in the pavement from the mortars used for bashing up the ingredients for teriaca - ingredients that included vipers, opium and other choice bits and pieces.

Our favourite glass shop has relocated out of their premises near San Moise. The shop featured work by Carlo Moretti, and has moved. http://www.lisola.com/ is their web site. Now, that might not seem such a big deal, as there an awful lot of glass shops in Venice (corollary to the fact that there is a lot of awful glass in Venice). But Moretti's showroom was designed by my favourite architect in Venice, Carlo Scarpa, so I hope that whoever moves in will preserve it. Scarpa is Venice's most well-known architect, work that reflects Frank Lloyd Wright, and also Japanese touches.

We were amused when passing through immigration at Marco Polo. Some people received a lot of scrutiny, financial stuff, onwards travel plans. Aussies get a little attention, but EU citizens just stroll through, holding their passports up in the air to demonstrate, I suppose, that they have a passport. No stamp, no nothing. Very casual, very Italian.

March 29, 2013

There's a bit of building work happening. The palazzo Ca Da'Mosto, the oldest palazzo on the Grand Canal is finally being restored. It's also for sale! The building dates from the twelfth century, has been a private residence, and also a hotel. When it was a hotel, it was the Leon Bianco, and was well endorsed in guide books, Corryat thought it pretty good - and Corryat wrote his guide to Venice around 1500 something. The facade to the Grand Canal is well progressed, although the lower stories of brickwork need a bit of attention. Inside, from what we could see, not a lot has changed. Alvise da' Mosto was an explorer, and was part of discovering the trade route to India via the Cape of Good Hope - which ultimately led to the downfall of Venice as a key place on the trade routes.

It will be special once it is completed.

I've had a problem for several years with No 1, Santa Croce. No 1 is a small building, nicely visible when you cross the bridge from Dorsoduro to Santa Croce (just past Chet's bar, where they do a good spritz, 2.50 per). Lou nagged me to buy No1 for her, and I have to admit that I failed. Someone now is renovating the place, and Lou is not amused. She wanted the fun of renovation. I thing that "fun" and "renovation in Venice" is as good an oxymoron as one could hope to find. I can take a little pleasure in the fact that the renovations have not proceeded much, other than erecting a bit of scaffold.

We have really struck some luck with the apartment that we are renting.It's huge, a spare bedroom.and amazingly light - big windows to every room, even the bathroom. A kitchen that's big enough to sit in, a terrace outside the kitchen large enough to eat on. Another terrace overlooking Calle Del Tentor. Lou has her easel set up in a corner with two windows, one of which gives a view of the campanile of San Marco. We're about 50 metres from Campo San Giacomo, which is alive with children when school finishes.

Downstairs there is a busy pizza place, also a bar that seems to trade fairly late of an evening. We'll patronise that bar a bit in future, and they will come to know the standard order of one Aperol and one Campari spritz.

March 30, 2013

I've read a few guidebooks and discovered the odd error. I always thought the Fodors Italian money saving tip of "Order your coffee at the bar and pay, then take it to a table. Make sure that you return the cup, and you only need pay the "bar" price" was a brave suggestion. Akin to "Don't tip in the USA. You'll save a bundle".

So I must confess an error.

We came to Venice about six years ago, found the Legattoria Polliero shop by the Frari, and bought paper there. Four years ago, we found our way there, and two years ago, also went there. Two years ago, there was a black bordered frame in the shop, advising of Polliero's death, and we were a bit sad. I wrote about it in my then trip report.

So today, we bought Chorus passes (ten euro and I think they used to be thirteen), visited the Frari, and then Polliero's shop. It came as a surprise to find Mr Polliero in good health - it must have been a brother who passed away. We're a bit happy about that - and if you visit the Frari, his shop is to the left as you face the main facade.

Maybe it's an Easter miracle, but more likely, I screwed up two years ago.

I still pay the "al banco" price and stand at the bar, though. Call me a coward ...

March 30, 2013

Venice is labelled as expensive. Maybe it is, although it does depend on exchange rates and the like. It is easy to find costs for hotels and the vaporettos - heaps of web sites provide that. It's harder to get an idea on "walking around" costs though, the sort of "per diem" costs that one will encounter. So a random sample, all costs in euro:

Lunch today at the Cantina Schiavoni in Dorsoduro. A stand up lunch in a bar, four slices of "tapas" each, and a glass of wine each, total cost 12 euro.

A coffee and a croissant - about 2.50, maybe 2.30.

Two pizzas, plus half a litre of wine at the Ae Oche pizza place - 26.00. We "doggie bagged" about half of the pizza - next time we'll order one plus a salad to share.

A coffee standing at the bar near the Frari - 1.50

Vodka - 7.99 for 750 ml.

Half a duck - about 12.00 a kilo. Veal osso bucco - ditto. Prawns (or maybe scampi) were about 16.00 a kilo.

A spritz in a bar - 2.50

April 1, 2013

Venice has a reputation for being romantic - although if you arrived per bus, alighting on the Tronchetto, it may appear less than romantic.

One of the ways that Romantic Venice displays herself is with the padlock. The Academia bridge is plastered with padlocks, secured to the stainless handrails. It seems that the fashion is to write one's name on the padlock, along with the name of one's beloved, secure padlock to railing, throw the key into the Grand Canal and post pictures on Instagram, Facebook et al. There is barely space left for further locks on the bridge, and I expect that the city will soon corner the market for scrap brass.

The gentlemen who otherwise attempt to make a living selling umbrellas and designer bags offer padlocks for sale on the bridge, and there's a monster lock on the bridge nearest to where we are staying. That lock won't be moved without a grinder or oxy torch.

I saw one couple with a combination lock on the Academia. Maybe the plan was to place the lock on the railing, write the combination on a piece of paper and throw it into the Grand Canal.

I should be less cynical. Lou and I were married some twelve years ago, and there has been some wedding cake in our freezer for all that time. We brought it to Venice with us - we could not think of a better and more lovely place to eat it.

April 4 2013

We spent a little time in the far reaches of Cannaregio. When you walk around Venice, you can be forgiven for thinking that there's not much else than stone paving and brick The gardens are mostly hidden - it's hard to even see that they are there But gardens do exist, and where there are gardens, then there will be gardeners and nurseries. So we went in search of, and found, Venice's nursery. Fondamenta dell'Abbazia, 3546, near the Misericordia. The nursery is the full deal, greenhouses, trees, potting mix, and you can see it in Google satellite's view of Venice.

We bought a plant, and it seemed a little like a day in the country.

Also in far Cannaregio is the Hotel des Doges, Fond de la Madonna dell'Orto, 3499. The hotel was formerly the Palazzo Rizzo-Patarol, and the garden is quite something. It was created in 1700, and Austrian Emperor Francis 1 visited it during his stay in Venice in 1815, by which time the garden must have been quite mature. There is a mound in the garden, hidden amongst the trees and grottos, that hides an underground ice house. The garden is quite romantic, paths, bridges, ponds and wells, statues in niches, formal in a haphazard way - and that's hard to achieve.

I suppose that big blocks of ice would have been brought from the Dolomites and stored in the ice house, the kitchen staff being pleased to be able to offer sorbets to guests. To visit the garden, ask at the hotel reception. They asked us to buy a coffee or drink at the bar, as the "price" of admission, or maybe the garden is for guests only - and the coffee or drink makes us "guests". The hotel des Doges is five star - unlikely to see us as overnight guests.

The main drag from the Ferrovia to Rialto, the Strada Nova, is hugely busy, devoted to the tourist market. AC Milan shirts, questionable "Murano" glass, knock off handbags. It seems to change once you go further north, and Cannaregio seems to be about residents rather than transients like us. Shops selling plumbing fittings and electrical cable rather than cosmetics, shoes and gloves. A different side of Venice to see.

We walked down to the Salute this afternoon, past Peggy G's place, and we're pleased to report that the painter that we first saw there four years ago, selling the worst watercolours in all the world on the street is still there. That gives a nice sense of continuity. While our favourite bookshop on Saliz. S. Moise has closed, to be replaced by yet another L Vuitton outlet, the rotten painter survives yet.

And we were lucky to visit a friends apartment, ground floor, windows opening onto canals on two sides. She could lie in bed and hear the wash of boats passing her window. Maybe a gondola, maybe a water taxi, maybe a garbage boat.

That's Venice.

April 5, 2013

We spent a day away from Venice today. Burano and Torcello, plus a cruise around the lagoon.

We took vaporetto from Fond Nuove (which I always have trouble finding), and disembarked at Mazzorbo. Mazzorbo takes its name from the Latin - Major Urbis = Big Town = Mazzorbo, but Mazzorbo ain't that big these days. There's a well attended cemetery, and some housing that combines the Burano tradition of painted houses with what's known as Functionalist Brutalist concrete architecture. Not even a bar on Mazzorbo - maybe the residents go to the big smoke (Burano) for shopping - I don't know.

But things are afoot on Mazzorbo - there's a vineyard planted there. Young vines, just coming into bud, and if you are bound for Burano, get off the vap at Mazzorbo and stroll through the vineyard. Along the edge of the vineyard there are garden plots worked by the local residents, and it's really pleasant.The whole vineyard overlooked by the one remaining campanile from Mazzorbo (which once had half a dozen campaniles), plus several well regarded nunneries (super-nuns, such as we now have super-models).

Mazzorbo was a major point of entry for goods from the Middle East into Europe, with customs revenues, finance, insurance, all the commercial niceties required in the ninth century. Venice and the Rialto merchants and brokers rather took it over, and Mazzorbo has been a backwater ever since.

There's work being done on the Mazzorbo waterfront. It's been going on for a couple of years.

Cost - One million, three hundred and twenty four thousand, six hundred and eighty four euro, and ninety cents.

Project completion date - 30th June, 2012.

These details courtesy of the Project Advice Board on the Site.

I've worked in construction a little, and there are three key ingredients to any project, viz. Quality, Cost and Time.

The Quality of the Mazzorbo works is excellent. I love the way the stone work dovetails, the way the paving is set to accurate levels.

Cost - well, at least the estimate was detailed. I wonder, though, what the 4.90 euro was for.

Time - seems to have slipped a little. However, the work looks good.

But get off the ferry at Mazzorbo and walk over to Burano - it's a really nice stroll.

Burano = lace. Burano = lace. Lace101 = Burano. OK, better visit the lace museum (part of the museum pass, good value at 24 euro). I'm not really a lace kind of guy, more your cotton T-shirt wardrobe. But the lace museum is worth visiting. The work there is pretty remarkable, the lace workshops were where errant young ladies wound up. There was a group of half a dozen Burano ladies working lace there - great to see, a craft being preserved. If you visit, take the time to view the DVD screening as you enter - it explains a lot about the craft of making lace.

There's another aspect to it. Lace is a luxury product. Lace takes ages to make. So there's an economic aspect to the lace trade. The lace trade could only exist if there was consumers who were fabulously wealthy, and lace makers being paid a pittance. If it takes a handful of years for several lace makers to make, say, a wedding dress, then the bride must be wealthy.

Napoleon decreed that lace had to be worn for certain ceremonies - and he decreed this as a job creation scheme. Let's get all those unemployed youngsters making lace - keep them off the streets, and it distributes wealth.

Over to Torcello, via the traghetto, which steams from Burano to Torcello like the African Queen. Maybe that's where ACTV trains vap drivers and rope-men. Our last trip to Torcello was in the dead of Winter, ice on the pavements and on the roof of the church at 3:00 in the afternoon. Warmer today, and we walked way out the back of the church. There's an archeological dig happening there, well documented for the casual observer like me. A tiny introduction to a science that I know little about.

Keep walking further out the back of the church, and you almost blunder into the lagoon. Walk a little further, and you'll get to a locked gate, Viatato entry, keep out, beware of the cane (dog), etc. In other words, you've reached the Torcello Yoga of the Future Ashram. Peace and Light - but the last Google entry was 1995. Please advise if you know anything about yoga on Torcello.

I'm not into the paranormal much, but I find a kind of spooky feeling about Torcello. Lou described it - "there's a heartbeat, but no pulse". Maybe the legacy that remains in a town that had several thousand residents in about 1100 A.D., and now has about thirty residents.

April 5, 2013

I've done the research:

Estimated Cost of the Works : 1,300,000 euro +/- 10%

Cost for pre-commencement publicity - estimated - 24,000 euro

Cost for drinks at the ground breaking ceremony - 600 euro

Cost for water taxi for Mario (too sloshed to take own boat) 80 euro

Cost for Mario's packet of smokes - dropped overboard - 4 euro.

Lighter for ditto - 90 cents (also overboard).

So Total Project Cost 1,324,684.90 euro

April 5, 2013

There's a vap stop called Riva di Biasio in Santa Croce. (Apropos of nothing, the church of Santa Croce was demolished during the 18th century, courtesy of Napoleon - who never actually visited Venice. There is a remnant column from the church of Santa Croce at the corner of the Fond. Monastero and Fond. Santa Croce.)

Walk from the Riva di Basio vap stop to Campo San Zan Degola, only a hundred metres or so, and the two places are historically linked, so it is said. (But also, maybe it's a "truth not to everyone" kind of linkage.)

On the south wall of the church, there's a high relief plaque of John the Baptist. It's about the size of a dinner plate, mounted head high.

Venetian mothers have been in the habit of telling errant children that the plaque depicts the head of one Biasio, a pie maker who killed a number of children, a Venetian Sweeney Todd. Basio's pies were well regarded - as people were not aware of the source of his meat. His crime was detected when a patron found a child's knuckle in his pie.

Biasio met an unhappy end, being hanged was the least of his indignities, and his name survives for the Riva di Biasio.

April 7, 2013

Saturday, April 6th, and Venice really turned it on. Sunny, clear, the temperature nudging 13 degrees. We found ourselves in the Piazza, spoiled for choice.

We have the Basilica, Quadri, the Correr Museum, the Doges Palace, Florians or the clock tower to choose from along with a whole lot of tourist-intended stuff, the American Snack Bar and so on.

So it was the typewriter showroom that took our fancy.

The Olivetti showroom is on the north side of the Piazza, and it's pretty special. Opened in 1957, designed by Carlo Scarpa, commissioned by Adriano Olivetti. The main doors fronting the Piazza are generally closed, so you enter through the side door, off the sottoportego. The door leaf is made of stone, and must weigh several hundred kilos. It runs on a track, and works beautifully. There's a strange sensation as one enters - the door leaf almost resisting entry because of its inertia, and yet welcoming because it runs so smoothly, almost as a gracious host. Stone door leaves are a bit of a Scarpa thing, as Querini-Stampalia Foundation, near C. Maria Formosa has a little stone door, and a monster stone door leaf both guards and invites entry to the University Institute of Architecture in Santa Croce. Outside the showroom is a brass Olivetti logo mounted on the wall, along with the name. Olivetti, about forty years ago, realised that nobody remembered their logo, and dumped it. Their new logo was simply the word, "Olivetti".

So, you pass the portal and door leaf, hand over five euro, and stroll around inside. There's a nude statue (I must confess that non-representational art challenges me) positioned in a water filled stone basin. The basin is levelled perfectly, and you can't really see - but you can hear - the water trickling over the edge of the basin. The "spout" for water entering the basin seems to say something about Oriental architecture, also bit of a yin / yang symbolism.

The ground floor paving is typical, and yet not ordinary, Venetian paving. Small coloured rectangles of marble, set in cement. The difference is that only three colours are used, red at the entry, white for the main part, and then a pale emerald green at the rear of the building. The rear opens to a canal, so perhaps the green is to reflect the water in the canal. The paving suggests a procession in some ways, a sequence, and the paving is arranged in courses, unlike most Venetian paving.

Take a moment to look at the light fittings and supports for business machines on display. Detailed fittings, secured by pins and wedges rather than screws and bolts. The same details are displayed on the mezzanine, where the tension members supporting the mezzanine don't have compression fixings. It is like Japanese woodwork, joints secured with pins rather than nuts and bolts. Even something as simple as the access cover for a heater valve is beautifully detailed, a little brass doorway.

Take the stairs. On first impression, the stairs look all over the place, a rock fall or waterfall. The bottom stair is even formed like the base of a waterfall, and there's a Frank Lloyd Wright feeling to the stairway, maybe a Venetian homage to Falling Water. But on a closer look, the stairs are geometrically perfect. Upstairs, a "U' shaped mezzanine, a pair of lunette windows giving onto the Piazza. The windows have sliding screens, like a Japanese shoji screen, ex rice paper. Lunette openings are an Oriental thing, and Scarpa used them all over the place, to all sorts of different scales.

There are all manner of other small details, stone cut in a finger jointed pattern - which is how you joint timber. Lights that seem to swim in place. All in all, a treasure contained inside an eleven metre by four metre jewel box.

April 7, 2013

If you are cruising around the North West corner of the Piazza, and if you have a lazy few minutes, you can locate the brass survey marker that indicates the exact centre of the facade of the Basilica. It is set in the white stone that marks the edge of the arcade, near the Sotoportego de l'Arco Celeste, a bronze marker about 30 mm in diameter. Not easy, but maybe pleasing, to find.

Then you can go to the other side of the Piazza, and just about in line with the door to the police station, and 30 metres into the Piazza, you can find the location of the last well in the Piazza, filled in in 1500 or thereabouts. A big - a couple of metres in diameter - circle marks the spot.

If you go a bit further afield, to the Campo San Agostino in San Polo, at 2043 B, there's a paving stone. It is inscribed LOC.COL.BAI.THE.MCCCX. Bajamonte Tiepelo tried to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1310, and was exiled to Istria for his troubles. His house in Campo San Agostin was razed, and a column placed to mark the spot. The column was eventually removed, and the place marked with the paving stone.

April 9, 2013

We spent the better part of today in Castello, mainly because we like San Pietro. The main focus in Venice seems to be the Rialto - San Marco axis, and San Pietro slumbers rather way east of the action.

It's not always been so, provide that one believes the myths. There was a shrine to a brace of Saints, Sergius and Bacchus, on the island of Olivolo (so named because there were, you guessed it, olives growing there). Later a castle was built there, hence Castello for the island, and later for the sestiere. All of which goes to show that San Pietro is somewhat old.

San Pietro was also the seat of religious power - in a time when religion exercised real power - until 1807, when the seat of power moved west to the Basilica, until then the private chapel of the Doge. Compared to many churches, San Pietro is quite sparse. There's a remnant fragment of Roman mosaic in front of one altar, the bodies of the sainted Sergius and Bacchus contained in another. But the feel is of almost Shaker simplicity, compared to, say, the Basilica.

There's a nice legacy of the inevitable conflict between temporal and religious power near San Pietro. If you look at the path from the steps of the Cathedral to the end of the nearest bridge, there's a single white stone set in the footpath. It marks the point, exactly half way from the church steps to the Doges's barge landing point where the two gentlemen would meet. Both men saving face. It's visible on Google maps!

Castello is worth walking around a bit. In a way, the eastern parts seemed to have turned their backs on the tourist market, perhaps an industrial legacy from the Arsenal. It's as though the residents and the tourists don't intersect, maybe we're on a different trajectory.

We passed by the gallery of Giorgio Ghidoli, near the Campo San Antonin (an elephant was shot in the church of San Antonin, after the unhappy animal escaped from a circus in 1808 or thereabouts. Jumbo was buried on the Lido). I digress.

Ghidoli is fun. How would Picasso, Klimt, Leonardo, Van Gogh, Caravaggio have painted a gondola. Ghidoli has considered the problem, and created paintings of gondolas in the styles of a dozen artists. My favourite is his Mondrian gondola - a painting in three frames, which explains, in a way, how Mondrian’s thought processes worked. Take a look at http://collezioneimpossibile.com/introen.html which shows his works.

Although Ghidoli has not much English, we have a little connection. Two years ago, we commissioned a work by him, a watercolour of No 1, Santa Croce, a building that Lou rather likes and insists that I buy for her. We had Ghidolo paint a watercolour of No 1 from a photo that we emailed him, so I was able to "buy" No 1 for Lou.

She's still not satisfied.

Women ...

April 14, 2013

I guess the reason for travelling is to see things that you don't see at home. We went to Florence for a couple of days, and the differences caught my eye.

I read recently that, on a per capita basis, Australia has more high performance cars than any other country. This surprised me, as I've always envisioned Germans blasting down the autobahns in fast cars. Australians are in a loving relationship with their cars - Australian men, anyway.

The love affair extends to bicycles in Aus - ten thousand dollar bicycles are not uncommon. So, in Aus, you'll see guys commute to work on a bike worth thousands, and then change into a one hundred dollar suit. In Florence, you'll see guys commuting in a one thousand dollar suit, on a bicycle that's maybe worth twenty bucks.

The same goes for motor scooters. Both Lou and I have Vespas, hers a 125cc four stroke, mine a PX 200 two stroke, that blows a fine plume of smoke. We get concerned if there's the odd scratch on the scooters, and are careful where we park them. We'd be hopeless in Italy - you see the occasional scooter lying on its side, having fallen over. No-one cares that much. Scooters are for transport, not prestige. Ditto bicycles.

April 19, 2013

We went to the Lido yesterday, and the Lido seems to be coming alive, getting ready for Summer. We last went there on a cold January day, temperature about 6 degrees Celsius, and the feeling then was quite surreal. The beach was deserted, the guy running the kiosk at the beach was playing opera - la Traviata, if memory serves - and little else was happening.

Yesterday was sunny, the beach huts getting cleaned up and readied, people sun bathing, a very different scene. I think the Lido is worth visiting, if only to see the strange structure at the beach, as you walk down the main drag to the Terrazza a Mare. Maybe it's the Lido's answer to your regulation amusement pier, and it's really odd, serving no useful purpose, probably built in the 1960's, as some sort of folly. An elevated walkway, spiral staircase so steep that you'd need a safety harness to ascend without risk, stairs to nowhere. The whole thing with barely a straight line, all circles, maybe inspired by the cafeteria at the Venezia S.M. station. Or maybe the architect forgot his ruler that day, and thought a compass was enough.

So parts of the Terrazza are just rusting away, areas closed off, abandoned. The abandonment thing is an aspect of Italy that I notice and don't really understand. From the train, you will see farm buildings that are falling down, unused, ripe for demolition, yet they still stand. Maybe the land they stand on is not that precious - hard to understand when holdings are so small. In Venice, I notice doors that have not been opened in maybe centuries, abandoned gardens.

Further along the Lido, east, past the little beach huts, numbering in their thousands, to the ex-hospital, also abandoned. It's being cleaned up somewhat, mainly to sanitise it, as it's likely full of asbestos lagging on steam pipes. There's a budget of around a million euro for the works, and then I think there's a scheme to turn the site over for private development. Maybe rich people can fly their personal aircraft to the adjacent air strip on the Lido. Hospitals are hard to recycle into other uses, unless they are really (like many centuries) old, because of the architecture and layout, and maybe a spooky, sad legacy is also an inhibition. So good luck to the consortium that is going to recycle the Osperdale al Mare.

Further along, past Jewish cemetery, to the Christian cemetery. We had a Jewish friend stay with us here for a couple of days. I sort of know the Ghetto, maybe as well as a Gentile can know it, so it was great to have someone with us with a spiritual connection, someone who could explain the significance of the Torah, the way women and men are segregated inside synagogues and so on. The synagogue tour in the Ghetto is really worth doing, and the guide had a very dry, as dry as dust, a very Jewish, sense of humour.

So we noticed the Jewish cemetery on the Lido, and were reminded of how, when a Jewish cemetery is created, no-body wants to be buried there. Nobody wants to be first. On to the Christian cemetery, and we did admire the mausoleums - or some, at least. Many of them have fine architecture, architecture that almost makes a mausoleum look like a small house - which maybe they are. I noticed one that, if not designed by Carlo Scarpa, must have been designed by a student of Scarpa - it has his architectural handwriting all over it, tiny details that make for a really pleasing edifice. Another mausoleum, rather intellectual, with the Greek letters alpha and omega on the doors, those two letters being the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the start and finish of life. The adjacent mausoleum, with double doors that make the letter omega, dispensing with the alpha. Those doors also suggest a lunette, a moon window, maybe saying something about the moon equating to the end of life.

Life - in the form of beach goers - will soon return to the Lido, inhabiting all those little beach cabins. I'd really like to know how the beach cabin thing works at a social level, but we will be back in Australia (where there are no beach cabins to rent) before Summer really starts on the Lido

April 22, 2013

Bassano del Grappa

We took a day trip to Bassano del Grappa, although I'm not much into grappa. Regional train from Venice, which took about an hour and a half. Much of the track is single working, so we spent a while waiting for "up" trains to pass. A good trip, the train going slowly enough to allow a good look at the landscape. It interests me to look at how agriculture is practiced - no fences between properties, as there is no livestock in the fields, the boundaries marked maybe with a line of trees, or a ditch. A lot of drainage channels, the land very flat.

Crops, but it's hard to tell what they are. Horticulture, vegetable plots, spring planting in full swing. The farms are about the size of what we'd call a hobby farm in Australia, maybe 15 or 25 acres, but farmed intensively. And maybe there's an off-farm income from somewhere.

The main sight in Bassano del Grappa is the bridge, designed by Palladio, but there were bridges pre-Palladio, washed away not infrequently. When the Brenta floods, either through massive rain or from snow melt, the bridge certainly takes a pounding. The bridge pylons are constructed to avoid the build up of water-borne rubbish - it's the rubbish building up against a bridge that leads to the bridge being washed away. There are stone tablets around the town, marking the level of the Brenta during various floods, 1896, November 1966 (which also saw the Arno inundate Florence, and Venice being flooded).

One span of the bridge was blown by the retreating Germans in 1945, and it was re-built by volunteers from the Alpini regiment in 1948; the Alpini have always had a place in their hearts for the bridge. The bridge was re-built, "com'era e dov'era", "how it was, and where it was", like the campanile in San Marco. There's a small Alpini Regiment museum at the side of the bridge away from Bassano, and it is worth a look. Those guys were pretty tough.

During the Great War, there were three battles fought on Monte Grappa, and the Italian defence on Monte Grappa was key to preventing an Austro-Hungarian invasion of Italy in 1917, and the Alpini were involved in all three. Memorials in the town are worth a look, and the town is proud of their regiment.

We walked along the Viale dei Martini, being somewhat lost, and found some forty trees, commemorating partisans hanged by the Germans in 1945. Each tree has a name on it, on a ceramic plate.

People have long memories - there are fresh flowers at many of the trees.

April 22, 2013

Museums and Concerts

We had planned to visit the Academia on Saturday, but the line stretched almost to the vaporetto stop, so we went to the Correr museum instead. "Correr Museum" is really a misnomer - it's really three museums rolled into one. We spent two or three hours there, and did not do it justice. You could easily spend a couple of days there, and I'd last visited about six years ago.

They have opened five or six rooms that have been restored to how they were during the Austrian period, and they are quite lovely. Fabric wall hangings - like wall paper - that is the same pattern as the curtains. Furniture from the period gives an idea of how the rather wealthy lived at the time.

There are a bunch of Canova plasters, as well as one that has had metal plugs inserted, allowing measurements to be taken when "transcribing" the plaster to marble. This was new to me. I'd always thought that a sculptor had taken a block of marble, and just hacked into it, so seeing a plaster with a couple of hundred carefully placed measurement points was interesting. Canova had a quiet sense of humour - there's an image of Venus (or Aphrodite), Goddess of the Sea, holding a sceptre. OK, that's pretty common. But on closer inspection, the sceptre is actually an anchor.

The historical section, that demonstrates so well the growth of Venice, could keep one engaged for hours, days. There's an added delight for me - Carlo Scarpa was engaged to re-design the rooms, in 1953. There's almost a dialogue with three participants, the historian, Scarpa, and the viewer. So many of the pieces have had special displays created for them, and also there are easels that are common to the collection. I think that, over time, I'm coming to notice not just what is displayed, but also how it is displayed, picking up on the story that the series of pieces is telling.

A friend was singing in a performance of Benjamin Britten's Cantata for Saint Nicholas so we went along. It was pretty impressive. I've never known much about Britten (born 1913, so this is his centenary year) other than attending a performance of Peter Grimes in 1975. It was a full-on performance, four hands to the piano, percussion, an organist, string orchestra of eight or nine, three choirs (an adult choir of some sixty male and female voices, a female choir and a children's choir). The performance was in the Frari, and we were seated beside the beautifully carved choir stalls, an audience of two hundred. We were overlooked by Titians wonderful alter piece, The Assumption of the Virgin.

The Frari is an enormous space, making for a great experience for the audience, and difficulties for the performers. A ten second period for the echo gives something of a sad, lingering sound, as though there's a reluctance for the sound to go. Meanwhile the singers are trying to pitch their voices for the next passage. Brittens work contains lots of sharps and flats, but when the choirs rolled into the Old One Hundredth, we - or at least I - almost felt like singing along.

All people that on earth do dwell,

Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.

Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell;

Come ye before Him and rejoice.

A great performance, a contradiction in a way. Some of the passages in Britten's work are almost pastoral, calling up a "Norman village church on the green" theme. And there we were, in a stunning Gothic church in Venice, hearing the Cantata.

The children's voices were lovely.

April 28, 2013

We spent a couple of hours with Gian Luca on a motor boat tour of Venice. There was my wife and I, and Gian Luca, so it was like a private tour. We spent almost two hours, cruising the back canals, circumnavigated the Ghetto, saw so many things that are just not visible from the land. There are two Venices, a Land Venice and a Water Venice - take the tour if you'd like to see the Water Venice.

Gian Luca is Venetian, so knows so much about the buildings that we went past. We squeezed down the canal beside the Arsenal, six inches to spare on each side, went under the church of San Stefano - possible as the tide was low. Gian's English is excellent, and he met us exactly on time - which is reassuring when you are not quite sure what your guide looks like. The boat is a typical Venetian work boat, a topa, the sort that a tradesman might use.


or maybe send an SMS to the number on the home page, if you don't get a response within a couple of days.

April 25 2013

After we visited Venice about six years ago, I read "Venice" by James Morris. I was taken by a sentence, when he was talking about "Streets Full of Water", viz.:

"One canal goes clean under the Church of Santo Stefano, and you can take a gondola along it if the tide is low..."

I was determined to pass under San Stefano by boat, and today (25th April, Liberation Day, St Marks Day and ANZAC day for Australians) I can announce Mission Accomplished. We've had the best day.

I'm not really a "tour" kind of person, but today we took a kayak tour. I chose today, because I did not much want to be mixing it with the delivery boats, rubbish boats, all the water-born traffic of Venice. 25th April was relatively quiet.

We booked a full day excursion with Venice Kayak (venicekayak.com) and it worked well. The day started at Certosa, reachable by 4.1or 4.2 vaporetto. Certosa was a military base in the 1800's, with a munitions factory and other fortifications. It's being cleaned up now, getting rid of the industrial legacy of pollution, and now is really pleasant. We'll go back there for a picnic another day.

Met up with the kayak people in the bar - there were a couple of running events happening on the island today, 2 km for the kids, 10 km for the adults, so it was pretty busy. We met up with Rene and Loretta, who was to be our guide for the day, were outfitted with life jackets and "skirts" to seal the kayak openings and headed off. We were six in all, Loretta, another couple, Lou and I, and an another guy (who I think was a guide in training, as he had a carbon fibre paddle and his own kayak, serious stuff).

Loretta seemed very business like at first - I can understand that, as it must be a bit tricky taking a group of paddlers out onto the lagoon without knowing what their capabilities are. She explained that canoeists are the lowest form of aquatic life, at the bottom of the marine food chain, so don't mess with vaps, water taxis, gondolas or anything else for that matter. We duly embarked, Lou and I in a double kayak, the others in singles, and headed out.

A completely new Venice unfolded before us.

I've tried to mark on our map where we went, and lost the plot. We went down canals little wider than a ditch, under bridges too low to paddle, just pull yourself through with your hands. Under the Rialto and Accademia bridges, no problems with height there. Down the canal at the back of the Guggenheim, around two sides of the Arsenal, crossed the Grand Canal several times, a bit of a dig in the Giudecca canal, all over the place.

Observing gondolas. Gondolas look small if you are viewing them from the Rialto, but are quite big if you are sitting lower in the water than the gondola passengers. And seeing a fire boat blasting down the Grand Canal, flashing lights, sirens, full noise, is quite exciting. Especially if you start to think that if said fire boat is going to turn from Grand Canal to Giudecca Canal round the Salute, you might be in the way. So back up a bit.

Yes, a completely new Venice.


We stopped for lunch at Campo San Barnaba, which we know really well, as we have stayed near there on a couple of occasions, and I must say that it seemed a bit special to arrive in the Campo by water. Down back canals, past a couple of squeros, past the Cantina Schiavoni. Being photographed, as if we were film stars.

And under Santo Stefano! Excellent!

Practicalities. We paddled for about four hours, which was enough for a day. Experienced paddlers would do more, and we're not experienced. Loretta was a great guide, lots of info about places as we passed, very conscious to ensure that we had a happy time, and she took about 200 photos of us (which we've already received by email, which is a great demonstration of good admin). Once she knew that we were competent enough, she was relaxed, charming and funny. Rene answers emails promptly, the directions for finding the kayak base are good, and we felt that we were in good hands.

If you are going in Summer, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and a long sleeved shirt are a good idea. And a bottle of water. All in all, highly recommended.

April 30, 2013

Various tours.

We took a motor boat tour - the day after we took the kayak tour, so we were really doing marine things. We spent a couple of hours with Gianluca on a motor boat tour of Venice. There was my wife and I, and Gian Luca, so it was like a private tour. We spent almost two hours, cruising the back canals, circumnavigated the Ghetto, saw so many things that are just not visible from the land. There are two Venices, a Land Venice and a Water Venice - take the tour if you'd like to see the Water Venice.

Gianluca is Venetian, so knows so much about the buildings that we went past. We squeezed down the canal beside the Arsenal, six inches to spare on each side, went under the church of San Stefano - possible as the tide was low. Gian's English is excellent, and he met us exactly on time - which is reassuring when you are not quite sure what your guide looks like. The boat is a typical Venetian work boat, a topa, the sort that a tradesman might use.


or maybe send an SMS to the number on the home page, if you don't get a response within a couple of days.

A day trip to Padua. Padua is barely half an hour on the train from Venice, on the Brenta which flows into the lagoon. There's been a town at Padua since Roman times, and they are digging up bits of Roman masonry frequently. The Scrovegni chapel is really worth visiting, not easy as visitor numbers are limited to 25 at a time. The reason for this is that the microclimate in the chapel is controlled, to maintain temperature and humidity levels, so the group of 25 is assembled and held in an air conditioned room to acclimatise them, then they are let into the chapel.

Once in the chapel, a world of frescoes unfolds, amazing detail. The chapel was built in 1303, a mere 610 years ago, and decorated between 1303 and 1305 by Giotto. Enrico Scrovegni had the chapel built and decorated, in the fervent hope that it would spare his father, a usurer, from eternal damnation. I don't know if his investment paid off for his father, but 610 years later, it certainly pays off for we visitors. There's a set of the virtues and vices (usury included), the life of Mary, the life of Christ, and the last judgment, which shows in graphic detail what Enrico was hoping his father would be spared. Wall street usurers should take note of what awaits them if they create another GFC. Theoretically, Giotto painted the work, and he must have had a team of helpers, apprentices painting the background, scaffolders, plasterers, water carriers, some sort of caterers. It would have been like a film set, frenetic activity.

And Enrico nagging them all the time, "Come on, guys. I'm trying to keep my old man out of the fires of Hell, so surely you can put in some extra hours on Saturday. I'll pay. Generously."

The process of creating the works of art and architecture interests me. Would Giotto (Frescoes R Us Inc) have been on a fixed price, fixed duration contract. Would the contract have had a liquidated damages clause, provision for extension of time and variations? I don't know, but I find it hard to believe that Giotto would have been given an open ended brief. It must have been the same for so many public works, Salutes, Rialto bridges.

The town of Padua is great. It's a relatively large town, but somehow seems peaceful, lacking the mad traffic and Vespas of Florence. The vegetable market is fun, overlooked by the Palazzo della Regione, an enormous building, once the city court of justice.

We've seen the Brenta in two different moods now, boiling through Bassano del Grappa, able to rattle Palladio's bridge, whereas in Padua, a most docile stream. Hard to believe it's the same river.

May 1, 2013

We visited the Goldoni museum - Goldoni was the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day, and there's a nice statue of him in Campo San Bartolomeo, just off the Rialto bridge. He looks like a good natured gent. If one was a student of theatre, and spoke Italian, then the museum would be interesting, alas I am neither. But it allowed access to the lovely, much photographed courtyard which dates I think from the 15th century, and the well head features a hedgehog The rooms of the museum are set up as if Goldoni and friends had just left, an empty wine decanter, playing cards scattered on the table, so there's something of an impression of how he lived. There's also a map showing all the houses where Goldoni lived in Venice, about a dozen places, and the various play houses where his works were performed, some twenty venues in all. Goldoni wrote about 250 plays, the dramatic parallel to Vivaldi, who pumped out the music, or the Strauss factory in Vienna.

The sacristy of the church of San Polo always draws me in. The sacristy contains a Stations of the Cross by Giandominico Tiepolo, I think his first big commission. The paintings are pretty brutal in their realism, the story of the trial, crucifixion and resurrection told in the standard fourteen works. There's no "Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild" depicted here - it's the story of an activist, something of a political show-trial, a troublemaker being dispensed with. Anyone who threatened the Roman revenues, "render unto Caesar", and tipped over the tables of the money changers was not going to be let off lightly. Pontius Pilate had a colony to administer, and trouble makers were never going to be tolerated. The Ascent to Heaven shows Jesus rising completely under his own steam, no supporting angels or putti, not much in the way of haloes and a pair of soldiers looking on in stunned amazement.

Tiepolo's work did not find favour - that's not the way the story is meant to be told - so the paintings went un-hung for decades.

They are brilliant, disturbing too.

We are seeing more visitors as Spring advances, cruise liners, large parties following guides with flags on the end of a car antennae. A picnic at Malomocco seemed a good idea, a bit of space, some longer horizons. Vaporetto to the Lido, and then bus. Hopped off when it looked interesting, and walked over to the wall that keeps the Adriatic in its proper place. The wall is a huge structure, extending for kilometres, rocks the size of those cute little Mercedes two seater cars that you see on the streets of Florence. Behind the wall, and a much lower elevation, are the remains of the Malomocco fortress, which was maybe the place that the French fleet was fired upon, starting some serious troubles for the Venetians.

It's strange - you'll find odd huts erected just behind the wall, maybe fishing shelters, or maybe erected by people unwilling to pay the rent for beach huts at the Lido. Many cyclists, and the bike ride from the Lido to Pallestrina would be an easy trip - as flat as a pancake.

Back to a crowded Venice, very crowded around the Rialto. Some visitors asked us how to find San Marco, one of the better signposted places in Venice. We were headed that way, so they walked with us.

Lou told them that San Marco was just near that old building, past the bridge over the canal where the gondolas are, but I don't think they got the joke. Maybe they were too footsore, and "It's the truth not to everyone" anyway.

"Are you off the ship?" they asked.

"No, we're staying here for a while."

"How long for?'

"A couple of months", we replied.

"What do you DO for two months in Venice? Do you go shopping?"

We didn't know what to say, but we thought about it. Yes, we do go shopping.


May 2, 2013

You can get lucky.

Four years ago, we met Annelie, who has a linen shop in Calle Lunga, San Barnaba. Lou made some purchases there, and struck up a friendship of sorts. If you are thinking of buying some really fine linen, then Annelie is the place to go - and her English is perfect.

Two years ago, Lou asked Annelie how she might meet an Italian, an Italian who might talk with Lou in Italian, and who might in turn wish to improve their English.


Lou met Martina. They shared drinks, spoke broken Italian and much less broken English, and a friendship formed. Martina has been studying Arabic at PhD level, native tongue is Italian, has French, English (even more now) and Arabic. Emails to and fro over a couple of years, could Lou review and comment on the language that Martina's used in the abstract for her thesis, that sort of thing.

We were delighted to have Martina and her partner Alberto to "our" place for dinner last night. It made us feel a bit connected, a bit "local" to be entertaining a pair of fine Venetians. All sorts of insights into life in Italy, Venice, Lebanon, a real insight into Venetian life. Alberto is studying Ancient History, doing a detailed examination of the fall of Constantinople in about 500 BC, relying on texts in Greek and Latin. If nothing else, it gives one a feel for Mediterranean culture, the antiquity of it all. It's specially impressive for we Australians, as we have about 200 years of European settlement - newcomers on the stage.

Yes, you can get lucky. You just have to be in a place where luck finds you.

May Day, May 1st (Workers of the World Unite, hums the Intenatonale), and we proles were given access to the Venetian State Archive.

The first rule of archiving is not to discard ANYTHING. So the archive has some 78 kilometres of shelving, holding documents dating from the 13th Century. Nobody ever discarded a single piece of paper, so one could find the contract documents for building the Salute, or even the sewerage system.

Interesting - when each Doge relinquished the office, or died, there was an official audit of their period as Doge. A reckoning of how much revenue came in, how much was spent by the city, and how much was retained by the Doge. All documented, to ensure that the Doge was not creaming off any revenue. One might wish that the same system applied to this day, an excellent way of keeping politicians relatively honest - Obama, Cameron, Gillard et al might be more careful with the treasury.

There are the specifications for the Doges hat, plans, parchments, books, court records, the lot. Doge Dandolo (who had the Crusaders invade Constantinople as a pay off for the Venetians providing shipping) decreed in 1283 that something should be done about creating a catalogue, and the catalogue has been maintained. [Editors note – it was not the Dandolo Doge of Constantinople fame who decreed that the archive should be created, but a later Dandolo doge]

There must have been an army of scribes, creating records about everything, licences to start a printing press, sell fish, operate gaming tables, ensure that gondolas were painted black. There would have been agreements for the supply of paper, red tape, ink, gold leaf for illuminated manuscripts (which are spectacular), even goose quills.

This prole was amazed by it all, such a well managed heritage. And we had access to the courtyard that you can see from the Frari, and the internal courtyard that you can't see. It must be the most complete written record of any administration, ever.

May 6, 2013

"Nuovo" in Venice is relative. "New" just means that whatever it is, is not as old as whatever came first. So the Lazzaretto Nuovo is the second lazarette - dating from 1486. The first lazarette, was located near the Lido, used to house (and bury) plague victims. But if you are going to have a lazarette, a quarantine station, then it's better if it's a bit isolated.

In the Middle Ages, the island was owned by the monks of San Giorgio Magiore, who erected a church dedicated to San Bartolomeo. But in 1468, the Senate decreed a lazarette should be established there. Maybe the monks were compensated for losing their island - or maybe not. It is, after all, Venice.

The construction was significant - documents from 1576 details that it is "endowed with a hundred rooms, and from afar resembles a castle". There was housing for returning sea-farers, a facility for disinfecting cargoes (smoking with aromatic herbs like juniper and rosemary, and salted water and vinegar used as disinfectants), the whole facility with a Superintendent and a doctor, who would maybe have sick people, suspected of plague, sent to the old lazarette, where they would die.

The disinfecting building was 100 metres long, the longest structure in Venice after the rope walk in the Arsenal. There was housing, each house with its own fireplace, crews could be segregated, a bakery, a well. All in all, the lazerette was a big industrial facility. One imagines that wool and cotton would be disinfected at a lire/kilo rate, and even paper documents were disinfected. There are documents on display that show the tweezer marks from when they were held for disinfecting.

Cargo and crews were held in quarantine for forty (quaranta) days, hence the name quarantine. One can imagine a returning Venetian crew, held on the lazarette for forty days, their families tantalisingly close across the lagoon.

Come the 1700's and the island was progressively abandoned. The French forces under Napoleon fortified the island, and there are a pair of powder magazines, built of Istrian stone, which is pretty well impervious to water, good for keeping the powder dry. The fortifications include loopholes in the wall, as if an infantry charge was expected. The age old problem of commanders always wanting to fight the last war, rather than the next.

So we visited the Lazaretto Nuovo http://www.lazzarettonuovo.com/ today, and it was fun. There have been extensive archeological works done there, uncovering relics from the Bronze age, and bits of Roman mosaic, a significant graveyard that has seen mass burials, the base of three enormous bakery ovens, artifacts from the Napoleonic times. The large, 100 metres long, fumigation shed, the Tezon Grande, has been restored and re-roofed. There is graffiti on the walls of the shed, people commenting on the election of Doges, ships coming from Cyprus, the sort of stuff that bored people write to this day. But then, they were written with iron oxide, which has survived.

Worth a visit. We had an Italian guide, a young man of about 24, whose father first took him to the Lazarette when he was aged 10. He became hooked on the place, has been part of the archeological works there, and was a great guide. The museum, house in the fumigation shed, has some interesting things - for instance, the racing gondola, donated by the winner of the 1908 championship, and a couple of fish wet storage traps, built like a small boat, drilled with holes so they would sink.

Guided tours Saturday and Sundays. Free (but a donation of a euro bank note would be a kind gesture, as the custodians of the island are doing a great job).

May 9, 2013

We took a day trip to Treviso, about half an hour from Venice on the train. Nothing spectacular to report, although the citizens of Treviso would likely disagree. Treviso is sometimes billed as an alternative to Venice, the layout of the city being dictated by canals and waterways.

But they are not really canals - the river Sile has dictated the shape of the town, and often you'll come across torrents, mill races and water wheels, appearing seemingly from nowhere, disappearing under an apartment building. The river Sile was diverted to create the moat around the town, and also a number of streams running through the town - and each of the streams would have had multiple mills on them. Mill wheels, water powered forge hammers, and a mill pond with now exceptionally well fed ducks on it.

A good escape from a somewhat crowded Venice, and a really pleasant town to just stroll around.

We are staying very close to Campo San Giacomo dell' Orio, and finally visited the church today. It's a little jewel, a fine ships keel roof, paintings of various Saints, frequently having something of an unhappy time. A mix of architectural styles, Byzantine floor plan and columns, later Gothic which contributed the ships keel roof, Renaissance apses. A work by Veronese, the whole church quite a contrast to the soaring gothic of the Frari.

My DK guide says that the church is a focal point for a quiet part of Santa Croce - and the DK writers must never have visited the Campo on a warm evening. The Campo is alive with kids, scooters, soccer balls, games of chase, little kids running micro garage stalls to sell off unwanted toys. I've always thought that the "dell' Orio" had something to do with gold, and I was wrong. The screed in the church says that "orio" is a corruption of the Latin word for swamp. San Giacomo in the Swamp does not sound nearly so attractive. The DK guide says that the name may derive from a laurel tree (alloro) that once stood near the Church.

Who knows?

The truth not to everyone, I suppose.

May 10, 2013

We have been doing the museum and gallery thing a bit. The monastery on San Lazzaro, with its Armenian works and connections, the Accademia, the Ca' Rezzonico and the Castel Vecchio in Verona. It's hard to know where to start with a description.

There are seventeen monks in the Armenian order on San Lazzaro, plus a lay person who seems to do a lovely job of maintaining the cloister. Napoleon decreed that the monasteries of Venice should be closed, but spared the Armenians as that monastery was seen as an academic institution. (Or maybe the island was not seen as being useful for fortification, so he excused it.) We saw the refectory where the monks eat, tables set for their dinner. Sixteen monks eat together, in silence, and the youngest monk is tasked with reading the Bible to the more fortunate senior monks.

The Armenians take pride in two things, one spiritual, the other more temporal. The temporal - the contribution by Lord Byron to writing the first Armenian / English dictionary is well regarded. Byron was feeling bored and, lacking soduku, thought that a dictionary might keep his brain active for several months - a slight understatement. Armenian script does not use characters found in any other written language, and Byron's brain would have been well exercised. Despite Byron's somewhat questionable moral status (huge debts, numerous scandalous relationships, and a rumoured relationship with his half-sister) he was embraced by the Armenians, and a well tended plaque attests to this. it is recorded that Byron swam from the Lido to his digs in the Ca' Rezonico, his gondola following with his clothes - maybe he was cooling his brain after wrestling with Armenian.

On a more spiritual plane, the Armenian plane, the Armenian Christian church is said to be the oldest in the world. The Armenian church was founded in the shadow of Mt Ararat, grounding place for the Ark, in about 300 A.D. It's interesting - the focus of Europeans, when looking at the early church, is mostly towards Rome (I'm maybe maligning many students of scripture here, sorry) but it is the Eastern church that came first. The Armenians follow the Eastern rite of service, with the altar shrouded during service. A lot of new information for this (lapsed) Presbyterian.

The Armenians have a museum with a most eclectic collection, probably the most notable artefact being an Egyptian mummy, draped with an exquisite glass bead carapace. There was once an Armenian press on the the island, doing all sorts of serious printing, plus labels for vermouth bottles, according to Morris. The press is now shut down, but plans are afoot to create a printing museum on the island. Not only do they have the presses, they also have the contracts for procuring the presses, bills of lading for the delivery to San Lazzaro, warranty documents, commissioning records, the lot. Many several hundred years old, so it will be a great display once it opens. It will tell the story of the development of typography, taking into account that the Armenian press at one time was printing in about twenty different languages, including Chinese.

We saw a copy of the first book ever printed in Armenian - there are only four copies in existence, and the copy on San Lazzaro has been recently conserved. Our guide did the conservation work, and was rather proud of her work, for good reason. She is a specialist at conservation of works on paper, and I suppose that in the conservation field, there must be specialists for every medium, canvas, paper, vellum, fresco, oil, watercolour, acrylic. In the same way that artists specialise in a particular medium.

There is a great, recently restored, Tiepolo, immediately recognisable as coming from the Tiepolo clan, a treasure, reminding me immediately of the Tiepolo collection in the Church of San Polo. If you have the time, the monastery is worth a visit.

May 11, 2013

We spent a couple of nights in Verona, staying at a B&B, La Finestra sull'Arena

Vicolo Tre Marchetti, 28 37121 Verona +39 331 3504289. I'm happy to recommend this place, about 50 metres from Piazza Bra. There's a small apartment, on the top floor, 78 steps up from the street, the payoff being that we had a view of the top of the arena from the skylight in our bedroom, about 20 metres away. Breakfast was good, the usual yoghurts and packaged brioche, but also there is a bread maker with a timer - we awoke to the smell of fresh bread drifting up the stairs.

We ate one night at one of those places where the menu is on the street, and one is accosted by the waiters. An OK meal, with beef carpaccio on rocket leaves which was very good, followed by lasagna with a veal sauce. Throw in a bottle of wine and a salad and the tab was about 75 euro, and we were well fed.

We also had a meal ("had a meal" is a bit unfair as the meal that we had was excellent) at Locanda 4 Cuochi, Via Alberto Mario 12, again near Piazza Bra. I'm not sure how the four chefs divide up the labour in the kitchen, and they really do it well. We shared a polenta starter (they plated it as two portions in the kitchen), and we both ate piglet cooked with myrtle. A slightly woody taste, complementing the piglet perfectly. This was served with agretti, which looks a bit like succulent grass, and I can't describe the taste, as it's nothing like I've ever had before. Agretti is said to be the oldest green vegetable in cultivation, and grows in the south of Italy. Shared desert of profiteroles served on zabaglione and coffee. Tab less wine came to about 60 euro, the best value meal we've ever had in Italy, and amongst the best.

A compact menu, five starters, five primi, five main courses, five contorni, half a dozen desserts. A wine list that starts at about twelve euros a bottle. Interesting - we had strolled in to make a booking, and they picked us as English speaking - so we had a menu in English rather that Italian. But it's the same menu as the Italian speakers receive. Closed Mondays and don't do lunch on Tuesdays, and they don't do pizza either.

We rode the hop on / hop off bus and enjoyed it. The commentary was good and informative, including info such as there used to be barges on the river with water wheels mounted on them for milling flour. Handy, as the Adige floods, so a miller could drag his barge out of the river if it was at risk. On the Ponte Nuove, there are grooves worn into the stone where mooring lines have been pulled.

If you don't know what to do in a city, just walk uphill. This has worked for us in Rome, Florence and Verona. So we walked across the Ponte Pietra (pietra = stone), past the church of San Stefano, and fetched up at Castel San Pietro, where there is a secluded public park, with remnant fortifications. About a billion bricks have been laid to fortify Verona - the sheer tonnage of firewood to burn them must have kept teams of wood cutters in business. Good place for a picnic, great views, worth the climb.

Words about Castel Vecchio to come - I'm still wrapping my brain around the impressions of visiting there. It was pretty special.

May 13, 2013

By the time we got to Castelvecchio in Verona, I'd seen a fair few museums and galleries. Art Overload is a real risk.

So the attraction at Castelvecchio for me was not so much on WHAT is displayed, but rather on HOW it is displayed. Castelvecchio dates from Roman times, with the current fortifications built over the Roman base by Cangrande II from 1335 to 1375. The bridge, the Ponte Scaligero, was built so that Cangrande would have a northward escape route in the event of a civil uprising by the citizens of Verona - Cangrande was absolutely hated by the Veronese, and figured that he would find refuge in Germany if push came to shove. The name, Scaligero, comes from the crest of the Cangrande family, a stair, ladder or scala in Italian. Frescoes from the 1370s in the castle show a ladder.

Napoleon's people built a barracks inside the castle perimeter, and the area was reworked as a gallery in the 1920's in a not very sympathetic fashion. Carlo Scarpa was tasked in 1956 to do a renovation, which took some eight years. As a side project, he did the Olivetti showroom in the Piazza in Venice, maybe for some light relief.

It's worked rather well in Verona.

In 1956, the thrust of world architecture, or at least USA architecture where the money was being spent, was all about simplification. The architectural legacy of Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Johnson et al was all about minimisation, socialist worker housing, even if said housing was stacked 38 stories high, like the Seagram building. So I think it took a bit of courage to pick Scarpa for the job, Scarpa with his penchant for the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, small but important detailing, even down to the detailing of the light fittings. An architect comfortable with decoration, buildings designed to relate to their occupants rather than to overwhelm them. Going against the contemporary flow of architecture.

The impression is that the castle is the greatest, the most significant, work on display. The historical structure has been exposed, allowing a clear perception of the various stages of usage. The Roman moat has been excavated, access to the battlements enabled by stairways that are deliberately tight - as they would always have been. There is one stairway in the battlements constructed from 12mm oxidised steel plate. In side elevation, it looks almost solid, small slits only between the plates, echoing the small loopholes in the perimeter. But in end elevation, the stairway almost disappears, becomes invisible. It's hard to describe, and so worth seeing.

There are all sorts of contradictory statements in the museum. The entrance courtyard is somewhat Japanese in its simplicity - but you enter via a restored drawbridge. The Gothic lancet windows at ground level are glazed in an asymmetric fashion, but Gothic is about symmetry. In the ground floor sculpture gallery, marble statues, which are in themselves heavy, appear to float on stone or highly finished concrete bases. Cast iron heaters are allowed to show - but sometimes are hidden inside stone boxes. Sliding security doors are woven from steel strip, echoing the portcullis that would have been at the drawbridge.

On the ground floor, there are small gutters of stone around the perimeters of the rooms, a Venetian reference, reminding one of the ground floor of the Querini-Stampalia Foundation, which gets aqua alta'd. Some of the floors are broken to indicate paving, and maybe to slow one's progress through the spaces, a visual pause.

Most galleries have works that are mainly hanging on walls. But at Castelvecchio, many works are shown on easels which are beautifully detailed. This means that often you will approach a work from the back, see how the canvas is stretched or the wood panels connected before you see the face of the work, almost a silent introduction. It makes for quite an intimate experience.

I'm hesitant to use the word "journey" to describe how the Castelvecchio functions, as "journey" has become part of management-speak, the "journey" towards submitting a tender or creating a budget. So maybe at Castelvecchio, I won't describe it as a journey, rather as a procession. A procession through history, Roman, 14th Century and Napoleonic politics.

There are some good works of art there too. However it's the architecture that does it for me.

Try googling "Scarpa, Castelvecchio Verona Photos" and you'll see what I'm on about.

May 13, 2013

I've read a few trip reports, and they are full of useful information, rather than an engineer banging on about the intricacies of architecture, so I'll remedy that situation.

We ate a couple of nights ago at the Ae Oche place in Calle del Tentor in Santa Croce. Ae Oche also have a pizza place on the Zattere, which we've not visited.

A big pizza, good salad and half litre of the house red came to about 28 euro, and we ate well. Ae Oche does not pretend to offer high end dining, and it would be a good place to send your teenagers off for a meal. There is about a 2 euro cover charge per capita, and 12% is added for service. Sometimes people grump about coperto and service charges, but there's no tip expected.

A spritz at the bar next door to the Ae Oche - 2.50. That bar is pretty lively around 11:00 PM.

Other costs. Fizzy mineral water at the supermarket - 38 cents for 1.5 litres. Wine - drinkable, but not vintage by any means - 2.20 a litre (filled into a used mineral water bottle). Cappuccino and brioche near the Frari - 2.50, 2.40 near Rialto. Ginormous scallops on the half shell at Rialto - 14 euro a kilo, and they are good. But some odd ones - sunscreen lotion - cost us 14 euro for the smallest container that we could buy, so bring your own.

May 14, 2013

We ran into an English couple today near the Rialto, and got to talking. They had seen Francesco da Mosto's DVD's about Venice, and wondered where the family palazzo was. It was fun showing them both, the historical palazzo on the Grand Canal, also the family home (and his blue boat) in Santa Croce. A little tour guide experience. I think being a tour guide would be fun – as long as the group was small. The flag on the end of a used car aerial and wireless intercom would be tough work.

May 22, 2013

The Arsenale, along with the ship yards, occupies a big chunk of Venice. It can be frustrating - you get a glimpse inside when you pass the north side on a vaporetto, or when you cross the bridge at the main entrance at Campo de l' Arsenale. But you don't even get a look at the main Darsena Grande, you can't appreciate at all what's inside. There are parts open during the Biennale, and there's some sort of marine festival on the second weekend of May (which I missed).

We got lucky yesterday. We took a picnic, walked past the ex-gasworks, past San Francesco della Vigna (which has a lovely cloister), past the massive colonnade, and reached the Celestia vap stop. You can then walk along a steel footpath fixed to the north wall of the Arsenale, and you can get the occasional glimpse inside through the windows. The views from the walkway towards Murano are good, there's a plaque erected to whichever Doge thought that an Arsenale would be a good idea, almost no people - we met maybe a dozen.

Once you are back on terra-firma, you'll see a sign "Free art exhibition", pointing to a path on your right - it's just after a group of renovated dwellings, before the boat harbour. Follow the path, which curves a bit, enter and pass through the building, and you can walk out onto the north bank of the Darsena Grand. You can see the sheds where galleys were built, the retired submarine hauled up on the slip at the west end. There were workers there, setting up exhibits for the Biennale, also placing some concrete for renovations. You can just see out through the Canale di Porta Nuove, and the Darsena Grand is enormous, about eight times the area of the Piazza, and very quiet.

Retrace your steps, enjoy a picnic sitting at the little boat harbour near the Bacini vaporetto stop. Bread, a bottle of wine, and your significant other.


But if you want to do this, don't delay. Once the Bienale starts, I think that you'll need a ticket.

May 24, 2013

Friday, 24th May, and it's really raining. We've seen snow, lovely sun that absolutely requires one to buy a spritz at Quadris and watch the passing parade for an hour, a bit of aqua alta (and it's forecast for about 115 cm at 10:45 tonight, so I can see us getting wet feet when we return from dinner). We've a booking at La Bitta in Calle Lunga, San Barnaba at 9:00 so will be hitting the streets after dinner about the same time that the water does. If nothing else, there will be several inches of water outside our door when we return.

Venice ...

We're confined to the apartment, packing for tomorrow's departure, not looking forward to it very much. I suppose that a couple of months in a place can do that to you. We've had the best time. Day trips to Chioggia, Bassano del Grappa, Padua, Treviso, plus visits to Florence and Verona, where we stayed for a couple of nights at each.

Picnics all over the place, Burano, Malomocco, the hills of Verona, la Certosa, Giardini, beside the swimming pool on Giudecca, near the Bacini vap stop in Castello. If the crowds in San Marco are becoming a bit to much, then some bread, wine, maybe a couple of artichoke bottoms, cheese, breasola, some strawberries and you have the perfect antidote to the pressure.

Several excursions, the Armenian monastery, the Lazeretto Nuove, a boat trip around the canals, and the Venice Kayak tour that was great, going under the church of San Stefano, hauling the kayaks out of the water at Campo San Barnaba for lunch - it had me feeling like some sort of returning seafarer.

Making tiny connections - even after a couple of months you are still a visitor. The guy in the bar downstairs who asks if it's to be spritzes or Valpolicella. One of the checkout operators at the local Coop who greets us warmly, the barman at Bar L'archivio, who now just asks us if we want two cappuccini. A fish vendor at the Rialto who knows us, or at least remembers us. The two blokes down the street ("The Boys") on fiddle and guitar, who always strike up the same tune when they see us coming.

I had no real plan or agenda when coming here, other than Florence and Verona, and seeking out paintings by the Tiepolos (grandfather, father and son), and work by the architect Carlo Scarpa. It helps if you have some sort of thread, a bit of a trail in your head, to follow when you visit, and it does not need to be the big ticket things at all. There's so much more to Venice than just the doge Palace and the Basilica.

I ran into some good luck. Scarpa did a little entrance for the Biennale gardens, my Scarpa book telling me that all that survived were the curved concrete walls. But it has been re-built to the original design. It has Scarpa's hand all over it, the roof plan reflecting the circular intersecting windows of the Brion tomb in Treviso. If you are into maths, it's a Venn diagram, the roof being the intersect of two circles. Staved timber support columns, slightly convex, and a student of Scarpa used the same detail in an apartment that we rented here once. And the circular lights that Scarpa did for the Quereni Stampalia Foundation are reflected in the timber work - also by a student of Scarpa - in our present apartment. I'm taking away an intellectual and visual connection, something of a treasure.

Thinking visually, I've taken very few photos. I brought a camera loaded with 400 ASA B&W, and only taken a dozen shots. There's more in my head, and I'm inclined to think that you can either see things, or take photographs, but not do both at the same time. Good photographers would disagree, and I'm not a good photographer.

We've been to la Certosa twice, once for the kayak tour, and then a couple of days ago for a picnic. There was a monastery there, closed down (thanks, Napoleon!), subsequently fortified a little and a gunpowder factory established there. A 15 minute ride from Fond. Nuovo, and you are in a different world. There's a small hotel there, boat yards, a sailing school, some large grassed areas, and signs telling you not to light fires or enter some areas - the area was used as a firing range, and there is unexploded ammo. We walked right around the island, past abandoned buildings, and ventured into many of them, two story buildings, the stairs collapsed, the cellars flooded. It's a strange feeling - once the island would have been a hive of activity, bugles, soldiers parading, polished silver in the officer's mess. And now all so quiet, except for a herd of about fifty goats that we came across, and several rabbits.

We bought Chorus passes, visited maybe ten churches, museum passes taking us to the Correr, a quick whip through the Doges palace after the Manet exhibition. The glass museum on Murano, a bit of a disappointment, as the museum was in the process of being re-configured following an exhibition. The lace museum on Burano, worth a visit if you are there, maybe not worth a special rip to Burano. Strolling the cemetery on the Lido, admiring the architecture of the newer mausoleums.

We've made some good friends here, an English couple who have moved to Venice, an Italian couple - Lou has helped her with her English. Those friendships have the hallmarks of being permanent.

So, a rather melancholy Alilaguna trip from the San Stae vap stop at 11:39 is the next thing in line for us.

Oh, and planning for coming back in a couple of years. That's happening for sure.

May 24th 2013

And others have had the same feelings.

"And you will find on the morrow that you are deeply attached to Venice. It is by living there from day to that you feel the fullness of her charm; that you invite her exquisite influence to sink into your spirit. The creature varies like a nervous woman, whom you know only when you know all the aspects of her beauty. She has high spirits or low, she is pale or red, grey or pink, cold or warm, fresh or wan, according to the weather or the hour. She is always interesting and almost always sad; but she has a thousand occasional graces and is always liable to happy accidents. You become extraordinarily fond of these things; you count upon them; they make part of your life. Tenderly fond you become; there is something indefinable in those depths of personal acquaintance that gradually establish themselves. The place seems to personify itself, to become human and sentient and conscious of your affection. You desire to embrace it, to caress it, to possess it; and finally a soft sense of possession grows up and your visit becomes a perpetual love-affair."

Henry James

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2. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

Oh no-no, please do not apologize. I will gladly visit Venice vicariusly through your long report. :)

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3. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

Thanks for your review, and enjoyed your take on Venice. We are there for a week in October.

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4. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

A beautiful description Peter. I was back there with you in many places, and discovering new things as well. You write with passion and erudition. I read the lot. Thanks.

By the way, the Armenians also have the rather splendid but faded Palazzo Zenobio which has a magnificent hall of mirrors and hosts a ball each Carnevale as well as being a location for Bienniale exhibits. We stayed there our first visit to Venice but it is now much more of a rather dubious hostel.

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5. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

My Goodness what a fabulous trip report, it's all that anyone will ever need for a trip there, thank for sharing.

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6. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

Thank you Peter, for yet another marvelous trip report.

It must be so wonderful to spend a decent period of time in Venice like you do. All I get round to is a couple a days a year; reading your report has made me start looking for bargains again for this winter, but helas, it's too early at the moment.

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7. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

Thank you so much, Pietro, for yet another of your special trip reports. They are numero uno in my book.

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8. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

What a wonderful review. You have commented on the parts of Venice very few people ever see. How lucky to have such a long time there.

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9. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

For what it’s worth, our costs ran out at about 110 euros a day over the two month period, excluding rent. The 110 euros a day included a couple of nights hotel in Florence and a couple of nights B&B in Verona. That also included train tickets and the boat and kayak tours that we took, museum passes and so on.

We had previously bought Imob cards, so vaporettos cost only 1.10 euros a trip, and that’s a real saving.

In addition, we probably spent about 400 euros on “things” that we brought home with us, souvenirs and such, and that cost is included in the 110 a day.

10. Re: A Venetian Trip Report - March - May 2013

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