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Italy III: 9-11 June Venezia

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

There are multiple train stations for Venezia, but I came into Venezia Santa Lucia, which put me as close to the island city’s center as possible. Google Maps was a near miss on directions to Alla Guglie, placing it down a side alley, while it actually is straight off the bridge. Checking in at the sister hotel across the street, I rolled across and left my gear in storage, grabbing the camera and then heading out “on an adventure.”

[Reflecting back on my three days in Venice, I liken that visit to being caught in an epic movie - at every turn, another fantastic view; sun glinting off the canals; old buildings; alleys; people. More than 900 photos, it has been hard to write the trip report and remember where each one happened. So I'll just put several dozen of them up, in no particular order, to share this great experience, in this album page.]

Working from my schedule for a “day in Venice” that Elisa had developed for me for my 2020 itinerary, I was able to spread an aggressive to cover 3 days. First, at her strong recommendation, was the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which is the final resting place for the great artist Titian and the esteemed polymath Canova. Practically opposite one another in the nave, the contrast couldn’t be more extreme. Titian’s is a classic facade with four columns supporting a lintel bearing the lion of St Mark, statues portraying the arts flanking the artist’s representation, cloak open to protect a pair of youthful figures. Across, a stark white marble triangle, with a dark door in the lower center, has four mourning figures on the right, while an angel and winged lion recline to the left of the door. A bas relief medallion with Canova’s image is placed above the door.

The basilica is an active church run by Franciscan friars, albeit there are a number of significant burials and memorials included within its walls. Fine art - sculptures, paintings, reliefs - line the sides and the walls surrounding the quire. The choir stalls are brilliantly carved, and the tops are gilded in gold. I found the building to be more museum than church, overwhelmed with the views of treasures as I studied altars, chapels and gravesites. With my brain saturated to capacity after an hour, I headed back outside, to walk along canals.

Having taken many photos, I’ve posted separately an album of some more of them, with no description, but suggest checking the Wikipedia page for more information.

Onward, my research gave me an address, and when I started following, I questioned it, and checked anew with Google Maps, which took me to a large white church with a gate facing onto a small canal. A tall separate tower sits within the walls. Not sure I could enter from canalside, I proceeded to walk around it as much as possible, before returning to that gate by the canal.

Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George on the canal in Venice
Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George, Venezia

The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George turns out to have big trees in front, hindering the close view. A woman at the desk in the entrance advised me that no photos were permitted inside. I plead for one, and then expanded to three - the cathedra, the altar/iconostasis and the dome. Outside, the tower was easy, and after putting the Nikon away, I was able to get a few shots of the front facade and south side with the phone. Only from the bridge over the canal could I include the dome, the tree-fronted facade and the tower.

Not too far away, the Scuola Dalmata dei Santi Giorgio e Trifone came with another strong recommendation from Elisa. It turned out to be a small building with a chapel-like function. More marvelous art and woodwork, there really isn’t great lighting. I took shots of much of the historic depictions on the upper walls on both levels, which I’ve uploaded to an album without description separately, and can recommend WIkipedia’s page for details.

Last item on Friday’s agenda was to collect and use a GetYourGuide access ticket to La Fenice. Self-guided, I listened to the audio which described this opera house rising from the ashes after three fires, a phoenix like its name in Italian. Entering the foyer for a stop to read more history, then to upstairs to access the boxes. With more time than La Scala, I was able to watch some of the working rehearsal for Fliegende Hollander of Wagner, the next production to be offered. My notes that I found the sound of the rehearsal was splendid. (As one would expect. However, Flying Dutchman is my least favorite Wagner opera.)

La Fenice also featured an anniversary exhibition - La Callas had been born in 1923, and the third level of the foyers was devoted to celebrating the 7 years she had sung in Venice. I poured over the photos and descriptions, remembering the few recordings I had heard, some from that very house.

Attempting to return to the hotel from nearby (to the opera house) St Mark’s Square, I found I was hopeless with Maps. My struggles with the streets across the islands in the lagoon had me wander probably twice the distance, bringing me numerous times to ends at water or cul-de-sacs of buildings. I found a Coop, getting bananas, water (for immediate consumption), juice, salad; this got carried around for half an hour before I found the street to the hotel (which was just down the street from another Coop!) All the walking gave me lots of opportunities to capture shots of buildings, streets, canals and vaporettos.

Into room 31, I brought the luggage up via stairs the two levels, with hotel staff helping with the larger bag. The room was rather bare, with no shelves, a desk, a surface for luggage that had the mini-frig and safe underneath. The bath was compact, with insufficient surfaces for all my toiletries. [I should point out that in addition to the expected toothbrush and paste, I have sleep apnea gear that I put into my mouth nightly; plus I have several treatments for arthritis and pain, and deodorant and cologne. I need a bit more of flat surface!]

My travels to and about Venice had me working up a serious sweat over the course of the day, with salt deposits drying and showing on the black polo I was wearing. A shower and a change of clothing was in order. Once freshly dressed, I went in search of a bar where I might have a glass of wine - most cafes were crowded, filled with younger folks sipping on Aperol spritz or bottles of Corona. (Really, in Italy they’re drinking crappy Mexican beer! How sad!) Walking along the main canal, I got to the Radisson which included an internal garden with a cafe and bar service, and very few clients.

I retreated to a shady spot, took out my journal and sipped on a Farina Amarone Valpolicella (corvina, rondinella, malvasia grapes). Christian, my server, brought me nibbles: toasted salted almonds, olives with orange zest, and a ringed biscuit-like bread flavored with oregano and garlic. I was away from the street along the canal, the noise of the boats plying the water, in a garden with greenery and no sun. Bliss. A second glass of wine, a cabernet franc from Treviso, which proved to be a disappointment as it had no acid or tannin and minimal fruit.

Back out to the street, I began my search for dining - I’d neglected to plan for it being Friday, so many restaurants were complet (full). Down a side street a bit just up the main street from the hotel, I found Laguna. All the outside tables were full, and I found a barrel top and stool inside where I was able to dine. With a glass of rose from Bachus e Ariadne, slightly sparkling and boring, I started with carbonnara meno: carpaccio of pork loin on a bed of rocket.

The pork was good, loving the arugula, particularly when I added olive oil and ground black pepper. Switching to a cab franc, I really didn’t enjoy the freshly made spaghetti bigola carbonnara: the noodles were too thick for me, however were al dente; I wrote that the only good thing was the very minimal bacon. Trusting the staff, I did get tiramisu Laguna Libre, which came with roasted sliced almonds, karkade sauce and was tasty.

Saturday the tenth I slept well until at least 8, when street noise began to encroach. I still rolled over, and didn’t leave until 9:30 to head to my “skip the line” tour at St Mark’s. Again, I got lost as I headed back through the area in front of the train station and over the bridge, but still found a rabbled crowd of tourists looking for their guides and tours. Still too many groups trying to rendezvous, the coordinators assigned me to Andrea, an older guide, who first took us out into the piazza, speaking through a radio, giving us a brief history of Venezia and the duomo.

Front facade of Cathedral Basilica of St Mark, Venice
Basilica Cattedrale Patriachale di San Marco, Venezia

We entered into the Basilica Cattedrale Patriachale di San Marco on the right, went down to the foot of the apse and then over into the left aisle. Unfortunately, we were crowded with other groups, as much of the nave floor space is restricted.

The tour then moved to the rear of the church, near our entrance, where we climbed to the rear gallery, and from there, went outside to the balcony overlooking the square. Andrea kept up a running patter of information and personal anecdotes, finishing the tour on the balcony after about 75 minutes together.

As we were still in the cathedral, I headed downstairs and back inside, to the nave for pictures. I coughed up 5-euros for access to view the rear of the brilliant altarpiece.

Exiting onto the piazza, I looked up at the Campanile and decided to join the queue to climb it. I spoke with a younger couple from Florida who bailed when they faced a 10-euro admission charge, which I barely flinched at. I rode to the top (and walked down) and got photos from each of the four sides.

When back at its foot, it was about 1pm and I had an hour before my next GetYourGuide tour, that of the Doge’s Palace. I walked around a bit into the maze of streets, and found a bar on a corner across from a gondola pick-up point where I had a glass of white wine and a pice of bread spread with tuna and mayo. Most importantly, they had a working unisex.

Back to the rendezvous point, four groups formed up by language, with the French at 9, German 13 and English at 18 with Elisa. (I didn’t do a head count for the Italian group.) We headed to the piazza, where we got less narrative describing the facades (of both the cathedral and the palace) than earlier.

We entered the Duomo and did a quick tour following the interior wall of the nave before climbing to the rear gallery where she focused her attention (and ours) on the mosaics. Out onto the balcony where we were set to watch the clock strike the hour.

Down to the piazza, we crossed to the front of the Doge’s Palace, walked around it and went inside when our time slot was called. We proceeded through salons on the ground floor, getting details and highlights of the splendid artistry. Arriving at the golden staircase, we ascended into the governmental rooms.

Several truly impressive spaces, I was obviously taking many pictures, as we parted the judgement room to the Bridge of Sighs, my camera battery ran out and I scrambled to replace.

As the prisoners had, we all crossed over the canal in the dark covered bridge, and viewed the multiple gaol cells. Half our group was a family from New Zealand, with the patriarch celebrating his 60th birthday, his wife herding the three married children with spouses, plus the youngest child. A pair of Aussies also contributed to our banter as we traveled through the building.

The group exited, and were going to head to the Armory. The weather had been slightly overcast all day, albeit warm. I was bushed and passed, firing up Maps which promised a 30-minute walk which turned out to last twice as long as I again made numerous wrong turns. My notes say that I did better(?) by avoiding as many dead ends. Achieving the hotel, I hopped into the shower, took a brief laydown, dressed and headed out to a corner pub. While the outside was crowded with younger people drinking white wine, I noted the board with options of 5 each in white, rose and red wines. At Cantina Aziende Agricole, I had a Negroamaro of Matervitae from the Torrevento region; and for a second a glass of Piceno from CiuCiu ‘21 of Bacchus. I was enjoying people watching, as well as my wine, and discovered they would serve dinner, so I ordered the risotto di asparagi, which would follow the antipasto plate. The plate comprised of mortadella, tuna with egg, caciotta a capra. The antipasti were cut in half and slightly warm. Tasty, with the cheese and orange the prize for me. The mortadella had a runny (aka ripe) brie-style cheese, and the tuna was tart with an olive brine.

Out of wine in my glass, I opted for Appassimento of Domini Veneti from the Veneto. It had a big nose of forest and damp soil. It was dry, tart bursting on the tongue, round and rich in the mouth. I found grass and leaves in the lingering finish. Turnover was changing the patrons, with drinkers moving outside to dine, the inside table filling with 4 locals, older, drinking wine. The risotto appeared, a tad cool but very tasty, calling for another glass of the Appassimento. I’d been journalling since arriving, and in an hour had burned through two pens, which surprised me. (Admittedly, I’d been using them alternately at that point for over two months.) And yes, I had dessert - torte della nonna - a custard cake with pine nuts.

After many days of travel, I’d learned that, in particular, Sundays would be difficult for visiting any church, particularly in the mornings. So I juggled Elisa’s 2020 plan so I would travel to Island of Murano and then the Cimitero. Following her directions, I walked towards the bridge, turning right and collecting an all-day vaporetto transit pass at the tobacco stand before getting to the stop. The boat was crowded, but I had an hour before my appointed tour of a glass factory. Once underway and then on the island, I walked around scoping out the location, checking an hour early if there might be room earlier.

Not a possibility, I wandered the waterfront, hoping to find a café for a coffee, without success. Back to the factory, I found a shady corner with a seat and ate the innards from an old sandwich I found in my bag. Time for the tour, I was the only English-speaking client, with all others Italian, a group of 12-15.

The craftsman created a vase using his blowing skills, and then melting rods, a rearing horse sculpture. Maybe 10-15 minutes. We were ushered into an elaborate showroom, photography prohibited, where nothing really appealed - besides, most of the works were either trinkets (breakable) or huge, which would involve shipment(s). I was intrigued by a chandelier in the outside (more public) shop space, but the first quote of 10K euros was overwhelming, and he then dropped it by half, including shipping door-to-door - I still wasn’t ready to put it in my house, much less want to try and budget for it.

I left the glass works and headed back to the vaporetto pickup point, possibly a different one than I’d arrived at, but still the next stop was the Cemetery of San Michele. In my readings of Robert Craft, I’d learned that Igor and Vera Stravinsky had been buried there. Knowing that he’d been Russian Orthodox (ROCOR, actually) I knew to head to the Greek Orthodox section, and then in the back corner, found their graves.

(Robert Craft had intended on using the next plot, but it had been filled and his final resting place is nearby.) I paid my respects, checked out the Orthodox chapel, and was out on the dock for my continued trek in a half hour.

Onward to San Pietro, an island some distance from St Mark’s, but still within the archipelago. In addition to military fortifications, the Basilica Concattedrale di S. Pietro di Castello as a cathedral dates to before San Marco switched from being the Doge’s private church to being the Metropolitan See. There is a 3,50€ admission fee, and I found it has some nice art during my thorough exploration of the space.

Entry facade of Basilica Co=Cathedral of San Pietro di Castello, Venice
Basilica Concattedrale di San Pietro di Castello, Venezia

The co-cathedral has an interesting history - out by the fortress at the entrance to the archipelago, it is quite distant from St Mark's Square and the seat of the Republic's government. Once the position of Doge was eliminated in 1807, the Doge's private church, St Mark's became the cathedral for Venice. Described as a Renaissance structure, its footprint is the traditional cruciform, along an east-to-west axis. The west facade has square and rounded columns against a relatively plain white stone surface, a tall central door and two smaller side doors.

With three aisles, the interior has white walls and vault. Romanesque arches are a slightly darker stone, with the capitals being gray. The floor is set in a diamond pattern of red and cream marble squares. The walls of the nave and transepts have large oil paintings The altars in the arms honor the Sacrament, and an icon of the Virgin. Under the muraled dome of the apse, a tiered high altar features statues of angels and saints, all in white marble. While the small carved dark wood cathedra sits under a canopy, several other older chairs are situated within the confines, looking like they could have been bishop's thrones.

Outside, trees fill the park in front of the building. I strolled back and forth, looking for that angle through the branches and leaves, before discovering a shot from the nearby bridge which would include the unattached (and somewhat distant) belltower, albeit the distortion has it leaning.

Continuing over the bridge, I strolled the small streets and around short buildings, crossing another small bridge to the next island. This delivered me to a lovely public garden park. Nearby I found a vaporetto stop which took me on a lovely ride through the lagoon back to the Guigli stop.

Back up to the room, I took my Chromebook out into the common space, did a little email before spending about 2 hours writing up the visit in Bremen and Essen, which still needed proofing. Having enjoyed my evening the night before, I returned to the cantina for dinner.

There, I started with a Franciacorte Barone Pizzini, methodo classico, a citrusy rosé with an order of antipasto selected from the display case: goat cheese (with jam), baccala mantecato, onion relish on ham. Just as I sat down to my glass of bubbly, a thunderstorm broke, and it rained heavily for 20 minutes, and gradually became just drizzling. Trying a different red with my main of sarde e gamberoni in saor on polenta, it was a blend from Vedova in the Veneto. The sardines and shrimp were cold, with sliced onions and two slices of warmed polenta. I wrote I’d probably not have again. Ordering a glass of the appassimento which I’d enjoyed so much the night before (and had talked up so as to sell 3 bottles then,) I wound up speaking with an Irish couple from Dublin who were vacationing with 10-year-old Connor and his very quiet older sister. He’s worked in construction, had lived in Edinburgh - I found them very nice folks.

Back to the room, I was able to proof the first Germany blog before I packed the big roller for my journey onward the next morning.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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