Notes from Venice and Pictures from an Exhibition, and others………

In October we went to Venice to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  We had a pleasant flight with Easy Jet then had to wait a long time for a water taxi to take across from the airport to the Vaporetto stop for our rented apartment.  This we found easily although we had something of a pantomime with the keys to the main and apartment doors.  Just before the alley leading to our building we had found that a restaurant along the Fondamento beneath our building would serve us some dinner at 11 p.m.   So I waited for the appointed table and we decided to offload the large bag before eating.  After several minutes Nick returned with the bag to say the key would not work in the main door so, I nipped back and found that it would.  He then went back only to return and say that there were two flats on the top floor and the key would match neither door.  I nipped back and returned to say that indeed there was only one flat on the top floor and the keyhole looked good.  He returned and discovered he had been trying to access no.2533A instead of no. 2533………..  That first meal we ate in Venice was a treat of a mixed fish platter washed down with Prosecco.  We repeated the experience later in the week.

Most days we just walked.  We planned a route before leaving the apartment, taking in various galleries, museums and buildings of note such as the Campanile.  When the bells were tolled just above our heads in the tower it was such an alarming noise that I only just managed to hang onto my iPad which I was holding outside the large-meshed safety grill in order to take pictures.  During the week we crossed and recrossed the Rialto Bridge and the bridge adjacent to the Railway Station as we explored different quarters of the city.  We loved the Natural History Museum with its artistic and highly visually appealing displays in traditional cabinets.  There were no electronic interactive exhibits or gadgets of any kind.

One day we took a Vaporetto to the Lido which was something of a damp squib as we had hoped to walk to the beach, which in the event we never did find.  Another day we went to Murano, the island in the Venice lagoon which is renowned for its Glassmaking.  So many shops offer a range of glass products ranging from the miniature glass animals to huge and gorgeous chandeliers, and from the gaudy and tacky to the stylish and exquisitely tasteful.  We looked in many shops and were finally tempted by a very pretty glass cuttlefish which now resides in St Vaast.  This was to be our anniversary present in place of a gondolier ride down the Grande Canale for which Nick had no appetite.

We ate some wonderful meals, the most memorable of which was Taglioni con scampi et fragole.  This I must recreate back home.  The combination of scampi and strawberries is amazingly good because it is such an unlikely combination.

Each day we returned to the apartment at the end of the afternoon to download emails by hijacking a local broadband connection.  Such intervals were sporadic and short-lived.  We spent time on the sofa and I read my way through Wolf Hall then started another title on my Kindle.  We ate out each evening except the last when we picked up some delicious savouries to share before packing for an early start.

I think there is nothing I could say about the magic of Venice that has not been said before.  We enjoyed our week utterly and took photos galore.  Here are some of them:

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A Wedding, Two Lunches and a Graduation

These are betwixt and between days, a medley of time at home and one-offs, like the wedding we attended in Bloomsbury.  One of Nick’s former fishing customers generously invited us to the wedding reception of his son.  This gave us an insight into Turkish customs on such occasions, and will be memorable on a number of fronts, not least the dancing which took place and the novel method of paying the live band: all eligible young ladies performed versions of a shimmy in pairs, as guests showered them with dollars which would find their way into the pockets of the musicians.

Then there was lunch with Jane at The Elm Tree in Langton Herring a couple of days later, followed by a short drive to Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Garden where we looked at the plants for sale in the small nursery.  They have a good selection of Salvia –all in flower – which are staples for my gardening schemes.

The Watsonia are flowering just now.  They are part of the iris family, bulbs which send up a tall spike of flowers in hues of pink and orange.  They are more slender than Gladioli which seem to have replaced them in popularity.  But the Watsonia are more graceful, the florets more subtle.  I need to create a place for them in St Vaast so I resisted the temptation this time.  But I did buy two rather unusual plants, a departure for me in that they are succulents.  Their morphology and colouration reminds me of marine organisms: sea anemones, or algae perhaps.  The genus is Echeveria and the two I bought – Mauna Loa and lilacina should look well in the kitchen.

Over tea and carrot cake Jane and I wrote cards for forthcoming birthdays and anniversaries.

The following day found me rising early and driving to Guildford for a dental appointment.  Afterwards I drove to Bramley where I met my very good friend Esme for a bit of lunch in the recently-opened Wine Bar – Bistro ‘Hollyhocks’.  There over a small glass of wine and seared scallops on parsnip puree, with salad, we caught up on news and hatched a plan to take the Orient Express to Venice in 2012.  Based on shared time spent in the recent years that we have known Esme and her husband, I think the trip is destined to be a lot of fun.

Later that day I met up with my Godalming Book Group, at least we were a quorum of five.  We talked about our recent read, ‘Trespass’ by Rose Tremain, then moved on to other books we have been reading, or are planning to read.  Appropriately I took delivery of one of Christine’s sculptures which completes a trio of her work.  The new one is a kneeling young girl and is called ‘The Story’.

And so to a milestone in the life of Ted who starts ‘big school’ in September.  With summer holidays looming, all the children who will leave at the end of the summer took part in a ‘graduation’ ceremony, held at the neighbouring church, during which they sang songs, received a certificate and small prize, then threw their mortar boards in the air before repairing to the hall for tea.  By request, Charlotte, Demi and I accompanied Ted to Pizza Express, after stopping off at the toy-shop for a graduation gift.  Quite a day in a young life.

Feasts for the Eyes: Renaissance and Modern

We’ve got two full days to spend in Venice.  Luckily we are with friends who’ve been here before.  After breakfast, we take a vaporetto across to St Marks Square and cut up through some of the narrow streets and alleyways.  We are making our way north across the city to the Grand Canal frontage by the Rialto Bridge.

As with most cities which become tourist centres of the first order there is a mix of low-end trinket stores and middle-market-to-upscale boutiques lining the principal Mercerie running north between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge.  More expensive clothing and gift boutiques can be window-shopped on the Calle Larga XXII Marzo which runs west of Piazza San Marco to the Accademia.

Venice is uniquely famous for local crafts that have been produced here for centuries and are hard to get elsewhere: the glassware from Murano, the lace from Burano, and the famous Carnevale masks made of papier-mâché which are offered in numerous botteghe.
As it starts to rain we decide to shelter and take coffee.  A canalside restaurant is willing to give us a table outside under the awning even though we are not taking lunch.  We sit and watch the water traffic: a gondola bearing a bride and groom complete with their photographer, and a bit later, another gondola bearing a coffin.  We linger over a second cup of coffee then trickle our way back along to an alley where we had spotted a small trattoria.
It looks less formal than a restaurant with a simple board rather than a printed menu, casual but busy service and modestly priced primo and secondi plates served from large bowls on the counter and in the window.  There is one table for 4 remaining and we have the impression that our lunching companions are regular clientele at their lunch hour.
After lunch we walk west, through the area of emporia.  There is a shop selling ornate silver- and pewter-ware and a one selling Italian majolica pottery, closed for lunch, but which I’d hope to refind on a return visit.
Crossing a small bridge we arrive at the Accademia.  The guide book tells us that there are 500 years of Venetian art exhibited here and that the finest works in the collection are housed in rooms 3, 4 and 5.  Bellini, Carpaccio, Titian and Tintoretto: the roll-call of painters is illustrious.  There are a number of paintings of the holy mother and child and the one I particularly like is Bellini’s Madonna degli Alberelli.
It’s all too much to take in and appreciate in an afternoon and as I walk around I pick up some of the printed commentaries which are intended to elucidate the paintings.  But I can’t help feeling it would be lovely to be accompanied by a knowledgeable companion, like my niece Briony, to really gain an insight into the themes and meanings of the pictures, and techniques employed by the artists to create their great masterpieces.

A Venetian Mooring

So it’s northwards now to Venice.  This involves a steady motor up the deep water channel in an otherwise shallow  Venetian Lagoon.

The channel is bounded by the Littorale di Pellestrina and Littorale di Lido on the east and oak mooring posts, known as briccola, on the west.  There are fishing villages and other residential zones as well as depots of light industry on the narrow Littorali, which face the Adriatic, and to the west there is open flooded marshland with occasional fishing huts on stilts.  After passing some minor islands we get our first views of Venice island itself.

As we look at the skyline of  terra cotta roofs, spires, domes and the Campanile di San Marco which towers above all, we are suddenly aware of a vast vessel which is moving through the Canale della Giudecca towards the Canale di San Marco, and as we round the southeastern corner of Venice to sail into the Canale a monstrous cruising ship looms above us.  Its name is Costa Fortuna, and I think it probably must do as I stare up at the folk ranged along the upper decks gazing down at us.  (The ship boasts 1,358 cabins, 4 restaurants, 11 bars, 6 jacuzzis and 4 pools.)   As we pass the ship we immediately turn towards the entrance to our waterside haven.

We are lucky to have a mooring at the small marina next to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore on a small island which faces Piazza San Marco.   The island is dominated by the belltower, the white marble facade of the church and the surrounding buildings are part of the old Benedictine monastery.  Andrea Palladio’s church and monastery were built between 1559 and 1580 and the Church houses some impressive paintings, including Tintoretto’s Last Supper.  When you climb to the top of the campanile you can enjoy a 360 degree vista.  The waterways are dotted with vessels criss-crossing the lagoon.  Some of these are the water taxis, vaporetti, which will serve us well over the next three days.

We celebrate our safe arrival with drinks in the cockpit and then eat on board.  Tomorrow our Venetian experience begins.

Crossing the Adriatic

On the morrow there are customs formalities because we are leaving Croatia, bound for Venice.   We all go ashore to present our passports and Carolyn and I buy some bread and dried figs.  These are pale and dry, quite different (and rather nicer in my view) from the dark, greasy looking figs you buy in packets at the supermarket.

I am busying in my cabin when I hear the engine start up and we are very soon heading for open water.  A queasy wave runs through me and I need to go up on deck.  It’s not a brilliant day weatherwise and although the swell is not as severe as that experienced earlier in the passage, the combination of that and the wind direction in relation to the course on which we are set creates an unpleasant motion.  It’s a 7-hour crossing that we face so I adopt a belt and braces approach, swallowing 2 Stugeron and wearing my wrist bands.  I tuck myself up under the dodger with a warm jacket, my sunhat pulled firmly down and snooze with the warm sun on my bare legs.

Come lunch-time I am ready for a cuppa soup and a salad roll then go below for a sleep.  They wake me when we enter the Canal of Chioggia but it takes me a good while to pull myself round.  I feel somewhat drugged (and blame the sickness pills).  We have entered the Venice lagoon at its southern end and Chioggia, which is close to Padua on the Po River Delta and situated on a two small islands (900x200m), is at this southern entrance.  The two islands are separated by the ‘main drag’, the Canale Vena.  We are about 25 km south of Venice (50 km by road); causeways connect Choggia to the mainland. The population is around 25,000.

Once we are tied up to the quay there is time for Bucks Fizz in the cockpit and I am beginning to rally round.  We then face a walk into Choggia to seek out a restaurant called El Gato (the Cat) which specialises in fish.  It turns out to be rather pricey but this is our shout to treat the Derricks.  Sadly when I have my platter of grilled seafood placed before me I find I have no appetite for it and a general feeling of unwellness.  Fortunately my companions help me out but we have to leave the restaurant abruptly, to the consternation of the staff, none of whom speaks English, and therefore believe that we are not happy.  Despite an attempt at miming the problem we end up leaving some perplexed Italians behind.

Carolyn takes my temperature and we find it is a bit elevated and I’ve no idea whether this is an effect of the sun, although I was never fully out in it, or a virus.  I’m better the next day and before we head for Venice we go ashore again to explore Chioggia a bit more and visit the Museum (unfortunately closed that day) which houses archaeological finds and describes the works that are being carried out to save the settlements in the Venice lagoon from flooding.

Chioggia retains its traditional role as a fishing and port city, with tourism now also an important part of the local economy.  Chioggia is a miniature version of Venice although not quite so illustrious.  But it gives us a taste of a town which arose from marshland and whose principal thoroughfares are waterways.  After lunch on board we start the passage north to Venice itself.