Venice from on High, Venice from the Water

Venice from on High, Venice from the Water

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Venice, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or in Amsterdam/Belgium

Our tour days begin with breakfast in the lovely courtyard of Al Ponte Mocenigo. There is so much to appreciate about this property – walls covered with exquisite silk in the spacious bedrooms, an abundant buffet breakfast with homemade pastries and jams, smiling and helpful staff, an excellent location- no wonder everyone raves about it!

Whenever possible, we appreciate getting “above it all” to see our surroundings – it’s a great way to get a perspective on a city or area. The best spot to do so in Venice is from the belltower of San Giorgio Maggiore, across the basin from Piazza San Marco. So we’re on our way, chugging down the Grand Canal on the morning bus. The gondolas are already booked, cruising and singing on their way.

We walk back onto an island at the San Zaccaria stop, and before boarding another vaporetto (the buses of Venice, so named because they were originally powered by  steam – vapore) walk through a passage under buildings lining the broad Fondamenta. We’ve got time to go through centuries of history in one little church, San Zaccaria. On the left, as we enter, is one of Bellini’s best, a jewel-toned Conversazione Sacra (Sacred Conversation), Mary and chosen saints chatting, with musical accompaniment by the sweetest angels and their stringed instruments. This masterpiece was completed in 1505, when Bellini was 75 – a super long life at that time!

Tucked away in chapels behind the main church are centuries of treasures…traces of mosaic floors from the original structure, begun in the 7th century, a Tiepolo or two, and the first trace of the Renaissance in Venice in the vaults above a fabulously ornate Gothic altarpiece. The Tuscan artist Andrea del Castagno painted the lifelike figures in 1442, actually BEFORE the gilded structure, a prime example of spiky Gothic below, was built.

Down a few rickety steps is yet more of the ancient church, with several tombs of Doges and a simple altar posed on the shimmery floor, as usual, covered with a few inches of water…we walk on a raised brick path across the room.

Then we’re on our way to San Giorgio Maggiore, a tiny island with a majestic Palladian church, and the perch we’ve anticipated. From the belltower (we advise descending before the bells strike on the hour!) the view’s the best – Saint Marks across the water,

the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal spilling out into the Basino (when on the water, you can always tell when you hit the Basino  – it’s rougher than the canals), with the exclamation point of the Dogana in between.

Next stop, the Zattere, the broad waterside path where the Dorsoduro Sestiere (one of Venice’s six neighborhoods) meets the Giudeca Canal.

A waterside lunch awaits us at La Piscina, where the view is as delicious as the food.

We stroll through the Dorsoduro neighborhood on our way back to the hotel, pointing out galleries, intriguing shops, and one of the few Squeros, Gondola workshops, left on the islands.

Interpreti Veneziani completes our day, with melodies of hometown boy Vivaldi high on the program.

In the elegant church of San Vidal, we’re surrounded with the beauty of this talented ensemble along with graceful sculptures and an impressive Carpaccio of San Vidal himself.

Buona Notte, Venezia…


A Venice Treasure or Two

A Venice Treasure or Two

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 
Venice, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or in Amsterdam/Belgium

The sun’s sparkling a welcome as our guests land in Venice today.

We invite those who arrive early to see a few of our off- the- beaten path favorites, such as that church we can see from our hotel window, San Zaccaria. Inside is a jewel-toned Bellini with the sweetest little stringed- instrument player – always brings a smile.

We love the layers of history in this church – here an unmistakeably gothic altarpiece, richly complex, all gilded spikes and intricate detail. Last time we had to peek through scaffolding to see the wonder so it’s a pleasure to view it in all its glory, unobstructed. Above (not visible) is the first glimpse of the Renaissance in Venice, a vaulted ceiling painted in 1442 by Andrea del Castagno, with lifelike figures of saints.

Below this chapel is the original structure, a 10th century colonnaded crypt, the ancient doges’ tombs lapped by a shallow lakelet. We walk on planks across the always wet surface, in awe of the riches stacked one upon another in this small space.

This Castello district, just beyond Saint Marks, is one of our favorite areas of Venice, with a more lived- in feel, and dozens of little treasures. We take a peek at the Carpaccios lining the walls of the Scuola of St. George (no photos allowed here), stopping at a lovely corner for a snapshot.

Back on Piazza San Marco, we find a part of the facade that’s not under scaffolding (it seems like some part always is!), glittering against the blue sky.

Just in time for dinner, the rest of our group arrives,

and we kick off a Music and Markets week with platters of delicious seafood and a warm welcome at al Giardinetto.
On the itinerary tomorrow? A special surprise – can’t wait to share it!

The Thrill of Venice

The Thrill of Venice

Monday, May 20, 2013 
Venice, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or in Amsterdam/Belgium

That first sight of the Grand Canal as we exit the Venice train station never ceases to send a shiver of excitement down my spine – there’s no arrival in the world like this one! The water glistens a welcome under the morning sun, almost too bright to look at.
Our guests arrive tomorrow so today will be full of canal honey-dos to take care of. We ride the vaporetto number 1 down the Grand Canal, drop our luggage at the hotel, and set out along the water to do our errands. We’re in search of a gondolier who can include the Palazetto Bru Zane in his route, and we find a helpful boatman on Rio Manin and make an appointment for an evening tour – details in an upcoming blog.
I’m sure you’ve read, as we have, of the diminishing population of Venice… the city’s just too expensive for people to live in, with big corporations or wealthy foreigners buying up the palazzos and apartments, and most who work here live in Mestre or further inland, riding the train or a bus, then a boat, to get to work each day. So it’s always a pleasure to walk by one little campo (small piazza) after another, or glance down a watery lane, and see obvious clues that people DO live here. We’ve been on the water bus with students on their way to school, watched young and old trundle their groceries over the bridges, balanced with the locals on the traghettos (gondola-like craft that cross the Grand Canal in between the few bridges), or stopped at a bar for a quick morning coffee with businessmen walking to work. This often- ethereal floating city is still lived- in and alive.
Always on the look-out for another good eatery to add to our Venice list, we try Osteria Al Ponte, also known as La Patatina, for lunch – and on the list it goes!  A delicious lunch (creamy baccala – cod, with grilled polenta) in a rustic setting in the San Polo district, it’d make a good stop before or after a visit to the nearby Frari church.
Crossing the canal, we’re close to the water in a sturdy traghetto, threading among gondolas and water buses as we traverse Venice’s main street.
Our hotel room’s now ready, and what a pleasure to open the shutters to a view of one of our favorite Venice churches, San Zaccaria, as its bells ring an afternoon welcome. We settle in,then enjoy a wander as dusk falls,

past a gondola traffic jam, across a bridge or two or three, smiling with the pleasure of being here again.

Venice – Off the Beaten Track

Venice – Off the Beaten Track

Monday, May 16, 2011
Venice, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Today it’s back to gorgeous sunny skies… and another delightful start to the day with breakfast in the garden.
We’re going exploring off the beaten track today, in the sestiere (neighborhood) of Castello, adjoining San Marco.
Not far from the crowds of Piazza San Marco is the little campo (only San Marco is called a piazza, the other public spaces, typically called piazzas in other towns, are called campos in Venice) of San Zaccaria. Modestly placed on an interior wall of the church of the same name is a
lovely treasure, a Bellini Sacra Conversazione (Sacred Conversation), Madonna and Child in the middle, saints on either side, and a darling little angel musician below. In the peaceful space, we stand and gaze as long as we want.
In addition to this stellar Bellini, his last Madonna and child, the church boasts an intriguing melange of architectural and decorative styles, from the Byzantine belltower to the Gothic choir to the traces of 9th and 13th century mosaic floors visible in carefully protected sections of the side chapels.
We feel as if we’re on a treasure hunt as we pass through side chapels, past intricately carved choir stalls, Tintorettos, Tiepolos, even a Van Dyck, and through a narrow passageway to the back of the church, where in a remote chapel we can see the restoration continuing on a golden altarpiece, all intricate tracery and pointy spires.

Above this firmly Gothic marvel is a ceiling as Renaissance as you can get… where Tuscan artist Andrea del Castagno’s clearly human saints look down on the much-more-iconic forms of the altarpiece. Interestingly, the altarpiece, so typical of an earlier era, was made AFTER the ceiling frescoes were painted, and those saints above were the first breath of the Renaissance in Venice.

The treasure hunt continues… down to the crypt, where the tombs of nine former doges rest in damp splendor in the oldest part of the church… layer upon layer we dig deeper into Venice’s long history.

Be sure to stay on the raised path or you’ll get your feet wet for sure!

Feels good to be back out in the sunshine, and we continue our walk through Castello. We’ve been pointing out the rooftop Altanas to Jill and Candice. These wooden decks have been a feature atop Venetian roofs since the Republic (which lasted a millennium, from the 7th century to 1797), when ladies would sit and bleach their hair, carefully shading their faces with wide-brimmed hats with a hole in the crown through which they spread their tresses. Today they’re just an pleasant addition for the top floor dwellers, a place to enjoy the breeze and sun along with terrific views of La Serenissima.

We’re not far from the Arsenale, from where the Republic’s seafaring might came. In the height of Venice’s power, the Arsenale turned out a ship a day. Look – there’s another Canaletto view!

Today the Arsenale is a military complex, no admission for us.
No problem – we’re drawn into a little artisan workshop/boutique with some beautiful contemporary Murano glass jewelry in the window…. and we all find some wearable memories to take home with us.

Lunch today’s in the garden of Vecio Portal, where they welcome us with a favorite drink – yes, Spritz!

Then we continue our wander, with views of San Giorgio dei Greci, the Greek Orthodox Church

and an intriguing couple crossing a bridge up ahead. Makes me want to don a cape, plumed hat and mask too!

A good friend of Jill’s, Howard, lives in Venice, and has invited us to the Venice Jazz Club tonight – continuing our off-the-beaten path theme.
A talented combo entertains us with Blue Note jazz standards.
The pianist/club owner says that everyone expects to hear classical music when they come to Venice, so it’s been a challenge to spread the word about this excellent club.
We enjoy the change in atmosphere and style of music… casual, fun, and really good quality.