Torcello and Burano Islands, Mea Libera Tutti and Risotto di Go

Torcello and Burano Islands, Mea Libera Tutti and Risotto di Go

What do you do when you are visiting Venice, Italy, and you discover that there are three (yes, 3!) cruise ships all docking with the city one day?  Our solution to what promised to be a very crowded city was to get away, to take a boat ride out to the islands of Burano and Torcello.

Why not Murano?  A couple reasons.  Of the three islands, the one that is known to be both the most popular and the most tourist trap is Murano.  And we already have some glass from Murano (Therese bought a couple beautiful goblets years ago), and didn’t really want to buy any more, and then have to transport it home and hope that it didn’t break along the way.

Now if you want to go to Murano alone – especially if the museum on Murano is what you want to see – then you would want to take either the number 4.1 or 4.2 Vaporetto from the Fondamente Nove stop.  The benefit of these boats is that they also stop at the Isola di San Michele, which is the sight of the city’s cemetery (and the stop is actually called “Cimitero”).  However, we wanted to do the opposite – not interested in Murano, but we did want to visit Burano and Torcello – and therefore, we took Vaporetto number 12.

One last point on the logistics of getting to the islands: we took the boat from the Fondamente Nove stop since that was a decent walk (about 10 minutes) from our Cannaregio apartment.  If you are staying somewhere else in the city, you may wish to take a boat to either Piazzale Roma for the train station stop (Ferrovia), and then transfer there to either 4.1 or 4.2 (at the moment I am unable to figure out what the difference is between these two boats – maybe they go in different directions?).  However, if you wanted to go to Torcello, you would have to transfer to number 12 at Fondamente Nove…

Anyway.  So yes, we got away from the crowds, and had a lovely day visiting the islands.  On the way to Torcello, we passed by San Michele, Murano and Burano.  I decided we should go to Torcello first for two reasons: one, I had heard great things about the ancient church there and have wanted to visit there since the first time I went to Venice in 2011, and two, I got the idea that there are some nice restaurants for lunch there.

The Entrance to Torcello

Torcello is quite minimalist.  As in, there is one road on the entire island.  You get off the boat at one end of that road, pass by a brick wall with the name “Torcello” on it, and at the other end of the road are actually two churches, and a museum.  Along the way, you pass by some restaurants, and some very rustic buildings, and a couple of very touristy looking shops.

The first church we visited was Santa Fosca, really more of a chapel.  The thing I enjoyed most about this church were the series of capitals and other ornamental designs.

The main church on the island is the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta.  The Last Judgment on the inside of the western wall is what it is most famous for, I gather.  Signs say it is from the ninth century I believe; however, it has been substantially reconstructed in modern times, so I don’t know how much actually survives from its time of origin.  No photography is allowed in the church, and there is even a woman sitting in a little booth in a corner of the church enforcing this rule.  However, she looked bored and mostly read a book while we were there, so as long as you weren’t blatant about it, you could take photos and she wouldn’t bother you.

After spending a good deal of time sneaking in photos and generally enjoying the church, we decided it was time for lunch.  There was one restaurant we had passed that looked very classy, so we chose that one – Ristorante Villa 600.

Considering that this restaurant is on a pretty touristy spot, the quality of the food and prices was surprisingly high.  I was able to communicate with a waiter who spoke English about my allergy, and all was well.  I started with a seafood antipasto that was extraordinary – there were a couple kinds of seafood on there I have never seen before. For a main course I ordered a dish that is rather famous for cuisine of the islands, Risotto di Go.  There is a fish called Go that is used along with rice and seasonings to make the dish.  The dish is sold in a portion for two people, but they nicely made one of the portions non-dairy for me, while adding cheese to Therese’s portion.  And let me tell you, this may be a simple dish, but it was full of flavor.  I loved it.

Getting from one island to the next can take a bit of time, what with waiting for the next boat and then crawling through the lagoon.  But we had enough time when we got to Burano to walk through the town – while much more developed than Torcello, for tourists like us there is again really just one street or path that takes you from the dock to the island’s church and the famous Lace Museum.  Again, along the way are many places to get touristy things like lace (of course) and the typical s-shaped cookies.

The Lace Museum was interesting to us, but there isn’t that much to see there.  If you go through the many drawers of samples, you might be able to spend an hour, maybe a little more, there.  But we left pretty quickly because, sorry to say, the place reeked.  I mean, it smelled so bad we thought we were going to be ill.  At first we thought it was the plumbing in their rest room; but as we walked back toward the middle of the island, it struck me that it is the island’s canal.  It badly needs to be cleaned.

That aside, the best thing for me about Burano was the vegan gelato I had there.  About mid-way along the street back to the dock, there is a gelateria called Dai Fradei that has maybe the best vegan gelato in Venice.  They certainly have more varieties of vegan gelato than anywhere else we visited – I think they had about 10 flavors.  I had Peach Bellini and dark chocolate, and wow, it was incredible.  The one thing they didn’t have was vegan cones, but I just took a chance and had it in a regular waffle cone.  Therese was keen on getting some of those “Essi” cookies, so we stopped at the main shop, just further along that street, called Panificio Pasticceria Garbo – the one thing they had that was dairy free was meringues, so I got one of those.

And with that, it was time to take the boat home to Cannaregio.  But after disembarking at Fondamente Nove, there was one more stop to make.  Along our way home was a store called Mea Libera Tutti.  While their main focus is gluten-free products (the couple that owns the store has a son with Celiac disease), many of their offerings are also dairy free.

Azzurra, one of the owners, was delightful.  With much care, she picked every item off the shelf that was dairy free and told me everything I needed to know about it.  She also clarified something for me.  When we were in Rome, a waitress had explained to me that all I needed to tell people was that I needed food that was “senza lattose.”  However, Azzurra explained, that is really lactose intolerant, which of course is different than being allergic to dairy.  What I needed to say was that I am “senza caseina,” i.e., I am allergic to the milk protein, casein.

I bought a variety of snacks and other things – vegan pesto, Antica Dulcinea Amaretto Morbidi cookies, Cuor di Riso al cacao breakfast snacks, Besciamel sauce made from rice, and some amazing chocolate tarts that were made by Italian nuns.  With that, I had enough snacks to keep me going through the rest of our time in Venice, and the day ended with me feeling very accomplished.

Posted in Churches, Countries, Dairy Free, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Italian food, Italy, Lunch, Museums, Restaurants, Seafood, Sorbet, Travel, Venice | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Punta della Dogana spells a Venetian Friday

Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Punta della Dogana spells a Venetian Friday

After a long and busy Thursday day trip to Verona, it was only natural that our Friday in Venice would be a lighter and quieter day.  So we had a relaxed leisurely morning, sleeping in and lolling around the apartment, followed by a late lunch and visits to two relatively small art museums in Venice, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Punta dell Dogana.

Our lunch was at Ristorante Diana, a return to this restaurant, and yes, I did order their Linguine alla Veneziana, aka al nero di seppia, with lots of black ink sauce.  After having had this dish at a few other restaurants since the first time I ate it here, I can honestly say that Ristorante Diana makes this dish the best in Venice.

Our fairly relaxed lunch, which included chatting with a couple at a table next to us who were only visiting Venice for a few days, concluded with us beginning to feel a sense of urgency.  If we wanted to get some sightseeing in that day, we better skedaddle before everything started closing down!  So we walked to our Vaporetto stop, San Marcuola, and took it to the Accademia stop, and walked the few blocks to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

If you love art from the mid-twentieth century, as we do, then this art museum is for you.  All the usual suspects are well-represented here – Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko, etc. – and there were some new ones to discover, like Mirko and Germaine Richier.  The cool thing is that, as an art collector who lived through the middle of the century, Ms. Guggenheim got to know many of these artists and was often a big supporter of their work as well as a patron.

To get to our next destination, we walked past the imposing and beautiful Church of Santa Maria della Salute, often called simply “Salute.”  I would’ve liked to go inside and see more of the church, but since the afternoon was on the wane, I had to move on.

The church of Santa Maria della Salute

Punta della Dogana, along with its sister museum/gallery Palazzo Grassi, was hosting the massive Damien Hirst show called The Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.  My nephew Neil had warned me that Hirst’s work can be galvanizing, as in some love it and some walk away from it grumbling and screaming.  But he also said that whatever his reservations about Hirst, if he were in Venice, he would probably want to see the show.  We were happy to give Mr. Hirst a chance.

The concept to the show is certainly equal parts ambition and whimsy.  The idea is that a fictional shipwreck that took place in the first or second century A.D. has been dug up, and it contains a cross-section of art, much of it covered in barnacles and corral, from every culture and corner of the world that was known for making art at that time.  So Mr. Hirst has created huge sculptures and made them look aged and sea corral encrusted.

In addition, for most of the pieces, he has created a second sculpture, supposed to be an attempt to create a new piece based on the sunken treasure, but making whole what was broken and aged by the sea.

Since the show is split between two galleries, we only saw half of the show here at Punta Della Dogana, but we were impressed with what we saw.  This space, with its many trapezoidal rooms on two levels fitting into a triangular building on the southern point of the Dorsoduro neighborhood, was used very well in placing the pieces from the show.  There were places on the upper floor where you could turn from seeing several pieces in a room next to you to look over a railing and see a larger room below and its contents as well.

To supplement the works of art displayed before us, and continue the fictional pretense, periodically there were video monitors set into the walls displaying videos showing the works you see before you being rescued by divers from the ocean floor.  Just as the works of art are executed with great precision (some too perfectly, in my opinion), these videos are high definition with lots of bright colors, very attractive.

The question, after seeing and enjoying the first half of the show here at Punta della Dogana, was whether we would also enjoy the second half two days hence at Palazzo Grassi – or whether it would be repetitive and boring.  We would certainly find out!

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Basilica di Sant’ Anastasia, Duomo and L’Arte del Gelato in Verona

Basilica di Sant’ Anastasia, Duomo and L’Arte del Gelato in Verona

Let me begin by saying that there is more than enough to keep you busy (and ecstatic) for every day of two weeks in Venice.  So the wish to take a day or two away from Venice is not a matter of trying to fill in time.  Rather, Italy is full of great cities with ancient culture, and we thought that as long as we were in Venice, we should take advantage of being just a short train ride away from, for example, Verona.  And there is too much to see there to fit it all into one day trip, but we did our best and had a fabulous full day in Verona.

Information Booth in Santa Lucia Train Station, Venice

I’ve bought train tickets in France several times now, so I know how that works, but this was my first experience doing so in Italy.  For our trip to Verona, I had bought tickets ahead of time online, on the often helpful but sometimes confusing Rail Europe website, to make sure that we had a reserved seat.  We had no printer at the apartment, and buying ahead of time meant that for some reason I could not print them out on the ticket machine at the station.  But not to worry: I had the tickets on my phone, and the nice young lady at the information booth assured me that that would be sufficient for the train ticket taker.

Just an hour after boarding, there we were, already in Verona.  We could’ve walked to Piazza Bra, one of the city’s main squares, but I thought it better to save our energy for walking around the city, so we took a short taxi ride there.  It’s a nice quiet spot, with cafes and taverns around the outside of the square.  And just across the street is Verona’s Roman-era Arena.

Therese in Front of the Arena di Verona

We could’ve made a day, apparently, out of seeing the inside of the Arena (waiting in line for hours to buy tickets, etc.).  But we had been to the Colosseum in Rome a week earlier, so we were content to just view it from the outside.  And from there, it was just a short walk to Verona’s liveliest square, the Piazza delle Erbe.

We would return to this Piazza at the end of our day to get a taxi back to the train station, but for now we were content to have a good look at the fountains and towers and the market, and keep moving.

Piazza dei Signori, Verona

Our next stop was the Piazza dei Signori, just next door.  True to its origins – this square is where the city’s council met, and the courthouses are there – it is a quieter, perhaps even more solemn, place.  We found it peaceful, and I loved the statue of Dante at its center.

From there, we continued walking north.  Our next stop was at a small gem of a church, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Antica.  As its name implies, it is one of the oldest churches in the city – the first church on this site was built in the 7th century, and the current building dates back to the late 12th century.

What makes this church notable for most people is the fact that in the cemetery next to it are the funeral monuments to the lords of Verona, the Della Scala family.  The Arche Scaligere are quite fantastic, with the individual monuments displaying the buried in full knightly regalia, riding horses and wielding swords and lances.

Scaliger Tomb, Verona

Our next stop might’ve been the highlight of the day.  The Basilica of Sant’ Anastasia was built in the fourteenth century and is quite ornately decorated, and is filled with art on a scale with Venice’s Frari church.  Unfortunately, I did not take note of the artists of most of the paintings, and there is not a lot of information on the Internet.  Nevertheless, I had to share some photographs with you to show you how beautiful this church is.

The one artwork for which there was a good deal of information was “St. George and the Princess” by Pisanello.  From the fifteenth century, this greatly detailed work is largely lost on the viewer due to the fact that it is placed over a chapel archway some fifty feet or more off the ground.

By the nineteenth century, the work had suffered a great deal of damage, especially its left half which is mostly lost, from the roof leaking.  It was decided to remove the artwork from the wall and display it in a chapel where visitors could see it much better.  However, this operation caused most of the work’s gold paint to flake off, further damaging the painting.  In modern times, the painting was returned to its original location – the reason for this was not stated.  Luckily, there is a video monitor positioned at eye level that shows in a constant loop a short film about modern efforts to care for and restore the painting.  It was from this documentary that Therese was able to take the much clearer photo above on the right.

The historic center of Verona is surrounded on three sides by the Adige River, the second longest river in Italy.  To cross the river, the best point at the northern tip of the city is the Ponte Pietra, a reconstruction of a bridge from the first century A.D. that was destroyed during World War Two.

When you cross the river, it is just a short two blocks to the station for the funicular which takes you to the top of the hill, the site of the ancient Castel San Pietro.

You can’t really enter the castle nowadays.  Instead, the reason for ascending to the top of the hill is to see the most incredible views of the city.  The day we were there was quite overcast, foggy even.  Nevertheless, it was still possible to make out the river and some of the city’s remaining Medieval character.

Smartly, a restaurant is placed near the top of the hill that shares the incredible views, Re Teodorico.  The menu there was fairly simple, but had lots of tourist pleasers, like a mushroom pizza that Therese enjoyed, and the chicken salad (with mayonnaise) and charcuterie with pickled vegetables that I ordered.

After eating and relaxing for a bit, we were ready to descend by the funicular and explore a couple more sights.  Our next stop was the city’s Cathedral and its complex that included a few different buildings.  The first one we visited was the Baptistery, which is called, as is typical in Italy, San Giovanni in Fonte.

The baptismal font in this church is the most incredible one I have ever seen.  Made in the thirteenth century, its carvings of scenes from the life of Christ, from the Annunciation to his baptism, are remarkable.  For example, the scene of the massacre of the innocents in the photo at above right is graphic in showing the soldiers murdering children while grieved parents are trying to protect them.

Sharing the same entrance with the baptistery are two surviving versions of the Cathedral or Duomo.  The older one has been preserved as an archaeological site, displaying architectural details that go back to the Roman era.  The later building is currently under extensive renovation and therefore, for example, the entire area around the altar was covered with scaffolding.  Nevertheless, we were able to admire some of the side chapels and altars which include an Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Titian.

There were other places we could’ve visited in Verona – several other churches are known to be quite worth seeing, for example – but I was starting to feel tired, and the truth is that there was not too much time left before the time for our train back to Venice.  My idea was that our remaining time could be well used having a gelato break and then getting a taxi back to the train station.

Our Google search had determined that the best vegan gelato in Verona could be found at L’Arte del Gelato, a stand several blocks east of the Piazza delle Erbe.  We went there, and I ordered what one reviewer had described as the best vegan flavor – lemon with chocolate chunks.  The flavors of intense lemon zest and dark chocolate were delicious, but the texture of the sorbet itself was not very pleasing – very hard and icy, not creamy at all.  It was more like a granita than a gelato – or what we would call an Italian ice.

As we ate our frozen dessert, we inquired of a couple of different people as to where the closest taxi stand might be.  In Italy, just as in France, you can’t hail a taxi – you have to go to a stand and engage one there.  We were told that a stand existed in the Piazza delle Erbe.  That sounded unlikely, since the square is a pedestrian-only zone, but we thought we would walk in that direction and ask again when we got close.

One of the vendors in the outdoor market was able to solve the mystery for us.  On a side street alongside one of the historic buildings that faces the square, the Domus Mercatorum, there is indeed a taxi stand.

Domus Mercatorum, sight of the Taxi Stand

Actually, there is a set price for taxis taking you back to the train station.  The driver was emphatic in explaining it to us in broken English – I guess it is expensive by most people’s judgment, and he didn’t want an argument with us when we went to pay him.  We were tired so we didn’t mind paying extra to not have to walk back to the train station.  This driver was a colorful character – all during our ride to the station, he kept an animated dialogue going with someone on his cell phone, reminding me of Roberto Benigni’s portrayal of an Italian cabbie in “Night on the Earth.”  Thankfully, we arrived at the station in much better shape than the rider in that sequence!  Our fabulous day in Verona ended with an uneventful train ride back to Venice, where we enjoyed leftovers in our lovely apartment.

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The Frari, Trattoria Dona Onesta and Scuola Grande di San Rocco

The Frari, Trattoria Dona Onesta and Scuola Grande di San Rocco

After visiting Rome and witnessing the wealth of top-notch art and architecture that one finds throughout the city, it’s hard to imagine that you another city could impress as being even more full of art.  But that was just the sort of experience I was having after being in Venice for a few days.  The Wednesday of our first week there was a case in point.  The Frari Church and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco are each bursting with amazing art, and any city (in the United States, for example) would give everything they had to have either within their borders.  But of course, in Venice they are just a short walk from each other.  Unreal!

So yes, we started our day that Wednesday by taking the Vaporetto to the San Tomà (or S. Tomà) stop, and from there walked a few short blocks to the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, commonly known as the Frari.  The previous day, when we visited the Gallerie dell’ Accademia (also within walking distance of the Frari, by the way), we learned that for Francesco Hayez and the other Venetian art luminaries of the nineteenth century, Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin was considered to be the greatest painting of all time.  As a matter of fact, the painting was moved to the Accademia museum at one time, before being returned to the Frari.

As you can imagine, after hearing that, I was extra pumped to see Titian’s painting in the flesh.  And yes, it is quite marvelous, but I wouldn’t personally say it is the best painting I have ever seen (in fact, I saw another painting later that day that may hold that distinction in my mind).  Either way, Titian’s painting is just one of an unbelievable wealth of extraordinary art in the church.  The Bellini altar that I have inserted at the top of this post is just another of the extraordinary Virgin and Child paintings by this artist that I saw and loved all over Venice.  The many tombs and monuments to the Doges that line the walls under most circumstances would draw a lot of my attention.  But there was just so much art that I found myself drawn to instead.  Just incredible.

I haven’t told you up to this point that in creating an itinerary for our two week Venice trip, I had some help.  I asked my nephew Neil Bender, artist and professor at the University of South Florida, if he had any tips for us on what to do in Venice.  He generously wrote me several pages of ideas on this subject (well, it was an email so I don’t know how many pages, but if he had written it on paper, it would’ve been that long).  For example, he told me a lot about the Scuola Grande di San Rocco that we went to later that day.  And he gave me a great tip on where to eat lunch after visiting the Frari.

Trattoria Dona Onesta has a great setting – you can sit outside and be right up next to a small canal.  It was a little too chilly for us to sit outside, but no problem, since the interior is lovely as well.

I took the route of least resistance in what I ordered, going for an octopus salad and cuttlefish pasta (as you know, the latter was my favorite dish to order in Venice).  Great food, though maybe a little too much of it (I would soon take to ordering only one dish at lunch, in the interest of not having my afternoons be too sleepy).

So from there to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco was a short walk.  The ground floor room, or Sala Inferiore, has a bunch of Tintoretto paintings covering its walls.  But it is kinda dark, and besides, I knew from my nephew’s notes that the real glorious works are upstairs.

Not only the Tintoretto paintings covering the ceilings of the Sala Superiore and Sala dell’ Albergo are incredible.  There are also a couple dozen carved wooden human figures lining the walls that are also quite intriguing.  But the best thing there by far, in my opinion, is the Crucifixion that covers the far wall of the Sala dell’ Albergo.  It may be the greatest work of art that I saw while we were in Italy.  But I usually think giving titles like that to works of art – or people – “greatest” this and that – is stupid, so I will just say that I could have staying and stared at that artwork for at least the rest of the day.

The fact that I was able to pull myself away from the great artwork of the Scuola Grande was very fortunate, for that afternoon, unbeknownst to us, there was a military band concert in the square right in front of the Scuola.  We hurriedly found a spot to place our rumps on the stone stairs, and the music began.  Wow, they were first-rate – they played lots of great band music, and when they played John Philip Sousa, I got chills.

The concert lasted maybe an hour, and when it was done, I was ready for some refreshment.  Having afternoon gelato was becoming a thing for us, and for me, it was a chance to see who in Venice made the best vegan gelato.  Not too far from where we were was another place that made it to lists of best vegan gelato in Venice – Gelateria il Doge, which is just south of Campo Santa Margherita, one of Venice’s great places to hang out.

Gelateria il Doge

Their gelato was indeed first-rate – the strawberry that I had was creamy, not icy at all, and full of a ton of fruit flavor.  I wish they had had some flavors other than fruit that were vegan, but what they did offer for me was a wonderful treat.  So as they say, I can’t complain.  Did I sound like I was complaining?  To complain while in Venice would be the height of rudeness.

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Gallerie dell’Accademia, Palazzo Franchetti and Gelato Fantasy

Gallerie dell’Accademia, Palazzo Franchetti and Gelato Fantasy

The first time I came to Venice, in 2011, we had limited time to explore.  We were boarding a cruise for the Eastern Mediterranean, and had just about a day before the boat would be leaving.  When I planned what to do with that day, I tried to figure out a way to include the Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice’s premier art museum, but there just wasn’t the time.  On this trip, with two weeks of ample time, I put this museum right up near the head of the itinerary, just the day after our time in Piazza San Marco.

And the Accademia, as it is called, did not disappoint.  Between the many masterpieces by Venice’s most famous native sons – Bellini, Titian, Veronese (but no Tintoretto as I recall) – and the unexpected surprise of a group of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, I was endlessly thrilled.

I will say that the museum is strangely laid out.  Even after spending half a day there, I still hadn’t figured it out.  I gather it is under renovation, but even that is not clear.  I asked a security guard for a map of the museum, to plan out our journey through it, and all he could offer me was a kid’s map with lots of illustrations and not much information.

The only way I could discover to enter the museum was through its (temporary?) exhibit entitled Canova, Cicognara and Hayez: the Last Glory of Venice.  I had never heard of these artists, and after viewing the exhibit, I would say that while they all were very talented, I couldn’t see devoting such a huge exhibit to them, not when you’ve got Bellini’s and Titian’s yet to come.  The three hold a special part in Venetian art history, since they, among other things, founded the museum.

And sure, Hayez’s painting of Rinald and Armida is gorgeous, with that kind of imitating Renaissance painting but with half the character feeling.  Anyway, as you can tell, I was frustrated by having to wind my way through this endless exhibit, wanting to see Bellini’s and Titian’s.  Finally, we got to an elevator, and got out of there.

And we walked out of the elevator, and right into the room that highlights the museum’s collection of Bosch.  With his bizarre tendency towards the, well, bizarre, and macabre, you might love or be disturbed by Bosch’s paintings.  I love his work, and have made it a point, wherever I travel to, to see his paintings whenever I can.  So I was thrilled.

The other end of this room included one of the sublime Bellini Madonnas.  From there, we explored the rest of the floor, and finally, I was in heaven.  There was so much to see, and we were loving it so much, that after a couple hours we took a break for a late lunch (not much to report on that, sorry to say) and then returned to see the rest.

Titian’s Presentation of the Virgin is an interesting contrast to Tintoretto’s, which we had seen two days earlier in the Madonna dell’ Orto church.  While Tintoretto’s is hyper-dramatic, viewed from the bottom of the stairs looking up, Titian’s has a cooler, more historical epic feel, viewing the event from the side.  I love them both.

The painting Therese and I loved probably more than any other was the Supper in Emmaus by Marco Marziale.  I had never heard of this artist before, but this painting is sublime.  The way the four men attending dinner with Jesus seem to represent at least different cultures and perhaps even different continents is endlessly fascinating.

One side note: I was a little sad to see the museum’s treatment of Titian’s last work, the Pieta.  It is hanging in a hallway, and with it being such a huge work, it is hard to get a good look at it.  Anywhere you stand, there is a glare over some portion of the painting.  Perhaps when they have finished their renovation, they will move this painting to a better spot more deserving of its size and stature.

As we left the museum, the afternoon was on the wane, and the question was, where to next?  I realized that I was mistaken, in thinking that a number of smaller museums in the Dorsoduro area would be a good follow up – places like Ca’ Rezzonico are all closed on Tuesday!  It was time to scramble.  Luckily, just over the nearby bridge spanning the Grand Canal was the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, which hosts small contemporary art exhibits.  So we headed there, and the hour or so left before they would be closing was more than enough for us to enjoy the exhibit.

And enjoy it we did.  It was called “Glasstress” and apparently was the latest in a series of exhibits they have shown during recent Biennales.  The show focused on works of art made out of glass, but there was lots of variety within this general philosophy.  Dustin Yellin’s dioramas are bizarre and extraordinary.  Erwin Wurm’s series of hot water bottles with feet are very cute and puzzlingly titled “Mutter” (mother).  And Ai Weiwei’s chandelier with hands giving us the middle finger is hilarious and beautiful all at the same time.

In a number of places in Venice, we had already seen windows and doors with these glass panels of circular panes (I had seen some the previous July in Strasbourg as well).  We were intrigued to find out more about them and discovered this configuration is called Crown Glass.

On Monday, after our time in and around Piazza San Marco, we walked to the Rialto Bridge to pick up the Vaporetto to head home to Cannaregio.  But the real reason we went that way was it allowed us to make a stop at Gelato Fantasy, a gelato stand know for having some of the best vegan gelato in the city.  We loved it so much the first time that I decided to make a second stop there on that Tuesday.

They have I believe five varieties that are vegan – four fruit flavors (mango, strawberry, raspberry and peach) and chocolate.  The first day I had chocolate and mango – and oh, did I mention they have vegan cones?  They do.  The vegan cone costs an extra euro, but it is nice and crunchy, tastes pretty good.  The mango gelato was a revelation.  I am used to mango sorbets that are just mango and sugar, delicious but pretty one-note, just lots of silky mango.  This was a completely different animal.  It was light, with plenty of mango flavor but a delicate creamy texture, just wonderful.  And mixing that with the rich dark chocolate was heaven.

The second day I tried the strawberry, again mixed with the chocolate, and I was similarly thrilled.  Up to that point, that was the best vegan frozen dessert I had ever tasted.

From there, it was about a ten minute walk to the Vaporetto stop, where we boarded a very crowded boat, but with only two stops between there and San Marcuola (our stop in Cannaregio), we were good to go.  From our position near the boat’s rail, we had a good view of the intriguing sculpture “Support” by Lorenzo Quinn.

Support by Lorenzo Quinn

This sculpture was part of the Biennale, and shows two mammoth hands rising out of the canal to seemingly prop up the ancient hotel in front of them.  This artwork hopes to bring attention to climate change, reminding us that within the next century, water levels may rise enough to cover places like Venice, and coastlines all around the world (which of course if where something like 70 percent of the world’s population currently lives).  A bit of a bummer, but this work brings our attention to our coming disaster in a humorous way.

 

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Doge’s Palace, Ristorante Trovatore and San Zaccaria

Doge’s Palace, Ristorante Trovatore and San Zaccaria

Just as with our week in Rome, my idea for our time in Venice was to get the real tourist-y stuff out of the way first.  So on our second day in Venice, a Monday, I decided we would go “downtown” (literally, to the southern side of the island) and visit the Piazza San Marco, and one of its most popular sights, the Palazzo Ducale which is popularly known as the Doge’s Palace.

To get to Piazza San Marco, we would have to take our first Vaporetto trip.  The Vaporettos are the large water buses that most people use to get around in Venice.  Since there are no cars allowed in almost the entire city, walking and riding Vaporettos are the way to travel.  However, for tourists, they can be prohibitively expensive to ride – 6 Euros a trip, about 6 times what the locals pay.

The way to get around the high cost of individual tickets is to do a travel pass.  Since we were going to be in Venice for two full weeks, we bought 7-day cards for each of those weeks.  Those are still 60 Euros, which is no joke.  But if you ride the Vaporetto two times a day for the entire week, that knocks it down to 4 euros and change per ride – still a stiff price, but much cheaper than 6 per ride.  And many Vaporetto stops have machines where you can buy a travel card in increments of 1, 2, 3 or 7 days (although not all – check your stop to make sure before you get there, since they will not sell the travel cards on the boat).

Once we had our travel passes, we were off!  You can take either the #1 Vaporetto or the number 2 from the main stop in Cannaregio, San Marcuola, to San Marco.  The #1 is kind of a local boat, in that it stops at nearly all the stops on the Grand Canal, so that by the time you arrive at the San Marco stop, you have probably spent a half hour or so on the boat.  The #2 is less stops, but it only covers the route from the train station to San Marco and vice versa from around 9:30a to 5p.

Anyway, we took the number 1.  When we got off, rather than follow the tourists and get caught in a huge crowd of people all heading to the square, we went down the side alley and entered Piazza San Marco from the west.  That way, when you get your first glimpse of Saint Marks Church and the rest of the glory that is Piazza San Marco, you will be at some distance from the insane crowds.

Which is not to say that there were big crowds on that Monday.  There were because, well, there were no cruise ships docked in Venice that day.  Therese had done her research and given me the schedule of when there would be boats at the cruise terminal, and how many.  And we used that to strategize when to visit touristy areas, and when to avoid them.

Now, if you are going to be in Venice for any length of time, the one other pass you might consider purchasing when you first get there is the City Museum Pass.  For 24 Euros, you can visit the four museums in the Piazza San Marco area – the Doge’s Palace, the Museo Correr, the Museum of Archeology and the National Library (the last three of which are actually just one continuous museum, entered through the Museo Correr).  Then you also get to visit the museums on the two main islands off of Venice, the Burano Lace Museum and the Murano Glass Museum.  And there are five small municipal museums, like Ca’ Rezzonico, that are also included in the pass.  So if you are going to see the Doge’s Palace AND want to visit the islands, it is a deal, since the Doge’s Palace by itself is 20 Euros.

Buying our Museum Pass in Museo Correr

The other benefit of buying the pass is that you get to skip the ticket line at the Doge’s Palace, which even on a quiet day like this one was quite long.  The way to do it is to buy your pass at the Museo Correr, which despite the fact that it is also in Piazza San Marco has no line (it is just not that popular, it seems).  Then you skip the line with your pass, and two minutes later, you are in the glorious Doge’s Palace!

And I say glorious because it is lavishly decorated with the greatest art of the Renaissance, including the most famous Venetian artists like Tintoretto and Veronese.  Believe me, I have been very stingy in posting photos of the Doge’s Palace – there is so much incredible art to see, it would be easy to post several dozen photos.  But hopefully my sample of a dozen will pique your interest to go to Venice.

The wild thing about the Doge’s Palace is that, being a municipal palace with council chambers and courtrooms and that sort of thing, it also has a jail attached to it.  The jail is connected to the palace by the infamous Bridge of Sighs.  And yeah, there ain’t no Veronese in the jail.  But people like to visit them anyway.  For me, one jail cell is plenty, and the many you have to pass to get to the end of the tour is way way too many.

But the good thing was that, while the last time I visited the Doge’s Palace in 2011, we had a time limit and had to rush through it a bit, this time, we could spend all day there if we wanted to.  When we left after a couple of hours, I was more than ready for lunch.

For our meal, I had chosen a restaurant a bit off the beaten track, on a side street behind the Doge’s Palace, Ristorante Trovatore.

The food here was high quality, but being that it was still in the neighborhood right around the square, it was expensive.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed my lunch of a charcuterie plate and another dish of cuttlefish pasta (this one wasn’t quite as saucy as the one at Ristorante Diana the day before, but it was still silky in its texture and absolutely delicious).

After lunch, we had just one more sight to visit that afternoon.  Not too far from the square is the beautiful Church of San Zaccaria.  It is actually two churches: a portion of the original structure from the twelfth century lives on as a chapel and crypt in the back of the church, while the more recent Renaissance structure forms the main part of the church as it is known today.

I found the crypt, which on that day was half under water, to be wonderfully atmospheric.  But the main part of the sanctuary draws the lion’s share of attention, with its gorgeous altar of the Madonna Enthroned with Saints by Giovanni Bellini, who may be Venice’s greatest Renaissance artist (some will argue it was Titian).  Whoever you say is the greatest, if (like me) you had never known much of Bellini (are whom the popular brunch drink is named), after visiting Venice, you will never forget him.  His many portraits of the Virgin Mary display her with beauty, grace and humanity, with a delicacy that does not belie the inner strength that made her capable of shouldering the burden of being the Mother of the Savior.

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Madonna dell’ Orto, Ristorante Diana and Chicken with Forty Cloves

Madonna dell’ Orto, Ristorante Diana and Chicken with Forty Cloves

Therese and I woke up on our morning in Venice, Italy feeling excited about having two weeks to explore this amazing city.  But did we jump out of bed at the crack of dawn and run out to start sightseeing, to cram as many sights into our first day?  No, we didn’t.  We gently eased into the day.

Morning View from our Window in Venice

It was worth it just to gaze out the window at the amazing view from our apartment in Cannaregio.  Just a picture postcard, almost too perfect a vista to be real.  But it was real.

So we had a relaxing morning, and when we were ready, we headed out to see the main sight in Cannaregio (or at least one of the main sights), the church of Madonna dell’ Orto.  The church is just a block from where our apartment lay, and walking there, we were thrilled all over again to be staying in such a great location.

The interior of the church is beautiful – it felt quite peaceful when we walked in there.  In one of the side chapels lies the tomb and a monument (and bust) to the painter Tintoretto (who was born Jacopo Cimon).

And of course the artwork that fills the church makes it quite wonderful to explore.  There is the late 14th century sculpture after which the church is named.  There are altars in side chapels and other paintings by artists like Palma the Younger and Titian and Tintoretto’s son, Domenico.

But the true centerpieces of the church are the paintings by Tintoretto there.  Yes, there is the Annunciation by Palma the Younger at the center of the back wall of the sanctuary.  But it is surrounded by Tintoretto’s works – The Decapitation of St. Paul and The Apparition of the Cross to St. Peter flank the Palma Annunciation, while above are representations of attributes like Fortitude and Prudence.

As you move further away from the centerpiece, you encounter two monumental Tintoretto paintings – a Last Judgment on the right side, and his Worship of the Golden Calf on the left.  But the most impressive painting of Tintoretto may be his Presentation of the Virgin that is a little further away from the altar, above the entrance to one of the chapels.  I marveled at this painting, finding it hard to take my eyes off of it, even as I pondered the title (which is the virgin, the girl at the bottom of the painting/stairs whose has the adult woman’s hand on her shoulder, or the girl at the top of the stairs who is poised to enter the temple?).

When we left the church, I thought it would be fun to walk one block further north and see the Vaporetto stop which is also called Madonna dell’ Orto.  That would give us the chance to see the lagoon, to experience the fact that Venice is, in fact, surrounded by water and at a distance from the landmass of Europe.  Also, we could get a first glimpse at the smaller islands that lie not far from Venice, Murano and San Michele.

We did not have plans to visit either one of these islands, but we would visit two others that we just a bit further out from Murano, namely Torcello and Burano.  As for these former two, San Michele is covered almost completely by a cemetery and looks quite verdant from the Venice mainland, with its lovely church (also called San Michele) apparent to our left.

We stood there on the dock of the Vaporetto stop and gazed at the water and the islands.  It was refreshing, and we looked forward to riding out to the islands a week from then.

By then, we were feeling quite famished.  Where should we eat lunch?  I thought we would surely find someplace that appealed to us if we walked to Fondamenta Misericordia, a block south from the street of our apartment, and just three blocks in total from the water.  We might have eaten at the very popular Paradiso Perduto (more than one friend had recommended this restaurant to us), but when we walked by there (really every time we walked by there) it was so crowded that we surely thought we’d have to wait a long time for a table.  So we walked a little further, and found many tables available in front of Ristorante Diana.

For a long time, I have been a fan of squid ink pasta, pasta that is made black by the addition of the ink.  In Venice, one of the specialties is something a little different, what they call linguine (or spaghetti) al nero di seppia.  The pasta itself if just regular pasta, but what makes it black is actually the sauce they add, made with the black ink.  Further adding to the flavor are chunks of the cuttlefish which is the origin of the ink.

I was blown away by the linguine I ate at Ristorante Diana.  The sauce was luscious and rich, not overly seasoned.  And the pasta had a bit of tooth to it, i.e., it wasn’t overcooked to the point of being soft, but neither was it al dente (i.e., undercooked).  And the great thing about this dish is that it is not made with any dairy – the sauce is made with olive oil I am guessing.  And in Italy it is anathema to put cheese on a dish with seafood, so even though I cautiously asked for my pasta “senza formaggio,” I was absolutely safe.

For dinner that night, it was my ambition, for my first meal prepared in our Venice apartment, to tackle a dish that seems rather legendary, chicken with forty cloves of garlic.  I have heard people like Jacques Pepin mention it in hushed tones of reverence.  I just thought, why not make a fairly simple but satisfying dish with the nice chicken legs that I bought at Prix Discount the night before?  Now I will confess that from 3 heads of garlic I only got 34 cloves of garlic, not 40; but this did not turn out to be the greatest obstacle to making the dish.

When I got to the apartment and peeled the cloves and started assembling my dishes, I realized that there was a sign on the oven in the apartment’s kitchen instructing us that the oven was broken and should not be used.  I couldn’t believe it!  I had plans to back pies and do any number of things for which I would need the oven, but now, I had to abandon all those plans.

Most obviously, I was going to have to adjust my plans for that evening’s dinner, since chicken with 40 cloves is usually prepared in the oven!  I decided I would use the largest skillet in the kitchen, add some broth to the skillet along with olive oil and garlic (and other seasonings), bring it to a simmer and then cover the skillet and let it cook that way until done.

Meanwhile, I did some stove-top grilling of sorts of slices of zucchini and eggplant – I brushed them with olive oil and then put them in a dry hot pan and let them get browned on each side.

Generally, the dish turned out really well.  It was a bit too much on the oily side, with the fat from the chicken mixing with the olive oil.  If I were to do it again that way, I would drain off the fat before adding the broth, something like that, to make it less oily.  The garlic cloves were luscious and creamy just as everyone always describes them in discussions about this dish, and spreading garlic on some Italian bread that we found nearby made for a lovely accompaniment of the dish.

A lovely first day in Venice, at just the sort of leisurely pace that we love!

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