December 2007 Archives

November 20, 2007


Only a little over a week until I leave for Venice!

I’m pretty much ready, I think. Trip planning is easy when you’re returning to a place for the fifth time. I’ve got my church wish list ready. Going to think about packing once Thanksgiving is over. I’m taking carry-on luggage so I’ll have to do some paring down, I’m sure. Biggest dilemma is how many books to take and which ones. Books are heavy and I always end up buying more when I’m there, so I’m going to have to leave some at home. Chow! Venice is definitely going along with Strolling Through Venice and Time Out. Oh and my battered and warped Knopf City Guide (I love this tiny book’s fold-out maps). I’ve got a new camera and have collected all the supplies for that. My first trip with a digital!

I’ve been enjoying this blog by Kathy (trekcapri), a fellow Slow Traveler who is blogging live from Venice right now. And I’m looking forward to having dinner with Joan (cubbies) and her husband at La Zucca (we met in that restaurant last year – a surprise unplanned GTG). Many thanks to MarciaB who gave me two Chorus Passes (I will put these to good use!) and also to Jill (softdrink) who sent me a couple of new Venice guidebooks (the AAA spiral guide is surprisingly good).

I haven't decided if I'm going to blog or not - going to wait and see if the spirit moves me once I'm there.

Last night I dreamed that I was walking down a dark calle towards Piazza San Marco, and I was filled with anticipation about seeing the Basilica again. But I woke up before I got there!

I can't wait to hear the bells. I would love to see some snow in Venice!

December 10, 2007

And now I'm home...

What an amazing trip! I keep thinking that someday I’ll go to Venice and feel complete and decide that it’s time to move on to another place. Well, it didn’t happen this time…I’m just as fascinated with that city as ever and already am thinking about when I can go back next year.

I didn’t get my wish to see snow, but that's okay. No acqua alta or rain either except for a soft drizzle one evening. Instead there were lots of cold but sunny days, perfect for taking photos of churches and cats and street shrines. I did LOTS of walking, and searching for some of the more obscure churches took me to places I’d never seen before. I went inside 45 churches! I know that sounds like a lot but that’s only about 4-5 per day. And I even discovered some new ones that I didn't know about....I'm going to have to go back and update my earlier blog entries that list "all" the churches.

A highlight for me was going to mass in Basilica di San Marco on Saturday, Dec. 8, the feast of the immaculate conception. The Patriarch of Venice performed the Mass and he’s just got good vibes overall– he even gave a message in English. The best part was that the Pala d’Oro was turned around and facing the congregation. This only happens on high holy days; I was so happy that I got to see it. All the lights were on and the mosaics were glowing, and there were flowers and incense and a choir singing up in the gallery…it was just so incredibly gorgeous in that great old cathedral.

I met so many wonderful people and connected with some old friends, and had some great food (my favorite restaurant, La Zucca, was closed for repairs; I sure did miss that pumpkin flan but it forced me to try some new places; reviews to come).

I just wasn’t inspired to blog while I was there. In fact, I spent ten days with no phone, no TV, no newspapers, and only about five minutes a day on the Internet to email my family and tell them that I was okay. It was a nice break from technology and the “real world”, and I think I needed it.

I did keep a journal and as soon as I gather my thoughts and organize my photos, I’ll have lots of stories to share. So stay tuned!

December 14, 2007

Cuore in mattone (heart in brick)

sotoportegoBefore my trip, I read a sweet little book called The Other Venice by Predrag Matvejevic, recently translated from Croatian to English. It’s a dreamy, poetic book by a guy who obviously loves Venice very much and loves obscure details as much as I do. Nice black-and-white photos by Sarah Quill too.

There’s a chapter about “wall flora,” the herbs and weeds that grow in the crevices of all those old buildings as well as info about the outdoor sculptures and reliefs all over the city. My favorite parts are the stories told to the author by an old blind Venetian man; this is one of them:

Near the Salizada del Pignater…as you pass through the Sotoportego dei Preti, you’ll come upon the “heart in brick” (cuore in mattone). Press it and make a wish; in a year at the most your wish will be answered, if it’s respectful and harms no one. The city’s old inhabitants have taught this to their grandchildren and they in turn to theirs. ‘Go and make sure it’s still there.’

Well, thanks to the maps on Venice Explorer and some good luck, I found the "heart in brick" in Castello not far from the church of San Giovanni in Bragora. And yes, I pressed it and made a wish. We’ll see what happens.


December 17, 2007

Angel with porcupines

Angel of Benediction in Castello

One of the things that makes Venice so magical for me are all of the “right place, right time” and “kindness of strangers” experiences I have when I’m there.

I spent the first three days of my trip roaming around Castello, a sestiere I’d spent little time in on previous trips. I'd read about this Angel of Benediction sculpture and managed to find it with only a normal amount of difficulty (in other words, I was very lost and then all of a sudden, I saw the angel!). It’s in a residential area north of the Arsenale on a calle that’s named for it.

So I was standing there looking at it, and an elderly Venetian gentleman came along. He began talking to me and when I told him that I was American, he switched to excellent English.

angel“I’m glad you found our angel,” he said, and proceeded to tell me the story. The Venetians stole the angel from Anatolia in Eastern Turkey, he said, and a family named Rizzo put in on the archway above the entrance to a sotoportego, along with the reliefs on either side. They don’t show up well in my photos, but the reliefs are porcupines (or maybe hedgehogs?), which was the insignia of this family. The man showed me the family’s palazzo which is one of the oldest in Venice (13th c.) and told me that the way to identify the oldest buildings is to look at the chimneys (the round ones are older than the more common tulip-shaped ones).

The man also told me that when Napoleon conquered the Venetian Republic and began taking art away, many Venetians began hiding their art, and the Rizzo family bricked up their porcupines. Then the family left or forgot, and the porcupines weren’t unearthed until about a hundred years later when some repair work was done on the sotoportego. He told me that there’s probably other street art in Venice that’s bricked over and hasn’t been re-discovered yet. I love the thought of that!

I spent a very pleasant 10 minutes or so with this very nice man who took the time to give me a little tour of his neighborhood. You can’t plan stuff like this, you can only be grateful when it happens.

Angel with porcupines

porcupine detail

Porcupine or hedgehog?

The World Heritage website has an article about the 1999 restoration of this angel.

December 20, 2007

Venice in December

Blue Xmas TreeI’ve been to Venice in September, October, May, and now twice in December, and winter is my favorite time to go. It’s less expensive, for one, and quieter, and much less crowded with no lines to get into places and no cruise ships dumping thousands of people out. It’s cold but not THAT cold and really, if I’m going to be walking for hours each day, I’d rather it be cold than hot. There are a few downsides too, like shorter days, no dueling orchestras in Piazza San Marco, and eating dinner inside (while it was warm enough to eat lunch outside a couple of times, it was much too cold to dine alfresco at night). But overall, the positives outweigh the negatives for me.

One of the things I like most is seeing all the holiday lights and decorations. I love this little blue tree I found in a corte in Castello. Here are a few more photos.

The glass tree in Piazza San Marco by day


Continue reading "Venice in December" »

January 2, 2008

Restoration report

SalutebeehiveIt’s always interesting to check out the ongoing restoration work and see what’s covered and what’s been unveiled. Work is going on right now at three major landmarks: Piazza San Marco, the Salute, and the Accademia. The dome of the Salute looks like some kind of spaceship or alien beehive to me. Strangest scaffolding I’ve ever seen, and I didn’t see any work going on while I was there. I hope it’s really restoration work and not some kind of permanent metal brace to hold that beautiful dome up!

The Accademia, while still open, is completely shrouded with scaffolding and the inside is in a bit of disarray. This is a project I’m very excited about – they are expanding the museum in order to put more of the collection on display; evidently there’s quite a bit of art in storage (250 paintings!) which will be displayed when the work is done.

I feel a bit sorry for people who are visiting Venice for the first time because there’s a lot of work going on in Piazza San Marco and that first breath-taking view of the Basilica just isn’t there right now. There are fences and scaffolding around the flag poles in front, and several sections of the Basilica itself are covered up. And right before I left, they began fencing off the campanile in preparation for restoration work which is supposed to continue until 2009. You can see all the fencing and such on the webcam.

Manin tombIt’s always exciting to see the freshly restored stuff. There’s an unveiled section of the Basilica that I’d never seen before (the part with Daniele Manin’s tomb, see right). The façade of San Zaccaria was draped last year but it’s uncovered now and looks amazing, and the high altar of the Gesuiti is visible now in all its Rococo glory. I finally got to see the Bellini painting in the church of San Giovanni Grisostomo; it was gone for a couple of years while work was going on inside that church. I also saw the recently restored frescoes in the sacristy of San Salvador for the first time, and they are gorgeous!

Continue reading "Restoration report" »

January 12, 2008

Photos from my trip

I'm still going through my photos, sorting and figuring out which I want to print, and getting them named before I forget where I was.

I've put a few on Flickr if you'd like to take a look.

January 15, 2008

Fine Dining

I wrote some restaurant reviews for Slow Travel but wanted to share a few stories about some memorable meals.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from our Slow Trav get-together on the last night of my trip. My memory card had filled up at 4 pm that afternoon (telling me, yes it’s time for you to go home!). That night, I met Cubbies and her husband at La Bitta, and we had such a nice time. They had just arrived in Venice that day, and I was grateful that they were willing to fight their jet lag and meet me for dinner. It was a fun way to end my trip.

I do have photos of some other memorable dining companions, though. One afternoon I was wandering around Dorsoduro when I saw a cat outside a shop, eating tuna off a piece of paper. I get excited every time I see a cat in Venice because they have become so rare. I spoke to him and took a couple of photos, but he pretty much ignored me so I moved on.

Hours later that night, I was having dinner in the back room of Enoteca Osteria San Barnaba and that very same cat walked in! I asked the owner if it was his cat and he said no. He told me that the cat’s name is Mustafa and that he’s just a neighborhood cat who makes the rounds.

Well, Mustafa is a very smart cat because that is an excellent restaurant. It wasn’t long before he made his way to my table and I shared my polpettine with him. Here he is, under the table, waiting for another bite.


And then when we finished dinner, he got in the chair to take a snooze. I was honored to have his company.


BarAngioThis little guy joined me for lunch one afternoon at Bar Angio on the Riva dei Schiavoni. It was one of those glorious winter days when it was sunny and warm enough to eat outside.

He was very well-mannered and didn’t swarm me like those crazy pigeons do; he just hung out and waited patiently for my tramezzini crumbs.

January 28, 2008

A Pile of Pigeons

pigeons sleeping

I saw so many beautiful things on my trip but also saw quite a few strange sights, and this is one of them. Late one night when I was walking through Piazza San Marco, I saw a crowd of people looking at something and went over to check it out. At first, I thought it was a pile of dead pigeon bodies that someone had swept up, but when I got closer, I could see them wriggling and realized that they were roosting to keep warm, just like in March of the Penguins! It was very cold that night, and it made me kind of sad that they didn’t have a better place to sleep than out in the open on the pavement.

I’m on the fence about Venice's pigeons. There are way too many of them, for one, and they are kinda nasty, and their poop is damaging to the buildings. And I don’t want them touching me. One day when I was eating lunch outdoors, a flock of them swarmed me and landed on me; one had the audacity to take a bite of my panini! I didn’t like it at all.

But on the other hand, there’s something goofy and endearing about them. I like to look at them, and some of them are beautifully colored, and I like the sound of their coos and the way they walk. And I especially love watching kids play with them and hearing all the laughter and excitement.

A friend in Venice told me about various unsuccessful attempts to get the population under control. Contraceptives in the birdseed didn’t work, and one time the authorities brought some falcons in, thinking a natural predator might help. Well, the pigeons and the falcons became friends!

San Marco

But they are not predator-free, as I learned in December. One afternoon in the Piazza, I saw a seagull eat a pigeon. I’ll spare you the description and just note that it was mercifully quick. But it kind of upset me, and then I had to think about the fact that “it’s nature” and lots of animals (including me) eat other animals. And it’s not like the pigeons are endangered or anything, but still, something about it made me sad. I don’t like seeing predator/prey footage on nature shows either; I usually close my eyes or change the channel.

On a happier note, here’s my favorite pigeon story from a previous trip (2006, I think). One day I went to Mass in Basilica di San Marco, and an elderly nun came and sat beside me. We were in the Madonna Nicopeia chapel which has an aisle down the middle, and Mass was well underway when a pigeon came strutting down that center aisle, walking straight towards the Madonna and the high altar. The nun and I looked at each other and both got tickled and had to cover our mouths to keep from laughing out loud. The priest just ignored it, and the pigeon took a sharp right at the altar and went somewhere else in the church. It was so funny to almost get rowdy in church with a nun!

January 30, 2008

Angel with Veneto-Byzantine Arch

Byzantine Angel

Another one of my favorite street angels, this one is over the door to Palazzo Contarini del Ferro, not far from the former church of Santa Guistina in Castello.

February 8, 2008

Green door in Castello


One of my favorite photos from my trip. I love the fact that they’ve got the horseshoe hanging correctly (facing up, so the luck won’t spill out) and those handprints and that strange little face on the left.

In a writing class that I took in college, we sometimes used “story starters” where the professor would give us a photo or painting and we'd write a story about it. This would be perfect for that. Whose door is it? What’s behind that door? Who decorated it? What would happen if you went inside?

February 11, 2008

Cats In Venice

Cat in Castello

Woo hoo! I created my first Slow Travel photo album which you can see here. It took me a long time to figure it all out, but it’s one of those things that will be much quicker and easier the next time I do it.

So this photo album shows all the cats I met on my December trip. There are quite a few considering that I saw none on my first couple of trips in 2002 and 2003. I went to Venice expecting to see lots of cats, mainly because I’d read Jan Morris (The World of Venice) who described Venice as one of the world’s great cat cities and painted a picture of all these loved and coddled colonies of cats being taken care of by Venetian cat ladies. In 2003, my friend Susan and I were so puzzled by the lack of felines and joked that Venice had “gone to the dogs” because we saw hundreds of astonishingly cute little lap dogs all over town but not a single cat.

Well, it turns out that Morris wrote her book in the early 1960’s right around the time that an organized campaign to get the feral cat population under control began. This work was led by an animal welfare organization called Dingo.

I’m reading a book called “Helena Sanders and the Cats of Venice,” a biography of the British woman who founded Dingo in 1964. I’m going to write more about this later when I finish the book but it’s a fascinating story. In a nutshell, the numbers are rather staggering:

"Twenty years, it took, to reduce the cats of Venice from a miserable and sickly multitude numbering 68,000 or so to a stable and healthy population of around 6,000."

The Helena Sanders bio was published in 1989 and I think that the population has decreased even more since then.

I’m happy to say that all the cats I met in 2007 looked healthy and well fed.

February 16, 2008


You wouldn’t think there’d be anything to say about wheels in Venice, right?

Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the most unusual thing I saw in December because it happened too quickly. But one afternoon in Cannaregio, I almost collided with a man riding a unicycle! Seeing a unicyclist is fairly unusual anywhere in the world, but especially in Venice. And he wasn’t on a straight and wide fondamenta or strada, he was riding in a very twisty-turny and narrow part of town. He was an older man, very well-dressed with a huge handlebar mustache, and he was moving along quite fast - I was impressed by his skill. I told my friend Cristiano about it, and he laughed and said, “Oh yes, I’ve seen him too. He does that all the time.”

And I don’t even know what to say about this sight below except that I laughed out loud when I saw it parked and chained on a calle outside a home in Santa Croce. What's the story here?! I guess if you want to ride a bike outdoors in Venice, this is another way to do it.


February 20, 2008

American "cuisine"

American section of market

Another amusing sight from my trip. There’s a small international food store in Venice with various sections – Mexican, British, Chinese etc.

And this is the American section. It made me laugh but I’m also kind of chagrined by it. Is this really the best America has to offer? And what does this say about the way we are perceived? A friend saw this photo and said, “Face it. We are tacky people and the world knows it.” That cracked me up too.

But what really blew my mind was the fact that the Aunt Jemima pancake syrup cost 9 euro. That’s over 13 dollars! I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve had it, but it’s nothing more than caramel-colored corn syrup, right? Not a drop of maple syrup in it (which could justify that price)?

So we've been trying to think of what else should be added to this section. A can of Pringles comes to mind. A Jolt cola. A box of Fruit Loops. Anything else?

March 5, 2008

Room with a view

view from window

This is the view from the window of my room at the locanda where I stayed in December. I’d hear singing or an accordion playing, and I’d open the shutters and watch a gondola (usually full of Japanese tourists) float by.

I’ve never been on a gondola ride! I’ve been on the traghetto many times, but I’ve not had the full-fledged quintessential Venetian gondola experience. During my short first trip to Venice, my family went for it but I went to the Accademia instead. If I’d known I’d end up returning to Venice so many times, I’d have gone with them to split the cost. I think the prices are a bit outrageous.

But if I could find a gondolier who was a church expert AND could sing…..

June 21, 2008

PhotoHunt: Water

This week's theme is water, so here are a couple that I took in Venice this past December.

Reflections in a canal


A water door. You can see the range of the tide levels on this building.

Water door

July 5, 2008

PhotoHunt: Pointed


This week's theme is "pointed" so I'm going with these two obelisks on the roof of the enormous Palazzo Balbi on the Grand Canal in Venice.

Obelisks were first seen on ancient Egyptian temples, where they were always in a pair just like these. Obelisk comes from a Greek word meaning "needle."

Have a nice weekend!

Palazzo Balbi

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Churches in Venice in the December 2007 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2008 is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.


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