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Report 1941: (An incomplete set of) Highlights of our April-May 2005 Trip to Italy

By Doru from Canada, Spring 2005

Trip Description: From April 17-May 7, 2005, a slow, gentle trip, returning to Venice and Rome and getting acquainted with Emilia-Romagna.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Emilia-Romagna, Rome, Venice

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Art Trip; Attended GTG; Day Tours; Opera; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 4: Venice

photo by Doru

Piazza San Marco seen from Ala Napoleonica (Museo Correr), 2005

The Venetian Republick began thus; a despicable Croud of People flying from the Fury of the Barbarians which over-run the Roman Empire, took Shelter in a few inaccessible Islands of the Adriatic Gulph... Their City we see raised to a prodigious splendour and Magnificence, and their rich Merchants rank’d among the ancient Nobility, and all this by Trade. (Daniel Defoe, A Plan of English Commerce)

Venice is a capricious mistress. From above, with the plane approaching low, it shows us a sunny complexion. Later, off the plane, the impression remains. Compared with the dour, grey reception of a year ago, the sun shines and a sweet breeze can be felt.

We collect our luggage without difficulty. Josette’s axiom that our luggage always comes last off the conveyer belt because I insist on arriving to the airport three hours before departure, is trumped this time.


Before going to the Alilaguna shuttle we collect our seven-day Venice Card (more on this in the special notes later on), buy the one-way Alilaguna tickets (we will leave Venice by train), and roll with the luggage towards the shuttle. This time, the shuttle drops us off a bit farther from the Alilaguna dock than usual, but not too far. As we start moving we notice the wind; the sweet breeze has taken force but the sun is hot and we arrive at the dock just as the Alilaguna Linea Rossa pulls along and passengers start boarding. The young man selling tickets invites us on. I ask if the boat will stop at San Zaccaria. “Certo”, he says. I don’t believe him, because I know that after 8:10am (and by now it is almost noon) the red boat will stop at San Marco but not at San Zaccaria, and we are not ready to drag the luggage over two bridges to get to Albergo Paganelli, on the Riva degli Schiavoni, which is our destination. I decline: I prefer to wait another 40 minutes until the Linea Blu boat arrives, because it stops right in front of the hotel.

The entertainment during the 40 minutes wait is provided by a very elegant, very trim, well kept but way past her 50s flirting with the young man selling the tickets. We also notice the wind getting stronger. The dock literally dances under our feet. Time passes slowly, the dock fills with new arrivals. It seems very few know anything about Alilaguna routes. They just wait. Finally, the Blu is here and we board, no mean feat considering that the boat bobs up and down in excess of one foot, asynchronous to the dock, which bobs the other way. People choose this moment to confirm whether the boat stops at San Marco. The impatient answer is “Sì, San Marco, sì!” The dock is unstable and people tumble into the boat. Unlike on previous occasions when we used Alilaguna, the crew this time seems completely oblivious and don’t give a hand, or a damn. Luckily, we know what to do, stow our suitcases by the cabin, and descend. We both almost fall as the boat unexpectedly dunks. So do others. Finally, sitting.

A Frenchman decides that he will take pictures along the boat route and opens a port-side window. Wind blows in. He takes a couple of pictures, then sits down on a bench way ahead of the open window, which therefore does not bother him, and forgets about it and others. Later, he will open another window, on the starboard side of the board, take a couple of pictures and leave that window open as well. It is chilly but I just comment on human nature, and do nothing about the windows, and suffer the wind together with Josette and the many other passengers who choose to say nothing, do nothing, chickens cooped in the belly of the boat.

The usual depressing procession of abandoned islets, with forgotten wan houses, dilapidated factory building and rusting machinery goes on, mostly on the port side of the boat, until we turn towards the islands and Lido, and then the glorious view of the Bacino is in front of us.

The wind continues to blow hard, but it is sunny. We prepare to get off at San Zaccaria and some passengers ask us whether this is San Marco. “No”, we answer with assurance of the experienced, “San Marco is the next, and last, stop.” People sit back. As we dock at San Zaccaria, the conductor yells: “San Marco, fermata San Marco”. It seems the pilot decided to forgo the San Marco stop altogether. I know this is wrong, that while the San Zaccaria fermata has in parentheses San Marco it is in fact quite far from San Marco, I try to say something, but I am pushed to the side by the other passengers who all struggle upstairs to pick up their luggage and get off. I know that if they needed San Marco, they have a long way ahead of them, with the Ponte dei Sospiri and Ponte della Paglia to be cleared first.

Later, I would check, just to be sure that I was not dreaming, whether the boat should have had a last stop at San Marco and, of course, it should have. I would have felt sorry for those guys, but they were so rude pushing us out of the way as we had some trouble handling the luggage on the menacingly bobbing dock, that I actually felt some sinister satisfaction at the thought that they will have to drag suitcases and bags and boxes, all the way to Piazza San Marco, over the steps of crowded bridges, and who knows how much farther from there, while we were just in front of Albergo Paganelli, its façade basking in the sun. We have arrived.

Albergo Paganelli

Routine is reassuring. So we feel reassured when we first spot the older of the Paganelli brothers basking in the sun on his usual chair, in front of the Albergo. Inside, more familiar faces: the “younger” Mr Paganelli and the smiling Mario Schiavon at Reception. We are at home, at least for a few days.

First, Mario hands me a note: Massimo, the owner of the apartment we have rented in Rome, left a message for us; he called just to say, “Hello!” A nice gesture from a man with whom we have had so far only email contacts but with whom a friendship is incipient.

Leaving the passports at the desk, we are led my Mario to Room 18, a much larger version of Room 16 which we have always had in the past, with a larger window and the same amazing view spanning from the entrance to the Grand Canal on the right, all the way to the Giardini Pubblici on the left. We open the window wide and stare. I have never enough of this view, of the teaming life of the Bacino, from gondolas to service boats, vaporetti large and small, the occasional cruise ship, the boats of the Vigili del Fuoco, and boats carrying cement, and vegetables, and fresh catch of the sea, all the needs and product of a city living on and off the water.

Regretfully, I must turn away from this unique view to start unpacking.

Our Usual Itinerary

We decide to forgo rest, despite being already over 24 hours up, without much sleep on the plane. We take our now “usual” itinerary, “around the block” towards Piazza San Marco, over the two bridges. In front of the Palazzo Ducale a mighty crane labours in a fenced area: the Comune di Venezia has initiated works with the objective of raising the level of the fondamenta of the Molo so as to reduce the impact of acqua alta on this well travelled area. Huge blocks of stone, bags of cement, smaller machinery, fill the enclosed area. A year ago, on the day of our arrival, the water was covering more than half of this space; not this year. Maybe acqua alta didn’t take notice yet.

The inaugural tour is completed by working our way back, around the Basilica, the Piazzetta dei Leoncini, Campo San Zaccaria. Everything is as we left it. One year is a speck of dust on the face of the moon for Venice. As are we.

In the afternoon we go to La Fenice to pickup our tickets for Pia de’ Tolomei. We know we have terrible seats, in the loggione (more expressively, in English these seats are classified as “The Gods”, thus underlining their nosebleed altitude.) We make a valiant attempt to improve the seats and the lady cashier looks at us with feeling and says “Sold out.”

Tickets received, we spend a bit of time in Campo San Fantin, around La Fenice, taking pictures of its white marble façade, pure in its simplicity, accentuated by columns and statues, by three colorful flags and by the appropriate Phoenix, for what could be more symbolic of La Fenice than this bird which made its custom to periodically rise from its own ashes and be reborn more striking, more beautiful, more representative of the unbending spirit of Venice and its Venetians?

I am sure we had some dinner but I have no recollection of it; we are so very tired. Back at the hotel we try to check whether “Habemus Papam” yet. It seems do not. We just crash closing the count at about 34-35 hours without sleep.

Museo Correr

Next day a sunny morning greets us, although the wind continues to be quite sharp. The breakfast at Paganelli’s does not disappoint, cappuccinos et. al., and we are ready to go on the town.

For the morning, we go just around the corner, at Museo Correr where a Veronese exhibition is open until May 29th under the title “Myths, portraits, allegories.” In a city where Veronese’s works are just about everywhere, these is a collection of masterpieces assembled from the treasures of European and American museums and had never been presented in modern day Italy. Their common thread is their secular character, abundant in mythological and biblical scenes, full of magic, exuberance and sensuality.

Our Carta Venezia carry the benefit of a reduced entrance fee to the Veronese exhibition and free entrance to the rest of the museum. We visited the museum previously, with special interest in an extraordinary 14th and 15th century books and manuscripts (“La via nei libri”) and in the permanent painting collection. We retrace part of the collection and stop for a minute or two at my particular spot in Ala Napoleonica: Rooms 32 to 35, which offer an extraordinary, unobstructed view of Piazza San Marco towards the Basilica. This time the stars and planets align just perfectly: the windows giving on to the Piazza are open! This occasions an orgy of digital photos, without the deficit of window glass glare, at different levels of zoom, which I will probably suffer over once back home and forced to select “the best few.”

We enjoy again the Canova works, the prolific Bellini family with masterpieces by Papa Jacopo and sons Gentile and Giovanni, then Lorenzo Lotto, Carpaccio, Cranach. The problem with the Correr is the focus: one passes by frescoes and paintings by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese without hardly any highlight directing the attention to them.

We weave by military paraphernalia and spend sometime with the fascinating collection of coins, then say “Basta!” for the morning and enjoy cups of good coffee and pastries at the small café on the second floor, overlooking the square. More photos, since also here the tall doors are open.

Down the majestic stairs and back to open air, we decide to just enjoy the view of this extraordinary space which is Piazza San Marco, at the siesta hour, when visitors are few.

The Basilica

On the way back to the hotel, we enter the Basilica, taking advantage of the small lineup. Entry is again free, courtesy of Carta Venezia and we have the luxury of time and so we first go to see the Pala d’Oro, that part of the high altar retable of San Marco’s, that Byzantine extravagance of gold, silver and priceless gems guarded by angels, prophets and apostles and decorated by representations of all the events, holidays and celebrations of the Church. An astounding vision, hard to comprehend as a whole, or in part. And as tough a subject to photograph as any I have ever encounter.

Stimulated by the Pala, we decide to go on to the other treasure of gold and gems, the Tesoro, and then move on to our preferred position in the Basilica: the upper balcony, where Josette can admire and swoon over the amazing Four Horses, while I can get out on the terrace and shoot away pictures of the Piazza, Piazzeta and the Bacino, the Lion of San Marco, and generally chase any special angle of photography I may have missed in the three or four previous visits.

Habemus Papam and Almost Late for La Fenice

Back to the hotel, after earning a good rest, and also needing one jet-lagged as we are, since in the evening we have tickets for La Fenice, tickets we bought eight, repeat eight months ago(!!) on the Internet, two of the only four tickets which were still available at the time.

Towards late afternoon we are caught in the television coverage of the events in Rome, where hundreds of thousands of people await in “the other” grand Piazza, for a decision of the College of Cardinals. While we change for the opera, there is a sense that important events develop and indeed, first the subtle movement of the drapes, followed by the appearance on the balcony of the Dean of the College, and the dramatic announcement “Habemus Papam!” We continue to stare at the TV screen and I forget the time, which is normally my responsibility. Finally, the new Pope appears to thank and bless the crowds and I glance to my watch and say, “Well, just in time, because the opera starts at 7:30!”

Outside a drizzle has started and a cold wind and Josette is not feeling quite well. Is it being tired or the beginning of something else? We walk to La Fenice under an umbrella and get there around 7:20, myself upset that we are arriving a bit late and will not have time to admire the renovated lobby and check on the various levels of the hall. To our surprise, there are hardly any people outside. More precise, nobody outside! Somewhat perplexed, we step into the small lobby and it is empty. We ask a young usherette and she tell us the opera has started. At 7:00!! Josette throws a withering stare at me, and I would throw one to myself too, if I only could. We missed the start and first half hour of the opera!

Still, with the help of an usher we are taken to the upper, better said “upperest” level, the Loggione. We slide quietly in the loge to discover that all other occupants are standing, a challenge for Josette and, to a lesser extent, for me. Finally, we wiggle into a vantage point and understand why: from our seats all one can see is about one third of the stage. Even when standing.

As the first scene draws to an end, I look around trying to figure out whether we could find a better viewing option. It seems to me that, if we are forced to stand, at least we could do this from a more central position and so I take advantage of the lax discipline around me and signal to Josette to follow. We find better standing towards the centre, where one can at least see most of the stage. Others stand there already, but there is room for us. In the second act, two young women who were sitting in the last row of the gallery offer us their seats. Insistence, gratitude. We thank for their gesture and take our (their) seats. I am absolutely supporting the ceiling of La Fenice with my head! I even have room to separate myself from the wet umbrella that I was carrying all this time. Finally, we can concentrate on the singing and enjoy Donizetti’s little known work. All is well.

This was a fruitful day: we resolved successfully the Papal crisis and elected a Pope, and had the privilege of worshiping in another temple, that of La Fenice. We are very happy as we walk back to Paganelli through the quiet paths of Venice at night. But Josette develops a cold, and a sore throat. We stop in a café on XXII Marzo, for a tea for Josette and a quartino of wine for me.

We will start tomorrow with a visit to the pharmacy.

More about La Fenice

La Fenice is a jewel without peer. One does not have to go to the opera to see La Fenice, although we prefer it with opera included. Guided visits can be booked, and we recommend bookings be made at least a day in advance. If the only opera tickets available are in the loggioni (fifth level), then buyers beware: the extreme right and left of the loggioni are visibility impaired, although the sound is still great. The remedy is to drift towards the center, where visibility is much better. This also assumes standing for the duration of show, unless you are lucky as we were, and two very obliging students, who are also standing, indicate that you may take their emptied seats. This also offers the unique opportunity of touching the roof of La Fenice with your head, an unprecedented musical experience for me. Would we go to the loggioni level again if this were all that that is available? Of course, any time.

April 20, 2005, Our Wedding Anniversary

It is raining today. A cold spray covers everything as we go out for breakfast in the Paganelli Annex. The plans for today call for a visit to Ca’ Rezonico and some loitering around Castello, since we would want to reduce as much as possible Josette’s exposure to this sullen weather, which insinuates its cold, wet touch under the skin. In our previous visits to Venice we were fortunate to catch mostly sunny, pleasant weather. Not this time, but we have to do the most with what Venice is dealing us. Josette is a trouper and soldiers on.

First stop at the beautifully named pharmacy “Al lupo coronato” (“At the crowned wolf”), in Campo SS. Filippo e Giacomo, a place we know well from previous visits to Venice, but not for their pharmaceutical services: this is where Josette bought Dr. Scholl sandals! This time we get a cough syrup. It is somewhat strange to see the four pharmacists jostling for space in the small farmacia, in such contrast to our drugstores, where there is lot of space but less pharmacists to service. And here you can talk to them about your pains and symptoms and in some cases they can even dispense prescription drugs on their own authority.

Anyway, we put our faith in the medication they recommend and we are on with vaporetto 1 to Ca’ Rezonico, one of the most splendid palaces in Venice and where one year earlier we were privileged to listen to an opera by Rossini in the Georgio Massari’s grand ball room covering am entire floor of the building. Wonderful furniture, chandeliers and gilded walls create a frame for ceiling frescoes by Tiepolo. One floor above there is a rich collection of paintings, again with Tiepolo present with renderings of his own home. I am fascinated by the views of the canals from some of the windows.

Among the most treasured memories from Ca’ Rezzonico will also be “Dama Velata” a beautiful sculpture by Antonio Corradini, in which a delicate white marble veil gives a life-like feeling of transparency, under which the ethereal face of a woman (“Puritas”, or Purity) appears clear in every detail. Incredible léger-de-main!

No anniversary dinner: The cold has caught up with Josette and plans call for seeking a doctor tomorrow.

A Great Failed Get Together (GTG)

On Saturday, April 23, at 6pm sharp as agreed, I place myself at the foot of the Nicolò Tommaseo statue. Josette and I start scanning the faces of passers-by, particularly searching insistently those who linger by the statue or on the nearby bench. I was expecting a minimum six to eight people, even more: Robin P, Elizabeth Rilley and her sisters (never found out how many of them...), Chris W., and the late surprise announcement of Dean “with the crew of (his) baccaro crawl.” Being me, I go over to the café and make a reservation “for at least eight.” As times passes Josette and I start wondering whether I should have prepared a big Slow Travel sign or something. Times passes slowly, slower than a baccaro crawl, and nobody shows up. After a while I start noticing a strange fleeting apparition: a tall, bushy bearded guy, who floats temporarily through my peripheral vision and disappears, only to come again, each time from a different vicolo or rio. Finally, “beard?” I say to myself, and taking my life and reputation in hands, I start trailing in Campo San Stefano a bearded guy while whispering to him: “Dean? Dean?”

The three of us, Dean, Josette and myself, spend together a great couple of hours. Never heard again from any of the others, until I met Elizabeth Rilley in Rome; she and her sisters had left Venice a day earlier than planned.

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