We stop at the information spot and rent headphones and a map which will take us all around Aquileia supplying us with endless facts about ancient and paleo-Christian times. Our first stop is at the Paleo-Christian Museum.
Here are a few facts about this museum. They are only open on Thursday mornings, they have very few visitors and hardly any Italians we are told, the museum is not on the audio tour, and there are no signs in English. There is, however, a sweet lady who is willing to talk your ear off in slow Italian. Sarah says she has taken a student course (Rosetta Stone) in Italian so we get a LOT of Italian commentary. Sarah does a great job but the Rosetta Stone Italian course does not deal with intricacies of our subject matter. I wander away after a while but John and Sarah keep saying “si” and nodding their heads. I know that at most they are picking out one or two words per sentence. Anyway, it is all interesting in a sort of garbled Italian way and we surely make the docent’s day. She and I even commiserate about our ginocchio (knee). That is one Italian word I know!
Finally we disattach from the docent and go over to the Patriarchal Basilica. It is built on a Roman house in the 4th century AD and rebuilt after Attila’s invasion in 452. Then rebuilt again after a series of earthquakes and consecrated in 1031. Some of it was rebuilt again in the late 1300’s after another earthquake.
We are no longer allowed to take pictures but I have some from a while ago and ancient things tend to stay the same.
Along with the mosaic floor there are some other great things to see…
All these ruins have made us hungry so we stop in at L’aquileia Nera, a nearby cafe. We start with a big salad and then have various local dishes.
After lunch Sarah goes exploring on her own while we relax. We meet up again at 3:30 to explore the Archeological Museum. The audio tour does a poor job explaining the collection and one floor is closed so we do the best we can with the Italian and spend some time in their vast gardens of Roman ruins.
Dinner tonight is at Al forno. It is not as good as we remember.
This morning instead of hurrying out of Portogruaro we take advantage of our 11AM checkout and have a look around. Our first stop is at St. Andrew’s Mill in a pretty park known for its nutria. Nutrias are horrible looking rat things with orange teeth that swim. It is hard to understand why they would have statues of it.
After enjoying the water rat we move on to the fish market. Much of the day’s offering looks like Sarah’s lunch yesterday.
We also view the leaning tower of Portogruaro.
After this we head to the Museo Archeologico. The ticket that we bought in Concordia Sagittaria also gets us in here. We are immediately greeted by a 14th century Madonna and Child.
There are many interesting Roman fragments and also a small piece of pornography.
Now we travel to Aquileia, a town that once had 100,000 in habitants and was the fourth largest city in Romana Italia and the ninth largest in the entire Roman Empire. We arrive around 1 PM and pull into the Information station where we get lots of maps, recommendations of eateries and hotels, and information about the sights to see. We decide to have lunch at a nearby restaurant where we order way too much pizza. For 4E we figure that the pizza will be small but no, it is quite large. There are four pages of pizza types including one called Pizza Americana. It has French fries on top.
Although we have ordered three giant pizzas we notice the people around us are eating way more. No wonder they need a siesta after lunch.
And speaking of siestas that is what we do next. We check into the very nice Casa Del Neri and have a little lie down until 4PM before heading out to the Basilica. (I will write more about the Basilica tomorrow when we go through it again doing a thorough job with the audio tour that we were too late to rent through the Information station.
We are much too full from our enormous lunch for dinner so we just meet on the patio and have a glass of wine and meet the hotel’s orange cat who takes a liking to Sarah much to her delight.
Our departure from Venice goes very smoothly. The water taxi arrives right on time, no one falls in the water getting into or out of the boat, and it cost less than the trip out from the train station. So win, win, win.
We get our car with no problems. It is an Opel Insignia diesel with an automatic transmission! Ever since we had the problem with John getting sick while on the road in Spain, we have been suggesting it might be a good idea if we got a car that all three of us could drive in a pinch. So, yay!
Our first stop is the Abbaye Santa Maria Maggiore in Summaga. It is a little 11th century church out in the countrside. Although many of its frescoes are damaged, they are still pretty charming.
Next we head to Concordia Sagittaria, an old Roman town. First stop is the Cathedral of St. Stephen. The church has been pretty much renovated but holds a few frescoes and Roman pieces.
Next to St. Stephen is the footprint and remains of the original basilica from the 300’s. Through a door in the museum you can access the old basilica. There are tessellated floors and the site of the old apse with a trichorum where the bones of ancient martyrs killed by Diocletian were buried.
There is also an old Baptistry with the remains of its frescoes.
We are close to the Adriatic Sea and think it might be fun to have lunch at a seafood restaurant near the water. The beach town of Caorle is still pretty quiet in March but the sun is shining and it is close to 70 degrees out.
Along the main drag we find the seafood restaurant, Antica Patronia, and settle in for lunch. (I must put in full size pictures of this picturesque lunch.)
Finally we stop at the Benedictine Abbey Santa Maria in Silvis. It is oldish (15th century) and has some frescoes. Against the rules I take some pictures and get yelled at. It is a stupid rule and I intend to keep breaking it. There is a massive fresco of the Final Judgment and the people who get to Heaven on one wall and a fresco of hell on the other. The hell fresco is very damaged but heaven is still in good shape.
From here we head to our stop for the night, Portogruaro. Everyone is tired and not interested in dinner. I had the least odd lunch but I am the one who ends up getting sick.
Here it is our last day in Venice. We need to finish up the churches on our Chorus Pass. I am planning on being with the team until after lunch and then I’ll stay in the apartment for the afternoon and finish up my posts.
A word first about Venice. It is beautiful and quaint but I cannot imagine living here and having to put up with the inefficiency of having to get everywhere by water or on foot. Even the garbage collectors have to come by boat. There is a main garbage boat and then some collectors get off and have hand carts. Then they go door to door ringing doorbells and collecting the garbage and the recycle. They do this six days a week.
There is a water garage for the fire department and the police where if you call for them I guess they get there eventually. All the traffic moves really slowly because of not being able to make wakes.
Our first stop today is at San Pantalon where we have been looking forward to going the whole time we have been here to see the Vivarini “Coronation with Saints”. And when I say with Saints I mean every saint in existence at the time standing around with their attribute. Sarah and I are going to spend some quality time identifying everyone. We rush into the little chapel and uh oh no painting. We ask the docent where is the picture and find out it is in a special exhibition at the Accademia. We skipped the special exhibition when we were there last week. We cannot go today because it is Monday and museums are closed on Mondays. Sigh.
There’s a nice crucifix though. The docent does not know when it is from or who painted it. He shrugs and says maybe 14th century?
Next church on our list San Giacomo dell’Orio. We have visions of Saint James surrounded by cookies but John tells us that orio means marsh. Right off the bat Sarah is naughty and touches a baptismal font from the early thirteenth century. I think this is because on our last trip I touched a carved stone from the 9th century. Roman ruins do not count in this competition.
Other works we enjoy in San Giacomo dell Orio –
Our next stop is at St. Stae. I guess I didn’t take any pictures here. But John likes one that is a martyrdom of St. Bartholomew by Tiepolo, 1722.
We also stop at San Giovanni Elemosinario before lunch but I am dragging and losing interest.
Lunch time! We have pizza at Pizzeria San Aponal. It’s pizza. It’s good but not great.
It is mid-afternoon by the time we are done and we are eight bridges away from the apartment. I decide to tackle the eight bridges and then collapse for the rest of the afternoon (except for writing blogs) while John and Sarah continue on to see three more churches. I have asked John to write about them next.
John writes –
Later in the afternoon Sarah and I visit three more churches across the Accademia Bridge in San Marco. First we visit San Vidal, mostly used as a concert venue. There are displays of old string instruments and a 1514 altarpiece by Carpaccio showing San Vitale and 8 other saints.
In San Stefano we see several works by Tintoretto including another action-packed Last Supper, and a St. Lawrence and a St. Nicholas of Bari by Bartolemeo Vivarini. There are also very interesting bronze side doors that turn out to be from 1991.
Finally we visit Santo Maria del Giglio. In addition to the only Rubens work still in Venice, the Madonna, Child and Young St. John the Baptist (looking every bit like a 17th century Dutch mom and two kids), we also see a 1470 relief by Nicolo di Giovanni of St. Jerome in the Cave, complete with lion. By chance Sarah notices that behind the altar are works by Tintoretto: 2 paintings each with two evangelists.
We head back over the bridge to rest up for dinner at Ai Artisti.
Since today is Monday, the fish market is closed. Ai Artisti serves a meat menu instead. If they cannot get absolutely fresh fish, they do not serve fish. We respect their commitment and integrity.
Our wine is a 2013 Valent Hombra Sporca Rossi made from Carmenere grapes from Pramaggiore in the Veneto.
Mary and Sarah start with beef tartare with tempura asparagus, fricco and mustard mayonnaise foam. Then they have bigoli pasta with a sausage ragu. I start with a pea soup with a whole coddled breaded egg, fresh peas and anchovies. Then I try the fried sweetbreads (“animelle”) on a bed of interesting lettuces, some passion fruit, and green sauce.
Every dish is a hit. Mary and I finish the wonderful meal with glasses of golden grappa. Maybe since we have been recognized as repeat customers, the grappa is comp’ed! Everyone says grazie and arrividerci and then we head back. Bonus: NO BRIDGES!
This morning is a quiet time for Ma and Pa. Sarah has scooted off to the Rialto Bridge to find some gifts for her friends but John and I are content to stay at the apartment fighting with the internet and sipping tea.
In the afternoon St. Mark’s Basilica is open and lighted for viewing and we make our way over to stand in line with lots of other tourists. I remember in the past we’ve gone in and enjoyed a leisurely look around. Not so this time. We are herded like art-struck cattle through the basilica. The guidebook says that the average length of a visit is 10 minutes which is enough time to see basically nothing. We are also not allowed to take pictures which is sad because the mosaics are lovely and certainly are not harmed by non-flash photography. I manage a few shots before I am caught and yelled at.
St. Mark’s is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice. It is the most famous of the city’s churches and one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. It lies at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, adjacent and connected to the Doge’s Palace. Originally it was the chapel of the Doge, and has only been the city’s cathedral since 1807. Wikipedia
The interior of St. Mark’s is resplendent with mosaics. There are many scenes and people from both the Old and New Testament set against a golden background. Even though some lights are on, it is still difficult to make out many of them. Plus we are not given much time to look at anything before we are carried on by the surge of the crowd.
Some pictures from the interior –
When we depart the church the sky is looking threatening. Sarah decides to walk back and John and will take the vaporetto. After making this decision it starts to rain and we and hundreds of other people also decide to take the vaporetto. It is very crowded and we have to wait a while to get onto one since they are too full. Luckily we have made it to an enclosed portion of the stop. Once we get to our station Sarah is waiting for us with an umbrella. What a sweet daughter!
Tonight’s dinner is at the Osteria San Barnaba. We have salads and pasta and finish up with biscotti and zibibbo, a dessert wine.
Tomorrow we will complete visiting the Chorus Churches and I will finish up our tale of Venice from a new hotel with better wifi, I hope.
Continuation of blog entry for 3/25/17 The internet is working somewhat better today.
We stop for lunch at Ristobar San Polo right across the piazza from San Polo, our next church to visit. Again the bathroom is unusable for the ladies. This one worse than the last. It is a good thing that women have incredible control. The ristobar is a modest eatery and John and Sarah go with the daily special which is bigoli with anchovies. I pass that up for my old standby, spaghetti con vongole. Lunch is okay.
We head into the Church of San Polo where the big attraction is Tintoretto’s Last Supper. It’s a busy scene with the table set at an angle, a hallmark of Tintoretto’s Last Suppers.
I am aching and dragging at this point and basically sit quietly and contemplate the beautiful Madonna and Child at the next church, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
I hand off the camera to John who takes the rest of the pictures in the Frari.
This is all the sightseeing I can do today. So John and I head back to the apartment getting lost along the way. Venice is such a warren of little streets some of which go somewhere and some of which end in dead ends.
We spend the rest of the afternoon doing laundry and resting. We opt for a simple dinner of takeout slices of pizza.
NOTE: I have been working on this post for more than four hours. I am hampered by an incredibly slow and off again on again internet. Before I turn into a crazy person, I am going to stop this post before we have even gotten to lunch and hopefully return to it tomorrow when the wifi might be more responsive.)
For me, ascending and descending stairs has been difficult due to an injured knee. Walking is fine but stairs are bad. My friend and trainer, Vernon, taught me some techniques for going up stairs which mostly work but going down is hard. So John holds on to me as I creep down the stairs amidst tourists and Venetians who need to be some place in a hurry and go much faster than I. It’s humiliating and exhausting.
That being said, we are out early this morning to see churches where much of the art in Venice lives full time. A Chorus Pass gets you into about 20 churches where you get an information card (in English!) and the church is generally lighted. Sarah has planned us a long route through most of Venice to see as many as possible.
Our first church is San Stefano. It is open. We go in. There are only janitors here. I have looked on the internet and the information says that all the Chorus Churches open at 9:30. Sarah points out that on our brochure it says they open at 10:30 and the sign in the church says that St. Stefano opens at 10. The church is unlit and it is really hard to see anything. My bad. We are off to a rocky start. Now we have to waste an hour. So we do typical touristy things. We take pictures of each other and canals and look at store windows and go in churches that appear open.
Our wanderings take us through Piazza San Marco and past the gorgeous Basilica San Marco. St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice. The Venetians stole his bones from Alexandria. Apparently that was a done thing in days of yore. Anyway, this is the first time we have ever seen the Basilica without scaffolding on the front. Yay! We plan to see the basilica tomorrow when the interior is lighted for two hours.
The Basilica used to be the private place of worship for the doge, the ruler of Venice. His palace connects to it.
We stop at San Zaccaria since it is open and is supposed to hold some interesting art, we venture in. We are not disappointed. “Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Four Saints over the second altar on the left is one of his very best. It was painted in 1505 when Bellini was about 74. This was the same year that Albrecht Dürer on a visit to Venice described him as ‘very old and still the best in painting’.” Churches of Venice.co.uk The painting is quite beautiful.
For 1.5E we gain entrance to the crypt, a worthwhile investment. Here many doges are entombed and the chapels are festooned with beautiful artwork.
After a very enjoyable visit to San Zaccaria we stop for cappuccini in a nearby cafe. Unfortunately it has a bathroom unfriendly to American women. After our little sit-down we follow our tour guide, Sarah, down narrow alleys and quiet canals to the Church of Santa Maria Formosa.
“Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary appeared to San Magno, Bishop of Oderzo, in the form of a buxom (formosa in Italian) woman and told him to build her a church under a white cloud. And so this, the first church in Venice dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built, some time in the 7th Century by the Tribuno family.” Churchesofvenice.co.uk The current church was built in 1492 on the footprint of the older one. Finally we are in one of the churches that we bought the Chorus Pass for and are rewarded by an information card and a lighted church. Three highlights of what we saw –
From here we head to Santa Maria dei Miracoli. In 1408 Francesco Amadi commissioned a painting of the BVM and placed it in a tabernacle in front of his house. It became an overnight sensation with the populace praying to the portrait and saying that it had miraculous powers. Contributions came flowing in to build a church for the painting and thus the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli was founded.
It is the only free standing church in Venice. The interior has a few statues and a lot of marble. The main focus is on the painting of the Blessed Virgin.
On our way over to the other side of the canal we pass the miracle of the three gondolas picture and the Rialto Bridge.
There is no complaining about this day. The art is spectacular and the dinner is totally unlike any food we have had before in Venice. But first the art.
The Accademia houses 13th century to some 18th century art. It is not overwhelming big so that by the time you are done you are tired but not spent for the rest of the day. It is a real favorite of ours. Sarah and I make a good team figuring out who is who and when we are stuck, John usually knows the answer.
Some of the art we love from the Accademia….
All this great stuff is just in the first room of the museum. I think we have spent at least an hour in here. Moving on to room two and the rest of the museum, there are still a lot of great paintings but these are less exciting. There’s nothing like art from the period when they were figuring out how to use perspective and give people emotion.
And here is another great painting by Giovanni Bellini –
From here we move into the 16th century and Mannerism –
There’s still lots more in the museum but it is well after the lunch hour and we are tired and hungry. We walk back to the apartment and John runs out for panini while Sarah and I put our feet up. We take a break until 3 PM and then go to a couple of local churches where we see some Tintoretto masterpieces.
From the church of San Trovaso Tintoretto’s painting of the Last Supper. This painting catches the moment when Jesus tells the apostles that one of them will betray him. In their disbelief and dismay they jump up knocking over their chairs and insisting that it is not one of them.
Around the corner from San Trovaso there is another Tintoretto in the church called Gesuati –
We are done with sightseeing for today. Tonight we are having dinner at Ai Artisti. It is supposed to be a really good restaurant recommended by critics and our Truly Venice host.
It is even better than advertised, probably the best meal we have ever had in Venice. We’ve booked again for Monday. When our server asked how we liked it we raved about how good everything was and I said it was not typical. He smiled and agreed that yes, in Venice they were unusual. Unusually good!
Over the past few years Sarah has had some excellent birthday adventures. Four years ago we toasted to her health and happiness in Munich, last year we were having a lovely time staying in Montecatini Terme and buying a purse in Lucia, and this year we are traveling between Florence and Venice, two of her favorite places. Happy Birthday, Sarah, and may we share many more adventures.
There is a taxi strike in Florence this morning. The taxi drivers are upset over Uber and its clones. I can only sympathize. Taxi drivers make an investment in getting their medallions and it seems unfair for usurpers to come in as they have. Since we cannot get a taxi to the train station our landlord’s son, Marco, gives us a ride to the station. We get there pretty early for our train and have to kill time. Since there is a limited seating area we end up in the food court where we buy a little something every once in a while to keep our table and seats. Really, who doesn’t love some McDonald’s fries when you are far from home?
The trains in Italy are punctual and comfortable and fast. We leave Florence on a high speed train at 11:30 and are in Venice at 1:35 PM. We are renting another apartment here in Venice. I have arranged with the agency for a water taxi which meets us and takes us to a mooring close to our apartment where a representative of Truly Venice meets us, walks us to the apartment, and explains all the details. It is a flawless experience.
Our apartment has an efficiency apartment on the ground floor for Sarah and a one bedroom apartment on the second floor (European first floor). It seems nice and we are excited to see the router in the corner of the dining room. Maybe good wifi!?
We decide to take a look around the neighborhood and have a drink overlooking the Giudecca Canal nearby. As the sun goes down, it’s a little cold. We don’t hang out too long looking at the view. Venice is probably 5-10 degrees cooler than Florence. At last all the heavy clothes we’ve brought along can be worn!
We have dinner at Casin dei Nobili. We are looking forward to some seafood and our spaghetti con vongole (clams) fits the bill. We all order it and everyone is pleased.
We have discovered that the wifi here is almost as bad as the wifi in Florence. It is in and out and only works if you sit in the dining room very close to the router. We are going to be spending a lot of time in that room!
This morning we are up and out early. Once again being the early birds we manage to miss large crowds. Our purpose this morning is to go to the Medici Chapel, the monument the Medici built as a tomb for themselves, and visit San Lorenzo, the church that the chapel is adjoined to. It’s a little cooler out this morning and there is a threat of rain in the air. On our last trip here the day we visited San Lorenzo was the only time it rained and it looks as though we may have a repeat this trip. (As it turns out the rain holds off until after dinner when we are caught without our umbrellas at, thank goodness, a nearby restaurant.
We rent the audio tour at the Medici Chapel mostly for its humorous aspects. The architectural jargon in it is so obscure that half the time we have no idea what they are talking about. We tried to bone up on our terms last night and learned about architraves and pendentives but nonetheless when they start in on “lizines” we are lost.
We enter first the Chapel of the Princes where the Medicis are entombed. It is a grandiose octagonal space that is lavishly decorated with precious marbles, statues and even was suppose to contain the Holy Sepulchre from Jersusalem which the Medicis tried to buy and then steal to no avail.
The chapel itself has several statues carved by Michelangelo. There are stylized figures of Lorenzo Duke of Urbino and his brother, Giuliano Duke of Nemours. Beneath the statue of Lorenzo are figures of Dawn and Dusk and beneath Giuliano are Day and Night, all carved by Michelangelo. Both male figures are done, according to the audio guide, in the unfinished manner, or better known as just never completed.
After a cup of cappuccino to waste time until the church opens, we head to the church of San Lorenzo. The church, originally consecrated in the 300’s and reconscecrated in 1059 and then redesigned in the 15th century, is mostly whitewashed now with a few existing earlier pieces.
One of the paintings is a 1450 Annunciation by Fillipo Lippi. We learned from the audio guide at the Uffizi that Lippi was a priest who had a scandalous liaison with a nun and their offspring was named Fillippino Lippi who became another famous painter. The beautiful face of the Madonna is a representation of the nun and the cherubic angels are his son.
This painting by Raphael has three saints with their identifying attributes. On the left is St. Stephen who was martyred by stoning. He has a rock on top of his head. In the center St. Lawrence, the patron of saint of San Lorenzo, is shown with the grill on which he was roasted. On the right St. Leonard is shown holding fetters or irons. He is the patron saint of prisoners. During his life prisoners would invoke his name and be freed.
We have enjoyed our morning at the San Lorenzo complex and now decide to go back toward the apartment and eat lunch at the downstairs trattoria Marone and then have a little rest before heading out to Santa Maria Novella, church and museum.
Around 3 PM we are off to Santa Maria Novella, the last stop on our Florence tour. The church, the adjoining cloister, and the museum is full of art treasures and funerary monuments. Especially famous are frescoes by masters of Gothic and early Renaissance.
Works from the interior of the church –
Work from the Spanish Chapel –
From the museum –
We have accomplished much of what we wanted to do while here. We head back to the apartment to pack and have one more slice of pizza in Florence.
On to Venice tomorrow! (And hopefully better internet!)