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Trip Report Trip Report - Easter Week in Venice/Milan/Florence

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Hey ho all you Fodorites! As always, thanks to Fodor friends for contributing suggestions for this trip. It was really, really difficult for me to plan a trip to Italy and not visit Rome. However, I had been sick the last two times I was in Venice, so needed to give her an opportunity to rekindle our romance. :) She had five nights to accomplish that!

I also wanted to see DaVinci's "The Last Supper" and so included my first visit to Milan this trip. Two nights there and then on to Florence for four nights.

Because I started a new job at the end of October, I was a bit short on available vacation time. (However, I did talk my new boss into letting me "borrow" some.) It was still a short trip for me with a total of only 11 nights and 12 days.

I am just going to kind of run the highlights instead of giving a day-by-day. Hopefully, this will help others planning trips by being a little more succinct. (Y'all know how I can run on!)

I arrived in Venice midday on Saturday, April 12th (DFW to Frankfort to Venice via Lufthansa). I rented an apartment in the Castello, very close to Santa Maria Formosa.

*San Polo - While the church is sweet for its small size, the real gem here is the “Oratory of the Crucifix”. A beautiful little chapel that sits to the side of the church, it houses a series of paintings by Gian Domenico Tiepolo that represent the stations of the cross. Additionally, the “Glory of Angels” and “Resurrection” on the ceiling in the oratory are lovely, also by Tiepolo the younger.

The church also houses paintings by Veronese, Giambattista Tiepolo (the elder) and Tintoretto. The unusual ship’s keel ceiling is stark in its simplicity.

This is a lovely and quiet church and worth a visit if you are going to the Frari, anyway, as they are close by each other.

If you go, take note of the Campo San Polo. This has a bit of interesting history, including being the spot where Lorenzino de Medici was assassinated after trying to hide out in Venice. Why was he hiding out? Well, he had killed his cousin, Alessandro, who was the Duke of Florence. Cosimo de Medici had hired the assassins to exact revenge. (Just following the norm of power struggles in Europe developing into deadly family feuds!)

*Santi Giovanni e Paolo - I arrived here during the week following Palm Sunday, the palm fronds still on display when I arrived. I really loved this church. It feels more like a neighborhood church than the big church it is.

The Cappella di San Domenico is lovely, especially the ceiling, as is the ceiling/cross vaulting of the nave. There is a beautiful black and white bas relief covering one entire side of the chapel. It is unique and kind of mesmerizing.

The Chapel of the Rosary (Cappella del Rosario) was cozy, with a Veronese painting, “The Adoration of the Shepherds”. I happened to walk into the chapel, looking and walking left, without looking right. After admiring the paintings there, I turned around while looking up and taking in the ceiling design.

Imagine my surprise when my eyes finally traveled down and found a priest in the back right corner of the chapel, preparing for mass. "Preparing" in that he was putting on the vestments for mass. It was rather an awkward moment for both of us (who knew the priest’s closet and dressing room were in the corner of the public chapel?). I said a rather hushed “buona sera” and he nodded and I left. :">

I’m not big on relics, but Italians like to share their saints. This church has a shrine to St. Catherine of Siena (the patron saint of Italy) and it contains her foot. I did not determine which one, but I believe that most of the rest of her lies in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.

I will have to go back through my travel logs and trip reports and figure out how many relics I have seen. I am pretty sure it would be a substantive list.

The Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo is also lovely. As well as the church, it is home to the Scuola Grande di San Marco/Ospedale Civile. (They have changed the name of the vaporetto stop from Ospedale Civile to simply “Ospedale”.)

There is a lovely bridge leading across the Fondamenta dei Mendicanti and several small trattorias running along the south side of the square.

I sat with a bellini late in the afternoon and people-watched. Kids and dogs and old ladies with shopping bags. It is a lovely campo. There is also in impressive statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, a hero of the Republic.

* “Summertime” – I’ve always been a big fan of the movie, “Summertime”, starring Katharine Hepburn (“Jane”) and Rosanno Brazzi (“Renatto”). The film takes place in Venice in the 1950’s. So, this trip, I was determined to locate some of the sites used during the filming of the movie.

First up was Campo San Barnaba. There are some key scenes that took place here. The little antique shop owned by Renatto sits, still, right next to the church, at the end of a bridge over the Rio San Barnaba.

The campo itself was also crucial to a very funny scene where Jane is trying to film the antique shop. She is walking backward as she films and steps backward right into the canal. :)) Her little Italian boy guide (Mauro) has the good sense to grab her camera as she tumbles backward.

It was very interesting reading about the filming of this scene. Though they tried to clean up the canal and even filled this section with pool chemicals to kill the bad stuff, Kate developed an eye infection that she believed caused a chronic eye problem the rest of her life.

Next stop on my “Summertime” tour was the Ponte San Cristoforo. Jane and Mauro are seen coming over the bridge, Mauro walking on the rail and Jane on the stairs leading away from the bridge. After looking at my pictures and those that are stills from the movie, I can pretty much say it is unchanged.

On to one of my favorite sites from the movie. Jane is seen resting her guidebook on an old cistern. Mauro approaches and she agrees to let him show her the way back to the antique shop. They both wash their face in the water tap next to the cistern.

I’ve always loved this scene and the “alley” where it was shot. It took a bit of detective work, but I finally found the Piscina Sant’Agnese. It is the alley/street behind Sant’Agnese church in the Dorsoduro.

I love the pictures (see link below) and was thrilled to see the tap still working, so I filled up my water bottle! The wisteria was in full bloom and just added to the effect.

*La Donna Partigiana – I’ve been wanting to see this statue for several years, and I just never could get around to it. So glad I made the effort this trip. I checked online to see when low tide would be and arrived exactly at low tide to see her. (She cannot be seen at high tide, as she is prostate at the edge of the canal.)

The statue is dedicated to the women of the Resistance who lost their lives fighting in WWII. She was designed by Augusto Murer and sits on a monument designed by Carlo Scarpa.

I was dismayed to see the amount of mossy stuff that had accumulated on the statue. I had read that this statue had just been cleaned 7 months before. I suspect it must be too costly to clean her more often. :(

She is in a great location, very near the Giardini vaporetto stop. She’s worth a look if you are in the area.

*San Giorgio Maggiore – There is no better view, IMHO, of Venice, than from that seen atop this church’s belltower. (Do be aware of the bells going off on the hour and half-hour. It is quite loud and you are bound to drop your camera over the side of the tower if you are not prepared for the bells ringing!)

You have a wonderful bird’s eye view of San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, Santa Maria della Salute, and the Guidecca. On a clear day, looking north/northwest, you can see the beautiful snow-capped Dolomites. Thank heavens it was a clear and sunny day on my visit!

*St. Mark’s Basilica – My two favorite things about St. Mark’s are the amazing marble work of the floors and the Pala d’Oro behind the main altar. I couldn’t believe the number of people entering this marvelous basilica and having done little reading/research beforehand. So many people simply looked at the cashier near the altar area and, seeing the “€2”, shook their heads and walked away.

After entering through the turnstyle, I saw one couple who apparently thought something might be worth the extra money, but couldn’t seem to figure out what it was. They stood in front of the altar, looking a bit puzzled. I mentioned that the prize was behind the altar and when they saw it, the look on their faces was worth the money I paid. Hahaha.

The Pala d’Oro is a gorgeous Byzantine piece depicting, variously, the story of St. Mark, Christ and the Apostles, various saints. It is hammered gold with hundreds of beautiful precious jewels embedded in it. It actually consists of three different pieces dating from 1100 to 1345. The pictures don’t do it justice. If you’re going to St. Mark’s, spend the €2! I promise you’ll think it was worth it!

*Caffe Florian – They claim to be the oldest café in Venice (open since 1720). They are one of the two restaurants who front an orchestra in Piazza San Marco. They have plenty of room indoors, too, and would be a lovely spot for a cup of tea any day.

This day, I spent the extra €6 (music “fee”) to sit outside and dine while listening to the orchestra. It was a cool day, but the sun was out and moving rapidly across the square. So I chose a table on the edge of the shade and by the time I left, it was perfectly lovely in the sun!

I had a delicious veggie club sandwich (€17) and pot of English Breakfast tea (€9.50). And guess what the first song from the orchestra was after I sat down? “Summertime in Venice”. :) Serendipity. (It is the same music that Jane and Renatto dance to in the movie.)

*Harry’s Bar – Yes, it is ridiculously expensive. Yet, when Venice is so overcrowded with spring breakers and Easter tourists… it was practically empty at 4pm when I needed a pick-me-up. (Yea!)

I had skipped lunch, so opted for the chicken salad sandwich (€13). It was absolutely delicious with homemade mayo and fresh bread with crusts removed. It went down smooth with my €16 bellini and the wonderful olives they seem to serve with every drink. Bottle of water, bellini and chicken sandwich ran to €40! Good thing I had a few splurges built into my budget.

*General Notes - I spent a lot of time just walking around the island, much of it in the Cannaregio, Castello and Dorsoduro sestieres. Much of these areas were free from the madding crowds.

I loved the Campo Santa Maria Formosa, with the obligatory cistern and water tap. It is a large campo and was always busy with a veggie market, small outdoor café, dogs being walked and tons of kids- most with soccer balls. I nearly got beaned a number of times. :)

The shopping is also better, IMHO, the further you get away from the major tourist areas. I was not shopping for anything in particular, but stopped into a glass shop right off Piazza San Marco. I had purchased a couple of pieces from this store in the past. I thought of adding another piece to my set of Venetian glass, but the prices were outrageous this time. Literally, 300% higher than 2 years ago. I left without buying anything, though there were a couple pieces I liked.

A few days later, I was still on the hunt for a small glass zebra for one of my granddaughters. I was near San Zaccaria and spotted the first and only zebra after 5 days of looking! I bought it and continued down that street, as it was full of little shops.

Quite unexpectedly, I happened upon Giordani, Calle delle Rasse 4589, and found a perfect piece to complement my collection. It’s a red vase and I love it. It was almost an exact match of the one I saw off the Square, only this one was the price I expected. Off the beaten path. If you’re shopping, stay away from major tourist areas!

One of the other restaurants I ate at that is worth a visit was the Ristorante Principessa, which is on the Riva degli Schiavoni near the San Zaccaria vaporetto stop. It was good for a late lunch. The lasagna Bolognese was good and tasty. With bellini and bottle of water, my bill came to €32. The view, of course, was beautiful.

I rented an apartment in the Castello and the owner suggested a restaurant right next door. The food was very good. Ristorante Al Giardinetto da Severino has a beautiful vine-covered courtyard. (The bulk of the seating is outdoors.) I mentioned the apartment owner and the restaurant manager comped my glass of house white. :)

I started with a bowl of pasta e fagioli and then had the veal scallopini. Delish. With a bottle of water, the bill was €29. (The wine would have put me right around €35.)

Wanted to mention a great "find". I was getting off the vaporetto at Ca’Rezzonico about 3 in the afternoon and I’d not had lunch yet. I was thrilled to see a kiosk right next to the vap stop, where they were selling large (tall) cups of sliced fruit. Strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, cantaloupe, and honeydew. You could even request what kind of mix you liked. And for €2, it was great!

One final note- and this applies no matter where you are at in Italy. It is regarding postcards and postage.

It costs €2 to mail a postcard from Italy to the USA. Beware of what kind of stamps you are being offered when buying them from a tobacchi or souvenir kiosk. I highly discourage you from buying them unless they are actually Italian Postal System stamps. You will know they are Postal stamps when you see the actual price of "€2" on the corner of the stamp.

If you are offered stamps that have a "GPS" and "Zone 2" on them- PASS THEM UP! These are sold by a private company and you must put the stamped postcards into one of their mail receptacles. (Which you will have difficulty locating on their website map- it is a tiny, lousy map.) It will also take up to four weeks (they say) to get those delivered. I mailed postcards with them 3 weeks ago and they have not arrived. IF you use these "GPS" stamps and put your postcards into a regular Italian red mailbox... they will NOT be delivered!

Do yourself a favor and get stamps at the Post Office there, or simply ask before buying at the tobacchi or souvenir kiosk.

(This company, GPS, apparently charges you the same €2, but then take the postcards to Germany and mail them from there for less. They pocket the difference. However, I've not seen any good reviews about this company and doubt my 10 postcards will ever be delivered.)

Here is a link to the "Summertime" pictures. The link for full trip pictures will be at the end of the trip report!

One day of light drizzle. Four days of sunny and 60 weather. Delightful! Off to Milan!

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