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caroline_edinburgh Aug 15th, 2007 04:50 AM

Trip report – Ischia, Venice for the Art Biennale and northern Tuscany
This was a 3 week trip with a week in each place. The plan was to have a fairly lazy first and last week as we knew we'd have a very busy and tiring middle week in Venice.

Part 1 : Ischia

We stayed at Casa Celestino in Sant'Angelo, where we stayed for a week last year and plan to stay again next year. Sant'Angelo is idyllic and I'm so glad that we stayed there, thanks to good advice on this board. (Last year we'd originally planned to stay in Forio which is not the same at all.)

We went 2 weeks later this year (16-23 June) and the weather was much warmer οΏ½ 28-32 degrees C οΏ½ although it still got quite windy on the beach sometimes.

The journey all went smoothly but still took 13 hours - see, it's not that much easier for those of us who don't have to cross the Atlantic ! Left home at 0450, taxi to EDI, EDI-LGW, 3 hour gap, LGW-NAP (both flights with BA), express bus to Molo Beverello, hydrofoil to Ischia Porto, bus to Sant'Angelo, walked to hotel arriving 1845 local time.

After the strenuous journey (and a hard year at work) we ended up doing nothing all week except going to the village beach each day, eating, drinking & sleeping. We had intended to go to the concert at La Mortella on the Sunday (as we did last year) but couldn't face getting back on a bus again so soon.

Ate dinner at the hotel a couple of times & the food was quite good, but we were put off by the smoking. Ate some other nights at Da Pasquale which is mainly a pizzeria (and cheap), but again ordered the rabbit feast for our last night and enjoyed it a lot. For lunch we usually got a sandwich from 'La Dolce e La Vita' (!), and always got one of their cakes each to take back to our balcony with a bottle of Prosecco (from the wee grocer near the hotel) for a late afternoon treat. We also decided their ice cream was the best and made sure to have una coppa each, every evening οΏ½ the 'fondente' flavours (dark chocolate with cherry/orange/pralineοΏ½) were to die for.

All in all a fantastically relaxing week in a beautiful place, and I can't wait to do exactly the same again next year ! Of all the places I've stayed in Italy, to me this is the best for just relaxing, enjoying the beautiful surroundings, reading, swimming, eating and drinking.

bellastarr Aug 15th, 2007 05:22 AM

Hi Caroline
I always Love hearing your stories- Sant' Angelo is fantastic isn't it? Sorry to hear you missed La Mortella this time though.
Can't wait to hear the Venice and N. Tuscany part-keep writing!

caroline_edinburgh Aug 16th, 2007 04:26 AM

Thanks bellastarr, you are kind !

Part 2 : Venice : getting there and accommodation

The journey to Venice was the only hiccup of the trip. When people have said they've heard bad things about Alitalia, I've always responded that I've used them lots of times and never had a problem. Not any more. Discovered when rechecking our flight times online, two days before leaving home, that the midday flight we'd booked from Naples to Venice no longer existed ! No other airlines with better schedules, train now v. expensive. Phoned Alitalia, given choice of switching to 9.30am or 9.30pm. Impossible to make the 9.30am so grudgingly accepted the 9.30pm. Had to spend ages getting new paperwork sorted out at the Alitalia desk on arrival at Naples the week before and again at check-in on departure. Flight was an hour late, luggage took a while to arrive so didn't exit Venice airport until nearly midnight, no information desks manned or timetables available, walked to Alilaguna dock, last boat had gone, walked back, got land bus to Piazzale Roma, got vaporetto N to Zattere, arrived La Calcina 0145 :-(

With hindsight, perhaps the train would have been easier and we'd have been there by teatime.

La Calcina an oasis of quiet civilisation as ever. And it was almost worth arriving in the middle of the night to wake up facing Venice through our windows, looking just like a Canaletto.

I do think Dorsoduro is a nice area to stay, if you like to be fairly quiet; but it's quite close to the main attractions and good vaporetto links for the further-flung ones. The wide-open space of the Giudecca Canal is also more scenic and relaxing to me than the busy confined space of the Grand Canal, as well as affording greater privacy : we never closed our curtains. I would hate to stay anywhere near St Mark's Square and we avoided it as much as possible : this time we managed to only need to pass through it once.

Coming next - the Biennale.

ekscrunchy Aug 16th, 2007 05:25 AM

Thanks, Caroline. Your reports are always excellent. Glad you enjoyed the rabbit again!

bfrac Aug 16th, 2007 06:50 AM

Caroline, looking forward to more on Venice. We are going for our second trip in September and I'm anxious to hear what you did while there, especially the Bienale. Thanks.

yk Aug 16th, 2007 10:32 AM

Looking forward to the Biennale. We went to the one in 2005 and really enjoyed it (and ran out of time).

caroline_edinburgh Aug 17th, 2007 04:37 AM

Thanks for your kind words, folks. Here goes...

Part 3 : Venice : The Art Biennale

Basically we only did Biennale-related things all week, although a week of being on our feet all day from c.9-5 still wasn't enough – it would take 2 weeks to see it all, but our feet couldn't have done a single extra day !

We spent one whole day doing the Giardini excluding the (old) Italian pavilion, one whole day doing the Arsenale and a further half-day back in the Giardini doing the Italian pavilion – and next time I'll be inclined to hire the audio guide and spend a whole day in the Italian pavilion too. Annoying that they only sell 2 day tickets, allowing 1 entry to the Giardini & 1 to the Arsenale.

In the Giardini we liked best the Russian pavilion, with the Greek pavilion as runner-up once they got round to turning everything on ! As regards the British pavilion - we are fans of Tracey Emin but didn't like most of her show here as much as we like most of her work. Similarly we liked the Felix Gonzalez-Torres work at the US pavilion but have preferred stuff of his we've seen (and taken home !) before.

In the Arsenale we particularly liked the pieces by Emily Prince (where is this part of the US way off up to the north east of the main land mass ?), Nedko Solakov, Leon Ferrari and Giuseppe Penoni. We also liked the South American artist's (didn't get the name) video projection on to fabric re the vision of St Veronica (or something like that - we thought ! anyone know any more ?).

In the Italian pavilion we particularly liked Steve McQueen's video re columbite, Kara's Walker's video re slavery and the Waltercio Caldas installation. I also liked the Gerhard Richters; although I thought that they, like the other rooms-full of paintings by one artist, lost impact by being displayed as a group.

Offsite we saw the Scottish, Welsh, Lebanese, Armenian, Swiss, Icelandic and New Forest (!) pavilions and the South American group show at the Palazzo Zenobio; plus the additional Australian piece by Calum Morton, the Russian show in the wee building next to the church of San Stae and a Latvian show on the other side, the New Zealand (Maori) installation 'Aniwaniwa' plus a show from Zagreb in the Magazzini del Sale and the Bill Viola work in the Chiesa di San Gallo. Of these I liked 'Aniwaniwa' and the Bill Viola piece best (and not just because they involved lying or sitting down, although that was always a bonus :-) ).

Also, not listed in the Biennale booklet : a very good piece by Hans Winkler called 'Ezra Pound's Cage' in the Oratorio di S. Tommaso, supported by the city of Berlin; plus Zaha Hadid & Gino Marotti at the Scuola dei Mercanti and Richard Hamilton at the Palazzetto Tito.

We tried to get to 'Hamsterwheel' but gave it up as too difficult; and looked for another few exhibitions without finding them at all or without finding them open.

Overall I'd say 'Ezra Pound's Cage' made the biggest impact, in terms of the piece itself and also its siting. We came across that by accident so it just goes to show you can't plan everything and sometimes the best thing is just to wander.

Happy to give any more information and opinions, so far as I can, to anyone who's interested. The Biennale is on until 21st November although some of the offsite exhibitions close sooner.

caroline_edinburgh Aug 21st, 2007 08:01 AM

Part 4 : Venice : getting around

We were shocked by how much the vaporetto tickets had gone up since our last visit 2 years ago – a single from €3.50/5 to €6, a 24 hr ticket from €10.50 to €15 and a 72 hr ticket from €21 to €30. (One stop had graffiti saying "Paga tourista paga !".) We walked everywhere on the Sunday, then bought 72 hr tickets on Monday morning to cover going to the Giardini or Arsenale for each of the next 3 days – so each of those trips was €5 each way. We then walked until late afternoon Thursday, then bought 24 hr tickets which lasted us until late afternoon Friday which was all we needed.

So we spent a total, each, of €3 for the bus on arrival + €6 for the night vaporetto (no choice then other to buy singles) + €30 for 72 hr ticket + €15 for 24 hr ticket = €54, plus €12 for the Alilaguna boat back to the airport = €66 in total.

I think it's a toss-up whether a Blue Venice Card would have saved us money or not – bearing in mind that if we'd been buying in advance we'd have bought them to include Alilaguna (not knowing we'd arrive too late to use Alilaguna). And in any case we arrived too late to be able to collect them at the airport, so I'm not sure what we'd have done then. So my conclusion is – I might consider buying them next time, but wouldn't order them in advance to save a couple of euros.

ellenem Aug 21st, 2007 10:25 AM

Caroline--good info on the price increases . . . in March 2006 the 72-hour pass was €25. That's a big increase in just one year.

Alloro_beata Aug 21st, 2007 10:39 AM

thanks so much for your Biennale details caroline, and your trip report in general.
I'll be in Venice and Naples in October and this information is so valuable.

I am so sorry you didn't get to La Mortella this time. I once enjoyed a glass of wine with Lady Walton in the middle of that garden's a cherished memory!

caroline_edinburgh Aug 24th, 2007 09:30 AM

Thanks very much, 'Alloro'. We want to stay our first week in Ischia again next year & I'm trying to work out a way of getting there that won't leave us too tired to be bothered to go to La Mortella on the Sunday. Flying to Naples on Friday afternoon & staying the night there is one possibility, I guess.

Last year we enjoyed Lady Walton's introduction to the concert but weren't privileged enough to have a drink with her ! She seemed very charming.

Next instalment...

Part 5 : Venice : eating

The nicest and most fun lunch we had was cichetti at our local wine shop on rio di San Trovaso. (We also bought Prosecco there to take back to the hotel roof terrace and had a nightcap there after dinner one night - why aren't our local wine merchants like that ?!) We also had very indifferent lunches at the Giardini and the Arsenale and at a random bar.

We ate dinner a couple of times at Ristorante San Trovaso, once at Taverna San Trovaso and once at Casin dei Nobili and they were all quite good. (This wasn't a gourmet tour – we would like to eat at top places every night but not at the expense of a shorter holiday ! We also didn't feel like walking far for dinner, after walking all day.) On our last night we ate at La Calcina and the restaurant seemed to have become more ambitious and pricier since our last stay – not too bad though, at €105 for a primo and secondo each and 2 nice half bottles of wine, given that everything we had was fantastic. La Calcina also did the best Negronis we had all holiday !

We generally went out for dinner between 9 and 9.30, never booked (apart from at La Calcina where it is now necessary, at that time of year anyway) and either were seated straightaway or just had to wait for 5 or 10 minutes.

Ice cream – again we found the Gelateria Lo Squero, just round the corner on rio di San Trovaso, the best we had and my second favourite in the world after San Crispino in Rome. IMO it's much better than the well-known Nico round the corner on the Zarttere. We made sure to have una coppa from there at least once every day (plus sometimes another elsewhere :-) ) and I couldn't decide which was my favourite out of chocolate, pistachio, pear and melon. The fruit flavours are very clean and fresh and the pistachio costs a bit more as it is made only with the finest Sicilian pistachios. We also had a Gianduiotta from Nico and from La Calcina : La Calcina's was much better, stronger and darker, and worth the extra €2 (Nico €4.50, La Calcina €6.50, both to eat sitting down on the terrace.) We also visited the Gelateria San Stae which was good and Il Doge which was nothing special.

caroline_edinburgh Sep 5th, 2007 05:19 AM

Part 6 : Northern Tuscany : Transport

My original plan was to get the train from Venice airport to Pisa airport and pick up a hire car there, but the train times weren't very convenient. So we hired a car from Venice – after some shopping around, I booked a compact with a/c from Avis via (UK) Air Miles for £160 for 8 days, including the one-way hire charge (we would be dropping it off at Pisa). This turned out to be a less good deal when we went to pick it up and discovered that the damage excess was €1000, the theft excess was €2000 and it would cost €20 per day (as opposed to €8 which is what Air Miles told me) to cover the excess. We don't normally bother with this extra insurance as DH is a very good driver and we've never had an accident in a hire car (touch wood); but we paid up as I knew what sort of road we were facing...

So the total ended up being €260, which was not the best we could have done. As it turned out, of course, we didn't need the insurance. The worry I'd had earlier, about the Avis leaflet stating that a credit card in the driver's name was required, turned out to be a non-issue – the guy didn't bat an eyelid at being presented with DH's driving licence and my cc.

Uneventful drive apart from a stretch of roadworks, passing Bologna, Florence and Lucca and exiting the motorway at Viareggio. Lunch was quick slices of pizza at a motorway service station : we looked into the Autogrill but it was packed and chaotic, with no seating available, so we just went instead to the shop which was a lot less unpleasant. When we turned off the motorway we stocked up with a few day's essentials at the Viareggio Co-op as we'd be self-catering for this last week and we didn't want to have to shop too frequently as I knew what sort of road we were facing…

caroline_edinburgh Sep 10th, 2007 10:10 AM

Part 7 : Northern Tuscany : accommodation

We stayed at Peralta, in the foothills of the Apuan Alps above Viareggio (nearest small town Camaiore). It is a mediaeval hamlet which was gradually restored over several decades by the sculptress Fiore de Henriquez.

I had visited 3 times before, in 1989 and twice in 1992, but DH hadn't been before. Back then, there was Fiore's house and guesthouse, plus about 15 rooms with bathrooms which were scattered between the other houses – these were run as a hotel by an English company during the summer. So breakfast was included, rooms cleaned, towels changed and dinner available – not compulsory, but welcome since the road up is so difficult that you wouldn't want to go out after dark. The rooms were simple – and you were warned in advance that the water or electricity might go off - but it was all very charming and I loved it. People generally went out sightseeing some days and lazed by the pool in companionable silence on the other days, just enjoying the peace and beauty – then the evenings were very sociable, with pre-dinner drinks in the bar and dinner at big shared tables with interesting people. No under-16s were allowed.

A few years ago, however, the accommodation was converted to self-catering apartments and cottages, and meals are no longer available. Although we are not generally keen on self-catering, I wanted to go back to see if it was still as beautiful and to introduce DH to it. I was disappointed that the age restriction was now no under-12s, but thought it would be OK.

I personally don't drive so had only been driven there in the past, but I remembered that the instructions were complicated and the road was horrendous. Even taxi drivers – and a local restaurateur who once kindly drove a group of us back in a thunderstorm – were pretty freaked out by it. Think single track road and hairpin bends combined with a 1 in 1 gradient, at least for the final stretch. Apparently the bend I remembered as 'Mamma Mia Corner' had been widened somewhat since my last stay but I didn't notice it being any easier. DH is a very good driver but he was freaked out & nearly lost it on one corner. (Did I mention the sheer drop on one side – or if you're going round that particular corner, behind you ?!) Anyway, we survived (apparently they've never lost anyone but some visitors have given up) – and were ready for a drink when we arrived. The main thing to remember, we decided, was to keep going slowly & steadily & DON'T STOP ! It did get easier after the first time.

We were relieved to see that despite the place no longer being a hotel, we were met by a 3 wheeler to take our luggage, shopping, etc. (They obviously knew we were coming ! Wonder if it was the increasingly desperate honks on the horn, the revving of the engine or the smoke from the tyres ? :-) )

Anyway, we were there. Fiore's former guest house – Casa Nuova - is now available to rent and I had been delighted to be able to book that. At first sight we were bowled over – the enormous sitting area, the private terrace with panoramic view and our own lemon trees, lavender and even a cypress tree. And art absolutely everywhere ! We felt very privileged.

However, our feelings about Peralta were to change over the course of the week.

Coming next – what we did.

hazel1 Sep 10th, 2007 11:22 AM

My, what a cliffhanger! Can't wait to hear more...

Bailey Sep 10th, 2007 05:24 PM

Thanks for your amazing report!!
The Hans Winkler installation sounds intriguing...Ezra Pound's Cage. But I am having trouble locating Oratorio di San Tommaso.
Many thanks for any help you may offer!!

caroline_edinburgh Sep 11th, 2007 08:06 AM

Thanks guys.

Bailey, I'll try to remember to check my Venice map for the exact calle name or whatever. But how we found the Oratorio was by walking to the west end of the Zattere then walking north as far as we could go then turning east to get to the Palazzo Zenobio. The Oratorio was down a wee alley off the part where we were walking north.

Next instalment...

Part 8 : Northern Tuscany : what we did

We had thought that we might go sightseeing on alternate days and laze by the pool in between, but the lure of lazing by the pool or on our terrace won out to the extent that we only went out 2 days.

a) Lucca

Our first day out was to Lucca, which I remembered vaguely from my 1989 visit as charming and very quiet. Well, it's still charming, but certainly not quiet – the traffic was really bad and there were quite a lot of tourists – one of the main streets in the historic centre was practically shoulder to shoulder. It also seems to be a lot more geared up for tourists than I remembered; e.g. there were several cafes with tables in the main square, which I don't remember from before. But it was still very nice and not as crowded as lot of places – I dare say that if we'd been coming from Florence, it would still have seemed blessedly quiet and deserted.

Anyway, we didn't 'do' much – wandered round, had lunch (Osteria del Neni – very nice and quite good value), wandered some more, visited a couple of churches (the Volto Santo in the Duomo is very compelling), had an ice cream (gelateria near wall end of via V. Emmanuele, quite good). We started following a walk in our guidebook but didn't have time to do it all, so I still haven't walked round the walls although we did of course see them on our way in and out. Maybe next time we're in the area. Worth a visit – plus I imagine it would be nice to stay there for a few days out of season on a (small) city break.

b) Barga, the Apuan Alps and marble mountains

Our second and last day out was to Barga, travelling there via Lucca and up the valley of the Serchio; then further north up the valley to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana and back west through the Parco Naturale delle Alpi Apuane, past Isola Santa and the marble-quarrying mountains and joining the coast road at Pietrasanta – all very scenic and interesting.

We only knew of Barga because the families of a lot of Scottish-Italians came from there and we often see paintings of it here in Edinburgh; so we thought it would be interesting to see the real thing. I had thought that following all the emigration, due to poverty, it might be rather a sad and derelict sort of place, but not at all – it's lovely and apparently quite prosperous.

Again we basically just had lunch (L'Osteria on piazza Angelo) and wandered round the historic centre, climbing up to the Duomo (rather interesting and ancient-looking fixtures & fittings, wonderful view of the mountains from outside). We spoke to some very nice Americans who had been staying in the area doing some serious walking in the mountains, and were going next to walk in the Cinque Terre as their 'lazy week' :-) The town's Scottish links manifested themselves in an art exhibition by John Bellany and Irn Bru flavour ice cream ! Very good ice cream shop, incidentally, just inside the walls by Porta Reale – but we didn't feel the need to try the Irn Bru flavour :-)

So our conclusion was that Barga is very nice and definitely worth a visit. It would also be quite nice to stay there for a few days, although maybe not very practical since it's quite out of the way – it took us about 2 hours each way, much of it on quite narrow twisty roads. Although it might be easier to get to from Bologna - I don't have a map with me now so can't check.

The marble quarries on the way back were striking, the white gashes in the mountains looking rather like ski-slopes, and it was interesting then to drive through towns with marble workshops and statue 'showrooms'.

Bailey Sep 11th, 2007 09:43 AM

Many thanks for the info. I'm familiar with the area...I've been to Libertango...which is located down the first calle as you head north.
I'm going to Venice the first of'll be fun trying to locate the Oratorio.

Girlspytravel Sep 11th, 2007 10:02 AM

Nice report, Caroline. I don't think I saw that tourista sign there in Venice last March! But it doesn't surprise me, everyday they are talking about how Venice cannot sustain this continued crush of tourists, because Venetians are complaining so of the quality of life issues.

But as for vaporetto fares, I keep telling people, the fares are going up and up, every year-they are going up again next winter 2008-if you are staying a week, you really ought to get the Blue Venice Card-I did a calculation on how much you save if you buy the Blue Card and are staying 5 days or more-it's a lot, particularly if you want to visit some of the out-lying lagoon islands, like San Lazzaro degli Armeni, or San Sebastian, etc-it's a good value.

caroline_edinburgh Sep 12th, 2007 02:38 AM

Thankas again guys, especially Girlspytravel as I know you are such a Venice expert.

Like I said, for us I think it was close as to whether a Blue Card would have saved us anything or not - we didn't use vaporetti at all on two days, were able to stretch a 24 hr one to cover 2 days, & didn't visit any sights where we would have got a discount except 2 x €2 for the Biennale.

caroline_edinburgh Sep 12th, 2007 10:24 AM

Bailey, that is definitely the right area. I think the alley with the oratorio is off Fondamenta de San Basegio just north of there, and it's very small - I think it may have been a dead end. Even if the artwork isn't still there the abandoned oratorio would be quite atmospheric, I think. Also I got the impression that this was the latest in a series of art installations there. Have fun looking !

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