DM and MM's Italy/France 2012 Diary

Day 14 - San Michele, Accademia

Friday, 11 May, 2012

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Lunch in Cavatappi again, quickly turning into our favourite place for the midday meal. My cicchetti today is a very different selection, with fried sardines, a battered fried fish piece, a small baked egg thing with celery and herbs in it, a piece of eggplant parmigiana, battered fried asparagus, and a chunk of ham and cheese sandwich, the whole thing battered and fried!


Ninja turtle number four sighted! On the number 1 vaporetto back from Piazza San Marco tonight after taking night photos, there was an advertising sign for Donatello Discounts, with Italian underneath reading "all companies, great discounts". I was a bit afraid we'd leave Italy before collecting all four ninja turtles, but we managed to do it on our last night. Very pleased.

Vaporetto to Isola di San Michele

Our day started with a sleep in and late-ish breakfast. Some of our clothes were dry, but others were still damp. We hid them in the wardrobe so the maid wouldn't think we'd been washing socks and underwear in the bathroom. Then we headed out to Piazzale Roma to catch a number 42 vaporetto to the island of San Michele, which contains the main cemetery for Venice. The vaporetto stop was way past the cluster of four wharfs near the bus terminal, around a corner and under the road bridge from the mainland. Thankfully we didn't have long to wait, and the vaporetto took us via the Grand Canal and Cannaregio Canal to Fondamente Nove and then on to San Michele.

Nice weather for the departed
Cemetery of Isola di San Michele

The day was already hotter than yesterday as we emerged into this enormous cemetery with only a handful of other people alighting from the vaporetto that continued on to Murano. There were a couple of people with flowers and a couple of other tourists with packs and cameras. We consulted a map near the entrance and decided to mostly follow the "easy" walking path around the cemetery, which turned out to have ramps installed for wheelchairs.

The cemetery was divided into sections for different religions and some occupations. The first area we walked through was a section for priests on our left and nuns on our right. These contained graves marked with uniform white crosses that formed a perspective pattern receding into the distance. Later on there were areas for army and navy personnel, which contained some bulky stone monuments, including one rough boulder with an anchor chain wrapped around it. But the bulk of the central section was filled with graves with small, low slab headstones, with muted ornaments of various types. But each grave was decorated with brightly coloured flowers, making a carpet of colour receding towards the tall cypresses that marked the borders of the various sections.

Action angel
Angel statue in the Cemetery of Isola di San Michele

This largest central section was presumably for Catholics, and the graves here were surprisingly modern, starting about 1990s as we entered, and progressing to the current year further along, where an empty section of grass contained a small bulldozer, obviously for the digging of new graves. A consistent feature was that all of the graves had small photos of the deceased attached to the stones. I was expecting to see some older graves, some with statues on top, like are found in old cemeteries in Sydney, but there were no large decorations at all. Towards the new graves area we noticed one with a small angel figure on it and I went over to get a photo. When I stepped near, I saw the stone and realised it was for a five year old girl, the angel on top having child-like features. It struck me hard how hauntingly beautiful yet sad graveyards are.

Igor Stravinsky's Grave
Grave of Igor Stravinsky

We walked over to the main gate of the island that faces Venice and looked at the view of the city across the water of the lagoon. Then we continued our circuit, returning in the shade of a marble wall in which tombs of families were contained. After the military sections we passed through a gate and found the "Greco" section, which turned out to contain graves of people with Slavic sounding names. Buried in this section is possibly the most famous person in this cemetery, Igor Stravinsky, next to his wife. His grave is small and unremarkable, easily missed beside an enormous tomb with beautiful coloured tile mosaics on the side walls. Stravinsky's grave contained several fresh bunches of flowers laid on it, presumably by fans on a pilgrimage. Nearby is Sergei Diaghilev, the guy who founded the Russian ballet. This was a bit larger, with a pedestal and a little roof over it. There were a few pairs of ballet shoes on it, obviously left there as a tribute by dancers.

Sergei Diaghilev's grave
Grave of Sergei Diaghilev

The day was really hot by now and we kept to the shade as much as we could. We walked through an area with walls in which were small tombs stacked about six high. At the church we approached the doors just as a man came out and locked them. I asked him in Italian if the church was closed and he confirmed it was. So we ambled over to the wharf to catch a vaporetto back to Venice. While waiting, we saw a funeral group on the dockside, with a priest in full robes. A boat next to the vaporetto stop was unloading a coffin draped with flowers.

The vaporetto arrived and we caught it all the way around Arsenale and over to the Santa Zaccaria stop near San Marco. We took a look at the Bridge of Sighs from the outside, then ducked through some back calle to our favourite lunch stop, Cavatappi. I described my cicheti already, which I had with a glass of red wine this time. I'd intended to order a Chardonnay, but the waiter must have misunderstood my order and a red arrived. Oh well, it was still good. M. had her regular panino caprese and a macchiato.

Boats of two worlds
Passing two very different boats, near Arsenale

Following lunch we made our way over to the Ponte dell'Accademia and the Gallerie dell'Accademia art gallery. But before going in, we took a short walk over to the Squero di San Trovaso. A squero is a gondola workshop, and this is one of only three still operating in Venice. The Lonely Planet said we could enter and walk around to see the builders working on gondolas, but the only door had a sign on it saying no entry, and all the guys inside were far away down on the launching ramp with a gondola, so we couldn't easily ask one if we could go in. Frustrated, we went back to the Accademia.

Gallerie dell'Accademia
Gallerie dell'Accademia

Here we paid our €11 each and checked my camera bag into the guardarobe. I asked if photos were allowed and the guy said yes, but no flash, so I took my camera with the mid-zoom lens. Then we went upstairs and were utterly blown away by the very first room. It contained medieval altar panels, painted on wood with copious amounts of gold all over them. We've seen plenty of these sorts of thing before in other places, but these ones were truly stunning. It was already mid-afternoon and we didn't want to miss anything, so we decided to hustle a little bit. Then I asked a guard when the museum closed, and he said the doors closed at 19:15, but they started moving people out at 19:00. So that gave us plenty of time and we slowed down a little.

The Virgin and Child with St. Catherine and Mary Magdalene
The Virgin and Child with St. Catherine and Mary Magdalene

Other rooms in the Accademia contained later works, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries mostly, with many by the great Venetian painters: Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Tiepolo, Carpaccio, and a bunch of others whose names have started to become familiar to us over our time here. One of the most spectacular works was Veronese's The Feast in the House of Levi, which had originally been titled The Last Supper, until the church objected that such a scandalous painting couldn't be associated with such a blessed occasion. They ordered him to change it, and Veronese changed... the title and nothing else. It was a huge canvas, entirely filling a wall of a room about ten metres across.

The Feast in the House of Levi
The Feast in the House of Levi by Veronese

We also saw several grand works showing various governmental processions and meetings of dignitaries and so on on the streets and canals of Venice. And there were plenty of other stunning works, many with religious themes, showing Madonnas, Christs, saints, and so forth, followed by a few portraits and even a handful of still lifes and landscapes. A few rooms of the gallery were closed for renovations, and we did the entire route around the single floor in good time, since it wasn't actually that large a collection, but what it may have missed in sheer quantity it definitely made up for in quality. Overall it was well worth the entry price.

Outside the Squero di San Trovaso

Leaving the Accademia, we tried once more at the Squero di San Trovaso nearby. This time there were a couple of guys working on a gondola near the door and I called out to them and asked, in Italian, if we could come in for a look around. One man answered, "uno minuto," and made a gesture which I didn't quite get, but M. said was inviting us in for a minute. So we wandered in and walked around the gondola they were working on; they were doing a paint job on the prow with glossy black paint. In an adjoining room another man was ripping planks off another gondola, exposing rows of nails along the ribbing underneath. I asked if I could take a photo and one of the painters agreed. We only stayed a couple of minutes, but this was a really interesting glimpse of everyday life in Venice that I'm sure most tourists never get to experience, and well worth the effort. On the way out we dropped a tip of €3 in the small basket by the door; the Lonely Planet actually said there was a "jar" for tips, but we interpreted this freely.

Second coat
Inside the Squero di San Trovaso

After this, we wound our way back home via the back streets of Dorsoduro and Santa Croce. Back in the hotel we had about an hour's rest after having showers, during which I flipped through the Lonely Planet to look for somewhere suitable for dinner. Our plan was to go out after dinner to take night photos around the Rialto Bridge, so I checked the section on Cannaregio to see if there was anything that sounded good there. One entry was for Osteria Antica Adelaide, for which the write-up sounded mouth-watering. It also said they did some excellent vege dishes, and it was only a relatively short walk from Ponte di Rialto, so it was a shoo-in.

Venetian sunset
Sun setting over the Grand Canal

We left about 19:30, deciding to take a number 1 vaporetto from Piazzale Roma to Ca' d'Oro instead of walking, since we still had valid three-day tickets. A boat arrived almost right away, and took us down the Grand Canal in the evening glow of the setting sun, which was magical. We alighted at the Ca' d'Oro stop and walked the short distance across the main tourist drag to a back calle where we first found a large glass window and door with a sign indicating "Antica Adelaide Cucina", or kitchen. And it was literally the kitchen, with a team of chefs working in a cramped space with stainless steel appliances. Our confusion lasted only a second as we realised the customer entrance to the restaurant was actually the next door up. A pleasant lady showed us to a table in a cosy room; she seemed to speak Italian and French, but only a smattering of English.

The menu looked amazing. The contorni included things like sweet and sour carrots, which I liked the sound of so much that I wanted to order them. We started with a platter of mixed grilled vegetables, which included the sweet and sour carrots, the zucchini, some eggplant with a hint of what tasted like cinnamon, string beans, spinach, and some green stalky vegetable which was very salty. The carrots were as outstanding as they sounded, with sultanas and subtle hints of sourness to complement the sweetness of the carrots and fruit. For mains, I planned to get a salmon pasta, but the waitress scotched this when she said that it was not only the risotto, but all of the primi piatti that had to be ordered for a minimum of two people.

Pear and Gorgonzola Pasta
Pear and gorgonzola ravioi, Osteria Antica Adelaide

M. had planned to get the ravioli with pear and Gorgonzola filling and I'd been secretly planning to steal some off her plate because it sounded so good, so we switched plans and ordered that for both of us. And it was truly amazing. Just six large pieces of ravioli, stuffed generously with a filling that was both subtly cheesy and subtly sweet from the pears, presented in a lightly covering sauce of what seemed like butter and lemon, with poppy seeds. It was not a huge dish, but after the large and excellent vegetable platter we were actually almost dreading the thought of two huge mounds of pasta. The totality of the meal was very filling and completely brilliant. Although I couldn't pass up dessert in a place like this, and so ordered the chocolate torte (made with 72% cocoa chocolate) to finish. It was rich and right on the cusp between sweet and bitter, dark and deliciously decadent. All in all, a perfect last dinner in Venice to end our stay here.

Rialto after dark
Night view from the Rialto Bridge

After that marvellous dinner, we walked the few blocks to Ponte di Rialto, pausing at some locations overlooking canals to take photos with the tripod. On the bridge we took some more shots, of the Grand Canal lit up for the night. And since we were then so close to Piazza San Marco, we walked over there and did some photography in the square. The small orchestras were out in front of all the cafes fronting the piazza, playing a mix of popular classical pieces and modern arrangements. One played New York, New York, really kicking up a groove with it. I got shots of the cafes, the people, the orchestras, the piazza, the Basilica, and the Doge's palace. Then we walked to the nearby vaporetto stop to catch another number 1 back down the length of the Grand Canal to Piazzale Roma and our hotel.

We got back in a bit after midnight and turned in, exhausted after a long evening out.

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