Lent in Venice: One Day’s Walk

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A very busy day of non-stop walking through Venice. It’s been a gray day, but no real rain, just a few drops as we headed back on the vaporetto from Rialto. Otherwise it’s been all walking since 9:30 this morning. We began by going to the nearby San Zaccaria Church, where they have the body of St. John the Baptist’s father. Well, it’s on display! We also paid the Euro to see the crypt, suitably creepy as it was flooded with water.

We walked from there along narrow alleys and bridges to Santa Maria Formosa. That church is part of the group of (mostly smaller) Venetian churches for which you can buy the Chorus pass (Much cheaper than individual admission tickets.) So we made it a sort of game, to go from church to church, using the route to explore different parts of Venice. From Santa Maria Formosa, it’s a short walk to Santa Maria Miracoli, the little church made entirely of marble, inside and out, except for the elaborately painted coffered ceiling. From there we made our way to the Rialto Bridge and across…it was actually passable, as the city is not over-run with tourists yet. Once across the bridge, we detoured from our church route to wander though the busy vegetable and fish markets. Our next church was just beyond the bridge—San Giovanni Elemosinario—a bit hard to find as it is completely enclosed by shops. Next was San Polo, visited only after fortifying ourselves with coffee at a terrace café on the Campo San Polo.

Then off to the nearby Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, one of Venice’s largest and most elaborate. Rather funny, as it was constructed by the Franciscans—an order founded on a belief in the virtue of poverty. It’s immense, with a surviving cloister and convent as well, and filled with a number of large, elaborate and astonishingly hideous baroque tombs. Otherwise it’s a lovely example of Venetian gothic, with beautiful choir stalls and a very impressive cabinet of relics.

Afterwards, we stopped for a drink and cichetti at the Café dei Frari, just across the rio from the front of the church. Once inside, I recalled being there before—it’s a small, very cute bar on two levels. We had some white wine, some baccala, and some homemade meatballs. Following our snack at the Frari, we visited the Scuolo San Rocco (also not on our Chorus pass itinerary, but a must see.) It was decorated entirely by Tintoretto…every wall and ceiling. The ceiling panels with dramatically foreshortened scenes from the old testament are particularly nice. San Rocco, or St Roch, is the 13th century saint from Montpelier with the sore on his leg. He was invoked as defense against plague, so was quite popular in Venice. In fact his corpse was brought to Venice in hopes it would put an end to a nasty period of plague (not sure if it helped) and still resides in the adjacent church of San Rocco (not open of course, it closed for the day at 12:30.) The scuolo takes a long time to visit—and could take all day if you listened to every bit of the extensive audio guide, which is a bit like sitting through an art history lecture—a bit more detail than one would hope for…I kept fast forwarding. From there we made our way to San Giacomo dell Orio, a ninth century Romanesque church, with a beautiful carved wooden ceiling.

Our next church, San Stea, on the Grand Canal, was closed for reasons unknown. Our plan was to not have lunch, but to intersperse our sightseeing with breaks for drink and snacks, in a typically Venetian way. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way…I’d ask at each stop if anyone wanted to stop for a snack, and was met with indifference. By the time we had gone a few more hours and I finally maneuvered us into a section of San Polo known to be full of delicious bars…and it turned out that every one was closed. Closed for winter hours, closed between 2 and 4, closed on Wednesday, closed for maintenance!?!

So we crossed the Grand Canal on the traghetto…always fun, and your great tourist bargain: a gondola ride for fifty cents. We took the vaporetto back to our hotel (Logan without a ticket, because there are very few places to buy them) and we finally had snacks and prosecco at a stylish new bar on the campo SS Filippo e Giacomo.

photograph by Eric See

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