The next day was a big test for my plan. Cruise people and day-trippers tend to go from the Piazzetta through the Torre dell’Orologio to the Rialto and back again. The entire Piazza San Marco was so jam-packed that you could barely walk through it in 2017.
That made it impossible to get into the Basilica or the Ducale Palace. We stayed far away that year. This time I booked tickets for the Ducale Palace, but you cannot buy timed tickets in advance for the Basilica. The Square was pretty crowded with families and teen tours from France and Italy, as it was still spring break.
The square was dotted with vendors selling cheap hats and tees. Every vendor had the same merchandise, and it was pretty pacchiano (tacky). The line for the Basilica stretched from the front door all the way back to the Grand Canal. Probably a two-hour wait or so. We took a pass. There was a lot of construction in front of and in the basilica. Not a surprise, as the building dates back to the 9th century.
We did have tickets for the Ducale Palace, the seat of the Republic, so there was no wait. As you enter you pass this friendly face. The Serrinissima was at first a republic, and then became an oligarchy. As its power waned, citizens were asked to spy on each other; and if one had any bad behavior to report … a note was dropped into the mouth of this mask.
The rooms on the second floor are as grand as ever. Although the palace was started in the 9th century, a fire ripped through the building in 1577. Venice was then at its apogee, and the palace was decorated by Veronese, Tintoretto, and others. This wall above features work by Tintoretto.
After a visit to the prisons, the visitor path leads to the Sala dello Scrutinio and the Sala della Quarantia Civil Nova. The site-specific piece by Anselm Kiefer is called Questi scritti, quando verranno bruciati, daranno finalmente un po’ di luce (Andrea Emo). Translated it means, These writings when burned, will finally cast a little light. Kiefer is fascinated with the Venetian philosopher Andrea Emo’s work.
One wall shows an image of the Ducal Palace in flames, with the Golden Lion of Venice above it. The monumental piece works in context with the rooms of the palace. Like the artwork that burned in 1577, these pieces are destined to die when the Biennale is over. Rumors persist that they may be saved.
Each panel has something to say. This one is a haunted view of the lagoon. What I found so interesting was that of the many people touring the Palace — some in groups, and some alone — only about 20% entered the two rooms that are at the end of the journey.
The inner courtyard of the Palace is striking as well. The Staircase of the Giants is at the right. This was the entry point for the Venetian Patricians. San Marco is at the back.
Lunchtime meant a visit to Caffè Florian. In 2017 it had no customers inside (and overweight tourists wearing wife-beaters camped out on the chairs outside). This year the orchestra was playing in the Piazza, and the tables were full. I had a quiche bolognese, which was delicious. The spirits from the 18th century were still here. Museo Correr, at the far end of the Piazza, was the next stop.
The Correr connects through the Procuratie Nuova to the very grand Bibeliotecha Marciana. Heinz Mack’s Vibration of Light is installed in one of the grand rooms. There are large format paintings, a partially rotating light stelae and more. The Biblioteca also contains many other treasures including some rare maps and globes. Venice was a center for map-making as it was connected to three continents.
There is a Louise Nevelson exhibit in the building across the Piazza. As the way to the Rialto is at the other end of San Marco, this end was pretty much crowd-free. There were no signs announcing the Nevelson show, so we asked a waiter at one of the cafes who pointed the way as he laughed.
The exhibit, named Persistence, fills a large suite of rooms. It offers an interesting overview of Nevelson’s art and how it came to be. I hope that they manage to put up some signage so more art-lovers can find the gallery, and its sublime sculptures.
As you leave the Procuratie’s back entrance, you enter the world of mass tourism again. The gondolas were working, and cruising in the small canals in San Marco. We wandered around San Marco, and found a few more art spaces. We walked back to Dorsoduro to rest. We had been walking five to seven hours every day. And climbing the stairs in palazzos and over bridges.
That night we went to a fave osteria, Bancogiro. It is located between the Rialto Bridge and the Rialto fish and produce market. The cuisine is extremely creative. My tagliatelli had a sauce of zucchine blossoms, saffron, beans and salmon roe. Yum. Our table was right on the Grand Canal where people were hanging out on the moorings partying. And dogs were everywhere.
Osteria Bancogiro, San Polo 122, on the Campo San Giacometto
Saturday morning we boarded another vaporetto and chugged up the Grand Canal. The Rialto fish and vegetable markets are a must visit. There are not very many big grocery stores in Venice, so Venetians do much of their shopping here. Everything is so fresh, and much of it is locally grown.
We were heading to art in Cannareggio, S. Polo and S. Croce. We got off at the Ca’ D’Oro stop and walked north. We had visited the gothic Ca’ D’Oro last trip. There there had been a huge fashion party the week before we arrived, and a lot of the building was not open. So we decided to move along. I highly recommend a visit once it is back together. There is a big Ukrainian exhibit at the Misericordia.
Other artists had been scheduled to show in the space, but were replaced by a haunting tribute to Ukraine. Difficulties of Profanation II by Nikita Kadan is a large formation of evidence: Objects of war collected from Donbas in 2015 and Kyiv this year and arranged in a metal formation. Behind is a series of photos from Lesia Khomenko titled Max in The Army. She paints portraits from photographs taken by her husband of soldiers in the Ukraine. But does so secretively.
On the second floor there is a monumental tarp by the French artist JR. It is a photograph of a five-year-old Ukrainian refugee. The image has visited many cities, and now is displayed here. There are also a collection of war diaries. a piece by Marina Abramovic, and tributes by Murakami and Damien Hirst and many other artists. The building itself is striking.
After leaving the Scuola we walked around the northern part of Cannaregio. We headed to the Palazzo Zen for an exhibit, but it was closed. We explored a bit more of the neighborhood. There are myriad churches from different centuries tucked all over this sestiere.
Walking back towards the Grand Canal, we passed a tiny, unostentatious bar. There were two tables outside and the pasta the customers were eating looked delicious. We walked in and ordered some. The interior was simple and there was a poster for Angels Listening on the wall. Pasta, a drink, and coffee was all of 15 euros. It turns out it is a popular and well regarded spot.
Puppa Bar, Calle dello Spezier, 4800
And then we walked some more. One of the gondoliers was saying to his passenger that Venice needed tourists, and I jested back that tourists were spoiling Venice. But I guess the gondoliers do need them.
Instead of big grocery stores, many neighborhoods had a huge selection of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Across the Grand Canal is the Museum of Modern Art, the Ca’ Pesaro. The palazzo was donated to the city of Venice in 1899 as a museum for young artists several years after the first Biennale. The building is quite beautiful, and on the water-side entrance there is a charming cafe with magnificent views.
The is a large collection of Rodins in the permanent collect, including a Burghers of Calais. This colorful Nolde, and works by Bonnard, Chagal, Klimt, Warhol and others fill the walls. There are several Biennale related exhibits including Afro Basaldella and Bice Lazzari in the palazzo.
Raqib Shaw also has a few rooms in the Ca’ Pesaro filled with his large scale paintings. The Kashmiri-British artist blends his two countries in his intricate work, Palazzo della Memoria. The paintings are a cross-cultural mix. My favorite is this one above, The Retrospective. He recreates a gallery populated with his own paintings. Many of the paintings in the gallery are represented in the work. We visited the Fondazione Prada’s Human Brains, too. It was a scientific view of art.
We traveled back up the Grand Canal, and got off at Accademia. Across the bridge is the Palazzo Franchetti. Vampires in Space is Portugal’s contribution to the Biennale. Films are projected in a series of rooms showing the vampires living in a spaceship floating around the galaxy. It is always night. Perdo Neves Marques shows us the vampires’ fears and hopes. Work from Antonio Clavi and a group show of emerging artists are also located in the Palazzo Franchetti. Nearby is the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, with an installation by Eugen Raportoru: The Abduction from the Seraglio, Roma Women.
Dinner that night was another restaurant we had liked located near the Fenice. The restaurant must have changed hands as the decor was different and the food was terrible, which gave my husband the opportunity to use his favorite Italian word: schifoso.
Sunday was another beautiful, sunny day. The Ca’Rezzonico was a three-minute walk from our apartment. The palazzo contains the art and history of 18th century Venice. The city was past its military and financial peak then, but was still filled with art and culture. By the end of the 1600s, the Carnevale became a big draw for wealthy travelers from around Europe.
In the 18th century, Carnevale lasted six months of the year, and the city had a reputation for encouraging licentious behavior. When Venice fell in 1797, the party was abolished. The palazzo is full of incredible paintings, sumptuous wall decorations, ceiling paintings and the accoutrements of 18th century life. There is another Grand Canal-facing cafe on the ground floor that is a pleasant spot for lunch and tea. It has location, and location.
My favorite part of the palazzo is on the top floor. There is a suite of rooms from the Giandomenico Tiepolo family villa in Zianigo. They are a singular body of work in Venetian paintings. The frescoes were not created for a client or a ruler; they were made simply for the artist’s own home over the course of 40 years. Less famous than his father, he nevertheless created works of beauty. Punchinello, the iconic figure from the Commedia dell’Arte, serves as an “everyman” offering amusing commentary on human nature.
The Swing of Punchinello fills the ceiling of a small room. I found these more personal works to be visually refreshing after all the really grand works all over the city.
There are a lot of gardens in Venice. Most of them are hidden. This one is behind the Ca’Rezzonico and is open to the public.
Further up the Canal is the Palazzo Tiepolo Passi. If you lived here, this would be your front door.
On the piano nobile is a striking collection of the work of the American painter Stanley Whitney, The Italian Paintings. One room has striking red walls, and another has deep blue-green walls. The paintings stand out when mixed with the light off the Grand Canal. There are also cases with his notebooks and sketches that are very intriguing.
We visited several more palazzos hidden down very narrow Calles. Bosco Sodi at the Palazzo Vendramin Grimani, Kimiko Yoshida and the Palazzo Amalteo and more.
We passed another restaurant called La Patatina. Fish is their specialty. I had a scallop pasta, with the scallops properly served with their corals — and decorated with shells. The owner assured us that they had scampi at night, and we reserved for the next evening. When we got there we ordered three portions of scampi and gamberi as our farewell to Venice
Osteria al Ponte “La Patatina,” Calle dei Saoneri, San Polo
After lunch we stopped by With Hands Signs Grow in the small Palazzo Dona. Most of the time in the last few days, we were they only people in the exhibits. We also visited I, White Kangaroo by Ewa Kurylu at the Palazzo Querini and Bevilacqua La Massa from Ha Chong-Hyun.
It was also time to get tested before boarding the flight back to New York. If you are staying in a luxury hotel, like the Belmond Cipriani, you can get tests at the hotel. As we were staying in an apartment we needed to find COVID tests ourselves. We finally found a pharmacy near the Rialto that booked appointments and soon learned that most Venetian pharmacies are too small to have a room for testing. Having walked I don’t know how many kilometers, we decided to dine again at Oniga.
Our last day was sunny, yet again. We crossed the canal near the apartment. If you didn’t already know, everything in Venice comes by boat. This one was threading its way among local boats to deliver appliances.
Monday brought some bad planning. We had wanted to visit the Palazzo Grimani where Mary Weatherford was being shown (the Georg Baselitz exhibit opens on 19 May) and the Querini Stampalia with Danh Võ, Park Seo-bo and Isamu Noguchi. Unfortunately, we did not look at opening hours and I, of course, assumed everything was open seven days a week.
Since we were on the Campo Santa Maria Formosa, we decided that maybe we would explore churches instead. Santa Maria Formosa and its Campanile are beautiful. We then went to the magnificent SS Giovanni E Paolo. The Scuola di San Marco is also closed Monday, but we had already seen its interesting collection of medical curiosities. We also visited the small but impeccable Santa Maria dei Miracoli.
We fell into another small, low key trattoria in Castello, which had outdoor tables across the way. And it was open on Monday. Yet again, the food was great.
Trattoria Bandierette, Barbaria de le Tole, 6671
The Complesso Dell’Ospedaletto was a part of a charitable institution built in the 16th century by Palladio, Longhena and others. This year it hosts Penumbra, a collection of eight site-specific video installations. The first one you walk into is Pantelleria, 2022 by two men who work under the name of Masbedo. It deals with the island’s bombardment in WWII. The other films reflect on the many problems of our age.
After the films we walked back to the vaporetto. This canal, the Rio Di San Lorenzo, is wide and lovely. Shopping in Venice is not great. After the bargain tourists flooded the city, most of the independent boutiques selling clothing and accessories vanished. They were replaced with shop after shop filled with cheap “Murano” glass figurines made in China, replicas of gondolas, and other disposables.
The church of San Zaccaria was next. The Campo feels like its own little village. The 15th century church blends Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Inside are works by Bellini, Tintoretto and Tiepolo.
There is a chapel on the left hand side of the church that leads to an older building. In the crypt are tombs of eight early Doges that are normally partially, and eerily, submerged in water. This Gothic chapel has a magnificent gold altar.
It was time to head to the pharmacy for our tests, but before going to the pharmacy we passed DFS (Duty Free Shoppers) and decided to try a bit shopping. It is located in the beautifully renovated Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Once the storage and trading depot of the Germans in the Venetian glory years, it now has a collection of designer shoes, bags, jewelry, and some clothing. The view is more interesting than the merchandise mix. The building has an amazing roof terrace with an unforgettable vista. These days you need to book a timed ticket to ascend. It is well worth it.
Spending some time in Venice is always a good idea. There are definitely fewer huge crowds without the big boats, but chances are the number of visitors will grow as COVID recedes. Most people do not venture far from the tourist route. When you let yourself explore the city and the other islands, there is so much beauty to see.
Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn.