Monday 16 December 2013

My first solo trip - to the Queen of Adriatic - Part IV

The magic continues

I woke up with the the chiming of the church bells. The sound seemed to reverberate through the courtyard, into my room. It had an ethereal feel to it. It was difficult to stay in bed after that. Looked out of the window and it was raining. It was Christmas eve.

I had read about the San Polo market and that was on the top of my list for the day. I had to be early before it closed for the day and also for Christmas. From there the plan was to visit the church of Santa Maria dei Frari. I would then walk over to San Toma and get a shared gondola ride to San Angelo. Taking a shared gondola taxi was a cheaper alternative to the famed gondola ride if someone wants only to have a feel of it. Crossing over to San Angelo, I would then walk over to the Accademia galleries. That was the plan for the day. In the evening I had to queue for a seat at the midnight mass in San Marco's cathedral.

I stuffed myself full in the buffet breakfast and was on my way soon. Today I reached Rialto within the scheduled 15 minutes. It was raining and I didn't make many photo stops either. The same walk had seemed to be miles the day before and not without reason.
A gloomy start to the day
A gloomy Bridge of Sighs - sounds appropriate
It was raining and it was difficult to move around the San Polo market. It was quite noticeable that most of the fruit and vegetable stalls were owned by Bangladeshis. One of them actually gave me their approximate numbers in Italy which I do not remember now but was enough to leave me staring. I had heard about a large population in Rome and the Vatican, but was unaware they had moved in to Venice as well - globalisation was happening everywhere and fast.
The San Polo fish market was indeed a treat to the eyes. Many of the aquatic creatures on display I had only seen on TV or in books or merely read about. Some I didn't even recognise. It was indeed a sea-food lover's paradise, the fresh catch put out for sale. The place was bustling with customers.
From the market I started for the Frari. The feel of the streets was starting to change and there appeared to be more locals than tourists. Here, life was different. It may be because the rain was keeping the tourists in.
The quaint churches in every corner was inviting and it was difficult to ignore them for long.
The reflection was working wonders in overcast conditions. Every place was begging to be photographed.
No wonder, despite trying to map every campo and ponte, I was soon lost.

I was standing there in the middle of the street reading my map and trying to find my bearings when a very frail, aged lady approached me, pointed at my map and asked me something in Italian. I guessed she was asking where I wanted to go, so I mentioned Santa Maria. She aked 'Frari' or 'Salute' and I answered Frari. She then gave me the directions to suite my limited Italian and her sign language itself was adequate. She pointed to the left and said 'sinsitra sinistra' 'uno ponte, due ponte, tre ponte' making the shape of a bridge and counting one, two and three. So I had to keep going left and after three bridges I would be at the Frari. I said 'Grazie' and was moving on but she held my arm and pulled me towards her and gave me a bear hug. She pointed to herself and said 'ottantatre' and then took out eight fingers first and three. Pretty impressive for an eighty three year old, I should say. She was still being very affectionate, smoothing my hair, pinching my cheek, and I did not mind. I was away from home for a long time. Finally she kissed me on both my cheeks and said goodbye. 'Arrivederci' I said and was on my way again, feeling very mushy.
I got hooked on to Bellini at the Santa Maria dei Frari. The three dimensional effect in the Madonna and Child brought about by the clever use of colour kept me gaping. It was beautiful. However, it mentioned no photography inside and being a place of worship, I obeyed even though no one was watching. Here is a picture from the web.
From the church I was on my way to San Toma to cross the Grand Canal. I wandered over to the church of San Rocco. A permanent exhibition was on in the Piazza depicting the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci, showcasing his inventions. The models were created in wooden structures - each a mechanical wonder.
San Rocco
The Scuola Grande di San Rocco exhibiting Tintoretto's detailed work was on the Piazza as well. I was in double mind whether or not to visit it. I was very much tempted, but did I have the time to visit? I still had a lot to do before it got dark and the Accademia galleries were already in the plan. Moreover I had to go back to San Marco without getting lost again. Kept debating and then decided against it. I was missing so much in Venice, another one added to the list. I definitely needed another trip, if not more. I was already skipping lunch to accommodate my plan. Grabbed a frittata from a roadside cafe and finally gave in to a cappuccino.

Deliberating whether to enter
If I remember right, it cost me about 2.50 Euros to cross over on the gondola. It was a short ride and there was nothing romantic about it, so cannot say it was an alternative. However, I had a water-level view of the place.
This is how he arrives in this part of the world
Back to San Marco
I was back to San Marco and was on my way to the Accademia. I was passing the church of San Vidal at Santo Stefano when I noticed a poster advertising a Vivaldi concert by Interpreti Veneziani to be held in the church. I purchased a ticket for the next night.
San Vidal
Preparing for the evening concert
To get to the Accademia galleries., I had to cross over the Grand Canal again to Dorsoduro connected by the Accademia bridge.  The weather was drab and dreary and being indoors didn't hurt much or else, I am not at all a museum person. And of course, I had the chance to see some more Bellinis. He is the son of the soil after all.
Accademia bridge
Grand Canal with the Santa maria del Salute
Spending about a couple of hours at the Accademia, I started my walk back to the hotel. I had to shower, have my food and then line-up for the midnight mass at San Marco's. I had never been to a midnight mass before, and was looking forward to the experience. The walk back was uneventful apart from that I got lost once and had to retrace my steps. It was dark now and without my torch. Fortunately the Christmas lights were helping with my map reading.
Murano glasswork display at a hotel reception
At San Marco a Christmas concert was in progress. I spent some time in the beautifully lit Piazza before heading back to the hotel
After my shower I dressed in my festive reds and was ready for dinner. Marco had mentioned a restaurant near the Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Unfortunately I don't remember the name now. As I started I knew where I was going, but not for long. I ended up in a dark alley and all shops in it closed and no restaurants by the name I was looking for. It was Christmas eve after all and most of the restaurants were anyway closed. However, when I mentioned this to Marco later, I realised I was in an altogether wrong part of the town. I had taken the wrong bridge on my way. Moreover, he had suggested the restaurant for lunch. It had closed for Christmas in the evening, so wouldn't have helped anyway.

I was looking for an alternate place and definitely looked lost. A very good looking Italian waiter was trying to bring in customers and he persuaded me to come in promising a window table to be set up for me. I wanted to check the price first as the restaurant looked quite fancy. They were affordable, so I went in. He kept his promise and I got a window seat separately set up for me. He suggested I have the spaghetti with fungi. It would be very nice he said, and nice it was! The spaghetti was with wild mushrooms, tiny ones and looked very delicate. They tasted glorious. Since trying it at the restaurant, pasta with exotic mushrooms, olive oil and a sprinkle of ground pepper has become one of my favourites and I often cook it at home now. I finished my immensely enjoyable food and had to decline the dessert. The guy then asked me what I would be doing later in the night. If I was looking for some company I could come around after 11pm when the restaurant closes and join all the guys from the restaurant for a drink. It was nice of him to ask, but I already had my plans in place. So thanked him and apologised. It was time to join the queue at San Marco's.

The queue had just started to build up for the midnight mass that would begin at around 11:30 pm. By 10 pm, the queue was serpenting through the Piazza. There were some locals and throngs of tourists, like me. I had decided to give the camera a rest as I did not want to intrude in the festivities. We were let in at around 11pm and I managed to get a front seat, the long wait paying off. The cathedral was filled to the brim, all seats taken and people were left standing. There was not an inch of space left. The ceremony started. As the procession came in, the lights on the ceilings came on. The whole cathedral interiors shone with a golden light. Magnificent art appeared on the ceilings. It looked mesmerising, out of the world. The ceremonies began. To tell the truth, I did not follow much of what was going on, but it was intriguing. Some of the rituals surrounding the birth of Christ reminded me of Janmasthami, the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna. This further re-instated my belief that all of us have a common beginning somewhere.

The ceremony went on for an hour or so. As people started dispersing, I said my prayers and left. The cathedral was still glowing in gold.

It was well past midnight but the place was very busy with people returning from the midnight mass across the hundreds of cathedrals. Bells were chiming all around. I spent some time by the canal before retiring.

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  1. Loved the story about the old woman....very detailed and quite engrossing...keep writing saheli.

    1. Thanks Moumita. It was indeed a very touching moment. Made my day!


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