Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Day 8: Ravenna-Venice

Before we leave Ravenna, we make another swing through town, buying some cherries at the market and visiting the basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, where the remains of the same Sant'Apollinare from Classe (where we visited yesterday), were moved in the 9th century. The church has another of the distinctive tall cylindrical bell towers that are the Ravenna style. The very fine mosaics line the walls above the rows of Greek columns on either side of the church and portray two long processions--women on one side, men on the other. The women's procession is led by colorful scenes of the Three Magi offering gifts to Mary. The men's procession of saints, martyrs and church elders lead to a Jesus seated on a throne. At the other end of the men's procession is a detailed picture of Theodoric's palace. Additional colorful portraits fill the spaces above the procession. The mosaics are again amazingly colorful and many of the figures have very distinctive features.

Our last stop is to be what one of the guidebooks describe as the biggest surprise in Ravenna, the mosaics in the chapel of the Oratorio of Sant'Andrea located in the museum of the Archbishop's Palace. We pause at Dante's tomb; he is buried in Ravenna after having visited almost every town in Italy after his exile from Florence. After a long walk (a little longer than necessary due to a mapreader's error), we reach the palace, climb the stairs and find the chapel closed for repairs--"in restauro". Outside the cathedral, we encounter a large group of lost German students on a day trip from Rimini. They ask us "where the town is" and we lead them toward the centro and give them our map.

Before we check out, we have a nice conversation with one of the hotel staff. When I remark about the Ravenna traffic patterns begin difficult, she says that even Ravenna residents are mystified by them and have to think carefully before making the shortest trips by car.

A word about Ravenna...in spite of the traffic difficulties, the town is very attractive with very nice pedestrian streets and handsome piazze. And the mosaics are in a class by themselves....I think they are definitely worth a detour and that Ravenna deserves to be on a "short list" of Italian destinations.

En route to Venice, we stop in Comacchio for lunch. Comacchio is somewhat deserted old fishing town that used to be quite wealthy from the salt trade that was centered here. It is in the middle of the Po Delta and surrounded by swamps and marshes; it is well known for its eels--you see nets everywhere ready to dip into the canals to harvest them. The town is criss-crossed with canals (with many decoy ducks floating in the water) and has one very distinctive bridge--the Treponti--that arches over the junction of two canals.

We have a very nice lunch at a local trattoria--Guilia and Vasco--where I have a large serving of delicious cherrystone sized clams in a wine broth and rich grilled eel, very meaty and tasty. Diana has another great melon with prosciutto and a perfectly prepared plate of ravioli with butter and sage.

We stop for gas at a self-service gas station. We have avoided self-service since our unfortunate experience in Pienza many years ago when we lost Lire 50.000 at the pump. But we figure that we are now experienced Italy hands so we try again. However, we are no more successful...the money is inserted and the proper pump selected..but no gas comes out. Luckily this time, when Diana asks for help, the boss peels off a Euro 20.00 note and returns it to her. I suspect that this time it is the pump that is malfunctioning. We fill up at a non-self service gas station up the road.

We make one more stop to visit the large Abbey of Pomposa just north of Pomposa. This was a rich abbey in the 11th and 12th century, largely due to the salt trade. A shift in course of the Po River left the community in a malarial swampland and its prosperity ended. But the abbey remained....there is a large campanile, a large church covered with a magnificent floor and 14th century frescoes covering the walls, including a frightening Last Judgment and scenes from both the New and Old Testament, including a very distinctive Last Supper, with the diners seated at a circular table. This was also the home to the monk Guido d'Arezzo, who is credited with inventing the modern musical scale here in the 11th century.

Once past Chioggia, the road skirts the lagoon before arriving in Mestre, the industrial city at the causeway to Venice. We have to return our car at the Piazzale Roma, the last place cars can go in Venice. We stop at a gas station just at the end of the causeway to top off the gas tank.) We see the car rental offices lined up in the large parking lot building but a drop off area is not apparent. We make a swing aroung the Piazzale and pull up in front of the parking lot exit and Diana goes to the Europcar office to ask where to leave the car. Apparently, the procedure is to leave the car on the street below the offices. We park, unload the car, finish the paperwork and drag our luggage across the busy street to the vaparetto docks. We buy tickets (Euro 3.50 per person plus Euro 3.50 for the luggage--a total of Euro 14.00) and find the right landing for the vaparetto that goes to the Cannaregio canal and the Guglie stop (nearest to the Ghetto where we are staying). We have to fight our way on board the vaparetto when it arrives and repeat the process to get off when it stops at Guglie five minutes later. From there it is a three minute walk to the hotel--the Locanda del Ghetto--and there is luckily only one bridge that we have to negotiate with our luggage.

The hotel is located on the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo (the older and larger of the squares in the Ghetto neighborhood). It is a large campo ringed with five and six story high apartment buildings. There is also a retirement home run by the Jewish community, three 16th century synagogues plus the museum, a few shops--mostly Jewish-oriented, one restaurant, the Chabad house of the Lubavitcher community as well as their school and the hotel. There are trees in the campo, a fountain with running water, and benches. Another bridge leads out of the ghetto to the north. Our room at the hotel has a balcony so we will be able to watch all the comings and goings in the Campo.

We unpack and get settled, I test out the internet connection (which is excellent) and we get ready to go out for dinner. We have been invited to dinner by Howard Fitzpatrick and Laurie Graham. Howard is an American who is a guide that I often use for clients in Venice and his wife Laurie is a British novelist. After a stop to buy some flowers, we take a vaparetto down the Grand Canal to get to their apartment (they live near the Frari church) and find the address without too much difficulty. They live in the top floor of a grand palazzo in a rented apartment...they have magnificent views over Venice from their "altana" which is a roof platform common in Venice. Dinner is delicious and the evening is very pleasant....it is great to be able to get inside a Venetian home and we all get along well.

It is almost midnight when we leave and walk back to the hotel.....the route to the railroad station (where we cross the closest of the three bridges over the Grand Canal) is well marked forturnately because it would be easy to lose your way in the dark narrow streets of Venice. The campo is quiet and deserted when we finally arrive (it is 1:00 am) and we are quickly asleep.


Jan from slow trav (jgk) said...

Hi Jim, Been following your blog. We leave today and will ahve a tour with Howard on Wed. morning. I will tell him you are an "internet friend".
Hope to be able to keep checking through hotel acess.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous said...

Jim and Diana, if you are still in Venice on Sat you might want to go to the (free) meal that the Chabad hosts every week. It is quite an experience, with people from all over the world, chanting by the young men of the community, and lots and lots of food.

1:52 AM  
gedlin said...

Jim and Diana, if you are still in Venice on Sat you might want to go to the (free) meal that the Chabad hosts every week. It is quite an experience, with people from all over the world, chanting by the young men of the community, and lots and lots of food.

8:44 PM  

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