Busy in Basel, Switzerland

Thursday 30th July

We had only a  morning to wander the relatively quiet and ordered streets of Basel in Switzerland after the tourist chaos, blistering sun and sheer noise of Florence.  The contrast was quite remarkable.  Virtually no tourists, a cool 23 degrees,  a much more homogeneous and “older” society, (vast numbers of European tourists are under 40) and the sort of architecture that makes you feel like you have landed in Disneyland with everything manicured, everything sweet, chocolate and cherries everywhere and everything carefully painted and finished.

Ann on a bridge over the Rhine river in Basel with the Cathedral in the distance
Ann on a bridge over the Rhine river in Basel with the Cathedral in the distance

Our soul goal was to visit the Basel Cathedral and honour Erasmus, whose tomb is found there. Erasmus has always been a hero of mine and his “In Praise of Folly” should be compulsory reading for all Christians. His achievement of editing and having published an accurate copy of the Greek New Testament kick started Luther and Tyndale and in a way made the Reformation possible by providing authority and trust in the text of God’s Word written. After the cathedral will visit we wandered the streets of Basel and had a carefully negotiated lunch,  as Switzerland will only deal in Swiss Francs or Euro notes, not coins so we had to judge our Euro costs to the closet Euro note!

We then travelled the short distance by train from Basel to Strasbourg through flat well cropped fields, picked up a hire car, a Renault Capture in Strasbourg and spent far too much time working out where to park it cheaply as our hotel has no serious car park.

early C16th Basel home -serious contrast to Florence
early C16th Basel home -serious contrast to Florence
Basel Cathedral. A C16th Gothic church now Reformed Oecolampard church
Basel Cathedral. A C16th Gothic church now Reformed Oecolampard church
Interior of Basel Cathedral
Interior of Basel Cathedral
Erasmus' tomb in Basel Cathedral. Erasmus effectively enabled the Reformation by carefully editing and having published an accurate edition of the New Testament in Greek
Erasmus’ tomb in Basel Cathedral. Erasmus effectively enabled the Reformation by carefully editing and having published an accurate edition of the New Testament in Greek
The West wall of Basel is, like all Gothic churches, huge, magnified in red stone.
The West wall of Basel is, like all Gothic churches, huge; this one magnified in red stone.
Basel old town and market
Basel old town and market
Basel primary teacher using a puppet to teach history and geography
Basel primary teacher using a puppet to teach history and geography
Death of the dragon on front wall of Basel Cathedral
Death of the dragon on front wall of Basel Cathedral

Fleeing from Florence heat to Swiss scenery

Richly inlaid stone walls of the Principal Medici chapel in San Lorenzo Florence
Richly inlaid stone walls of the Principal Medici chapel in San Lorenzo Florence
Painting by C20th artist Pietro Annigoni in San Lorenzo church Florence. A welcome modern touch in a quite traditional interior.
Painting by C20th artist Pietro Annigoni in San Lorenzo church Florence. A welcome modern touch in a quite traditional interior.
Ceiling of Principal Medici chapel in San Lorenzo Florence.  Vast and over the top is the only way to describe this chapel
Ceiling of Principal Medici chapel in San Lorenzo Florence. Vast and over the top is the only way to describe this chapel

Wednesday 28th July

Today, as a final attempt to see the Renaissance through Florentine eyes we ventured just down the street from our hotel to San Lorenzo church, the parish church of the Medici family which also contains as an ‘add on’ the extraordinary tombs of the Medici leaders.

The church itself is another huge classical Renaissance effort, Gothic in general style, with an unfinished front in spite of the Medici “wealth” (which like modern governments was often an illusion..artists were  often commissioned, delivered, and then not paid…princes often paid debts with borrowed money only to have to go into debt again when their own debts were required of them.  There is evidence that the Medicis were not so much patrons of Renassance art as encouragers and supporters but did not actually have the money to commission.

All this fits with the chapels which, although in part richly decorated, some would say garishly decorated, were never finished. In fact the beautifully inlaid polished stone floors were not completed until Medici descendants paid for them in the late C20th.  Whatever happened to the Medici wealth seems to be unknown but it disappeared as did most of the quite famous jewellery. In addition the exorbitant decoration of walls with inlaid polished stone and and oversized tombs themselves in the Capella dei Principe have all been stripped of their greater than life-size images except two of them.

Extraodinary size of Medici tombs in the Capella dei Principe ..the principal chapel of the Medici family
Extraodinary size of Medici tombs in the Capella dei Principe ..the principal chapel of the Medici family. As can be seen this one has “lost” its life size image which should be ins place above the wooden casket

The other sad part of these Medici chapels, and the museum set up to attract fee-paying tourists is the rather horrific cabinet after cabinet of expensive pure silver monstrances, pyxes and other reliquaries holding bits of mouldy bones and other doubtful historical oddities. They seem to reflect in my mind a complete rejection of the simple moral simplicities of the Gospel and an objective visitor in my view can only come away from these chapels with a sense, if not of horror,  at least a sense of the complete inappropriateness of the attempted elevation of Medici significance and power in some future arena when “first shall be last and the last shall be last”. There is more meaning to be found I think in the much smaller “New Sacristy” which contains Michelangelo sculptures in memory of the Duke of Urbino, grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and the simple tomb of Lorenzo the Magnificent himself.

As to the church of San Lorenzo it is one of the earliest and in a way, most straightforward of Florence’s Renaissance churches. The decoration is subdued, mainly massive early devotional works of art.  The side chapels are also subdued and the central altar is beautifully marbled but not excessive. Donatello’s bronze  pulpits in the nave are not excessive and the only major fresco is a large work by Bronzino depicting the martyrdom of St Lawrence. A striking painting by C20th Pietro Annigoni showing a young Jesus in his father’s workshop is certainly one of the best things I have seen in Florence.

Three sculptures by Michelangelo in the New Sacristy of the Medici Chapels in San Lorenzo Florence. This room was peaceful and quiet after the hectic triumphalism of the Principal chapel. In this quiet space are the relatively unadorned tombs of Lorenzo the Magnificent himself and his murdered brother Giuliano (C15th)
Three sculptures by Michelangelo in the New Sacristy of the Medici Chapels in San Lorenzo Florence. This room was peaceful and quiet after the hectic triumphalism of the Principal chapel. In this quiet space are the relatively unadorned tombs of Lorenzo the Magnificent himself and his murdered brother Giuliano (C15th)
Signed Michelangelo sculpture (middle statue) in the New Sacristy of the Medici Chapels in San Lorenzo Florence. Vasari put these statues over the very plain tomb of the Duke of Urbino (Lorenzo the Magnificent's grandson)
Signed Michelangelo sculpture (middle statue) in the New Sacristy of the Medici Chapels in San Lorenzo Florence. Vasari put these statues over the very plain tomb of the Duke of Urbino (Lorenzo the Magnificent’s grandson)
San Lorenzo Renaissance church Florence interior
San Lorenzo Renaissance church Florence interior

Florence 5 San Lorenz marbled altar

The marbled highly polished altar in San Lorenzo church.

We left Florence in mid-afternoon with the temperature again rising to 34 degrees and the unrelenting humidity and crowds still swelling.

Our journey took us by super-fast frecciarosso train from Florence through Bologna to Milan with a quick change of trains to an inter-city express through the tranquil lake district of Lakes Maggiore and Com0 into the still snow-clad alps and mountain towns of northern Italy through the Simplon Pass and down through  a very long tunnel into the wooden chalets and red shuttered dwellings of Switzerland. We travelled through Berne at 10.00pm and arrived at Basel at 1o.45pm and happy to see our hotel and be asleep by midnight after quite a long day!

Ann asleep on train to Basel after quite a long day! We arrived in Basel at 10.45pm and just as we walked out of the station a taxi pulled up..the only one around at that hour!
Ann asleep on train to Basel after quite a long day! We arrived in Basel at 10.45pm and just as we walked out of the station a taxi pulled up..the only one around at that hour!

Further arting about in Florence!

Tuesday 27 July

This morning we woke to a perfect Summer day, not to hot just fresh and perfect..our last full day in Florence.

view from our Florence Hotel room surrounded by trees and classic architecture
view from our Florence Hotel room surrounded by trees and classic architecture
another view from our hotel room
another view from our hotel room

After brekky we set our sites on the Bargello,  Florence’s National Museum of Applied Arts and Sculpture. Built as the Palazzo of the City Official in the late C15th the building later became a prison for 300 years before being returned to its true status on the Piazza della Signora in the C19th.

Some of the world’s most amazing sculptures are here including Michelangelo’s Bacchus and Madonna and Child with young John the Baptist, David – Apollo and a bust of Brutus.  Among many major works by Cellini the  Museum includes Narcissus, Ganymede,Danae and her Son Perseus, and the base of the real Perseus. The actual huge bronze of Perseus holding the head of the Hydra he had cut off takes pride of place on a copy of the base in the Piazza Signora. Reading Cellini’s biography on the plane on the way to Europe it seems that Perseus occupied Celini’s mind for just about all of the last nine years of his life. Perhaps the star of this collection is the fine Mannerist bronze of Mercury by Giambologna.

Base of Cellin's
Base of Cellin’s “Perseus” at the Bargello. the actual statue is in the Piazza Signora on a copy of the base
Donatello's
Donatello’s “St George” in the Bargello. The one on the exterior of the Orsanmichele church is a copy of this one
interior wall of the Bargello - rather forbidding, formerly palazzo, then prison, now a museum
interior wall of the Bargello – rather forbidding, formerly palazzo, then prison, now a museum
Cellin's
Cellin’s “Perseus”..nine years in the making from bronze and much complained about in his Autobiography. Here in the Piazza Signora
Donatello's lion statue in the Bargello (No Michelangelo photos because of pressure from staff!)
Donatello’s lion statue in the Bargello (No Michelangelo photos because of pressure from staff!)
Verrochio
Verrochio “David” statue bronze in Bargello; interesting comparison with Donatello
Donatello's somewhat androgynous 'David' in the Bargello. The first free-standing sculpture created in the Renaissance
Donatello’s somewhat androgynous ‘David’ in the Bargello. The first free-standing sculpture created in the Renaissance

On the second floor are  many examples of Donatello’s sculptural genius including his rather effete or even androgynous bronze David,  and a second marble David. Here also is Donatello’s original St George, the one on the exterior of the Orsanmichele Church being a copy The third floor was closed but we still had plenty of choice with rooms full of maiolica, small bronzes and mediaeval artworks.

After lunch we tracked out to the massive Santa Croce church which contains the tombs of Michelangelo (by Vasari), Galileo, Machiavelli and Bruni along with a giant memorial to Da Vinci and of course many hundreds of tombs of lesser known Italians. Once again the size and scope of this vast edifice defies iPhone photography.  The Renaissance Church has a Neo-Gothic facade and campanile both of which were added in the mid C19th, resulting in a very complex architectural structure with a great many chapels, cloisters and a colonnaded verandah by Brunelleschi. The very high Gothic Sanctuary is completely covered in frescoes as are nearly all the other chapels. The Capella Bardi next to the Sanctuary has frescoes by Giotto , somewhat damaged but an excellent fresco of friends comforting the dying St Francis.

Santa Croce church Florence  Marble exterior added in C19th
Santa Croce church Florence Marble exterior added in C19th
Renaissance Santa Croce with C19th campanile added
Renaissance Santa Croce with C19th campanile added
Cimabue flood damaged crucifixion in Santa  Croce 'Chapter House'
Cimabue flood damaged crucifixion in Santa
Croce ‘Chapter House’
Brunelleschi (
Brunelleschi (“Pazzi”) Chapel interior alongside Santa Croce church Florence -perfect Renaissance proportion defies photography
One of 14 roundels in Pazzi Chapel depicting the apostles -designed by Brunelleschi
One of 14 roundels in Pazzi Chapel depicting the apostles -designed by Brunelleschi
Vast memorial to Da Vinci in Santa Croce church
Vast memorial to Da Vinci in Santa Croce church
Dante statue outside Santa Croce church
Dante statue outside Santa Croce church
Frescoes in Sanctuary of Santa Croce church
Frescoes in Sanctuary of Santa Croce church
Giotto fresco of death of St Francis in Bardi chapel alongside Sanctuary of Santa Croce church
Giotto fresco of death of St Francis in Bardi chapel alongside Sanctuary of Santa Croce church
Machiavelli's tomb in Santa Croce church Florence
Machiavelli’s tomb in Santa Croce church Florence
Michelangelo's tomb in Santa Croce church Florence by  Vasari with figures representing sculpture, art and architecture
Michelangelo’s tomb in Santa Croce church Florence by Vasari with figures representing sculpture, art and architecture
Taddeo fresco of Last Supper in hall attached to Santa Croce church in Florence
Taddeo fresco of Last Supper in hall attached to Santa Croce church in Florence
;Giotto fresco in chapel next to Santa Croce church
;Giotto fresco in chapel next to Santa Croce church

The “Chapter House” alongside the church which was severely flooded in 1966 now again holds the significant crucifix by Cimabue which has been restored but still shows signs of damage. It is probably the first painting of the crucifixion which shows the “human” Christ as opposed to the regal glory of Byzantine representations of Christ.

Standing alongside this vast church is Brunelleschi’s domed chapel (the Capella de’ Pazzi) with “perfect” classical proportions, and simple decoration of glazed roundels of the apostles by C15th sculptor Robbia. This was a chapel of significant peace and reflection.

Beneath the church is a basement area which includes an excellent historical survey of the 1966 flood and the restoration work which followed. The five meter deep flood was in fact the fifth and not the deepest flood of the Fiume River since the C14tth. The church is one of the lowest-lying areas of Florence. The vast crypt area of the Church now contains an elegant modern worship centre with modern furniture. This area appears to be the “worshipping heart” of the church.

Finally further halls attached to the Church contain additional frescoes including an impressive fresco of the Last Supper by Taddeo (14th) still in an excellent state of preservation.

There appears to be no end to the artistic treasures of Florence..even walking to the above we came across the Dante study centre office which is now housed in a disused convent but the first two rooms of offices you come to are alive with Renaissance scriptural frescoes.  Scratch a wall in Florence and you will find a fresco!

Ann relaxing at our "local" in Florence at the end of a month of sweltering heat in  Italy. We spent each evening here in Florence recreating ourselves!
Ann relaxing at our “local” in Florence at the end of a month of sweltering heat in Italy. We spent each evening here in Florence recreating ourselves!

Feeling cooler in still fabulous Florence

Monday 27th July

We woke to our first cooler day since we came to Italy with the temperature around 30 degrees. The papers here are saying 2015 is shaping to be southern Europe’s hottest summer for 30 years so we picked it! After a slow start as both of us had a restless night with noisy neighbours we mooched off to the southern end of Florence again to track down the Brancacci Chapel.

Orsanmichele church in Florence, formerly a grain market! Donatello sculpture of St George, one of 14 sculptures around the exterior
Orsanmichele church in Florence, formerly a grain market! Donatello sculpture of St George, one of 14 sculptures around the exterior
Orsanmichele church Florence altar
Orsanmichele church Florence altar

On the way we visited the Orsanmichele Church in the Via de Calzaioli which was formerly a grain market but in the C14th was converted to a Church. The arcades of the former market were bricked up but in 14 niches around the exterior sculptors were commissioned by guilds of the day to add some class to the external appearance.  Donatello, Verrochio and Ghiberti were among those who contributed sculptures. The internal appearance is simple with some impressive stained glass and an elaborate high altar with works by C14th and C16th artists.

The Brancacci Chapel is part of the Carmelite convent church of Santa Maria del Carmine in a working class and residential area of Florence south of the Pitti Palace. Entry into the large church is not permitted but the Capella Brancacci chapel which  is open to visitors and is frescoed largely by Massachio, having been begun by Masolino and in the way of these things finished off by Filipino Lippi.  The major frescoes tell a complicated story of the life of Peter following the resurrection but the sequence is not coherent although the frescoes have been well preserved .

Brancacci Chapel Carmelite Monastery Florence; Massachio fresco of Adam and Eve before the
Brancacci Chapel Carmelite Monastery Florence; Massachio fresco of Adam and Eve before the “Fall” but thinking!
Massachio fresco of Adam and Eve after
Massachio fresco of Adam and Eve after “the Fall” in Brancacci Chapel, Carmelite monastery Florence. These genuine expressions of despair and grief influenced the work of Da Vinci and Michelangelo
Brancacci Chapel with Massachio frescoes
Brancacci Chapel with Massachio frescoes

The major interest is two facing relatively small panels of Adam and Eve on the edge of the chapel, On the right hand side facing the altar is a healthy and happy pair of humans but a bit edgy about the tempting offering  coming between them in the form of a serpent.  The facing panel on the left has Adam and Eve leaving the garden in complete despair having earned God’s displeasure by their disobedience.  Their  powerfully graphic expression of sorrow and anguish was unique in its day and it is said that both Da Vinci and Michelangelo came to see these frescoes and to learn from Massachio’s technique. They still have great power to communicate after all this time but they are certainly overwhelmed by the surrounding Peter frescoes.

Fiume River Florence
Fiume River Florence
Massachio painting of the Trinity in St Maria Novella church Florence
Massachio painting of the Trinity in St Maria Novella church Florence
Sanctuary of St Maria Novella church Florence
Sanctuary of St Maria Novella church Florence
interior of St Maria Novella church Florence Romanesque than Alberti Gothic additions
interior of St Maria Novella church Florence Romanesque than Alberti Gothic additions
St Maria Novella Florence front of house
St Maria Novella Florence front of house
Palazzo Strozzi Florence oversized storey height  3xnormal see size of people cf Hitler at Nuremberg
Palazzo Strozzi Florence oversized storey height 3xnormal see size of people cf Hitler at Nuremberg
Ann in front of Palazzo Strozzi amazing courtyard. Palace now used only for specific installations
Ann in front of Palazzo Strozzi amazing courtyard. Palace now used only for specific installations

In the afternoon we walked the streets and lanes of Florence along the Fiume River and into the high end shopping centre of the Via De’ Tourabuoni which would give 5th Avenue New York more than a run for its money.  There were some seriously amazing shops including a porcelain shop with its own internal rooms and garden, more like a palace than a shop. It was siesta time so two vast churches were passed over…San Trinita and a huge church next to the equally huge Palazzo Strozzi. Each floor of this vast palace is about 3 times the height of a normal floor in a building.   One church which was open was the even larger Church of St Maria Novella with its own equally large frescoed Chapter House and other now museum buildings. The original Romanesque church was doubled in size by Alberti with a Gothic addition and contains two frescoed Strozzi chapels and many other impressive chapels and paintings. Massachio’s fading but still impressive Trinity is here with its carefully hidden Holy Spirit dove looking a bit like the Father’s collar!

This was a long walking day for us and we were happy to seek refuge in the air conditioned comfort of our room.

Fabulous Florence

Sunday 26th July What a privilege to wake up in Florence and be very quickly surrounded by the some of the central icons of European Renaissance culture. Our hotel is just two blocks from the peaceful convent of San Marco which is where we began today. The convent, eventually taken over by Dominicans, became the home of the Black Friars amongst whom was numbered Girolama Savaronola, a reformer who transformed the lives of many in Florence and indeed the life of Florence itself until his opponents seized their opportunity and had him arrested and burnt at the stake, like so many reformers in Western Europe.

sculpture of Savaronola, Florence's brave and highly successful reformer until overpowered and burnt at the stake by his opponents
sculpture of Savaronola, Florence’s brave and highly successful reformer until overpowered and burnt at the stake by his opponents

The Convent also is the final resting place of Giovanni Pico della Mirand0la, the creative and thoughtful Renaissance linguist, writer, theologian and thinker who so deeply influenced John Colet, Erasmus and Thomas More. We sat and prayed in the early morning quiet of the Convent church which had a beautiful pipe organ being quietly played. Very few people were present and those who were became very quiet and respectul. Angelico’s painting of “the Three Marys at the Cross” is a thoughtful aid to reflection  The whole Convent is a place of reflection. The wonderful library has many ancient codici and illuminated manuscripts beautifully displayed and the rooms of the monks are all open to  view on the second floor. Each simple room has a window and a wonderful Gospel fresco by Fra Angelico. The light was difficult and the photos  won’t work very well but again there was a spirit of peace about the place. Some of the cells  including Cosimo Medici’s had two rooms so there was obviously a pecking order.

corridors with over 30 cells for Dominican monks in the Convent of St Marco Florence. Each cell has a New Testament fresco by Fra Angelico
corridors with over 30 cells for Dominican monks in the Convent of St Marco Florence. Each cell has a New Testament fresco by Fra Angelico
Fresco of St Dominic
Fresco of St Dominic “meeting” Christ. At first I was offended by this “anti-historical idea but what is the difference between a physical meeting and a spiritual meeting and how do you paint such a meeting anyway? Surely we want everyone to “meet ” Christ.
inadequate photo of a monk's cell in the San Marco Convent Florence with wonderful frescos by Fra Angelico in each cell beautifully preserved.
inadequate photo of a monk’s cell in the San Marco Convent Florence with wonderful frescos by Fra Angelico in each cell beautifully preserved.
impressive library of illuminated manuscripts in the library of San Marco Convent Florence
impressive library of illuminated manuscripts in the library of San Marco Convent Florence

Fra Angelico’s frescoes and amazing paintings are on display throughout the convent and they include “the musical angels” which surround the “Madonna della Stella  painting. They are too small to photograph but each angel plays a different instrument.  Angelico’s faith shines through his paintings. Like Giotto his work is characterised by simplicity and feeling and the New Testament characters come to meet you as you study them. The convent also has a simple labyrinth reflection garden which invites prayer and thought.

This place would have been enough for one day but we moved on down the Via Cavour which eventually turns into the Via Martell so without expecting it one looks left and is confronted by the shining green and marble height and bulk of Brunelleschi’s amazing Duomo. In the past we have approached this extraordinary cathedral from the Piazza della Signoria with all the amazing statuary and the iconic Palazzo Vecchio so one is “warmed up” to greatness. But to come across the Cathedral sharply as “the next building in the street” literally takes your breath away.

The Florence Duomo. The fourth largest church in Europe. amazing dome by Brunelleschi and beautiful marble and complexity
The Florence Duomo. The fourth largest church in Europe. amazing dome by Brunelleschi and beautiful marble and complexity
Florence Duomo  front of house!
Florence Duomo front of house!

We entered the throng of downtown Florence shopping  which was less chaotic and more ordered than Rome and not quite as hot; Ann enjoyed some retail therapy and Richard also replaced the belt he bought in the market in Florence in 1998 and is still wearing. We continued on across the Ponte Vecchio through the milling crowd of photographers, had a simple lunch and launched ourselves almost unwillingly on the ponderous looking might of the Pitti Palace which contains seven museums and the Boboli Gardens. Today we simply “did” the Palatine (late Renaissance and C17-C18th galleries and the royal apartments which were originally Medici appartments, stolen by Napoleon and finally returned to the Lorraine Hapsburg rulers for their final make over (although Napoleon’s bathroom has been retained!) Again we were simply overwhelmed (and exhausted!) by the number of amazingly decorated rooms in which the many hundreds of paintings  are displayed including a special display of the work of the Florentine artist Carlo Dolci.

View from the Ponte Vecchio ..surely the world's most photographed view from a bridge!
View from the Ponte Vecchio ..surely the world’s most photographed view from a bridge!
View of the Boboli Gardens from the Pitti Palace Florence
View of the Boboli Gardens from the Pitti Palace Florence
Intimidating and severe Pitti Palace Florence
Intimidating and severe Pitti Palace Florence
One of the many ceilings of the Pitti Palace aparments by Cortona
One of the many ceilings of the Pitti Palace aparments by Cortona
Rubens painting of
Rubens painting of “The Four Philosophers” in the Palatinate Gallery Pitti Palace Florence

Inevitably we were drawn to the iconic work of Raphael, but a vast collection of Renaissance and succeeding painters was represented…Rubens, Tiziano, Velasquez, Corregio, Tintoretto, Van Dyke and many other wonderful paintings by  artists we were not very well acquainted with.  The furnishings of the Royal apartments including amazingly huge vases and extraordinarily ornate Baroque tables and chairs and bedroom arrangements are spectacular. We saw the stretch of the immaculately manicured Boboli gardens through the windows and hope to come back and enjoy them before we leave.

Raphael  Madonna and Child from Palatinate Gallery Pitti Palace
Raphael Madonna and Child from Palatinate Gallery Pitti Palace
Raphael  Painting of
Raphael Painting of “La Velata” in the Palatinate Gallery of the Pitti Palace Florence

On the way home we were up-sold two of the largest ice-creams you could ever imagine which cost a small fortune and which I think have put us off gelato for the rest of our lives. That was not a good decision!

Finessing Florence

Saturday 26th July This morning we vacated our lovely tiny Venice boudoir, walked the tangled lanes back to the water-bus and floated down the gorgeous Grand Canal for the last time past palaces like the Ca d’Or and hotels like the Casino which has been there since the C17th.

We travelled first class in air conditioned comfort (for the first and only time on this trip) on the streamlined Freccia train from Venice to Florence stopping only at Venice mainland, Padua and Bologna. The only downside of training around Italy is that much of the journey is underground because their very fast trains go through the mountains and hills not over them.

Our hotel Giglio, again tiny and well hidden on one floor of a large building  is well situated just a few blocks from the Duomo and we were greeted in Florence by the rare experience of light rain and a much cooler than expected day although still with high humidity.  We were in Florence in the early afternoon and took the opportunity to find a laundromat and catch up with our washing.

There is so much to see in Europe’s real cultural capital (Malta doesn’t stand a chance really) so we will have to choose carefully.  Our room looks out in two directions on treed gardens and we have our own Romeo and Juliet balcony so it is tres romantique! One of the joys of travelling especially by train is meeting up with many people from every nation under the sun. We travelled to day in the same section with two New Zealand women who have spent their lives since they were teenagers in Sacramento California.

I have been reading more of Ruskin’s view that art is only of value when it enlightens the human Spirit and gives glory and honour to Providence and has no value at all when it is simply the artist taking delight in his/her own skills.  Writing at the time of the Indian mutiny I can understand his intense hatred of all things Indian in Art but I fear he has allowed his theory to be overrun by cultural bias.  I am sure Ruskin wouldn’t get an invite to open any galleries if he was alive today although even in the 1850’s he seemed aware that his views would not be favourably received especially along with his very precise delineation of what is and is not good and intelligent design..(used in a sense very differently from Dembski, Behe and co!)

Tonight after a very indifferent and highly expensive meal in St Mark’s Square we are sitting writing our blog and emails in the foyer of the hotel because, as with Greece, the only decent wifi in the hotel is near the modem on the front desk in the foyer. Tomorrow it will be 35 degrees again so our one day of cool is over and out as am I! Cheerio for now!

The final Venice church to be seen from the Grand Canal as we approached the station. Soon after this photo was taken a major drama occurred as a passenger lost his bag overboard whilst taking a photo; I believe he retrieved the bag, not sure in what condition
The final Venice church to be seen from the Grand Canal as we approached the station. Soon after this photo was taken a major drama occurred as a passenger lost his bag overboard whilst taking a photo; I believe he retrieved the bag, not sure in what condition

Ann with train

Herewith Ann beside one of the local trains in which we toured to Mantua and Vicenza with but mostly without air con.

Just a few of the trains lined up at Tourist Central Venice Railway Station
Just a few of the trains lined up at Tourist Central Venice Railway Station

Venice sparkles in Summer sunshine

Friday 24 July

Venice turned on a perfect day for us today with a beautiful ocean breeze and slightly cooler temperatures than we have had for two weeks…a pleasant 33 degrees!

We went first this morning to the Accademia crossing one of only three bridges over the Grand Canal into the Veneto District to find the distinguished classical gallery with its very impressive collection of late mediaeval, Renaissance and Baroque art laid out in large rooms with reasonably good English explanations.  All the normal suspects were there including many paintings by Tintoretto, Veronese, Carpaccio, Tiziano, Lotto, and all the Bellinis! Many of the paintings are so massive in scope that they take up whole walls of the gallery.  Only one Mantegna and the one Piero della Francesca was on loan elsewhere.

Hotel Georgia ...tired but good but no match for the high end hotels in the Veneto District
Hotel Georgia …tired but good but no match for the high end hotels in the Veneto District
The Accedemia Bridge over the Grand Canal, one of three bridges. Salute church in the distance.
The Accedemia Bridge over the Grand Canal, one of three bridges. Salute church in the distance.
High end cultural architecture in the Campo Francesco Morosini Venice
High end cultural architecture in the Campo Francesco Morosini Venice
Accademia: Pietro Gaspuri architectural drawing
Accademia: Pietro Gaspuri architectural drawing
Accedemia: Giorgione: La Tempesta..controversial and difficult to interpret
Accedemia: Giorgione: La Tempesta..controversial and difficult to interpret
Accademia: Giovani Bellini: Madonna and Child..we have seen so many but this one had a special appeal to us.
Accademia: Giovani Bellini: Madonna and Child..we have seen so many but this one had a special appeal to us.

The Veneto side of the Grand Canal has a lot of high end modern art galleries and some very swank hotels which make poor old Hotel Georgio look very down in the mouth. Murano glass is everywhere and some very impressive installations by many new artists including Korean artists.

Paintings which I liked in the Accademia  included Giorgione’s controversial La Tempesta, controversial largely because no-one seems to be able to provide any sensible explanation for its images.  I also liked Lotto’s Young Gentleman in his Studies and some of the architectural perspective drawings of Pietro Gaspuri.  Tintoretto’s Creation of the Animals, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel also made an impact.

Accedemia: Lorenzo Lotto: Gentleman at his studies.
Accedemia: Lorenzo Lotto: Gentleman at his studies.
Accedemia: Tintoretto: Creation of the Animals
Accedemia: Tintoretto: Creation of the Animals
Accedemia: Veronese: The Last Supper ...rejected by the church and had to be defended at the Inquisition. Eventually renamed as dinner at Tax Collector's House. Massive painting covering whole wall of gallery
Accedemia: Veronese: The Last Supper …rejected by the church and had to be defended at the Inquisition. Eventually renamed as dinner at Tax Collector’s House. Massive painting covering whole wall of gallery

After lunch we wandered along the Veneto side of the Grand Canal laneways across many canals (but no gondolas) and eventually came to the wide steps of the massive Salute church and sat there waiting for siesta to be over for it to open. There was much to see with on the Grand Canal with water taxis, water buses, gondolas, touring boats and private launches all vying for space and seemingly no rules regarding left or right side of the canal!

The Salute eventually opened and was a subdued, classical styled church with a large central area under the dome and a separate area under a different area for prayers. A ring of Old Testament prophets high above looked down on proceedings and there were some large paintings but in the main the decoration was subdued.

Ann waiting for the church to open
Ann waiting for the church to open
Salute Basilica  front view
Salute Basilica front view
another view of the Salute in Venice
another view of the Salute in Venice
St Mark's Square from Veneto side of Grand Canal
St Mark’s Square from Veneto side of Grand Canal
Every canal has its own magic
Every canal has its own magic

Venice on a pleasant warm day must have few equals. There is no city quite like it and we will be sad to leave. There is enough to explore in this city to fill many months not just the three days we have given it.  Tomorrow we train to Florence for our final four days in Italy. It has been a privileged and amazing experience.

How to make a Venetian blind by looking at the ceiling all day

Thursday 23rd July

Ann was in shopper’s paradise this morning wandering the narrow lanes of mostly clothing and fashion shops and Richard did not miss out finding mouth-watering ancient book shops and not one but two stamp shops including one actually making a living in St Mark’s piazza. The extraordinary paper/leather/book shops are a frustration because the vast majority of all the beautiful leather bound volumes are of course in Italian.

We found our way quite easily to the waterfront and the amazing views from the island across the mouth of the Grand Canal to the Salute church. The slightly lower temperatures and the sea breeze made walking much more comfortable. St Mark’s, surely just about the most distinctive of the world’s Christian cathedrals looked fantastic as ever but like many building icons is undergoing partial restoration getting in the way of that perfect photo.

View of the harbour of Venice from St Mark's Square looking towards the Salute Church
View of the harbour of Venice from St Mark’s Square looking towards the Salute Church
The Doge's Palace in St Mark's Square Venice
The Doge’s Palace in St Mark’s Square Venice
St Mark's Cathedral with its distinctive Eastern domes, part restoration and completely rebuilt campanile
St Mark’s Cathedral with its distinctive Eastern domes, part restoration and completely rebuilt campanile

Richard actually waited in the queue for just the third time in his life to get into the Doge’s Palace (the first time was the The Tower of London and the second was the Musee D’Orsay in Paris). Over the years we have already seen some extraordinary palaces in St Petersburg, Versailles, The Schonbrun, Charlottenburg, The Alhambra and the Vatican and we are looking forward to Buckingham Palace on this trip. The Doge of Venice’s Palace is right up there and much of the detail is on the ceilings of some of the largest Council and meeting rooms in Europe. Photography fails to grasp the magnitude of some of these paintings and moulded and painted ceilings and the complexity of the subject matter which mixes up  Christian, classical and Venetian history is not for the faint hearted. Paintings by Tintoretto, Tiziano, Veronese, Carpaccio and many other Venetian artists adorn the walls of these amazing rooms with subject matter too difficult to master in one visit.

Ancient clock and statuary inside the Doge's Palace Venice from the 4th floor
Ancient clock and statuary inside the Doge’s Palace Venice from the 4th floor
Doge's Palace Venice; one of many painted and crafted ceilings with extraordinary painting and woodwork and gilt. The ceilings and the rooms just became vaster and vaster as we proceeded through the palace
Doge’s Palace Venice; one of many painted and crafted ceilings with extraordinary painting and woodwork and gilt. The ceilings and the rooms just became vaster and vaster as we proceeded through the palace
Inside beautifully restored colonnades of the Doge's Palace in Venice
Inside beautifully restored colonnades of the Doge’s Palace in Venice
Columns from the original Doge's Palace in the museum on the ground floor. Richard is no Samson!
Columns from the original Doge’s Palace in the museum on the ground floor. Richard is no Samson!
Doge's Palace Venice ..amazing painted and crafted ceilings just on the stairways
Doge’s Palace Venice ..amazing painted and crafted ceilings just on the stairways
Restored campanile of St Mark's Cathedral next to the Doge's Palace
Restored campanile of St Mark’s Cathedral next to the Doge’s Palace

The ground floor includes collections of the original columns and capitals of the first palace long gone,  and up front and personal they are simply huge.  The actual state rooms just keep getting larger and larger until the massive Council room where all the Italian nobles of the day gathered once or twice a year to keep an eye on the Doge and perhaps elect a new one (over 2000 of them in one sitting and a Council room to match and paintings to match. As in Mantua the palace is surrounded by cultivated gardens of peaceful shade, this time added to by the many canals passing through and around the palace. The weaponry and armoury rooms complete with knights in full armour on horseback, crossbows, every conceivable sword and pistol and a multi barrel shotgun were actually quite a shock to see the brutality and power of some of the weaponry.

Contrasting this magnificence, power and brutality  was the quite exciting  journey through the dreary passage ways of the  prison including the tiny bridge of sighs inside the palace where allegedly the prisoners sighed with horror contemplating their very imminent abode in the Doge’s dungeons.

The ticket includes the Correr Palace and Art Gallery with its elegant Hapsburg Baroque rooms and amazing art gallery of Venetian art (Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Tiziano, Veronese, late mediaeval and the extraordianary sculpture skills of Canova  as well as non Venetian artists including a large Bellini collection  and many others and in addition a massive classical archaeological museum and extraordinary numismatic collection;  The palace itself is a masterpiece of refinement contrasting with the sheer brutal power of the Doge’s Palace.  Curiously the New Zealand biennale exhibit of seeing the world  upside down from their point of view was still on show in the final amazing room of the Correr making a sharp contrast between painted mythological surrounds and the latest in technological whizbangery.

Correr Museum, part of the Baroque addition to the Doge's Palace. Amazing library of ancient texts; Richard very jealous indeed of these bookshelves..ikea they are not!
Correr Museum, part of the Baroque addition to the Doge’s Palace. Amazing library of ancient texts; Richard very jealous indeed of these bookshelves..ikea they are not!
Correr Museum with more amazing painted ceilings plus the New Zealand biennale exhibition highlighting high tech
Correr Museum with more amazing painted ceilings plus the New Zealand biennale exhibition highlighting high tech
New Zealand biennale exhibition showing the world from the southern hemisphere's point of view in Correr Museum, Doge's Palace
New Zealand biennale exhibition showing the world from the southern hemisphere’s point of view in Correr Museum, Doge’s Palace

The guide books say three hours for the Doge’s little house; We were there for close to six and hardly touched the wonders of the two museums.  Venice, like Italy, like Europe, needs a lifetime of study to remind yourself, to misquote Eliot, seeing  that in our end is our beginning and we find ourselves back at the beginning seeing things for the first time and asking the same age old questions….

Ignore the following: Richard feeling emotionally moved by Venice:

What started the ancients thinking about more than food, shelter and sex? what caused them to look out and up and to see gods in rivers, clouds, mountains, forests and seas? what mystery is there in the world’s languages, separated by geographical isolation and causing so much distrust and misunderstanding? why must humans seek to dominate, hurt and kill and destroy one another just for power and wealth; how can artists see the beauty in what they create without asking about the justice or lack of wisdom in the actions they depict? how could these Renaissance men and women discover so much in the new world, trade so cleverly with the old world,  find ways to examine by telescope and microscope the hidden world and the universe world  but not puzzle out how to simply love one another and care for one another?

How could Christian men and women read or hear God’s word in scripture and paint it in magnificent art and yet ignore its quite simple and basic teaching …a tree is known by its fruit, love one another, care for the poor and the stranger and the foreigner, my thoughts are higher than your thoughts says the Lord; if you seek me with all your heart you will find me…

Keats knew beauty was truth and truth beauty, Yeats knew the centre somehow could not hold,  Goethe knew that there is lust for power and knowledge greater than man that can destroy man, Shakespeare knew we walked on a stage before a particular audience..I feel the riddle of Venice that has encouraged many to write..but in the end there is,

Finely wrought sculpture by Canova in the Correr Museum attached to the Doge's Palace
Finely wrought sculpture by Canova in the Correr Museum attached to the Doge’s Palace

as Lewis and MacDonald have written, a deeper magic and a deeper longing, a calling from a place we belong to and have not arrived at yet.

One problem with the Doge’s art and power is that most would admit that the art displays the power of Venice rather than the power and love of the Son of God so often depicted, and that maybe the seat of the human problem. But enough philosophy for now..knowledge puffs up says St Paul and I think he was right to challenge the Athenians about their unknown God. St Paul above all in Romans called for unity in the emerging church he was called to help found. We surely need to heed his call today and also his reminder in chapter 2 that you are without excuse Oh man who judges for the one who judges practises these things but what can be known about God is clear to all people.  Here ends today’s lesson according to Richard.

Venice Doge's Palace Tintoretto? Doge acknowledges FaithCoda:  In this Tintoretto painting in the Doge’s Palace the Doge is shown acknowledging faith …but is the Doge’s Palace really about the power of the Doge rather than the power and love of God?

Visionary Venice

Gondola first class luxury in Venice
Gondola first class luxury in Venice
Richard looking for his private motor launch to arrive on the Grand Canal in Venice
Richard looking for his private motor launch to arrive on the Grand Canal in Venice

Wednesday 22 July

Today was a travelling day for us as we said goodbye to Padua after a very happy stay at the “Grand Italia Hotel” which was not particularly grand but who looked after us very well indeed. We had a late checkout, enjoyed the air con in the room and eventually made our way to the station for the very short run to Venice.

view of lions and elegant architectural flourish from our much appreciated large room in Padua
view of lions and elegant architectural flourish from our much appreciated large room in Padua

It is the first time we have stayed on the Venice

Venice room with a (not grand) canal room
Venice hotel  room with a (not grand) canal view
Water bus on the Grand Canal Venice.  Very crowded during the day but not so much in the evening
Water bus on the Grand Canal Venice. Very crowded during the day but not so much in the evening

island and it does make a huge difference.  Our rather “boutique” room looks out on a canal, not a very grand canal, but a canal nevertheless! It also could only be reached by water-bus there being no road taxis on the island. We alighted at St Angelo stop on the Grand Canal after a very crowded and rather sweaty water-bus ride and began the hunt for the St Georgio Hotel.  The best written maps of the lanes of Venice inevitably fail but ours lasted long enough to find someone to point us in the right direction and we were delighted to be reunited with air conditioning.

Gondola log jam in Venezian canals
Gondola log jam in Venezian canals

Initially appearing to be a Venezian backwater we were delighted that Moranda from Helloworld Belgrave had placed us in the heart of the San Marco shopping district just 10 minutes relatively straightforward walking to St Mark’s Square.  The shopping lanes cheered up Ann immensely and immediately including much murano glass, clothing, amazing jewellery, air conditioned restaurants, paper and leather shops. Yes there was even a secondhand bookshop and even a stamp shop run by an 84 year old hard talking salesman who was a child in uniform when Mussolini ruled and proudly showed us the photograph.  We stayed in the shops and the sun long enough to plot a course to St Mark’s Piazza then retreated to our room for siesta.

After dinner we went for a further wander looking at the Rialto Bridge in early evening light and watching the slightly embarrassed gondola dwellers as they passed under little bridges crowded with tourists.

Grand Canal Venice looking towards the Rialto Bridge in early evening light
Grand Canal Venice looking towards the Rialto Bridge in early evening light

We have just learned on BBC News that the heat will be with Italy for another week so we will have to maintain our current sun avoidance routine.  It is at least getting down to a quite reasonable 35 degrees! and there is an ocean breeze in Venice which helps.

Last day in Padua

Tuesday 21st July

Today is our last full day in Padua and we have been chilling out trying to stay chilled in the 39 degree heat. We negotiated our way on to the city tram and bus system and took the tram to St Anthony’s Basilica, in the south of Padua. This is a vast seven domed cathedral (not even counting the high spire) which we visited five years ago and were in awe of its magnitude. Today it was different, knowing what to expect and having recently seen large basilicas in Rome and elsewhere. But it is still a monumentally large cathedral with a huge number of side chapels and one very large side chapel in honour of St Anthony (who, being committed to poverty I am sure must wonder what happened to his legacy!).

Just three domes out of 7 of St Anthony's Cathedral in Padua
Just three domes out of 7 of St Anthony’s Cathedral in Padua
Ann in the hibiscus garden at St Anthony's Cathedral in Padua
Ann in the hibiscus garden at St Anthony’s Cathedral in Padua
Skeleton blowing his horn at the resurrection on the last day..getting in early at St Anthony's Padua
Skeleton blowing his horn at the resurrection on the last day..getting in early at St Anthony’s Padua

Today also there was a communion service about to start which we joined in with to the end of the Gospel reading. We have worshipped in many multilingual services over the years but usually with the help of earphone translation loops in Poland, English on screen in Rwanda, Verses sung in English and Japanese in Japan, and my very average French in New Caledonia. To be in Italy with no Italian at all and no English at all in the service was hard going and we pulled out at the end of the sermon which I presume was on the Gospel for the day which was from Matthew (the only word I understood in the reading). It certainly helped me to understand why migrant churches in our parishes have different services.  To worship without meaning even in an extraordinary environment is very difficult as St Paul points out in 1 Corinthians when dealing with tongues.

Donatello’s huge bronze figures (six of them) still stand on the high altar and his amazing statue of the condotierre Gattamelata still keeps guard in the grounds of the Cathedral.

Donatello's impressive equestrian statue of the condotierre (mercenary soldier) Gattamelata who did much for Padua
Donatello’s impressive equestrian statue of the condotierre (mercenary soldier) Gattamelata who did much for Padua

Coming out of the Cathedral we were able to join the hop on hop off bus and do the rounds of the whole city. It is a city of canals ( in one of which I observed an otter swimming) which reminds me how much of a sensation Mick Fanning’s victorious shark battle has been on BBC news…they keep replaying it day after day! The canals connect with the Adriatic and you can take a water taxi to Venice if you wish. Of course there are many other sensational and ancient churches which we could only see for short periods from the high bus eg The Chapel of San Giacomo (San Felice) – (which has five domes of its own) and  the ancient Basilica of St Sophia. The Prato della  Valle is a vast statue surrounded piazza between these two vast edifices and is apparently the largest piazza in Europe. We would love to have walked its perimeter but with no tall trees in 39degree heat that was not an option.

We trammed back to the city centre and tried to break our way into Padua University to see Galileo’s chair in the Astronomy Centre but were turned back by an armed guard who was unimpressed by my status of being an expert on Galileo having written a book on the subject!..we had to join a proper tour and there were none on offer in the time we had left. We had to be content with a seat at the Caffe Pedrochhi which opened in 1831 and became famous as the cafe that never closed its doors. It was certainly a nice place to escape from the engulfing heat for a very long lunch once again ..the gelato is to die for!

Caffe Pedrocchi in Padua has been open since 1831 and allegedly has never closed its doors1
Caffe Pedrocchi in Padua has been open since 1831 and allegedly has never closed its doors1
A cool time at Caffe Pedrocchi in Padua. The gelato is to die for!
A cool time at Caffe Pedrocchi in Padua. The gelato is to die for!

Enough is enough.. we are back in the air conditioned hotel…time for siesta.