Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A day in Treviso - Venice trip March 2007

Day 3 - Tuesday: Venice to Treviso by train

> Previous day: a tour of the islands

This was just a four-day trip, and I was already panicking about not being in Venice for long enough. One of my goals was to find a flat to rent for a longer stay, and I hadn't even started looking. I spent half the morning nervously considering letting agencies (but they're hard to locate, as are all addresses in Venice) and making notes. The most promising one (as recommended in Time Out) was already closed at 11:50. So I decided to go to Treviso. I wouldn't have a whole day for sightseeing, but enough to take photographs and make notes. And it was another glorious day - blue sky; hot sun.

I just missed a train and couldn't be bothered to walk to Piazzale Roma to investigate buses. Instead I hunted for food.

I was very happy to find a branch of Brek on Lista di Spagna. This decent Italian chain was a reassuring sight among the tourist traps. A bar at the front sold sandwiches and fruit juice. Further back was a full self-service restaurant with pasta dishes (3 per day), salads, meat dishes, fruit salads etc. You could fill a glass of local Veneto red or white wine from self-service taps for €1.10. I didn't really fancy wine but I couldn't resist the opportunity to brag about it to English friends. I ate pappardelle ai 4 formaggi (€4.50) – a little soft and salty, perhaps, but fine for refuelling purposes. The restaurant even had a few tables outdoors in a little yard. The toilets weren't very nice though.

I caught the 12:50 train for Treviso, arriving at 13:27. I bought my single ticket from a machine; it cost €2.20. You wouldn't get far for that in England. As the train crossed the rail bridge over the lagoon there was a hazy view of distant snow on the mountains.


Arriving in Treviso I followed signs through an underpass to the centro and walked further than I had expected towards Piazza dei Signori, the heart of town. Before getting there I took a diversion to the Church of San Nicolò, stopping to buy an ice cream with zingy citrus flavours to cool me down. It was a lovely cheap (90 cents) way of getting back into an Italian mood. Having selected lemon the motherly lady behind the counter recommended adding some ACE, an popular Italian mixture which I'm never quite sure about (I believe it's orange, carrots and lemons; I used to think the name referred to the the first letters of the ingredients – arance, carote and what?? but perhaps it's the vitamin content). It tasted lovely and was the perfect thing in the hot weather. The church was impressive and ridiculously elongated. It was, of course, closed with no intimation of opening times. So I resumed my course towards Piazza dei Signori. I was concerned that the tourist office might still be closed for lunch too but it had reopened at 2pm (I was glad of the pauses for lunch and gelato).

The young girl staffing the tourist information office tried hard but didn't speak terribly confident English. I waited while an English-speaking couple interrogated her about places to watch sport on tv, and the location of betting shops (some inventive descriptions to convey their meaning to her). Speaking Italian, I found her much more able to help. Friendly and chatty, she produced extra maps and described the town's attractions. She added that you could see most of them in an hour which seemed a rather modest statement. Some of the information about the province was very tempting.

I saw my ideal dress in a shop window along Calmaggiore, the (relatively) busy street leading to the cathedral. It was out of my price range however, so it was probably a good thing the shop was closed for a long Italian lunch.

I was disappointed with Piazza del Duomo (a car park and busy road, with handfuls of loitering students) and also with the Duomo itself – it had obviously been rebuilt at quite a late date so didn't have the historic charm I was expecting. It too was closed so I opened my 'Treviso, city of the waters' leaflet and set off on one of the recommended strolls.

This led me along some very pleasant little lanes and canals, past two moving waterwheels – I was going to saw 'working' but although they were operating I'm not sure they fulfilled any industrial or energy-generating purpose (it would be great if they did provide electricity though). A little island surrounded by water is the base for the morning fish-market, which had packed up and gone home. A fish sculpture sticks out of the water alongside the road.
Treviso was quiet in this early-afternoon lull, with a few smartly-dressed professionals on their way to or from lunch and several cyclists wheeling around the quiet streets. The arcaded streets provide great protection for pedestrians from blazing sun or torrential rain.

Despite the air of prosperity (even wealth) and the much-vaunted north Italian efficiency, the 'closed for lunch' encounters reminded me of many past day-trips further south. Arriving at the Church/Museum of Santa Caterina, eager to see the frescoes by Tomaso da Modena of which I had read much praise, the Italian curse struck again. The church is being restored. The frescoes can't be visited. Nor can the Titian. Actually, most of Treviso's museums seem to be under restoration and rearrangement. Still, I paid my small entrance fee and admired the paintings in the museum's open galleries.

I rather liked Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a Domenican, who appears to be writing his accounts – one hand is protectively across his papers, alongside a pile of coins and the keys of his calling (the guardian of the convent of San Zanipolo in Venice). I also much admired the pretty gardens that formed the background to a Concert in a Villa by Ludovico Pozzoserrato.

A short walk from the museum was the church of San Francesco; a nice cool refuge from the sun. Although not quite as dramatic as San Nicolò, this is another lofty brick structure and featured a large version of the wooden ships-keel roofs I've recently seen in Venice and Mazzorbo. There are more winged angel faces here, painted onto a column, which remind me of the faces I found so creepy in the Accademia. In the smaller chapels were faded medieval frescoes by forgotten artists; like the sad attributions you see so often: Pittore Veneto (Veneto painter) etc.

The stroll back towards the heart of town was picturesque, passing along arcaded lanes (with hints of fresco) and over a pretty bridge. I visited the Duomo and found the interior matched the neoclassical portico. However, the crypt contained some truly old wallpaintings. I dug out my last small change to pay the 30 cents required to illuminate them. Unfortunately, when I headed back upstairs to admire Titian's Annunciation I found that another 30 cents was required. So I had to view it as best I could in the shadowy church.

On the way back to the station I stopped off at San Nicolò, now open. Again there were some sweet frescoes by Tomaso da Modena (who I will have to look up) and less-remembered artists.

I'd enjoyed wandering around Treviso with its secretive waterways and arcaded streets. I passed several tempting bars and cafes, and thought it would have been a nice place to spend an evening or two.

A welcome spremuta di arancia (freshly-squeezed orange juice) and it was time for the train back to Venice. Unlike the smart modern carriages of the outward journey (a double-decker with a display informing passengers of the speed, temperature and punctuality) this was a terribly old rickety thing. After the sunshine and Italian-style refreshments of the day (pasta, wine, gelato, spremuta) I found myself dozing off during the short journey.

Nevertheless I found the energy to pop into that promising estate agency on my way back to the flat. They didn't have anything ideal on their books but I arranged to view a small studio in the following morning. A successful day.

A short video clip I made of Treviso:

> Next day: Pottering around Venice and decisions in the sunshine

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