European international rail changes for 2021

December sees the annual major timetable revision by European railway operators. This year, because of the pandemic, it was a somewhat muted affair, and most of the changes – which are fewer than usual – will be implemented at a later date: many international rail services are currently severely curtailed or suspended.

Mark Dudgeon, the Blue Guides rail correspondent, highlights the main improvements which will take effect when international rail services return to some semblance of normality.

Night services

The Nightjet services operated by Austrian Federal Railways (OeBB) have been a rather unexpected success story in recent times. For 2021, Amsterdam will see the return of a sleeper service (to Vienna with through coaches to Munich and Innsbruck) after a hiatus of several years. The Nightjet previously starting and terminating in Dusseldorf will be extended to and from Amsterdam, and will operate daily. Departure from Amsterdam Centraal will be at 19:30, with arrival at Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof at a civilised 09:19; Munich Hauptbahnhof at 07:28 and Innsbruck at 09:14. In the return direction, the train will leave Vienna at 20:13 (Innsbruck 20:44 and Munich 22:50) and arrive in Amsterdam at 09:58. The Brussels – Viennaservice, which was introduced last year, will operate three times weekly instead of two (although the Brussels – Innsbruck portion will no longer run). The two trains, from Amsterdam and Brussels, are joined in Cologne, and run as one train from there onwards to Vienna.  The Amsterdam – Munich – Innsbruck portion is detached in Frankfurt.

Most Nightjet services are currently suspended until February 2021 at the earliest. Nightjet.com has full details.

A small but welcome change will see the introduction of a Hungarian restaurant car between Budapest and Salzburg on the sleeper train from Budapest to Munich and Zurich, allowing for a leisurely dinner westbound or breakfast in the opposite direction.

Western Europe

Trains from Switzerland to southern Germany and to northern Italy see some substantial improvements.

• The Zurich – Munich service is significantly upgraded following infrastructure improvements in Germany. The electrification work between Lindau and Munich via Memmingen has been completed, and a new station has been built at Lindau-Reutin which will obviate the need for trains to reverse at Lindau Hauptbahnhof. The resultant reduction in journey time (Zurich to Munich will take about four hours) compensates for the loss of the impressive, scenic approach to Lindau’s main station across the causeway. Six Swiss tilting-train sets will operate this service daily in each direction; unfortunately, it does mean the demise of the excellent first-class Swiss observation coaches on the previous locomotive-hauled services.

• The opening of the 15-kilometre-long Ceneri base tunnel north of Lugano will mean that journey times between Zurich and Milan will be reduced by about 20 minutes. The number of services will increase from six to ten each way, with three services proceeding beyond Milan (one each to Bologna, Genoa and Venice).

Eurostar services have been badly impacted by the pandemic, with only a handful of trains operating for the past several months. On some days the services has been reduced to just one train each way per day, between London and Paris, and London and Brussels/Amsterdam. A more frequent service with the introduction of through trains from Amsterdam to London will hopefully materialise in spring 2021.

The popular Deutsche Bahn ICEs between Frankfurt and Brussels, connecting to onward Eurostar services to and from London, will see two more services per week in each direction.

Central and eastern Europe

• The Vienna – Budapest service will see an hourly frequency throughout the daytime, with an additional three trains in each direction filling the missing gaps.

• The Berlin to Krakow Eurocity train (EC Wawel) will be reintroduced after several years. Leaving Berlin at 10:37, the train travels via Wroclaw and Katowice to arrive at Krakow Glowny at 17:51. In the return direction, departure from Krakow is at 10:11 and arrival at Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 17:16. 

• There have been unconfirmed reports that the EC Emona train between Vienna and Ljubljana will be extended to and from Trieste. If this comes to pass, it will be the first regular international express service to cross the strangely impregnable (at least for trains!) Italian-Slovenian border for many years.

And finally, see our tips on using Interrail and Eurail passes to simplify booking and cut costs in this post»

Interrail and Eurail: tips and savings

Whilst it might not have sold many passes this year, the team based in Utrecht (Eurail B.V.), which operates the Eurail and Interrail scheme has, in the meantime, developed and introduced an electronic version of their eponymous passes.

The two schemes (Interrail for European residents and Eurail for those living elsewhere) have now been streamlined and operate using the same pass validity and pricing structure. The new mobile pass allows you to choose the start date of your pass at any time during the eleven months after purchase; previously with the physical hard-copy passes the date had to be fixed at the time of purchase. An additional improvement is that the previously cumbersome travel diary is now recorded on the mobile app.

Interrail and Eurail passes can offer serious savings on international rail travel for all age groups, both in first and second class. The range of passes includes continuous versions (for example, 15 consecutive days) and flexi versions (for example, 10 days of your choice in a period of two months). The flexi passes in particular offer great opportunities for, say, two or three long weekends away in a two-month period.

Currently, Eurail and Interrail are offering a 20% discount on passes purchased by 4 January 2021. Unusually for promotional passes, they are also refundable (with a 15% administration charge). Full details of the promotion and the new mobile passes are available on eurail.com.

Bookshops in Budapest

As bookshops continue to close down in cities across the world, the pleasure of browsing becomes ever more difficult to indulge. Shopping online is undeniably convenient, if you know precisely which title you want to buy. But how do you find out about those books you never knew you wanted? Thankfully in Budapest there are still plenty of places where you can give yourself over to the serendipity of the shelves. Here we list our favourites, not in preferential order, but adding them one at a time, as we revisit (and making sure always to leave with a purchase or—in the case of bookshops with cafés attached—to stop for a drink and snack).

1. MASSOLIT

Massolit is a very special place, an old-fashioned bookshop, enticingly and scruffily crammed floor to ceiling with titles on diverse subjects from Archaeology to Zoroastrianism, mainly (but not only) in English. It takes its name from the Soviet literary clique of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. A warren of interconnected rooms leads through to a garden courtyard at the back, where you can sit with your book and a drink. There is a bar in the main room where you place your orders (simple food is also available). Although right in the heart of Budapest’s ‘Party District’, well known for its rowdy ruin pubs, Massolit preserves an air of wonderfully nerdy calm, possibly because it serves no alcohol. A chalkboard notice kindly asks co-workers to remember to order something from time to time if they intend to spend all day there on their laptops.

Last visited: 28th May

Book: Selected Poems of Endre Ady

Drink: Cherry juice and soda.

Massolit Books & Café

Budapest VII. Nagy Diófa u. 30

Open until 7.30pm.

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2. ATLANTISZ KÖNYVSZIGET

The Könyvsziget or ‘Book Island’ is a split-level bookstore belonging to the Atlantisz publishing house, whose list is strong on philosophy, history, art, classics and other Humanities subjects. Most of the ground floor is devoted to books in English and other languages. The location is extremely central, right behind Deák tér where three of the city’s four metro lines intersect and the terminus of the 100E airport buses. Visitors to Pest’s city centre and to the Jewish District will find this bookshop very handily placed. Service is friendly and there are one or two chairs for you sit down while you browse.

Last visited: 29th May

Book: Promote, Tolerate, Ban: Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary

(For a review of the recent exhibition at the Hungarian National Gallery dealing with Communist-era art censorship, see here.)

Atlantisz Könyvsziget

Budapest VI. Anker köz 1–3

Closed Sat from 2pm and all day Sun.

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3. BEERS AND BOOKS

This is an eccentric and deeply delightful second-hand bookshop in Ujlipótváros, Budapest’s 13th District. You go down a few steps into a cool space lined on two sides with bookshelves, and on a third with an array of beers. You can buy either beer, or books, or both. It is also possible to drink a beer while you browse. I chose a bottle from the cool cabinet and it was poured out for me by the taciturnly friendly proprietor and served in a handsome long-stemmed glass. Beer in hand, you can pull up the high-backed faux-leather chair to a shelf of your choice and begin browsing. The offering is mainly in Hungarian but there is a small section of books in English as well. Not a chain, not a franchise, not an imitation of anyone else’s commercial prototype; this is a true Budapest original. The left-field choice of background music adds to the charm: on a scorching hot day in late May we were regaled with ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town’.

Last visited: 30th May

Book: Lajos Hatvany: Urak és emberek. A novel trilogy on the history of Budapest Jewry, from their arrival, through assimilation to persecution (for more on Lajos Hatvany, his family story and his brother’s celebrated art collection, see Blue Guide Budapest)

Drink: Monyó Flying Rabbit craft beer (for more on the Monyó brewery see Blue Guide Budapest)

Beers and Books

Budapest XIII. Pannónia u. 46/b

Open until 9pm.

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4. BESTSELLERS

Opened in 1992 by accomplished bookseller Tony Láng and still going from strength to strength after over a quarter of a century. Bestsellers has firmly established itself as the go-to destination for people looking for English-language books in Budapest. They have an excellent range of stock over many genres, including children’s books, newpapers and magazines. The section on Hungary and its history is particularly strong. Staff are well-informed and helpful. Browsing here is a delight. The location, slap bang in the heart of downtown Pest, could not be bettered.

Last visited: 31st May

Book: District VIII by Adam LeBor.

Bestsellers

Budapest V. Október 6. u. 11

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5. FUGA

The Hermes Udvar or Hermes Court, was built in 1905 for a company specialising in safe deposits. Operated as such until the First World War, after which the building was converted into flats. The architects, Géza Kármán and Gyula Ullmann, are known for a number of early 20th-century buildings in Pest, in a recognisably thickset, Seccessionist style. Today the Hermes Court is home to FUGA, the Budapest Center of Architecture, with a bookshop, café and exhibition spaces. The bookshop is excellently stocked, with a huge array of titles on fine art, applied art, architecture, urban planning etc in Hungarian and English, all enticingly spread out on the enormous central table. There are cosy nooks to sit and have a drink and at the back and upstairs there are exhibition rooms. The shows here are usually free and—naturally enough—take architecture as their subject matter.

Last Visited: 1st June

Book: Budapest Atlantisza by Emőke Tomsics, a study of the development of inner Pest in the late 19th century

Drink: Tomato juice

FUGA

Budapest V. Petőfi Sándor u. 5

Closed Tues.

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6. RÓZSAVÖLGYI

The Rózsavölgyi building is landmark example of Hungarian Modernism, built in 1910–11 by Béla Lajta. Part of the building is occupied by a chemist’s, the other by a bookshop. Historically Rózsavölgyi began life as a music publisher and shop, run by the son of a popular composer, and there is still a wide range of instruments, scores, sheet music and CDs on sale on the ground floor. At the front is a section of souvenir books and guides. Upstairs there are books on art and architecture, and further up still, the Rózsavölgyi Salon, which hosts muisc and theatre events and has a café (opens an hour and a half before performances).

Last Visited: 4th June

Book: Schirmer Performance Editions, The Classical Era (piano music)

Rózsavölgyi

Budapest V. Szervita tér 5.

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7. LÍRA

As the name, ‘Lyre’, suggests, this chain of bookstores specialises in music as well as in the printed word. They have shops well distributed across Budapest, in busy downtown areas of Pest as well as in residential districts of Buda (typically in shopping centres). The offering is wide, with a selection covering fiction and non-fiction, arts and sciences, adults and children and usually with a good range of titles in English and other languages. A link to the list of stores is given below. The illustration above was taken in the Múzeum körút bookshop opposite the Hungarian National Museum.

Last visited: 5th June

Book: Ignác Romsics: A Short History of Hungary

Líra (at many addresses across town; for a list, see here).

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8. HUNGARIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM

The bookshop of the Hungarian National Museum is in the building’s lofty Neoclassical lobby, to the left of the ticket desk. You can visit the shop without entering the museum. Its stock ranges from books to souvenir replicas, maps, posters and postcards. The books are often a motley bunch and it is always worth popping in to browse and to see what new titles have cropped up. There is always a selection in English and other languages. Titles held here are on history, art history and the museum collections themselves.

Last visited: 6th June

Book: The Dowry of Beatrice. Exhibition catalogue on Italian majolica and the court of King Matthias Corvinus

Drink: Sparkling mineral water. The museum has a café in the basement which you can only visit with a ticket. When the weather is fine, you can sit outside in the courtyard.

Hungarian National Museum

Budapest VIII. Múzeum krt. 14–16

Closed Mon.

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9. ÍRÓK BOLTJA

The ‘Writers’ Bookshop’ is not only famous for inhabiting the premises of the celebrated Japán Coffeehouse, haunt of artists and poets at the turn of the 20th century. It is also well known as the finest highbrow bookshop in the city. The shelves reach floor to ceiling (the topmost volumes are accessed by ladder) and the titles in stock cover poetry, fiction, philosophy, architecture, history, economics, law, sociology, theatre, gastronomy, design (and more). Books in English and other languages are on the upper gallery. The offering includes books on Budapest and a good choice of Hungarian literature in translation. There are also tables where you can sit and browse. Írók boltja often holds afternoon readings, discussions and other presentations: it is at the centre of a lively literary scene.

Last visited: 7th June

Book: Budapest Írókönyv (Liber ad scribendum). A beautifully presented anthology of archive photographs and extracts from prose and poetry thickly interspersed with blank pages, so you can write your travel journal. (The trouble is, the book is too beautiful to write in.)

Írók boltja

Budapest VI. Andrássy út 45

Open until 7pm, daily except Sun.

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10. HUNGARIAN NATIONAL GALLERY

The bookshop attached to the Hungarian National Gallery, in the Danube-facing wing of the former royal palace on Buda’s Castle Hill, has an excellent selection of books and souvenirs. The books on offer include publications on Budapest and Hungary, exhibition catalogues, artist monographs and numerous works on art history, including a wide choice of titles in English. The shop is separated from the museum: you can visit the shop without an entrance ticket. The same is true of the café, which is in the opposite wing of the same building.

Last visited: 8th June

Book: Painting the Town Red by Bob Dent

Drink: Iced coffee

Hungarian National Gallery

Budapest I. Castle Hill

Closed Mon.

Recommended places to stay and eat on Crete

As a brief introduction here are six hotels and one restaurant that are recommended in the new Blue Guide Crete. Note that, as with all Blue Guides Recommended establishments, all have been visited by the author or our editors and contributors, indeed in the case of the below we have stayed at all of them.  Considerably longer listings appear in the book itself.

Most of the below are available through www.cretetravel.com who we found excellent. As well as handling the reservations (at no cost to the visitor, they receive a fee from the hotel), they will also give helpful email or telephone advice:

1. Tamam Restaurant, Chania

2. Casa Delfino, Chania

3. Villa Kynthia, Panormos

4. Villa Kerasia, Venerato

5. Kalimera Archanes, Archanes

6. Palazzo Apartments, Agios Nikolaos

7. Aspros Potamos, near Makrigialos

A handful of favourite things to see in Sicily

1. Fonte Ciane, near Syracuse, just west of the city itself.

To get there, leave town on the road signed for Canciattini. Then fork left onto a narrow lane called Traversa Cozzo Pantano. The Fonte Ciane is at the end of this lane (follow signs to Villa dei Papiri).

The Ciane river meets the sea just south of the city of Syracuse. It is a very short and very narrow river, little more than a brook, winding slowly from its source among papyrus pools and orange groves, in a rather strange landscape of wire fences and barred gates and barking dogs.

I have never seen papyrus growing wild before. In Europe it grows only here, and along another Sicilian river, the Fiumefreddo. The spring at Fonte Ciane takes the form of a reed-fringed pool beside a stand of tall eucalyptus trees. A wooden walkway takes you out over the water so that you can examine the papyrus plants from close quarters. Their stems are extremely tough and cannot be broken without a knife (but don’t experiment—there are signs warning you not to damage the plants). You can also spend long minutes trying to spot the frogs. They make a great din, croaking and puffing out their cheek sacs, but as soon as they hear you approach they fall silent, and locating them can be frustratingly difficult.

The spring takes its name from the Greek word for azure and also from the story of the nymph Cyane, who attempted to prevent Hades from carrying off Persephone and was changed into a fount of water, condemned to everlasting weeping.

Thanks to Wendy Hennessy for supplying the identity of the lizard (Lacerta viridis). They can grow up to 30cm long, excluding the tail. This one was nothing like that length. Reptile enthusiasts can find out more about the species here: www.reptilia.dk/Krybdyr_vi_holder_nu/Oegler/Lacerta_viridis/lacertaviridis.htm. If anyone can identify the frogs, please send a message to editorial@blueguides.com.

2. Syracuse: where the sun always shines

It was Cicero who said that Syracuse knows no day without sun. Certainly when I have been there I have found nothing to prove him wrong. It is a wonderful place, with many layers of history–you can easily spend a few days here. It was founded in the 8th century BC by settlers from Corinth in mainland Greece and rose to great power under its ruler Dionysius the Elder in the 5th century BC. Under the Romans it was peaceful and prosperous and acquired an amphitheatre. St Paul came here and is said to have preached in its great stone quarries. Syracuse was the birthplace of Archimedes and is now home dedicated to his inventions, appropriately sited in Piazza Archimede (and covered in the new edition of Blue Guide).

The cathedral (duomo) of Syracuse is one of the most extraordinary sights in Italy: a Doric temple of 14 by 6 columns, built in 480 BC by the ruler Gelon, to celebrate victory over the Carthaginians and dedicated to Athena. The closed by a modern curtain wall and obscured in front by a Baroque façade, that temple’s colonnade is fully discernible today. The interior is one of the most atmospheric I know. The picture here shows a view down the south aisle.

The other picture, an oil-painting, in the chapel at the head of the south aisle, shows Bishop Zosimus with the IHS mongram on his chasuble. It was Zosimus who converted the ruined Temple of Athena into a cathedral. The work is attributed to Antonello da Messina, the great 15th-century Sicilian artist credited with introducing oil painting to Italy.

A famous feature of Syracuse are her ancient stone quarries, known as latomies. These were no ordinary quarries. In ancient times they were also used as internment camps for prisoners and cohorts of slaves were kept here in uncompromising conditions, chipping away at the rock to carve out perfect blocks of exactly one cubit. The best-known of the latomies is the so-called Ear of Dionysius, a tall cave entered by a narrow, man-made slit in the rockface, and extending backwards and backwards into the gloom. Once your eyes have got used to the dim light, you will see that every inch of wall surface is striated with the marks of the slaves’ chisels. The name of the cave was coined by Caravaggio, because of its particular acoustic properties: it amplifies every sound, giving back a single eerie echo.

3. The Temple of Olympian Zeus

To get there, take the Via Elorina. Cross the Anapo river, then the Ciane, and then look out for brown signs taking you left to the Tempio di Giove Olimpico.

Just outside Syracuse to the south stand two forlorn columns, in a field of wild flowers next to a horse farm where sad-looking sway-backed horses canter up and down behind a wire fence. It is a very ancient temple, dating from the 6th century BC, and occupied a strategic spot much beloved of would-be besiegers of the town. As the picture below shows, there is a superb view of Ortigia (the old city) from the temple platform.

4. Pantelleria: the donkeys that were saved from extinction

The island of Pantelleria lies over 100km from Sicily, in fact it is closer to Tunisia. It is famous for its delicious capers and its wines, for having been the island home of the nymph Calypso, with whom Odysseus dallied on his way back to Ithaca, and for having a longish roster of celebrity residents, among them Gérard Depardieu. It is served by boat (seas permitting) from Trapani. What is less well known is that it is also the home of a hardy breed of donkey:Photo: Azienda Regionale Foreste Demaniali, Pietro Alfonso

Photo: Azienda Regionale Foreste Demaniali, Pietro Alfonso

According to Ellen Grady, author of Blue Guide Sicily, the Pantelleria ass is a kind of donkey native to the island, where it has been used since the 1st century BC. It’s very big (the size of a pony), very strong, with a smooth, shiny black pelt. Very fast moving, sure-footed on the mountain tracks. It became extinct 20 years ago because people weren’t using them any more and the last one slipped into the sea and drowned. The exciting news is that the forestry technicians at the San Matteo stud farm at Erice have been able to recreate the donkey, using Jurassic Park-style procedures (taking genes from donkeys throughout Italy which had this particular donkey in their ancestry). It has taken them 17 years, but recently the first four Pantelleria asses were shipped to their island, where they will be used for tourism (trekking around the volcanoes).

The stud farm itself, San Matteo on the Sicilian mainland, is reached from the hilltop town of Erice by taking the Raganzili road. It’s also an agricultural museum. More info (in Italian) on the following website: www.ilportaledelcavallo.it/articolo.asp

Venice without the crowds

People often worry that a trip to Venice will be marred by excess numbers of their fellow human beings. True, the city gets very crowded at certain times of year, and yes, there are ever fewer Venetians and ever more wretched carnival mask shops. But overcrowding afflicts only St Mark’s Square, the Accademia Bridge (and the route between the two), the Riva degli Schiavoni, Rialto and sometimes the island of Murano. Other parts are as tranquil as they were when Ruskin came to sketch them. Below are our top ten favourites (list still in progress).

1. San Trovaso: Plenty of people know about the squero, the gondola yard on the Rio San Trovaso in the sestiere of Dorsoduro. Opposite, on Fondamenta Nani, the bàcaro known as Schiavi or Vini al Bottegon is even more celebrated. It features in every single guide book. The ciccheti are superb, it is true, and the range of wines extraordinary, but the crowds at the bar are often more than the tiny place can comfortably handle. What gets overlooked is the large church of San Trovaso itself, with its two huge Diocletian windows, looming over its eponymous campo. It is not by Palladio, but probably by a pupil. Inside there are two Tintorettos and, which always delights me, an altar (just to the right of the west door) dedicated to the guild of gondola-builders. I like to think of them popping in for a quick prayer before or after work at the shipyard just outside.

2. Palazzo Querini-Stampalia: Approached across a narrow canal from Campo Santa Maria Formosa in the sestiere of Castello, this 16th-century palace has interesting interiors, a good collection of paintings (particularly 18th-century documentary views of Venice) and an excellent bookshop. The ground floor was remodelled by Carlo Scarpa and is an interesting example of his work. Perhaps his best. An exhibition documenting Scarpa’s time as director of the Venini glassworks is running on the island of San Giorgio until 29th November. See here for details.

3. La Malcontenta: True, this famous villa is not in Venice: it stands on the bank of the Brenta canal, a narrow, tranquil waterway that runs between Venice and Padua. But to understand Venice in her heyday, you need to come and see these villas. Their Palladian design is serenely perfect, the relationship between building and nature graceful and inspiring. From the 16th century onwards, patrician Venetians would pack up their town houses and travel by horse-drawn barge, the burchiello, up the Brenta to their summer villa.  For the more academically minded this would have meant total repose, and the opportunity to brush up their Greek, study their astrolabes, write treatises on the whooping cough, etc. The more social would have thrown competitively magnificent parties in competitively fragrant gardens and Veronese-frescoed salons. La Malcontenta herself, Elisabetta Foscari, was exiled to this villa by an outraged husband no longer disposed to tolerate her licentious lifestyle. One can imagine her sitting in one of the cushioned window-nooks, gazing sourly and sullenly out at the little willow-shaded curve of the canal whose view her great villa commands. Today a motorised burchiello still runs up the Brenta, between March and October, from the Pietà landing stage in Venice. For details, see www.ilburchiello.it. The Brenta and its villas are covered in Blue Guide Concise Italy and Blue Guide Northern Italy.

4. Santo Stefano: The church of Santo Stefano is one of the finest in Venice. From a distance, its slightly leaning bell-tower is a landmark. It stands in the busy Campo Santo Stefano in the impossibly busy sestiere of San Marco. But inside, it is a haven of quiet. It is one of the churches belonging to the Chorus Pass scheme, which means you have to pay a small amount to get in. And not everyone chooses to do so.

Santo Stefano has long been linked to Venice’s mariners. In the floor of the nave is the huge seal of Francesco Morosini, the Admiral of the Fleet who captured the Peloponnese for Venice (and who also inadvertently blew up the Parthenon during the Siege of Athens in 1687). The guild of bakers, the pistori in Venetian dialect, were attached to this church. Their dry ship’s biscuit was especially prized by the Republic’s quartermasters. As if to emphasise the maritime connections, the church has a magnificent wooden ship’s keel roof. There are four paintings by Tintoretto in the sacristy: Washing of the Feet, Resurrection, Prayer in the Garden and Last Supper (pictured, 4a. Is Judas the man on the left, turning away and guiltily grabbing at the wine?). In the adjoining small cloister is an exquisite bas-relief by Canova, the funeral stele of Giovanni Falier (pictured, 4b), the man who recognised Canova’s sculptor’s talent when he was still a humble kitchen boy and who became his first patron.

5. San Vitale: This church is a particular favourite of mine. It stands in a very crowded spot, on the busy thoroughfare between Campo Santo Stefano and the Accademia Bridge. The dedication is to St Vitalis, once reputed to have been a Roman soldier martyred by Nero but later outed as a figment of the medieval imagination, whereupon his cult was suppressed. The church is now deconsecrated and is used for concerts. But its door is always open and when there is no concert in progress, it is a place to see two wonderful works of art in situ. The main altarpiece, of St Vitalis on a white charger, is by Carpaccio (1514). While his works in the Scuola degli Schiavoni are often hard to view in peace because of the numbers of visitors in the tiny space, this luminous altarpiece shines out at you down the central aisle as you stand at the main west door. On the right-hand side is another fine painting, a typical brown-toned work by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, showing the Archangel Raphael appearing in a glow of intense white light to Sts Anthony of Padua and Louis Gonzaga.