WEDNESDAY 20th July 2005 Back to index

Like a recurring bad dream I kept on hearing these alarm bells ringing, one after the other, after the other; first a travel clock, then a mobile, followed by a bed side clock alarm and finally another mobile. After hitting the snooze button on them all I gave in and reluctantly accepted that I would have to wake up eventually. I sat upright, and with my eyes refusing to open, I shuffled blindly to the bathroom for a shower. Two hours of sleep is just not enough.

Julie woke up and we re-packed our suitcases but this time half and half, so that if one case went missing we would both have enough clothes to last a day or two. This is when we realised that I had not left behind my huge size 11 work shoes that I travelled down in yesterday. They would fill half a suitcase on their own! I should have left them in the car. We couldn't find any room to pack them so I took the drastic action of leaving them behind. It sounds so wasteful but they were only a cheap pair. [George from Asda] We did also have a cunning plan. The cleaner will surely find the shoes and take them to the Lost Property department from where we could reclaim them on our return on Sunday. Near Genius!

We were a little delayed on checking out because we were too honest and noticed that they hadn't charged last night's room service onto our bill. We stood there for over five minutes waiting. Whilst 300 seconds isn't exactly a long time, when you have a plane to catch you do get a little more impatient. I eventually had to walk away asking the receptionist to charge the card in our absence and forward the receipt; (which we never did receive)

This delay was yet another bad omen.

Our next obstacle was to find our way from the South Terminal all the way over to the North Terminal, where we should have stayed last night! This proved to be easier than I had anticipated as all the signs led us quickly to the monorail station where we were instantly transported over to the correct terminal. Whilst this was successful and stress free it didn't actually register as a good omen on Julie's doom scale. She stood silent for half an hour in the check-in queue battling with her thoughts. An extra layer of anxiety had been introduced into her mind as Christine, her sister, was waiting for a biopsy results on Thursday. Julie was worrying sick over that on top of her usual "I know I'm going to die in plane crash" thoughts. So when we reached the check-in desk, placing our 'his and hers' suitcases on to be weighed and labelled, and then the boarding pass printer broke, well, that came so near to being the final straw!

"It's all going wrong!" she despaired and held her head in her hands.

It only took them a minute to fix the problem and our boarding passes were handed over, but the damage was done. She was on the emotional ropes.

I was praying to all and sundry that the alarm bells didn't ring as we walked through security. It may have delivered the killer blow. I would like to thank God, Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha, Brahama, Krishna, Gandhi and Eric Clapton and Eric Cantona amongst other countless minor deities as we waltzed through without an incident.

It was now 6am which gave us just enough time for a decent breakfast at Garfunkels before heading over to Gate 104 which was so far away it felt as if it was back at the South Terminal!!

Julie remained utterly silent throughout the wait but was holding her composure very well. We boarded the plane and sat down. Not a word was spoken.

Whilst the stewardess went through the safety announcements I'm sure Julie did say something under her breath along the lines of "I wish she'd just shut up" but other than that she was focusing on preparing for take off. We left Gatwick more or less on time and we were surprised how quick the flight felt. Two hours literally flew by!

Before we knew it we could see the Alps in the distance, and then when we flew over the mountains we had a breathtaking bird's eye view. It felt like we were looking down on a World Atlas map. We saw Lake Garda below us like a small garden pond. It was such an amazing sight.

As we descended towards Marco Polo airport we saw Venice for the first time.

I must admit to getting excited as I leaned over Julie to look lot of the window.

It was quite surprising to see how small it seemed; to think that during the 16th Century this was one of the most powerful places of the modern world.

Julie had returned into silence as she was concentrating on landing the plane safely. Wherever possible she will only fly British Airways because she has confidence in the standard of the aeroplane and of the pilots. We touched down in less than perfect fashion, but it wasn't too traumatic.

As soon as we cleared customs we bought a ticket for the next scheduled Alilaguna boat to Venice. It cost €10 each. There were more expensive options such as a private taxi boat, and there were cheaper option such as a bus that takes you over the causeway; but arriving by boat has got to be the only way.

It took over an hour to chug our way over. We stopped at the Island of Murano and took on board more passengers than there were seats. They were all on their way to the beach at the Lido.

The journey went quickly as we were entertained by the antics of two small boys sitting opposite us. They had joined at Murano with their mother and a sleeping baby sister in her buggy. Whilst she stayed with her bambino up near the captain, the two kids came down the steps and sat out of her view.

The eldest, about nine, was playing with his hair, trying to get that tuft to look cool, whilst the youngest, about six or seven, was intent on ruffling and ruining the hairstyle. They were getting quite boisterous when the mother had to intervene by handing out a Gameboy and a mobile phone to play with. They stop hitting eachother on the head but were no less entertaining, especially the youngest who was so engrossed in his game. It must have a car racing game as he took every corner by leaning into the curve and kicking out with his legs. My shins were getting a hammering!

I was itching to take his photo as he was such a little character but it felt too odd, so I didn't.

They all got off at the Lido for their day at the seaside, whilst the foreign tourists from the airport stayed onboard for the final approach towards Venice.

It was such a classic view as we drew nearer. The bell tower in San Marco rising unchallenged to dominate the skyline. The bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore to the left its only rival.

And the green colour of the lagoon was simply unreal.

As we chugged towards our stop at San Marco we sailed passed our hotel. It was the Londra Palace which was situated in an excellent location along Riva degli Schiavoni.

I looked at Julie, then back towards Venice, and smiled. Right here and now life felt good. La Dolce Vita.

If only life could constantly be so sweet.

A little lottery win would just do nicely. The Euro lottery prize fund has swollen to €100 million and we have two tickets riding on it. What a dream that would be!

We docked at San Marco Giardinetti and as we stepped off an elderly gentleman with a trolley was offering his portering services. I bet he hates the invention of suitcases with wheels!

We didn't take up his offer, firstly because he looked incapable of carrying Julie's handbag let alone all our luggage. Secondly I've read they are quite expensive to hire. And finally our hotel was only a few minutes walk away.

Humping our suitcases through the crowds thronging at the entrance to Piazza San Marco and clogging the Ponte with its view of the Bridge of Sighs was actually harder work than we'd thought. Before it came an ordeal however we had arrived outside our hotel.

Hot and sweaty we walked into our air-conditioned lobby to check into our room. We were allocated room 102. I had hoped for room 106 as this was the room used by Tchaikovsky when he stayed in Venice whilst composing his 4th symphony.

The moment I stepped into room 102 my symphonic disappointment disappeared as I was blown away by the view from our window. "Oh my God, it's stunning" I heard Julie say.

"It has to be the best view we've had from a hotel room ever." I replied.

Although we both agreed that the view from the 22nd floor of the Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok was possible more spectacular.

The room itself was very spacious and comfortable and was air conditioned to an ideal cool temperature. The walls were completely covered in a very bright yellow oriental styled fabric, (not paper but cotton) and whilst a little over the top it did add character to the room.

Within minutes Julie had collapsed into her customary post-flight coma leaving me with nothing to do but unpack. It was quite interesting to note what we had actually shoved into our suitcases.

Julie: 5 assorted brown tops, 1 black top, 1 white top, 4 white vest tops, 2 linen blouses, 4 skirts, 3 pairs of shorts. 4 pairs of linen trousers, one posh dress, and only 4 pairs of knickers!

Colin : 6 T Shirts, 3 linen shirts, 1 thin sweater, 2 linen trousers, 2 linen shorts, 1 cream linen suit, 2 pairs of socks and 10 pairs of underpants!

We were here for five days so what the hell was I thinking about when I packed ten pairs of underpants? It's not like I suffer from incontinence or anything? But at least I knew I wouldn't have to wear them inside out and back to front; unlike Julie to was going to face a knicker shortage on Day 4!!

In contrast to Florence, (where she slept for fourteen hours!) Julie actually woke up from her deep sleep after only two hours; so we decided to head towards the Rialto Bridge to find something to eat.

We followed a route that took us away from San Marco, in an attempt to avoid the crowds, but there's no such secret Venetian route during the summer.

Cutting under a passage to just behind the hotel where the Church of San Zaccaria was cloaked in scaffolding we continued to meander our way through a maze of narrow alleyways and a network of tiny bridges over narrow canals, until we popped out into a large square that was home to the Church of Santa Maria Formosa.

Ponte Carmini
Rio San Zaninovo

The decaying facades of the canalside houses were oddly beautiful. The crumbling plaster and exposed brickwork were like lines on the face of a proud old lady. A mature city of former glories content with her age. Venice would not be same if she underwent a restoration.

We were also pleasantly surprised that the canals didn't stink! All the naysayers were keen to tell us that the water was foul, with the smell, the mosquitoes and the swarm of visitors making the Venice experience not as 'romantic' as the glossy brochures portray. But so far so good.

Anyway, on my radar I had in my sights a cafe called Ai Rustigha. Both the Lonely Planet and DK recommended it as being a great place for a panini. Shuffling down a busy narrow street called Saliz San Lio and then onto Calle de Bissa we were getting closer, but could we find it? Could we hell!

After wandering around in circles near where Ai Rustigha should have been we eventually gave up and tried another cafe instead. It was called Rosticceria and had plenty of choices on offer, from a hot buffet to panini and cakes.

We both had a toasted focaccia with roasted veg and pesto which was 'saliva gland swelling' delicious. And the glass of Prosecco did help it go down the right way!

Whilst enjoying our lunch I phoned another restaurant to make a reservation for tomorrow night.

It was called La Zucca and I had read about it over the internet. It caught my attention as it was cited as a popular choice for vegetarians; boasting a vast variety of non-meat dishes.

A lady answered and I succesfully reserved a table for 8:30pm. She then asked for my name.

"Yura nema ?"

I didn't quite understand her at first. "Pardon?" I asked.

"Yura nema? John, Edward George, capisca?"

"Ah,... my name is Colin" I replied, as my voice noticeably dropped, mostly through embarrassment that I didn't have a more dynamic name, like Alessandro or Giovanni.

"Oh" she started, with what sounded like a sigh, "what a beautiful name" she continued, with laboured breathing, "just like Colin Farrell"!

Well, I went all a fluster; she was all a tizz. Never in my life before had I ever had anyone say that Colin was a beautiful name! The second glass of Prosecco went straight to my cheeks as my face furnaced up. "Grazie, Grazie, Ciao Ciao" I waffled, and hung up.

Ciao, Ciao ?? What the hell was all that about?

Julie was wondering what was going on and having a bloody good laugh at the beads of sweat secreting across my brow from the further embarrassment of finding my schoolboy reaction to the flattery to be so ridiculous!

I was convinced the whole cafe had stopped eating to turn around and stare at me. It was time to move on!

Within a minute were walking over the famous Rialto Bridge. Fantastic!

Similar to the Ponte Vecchio, both sides were lined with shops. The Rialto however only had a smattering of Jewellers as most of them were tatty souvenir shops selling the same selection of masks and plastic gondolas or glass shops selling the most terrible designs of glassblobbery!

Once on the opposite side we walked down Riva del Vin to see the bridge from a distance.

Ponte di Rialto

It's certainly is a very picturesque bridge in its white stone with its arches and its balustrades and is probably the most well-known symbol of Venice.

It's only one of three bridges that span the Grand Canal through the city, and is certainly the oldest having been built during the late 16th century.

Riva del Vin was lined with many restaurants, in which I'm sure you pay a premium for that view! It was also a popular gondola port.

Before coming here we had decided not to bother with a ride on a gondola thinking that they were way too expensive and also seriously naff.

Now we were here we hadn't changed our minds but agreed that they are an essential part of what makes Venice so unique.

If nobody hired them then they'd be gone off the city's landscape. The view of the Grand Canal would be incomplete without a stripey shirted gondalier rowing beneath the Rialto.

Who knows, perhaps before we leave we might even have a go. (Being taken for a ride I mean [literally not metaphorically!], and not doing the propelling!)

We wandered for a while before ending up in a very pleasant open space on the bend of the Grand Canal, just the other side of the Rialto markets, north of the bridge.

We sat down at some tables and enjoyed a glass of Pinot Grigio and a Sangiovese. We had intended on just having coffee (honestly!) but the bar only sold wine!

This place was extremely pleasant. (Looking at the map it was called Erabara) It was very near to the Rialto Bridge but it somehow avoided the overcrowded flow spewing from it.

It was a little oasis of tranquillity!

We sat here for a good hour relaxing, watching the canal traffic pass us by, drinking our quality wine.

We could have stayed all day and on into the night but we decided to walk back to the hotel, through St.Mark's Square.

Finding our way from the Rialto was very straightforward as the yellow signs "Per S. Marco" led the way. We walked down the narrow Merc. Salvador and Merc. Zuilian past several designer shops until we popped out into the impressive Piazza di San Marco.

We came out beneath the clock tower Torre de L'Orologio dei Moir but today it was covered for repairs, and instead it was adorned by a picture of the Eiffel Tower!? (Next month apparently a picture of Big Ben was to make an appearance?!)

It was very congested here as the crowds flowing into the square stopped to marvel at the Basilica San Marco.

We added to the bottleneck as our first glimpse of the domes and the golden winged lion did impress.

This square is the only memory I have of my miserable visit here as a twelve year old.

Alone and penniless I spent a depressing time wandering around the dark narrow streets on a damp dismal February day.

I even had the indignity of having to ask a teacher to borrow some money. Both Anne French and Blinks the geography teacher with a nervous twitch put there hands in their pockets. They couldn't help me keep hold of my friends though. All I managed to see that day was the Piazza San Marco.

We walked away from the intensity of the people huddling around the Basilica and escaped to the steps at the opposite end of the square to admire the whole view.

Napoleon Bonaparte actually contributed to the majesty of this piazza by constructing the west wing, closing the square. He called it "the greatest drawing room in the world". Eh??

He also stole the Quadriga (four horses) from the Basilica, and took them back to Paris, as he also did with those crowning the Brandengurgh Gate in Berlin.

He was a bit of a kleptomaniac when it came to four bronze horses!

Julie was getting tired by now but before returning to the hotel I just wanted to 'pop' to the Ponte dell'Academia to photograph another one of Venice's classic views. On the map it wasn't far but what I had failed to comprehend was the maze factor. Up and down five bridges we walked, past the Church of San Moise, down the crowded designer street of Calle Larga XXII Marzo, where incidentally I saw a Hollywood actress whose name escaped me at the time!

Julie and I had to play a guessing game. Actress ... blonde ... American ... in this weeks OK magazine ... until she got it. The answer was Kirsten Dunst. Or at least she looked just like Kirsten Dunst!

Anyway, we finally reached the wooden bridge over the canal. Walked over to the middle, took the photograph looking down towards the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, and then returned back through the narrow medieval alleyways towards Piazza San Marco.

Then, just off Salizda San Moise, we walked back down towards the canal to find the famous Harry's Bar. We had a reservation booked for Friday and weren't planning on going in, but as we were already here we thought we would pop in and have a Bellini.

The Bellini is a delicious blend of Prosecco and White Peach nectar invented here by the owner, Giorgio Cipriani.

Now I've tried making them at home; the first batch was quite successful, the second was disastrous as I almost choked to death on stringy lumps of peaches!

We opened the door and were about to step in when Julie caught a glimpse of a dickey bowed bar tender and instantly got cold feet. "Ooh no, we better not, we're too scruffy, we'll come back when we're tidy!"

Harry's Bar is world renowned, but is especially so in America due to its association with the writer Ernest Hemmingway. The book "Across the River and Into the Trees" was set in Venice and included several references to the bar. We were looking forward to our meal here on Friday. Whilst notoriously expensive the experience of dining in a Michelin star restaurant would be worth every penny, I'm sure.

What wasn't worthwhile were the cafes in Piazza San Marco. In fact we sat opposite the Palazzo Ducale, in what they call the Piazzetta. A menu was brought out for our perusal when the extortionate price of €9 for a beer or a glass of Prosecco made us stand straight back up again.

That was 5 times the price I paid earlier this afternoon for a glass of Prosecco. Who on earth would pay that kind of money for beer? Beer is beer. Granted, it would have been a great place to watch the world go by, but it wasn't surprising that all the tables were vacant.

It was now 6pm and we had been walking for quite a few hours. We were both getting very tired but decided to squeeze a little bit more out of our first day by going up the campanile.

All the day trippers had gone home by now so we were in luck. There was no queue!

Another bonus was that we didn't have to climb one step to get to see the most stunning of views of all. Since the original Campanile collapsed in 1902 the replacement tower was fitted with an elevator!

It was quite busy up at the top. Each vantage point had to be strategically taken, and held. You couldn't leave a small gap because someone would squeeze in, and gradually move you out of the way.

It was worth all the effort however as every which way we looked rewarded us with a magnificent sight.

 

To tower over the cuploas of the Basilica, to appreciate a Pigeon's eye view of the piazza, and to gaze over to Santa Maria della Salute and 'Il Redentore' on the Guidecca beyond was so satisfying.

We also saw the church that stands opposite our hotel, San Giorgio Maggiore and realised how small an island it occupies.

It also has a bell tower of its own which apparently offers a stunning view back over the whole of Venice. [We plan on going over there tomorrow morning.] It doesn't however have the comfort of an elevator!

We had spent a good twenty minutes up here and it was fast approaching 6:30pm. In fact it was precisely 6:30pm because as we were queuing to catch the next lift down, those huge bells began to chime! My God they were loud!

There were five bells in all but not all were tolled. They each have names because originally they all served a different purpose.

Marangona rang in the mornings and evenings to signal the beginning and end of the work day, Maleficio rang for capital executions, Nona rang at the 9th hour [what ever that means?], Trottiera called magistrates to meetings in the Palazzo Ducale, and the bell of Pregadi called senators to the Palace.

We were within touching distance of them as they swung above our heads. They rang for a considerable length of time and all we could do was to stand there with our fingers shoved in our ears, facing the music. Just as they came to an end the elevator door opened and we made our escape before our hearing was permanently damaged!

Despite us both being knackered by now we still found the energy for one last expedition back towards Santa Maria Formosa to find a supermarket we had seen earlier.

We left St. Mark's Square through Piazetta dei Leoni where we crossed Ponte Canonica and looked down towards the Bridge of Sighs for an alternative view, framing a very crowded Ponte Paglia.

It took us a slow twenty minutes to reach the supermarket from Piazza San Marco. It was called Su.Ve. and we stocked up on essentials like sparkling water, Nastro Azzuro beer, a bottle of Prosecco, and a small bottle of peach juice. We must have been thirsty when we arrived!

We strolled even slower back to the hotel, menu reading along the way. By the time we had reached the Londra Palace we had read through the entire A-Z of Italian Cuisine and we were absolutely ravenous. We decided to turn around quickly, stopping only in our room for a shit, shower and a shave before bouncing back out again to find some food.

Just a short distance from the back of the Londra Palace was a cosy little square called Campo San Filipo e Giaccomo where several restaurants were competing for our attention. We sat at a table outside with the one that had Roast Chicken with Roast Potatoes on the menu!

It was called an unpronounceable 'Acuighetta' (apparently it means 'tiny anchovies') and despite the dreaded "tourist" menu the quality of the food was quite good. The service was pretty laid back and came at its own pace; which is fine when you're not starving but was a bit annoying as we were famished.

I had munched my way through most of the breadsticks on the table before they came to take our order! The food eventually arrived and I had a Tortino dei Melanzane, Zuccine e Mozarella (aubergine stack) as a starter which tasted great, then I had pizza to follow.

The Pizza Primavera was simple, fresh and wonderfully tasty.

The base was perfectly thin and was not topped with the customary tomato sauce but chunks of exceptionally sweet tomatoes that they desctibed as Pomodoro di Collina ['hill tomatoes']. Lumps of Smoked Ricotta were randomly dropped and a large serving of rocket leaves were placed on top, then drizzled slightly with Chilli infused Olive Oil.

[I'm actually drooling whilst writing this! How sad is that?]

Julie's Roast Chicken and Roast Potatoes was a disappointment in as much as the chicken piece was just a wing not a voluptuous breast piece! It tasted OK though.

Our plates were cleared but we waited for such a long time before the waiter arrived to ask if we wanted to see the desert menu.

"You like a desert menu?" he finally asked.

"Yes" Julie said, on my behalf.

"How many, one, two ?" he asked.

"Just the one will be fine." we both replied.

Then some five minutes later a plate of biscuits arrived, and we never saw the menu again. Something was obviously lost in translation. Fortunately the biscuits were quite nice, and I was happy to nibble them as my desert.

The sweetness of the biscuit made the Chianti suddenly taste like vinegar so I asked a passing waitress if I could have a glass of Marsala. She looked at me as if I had just asked to be breastfed! I know it's Sicilian but surely they have Marsala wine? Well, apparently not!

"Uh, ... Vino Dolci?" I suggested, and five minutes later a small glass of sweet wine arrived. I never bother with sweet wine usually, I don't usually like the taste but this was exactly the right wine to drink with biscuits! I have often thought of people who spout off such pretentious twaddle about wine as being pompous fools, but that I must admit the Verdicchio '98 was a particularly good year!

Next followed half an hour of trying to catch the waiter's attention for the check. By the end it felt like he was intentionally avoiding us! Despite the terrible service, we rounded up the €68 by two euros and that was in addition to the 12% service charge already included. Why did we do that?

To be fair though, the food was good and it was a very pleasant end to a very long day.

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