FRIDAY 22nd July 2005 Back to index

The thick lined curtains were doing a good job of keeping out the sunlight. Whilst the room was still midnight I knew that outside it was morning and another day was already in full swing.

It had hardly turned 8am yet hordes of people were already traipsing towards Piazza San Marco past market stalls and masked carnival queens. I opened the sashes to let it some of the day.

"Bloody Cuckoo" Julie chirped and rolled over.

I stood at our balcony and watched gaggles of visitors following their mother hen in a whistle stop tour of Venice. That must be soul destroying, to be here and not have the time to truly appreciate it. The more fortunate ones, who could follow their own path, wandered around the tourist stalls or posed for photographs with the masked ladies.

I found it quite funny when one "lady" unmasked herself to mop her brow to unveil a thick necked moustachioed bandana wearing gipsy!

It came as quite a shock that beneath all that lace was a swashbuckling pirate masquerading as a lady.

I turned the television on.

"Bloody Cuckoo!" I heard as she slipped under the covers.

She soon resurfaced when the BBC news was reporting that yesterday an attempt at blowing up the London Underground had failed, two weeks after the 7th July attack that killed more than 50 people . What is this world coming to?

It was after 11am by the time we left the hotel, after enjoying yet another pleasurable breakfast. We didn't have a plan for today. We were just going to go with flow, vaguely to the north of the city. I chose as a starting point the curiously named Tits Bridge! (Ponte della Tette)

It's well hidden in the maze of narrow streets of San Polo, so we got off at the vaporetto stop of San Silvestro and followed a map to find the area known as Le Carampane. This was historically the centre of 16th century Venice's brothel scene; the entertainment zone, where ladies of ill repute plied their trade.

Ponte della Tette is so named because for a time when the authorities, who normally frowned on prostitution, actively encouraged the ladies to bare their chests to entice the men of Venice into good healthy heterosexual behaviour to combat a surge in the popularity of homosexuality.

The bridge itself was nothing of note but it was great just to have found it, even if we didn't see one courtesan with her baps out!

We moved onwards and upwards, looping back towards the Rialto. Stumbling across a small cafe in a small square called Campo San Cassan we decided to sit down and replenish our lost fluids. It was now midday and getting increasingly warm.

Just a few twists and turns away were the Rialto markets.

The first we encountered was the fish market, housed inside the cool protection of the Pescaria. We actually smelt it before we saw it!

Julie was at first hesitant to enter the market because of the stink. We both took a deep breath an stepped inside.

We barely lasted thirty seconds before we needed oxygen. So we tried not to breath through our noses. To our relief the smell was strangely not as bad as it threatened outside.

Every fish imaginable was on sale here. The most dramatic of which was the head of a swordfish. We walked past all the stalls without pausing except to photograph the sad beheaded swordfish. (Does anyone know what purpose is served by its 3ft nose?)

Popping out the other side we then walked around the fruit and vegetable market, again not pausing to buy anything, but just enjoying the spectacle.

Just over the canal stood Ca D'Oro, an exceptionally ornate palazzo which now houses an art gallery.

To get there on foot would involve quite a walk, all the way back to cross the canal over the Rialto Bridge. The same would be true to catch a vaporetto.

So we made use of the gondola ferry, called a Traghetto, to row us across from the markets to the other side of the canal.

A traghetto may look like a gondola used by "tourists and lovers" but they are not fitted with comfortable red heart-shaped padded seats. In fact they have no seats at all!

The boat is filled with as many as they can muster and everyone has to stand up whilst two gondoliers row you all across the busy canal.

We boarded the traghetto, with ten others, mostly chunky local fishermen, paying our 50 cents each, and we stood up, holding tightly to each other (that's Julie and I, not all twelve of us!) for balance as we rocked and wobbled our way, weaving between water taxis and vaporettos to reach the safety of the other side.

I really enjoyed this uniquely Venetian experience whilst Julie was just plain shitting herself at the thought of the boat capsizing. (And I'm the non-swimmer!)

Safely onto dry land once more we walked down Strada Nuovo, a wide pedestrianised street lined with familiar shops which resembled a typical High Street in any British town. I was half expecting to find a Fish & Chip shop!

Then down a dark hardly noticeable alleyway we found the entrance to Ca D'Oro.

We waited behind another couple buying a ticket and handing over their baggage for storage. Then it was our turn.

"Quanto ?" she asked.

"Due" I replied in my best Italiano accent.

She then launched into a rat-a-tat-tat rapid fire Italian spiel. God knows what she said, but I just smiled and handed over my rucksack which seemed to keep her quiet!

I turned to Julie who was laughing to herself because she could see that I was pleased as punch that my pronunciation of a two syllable word fooled the receptionist into thinking that I was local.

One day I hope that I can put together a whole sentence not just two syllables!

We walked around the art gallery but didn't find much of interest. The best on offer was actually the great views of the Grand Canal from the open balcony.

Ca D'Oro's original palatial name was Palazzo Santa Sofia but it's current name, meaning the 'house of gold', became its popular name from when the walls used to be covered in golden gilt. Now that must have been something spectacular to have seen.

"Where to next ?" Julie asked.

"I wouldn't mind going to Campo dei Mori" I suggested. It was of slight interest because it is the reputed birthplace of Tintoretto.

"How far is it?"

"Oh, just around the corner"

"Hmmm," she sounded resigned, as she knows when I say 'just around the corner' it usually means one hell of a trek! "Okay, let's go then"

As predicted, it was a little further than I had thought. Although on the map it was simply walk down Fondamenta San Felice, cross a bridge over a canal to Campo Misericordia, follow Fondamenta della Misericordia, which was a very pleasant canal side walk, and then turn right to find Campo dei Mori. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

And whilst it was straightforward, and pleasantly free of crowds, I must admit it was some distance, especially with the searing temperature of the fierce sun beating down on us.

We eventually found the little square, well it was more of a triangle really, but when we arrived we were struck down by disappointment when there was nothing there to see.

We'd walked all that bloody way just to see some tatty half abandoned buildings!

I thought they would have made a fuss, perhaps a small museum or something to commemorate the painter. We didn't even see a plaque on the wall!

At least there were a few sculptures of people in the customary dress of Moors sticking out of the walls.

I read that they represented three brothers from Arabia who settled in Venice during the 12th century, highlighting the position Venice occupied as the centre point of world trade at that time.

We left Campo dei Mori over a bridge towards the striking gothic church of Madonna dell'Orto.

It was quite a surprise to stumble across such a large remarkable structure nestled amongst these quiet back streets of Cannereggio.

We didn't go inside, despite it being Tintoretto's final resting place and being a treasure trove of paintings by him and other Venetian artists. We soldiered on.

Literally around the corner, well, ok, a couple of corners, there was a vaporetto stop. We had now reached the northern most point of the city and were looking out over the lagoon towards the cemetery island of San Michele and the glass island of Murano.

Checking out the timetables we realised that vaporetto number 42 stopped here.

We noticed that the 42 line continued to the islands, so we went with the flow, leaving Venice behind and sailed to Murano.

It was possible to visit the cemetery, and I must admit that I do enjoy a good graveyard but today we decided to give it a miss.

We got off at the first Murano stop at Colonna and walked up the sunny side of the street alongside the canal Rio dei Vetrai.

Whilst Venetian glass is world renowned most, if not all, comes from Murano.

It has a tradition of glass blowing since 1291 when the Venetian Republic ordered all glass foundries to relocate to Murano as they were a fire hazard!

Almost every shop was of course selling glassware. How does one sell more than the other? They all sold the same crap!

We did walk inside one to have a look. It was packed full of chandeliers from the reasonably tasteful to some shockingly kitsch and hideously gaudy, and they weren't cheap either!

We reached the end of the street where the canal met another wider waterway. In the distance we could see the church of San Maria e Donato but it looked too far for us to have made it and survived; without at least having some lunch first!

We crossed the Vetrai to the shady side, and found a cafe. It wasn't the first we walked past but it looked the most popular.

"It must be one of the best if it's so busy" we thought. It was called Ristorante da Rosta and to be fair the food did justify its popularity.

The menu arrived, and despite having a cockerel on the front they didn't have any chicken on the menu!

Search as she did Julie couldn't see 'Pollo' any where. It was quite odd because it was an extensive menu with plenty of choice, just not chicken?!

Anyway, we shared a deliciously fresh Caprese salad with rocket leaves instead of the usual basil, which was a refreshing twist.

I then had Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Pepperonico, which was just plain simple pasta with oil, garlic and chilli and was immensely satisfying.

Washed down with half a bottle of Bardolino red wine it was the type of meal that you wish never came to an end as it was too delicious.

Julie, with her cramping stomach, abstained from the wine, and went for a Salmon steak with french fries.

It felt wonderful to sit outside, enjoying good food, and relax. Julie took the opportunity to write some postcards home.

To Mum & Dad - "walking for miles and miles. Beginning to sigh over every bridge"!

To Christine - "Harry's Bar tonight - bankruptcy tomorrow"!

To Mam a Dad - "Ciao Mama e Papa. Venice is exceptionally beautiful and we have literally seen every square inch of it"

I was just about to take a photograph of her writing the postcards, with the canal and church behind her when she lifted her head to look at me.

"Put your head down" I said.

Well it was a shame that I didn't capture her face at that very moment because it was such a picture! She just couldn't believe it! Thankfully she took it in good humour as she always does.

Trying to get to pay the bill was once again a challenge. The waiter and waitress were quite happy and chatty at the beginning but were lacking in charm by the end; evaporated in the hot sun perhaps, as they blatantly ignored us when we asked for the check. And I finally worked out why!

The longer we sat there, the busier the cafe looked, and the more popular it seemed! The crafty buggers!

At €45 we were happy that it was value for money.

We couldn't fault the food, and it was very pleasurable to sit down for an hour and a half , so we'll forgive them their reluctance to produce the bill.

Neither of us felt like walking over to San Maria e Donato, or the Museum of Glass nor any other Glass Factory, of which there were plenty.

We were shattered so we left Murano on the number 5 vaporetto which sailed directly to San Zacaria, outside our hotel.

It took over half hour to sail across to Venice, and with full stomachs and plenty of sea air we were seriously ready for a really good siesta.

And we certainly did have a good siesta. We slept for three hours!

Our table at Harry's Bar wasn't booked until 8:30pm so we had plenty of time to wake up, have the triple 'sh' (it, ower, ave) and throw on our Sunday Best for an elegant evening of class and distinction.

Julie looked radiant in a dress that she had bought specifically for tonight. She had never spent so much on a dress before but it was worth it.

I wore my "John Travolta" suit, but thankfully I looked a little less Saturday Night Fever as I was wearing a black T-shirt beneath instead of a large collared shirt!

I will never forget the FA Cup final in Cardiff (2004) where I had to walk through the valley of death filled with 40 baying Millwall fans chanting "There's Only One John Travolta"!

If they had known that I was an United supporter then I would have been dead!

Harry's Bar is located on the front, opposite the Vallaresso vaporetto stop. It took us ten minutes to walk from our hotel, down Riva degli Schiavoni , over Ponte del Vin, past the Hotel Danieli, onto the Ponte Paglia which we noticed has serious cracks in it, straight off Ponte Paglia as quick as possible, past the two columns of St. Mark and Theodore, through the tourist stalls of the Giardinetti, over Ponte Accademia Pittori and we were there, outside Harry's, without breaking into a sweat.

The entrance is tucked to the side, up on Calle Vallaresso. We stepped up and opened the door, this time confident that we did not look too dishevelled for this world famous establishment!

Our immediate impression was how small it seemed. You instantly walk into the bar, which was just one room; where all walks of life including the scruffiest clientele pop in for a Bellini.

 

It was busy. I couldn't see an empty seat at a table nor a stool at the bar. It felt a little intimidating at first. I looked around for some attention to be surprised at finding it perched on the left as we walked in. No, it wasn't a parrot, but the receptionist, squeezed into the corner, with her reservations book.

"I have a reservation for tonight" I said, but my tone rose at the end making it sound more like a question.

"By what name?"

"Owen"

She then scoured up and down the book and couldn't find us. I spelt it out, "O-W-E-N" and she ran her finger up and down the columns. "Oh, shit, not another mix up" I thought.

I leant over and looked at the reservations. Wow it was messy! With huge relief all round we both found it, and both pointed quickly to it at more or less the same time, as if the first one to find it won a prize!

Within a flash a grey suited Head Waiter appeared and escorted through the bar; which was as I said packed with people standing two deep at the pumps. Once out of the bar we were led past the kitchen area, to a cloakroom, where he took my jacket, and then he showed us the stairs.

As we walked up he went to hang my jacket, yet by the time we had reached the top of the stairs he was already there to show us to our table?! Either they have twins working as Head Waiters or there's another staircase somewhere and despite his aged appearance he can run up a flight of steps like a whippet!

The dining room was no larger than the bar area beneath it, and they had positioned within it fourteen tables.

It didn't feel overly crammed but you could quite easily have a conversation with the gentleman in the far corner without having to raise your voice.

Seven white jacketed, black dickey bowed waiters were ready to serve in style.

Julie came to sit down and the ever attentive waiter pushed the chair in for her. He somehow managed however to push a little too hard and Julie was pinned tightly between the table and the chair! She struggled to push back for some breathing space but we eventually settled down.

We were then given the menu.

We had anticipated a very expensive evening tonight but even all the ballpark estimates we had expected hadn't prepared us for the ludicrous pricing that we were both staring at in disbelief.

We ordered a Bellini each to sip whilst we frantically tried to work out how much this was going to cost. At €11 each, the two small tumblers weren't helping us to keep the bill down!

I had previously mentioned to Julie that Harry's Bar signature dish was the Carpaccio, which is thin slithers of raw beef. As with the Bellini, the Carpaccio was also named after a Venetian painter. In this case Vittore Carpaccio. It was invented here by Guiseppe Cipriani for a specific dietary requirement of a Contessa who was under doctor's order to avoid cooked meat. It still baffles me as to why eating raw meat was better for her than having it cooked?

The menu had two versions, one listed as an appetizer for €42 or the one in the Cipriani Classics for €61. All along Julie had been watching the table behind me being served their food and being impressed by the presentation of what she assumed to be the 'main course' Carpaccio. The portion size looked substantial so she decided not to order an appetizer, ordering only the classic dish.

I was so hungry, and as my stomach rumbled my wallet groaned!

I ordered a Caprese Salad (€26) to start and a Risotto alla Primavera (€44) to follow. We ordered wine, a Soave and a Merlot, choosing those which were produced from Cipriani Vineyards. They had admirably passed on the savings to the customer and half a litre was only €14, the cheapest item on the menu except for the bottle of Mineral Water at €10!

Whilst we waited for our food it gave us an opportunity to look around. We noticed that the walls were the pale pink colour of a Bellini with black and white photographs of New York, past and present, breaking the pastel monotony.

Someone who we assumed to be the owner, the current Mr. Cipriani, walked around the tables stopping to say hello to each guest. We did get a quick hello out of him, before he moved on to two young girls sitting next to us. He gave them a little bit more attention, laying on that old Italian charm!

There wasn't anyone famous here tonight, or at least no one we recognised. Perhaps there was a Contessa or two but everyone seemed to be American. The two young girls shared a Caprese and a bottle of mineral water, and then left quickly. (They obviously had more sense than we did!) Another couple sat at a table facing everyone, probably the best table in the house. He looked like an obviously successful businessman out with his adoptive Tahitian granddaughter.

My mozzarella salad arrived, but on two plates, which I thought was a bit presumptuous, although we had actually planned to share. Either the waiter read our minds or he overheard us, or we looked like starter sharers.

Sadly the quality was a little disappointing. I'd even go as far as to say that the one I had for lunch was fresher and tastier. The cheese was a bit rubbery, there was no fresh basil, instead an iceberg lettuce leaf, and the tomatoes had been peculiarly skinned. It did nothing for me. Julie only ate half of her half, so we then swapped plates. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy it, she just didn't want to spoil her appetite for her main course.

After our plates were cleared we looked around the room again. Granddad and Pocahontas looked bored stupid, in contrast Julie and I couldn't stop laughing. We had slipped into speaking Welsh for some undercover ridiculing whilst debating who had been nipped or tucked. Thankfully Catherine Zeta wasn't here tonight. Not because she looks like she's had surgery but because she's from Pontypridd!

We watched a trolley roll into the room and stop by the side our table.

"That looks like a plate of tomato sauce" Julie said, "I wonder what it is?"

Then we watched the waiter pick it up, walk around the trolley, behind me, and towards Julie, placing the plate in front of her! Oh my God, we laughed!

This was her classic Carpaccio, a small 8 inch diameter plate spray painted with beef and drizzled with a precise zig zag dressing. It bore no resemblance to the fillet steaks the others were sinking their carnivorous teeth into. What she had on a plate before her was so thinly sliced that it hardly existed! She cut a piece and ate her first mouthful of Carpaccio, here, sitting in the famous Harry's bar, surrounded by Bellini pink and American diners, and she said "I can't taste anything"

Does everything taste of paper when sliced paper thin? What a disappointment.

Then came my Risotto.

Now the word 'Primavera' means spring, and I was expecting a wonderfully fresh and deliciously tasty bowl of creamy risotto rice with "just shelled from the pod" green vegetables like peas or broad beans. Instead I was staring at a plate of sloppy dark gruel which didn't exactly conjure up spring-like thoughts of flowering meadows and swooping swallows. Without blowing my own trumpet I have certainly made a better Risotto alla Primavera myself at home. I just couldn't see where the Michelin stars came from, it was distinctively average. And another thing, I could taste bloody chicken stock in it; but that was my problem not theirs.

Whilst the food was a let down we didn't want the experience to end so we ordered another medium carafe of Soave, as it was almost as cheap as the water!? I was also tempted into a Zabaglione for my desert; but at €24 for a plate of cream perhaps I should have been a bit more virtuous. The waiter must have felt guilty for serving just whipped egg white and marsala and charging a small fortune because he cut a thin slither of chocolate fudge cake, free of charge, for Julie. It was odd how it was the tastiest dish of all tonight!

The Harry's Bar experience came to an end when we asked for the bill and had to pay the astronomical amount of €264. What we had just done was a totally unjustifiable waste of money. Not only had Julie have hardly anything to eat but we were disappointed in oursleves that our perspective had not been realigned with the world's harsh reality. As we were getting dressed earlier in the evening we watched an appeal by the BBC News about the famine currently crushing central Africa in Niger, Mali and Sierra Leone. We should have cancelled. What we had spent felt so wrong. It was wrong.

Even if we won the lottery millions we vowed never to be so flippantly extravagant again. It was just bloody ridiculous!

We left the bar and strolled back to our Palace on the waterfront. We detoured into Piazza San Marco to see it all lit up to find it surprisingly still busy!

We also stopped to gaze at the Bridge of Sighs. We were on our own standing on Ponte Paglia so we didn't worry unduly about the cracks we saw earlier! I'm sure it could carry our weight, it's not like we'd eaten much!

As we continued down Riva degli Schiavoni we were stunned like rabbits in headlights as we stood rooted to the spot, staring at the moon. It was a colour that I had never seen it be before. We were both captivated, and a little disconcerted. It felt like an ominous seventh sign of the impending Day of Judgement when the moon turns a blood stained hue such as that of Jupiter or Mars.

We started walking again but we couldn't take our eyes off the Jaffa Orange in the sky. I tried to photograph this unnatural phenomenon but none of my half a dozen attempts came out. I may have been wobbling slightly!

Thunder and lightning were grumbling in the distance giving us a magnificent backdrop as we sat in the hotel lobby bar talking Welsh about the other guests' imperfections.

Just as we were about to retire to bed Julie struck up conversation at the bar with a girl who was on her honeymoon with a Welshman from Llanelli. Thank Christ we hadn't been talking about them! Phew!

We exchanged a "Nos Da" (Goodnight) as we went up to our room.

The lightning show was in full force by now as the storm grew angrier. We sat with the window wide open, drinking Hell bier, waiting for the end of the world.

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