Day 1 – Just Getting there

We left the house around 10 am feeling great.  House is tidy, full instructions left with Jenny that I’d like to return to it in the same state, please and thank you very much. 4 days, the longest we will have left her by herself, but she’s 16 and old enough to be off on her own, so despite me feeling a little guilty I know it will be good all round.

Sun is shining, and really looking forward to this trip.

We drove to Dave’s in Derby – he’s keeping our car on his drive and very kindly ran us to the airport.

I was sure I must have flown from East Midlands before, until the Robin Hood Airport opened in Doncaster it was our nearest airport, but on arriving realised that I was mistaken.

Just time for a quick spot of lunch before we had to board our easyjet flight to Italy’s Marco Polo airport.  Apart from a bit of turbulance the flight would have been uneventful.  That is without the double act that were two of the stewards.  Cracking jokes right left and centre, they had us in stitches.  Go on Easyjet, loads of brownie points for having human stewards.  Other than that, Barack Obama kept me company in the form of his book The Audacity of Hope, whilst Simon was Alp spotting out of the window.

Once at Marco Polo we immediately found a booth where we purchased a 72 hour transport pass – which covered everywhere we were intending going the whole weekend. At €30 each, it turned out to be a bit of a bargain.

Found the bus that was to take us the ten minute ride to the hotel in Mestre.  This is where I started to regret having booked the holiday on a Saturday morning in Llandudno, being in a comatose state from ‘the night before’ and bearly able to nod yes to anything I was asked.  Be warned, don’t go booking holidays the morning after your worst bender in two years.

To be fair, both Simon and I had only given the direction sheet a cursory glance, both assuming from the picture given that the bus would pass right by the hotel, we would recognise it, shout "Grazie" to the driver and hop right off.

Wrong.  After being on the bus for 20 minutes we decided that either Italian time scales were really shite, or we should have got off ages back. We disembarked at the next stop.

We found ourselves outside the city hospital – a good landmark if ever you’re lost, and so accosted a cosmopolitan looking chap who we felt sure would know at least a little English.  Wrong again.  He tried his best, and eventually on production of the address we were looking for, made it understood that he didn’t have a bloody clue where it was.  However, trying his utmost to help, he then accosted a family who had just emerged from the hospital.  The mother was clutching an xray of a skull in her right hand, and her teenage daughter was clutching to her nose, a swab.  I’m sure the last thing they felt like doing was give these bloody ignorant English people directions.

So they didn’t.

Brainwave – phone the hotel.  It appeared we were some distance from the hotel (like the other side of the city), and were advised to hop back on the No 15 bus going in the direction we’d just come from.

Fortunately the No 15 bus seems to run fairly regularly and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves heading back up the road. 

Unfortunately, the stop we were told to get off at didn’t appear to exist.  So once again, I made an executive decision and made us get off the bus.  We phoned the hotel again, told the receptionist the name of the road we were on and to our delight found that the hotel was only 500 meters away from us.

Only it wasn’t.   We were certainly on the right road, but said road would appear to run the length of the city and we were still about 2 km away from the hotel.  I found a very nice older gentleman who spoke very good English and who was able to direct us to get on (yet) another bus (No. 4) until we hit the Total Garage, and then to ask for directions again from there.

By this time I was a little more than reluctant to get on another bus, hoping that we might be able to hail a taxi, but I was told that we would have to phone for one and it would be a lot quicker to get the bus. So we did, and bless him, his directions were spot on. 

We finally got to the hotel, two and a half hours after leaving the airport.  It should have taken us ten minutes.

Judging by the reception area, the hotel looked really nice.  Until we found we were in the annex building over the road, which was alright but nothing special.  Still, this was Italy, we had found the hotel and I was looking forward to a nice meal in the restaurant that evening.

Showered and changed and went down for tea.

Vegetarian options were:

Vegetable Soup
Cheese Omlette
Capriste Salad.

I decided to start with the soup and follow it with the salad which turned out to be a plate consisting of sliced Mozarrella cheese down one side and sliced tomatoes down the other.  Edible if a little boring, but not what I would call filling.

Simon’s chicken and chips that he ordered were just that – a chunk of roast chicken and some chunky oven chips.

However, we were both delighted to find that they did sell Nastro Assuro – so consoled ourselves that at least Italy knows how to brew beer.

We had intended travelling into Venice for the evening, but I’d had enough of Italian buses for one day and went to bed hoping that the rest of the holiday would (please God) be better.

Day 2 - Venice at last

Woke up bright and early, today is a new day and despite the weather being forecast for rain all day, the sun is already shining and it looks great outside.

Found the bus to Venice a short walk away from the hotel.  The journey was about half a hour and I had various older Italian ladies pass the time of day with me.  I just smiled and nodded my head where it seemed appropriate.  However, as I speak about six words of Italian, I could have been agreeing to anything.  They didn’t seem to mind.

As soon as we disembarked we knew we were in for a good day.  My camera was out and snapping from the get go.  We found a small café and had coke with croissants for breakfast.  The croissants were filled with the most delicious apricot jam, which was unexpected, and definitely to be eaten again!  The sparrows and wrens were very friendly (or maybe just plain hungry) and alighted on the tables in search of crumbs.

We had no formal plan or order to the day choosing instead to follow our noses.   We walked the quiet back streets of Venice for some time, discovering squares and churches at every other turn, small out of the way cafes and trattoria, alternating between shade and sunshine.  After a while we took the waterbus to Piazza St Marco. 

On the approach to the Square there are market stalls selling souveniers, mainly venetian masks, fans, trinkets and postcards.  We were planning on taking a mask back for Becky but had been forewarned not to buy them from these stall but to find an established shop if we wanted more quality for our money.  I have to say whilst some masks are beautiful, there are as many that are grotesque and I’m not a fan of the sneering jester, animal, or long snouted masks that can be purchased.

Instead we bought a couple of drinks and sat in a small garden before walking down to Piazza San Marco.

Where the back streets had been almost deserted, the Square was teeming with tourists, either queuing to visit the ornate buildings or just idling in the square.  It appears to be a popular place to be married, we saw at least three bridal parties being photographed.

It’s a beautiful place and quite a contrast from the back streets.  St Mark’s Basilica’s Byzantine splendour is something to behold, with its archways and murals. Architecturally it is certainly awesome but you can’t help but wonder what God would make of such opulence.  Would he disapprove or would he be pleased that man had erected such a precious building to worship him.  Maybe in much the same way that Jesus quietened his disciples for chastising Mary Magdelen when she poured precious perfume on his feet, for she recognised who was in their midst, God would quieten the disenters who say the money used would have been better given to the poor.  An interesting debate.

St Marks Tower and the Doge’s Palace again are testament to the architectural and artistic genius and although the queues were too long to go in, we determined to return early on Monday to see the interior.

We hopped back onto the Waterbus to the Rialto Bridge where we found a lovely restaurant on the Grand Canal for a spot of lunch.  Once again the vegetarian choices were very limited, with either vegetable pizza or pasta with tomato sauce.  Today I opted for the pizza.

We took our time over lunch watching people passing by and quenched our thirst with Peroni.

We walked the short distance to the Rialto Bridge, which is less of a bridge than a shopping precinct which happens to span the Grand Canal.  Again, it was teeming with people traversing its three sections.  The middle walkway has shops on either side with steps down the middle, and at the back of the shops, on either side of the bridge, are more steps for those who want to cross without the temptation of buying.

More wanderings through back streets filled with souvenir shops.  The sun had now decided to do a disappearing act so we stopped at another café for more drinks in a quiet square and again watched the world pass by.

We made our way back to the Grand Canal then sat on the Waterbus for an hour or so to rest our weary feet.  The buses are very efficient, although often quite full with standing room only, but the ticket we had bought at the airport covered all of our journeys over the weekend so we didn’t have to worry about having change or tickets at any time.  As we sailed up and down the Grand Canal, we took in all the splendid buildings, museums, hotels and restaurants.  The over-riding criteria for planning permission in Venice appeared to have been that your building had to look as little like the buildings next door as possible. 

After about an hour we got off near the railway station and went in search of something for tea.  We window shopped a bit on the way and also picked up a lovely Murano glass bowl as a keepsake.  In Venice as in the rest of Italy there are shops dedicated solely to paper and handcrafted calligraphy pens, and we bought a carved pen to take back for Jenny.

We were persuaded by a gregarious waiter to eat at what looked like a popular restaurant and had just sat down and ordered beer when he moved us to the next table.  Bizarrely, he also moved a couple of American lads to the table we had just vacated, despite them having already eaten and being almost ready to pay their bill.  They were a little disgruntled and we exchanged comments with them.  Three hours later and many beers consumed between the four of us, Carlos and Brian took their leave as they had an early flight to Florence the next morning.  They took with them an extended knowledge of Bruce Springsteen, Sheffield and an understanding that the phrase ‘piss off’ is a term of endearement meaning goodbye in England.  They had gone out that night expecting to meet a couple of girls and instead ended up with us, but I think they enjoyed the evening as much as we did.  Great lads.

It was a really nice end to a lovely day and we were sad to say ‘piss off’ to them but we went our separate ways and made our way to the bus station where the No 4 bus was already waiting ready to whisk us back to the mainland and a good night’s sleep.

Day 3 - Losing Old Friends and Making New

Once again we were blessed with a lovely sunny day. So much for the initial forcast. We didn't get up quite as early as we intended, but made our way to Venice, once again by bus around 11.00 am. As it was nearing lunch time when we arrived we decided to have brunch, and found another nice canal-side family run Tratoria. Simon had Lasagne and I opted for Pasta with Vegetables. I must admit to never having tried pasta with garden peas and carrots before, but it was a lot nicer that it sounds.

This was the point where I realised that Piggie was no longer with us. For those not in the know, Piggie is a mascot from a music forum I sometimes participate in. Someone posted a few pictures of him enjoying a pint of beer, at a BBQ a couple of summers ago, I asked if could take him up Snowdon with me, and since then he has become the world's most well travelled pig. Full information can be found here. So piggie accompanied us to Venice too, but I think he must have fallen out of my bag whilst having lunch the day before. I was gutted and talking through the implications of this with Simon when my mobile phone went off.

It was Linda, a lady I had talked to through a Springsteen Forum. She had posted photos of Venice a few weeks prior to our visit saying she was there for a couple of months working. I didn't know whether she would get in touch while we were there but was delighted that she did. We arranged to meet in the afternoon and she gave us directions to her house.

In the meantime we headed off on foot to the North of the island. This is the residential part of Venice, or the 'real' part. This being Sunday lunchtime there weren't many folks about but it was nice to walk amongst the tenaments and take photos of the washing strewn buildings.

We eventually hopped on the water bus again and made our way to the Guggenheim Museum where we were due to meet Linda. Her digs were in the building next door which was once the Amercian Embassy. We bumped into her and her friend Jeanne returning themselves just as we got there. It was lovely to be able to see inside the building, with its marble staircase and old furnishings. It's now used as accommodation and classrooms for visiting students. Linda is working as a teaching assistant to Jeanne who is a Professor of Anthropology, accompanying a group of American Students in Venice. Linda welcomed us with a warm smile and a very cool glass of water and lemon, and we spent a couple of hours chatting about topics ranging from Springsteen to Obama. Just before we left we had photos taken on the wide balcony with a great view over the Grand Canal, then we took our leave after exchanging warm hugs.

Meeting the American guys yesterday and then Linda and Jeanne today really made the trip for us.

We wandered back down to the Grand Canal and found a cafe where we indulged in some Gelati and took the opportunity to call the girls to make sure they were good and well.

We found our way back to the main part of the Canal once again and stopped for tea at another restaurant. Once again the waiter was really friendly and stopped for a joke as he passed our table. We noticed a marked contrast in his attitude to other people in the restaurant, I won't mention their nationality, but their poker faces and cold attitude didn't win them any brownie points with him.

Linda had mentioned that wine was a lot cheaper in Venice than beer so we ordered a jug of Pinot Grigio which was perfect to wash down the Asparagus filled Ravioli and cream.

We had experienced another full day so decided to head back to the hotel. On arriving there was an urgent message from the receptionist asking us to contact a rep about our flights home on Monday. As it was after 10pm we realised we would have to wait until the morning. Also as Italy is an hour ahead of the UK, we would have to wait until 10 am to phone them which put paid to our plans to queue early to visit the Doge Palace. It was very disappointing but we couldn't run the risk of going into Venice before we found out whether the flights had been brought forward, back, or cancelled.

Monday morning we had a lie in as there wasn't much to do and eventually managed to get through to Stephanie at the call centre in the UK. She was puzzled that we had rang because she had left a second message with the receptionist shortly after the first one, saying that everything was fine and he didn't need to pass the message on for us to contact her. I guess there was nothing we could do about it now apart from head back into Venice for a couple of hours and make the most of the time we had left.

Once we got to the bus terminus we followed the crowds into the main part of Venice. Although it was the most popular route, we hadn't been this way before, and I'm glad we hadn't as there was litter and graffiti everywhere. I was so pleased that we had wandered off the beaten track and just found our own way around. If my first impression of Venice had been the dirt, it might not have been the same. We wandered down to the Arsenal another imposing building fronted by huge statues of lions. It was good to see Naval Officers walking around with purpose in their crips white uniforms. Visions of Tom Cruise in a Few Good Men sprang to mind. We made our way to St Marks Square again, had more Gelati and found the more celubrious shopping area. Becky would have been in her element. I had decided to buy myself a leather handbag as they are so cheap in Venice, and found a really nice one for just €35. Despite being a Vegetarian, I don't object to the eating of meat per se and have to admit to loving the smell of leather, the shop smelt wonderful.

Wandering through the rows of designer named shops we came upon an old church the insides of which were adorned with religious paintings. The smell of incense always provokes in me a sense of peace and reverence and the sense of a bygone era.

We stopped at a corner take-away cafe for panini's which we ate sat on the steps of one of the many small bridges spanning the waterways.

Unfortunately it was time to head back to the bus station, pick up our cases from the hotel and make our way to the airport. We took our last ride on the waterbus, sitting next to a couple who sounded like they were from my part of the world and of course we struck up a conversation. A nice way to end the trip. I can't recommend Venice highly enough, and would love to pay a return visit some day, hopefully I will.

© Middle Distance Design 2008

Rialto Bridge