Monday, 25 July 2016

Packing

Packing
      /ˈpakɪŋ/ 
            noun
            the action or process of packing something.
            "she finished her packing”

As opposed to packed. Which seems frightfully final.

I’d made a list which was good, right? And this list had stopped morphing so it must be complete. Not only that but I knew where everything was and, naturally that any clothes fitted. Needless to say my laissez faire approach was driving a number of people slightly nuts as I stubbornly refused to move from my current stage 2 of packing to the final stage.

I really wasn’t in the mood. And I’d only end up unpacking to find something that I shouldn’t have packed yet because I actually needed it.

If you’re wondering the stages are

  1. Thinking about packing. This is a whimsical state of mind where we consider what is going to happen and hence what you might need.
  2. Writing a list. Now this bit can go on for some time and as it was the unexpectedly summery weather that struck the UK in the latter days of stage 2 meant that I had refined what I felt I needed
  3. Actually packing
  4. Weighing the bag
  5. Deciding what you need to ditch and then going back to 4 until you can move on
  6. Getting dressed and rushing to stop LK just in time to catch the bus for the station.
Obviously that last step needs altering for those that don’t live in Limehouse Basin.

So when of the main why-aren’t-you-packed-yet protagonists suggests having a bon voyage drink by the river you accept, there is after all a serious point to be made here…

A few hours and strawberry ciders later I was feeling very mellow, giggly and really not in a fit state to do stage 3. However that wasn’t a problem as my flatmate had remembered to turn off the oven that contained the sausages I’d chucked in before heading to The Narrow so I proceeded to hash together dirty beenz on toast with sausages. The perfect meal.

This helped immensely.

By now it was way past 9pm which was good as I’d already decided that if I wasn’t sorted and in bed by 9pm I wouldn’t be going to sleep. As it turned out this was an excellent plan. With my flatmate wishing me a good night I slowly leapt in to action gathering together all of the items on the list and placing them on my bed - thus preventing me having just a moment - whilst I also decided what to actually wear and showered. The showering was because I’d not actually checked everything fitted and I didn’t want to try things on with a disgustingly sweaty body. I know, too much information.

By midnight I had reached stage 4 and fortunately was underweight even with the iBastard in place. Ladies and Gentlemen: I. Was. Packed.

And running out of time.

According to Google there was a bus in twelve minutes and another in about 45. I was still in my underwear.

Oops.

I elected to go for the later one. As it was I was leaving very early as I intended to meet Clare’s brother, sister-in-law and nephew at Gatwick at 02:30 so they could collect some things she’d asked brought back which needed to go in the hold. Easy.

I even had enough time to take my things off the clothes horse and carefully dump them on my bed. Because I’m classy like that.

I stood with my handbag, flight bag and hat and mentally went through the list. Actually I checked that I’d left nothing on the bed and knew where my passport, Oyster and purse were. To be honest I didn’t need anything else. In fact I could have done with just my passport and purse. Such is the modern world.

I was off!

Fortunately it’s just a few minutes to stop LK and I waited patiently until a number 15 rolled up to take me to Ludgate Circus and then a quick walk to Blackfriars. As I was earlier than originally planned it was yet to become a night bus. Which has to be a bonus.

The weird thing with London is you might look at a map and have no idea whatsoever what to do but on the ground you know exactly where you are and with a flood of memories you march off in the right direction. To avoid recent escapades with buses I’d checked something I thought I saw on my last trip and sure enough I could use my Oyster to get to Gatwick so no more faffing around with the wrong train, just turn up, touch-in and get on.

I am completely awake.
Except that the bloody train stopped about ten miles from where I was waiting. Goodness knows how long those trains usually are! I, along with a mostly bunch of others, scampered down the platform to catch up with the train.

Now all I had to do was not fall asleep.

Finally at Gatwick I waltzed through to the Norwegian desks, checked in, got my ticket and waited. I knew the others were en-route as I was getting a constant text update from Clare’s sister-in-law but frankly it was boring. There was a moment of “oh jeez” as I saw a particularly bawdy bunch of lads hanging around in the same area so I was grateful to see that they were heading to Florida.

Sorry Florida.

In a big to stave off the tiredness I went in search of a chilled coffee. My first attempt was Marks and Spencer. Waste of time, they had none whatsoever. I headed to WH Smith, they were bound to have some and they did! Unfortunately it - as was the fridge - was decidedly warm. There was only one last option without actually going to a coffee place… Boots.

As Goldilocks would have said, their’s was just right.

Cold and coffee like.

I headed back to my waiting spot. And waited.

Finally they turned up, checked the luggage and we all headed off in search of a cup of tea as it was too early to go through security. This was definitely the downside of turning up early for an 05:35 flight.

Surprisingly I waltzed through security, no bings, no search, no problems with my bag. Id even had an easy time of getting things in to the transparent bag! The problem came at the far side. I’d lost the others and I had no idea if that was because they were behind me somewhere or had already gone through. I decided that I’d wait until the either they turn up or the flight was called…

It wasn’t necessary. Eventually they turned up and apparently there had been much searching of bags and persons. Clearly I’m a very honest looking packer. We wandered through passing the shiny things in not-quite-duty-free and found the flight board to see when the gates would be called.

We were the first on the board. We also wouldn’t be called until 04:45 so enough time to wander and find a bottle of water for the flight. By now I’m starting to feel decidedly tired, I’ve been awake nearly 24 hours and the lubricating effect of the strawberry cider was now a distant memory. But I knew that I had to wait until the flight  before I could even consider having a snooze. Oh well.

Finally we were called to gate 10 so off we trotted to be - as it turned out - very early in the queue. Which isn’t a bad thing as it meant I was sat right by the door for the plane, important as it was a full flight and I really wanted to make sure my bag was stowed with the minimum of stress.

All went well except for one minor detail, when I got on the plane all of the overhead lockers were open and I put my bag in to what looked like my seat area and sat down. I’ll admit I’d struggled to read the numbers properly close up and had managed to confuse myself and sit in 28 instead of 29. There’s a reason why I usually sit at the front. As the plane filled I was fairly sure I was going to have to move. Awkward. Even more awkward was that the two lads in the row were I should have been had decided as nobody was there yet they would take the seat. Ahuh. They moved. I strapped myself in. Closed my eyes and…

…woke up to see the Austrian Alps down below.

Well that was a bonus. It did mean that I’d missed my usual drink of champagne, but seriously I was tired enough to sleep on a flight. Me! As the rest of the plane snoozed I connected to the WiFi and began nattering with the travelling one who was en route to Dubrovnik airport to meet us.

As we slid into Croatia I could see places I recognised to my right, first the island of Krk where I’d been in March, then Split before with a pause the engines slowed and the plane began its descent. We were nearly there!

Once landed we re-grouped and I left the others waiting for their luggage as I went to meet Missy at arrivals so we could have a few minutes catch-up before the task of getting us all to Šipan.

The plan had been for us to get the shuttle bus to Dubrovnik harbour. The problem was the queue for tickets was almost as long as the distance we needed to go. In the end we decided the best thing to do was get a taxi as with there now being five of us it wouldn’t work out too expensive. Still more than the bus, but better than waiting in a queue and we *did* have a ferry to catch plus we needed to buy food.

On the plus side the taxi driver said he would drop us at the Konzum so it all worked out nicely.

We split in to three teams, one would watch the bags, two would go and buy food for the main party and I would get snacks etc. for my room as I was staying somewhere else. Inevitably I also found the fizz so loaded up on that, picked up what I needed and headed to pay and then swap places with the watcher. 

With the last of the supplies sourced we grouped outside, loaded bags and headed for a bar near the ferry for refreshments. In the form of beer. There are worse ways to do a shopping trip.

The beer flowed nicely, food was sought for the youngest in the party, hats were found and bought and the clock ticked slowly as we awaited for transport to the island. It turned out that the usual ship was a bit broken so we were on an older model that had character galore. A proper diesel clunker that had seen many, many days. It didn’t matter if it got us to our destination. And had a loo.

We had to stop at a couple of places en route which gave a good flavour for the area. Though I didn’t really take it in as by now exhaustion was winning the war and I kept drifting to sleep. Needless to say I was grateful to arrive at Sutured harbour so I could head off and find my billet. And sleep.

The fly in the ointment was that I was utterly ignored by the waiting staff in the place one of the people ignoring me turned out to be the owner. Not a great start by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually the young girl serving deigned to talk to me and then went wandering off to find the one I suspected of being the owner.

To add insult to injury he said “ah, you must be my guest”… It’s great being invisible.

Oh well. The room was nice, the view great and I fell in to a deep sleep for several hours.


As you do.

The last day

The trouble with sitting looking at beautiful places knowing that soon you’ll have to return to the tedium of reality is it makes you reflect on your life. I’ve really screwed things up royally. Royally doesn’t really cover it to be honest. But you get the idea. How can you be in such a beautiful place and yet feel so sad?

I digress so let’s get back to another beautiful place, Venezia.

My last day. When I was here in March I was told by the receptionist that one day wasn’t enough to see Venice. I can assure you that three days is more than enough when alone and without something specific in mind. Other than the American couple the night before and a little halting Italian when buying provisions I was devoid of human contact and I craved conversation. Mind you, I spend most of my days now craving conversation. I had a vague plan mostly driven by necessity, like the lunatic that I am I’d picked a late flight back to Gatwick which meant I would have the day to kill and no opportunity to go got a nap.

Fortunately the weather was good so exploration was definitely on the cards.

Breakfast was the remains of my previous night’s picnic - thank goodness for fridges - which I nibbled as a packed and got my head together. It took a while but by 10:50 I had returned my key, stored my bag and I was off to find morning tea.

Which was more difficult than I anticipated.

I wandered through a the little streets near where I’d been staying looking at shiny pieces of glass jewellery making a note to return later if I didn’t find anything nicer before finally plonking myself down at a table on the edge of Piazza San Marco. Despite signage and menus indicating otherwise I was told firmly they only did drinks with food. So I left the completely empty café that clearly didn’t want to make any sales and headed to a place that I knew would welcome me. Caffè Florian.

Marching in I took a table ordered before the menu could be offered and pondered what to do next. Not just over the next few hours, but the next how many years. Not the most sensible of things to do before first cuppa.

At least their tea is nice. And the pots are big enough for five cups.

Eventually I grew weary of the endless people wandering in just to take pictures or the heads through the window and headed out in to the sun and set course in the rough direction of Ponte dell’Accademia.

I stopped for a period of reflection in Chiesa di San Moisè, a place I last visited in March and if you’re in the area you must go and see the incredible altarpiece. More importantly even with the constant stream of people sticking their head in and taking a few pictures it’s incredibly peaceful and - rather inevitably - lead to me shedding a few silent tears.

It was time to move.

I stood for a while letting my eyes adjust to the brightness after the gloom of the church before continuing my meandering journey. The next stop was the Museo della Musica on Campo San Maurizio and whilst I visited this in March I went for a second look because it is simply lovely.

A little further on I stumbled on the Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti which along with a number of other buildings was holding an exhibition of modern design. This had only opened the day before and I’ll admit if I’d known about it I would probably have made it my “project” to visit them all. But as time was relatively short this would do.

Predominantly the items on show were made from wood. There were chairs made in interesting ways, beautifully engineered hat stands, screens, a field of pine chips and… a bicycle. Admittedly the bicycle only had a wooden frame but oh my it was quite beautiful.

So it transpires that you get chuggers wherever you are. Outside I was stopped by a young man determinedly trying to persuade people to sign for a regular payment to some charity or other and he really didn’t want to take no for an answer. Which is a pity as it’s the only answer I seemed to have brought with me that day.

I marched on feeling decidedly irritated. Maybe I didn’t want conversation *that* badly.

At the Ponte dell’Accademia I took a few pictures to catch the scene and then just watched for ten minutes or so. Just long enough for me to notice that I could smell fresh melanin being produced and time to take my lily white skin back in to the shade.

I sauntered into Campo di Sant’Agnese bought a tub of ice cream and sat quietly under a tree eating and thinking. It was fairly peaceful and as it was now nominally lunchtime there were a number of other people sitting around eating packed lunches or reading having escaped the office for a short while.

It did occur to me that maybe I should think about finding lunch at some point, after all it was going to be a long day. I’d had an inkling of just how long by a message earlier that told me my flight was delayed, I was impressed, or unimpressed, as I was told this twelve hours before it was scheduled to leave. Apparently this was due to the French air traffic controllers being French air traffic controllers. And it went nicely with the warning I also received that day from the RAC warning me to avoid France unless I had a full tank as there were fuel shortages. I was actually grateful that I’d decided against driving to Venice which had been a brief and irresponsible idea.

I came up with a vague plan, I’d take a circuitous route back to collect my bags from the hotel and stay this side of the Grand Canal until I reached Rialto the intention being that if I found a good spot I would stop for lunch and refreshment. That felt suitably organised. For me.

Off I wandered passing endless boats, canals, fabulous old buildings and wandering selfie sticks. Along the way I would see odd things that I would stop and look at, stuff that caught my eye, but mostly I walked lost in my own thoughts with an occasional glance to see where I was and which way I should go next. If only finding the way in life was this easy.

By the Basilica dei Frari I found the ideal spot, there was shade, a breeze and relatively few people so I sat outside Perla D’Oriente
and ordered lasagna. With a half litre of Prosecco. Obvs.

As I wrote I wondered - as I’m doing now - about the sanity of some of my recent decisions. Self doubt is really becoming an insurmountable issue. I guess this is the downside of spending so much time hiding conversations with yourself, the arguments don’t have to make sense but the impact is nonetheless dramatic. I’m not at all sure how I’m going to resolve this or how I will fill the growing empty space inside.

The lasagna was perfect. So there you are dear reader, if you want the best lasagna in Venice go to a chinese restaurant. The Prosecco was also lovely and went some way to numbing the pain. I could have happily sat there all day but I knew that I must continue - as in life - marching forwards.

The final part of the journey was relatively uneventful - other than being asked for directions and incredibly being able to give them - and within a short time I was across Ponte di Rialto once more and near my hotel. As I really wanted to upload what I’d written I stopped at a small café by the post office, ordered a coffee and failed utterly to manage to connect. Oh well. This was rapidly becoming a non event so coffee finished I went to purchase some earrings I’d seen earlier before finally collecting my bag and heading for the bus stop and the beginning of my journey home.

Ah yes, the bus stop. Of course this being Venice it was a water bus. I was planning on being on Linea Rossa as this was the quickest though in hindsight I could have taken a far slower route as it made little difference. Once on board I made myself comfortable and wondered what time I would make it back to Contrary Towers.

As the bus cast off and headed towards Lido I received a message that I’d received a “charm” on Happn, I had nothing better to do and had a look. It turned out a German, who I’d obviously crossed paths with in San Marco the day before was keen to meet. Ahuh. I pointed out that his timing was awful and if he’d sent the message the day before a coffee would have been great. But now… Difficult.
Still it was amusing to have an electronic conversation right up to the point where it got a little too personal and I had that moment of “oh what’s the point” and put my phone away. If nothing else my battery was dangerously low and my external battery utterly exhausted.

Nothing quite like a dicky charging lead to keep you quiet.

In the end he gave up having finally realised that he was wasting his time. More importantly I reached the airport and marched in, through security and onwards to finding a drink and a place to sit. After all, the airport had WiFi and as writing was the only thing keeping me sane I had to post and move on to writing more.

Goodness my flight was running late.

It was now showing as delayed nearly two hours. At least I was airside so it became just a waiting game. A really long one. On the bright side I managed to find a replacement microUSB lead so I could at least charge my phone, if nothing else I wanted to be able to check trains when I got to Gatwick.

It transpired that whilst the French had caused the initial delay the plane then had a bird strike and had to wait whilst the engineers took the bits out of the engine and make sure all was well. Of course they didn’t tell us this until we were locked and couldn’t run screaming from the plane. Still, the flight whilst delayed was smooth and we rolled in to Gatwick at 00:32 guaranteeing that I was on plan B for getting home.

The other side of the French delays was that many planes had been delayed and all seemed to arrive at once. Passport control was overwhelmed and many people seemed to have difficulty following simple instructions. No, make that any instructions. Oh joy. I just wanted to get home.

Tired little teddy bear.
Thank goodness for Thameslink. By 2pm I was at Blackfriars, all I had to do now was find the nightbus, pity I didn’t know where the stop was. As I emerged from the station looking I saw a selection of black cabs waiting on the rank - what is a group of black cabs called? - once of the drivers asked if I was looking for a cab, actually, yes, but only if they took cards as I was a little short on cash. Fortunately one of them did and hence I was whisked home by a lovely chap who was turning 49 in June. Inevitably he wondered why on earth I had gone to a romantic place to spend my birthday alone and I struggled to explain without sounding like I had totally given up.

It was good to be home. Or at least it felt I was safe. My tainted sanctuary.


And not for the first time I wondered where I would be next.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Pas de gâteau


On the bright side today I had a plan.

Of sorts.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, the details were inevitably sketchy but they involved watching the sun rise over the Adriatic, breakfast at Florian, lunch at Harry’s Bar and dinner? Well I’d let dinner take care of itself, three vague details are more than enough.

Naturally this meant that I had to be up at stupid o’clock to be on the Riva degli Schiavoni whilst it was still dark. Though I had to take the short cut of not mucking about with a shower and pulling on what I’d been wearing the night before. It would be dark after all.

If you want to see Piazza San Marco then get prepare to pad silently through the streets of Venice scaring the indigenous wildlife in the first twinkling of morning light. Seeing the streets so quiet reminded me of just how close I was to San Marco, this would be no major battle through hoards of  selfie stick touting brownian tourists. It was quick, direct and pleasantly cool.

And the piazza was gloriously empty. In another 30 minutes there would be many others, predominantly people touting large cameras and slender tripods all working to capture the splendour without the masses.

Pity it was dark.

As the midnight blue of the sky gradually lightened people began to appear, not just the photographers, but street cleaners, the insomniacs and delivery boatmen expertly driving their vessels in to Rio de Palazzo o de Canonica.

And then I felt like a bloody idiot. The trouble was sun rises take a surprising amount of time and there was a lack of places to sit and watch the world go by so instead I had to stand like the elderly plank that I was. Excellent.

So I went for a wander in the gathering light.

Tourists truly are disgusting. Having just watched a Croatian throw a cigarette in to the perfect waters rather than use the ashtray is proof if I ever needed it. In Venice their are epic numbers of them so the rubbish is suitably proportioned. It’s everywhere. During the day it’s less noticeable as you can’t see the ground for the selfie sticks. Talking of which, I do wish they’d make them to a higher standard so they don’t break so easily, I lost count of how many cheap, nasty and discarded sticks there were.

49. Not out.
You might recall from previous blogs that I like to see with my ears. Now this isn’t always possible when there are people around jabbering away about absolutely nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I crave conversation but talking for talking’s sake just fills the head with none and blocks thought. This morning though it was quiet punctuated by the occasional roar whoosh of a delivery boat positioning itself. But there was something else. Like a mosquito on speed and certainly moving at a speed given the doppler shift I kept hearing. What the actual? It took me a while to locate the sound, mostly because I realised it was high above me. A drone. I’ve never actually seen one of these in the wild - so to speak - and I was fascinated to watch it scurry to a new position, hoer for a while and then scurry back. Presumably somewhere in the morning light there was a pilot standing there controlling the device and - also presumably - taking photographs of the sunrise over Venice.

From a vantage point you’d struggle to match without a drone.

I’ve since looked for people that do this kind of thing and what they achieve is quite impressive. I never did see where the pilot was.

Walking back through Piazza San Marco I stopped to watch the professional photographers on shoots with a few models and an entourage of helpers. They seemed to be all over, taking the opportunity of both the morning light and no crowds of tourists doing the brownian thing in front of a perfectly arranged scene. My favourite set were the ones working on - presumably - a shoot for something like a wedding magazine. The “bride” and “groom” were both impossibly perfect and had zero chemistry between them. Inevitably the photographer was trying to get them to do various things that owing to the lack of chemistry just didn’t work. So they did it again. And again. And again. Until he gave up in frustration and tried something else.
As I resumed my journey back to bed I had a maudlin moment as I came across a discarded rose laying on the ground. It was simply perfect in every way but was no longer wanted and left to its fate. I couldn’t help feel it was a metaphor for life.

Four hours later I was back in Piazza San Marco, showered, dressed in something suitable for morning tea and ready to set up court in Caffè Florian. Or at least sit writing. The place is reputedly the oldest in Europe having been established in 1720. The style certainly matches the reputation with faded painted panels hiding behind some kind of glass surrounded by gilt frames that have perhaps seen better days. And I really was dressed for the venue. Think faded lady of a certain age who refuses to let standards fall and you’re pretty close.

As I had the iBastard with me for writing I could drag out the amount of time taken to drink the tea - lovely - and eat an apricot croissant. Yes it was eye wateringly expensive but unlike most people I enjoyed spending an extended period of time there. There seemed to be a constant stream of people sticking their head through the open window and taking a snap of the inside of the salon, goodness knows how many pictures I will appear in, and yes whilst I guess they will have a picture of a famous place - though the ones done by professional photographers are far better - but what they won’t have is a feel of the atmosphere. Even those that had a drink and then scurried off complaining about how expensive it was wouldn’t have got the benefit of savouring the ebb and flow, the drama of the endless waiting staff in their beautifully tailored white jackets and the unhurried peace you gain by simply sitting quietly and thinking.

I headed to Harry’s Bar.

Whilst Caffè Florian was faded grandeur, Harry’s was shabby chic. There were yet more white jacketed staff quietly going about their business in the peaceful interior. Inevitably I ordered a Bellini as I think this is a local by-law before once more getting out the iBastard for yet more writing. I imagine Hemingway would have looked on in disdain.

Following a second Bellini I requested the lunch menu and found that the advantage of being there at she’s-going-to-the-dogs o’clock is that I got to have lunch at my table in a prime spot. I could eat, drink, write and people watch the stream of those coming in for a quick look at the famous place - snap, snap, snap - or have a Bellini - drunk too quickly, snap, snap - or better still the smaller number of beautifully dressed and predominantly gentlemen coming in to discuss urgent matters of the day.

I suspect Harry’s is a Marmite sort of place and I can assure you that I loved it.

Being in a) Italy and b) contrary I ordered the most obvious thing on the menu. Chicken Curry. I’m sure there is a very good reason why it’s on the menu and listed as one of the specialities but I have no idea whatsoever what it might be. With the food ordered the drama begin, three staff came to me in their white jacketed glory and whilst two removed the items from the table the centre one carefully laid the table cloth before they replaced the items exactly where they had been.

Toasted bread and breadsticks joined the olives and chicken & mushroom delicacy that had previously been offered. I nibbled on olives, adored the chicken and mushroom, and savoured the now buttered toast. It was simply perfect. As the Bellini continued to wave it’s magic wand I felt at peace for the first time in an age, I felt I could stay in this spot forever. If it wasn’t for the fact it would bankrupt me, obvs. After a short while the waiters re-appeared en masse, one to set up a portable trestle, one to carry a tray and one that would actually perform the silver service.

Silver service curry. What. A. Win.

With a suitable plate-filling quantity served the food disappeared, I wrongly presumed this would be to never see again, or maybe it would be for somebody else. I ate slowly savouring each mouthful, the chicken was simply perfect, the sauce sublime and the rice perfectly cooked. This place was fantastic. As I cleared my plate I realised the error of my presumption as my food reappeared for another serving. And another. Oh. My. God. I was actually going to explode. Don’t be put off by the prices, you won’t have to eat again for a week.

In time I left and walked for a while to justify the magnificent lunch I’d just devoured. When I say walk for a while I mean back to my hotel. For a nap. A proper one.

It was glorious.

Some hours later I stumbled back in to the light. I knew where I would spend the evening now but I did have to be sensible and make sure I had a back-up plan. Just in case. With this in mind it was back on with the lady-of-a-certain-age frock for a walk with the intention of ending at the Rialto Coop for Prosecco and picnic provisions. Perfect.

Goodness did I meander, astonishingly I didn’t get lost and after reaching Campo Sant’Anzola I headed back, via my hotel to get the provisions. Now this took longer than expected and - rather disappointingly - the Prosecco wasn’t chilled, but heh, I had now had cheese and sausage for later. Oh and a deep loathing of people that are incapable of using self checkouts. Seriously, it’s not that difficult.

Finally back at the hotel I put the fizz in the fridge, showered and dressed for the evening. I’d decided what was needed was my favourite red dress and heels, if I’m going to grow old disgracefully I was going to do so properly. The interesting- or alternatively the dispelling of myths - thing is that I arrived back at the hotel at 19:31 and was out, showered, changed, legs shaved, by 20:10. Thirty-nine minutes.

I’m definitely of a certain age.

Off I wandered once more to Piazza San Marco only to be stunned by an Italian gentleman - in purple glasses - passing what sounded seriously like positive comments. Now I’d seen this chap several times over the last couple of days and been utterly blanked but now… Got to love a red dress. I talk often about being invisible. I am. But for one night Matthew I will be… THERE.

To be fair. In a place full of tourists in shorts and t-shirts with loose tops the woman in heels and a decidedly flattering dress is queen. It reminded me of Gerrad Depardieu in some film or other talking about opening a restaurant in New York. In France I am nothing, but here with my accent I am Superman.

My cape is red.

The routine was repeated many times as I crossed Piazza San Marco. In a throng of tourists my pearls glistened, the red attracted and the comments flowed. It was my moment. My fuck-yes-I-feel-old-today-but-sod-that-as-I-look-great moment.

God it felt good.

49, now in my fiftieth year and I was getting positive comments. As I sit in a bar in Lupud drinking a Casanova Sling looking at the sea, islands and my best friend swimming with her family I can tell you it’s the best feeling in the world. Who gives a stuff that it might only happen once. For that moment I shone.

And then descended in to Harry’s Bar.

Dress is a wonderful thing. It sets the context, the mood. Earlier in the day I dressed not-like-a-tourist. On purpose. I wanted to stand out. And I was rewarded with being remembered and greeted like an old friend. Inevitably the bar was busy but this wasn’t a problem as I slid on to a single bar stool - remember the advantages of travelling solo - and ordered a martini. Because *everyone* was drinking Bellinis. Of course it turns out that Hemingway would now smile. He did rather like a gin martini.

And goodness do I.

As the evening wore on I engaged in conversation with an American couple sitting to my left. They were pondering over the menu and - frankly - the cost. At which point gin-soaked-me pointed out that it if they really wanted to enjoy a meal here - and let’s face to the food is astonishing - they should come in during the day, 11:15 is a good time, get a good table, relax, enjoy the grandeur and theatre. We talked of this and that and eventually it dawned on me that they thought I lived in Venice. And you know what, I didn't want to rain on their particular belief and spoil the image. They also had gathered that I have a place in London, they talked of places they’d like to visit, and I could point them at alternatives with clear critique. It was wonderful and I hope that couple enjoyed their stay in London and have a truly happy life together.

Back in reality I was three martinis down and no sign of a table as frankly there were lots of groups, I’d not booked ahead and who cares about a single gin soaked old dear at the bar.

It was time to go home. And eat cheese, bananas, ham and… Drink prosecco.

I got in, kicked off my Mary Janes, put in my cute little bluetooth headphones and listened to Pink as I danced ate and solo partied my way out of this first day of my fiftieth year. I might not be able to be disgraceful but hell I could do a half decent facsimile of it. In its own way it was magical and whilst I thought too much and was struggling with the contrary emotions of being-alone-but-not-wanting-to-be-but-hey-it-was-my-choice-to-be-here-alone-anyway I received a whatsapp message from the #hotperm to wish me a happy birthday. I never did take kindness well. I broke down.

Really broke down.

It was all too much and again I know it was all my choice but goodness I was lonely. Heart breakingly, painfully lonely. I’m now sitting on a ferry from Lupud to Sudurad and earlier I talked with my best friend about this very thing. The reality is this: it’s a case of how ever difficult it gets, however painful it is, however strange and perverse a decision may seem.

It’s still better than the alternative.

Happy Birthday me. Actual happy birthday. Pas de gâteau.


Friday, 22 July 2016

Clueless in Venezia

Now there’s a familiar noise. Roooooaaaar. Whoosh. Roarrrrr. Whoosh. Whoosh. Roar. Whoosh. Silence. I must be in Venice. The hotel is near a junction and it’s a bit of a struggle for the delivery boats to get around the corner, to do it they stick the bow as far in as possible, spin the wheel, throw it in to full reverse, turn in a bit and go forward and repeat. The whooshing is the noise of the water being thrown around and hitting the buildings. Fortunately at this time of day they do this without the warning horns, later they make the entrance to Rotherhithe tunnel look quiet. At least they are doing it because they have to for safety reasons, rather than because someone has not moved to the satisfaction of someone else.

The first job of the day was to actually check-in, as I arrived after hours I’d not done the passport thing and I really could do with some breakfast. At dead on 8am I was standing at reception waiting to do my duty and hand over the €3.50 per person per night for the city tax in cash. I’ll admit I’ve always been slightly suspicious of that it has to be in cash. I handed over the €10.50 and he questioned whether I was staying alone. I confirmed I was. Oh that pitying look, I didn’t care, I had a big bed and it was all mine!

Breakfast would be delayed he said, I suspect it didn’t start until about 8:30, I’ve vague recollections from last time but I really wasn’t sure, as I explained to the owner I was happy to sit and wait, I really wasn’t in much of a hurry!

I knew that it had reached the allotted time when he finally asked me what I’d like to drink and with tea ordered, bread and croissant delivered I did the continental thing fetching ham, cheese and dirty cheese. A perfect start. Of course being a pig I had to have some cake too, I mean it would have been rude not to. However there was a lack of fruit so I made a mental note to find the Coop near Ponte di Rialto to collect provisions for a scurvy bag.

I can’t recall if I described the restaurant part of the hotel, it’s a bit chaotic, bits and pieces everywhere, clearly designed to endure you have things to look at whichever way you look. When I say designed that might be taking it a little far.

The hot water turned up for tea along with a clear cup so I set the tea brewing, sat back and thought. In fact I did more than just think, I drifted in to a reverie and wrote down what was drifting through my head.

As an old clock ticked I closed my eyes to fully take in what was around me, the men talking in the kitchen, the gentle breeze from the open door, a whirr of a refrigeration unit, a cycle being wheeled by. It all conspired to build a rich tapestry of constant changing hues. Finally I opened my eyes, poured some tea into the clear cup and holding with both hands I touched the cup to my lips to savour the warm aroma.

Finally I sipped, my eyes closed and a wall of emotion enveloped me every sense. I struggled to hold back tears as I contemplated every stand of this chaotic journey: a long road that took me from merely existing to living. As I regained my composure I realised how apt it was to be in this kooky chaotic restaurant.

I came here to think. Yes I also wanted to do something to mark the end of my 49th year and didn't want it to be drinking one Jaeger bomb too many in She Soho before crying on the underground. The irony that I've picked a place predominantly filled with romantic tourists walking hand in hand whilst I'm alone is not lost on me. If you're going to think you need things to provoke thoughts, it was a good choice.

There is a young French couple here now, they have exchanged barely a word, their lack of eye contact betraying so much. So much nothing. I have a horrible feeling there is more screeching around my head.

It was time to seek solace in movement.

And that’s exactly what I did, I set out with no particular plan. Well other than to find the post office which I thought was just around the corner. It was. You know at this point I should just stop writing. After all following on the Contrary Towers tradition I’m writing this at a bar in Suđurađ harbour having come to visit Missy for her birthday, today as it happens, and slightly fragile after a slightly bonkers night where I danced in a bar. In my nightie. I kid thee not.

Bloody paparazzi!
The rule is simple, it’s okay to delay writing a blog if you then write it in a beautiful place. And it really is quite beautiful. Even if the music is a little loud now.

Don’t they know I have a slightly delicate head after several two many rum and cokes. At least I think that’s what we drank. I blame Clare’s wonderful sister-in-law.

I digress.

So having found the post office in record time and confirmed the opening hours  I wandered up Calle delle Acqua in search of adventure and distraction. Unsurprisingly this was quite literally around the corner on Campo San Salvador… The Scuola Grande di San Teodoro had a musical evening - presumably aimed squarely at the tourist market - entitled Barocco e Opera. Kind of a medley of popular operatic pieces with the cast and orchestra in 18th century Venetian costumes. It seems to be on constantly but what was important was that it was on that evening. That’ll do.

Tickets quite literally in hand I wandered towards Ponte di Rialto as seeing as I was staying in a  place that was so close meant it was hardly a trial. Well, if you ignore the other tourists that were bumbling along the streets with a clear sense of purpose inspired by brownian motion. It was also time to think, most about what to do next. A meander along the grand canal seemed a fair bet and as it turned out fortuitous as I found the coop I'd been looking for, handy as it meant I could resort to a picnic in my room if necessary. Necessary being defined as me losing my nerve and wanting to hide under a rock.

Not that that would happen. Obvs.

As I stood watching the ebb and flow of venetian life I remembered my colleague Jane had asked my to see if a jewellery shop on Strada Nova was open. When she visited she’d seen earrings she liked but unfortunately the place was closed for lunch. Or whatever. She’d tried a number of times and the result was always the same. She even tried asking a friend of hers who was cabin crew and often in Venice. Same result.

I was on a mission.

But not until I had a good nose at the plethora of deliveries being made by boat. Other than the boats now having engines the process hasn’t changed in for ever. The boats arrive, stevedores unload and porters load barrows and trolleys with the wares to be delivered to the intended destination.

I moved on.

As I headed towards Strada Nova I passed a small chapel - Santuario Madonna delle Grazie - and headed in not as a tourist to take pictures or look around but rather because I wanted to light a candle for my grandmother-in-law Gertie who we lost a few years before. Now there was an incredible woman who knew how to live life. After a period of contemplation I headed out to continue my quest.

The thing with Venice is it looks bigger than it really is. It takes surprisingly little time to get from A to B even with the endless crowds of brownian tourists attempting to find their way from Z to Q without ever looking away from the screens of their cameras or phones. Can’t people just use their eyes and take in the atmosphere and high definition feel of reality? No, apparently they can’t. As I crossed from bridge to piazza to bridge to piazza I realised I was now in tourist hell. Apparently Strada Nova kind of goes all the way to where the majority of people arrive and the side effect of this is shown in the endless tat stalls, samey cafés and places selling glass. To be fair this seems to be the vast majority of Venice inc., a place to separate tourists from as much money as humanly possible. There is even a McDonalds…

I got to the jewellery store. It was closed. Which would have been a rubbish end to this if it wasn’t for the raffish looking chap in a black t-shirt who produced a bunch of keys and opened the door to the promised land…

Cue a chorus of angels exulting. Quite loudly.

This immediately lead to rapid text exchanges with Jane back home in Blighty to find which colours she wanted. All done with me inside the small store as let’s face it I wasn’t going to let my prey escape now I had him cornered.

Hurrah.

The deal done I wandered out again. By now Monty was grumbling about being hungry so it made sense to pick one of the samey cafés and watch the tourist world roll by. Needless to say I used my time proven technique of choosing eating establishments… I rocked up at the first one I found.

And ordered wine and lasagne before the girl even gave me the menu. Bears like lasagne. Honest.

The food was adequate and the wine perfectly drinkable. I wrote a couple of
postcards, people watched and generally felt at one with the world. This wasn’t at all bad. There are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon.

In time I decided what I really needed was a nap, so it was back to hotel I wandered stopping briefly in another Coop I’d found to collect something for the scurvy bag. It did occur to me that maybe I should post the post-cards so I braved the post-office and thought I was doing so well until they pointed out I needed to take a ticket from a very whizzy machine. I’m sure it said this somewhere but I certainly couldn’t find any sight of any signs.

Fortunately with ticket in hand I could wait my turn before being efficiently served with a few stamps. I just hoped that I’d posted the cards in the right slot!

Naps are glorious things and should be prepared for with just the right amount of ceremony. After a quick shower I closed the shutters and curtains, arranged my pillows just so, put in ear plugs to block the sound of the delivery boats down below and finally drifted in to a deep and invigorating sleep.

Some time later I woke and was happy to see I had plenty of time to go in search of coffee, pastry and a place to write until it would be time to walk around the corner for my evening’s entertainment.

I wandered off and found myself at Cafe Lavena near Basilica di San Marco. Ridiculous expensive but quite an impressive view... I wrote, I watched the endless selfie sticks and I got the maximum use of the place only leaving when I realised I needed to make a move, head back to the hotel and onwards to the evening.

Inevitably I was one of the few people there solo. But this isn’t a bad thing as a solo traveller can find that perfect single free seat that is denied to those in pairs or more. Delighted to find that there was a seat just one row from the front I settled in quiet anticipation of what the evening would bring.

You get so used to seeing orchestras in modern dress - usually black tie - that it’s a delight to see everyone in costume. The evening was a mix of popular pieces from a variety of operas the soloists changing presumably according to their strength. The encore included a reprise of Libiamo ne’ lieti calici from La Traviata but with a difference, a lady was drawn from the audience to be the Violetta. It was all very jolly.

I still didn’t fancy eating much, especially not being in a restaurant alone at this time of night, so I picked up a half bottle of prosecco, some crisps and headed back to my hotel room for an impromptu picnic supplemented by the scurvy bag.

I know it was a little irresponsible but it was to be the last meal of my 49th year and I didn’t want anything fancy or filling. After all I had to be up early as I still intended to watch the sun rise over the Adriatic.

And my fiftieth year…