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.


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…


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  2. Great post, thank you. I've never felt drawn to Venice but this, plus the beautiful, off-beat photographs of Venice taken by the talented Viveca Koh might tip the balance.

    Scurvy bag! �� So much more likely to motivate kids (and me) to eat fruit than 'five a day'.

    Also nice to find another Brownian motion aficionado. All we need now is an app which monitors people's walking habits and calculates their Brownian score. Anyone falling below a predetermined threshold gets automatically fined, with the money being used to buy nice shoes for the most considerate walkers.

    Fab photo of Monty, red wine and lasagne - a real Kodiak moment.