Thursday 26 May 2016

The Great Escape

Those that know me well know I have a great dislike of birthdays, there are a myriad of reasons and after some thought I’ve decided against listing them here and now. Why, well it’s being covered before with those that I wish to share these with but more importantly I’m sitting in a legendary bar and that’s never a good place to shed a few tears as I think about the reasons why.

For many years the actual date of my birthday had been treated as something of an official secret, I didn’t like the attention and more importantly I was shying away from one terrifying thing. Disappointment. You see I’d always ended up doing what somebody else wanted and somehow that never quite felt right. This might sound terribly ungrateful but it’s not meant to be.

I’ve been asked often recently what I planned to do for my birthday, some even going as far as talking about my fiftieth. I didn’t know, well I do have an inkling of what I would like to do for my fiftieth though that will require a certain amount of financial commitment which might not be possible given other things that are going on. What I did know was that I didn’t want to end up drunk in a restaurant somewhere knowing that the next morning I had work to do.

I needed a plan.

My first thought was Paris or maybe Versailles. So I checked out various AirBnB spots, fiddled with Eurostar times and… decided that I really didn’t fancy Paris alone and as I intended to be away for the whole of the Wednesday and that being a work day it would mean I would find it difficult to meet up with various people I know in the area. And I still didn’t fancy Paris alone.

Then I considered Split, it was certainly a possibility though the downside there was that a) I really wanted to sleep in a bed, b) Missy should be preparing to move out of her little piece of paradise  and c) I can’t remember what C was. These Bellinis are really rather good here.

Hmm, tricky. So I cast my mind back to the February/March Contrary road-trip, we’d covered a lot of ground and there had to be somewhere I fancied visiting, somewhere that I thought I could explore, think, eat, sleep and occasionally have a sip of something. Plus It had to feel okay to be travelling alone. I ran down the list crossing out various spots: too grey, too full of leaning towers, too difficult to get from the airport, the list ran on. And then I remembered Venice. If I remembered rightly I walked, I giggled as I got my shoes and tights wet in the rising waters, I was serenaded by a passing gondolier, I blushed and I was soaked in the rain the next morning. And I stayed in a hotel where every room was a baroque inspired tarts boudoir.


Now I blame my new flatmate for all of this as he was feeding my winez at the time. But that does help you ignore any little nagging about whether this is a good idea and instead it is transformed in to being a GREAT idea. I checked flights, okay, doable, and I could get them to what worked out at about £81 return. Hotel… Well first I did consider AirBnB but I could find nothing that even came slightly close to the convenience of the place I stayed in March with Clarissa. Or as tarty. So I checked the hotel. It was available from Tuesday to Thursday. Hmm. How about getting up at dawn to watch the sun rise over my fiftieth year? Okay, try Monday to Thursday. Still available. Great. How about Sunday to… Nope, no hope, Monday to Thursday it was, I lined up the browsers and clicked okay three times: hotel, airline, airline.


Okay so this was a bit irresponsible but I was doing my own thing. Which is good. Very good.

With that done I knuckled down to get my work decks cleared, after all this was a bit last minute and I wouldn’t have much time to catch up.

As a preamble on the day before I unexpectedly had my friend Stef visit so for the first time since I’ve moved to the new place I could go and sit in the residents garden with a bottle of nicely chilled fizz and a bag of Minstrels. Classy me. As I suspected the garden was nicely shielded from the stiff breeze that’s often rattling between the buildings and the only thing that lead us to scurry indoors was the rain that decided to make it’s presence felt.

It reminded my that as a result of checking the weather and knowing my rain coat was lacking in waterproofing I’d gone mad and bought a new coat, a decision I wouldn’t come to regret! Indoors I managed to singularly not pack and instead we sat and nattered whilst also ignoring the chaos in the kitchen caused by a morning making pease pudding. I was definitely aiming for a chilled day.

The next morning I woke bleary eyed and realised I had still not managed to pack. Go me! It takes serious effort to be this hopeless. On the bright side I’d at least made a very detailed list to ensure I actually packed what I needed, more to the point that I would avoid making a repeat of the out-in-out-in-out-in-out escapade of my last trip and Monty was helping. So packing was easy I even managed to not empty the entire contents of the bag all over the floor as I went to weigh the bag

7kg. Get in!

And that included the iBastard, heels, two dresses, two tops and all the other paraphernalia. By the time I added a guidebook and my handbag which had the portable charger, a small camera, Monty, sweets and everything else I was just over 10kg. Now the trouble was that Monarch - with whom I would fly out - said that the weight limit was 10kg in total. Hmm. I would keep an eye on the people in front and if it looked like they were also weighing handbags I’d decant the battery and camera in to my coat pocket to bring my under the weight. Silly rule. Of course first I had to check that I could actually put things in my coat pockets!

With all that done I was ready. Or I would be once I’d painted my nails. By some miracle I managed to leave five minutes early. Me. Early! I even knew the train times and hence which train operating company and therefore which ticket I needed to avoid a repeat of my last effort at being confused going through London Bridge. I was determined to not be beaten this time…

Did I mention I’d also re-used the ridiculous little plastic bag and also knew everything fitted so as to avoid a repeat of my inability to close the clip thing. Goodness I was organised. Everything went well, I was travelling off-peak, I didn’t queue for a ticket, sauntered on to the *right* platform and calmly waited. All was going so well. Finally they called the platform and I cooly wandered over and… Used my bloody Oyster to go through the barriers. It’s a Pavlovian thing that people living in London do, you see a little yellow circle and you have to use your Oyster. When I get the train to and from Norfolk I explicitly hold the ticket in my hand to avoid Oysteritis. But I’ve not done that in a while as I currently have the Contrary Clio.

So yes... Beep. Oh, that was easy…. Yes, then I realised, gah. I’d have to go back through. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t need to go through I just needed to tap back out and if I’m charged I’ll argue the toss with TFL when I get back, seriously, how far can you go in 8 seconds?

That blooper aside I boarded the train, stowed my bag and sat ready for the relatively quick journey. As I had a few minutes I decided now was a good time to call the hotel again. I’d been trying before I left as I needed to know how to get in owing to their reception closing fifteen minutes after my plane was due to land. I’d called six times already. It occurred to me that maybe they were having lunch so by the time I got to London Bridge. It might be over…

The phone answered. And then hung up. Oh. I called again. Same. Maybe they were dealing with somebody, having been there before I knew how tiny staffed they were… I waited five minutes. Called. Hung up. Oh bugger. I wrote them an email explaining that I called and I really needed instructions and to say I’d try again at the airport…

…but it wasn’t necessary. By the time I got there I saw I had and email to say that they had a problem with the phone system and explained what the procedure was. Phew. I realised I was feeling a little anxious about this so it was a huge relief. 

Having already checked in online - twitch - I went straight to security and beep-beep-beep. Hmm, I was wearing almost exactly the same as last time that had metal, i.e. Jawbone, pearl studs and pearl necklace, so not much. But a different bra. There was a report recently that M&S bras set of airport scanners and I wondered if this was one that did, after all I went through exactly the same scanner. So it was shoes off for me and then in to the full body scanner before finally a lady officer checked around my bra band. I didn’t giggle. Or make any flippant comments. But oh my they were screaming to get out.

Finally through it was off to find some lunch, I needed something filling as I expected to get in quite late. The options are relatively limited so I went for dirty chicken at that Nandos place, a venue that normally only Jack can drag me in to. Of course travelling alone meant I had to play “can you watch my bag please” with the elderly couple that arrived at the same time as me. A game I then played with a solo travelling chap who sat next to me. Anyway, I can recommend their butterfly chicken, at least I think that’s what it was called, it was beautifully done and no bones to faff about with. Oh and the pink that they recommended to go with peri-peri, very lovely.

Food eaten and the boarding times engrained in my conscious I headed to the bar for another drink or two and to write. All very civilised. I even managed to leave at the right point at heard the call for people on my flight to go to the gate. I really was on a roll.

The chap at the gate smiled, checked my papers, lifted the bag once, decided it was way under, and stuck on a little approved thing. Woo Hoo. Honestly I don’t know why I worry about these things. I sat near the exit to the aeroplane and waited quietly. I’d decided that as I had to book a seat to do online check-in I might as well get one at the front so once the infirm or with children went through I was next, walked quickly on, deposited my bag in the thingie, sat and promptly closed my eyes. It was so much easier being at the front.

The flight was gloriously empty which I know isn’t great for the airline but it made for a very pleasant flight. Sadly I had to forego my usual tradition of Champagne on a flight and had to do with Prosecco, gosh life is hard sometimes. As we taxied to a halt it was clear that my belief in the Met Office was rewarded, not only did I have a brolly but I had the new raincoat I mentioned earlier. Judging by the grumbles I heard a few rows behind me it was not a universal decision. 

We stopped, I gathered my bags, there was a knock on the door and I was off. Not quite scalded cat but quite sprightly. I whizzed through immigration, bought a return ticket for the water bus, giggled about it having the word ARSE on it and then set off following the directions I’d been given to find the pier. I was very quick. I imagine some people were still leaving the plane. For a while it felt like I was actually walking all the way to Venice but finally I found the stop and heeding a comment I read about not accidentally taking a water taxi and being stung I walked to the right pier, handed my ticket, stowed luggage, sat down and… We set off! If I’d been in line to hand over my passport I would have been waiting.
Now I did have a moment of wondering whether this was wise, okay the upside was that I would be kicked off at San Marco just a few minutes walk from my hotel, the downside though was it was much slower than the shuttle bus. But I didn’t have to walk all the way through Venice. Which I’ll admit can be a tiny bit disorientating. Never mind all that, I got to see Venice from the water. And a few of the other islands. Would I do it again on another visit? Hell yes. I was in no hurry and whilst it was about 90 minutes I got to see things I would never seen if I’d been on a bus with wheels. A water
tour where I disembarked really close to my destination.

I loved it.

At San Marco I was off like a shot, two reasons, 1) I knew the way having been here only two months earlier with Clarissa and it was oh so familiar, 2) I *really* needed to spend a penny. By now the rain really meant it so I scuttled the short distance along the Riva, across the big square, down the road, over a bridge, turn right, then let and I was there. A good decision methinks. I rang the buzzer as instructed, spoke with the owner, was let in and there sure enough were my keys and a letter explaining where I would be. Utterly perfect. And only the second floor so not far to walk.

If I ever come back here I’m going to request this room. In fact if you ever go to Al Gazzettino stay in room 212. It’s wonderful. Whilst the size of the bathroom is smaller than the room I shared with Clarissa, the bedroom itself is far larger, but - and this is the important bit - it has a balcony. Plus a huuuuuuuge couch to lounge on. On the road-trip the theme was that every day would start with Missy looking out of the window. It was my turn, but nobody to take the picture.

Stuff dropped I went out in search of provisions, I didn’t want to eat per se, but I did at least want nibbles, water and some fizz. I knew of a place nearby so I popped there, got the essentials headed home in the rain, kicked my shoes off and began to write. But not before taking pictures of lunatics taking a romantic night gondola ride.

In the rain.

Once the fizz was done I pulled the shutters to, closed the windows and settled down for - as it turned out - a good nights sleep.

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