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Posted on Saturday, January 31, 2004 - 02:57 am:   

This is another "what I did on my holidays" post, folks, but may be of interest.


So, drove to Stansted airport on Sunday. Flight was on time, and swift:
an hour and a half to Treviso. There was a very wintry, steely view of the
Alps coming in.

By the time that the bus left the airport for Venice, it was growing dark.
Lots of villas and classical statues looming out of the rainy twilight,
and then a large factory that announced (if my Italian serves me correctly
and he probably does not) "Fart In Neon!" Thank you, but I think most of
us prefer the traditionally more discreet method.

Venice eventually appeared across its causeway and I was deposited in the
bus station. So I got on a boat, which seemed the logical thing to do. Unfortunately,
the wrong boat: it took off into the outer darkness of the Adriatic and
there was much shaking of heads and pursing of lips when it was discovered
that out of a 50-50 chance, I was in fact going the wrong way. So I changed
boats at St Mark's, paused to admire the seriously impressive view of domes
swimming up out of the water, and caught the vaporetto to my original destination.

I found the place where the hotel was supposed to be by following a large
group of people, which is not usually reliable but was in this instance.
We passed a small building covered in vines, and here the Williams Intuition
made its appearence: _I bet that's the hotel_, it said. Needless to say,
I ignored this since the hotel was not where it was supposed to be. Having
subsequently been directed to all 4 points of the compass by helpful Venetians,
I decided to give intuition a chance and went back to the little building,
half an hour later. It was the hotel. Sigh.

I found my friends in residence (they are, for future reference, two couples:
Sue and Trevor, who are a housing officer and a maker of architectural
models respectively, and Chris (m) and Chris (f), London cabbie and actress-turned-voice
coach, also respectively) and we went out to dinner at a place around the
corner, which was pleasant, laid-back and sold excellent bottles of Merlot.
I had a kind of turkey-and-courgette thing which was rather good. Basic
Venetian trattoria food, apparently.

After this- we were, as usual, the last to leave - Trevor insisted that
I should see St Mark's without all the tourists in it, and so at midnight,
we headed up through the maze and there it was: the square illuminated by
round glowing lamps, and the church and tower rising up at the end of it.
Chris (f) demonstrated the acoustic qualities with a rendition of Queenie's
speech from Blackadder ("...but I have the heart and stomach of a CONCRETE
ELEPHANT"). Then the bells rang midnight.


This morning, back to St Mark's and much window-shopping and some actual
shopping was done en route. Venice has lots of designer shops, as one might
expect from an Italian city, and there were some very pointy shoes, which
generated a certain amount of Mr Burns-like rubbing of hands and muttering
of 'Excellent!' on the part of the female members of the party, until we
did the Euros-into-sterling conversion and realised that 300E at half price
is still prohibitive. Oh well.

From here, we walked up to the Rialto bridge (many merchants, no news),
taking in a rather pretty marble church on the way, and had lunch in a small
cafe (the proscuittio roll: a Good Thing). Chris (m) retrieved his under-the-weather
spouse from the hotel and we gritted our teeth and decided to do what must
be done, which was a gondola trip. I think gondolas are beautiful, but there
is a degree of 'cheesy/wind chill factor/possibility of being sung at' which
we had to overcome. The gondolier had sneakers and a pierced eyebrow, but
he obviously knew his stuff. Occasionally he emitted ear-splitting whistles
at passing women, who treated this with the disdain it merited.

Some fascinating canal-eye views of Venetian water stairs and the back entrances
to palaces. It is a decaying, sinister, melancholy place in winter. My kinda

After this we could not feel our feet, so went back to St M's and had tea
in Florian's, which Lord Byron and Henry James used to frequent (though
not, obviously, at the same time). I had lavendar tea, which was delightful.
It was like being in a series of long, narrow railway carriages, decorated
by Titian. There should be some pics at some point.

Then we went round the cavernous, mosaic interior of St M's: reminded me
a bit of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, much more eastern basilica than Catholic
cathedral. The bronze horses which adorned its gallery have been replaced
by replicas but the originals are still inside: I had not realised how old
they are, some 2000 years, apparently. They have a strange, gracious intelligence.

In the evening we did the other must-do and went to Harry's Bar for Bellinis
and, in my case, a Martini of eye-watering strength. Hemingway apparently
had this thing about making the cocktail by placing a glass of gin next
to a bottle of Martini and then taking it away again. Er, yes.

Trevor was somewhat disappointed not to see a drunken writer being flung
into the street, mss hurled after him ("And take that damned book with you!").
I told him that this could easily be arranged, but not at 12E a glass unless
I really hit the big time. Perhaps I can arrange to be hurled bodily out
of the local, and then in years to come it, too, will take on the patina
of Harry's? Or perhaps not.

Then we went to dinner at a very pink place with an ancient shuffling waiter,
and discussed driving taxis. Chris (m) had to do the Knowledge, which is
an exhaustive understanding of every street and route in London. It takes
5 years. We suspect that a water taxi involves the same sort of thing. For
dinner, I had liver, which apparently is a Venetian thing. But I love liver,
though not always my own, so that's okay. Pinot Grigio this time, which
is not my favourite but was nice enough.

On the way back, it snowed: huge flakes drifting down against the pale walls
and starring the black water. Very atmospheric. Very chilly. My room was,
however, too hot: like sleeping in a little painted box.


Combat shopping this morning for the 4 members of the quintet who were returning
home that lunchtime. There was a brief marital row (I won't say whose) relating
to differing tastes in tourist tat, while the rest of us tactfully admired
the windows of Armani. Stuff was purchased. We all went up the Campanile,
which is the big tower in St Mark's (it fell down in 1904 - wallop, all
at once, which must have been a bit of a shock for passers by). Superb views
over the red roofs and hazy canals, but the wind chill factor was intense.
Sue and I wimped out and went down to hide in a shop. Funny, that.

Then we went back to the hotel to pick up their gear, and over the Accademia
Bridge to the vaporetto stop. I waved goodbye with a tissue, having no linen
handkerchief to hand, and made my way into the streets with a slight mingling
of relief and loss. I like being with my friends, I like being alone, too,
especially in foreign cities.

Had lunch (chicken ravioli soup) in a trattoria and then went in search
of the Guggenheim collection. By this time, the weather had cleared to one
of those silvery winter days, with a sparkling light out across the water.
I found the gallery, but it was shut on Tuesdays. Instead, I went into a
very nice gallery and bought my own art - 2 lovely posters of Venice, which,
alas, I have lost somewhere en route across Europe. Really very annoyed
about this - they must have fallen out of the bag and I was too tired and
strung out to see them go. Damn, eh?

Then went shopping for presents, so birthdays and next Xmas are sorted (I
always do this when I go abroad, and, as related to Esther, put everything
in a safe place and lose it. Last year, everyone got Greek stuff made out
of olive wood as the quality of Siberian tat was, er, not high). Won't say
what I bought as it's destined for at least one member.

Stopped briefly for a pitstop of coffee and a doughnut - the guy who served
me told me that he had made them himself, and they are a special doughnut
that is made for the carnival season. After that, they disappear for another
year. They are small, and filled with raisins.

In the evening, which was wet, I located an internet cafe and, as you know,
posted from it. Then went over the Accademia again to a pub, which I eventually
found - had to get something for someone, but did not linger as it was one
of those bars in which you have to stand up, and I'm not keen on that. So
I found a place round the corner from the hotel and had dinner there (sardines
in vinegar, pasta with anchovy and onion sauce, and an amaretto mousse -
I usually find 3 courses a bit of a struggle and don't bother, but they
served quite small portions, so I was able to). The restaurant gradually
filled up with people, mainly tourists. Two nice Californians sat next to
me and we had a chat. Then the bill arrived, with grappa in a little chocolate
cup. The female half of the couple came very close to spraying it across
the table ("What IS this?"). She gave me a slightly bug-eyed look and said,
"Did you drink yours?" I nearly said: 'Listen lady, I trained on Unfeasibly Stupid Drinks, I'll have you know,' but it seemed an unfair advantage, somehow.


A pleasant morning spent strolling around the Rialto. Lots of little shops
- the Venetian obsession with stationary is a Good Thing. All kinds of handmade
paper, seals and wax, beautiful pens and interesting ink...a writer's dream.
I picked up the bags in time for the boat and had lunch in the same trattoria
- cuttlefish in ink with polenta, this time, since it is a Venetian speciality
and someone who shall remain nameless accused me of being a wuss on the
previous evening for not trying it. I did. So there.

The trip up the Grand Canal was beautiful - huge palaces coming right down
into the water, with gold mosaic facades. It was also enlivened by a dog
fight. We got to the bus station in good time; I caught the bus to the airport,
and then, due to snow in England and closed airports, disaster struck, and we were there for the next 10 hours before the flight was announced as cancelled.

Two British businessmen in the queue behind me got a local colleague to
book them a hotel, and they very kindly booked single rooms for myself and
an Icelandic woman in the queue next to me - poor Elfa, she had come from
Naples that morning and had to get back to her home in the west of Iceland.
The businessmen and I decided to aim for Brussels in the morning and this
was what we did - they charged the taxis to their expense account (and also
carried my bags, which was very sweet, I thought). We stayed in a hotel
in Treviso which was large and bland.

And thus it went. The details of the subsequent trip are a bit dull so I'll
spare you. Highlights, and there were not many, included a raid on the chocolate
shop in the Brussels Eurostar terminal, and the views across a very snowy
Belgium. I shall be catching up with my friends tonight, but I gather that
they had an uneventful trip back, on time. Bah.
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Posted on Saturday, January 31, 2004 - 07:36 pm:   

You cruel woman. I will pretend you stayed home and made all of that up. What's more, I will pretend the only reason *I* haven't been to Venice is that it doesn't exist. Yes, that's what I'm going to do. There's no such thing as Venice. There's no such thing as Venice. There's no such thing as Venice.

(And there's no such thing as Siberia either!)

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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 01:33 pm:   

I'm sorry! OK, it's all a lie. I haven't been out of this house for years. I have ninety cats and have all my food lifted up to me in a basket.

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Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 12:42 am:   

With ninety cats around the house, you hardly need food.

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Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 06:49 am:   

They hunt for me, actually. They bring home small children (they are quite big cats) which go straight in the cooking pot...

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