Email from Venice

Ciao a tutti

There’s a little statement on the online booking form for my hotel in Venice: an amount may be placed against your credit card to secure this booking. Guess which word is the one to watch out for?

Yes, that’s right – “may”.

I run a small credit card because I was once very naughty with said card and it took a lot of effort to reform my wild ways.

Please re-enter your credit card details, said the online site.

Please re-enter your credit card details, said the online site.

I went to the hotel’s booking site.

Ah, no message. We’re good.

Only we’re not because when I phone to ask about an extension to my stay, the lovely G says, “We have no booking for you”.

I forgot that vital step – the confirmation email. I transfer money to my credit card and the booking goes through. No, says the lovely G from the hotel, we’ll take it when you get here.

Not good news. Now it’s on my card there’s a risk of being spent. Said risk was realised, in part.

Why extend, you ask?

Make sure you’re not in Venice at Carnavale time, it’s crazy, said friends. “All those ghastly tourists,” one shuddered. But other friends said, “What do you mean you’re leaving the day before it all starts. The regatta down the Grand Canal is Sunday morning?” Hence the call to extend my non-existent stay.

Now, are you reading carefully? The regatta down the Grand Canal is Sunday morning. No one, no website, nowhere….is there a mention that the night before there’s a magical light and entertainment show uptown. Italians are generous, welcoming and hospitable, but there seems to be a small issue around sharing useful information.

The trip began with the train to Florence and an African woman with her phone on speaker, so we heard the sobbing voice of a man who wanted to see his children. Where was he? Italy, or Africa? Why couldn’t he see the children? When the call finished, Mama put that phone away and took out another. There followed a long conversation in a language I couldn’t identify.

It’s about 48 minutes to Bologna on the Frecciarossa – fast red train – and most of it we spend inside tunnels. Take a train, they said. See the country, they said. At least the Italians have solved that awful thwump of passing trains that the British still have.

The landscape is flat and dull and here we go, the begging woman on the train. They’re common and, so far, harmless. But how did she get onto the Frecciarossa?

Emerging into Venice from the railway station always leaves me stunned. Steps, piazza, canal. People. Selfie-stick sellers and porters. Water taxis, ferries, delivery boats, a courier express boat, one loaded with a house lot of furniture wrapped top to bottom in white plastic. It’s as if a director has called “Action!” and the scene starts into life.

If you’ve been to Venice, you know it has lots of little streets, some filled with water; squares and piazzas; Rialto Bridge….and too many tourists. In mid-February, it’s still quite quiet and, to my surprise, warm-ish. Blue skies and blazing winter sun. This is how it’ll be the whole time, except for the day I leave when the entire lagoon disappears. No cruise ships yet.

Lunch was bad carbonara and very cold red wine. I should know better.

The Carnavale mask shops are everywhere, from the $2 variety to the handmade. Some owners will let you photograph from outside; others shoo you away. The souvenir shops are there in quantity. How do they make money when they’re all selling the same tat? Out on Burano and Murano, it’s the same with the glass.

This is third stay at the same hotel and most days I can find it without getting lost. Breakfast is just the same – cold meats, cheese, bread, cake, more cake, some more cake and….this time they have muesli. A tourist eatery beside Rialto Bridge does a good espresso lungo – a long black in other words. I get more than a small mouthful of coffee. It’s also wonderfully cheap - €1. Contrast that with a later excursion to London where one can pay £2.10. So, $1.60 in Venice and $4.20 in London. The tramezzini are not to be missed – sandwiches bulging with good tuna and olives, Porchetta and any one of another dozen tasty combos.

I had just purchased a gelato from the wonderfully named “Grom” at the railway station when I heard sirens. There, on the Grand Canal, the fuoco (fire brigade) race up in their speedboat, going from 100 to zero in about 1 metre and parking perfectly. They jump out, hoist ladders on their shoulders and run down to smoke billowing from the second floor of a building. Nothing wrong with the scene, but when you’re used to lumbering machines on roads, this appeared bizarre. More speedboats, including the ambulance. The police run tape across the front of the street and retire to the side to have a chat. White smoke becomes black and then grey, dying out after a few minutes. The excitement is over, I’ve finished my gelato and there’s a woman selling beaded bracelets sidling up on my left. Time to go.

There’s more, but I figure this is enough for part one. No photos at the moment. Lightroom won’t oblige and I can’t resize them. Mr C is working on the problem (no pressure, mate) and we might have them in the next edition.