Sushi turns out to be the ideal snack to take onto the plane for elevenses/brunch... Easy and neat to eat, delicious, filling, nutritious. Buy it in Boots before you head to the departure gate. Costa coffee at Gatwick is fabuloso, don't even think about Pret a Manger where the coffee (last time) was so bitter I actually tried to complain, but the sweet manager was Polish and powerless.
We left England over Cuckmere, fleetingly visible through amazing layers of clouds. France was uneventful though the Rhone looked magnificent and the Alps were paradisical, absolutely stunning with the pale sun shining on their southern slopes and the snow almost incandescently bright.
Venice Marco Polo is so smooth, so efficient. We were out and waiting for our bus in about 20 minutes. I admired a fastigiate oak growing between the concrete platforms of the car/bus access to the side of the airport... every branch turning straight up, so it looked more like a poplar than anything else. Can these grow in England?
We took the local bus into Mestre, the directions from our landlord seemed fine till we got off the bus and descended the spiral staircase as directed... and found ourselves not outside the apartment but in a stinky public carpark with no signage and a nasty atmosphere. We wandered about. A smart old lady told us which way we should go. We found the flats... and waited. Eventually a shambling young man appeared – I typed 'mad' just now instead of 'man', and that would have been right. He spoke very very very quietly. Was almost completely unintelligible, couldn't believe we had no car (though he had sent directions for the bus), took ages to let us into the building, could hardly bear to get into the little lift with us, seemed like something out of Kafka.
But, the apartment is very nice, on the 10th floor of an almost-Deco style block, with a terrace looking out to the north and west, and Venice itself visible from the kitchen window on the other side of the building. It smells a bit of tobacco, which is disappointing, as we had specified non fumato. I didn't want to be left alone with him in the flat, so Andrew stayed with him to be shown the switches etc and I went slightly nervously down into the street to find a bank and money to pay him. That all went ok, and in fact going away from the carpark we had come through, the area improves.
Eventually Fabio went away, and we went out to find the bus across to Venice... there is NOTHING to live with here, no salt or pepper, no washup liquid, no oil, empty empty. Being Sunday there are no shops open round here either, so we hoped to find some basics in the city. Which we did – Andrew remembered there is a brilliant Co-op right by the Piazzale di Roma bus station, where we could choose from wonderful shoppy type things, with locals all around us and no other tourists to be heard.
By then we had wandered, marvelled, sat in a cafe and asked for chocolate (no, only in winter), ice-cream (sorry none left), water (sorry we only have tonic). Never mind, we enjoyed ourselves anyway and liked the foraging sparrows. We walked some more, up this bridge, over that. Here is a prison, here a row of lanes with lots of laundry hanging up, here a proper boatyard and quietness, here a building with magnificent chimneys opening up to huge vents, and here we are back in tourist land. It strikes me that one reason Venice is so attractive is that despite its great sprawling size and colossal engineeing history, it is all rather small-scale. People walking by always look in proper scale next to the buildings and the bridges.... It is intensely human, in fact. In that respect it is like Blenheim Palace, another colosssal work which manages to create a series of small spaces in which you can feel comfortable. This is an aspect of its architecture which I have never seen discussed, but it is a charming and satisfying quality which is rare enough.
We ate eventually in a place offering Sarde in saor (fresh sardines fried and then pickled in mild vinegar), and then Fegato (liver) for Andrew and Seppie (inky cuttlefish) for me. Rich, delicious, filling.
So, the shopping, then catching a bus back to Mestre – speeding across the lagoon to the mainland in the twilight, with Fangio at the wheel apparently. Quick, this is where we get off. Down those spiral stairs and through the carpark again (less scary at night, strangely, because it's lit), up in the tiny lift and here we are. BBC Worldwide on the telly, a fantastic carillon of bells from the startlingly modern church half a mile away, and the roar of traffic outside. 'Who wants to be a millionaire' is pretty much the same in Italian as it is in English except they talk more. I am bushed.
Tomorrow we can breakfast on prickly pears and toast and apricot jam, and cheese. Then walk to the station, catch the local train to Padua, and be Shakespearean. We spotted an internet cafe round the corner earlier on, so I will pop in there in the morning and post this. Annoyingly the flat does not have Wifi, though Fabio said it did, before we left. Still for 380 euros we have this eyrie for a week, clean and quiet, and reasonably conveniently placed near Mestre station. After all, most Venetians live here and not in the shining city.
Loading this onto the blog today (Monday) I want to add this.. that our landlord is like some young professor of astrophysics - unworldly, shambolic, eccentric. But without that blazing intelligence.
Today we are in Venice, not Padua as planned, because there many places are closed on Mondays whereas here most things are open because of the huge tourist industry. It is mild, sunny, peaceful. We found this internet cafe with lots of difficulty.. For future reference there are quite a few around Santa Maria di Formosa, but they mostly shut very promptly at 1pm. This one stays open, thank goodness. We need our lunch now.