At three in the morning, the internet suddenly worked. How did I know this? Because I was awake and anxious about the fact that I couldn't contact the numerous people I had to before I got to Venice. For some reason, I thought I'd check the internet and there it was; working. Oh well. I wasn't going to second guess my luck, and so I emailed who I needed to - and checked any messages. I also watched Sachin Tendukar go out. Yes, my life - at three in the morning - is very, very small.
At eight, Myles and I were up - packing, organising and getting our kids ready. They were up and going because I said they could spend all our credits in the vending machine. For some reason, this was a big draw card and Niccolo got dressed as fast as anyone I have ever seen. Poor Paris was barely up for the challenge of being vertical. It's hard being a teenager (as he reminds me).
We left with almost no hitches (except Paris left his toy red panda and we had to go back for that; and Niccolo - once we had arrived in Venice - realised that he had left not only his miraculous stick in Milan, but also the new one he had picked up in Antibes. He was almost inconsolable). It was January 6; and everything was closed. Is this the festival of La Befanna? I'm not sure, but it was a public holiday which meant that the trains ran infrequently. We had left with plenty of time though, most of us having very bad plane/train fever. So we were at our economically train to Venice in good time. These trains are a bit of a mystery. You book five seats but can take them on any scheduled 'economic' train between two set dates. I guess this means that the train can be well and truly overbooked. We were early, and we were also getting on at the very beginning of the trip so we not only got seats, but enough space for our luggage. As the hour rolled on, and the train stopped at various stations along the way, other budget travellers were less fortunate. Me and the kids sat in a seating of four and Myles sat across the aisle with some Canadian travellers. Me and the kids played cards games from a book called 'Parlour Games for Modern Familes'. It's a winner. After a while, we decided to read - Zelda (Dracula), Paris (Wuthering Heights) and me (Moral Disorder) while Niccolo drew in his journal. Myles, in the meantime, was chatting to the Canadians. They were appalled that his first stop in Italy was Milan. They thought it was the worst town they had come across. So we were not the only ones. Not that you always need confirmation of these things, but it is nice to get it.
The landscape was flat and mostly agricultural. At points, we got to see the Swiss lakes (for a moment or two), but all up, the landscape didn't grab the imagination. After three and a half hours (and very flat bottoms), we clattered over the spit of land that connects the mainland with Venice, and there we were.
The sun was out again, and out we walked from the train station and into a wilderness of beauty. I've been to Venice a few times, but it always hits me hard when I see it again - the light and the colours, you can hardly believe it. And things sound different in Venice, softer somehow - muffled by the stones and the water.
We had arranged to meet the manager of the apartment just in front of the station, and there she was. I wasn't thinking that I wouldn't like Venice - I had after all loved it before - but I'm convinced now that the first couple of hours in a new place are critical. And having the person who is to meet you actually be there and walk you to your apartment is a good beginning.
We are staying in Santa Croce, and not too far from the station, which is good because our luggage is appalling. We are staying in a nineteenth century palazzo called Casa dei Pittori that has been converted to apartments. The entry is a grand, tiled hallway and a courtyard, with gates to the two canals the palazzo sits on. Then we went up marble stairs to the first floor and our apartment. It is lovely, with terrazzo floors and a terrace overlooking a canal. Our bedroom overlooks two canals and the light is so amazing.
It was about four by the time we had put everything away. We hadn't eaten since breakfast. I wanted to email my family in Venice about where I was but ... look! ... no internet here either. What was going on?
We had to feed people so we went around the corner from our place to Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio, and a little cafe on the corner that was still serving food. We ate a tonne, and ordered verdure which came with eggplant and artichoke (ah, the artichokes in Venice, how I have missed you). With half a litre of red wine, we were feeling fine. It was time to go for a long walk. This is a very groovy part of Venice - the cafes were particularly cool and we liked that it was drink o'clock and people brought their dogs with them. Outside there was a little stall set up for kids to do some painting, but it was, I think, quite political. It was something about saving the city - though from what, we couldn't be sure.
I know Venice a little, but I didn't know this part very well. But once we looked at a map, and I could get us to Campo dei Frari, I was good to go. From here, we walked to Campo San Polo (where there was ice skating and a Christmas market), and then onto the Rialto. The sun was just setting when we arrived and, along with other tourists, we all posed at the top of the bridge. God, Venice is incredible. It is difficult to both describe or properly remember when you are not there. But the way in which there is always movement because of the water, and the way that movement works against the sit-up-straight buildings that line it; all shoulder to shoulder with their mellow colours is something to behold. You can gaze forever.
We walked the kids to Piazza San Marco and showed them the Basilica San Marco, Cafe Florian, and the Bridge of Sighs. We weren't getting much traction from them; they were tired and grumpy. Niccolo needed to go to the loo; Venice is a notoriously difficult place for toilets. I asked a waiter at a cafe in Piazza San Marco where the nearest public toilets were and he kindly let Niccolo use the toilets in his restaurant. Ah, kindness. It makes your day.
We tapped our way back to the apartment; hard heels on hard stones and listened for the new sounds of a city without traffic; or road traffic anyway. After we dropped the kids at home, Myles and I went shopping for food and water (literally). On the way back, he decided he wanted to have a crack at getting us home without my help. He was close too; but for a wrong turn at the last moment. But the crazy sense of the structure of Venice was making some inroads on him.
Still no internet when we got home. I was really fretting because I had promised family I would call and I couldn't because the phone numbers were on emails that I couldn't access. Myles and I went out again looking for an internet cafe or free wifi and had no luck there either. There is something called Access Venice (or something) which is free wifi in the city of Venice. But in that perculiarly Italian way of bureaucatic nonsense, you required an Italian phone number to access it, plus some other identification number I didn't have. Grinding my teeth; I left the whole thing alone after about an hour. This dependency will have to be killed off.
The day ended with Myles finding some terrible eighties video marathon on the telly and the kids watching some idiotic show that Paris had downloaded at some earlier point. I went to read.
The quiet in which you go to sleep in Venice is something apart. The only things we heard were bells.