Our driver to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport was elderly and who, the evidence would indicate, was having an intimate relationship with a flagon of vino blanco. In addition, and probably because of, he was not a morning person and he grunted commands as we heaved the bags into the back of his vehicle for our flight to Venice. However, he was the safest driver I’ve seen, he followed the lines on the road all the way to the airport – left wheels on one side of the centre line and right wheels on the other – he straddled the centre line, ensuring that two lanes of traffic queued behind us. When other drivers became so frustrated that they blasted horns at our man, he would veer over to one side to let them pass before returning to his original position and then swear and growl loudly at those who dared to want to use one of his two lanes.
Upon arrival in Venice, we needed to find a laundromat and an internet café. As far as the children were concerned – not necessarily in that order – this may have influenced the effort they put into searching for a laundromat which we were unable to locate. But we did find an internet café near the Rialto Bridge and the person tending the shop (do we call him an internet barista or a café geek?) appeared to have some pretty flash 486’s just waiting to be fired up. Adjacent to the Rialto Bridge are numerous eateries and we chose what looked like a quaint little restaurant down a nearby laneway. ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ (SWoMBO) was comfortable with the prices and so we decided that this would be our luncheon venue. We stood around at the entrance to the restaurant reviewing the menu which we had learned, from our European experiences thus far, would result in us being welcomed, or even accosted, by a maître d’. On this occasion, no-one came.
SWoMBO ultimately spoke to one of the staff and arranged for us to sit outside in the fresh air. It was November in Venice and the air was, indeed, fresh, crisp or even icy some might say. Interestingly, none of the other restaurant patrons had chosen to sit outside and this should have perhaps been used by us as guidance. Nevertheless, we sat down. At this point a person from the restaurant, who had a look of self- importance about him somewhat incongruent with a man who served spaghetti for a living, ambled across the small courtyard in our direction. He seemed to take an instant dislike to us, an outcome I am normally able to achieve from those who get to know me, but rarely so quickly as, apparently, I did on this occasion. Several of us were served a meal which was not in keeping with previous high standards we had experienced in Italy. SWoMBO said that her food was good, but how one could enjoy a pizza topped with artichoke and mushrooms is completely foreign to me, so I would class her as an ‘unreliable witness’.
We didn’t feel like dessert or coffee which was fortunate because it wasn’t offered to us, nor did they bring the bill. I entered the establishment to make payment and tendered my credit card prompting a curt response from the manager that he would prefer cash. I didn’t have much cash and so with the prospect of being unable to pay the bill, my heart started to pump faster with each of the manager’s entries into the calculator which would determine my debt. As it turned out I was able to make good the bill with five Euros to spare. My regard for this restaurant and its staff was not enhanced when I exited the establishment only to observe what was proudly displayed on the restaurant window that a credit card is, at least for others, an acceptable means of paying for your meal.
Next on our ‘to do’ list was to locate a supermarket and obtain the essentials for three nights in Venice. In the delicatessen, they had several plates of food to sample. Demonstrating my open-mindedness to the local cuisine, I sampled something which had the appearance of a white, cold, crumbed chicken nugget but I had no idea what Italian delicacy it would turn out to be. You can imagine my surprise when, upon putting the entire thing into my mouth, it revealed itself to be a refrigerated crumbed chicken nugget. I had never eaten a cold chicken nugget before and can safely say that I will never knowingly do so again. But the damn thing was now in my mouth. There was no graceful way of escape and I had to chew the entire thing and swallow it, to the sheer joy of my son, Chris, who could tell by the look of horror on my face that something was seriously wrong – he had an uncanny knack of being around when I did something stupid.
As we moved around the supermarket, our journey took us back past the food samples. I should, having regard to my chicken nugget experience, have proceeded with extreme caution, however I noticed that next to the cold chicken nuggets there was a tasting plate of something which has been rolled into balls – they looked like they may have something soft and creamy inside and I decided that they might contain a creamy camembert cheese. Therefore, I confidently selected my ‘camembert’ with the tiny toothpick provided for the purpose and placed the entire unit into my mouth whereupon it became immediately and abundantly clear that it was not a cheese ball and I felt instead that I was chewing upon dried miniature trees. It became apparent those trees took the form of cold broccoli or cauliflower. I am not sure what most influenced my response; that the consistency of the ‘food sample’ was so completely at odds with my expectation, or the fact that I routinely avoid both broccoli and cauliflower like the plague. In any event, it was most unpleasant. As soon as I commenced to chew, the look on my face told the story and yet again Chris was watching the entire experience unfold.
The following day we headed to Piazza San Marco aka St Mark’s Square which is the forecourt to the Basilica which gives the Piazza its name. The entire Square was flooded. When I say flooded I mean that the tide had risen to the point where the famous canals of Venice, had spilled into the Square. The water was calf height (no, not as high as a small cow but partially up your leg).
We decided to take a wander through the Basilica which was an extremely impressive looking structure viewed from the Piazza, but less so, it transpired, from inside. Leanne and Sarah then visited an old palace. Subsequent research leads me to believe that this was Doge’s Palace. I was happy for Leanne and Sarah to enjoy this experience in my absence since the prospect of wandering around an old palace had about as much attraction for me as being the subject of the torture which was apparently conducted there in days’ past. So, we did a deal whereby the boys would gather the ingredients for lunch at the ‘supermarcato’ while the girls had the fun of the palace tour.
After purchasing the raw materials for lunch, the boys returned to the apartment building only to realise that we didn’t have the entry key which was in Doge’s Palace with SWoMBO and ‘SWoMBO in training’. After unsuccessfully attempting to break into our unit, I decided it was time to head to reception, swallow my pride and ask for assistance. I did so and was rewarded with a spare key. Before leaving, I attempted to thank the staff. However, I must have temporarily forgotten which continent I was on and instead of saying “Grazie” to the lady behind the desk I said; “gracias” which if pronounced correctly in Spain or South America would mean the same thing. However, I was neither in Spain nor South America and I did not pronounce ‘gracias’ correctly which, had I done so, might have sounded something like ‘grass see us’. Instead I said something which sounded more like ‘grutzy ass’. I was horrified by my own ineptitude. As I walked toward the door of the reception office I started to practice what I should have said. I repeated several times; “grazie, grazie, grazie”. Alas, it was too late and I could hear the staff sniggering at my mutilation of their language as I walked away. And as if matters could become any worse, Christopher along with his brother Matthew, had overheard the entire thing and were already laughing so hard there were tears forming in their eyes as they commenced to mimic me relentlessly repeating, “grutzy ass, grutzy ass, grutzy ass!”.
Deciding to leave Venice prior to doing any further damage to my reputation, we waited as instructed on the wharf nearby our apartment for the water taxi. Numerous water taxis passed our wharf but none seemed to want to pick us up. After some time, I observed a taxi which appeared to be slowing as it came near to us and I encouraged the family to gather the bags and be ready for a swift boarding. They complied and we hurriedly grabbed each of the pieces of luggage in readiness. Yet no sooner had the taxi slowed that it increased its speed and left us standing on the wharf. All that was left for me to do was contemplate the words inscribed on the taxi; “Servizio Transporti Funeri”. I decided I didn’t want to go in that taxi anyway!