It is not far apparently from Padua to Venice. I could look it up I suppose, but I am not going to. Believe me when I say the train journey felt as if we could have walked faster, even carrying our enormous jerry cans. As the train crawled along we looked out of the window and quite desultorily tried to work out how to find suitably cheap accommodation in Venice. It was the 9th September 1975, the day before my 22nd birthday and we didn’t want to be too exhausted. We had no real idea of what to do – so – minor miracle number 6.
We arrived at the railway station, picked up our stuff and headed towards the Serenissima. It was hot and stuffy, but we came to a square and looked around and up. A woman was hanging out of the window and shouting something. Was it to us? She started waving her arms around and soon we realised she was in fact yelling to us. Bedroom! Night! Come! We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and said in unison, why not?
We discovered the narrowest doorway and struggled up the narrowest staircase. Suddenly we found ourselves not exactly in Narnia but in a sizeable square room. There was absolutely no space in the room, however, as it was filled by the most enormous double bed, it must have been at least 7 feet wide and as long. You could hardly get round it, but there would be no problem sleeping in it. We could have fitted at least five more people! Luckily we didn’t have to.
We agreed a very reasonable price and off we went to look at Venice. I’d been before with my father, when I was twelve, and then I had my first and only gondola ride. This time we took the vaporetto and went to explore the churches. Oh, so many of them, and each one darker and more ill-lit than the rest. But lack of illumination was there to preserve the artworks which were magnificent. Again it was wonderful to have Stephen as a Cicerone because he was so interesting when talking about what we were seeing.
Do you want to know what we ate? I will tell you anyway. The most awful lasagne in the world. We’d found this little place which looked cheerful enough and the prices were reasonable… but the portion sizes were not, and the taste was terrible… but that was it. Dinner was over and we were running out of money!
So we walked around some more, and eventually found our way back to the great bed of Venice. I believe we both slept quite soundly and then the next day was my birthday. I was 22. What should we do? We decided to go to St Mark’s Square, of course. The day was absolutely beautiful and we went to the Basilica, saw the Bridge of Sighs and all the other tourist spots. Stephen bought his nieces the biggest most garish plastic gondola he could find, festooned in fairy lights, claiming that it would be exactly what they wanted. I wonder if they still have it? I bought my mother a sober medallion from St Mark’s, and we must have eaten lunch somewhere before that, but I don’t remember.
We did however want to celebrate my birthday, so we went for a coffee to one of the famous cafes on the square. We didn’t go to the one where the orchestra was playing romantic melodies, but to one where we could still hear them. The waiter brought the menu, we looked at the price list and ordered one espresso – to share!
Meanwhile there was a New Zealand couple at the next table and when they heard us speaking English they got very excited. She wanted to know where to buy some bite and sting cream as she was covered in mosquito bites which she lost no time in showing us! Luckily I could help her because I knew just about enough Italian. We got chatting, Stephen mentioned my birthday, and in their gratitude they bought us a coffee, each. It was indeed a happy birthday and minor miracle number 7.