The sound of clicking heels on pavements in Venice was used to great unsettling effect in the 1973 horror/ghost story Don't Look Now starring Donald Sutherland and the delectable Julie Christie. Despite the efforts of that film, Venice is, for me, still an impossibly romantic place. That peculiar combination of the narrow streets, tall old buildings and the omnipresence of water, I suppose. I find it uniquely of its place and familiar and like Proust's Madeleines, or the smell of my mum's stew doing its thing in the oven, the sound of heels immediately grounds me in the wateriest of cities, Venice.
It's a place best explored in the spring and autumn when the hordes of tourists tend to leave the city virtually to the locals, yet temperatures are plenty warm enough for some al fresco quaffing and scoffing! My return visit to Venice for the first time in years was every bit as pleasurable alone as it was when I first discovered it on a family holiday as a gawky sixteen year old. And while what fascinated me most about the place then was admittedly the impossibly glamorous bellezze di Venezia in human form, rather than the city's many architectural and cultural charms, I think some of the history and art of the place must have stuck from half a lifetime ago. The rain fell steadily on my first day as I arrived fresh from a remarkably sunny London but that did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm at what is almost certainly the most civilised and glamorous public transport airport-city centre service. That John Barry's 007 theme came through my headphones as the beautiful wooden launches swooped and swished past us through the chop merely served to accentuate the swelling sense of excitement. So, what to do on the odd occasions it rains in Venice? Well rule number one is try not to get your eye poked out by gangs of marauding schoolboys on a trip brandishing matching rucksacks and umbrellas! Thereafter, galleries, theatres, guided walks...whatever takes your fancy. BUT, do get stuck into a bacaro', as current London restaurateur du jour Russell Norman would no doubt advise. Bacaro' are the closest that Italians have to tapas in Spain and are bars serving small plates of delicious morsels which depend heavily on the freshest of seafood. The concept certainly has Londoners queuing around the block in WC2, so being of Venetian origin, check out the bona fide version where you don't have to queue for two hours, only to be told by a too cool for school haircut that there's no room at the achingly trendy inn. Not that I'm bitter, you understand, Spuntino et al! Get to wherever quickly and relatively simply by the ubiquitous taxi boats or splurge on a gondola. Yes, the gondoliers ply their trade even when it rains and still sing as enthusiastically and cheerfully. OK, so you will get lost wandering around. I mean PROPERLY lost, but on holiday that isn't something that ever bothered me. I mean when I'm really lost, I have no choice but to strike up a chat with an unfailingly friendly set of locals who are only too glad to point you approximately in the right direction. So I say allow yourself to get lost! Get properly lost and don't panic! Use it as an excuse to get to know some people you'll never have met otherwise, to spot that beautifully ornate door knocker down that tiny alleyway you'd never have noticed. Venice is hot right now. So go before all of those trendies of Polpo, Da Polpo, Polpetto & Spuntino acolytes hear about the real thing!
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