Paris and Venice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA7:55am and we were leaving London St Pancras and on the Eurostar for Paris. It was our second time in Paris this year as we had previously been over for the Exhibition Opening for Ron Mueck, Sarah’s boss. This time around we were heading there for the closing night and then on to Venice to celebrate our friends birthday.  The Eurostar was brilliant, as always, and before we knew it, we were a bottle of Champagne down and pulling into Gar du Nord, Paris.

We chose to stay in a different area to last time and we booked a hotel on Rue de Bagnolet called Mama Shelter. We had found it in an article about cheaper boutique hotels in Europe so we gave it a whirl. It is designed by Philippe Starck and was very quirky and modern but we couldn’t shake the underlying feeling that it was a bit of a sex hotel. We had a three person room which obviously meant one giant bed for all three of us to sleep in (complete with an iMac monitor pointing directly at it with a note to make a movie) and, well, take a look at the optional extras you can get online when booking. That said, we would all definitely recommend it. We quickly dumped our bags and were back on the Metro towards Opera to find another friend and some food.The closing of the exhibition was that night, so we only had enough time to eat some Croq Monsieur’s and enjoy a few drinks in the Parisian sun, before heading back to get ready for the evening.

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The Exhibition was in the Foundation Cartier, a beautiful glass fronted building in the 14th arrondissement, not far from Montparnasse. The first time before was a civilised affair, with brunch in the morning and a few glasses of champagne to wash down the delicious food. This time was a Thursday evening, just as civilised as before, except the few glasses of champagne turned into a few bottles, but what are you supposed do? You are in Paris, in an art gallery where one of the barmen is offering you free champagne, there is only one response:

“Oui!”

It was a great night in a brilliant building, surrounded by amazing art while eating delicious food, what could be better? When you see one of his pieces, Couple under an Umbrella, and you are crouching down trying to take a look up his shorts to see the testicle, don’t forget to walk around the other side and take a look at the top of the umbrella. The white tip – all Wade – You’re Welcome!

It was either all the champagne or the ill-advised 3am beers at the seedy bar across the road of the hotel, either way, we woke the next morning in our, now adapted 2/3 bed, with a slight headache. We shook it off, packed our bags and wandered down the road for a quick bite to eat and headed towards Montmartre.  We had all been to Sacre Coeur before, and we all remembered the swarms of guys trying to tie the stupid pieces of string to you and demanding money.  This time, it didn’t feel like there were as many, but they were still there, and they still didn’t like it when I stopped them doing it to an unexpected couple from Japan. I quickly continued on so was unable to catch exactly what the three gentlemen had to say to me after my involvement, but I am sure it was along the lines of “Thank you kind sir, we appreciate you stopping us from ripping of this poor gentleman, have a lovely day.”

We made it up the zig-zag path (string-free) to panoramic view over Paris. We had a quick walk around inside the Basilica before wandering down the steps in the backstreets and into a quiet area with cobblestone streets and cute little café’s where we stopped for a quick drink.  We decided to wander up Boulevard de Clichy towards the Moulin Rouge via a few of the more “seedy”  areas of Paris. It was just about time to go, but decided to walk up Rue de Caulaincourt that bridged over the massive and eerily beautiful Montmartre Cemetery before turning left onto a Rue Joseph de Maistre where we found really cool boutique shops that lead onto a cobblestone street full of boulangerie’s, fromaggerie’s and boucheries where we picked up the essentials for dinner. We made a mad dash back to Mama Shelter to grab our bags before heading to Gare de Lyon to catch our overnight train to Venice.

We had a 6 berth couchette compartment to ourselves, which was good, as we didn’t want to annoy anyone. We said Au revoir to Paris and headed towards Dijon, where we would briefly stop to change locomotives, head on through Switzerland before saying buongiorno to Venice. Unfortunately, the brief stop did not go as smooth as planned and we were stuck in Dijon for a few hours as we waited for the new locomotive to arrive. For some, this may be annoying and inconvenient, but for us, it was great. We had brought along the Venice themed cake that the girls made for Gemma, and drank wine while trying to sing the beat of songs that everyone guessed. It turns out not everyone wanted to play, namely the people travelling in the next compartments, but we did make enough noise for one of the conductors, known as Daddy Bear, to come down and play the game and eat our cake. After a few more wines, we decided it best to wander down to the bar where we continued playing the Sing-the-Beat game with the rest of the train staff as the generator kicked in and out every two minutes, causing the barman to turn back on the lights in the same intervals.

Eventually we were back on the move, so we were off to sleep to wake just as we arrived into Venezia. We decided to give AirBnB a go and found a brilliant place right near Rialto Bridge. Laura, the owner of Rialto Charme, knew we were going to be late and said she will meet us at the bridge. We decided to skip the massive queue for the boat and took a chance by walking. Those of you that have been to Venice, know that at one point you are likely to get lost wandering the back streets. Thankfully we didn’t get lost this time, and we met Laura, who took us up to the apartment. It was huge and the location was brilliant. We were given a quick tour, but we were a few hours early for the check in so decided to get a bite to eat at a great little restaurant, Trattoria Aquila Nera, right near the apartment on the advice from Laura. We spent the rest of the day wandering around taking photos, eating gelato, while searching for sandwich place I had been to previously that sold my favourite ever sandwich, prosciutto el fungi. There was no luck in the sandwich search this time, but we drowned our sorrows with a quick (and expensive) Bellini at Harry’s Bar, just around the corner from St Mark’s Square. We had a quick look around Basilica di san Marco and meandered through the backstreets towards our apartment.

As I said, the location of the apartment was perfect, not only near Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal, but it was right above a great little bar, Osteria all’Alba, where the locals were beginning to gather and start their Saturday night with some glasses of wine and the little bar snacks called Chicheti. We grabed a few glasses of Sangiovese, not as cheap as we had hoped, but tasty, and munched through little sandwiches of delicious Mortadella. I had read that the venetion custom, andar a cicheti, or stopping by the bàcaro for a glass of food or wine and some small bites of a delicious appetizer, is considered essential to life and well-being, so decided, it was now essential to our life and well-being. Our night was planned. We had a few more drinks and headed across the bridge to Campo Erberia where there about 6 bacaro’s side by side. We spent the best part of the night there drinking the house wine (we were learning, turns out the house wine is between €1-€2 each) moving along the different bars trying each of their bar snacks. The winner was from a bar called Bancogiro serving delicious bread piled high with thinly cut Mortadella and a sprinkling of pistachio on top. We continued wandering the backstreets stopping in different bacaro’s sampling wine before finishing up at the apartment for one last glass.

The next morning we woke to find our camera missing. We searched high and low but to no avail. Other than blaming a the vampire we saw the night before, we were stumped (no photo for obvious reasons). There is not much you can do but shrug it off and continue on, so that’s what we did, except for when we remembered it was lost. We decided to wander back to the train station to drop our bags off before wandering some more. The rest of the day was spent walking around aimlessly stopping here and there for a glass of prosecco on the canal in sun and taking photos. We made our way to canal boat stop that would take us to the airport but turns out it wasn’t a good move getting on at the last stop on a Sunday evening, as when the boat arrived, it was full and not letting anyone else on. Whoops. When the next boat arrived it was a similar situation but as three people left, the five of us managed to sneak on and make our way to the airport in time. It wasn’t the most eventful boat trip to the airport.. Oh except Sarah found the camera in her bag… pfft Vampires,

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