I had told her I was on my way to the French capital to meet her, having spent the previous few days in Normandy with friends. The idea being we would meet up at Orly airport and have a night in a hotel in Paris, then drive out to the countryside to link up with our friends.
I, however, was really on the ferry back to the UK to give her a big surprise!
You may have noticed the increased use of photographs in the blog. This we think makes it a more entertaining experience than just plain text and it also give Producer Dr Strangelove an extra fun task other than sorting out the grammar and punctuation. So it is always a good wheeze to add something to have him surfing the web for hours looking for exactly the right shot.
Having had breakfast on board…
…I then retired to my cabin and had fitful dreams, including one of Bernard Manning in his underpants.
I didn't really have that dream but we have not featured him for a while and it is always good to stick that stock shot up there so we don't forget him!
Drove home to Hastings and went to the pub. As I sat with the newspaper I sent a series of messages to the Dark Lady:
"On my way to Paris now. Can't wait to see you at the airport early tomorrow x x x x"
"Traffic terrible so stopping at Dreux for the night. Soon be tomorrow x x x x x"
First thing the following morning I set off for Gatwick. I had pre-booked the car park so sailed in, hopped on the bus to the terminal, found out where our check-in was, sent a text:-
"Not long now...area B is where the Paris flight checks in. x x x x x "
Then I waited.
Not long after, I noticed a little anxious face scanning the departure board trying to locate the non-existent Paris flight.
I sidled up and uttered the words:
"Where do you think you are off to then?"
"Wha?!? You!???!!! You are in Paris” (the most romantic city on earth).
"I am standing right here and we are not going to Paris after all." I beamed.
"Where are we going....Hastings?" (Second most romantic place on earth)
"No. The third most Romantic place on earth"
"OK fourth.... Venice."
I had squirreled a couple of tickets a few weeks earlier and so the flight times were the ones I had given the DL. Just the destination was different.
There then followed several minutes of excited squealing. Hopping up and down. Hugging, Kissing and cries of...
"You fibber. I thought we were going to France" and "How can I ever trust you again you beast!" (Well, language of a similar nature. I wouldn't want you to think that she was a member of the Famous Five or a refugee from Billy Bunter).
"Yarooh some bounder's snaffled my tuck" etc.
However, as a basically honest person I knew that it would only be a matter of time until something terrible would happen.
Her face is always a picture when I spring a surprise...although I know that it can backfire.
Like waking up and finding all my clothes had vanished so I was unable to leave for work unless I borrowed one of her dresses. Actually, this has never happened that is just a recurring stress dream. Although at the BBC, I doubt anyone would bat an eyelid if a bearded middle-aged bloke turned up at 1am in a frock.
Not been to this fascinating city for over 20 years and can hardly remember a thing about it.
The DL had never been. So we were going to spend nearly four days discovering it together.
It is only a couple of hours by air and another hour by water bus to the city centre.
When we arrived it was pouring with rain and had recently snowed. Not an auspicious start.
The hotel brochure had given the hotel a glowing review and there was a picture of a grand palace. When we arrived we were told that we weren't in fact staying in this hotel but one with a slightly similar name and in a tiny pokey room in the roof with non-functioning air-conditioning
"Finished for winter" we were told by receptionist. So it was either too hot until we opened a window and then it was too cold. We had the only room on this floor (unless you count a staff locker room and roof storage). Not an auspicious start.
Am currently waiting for an explanation; a grovelling apology and compensation from the travel company for the misleading information. If you are going any time soon check your details very carefully.
Undeterred we set off for St Marks Square in the drizzle. The place was packed and then we realised why: it was Carnival time. Everywhere we went people were dressed in dazzling costumes and masks.
It did set us thinking: Do the number of bank robberies and other crimes increase at this time of the year?
"So, can you describe you attacker?"
"He was wearing a mask"
"Oh, brilliant! That really narrows it down. Just look around. You are the only person not wearing one. I am a policeman and I am wearing the special Carnival issue copper mask."
You may have noticed that I have not gone down the path of "Funny foreigner" and added and I an A or an O to the ends of words to make it sound Italian. It wasa temptinga though…er…i!
It was so cold and damp that my bonce was feeling it, so we bought a typically Italian raffish hat and then we realised neither of us had brought our reading glasses so we had to buy a pair and share them. It may have been a better bet to have bought them before we purchased the hat!
The following morning the sun shone and revealed the city in all its glory, and it really is beautiful. We strolled around and the DL - with her superior sense of direction and grasp of language - soon had us criss-crossing the city on foot and by river bus. River buses are brilliant; arriving every few minutes and whisking you to all parts of the city via the main canals and the lagoon. It is also a fantastic way to see the city. Being so ancient there are a fair few cranes about and constant renovation work to stop it vanishing beneath the waves, or just collapsing with a rumble and a crash.
We only managed one wrong turn and that took us to "Cimitere", which even-non Italian speakers like us realised was the graveyard. Situated on its own island it was serviced by water hearses.
We did wonder what life would be like for the average Venetian if they were to suffer from sea sickness. There was quite a swell on the lagoon some days and the buses did hit the pontoons with quite a clang.
We didn't do the gondola thing as it was eye-wateringly expensive and, as a result, nearly every one we saw was packed to the gunwales with tourists (apart from the occasional Oligarch who had hired one). So from time to time we saw a Gondolier punting a perma-tanned, middle-aged man and a tiny much younger blonde woman down the Grand Canal.
This may mirror a topic much in the news in Italy at the moment. Premier Silvio Berlusconi's alleged sexual shenanigans with much younger women and his "Bunga Bunga" parties.
We did see T-shirts on sale with the slogan: "I (heart) Bunga Bunga"
We walked, we rode the buses, we had ice cream, we had chocolate, we were fascinated and horrified in equal measure to visit the "Ghetto" and to discover Jewish persecution was rife here hundreds of years ago, and the word “Ghetto” derived from the Venetian language. It reminded me of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, which I did for O-Level English literature. The fact that there is a police lookout hut in the square shows that, alas, things have not advanced a whole lot over the years.
One thing we found curious was that Venice was not an all-night hopping city. In fact they are rolling up the canals by 11 and even earlier. This apparently is because the last water bus to the mainland leaves about then, so all the waiters have to be on it as few blue collar workers can afford to live there. DL sprung for a fabulous sea food dinner. They dragged a groaning platter of fresh fruits of the sea out for us to have a look out. A few minutes later they were back with all of it....cooked. A momentary pang for the lobster, who was very much alive a few minutes earlier, and we tucked in.
Just as well they brought the bill afterwards. It took our breath away and any appetite we had left vanished.
We visited most of the sights and vowed to come back in the winter when it is less crowded to do the bits that had the huge queues, such as the Campanile and the Doges Palace. It may be raining and cold but it will put a different complexion on the city.
On the plane back the Dark Lady turned to me and said
"That was the best fib ever."!
"You told me you were meeting me in Paris. I believed you. Does this mean you have bent the truth about other things???"
We both know that I can never lie because I have a guilty face. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to pop down the Police station and turn myself in just in case they have anything outstanding.
"If you do bad things, bad things happen!" she smiled.
"Apart from the hiccup with the hotel I think we got away scot free", I beamed.
We took the shuttle bus out to the car park at Gatwick.
Then it happened.
The driver zoomed past our stop. As a good Brit I sat there waiting patiently for our stop thinking he would be going round again. DL was wise to this and rushed up to the driver and asked him to go round again or we would end up back at the terminal.
We found the car. At the barrier we were unable to exit. There was nowhere to punch in the code I had been given.
"Use the ticket" said the disembodied voice on the helpline.
"Ah, I remember" hopping out of the car to get it from my wallet trying to ignore the queue of impoatient drivers behind me.
The ticket failed to function and hot with embarassment I had to pull out of the way of the honking and hooting drivers behind me and the DL went into the kiosk to find out what had gone wrong.
Somehow I had managed to park in totally the wrong car park!
As we drove away I saw her smile in the darkness. She knew. She also knew that I knew that she knew!
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