No this is not my first foray into porno posts, but a homage to my weekend away sans enfants. Thanks to some amazing, and some might say foolhardy, grandparents we managed to escape the brood to spend three whole nights in Venice - henceforth known as heaven. Now I must admit that after the couple of weeks of illness and childcare chaos I'd had preceding our little trip three nights in a Travel Lodge off the M1 would probably have appealed, simply because the children would find it hard to crawl into our bed at night there. But Venice was much, much better than that. It actually had the magical effect of making us feel like proper grown ups again, instead of simply worn out parents.
I loved the little luxuries of walking at a normal pace rather than at the dawdle of a four year old, of negotiating public transport and shop doorways without the encumbrance of a double buggy, of having a bed that was several hundreds of miles away from the threat of infant night pirates hijacking the duvet in the early hours, of eating a meal out at a leisurely pace and with no need to make apologetic faces at your fellow diners as your children screech, fidget and drop food on the floor, of being able to saunter for hours without inducing whines about aching legs and the need for drinks, of being able to walk past a toy shop and not give it a second glance, of sitting with a cup of coffee and just drinking in the scenery with no one pulling at your sleeve and chanting "Mummy, mummy, mummy' incessantly to get your attention....I could go on, and on, and on.
It was delicious revelling in divesting myself of my four demanding boys, but this delight was compounded by being in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Hollywood couldn't have made Venice up, this mysterious and majestic city that rises like a giant folly from the deep green lagoon that surrounds and threatens to engulf it. We travelled from the airport by water bus, a novelty in itself, and as we chugged through the black waters towards the dancing lights of the island it was easy to leave the cares of the world behind like so much displaced luggage.
Despite exhortations to look at this or that art gallery or fantastically frescoed chapel, we chose instead to explore the maze of streets that span out across the city, climbing artfully carved bridges over jade green canals, watching fellow tourist slide by on the silver and black painted gondolas, piloted by the only men on earth who can make a striped jumper and beribboned boater look macho. Each street is an adventure turning you into dead ends adored by a delicate fountain or candlelit shrine, tiny alleyways where the buildings above lean so close that resemble a newly in love couple bending in for a kiss, thick damp black beams creating tunnels between the buildings that spit you out into the brightness and bustle of the Grand Canal. Overlooked roads and forgotten turnings make even a simple trip out to supper into a secretive assignation.
The streets shadowed by the grand scale of the pallazzos and pensiones that line them are lit by jewel bright shop windows, tempting you to buy bejewelled and glittering masks, garish curls and beads of Murano glass, butter yellow crumbling chunks of parmesan, fragrant pillowy Panettone studded with fat raisins and sweet nuggets of orange peel, wafer thin slices of rose pink ham and slabs of porcelain white nutty torrone. Needless to say our suitcases returned bulging with goodies and the boys have been dashing around the house in sparkling feathered masks ever since.
A city built on water is such a captivating folly, we couldn't help but marvel at the everyday transported into something special simply by being loaded onto a boat. Where else in the world would you gasp at a rubbish truck, taxi or DHL delivery vehicle - but somehow seeing a washing machine delivered by boat, or watching a man about town wriggle under the canvas of his tiny motorboat to retrieve his shopping is so much more captivating than when these things are done by car and van. A choked high street at home is entirely lacking in charm, but when there are stately gondolas dodging vaporettos suddenly everything is enchanting.
The highlight of our trip for me was not the Pala D'oro at St Mark's, though I did love its childish extravagance, it looks as if I'd let my six-year-old loose with gold paint and shiny stones and told him to do his worst, extravagant, overstated and so very, very shiny, or the fabulous Italian food which never fails to please even in the most downbeat tourist trap, but a gliding ride down the Grand Canal at dusk. We had walked for hours down the back streets leading to the station, shopping and snacking on sticky cannoli and our feet had had enough, so we hopped on the water bus to chug back to the centre of town and our hotel.
We snagged seats right on the prow, and the chill evening air drove out the tiredness, forcing us to snuggle into our coats and scarves and settle down for the ride. Water buses may be charming, but they are far from fast. We gazed at the magnificent palaces that line the grand canal, some chessboards of pink and cream bricks, some wedding cake confections in white marble, all with turrets and crenellations a plenty, some with faded maroon and gold flags fluttering from high windows, others dark and neglected.
Windows shone with elaborately gaudy chandeliers dripping crystals and delicate glass decorations from sky high ceilings, occassionally nothing was lit apart from a tiny loft window hanging high above the water, weaving tales of grand folk fallen on hard times, holing up in the last room the could afford to keep open. Many had boats moored outside, bobbing in private boat houses, some the Porsches and Ferraris of this waterlogged domain, shining with varnished wood and sleek lines, others the clapped out bangers with scraped plastic hulls and ragged canvas roofs.
As we ploughed through the darkening waters from stop to stop, the light faded and the buildings shifted from an ethereal blue grey of twilight, to more dark and stately presences, as their shadowy facades glinted off the dark waters. A rush hour bus ride, lifted from mundane to magical simply by shifting location.
Of course the other huge high of the trip was actually spending time together, having the chance to remember why you fell in love and that it's more than just the shared chores of family life that bind you to each other. And this task was aided and abetted by our romantic backdrop, as I am not sure that motel off the M1 would have left us quite as starry eyed.
But now we have landed back in the real world with a bump. I was dashing along the road on the school run today, having been woken at 5am by a bed raider complaining of a temperature that miraculously disappeared as soon as he'd burrowed into bed between us. Yesterday I came home from work turning my key in the lock to the sound of my two eldest sons screaming at each other, they stared up at me teary eyed and started explaining their greivances at the top of their voices. But for the moment I can still close my eyes and be back watching dusk fade to darkness on the ink black waters of the Grand Canal and remember that there is more to life than that mayhem contained with my four walls.