Birthdays are strangely cruel, particularly the big important ones. There I was, busily minding my own business in my late-mid 40s when suddenly I woke up one morning to find that I had jumped from the 40-49 age bracket and had now been cruelly dumped in the 50+ category. Is that it? I cannot age any further, 50+ is the final category, according to many questionnaires! In running terms I have gone from Veteran to Super Vet.
The revealThe moment that I realised that we were going to Venice for the weekend.
I am too young to be 50. I always thought that this was something that happened to old people but I am told that 50 is the new 30 and as I don't actually feel any different I decided not to worry about it.
My lovely wife, Gilly, had been planning for several months a way to make the transition easier. Of course I knew that she was up to something; she is the world's worst at keeping secrets and had, on a couple of occasions, burst out singing "I know something you don't know", but I had not pushed the subject and she somehow managed not to let on.
I had been instructed to pack a case for two nights and a taxi arrived at 8:00am on the Friday morning to take us to a mystery destination. Of course I had my suspicions that it may be an airport but thought perhaps a party with friends in Guernsey was the most likely destination.
As we drove it became increasingly obvious that we were going to Gatwick airport and this is where Gilly gave me my first present which I unwrapped to find a map of Venice!
The water taxiFinding out what it feels like to be rich and famous.
We had arrived early for the flight so there was plenty of time for lunch and a celebratory glass of Kir Royale to start the holiday as we meant to go on.
When we arrived in Venice, Gilly had arranged for us to be met by a water taxi so we had our own private fast motor launch direct to the hotel. I was starting to feel very spoiled.
At the hotel our room overlooked the grand Canal and there was a bottle of champagne waiting in the room so we decided to have a glass before going out to explore.
The Grand Canal
In the evening we went to the Bistrot de Venise where my mother-in-law had paid for our meal as my birthday gift. I had soft shell crabs followed by fillet steak and finished with tiramisu while Gilly chose scallops with asparagus followed by a veal tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and truffle.
The soft shell crabs were delicious.
The following morning was actually my birthday, so after opening cards and presents we went out to explore further and came across a large food market where we bought some pasta, risotto and sun dried tomatoes to take home with us.
The weather was not great; it had been raining since we arrived but at least we had umbrellas and we were not going to let a little water spoil our holiday.
. . . and listened to the live music while we were there.
Enjoying a coffee in the Florian.
Outside the Café the band plays all day and evening.
Outside the Florian the tourists were braving the rain.
Chairs in the wet Piazza San Marco.
After our coffee we decided to get some exercise by climbing the Campanile. This didn't go quite as planned as the only way to the top is in an elevator so there were not very many calories burned in the climb but the views from the top were quite spectacular.
View from the Campanile
I thought that this view across the roof tops would make a great jigsaw which, incidentally, you can buy from this website!
Looking downFewer people seem to hire a Gondola in the rain.
San Giorgio MaggioreOne of the islands in the Canal di San Marco.
We continued shopping and generally exploring Venice. On many of the canals the properties seem to be in poor repair, unpainted and with missing plaster, but this only adds to the charm and beauty or the city. I guess you could call it shabby chic.
Masks in the window of one of the many masquerade shops.
The shops all seem to sell either Venetian glass or masks like the ones in this window.
Lady in red.
Wet feetThe wet weather offers slightly different photo opportunities.
The Canal GrandeThis view is taken from the Ponte dell'Accademia.
GondolierThis photo was taken by Gilly.
After a trip to see the Ca' Rezzonico Museum we went back to the hotel to get changed and have another glass of champagne of course! Then we headed out for my birthday dinner.
This special birthday dinner was another surprise that Gilly had been keeping from me as she led me a circuitous route through the streets so that I wouldn't guess. We had a reservation at the Restaurant Terrazza Danieli - the gift from my mum.
The Danieli is one of the best hotels in Venice with rooms starting at €1,100 per night for a standard room and going up to €12,000 per night for the poshest suite! We did our best impersonation of rich celebs and nonchalantly walked in.
A panoramic view of the Bacino di San Marco taken from the Terrazza.
Mum had booked us a table on the terrazza but the weather, although now dry, was still a bit chilly and so we decided to eat inside with a table by the window. We did, however, take advantage of this spectacular view as we enjoyed a peach Bellini cocktail before going to our table.
Champagne cocktailsEnjoying a Bellini on the Terrace before dinner.
Cherries of foie-gras
The menu was fabulous and the surroundings and service made this a very special evening.
I decided that this was definitely worth missing the Eurovision Song Contest for.
Gilly chose baby octopus with crisp vegetables, caviar, Italian salsa verde and jelly bread to start. I had caramelised cherries of foie-gras with spinach, pan brioche and strawberry flavoured rhubarb.
Gilly's starter, baby octopus with crisp vegetables.
For our main course we both went for the fresh handmade "Apulia Cortecce" pasta with crab sauce, zucchini flowers and almonds.
After dinner the waiter bought over a fruit flan with a candle in it as the pianist played Happy Birthday for me.
We rounded off the meal with coffee and mini assorted shortbreads and I requested that the pianist play 'She' by Charles Aznavour as it is my song for Gilly.
Gondolas lined up at the water front.
At last the sun came out!
The next day, being our last day, the sun finally came out. As our boat back to the airport didn't leave until 2:00 we had time to explore some more and have a leisurely lunch in the sunshine.
Before lunch we visited the Scuola Grande Arciconfraternita di San Rocco famed for its ceiling paintings.
In the Scuola Grande there are framed mirros that you can use to more comfortably view the ceiling. I decided to put one on the floor to take a photograph of the ceiling.
My artistic interpretation.
Finally it was time to leave and so here are a couple of farewell pictures taken from the boat to the airport.
A final glass.
With one final glass of champagne (well almost final, we had one on the flight as well) we said goodbye to Venice but swore that we would return.
And so it would seem that I am one year older, or perhaps just one day older than I was yesterday. Maybe my knees feel 50 years old but the rest of me feels about the same as I did at 35.
Here's to the next 50!
All that remains is for me to thank Susanne Carr (mother-in-law) for the lovely meal on the first night at the Bistrot de Venise and Patti McPherson (my mum) for the wonderful evening at the Restaurant Terrazza Danieli but most of all my incredible wife for organising the whole thing. All of you conspired to make some very happy memories and a birthday weekend that I will never forget.
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