11/1/13

When I’m Cleaning Windows. (Not).

Some strange scrabbling noises at the front of the house this morning prompted me to stick my head out of the bedroom window.

A young man with a purposeful expression was climbing up a ladder.

Now a purposeful young man on a ladder may sound promising but I hadn’t ordered one and as he was clutching a bucket and a squeegee, there was no mistaking his intention.  Some tactful questioning revealed that he was, as I suspected, a window cleaner at the wrong house.
‘Uhh, I had a few beers last night, don’t really know what I’m doing this morning,’ he said,  switching his direction to reverse and dropping his squeegee on his descent. Continue reading

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09/12/13

Island Hopping in Venice – Torcello.

‘Torcello’ means ‘tower and sky’ but I thought it sounded like something you could eat or drink that was both sweet and delicious, possibly alcoholic. Bearing this in mind, and as it’s only a short hop on the vaporetto (water bus)  from Burano, it would have been just plain rude not to visit.

canal on torcello island, venice, italy

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09/3/13

Murano Island, Venice – Coloured Houses, Glass blowing and Chafing Thighs.

Murano island looks like a bubble coming out of fish-shaped Venice. Glass makers were kicked out of the city and sent to Murano at the end of the 13th Century so that should their enthusiastic huffing and puffing get out of hand, any resulting fires would be contained far more easily than in the maze of buildings on the mainland.

Murano Island, Venice Italy

First sight of Murano Island from the vaporetto

Like many people with a background in ceramics, I’m bonkers about glass and wanted to watch it being made. Actually what I really wanted was to have a go myself but there was fat chance of that but a stroll round a peaceful island was a very appealing thought after hot, tourist-riddled Venice.

At the vaporetto stop, a very beautiful and very exasperated attendant was dealing with a gaggle of confused tourists trying to get to Lido. Using one hand to rope the vaporetto to the pontoon and the other to flick her hair back in the way that makes an Italian woman look like a film star and a other woman of any other nationality look pretentious, she bawled: ‘No! No Lido!  Murano!  Moo.Rah.No.’  The crowd shuffled off, muttering into their maps, leaving the way clear for me to grab a window seat in the coolest part of the boat (which wasn’t very). Continue reading

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08/27/13

Wot Badge?

Trip Advisor keep emailing me. They say they’ll give me a badge when I’ve done 5 reviews.

Now I don’t wish to appear ungrateful but the last time I ever had the urge to acquire a badge was many years ago. Put it this way, I was still at the age where I was troubled by double Maths on a Friday afternoon.

I had a stack of badges on my school blazer and they all had things like Anarchy in the UK, The Stranglers and The Jam written on them. There was also a large one made out of rubbery stuff, shaped like a rat.  I was wild, you see. Anti-establishment and anguished. My badges, dog collar, safety pins and cropped, red hair said so.  The tragic rebel image took a battering though when it rained and the food colouring I’d used to dye my hair ran all over my face.

By 16, I sported a fashionable, mirrored badge, from which Lenin gazed solemnly out. These badges crept round certain parts of the school, finding their way onto the lapels of those of us who wished to display their Communist tendencies. We were so hip, a cut above the rest. The elite, in fact. An irony which escaped all of us.

At 17, in a flowery smock, with embroidered jeans, rattling with beads and reeking of patchouli oil, my badges said, Make Love Not War and Nuclear Power? No Thanks.

Aged 18 I went wandering round Europe and one by one, the hippie badges dropped off, went rusty or were lost by the roadside.

The last badge I acquired was for my son when he was 10.  ‘Jesus is coming,’ it said,  ‘Look busy’.

Since then, forcing my dentist to promise he’d give me a sticker in return for being allowed to drill my tooth, is the nearest I’ve come to needing any sort of sartorial adornment to boast of my achievements.

So thanks, Trip Advisor, I’ve grown out of badges. But if you would like to reward my contribution to your website with a large shiny new camera and a ticket to, well, just about anywhere, I’d be delighted to accept.

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03/13/12

The KGB, the exploding purse & The Hotel Viru, Tallinn.

Absolute top of the list of things to do in Tallinn is the KGB Museum at the Hotel Viru. Our guide, Jana,  was vivacious, animated and bursting with amusing stories about The Hotel Viru and its history.

It was built in 1972, to bring much needed tourist revenue into Estonia.  It’s bright and cheerful inside now but originally the decor was dark and gloomy, even a bit scary, with that typically Soviet, austere-but-trying-to-be-grand look about it.

Finland had a job shortage at the time and the Soviets wanted some of their oil so they did a deal and Finnish workers built the hotel which is why it took two years to build, instead of 7 or 8.

There was a three week gap between hotel completion and opening. Very handy. Gave the KGB time to get in there and install their radio equipment  and bugging devices on the 23rd floor –  the floor that didn’t officially exist. Although every so often, somebody would helpfully write next to the buttons in the lift, ’23rd floor – KGB’ and a cleaner would be sent to scrub it off, pronto.

The public lift stopped at the 22nd floor then a secret stairway went to the non-existent 23rd floor where there was a sign on the door saying ‘Nothing in here.’  One employee did wander into the surveillance room by mistake and found himself looking at the business end of a gun. ‘Oh hi guys, what are you listening to? Anything good?’ probably wouldn’t have been what he said to the men with the head phones.

kgb phone, hotel viru, estonia

KGB office and telephones. The red one didn’t need a dial. It went straight through to Moscow.

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