Sharks in Venice

San Michele cemetery island, Venice

San Michele cemetery island

We spent our last day in Venice in a cemetery, visiting museums and elbowing our way through crowds. The carnival had arrived. And we did our best to avoid it. We got up early and headed to San Michele alone. San Michele is the cemetery island just off Fondamente Nove. It’s illegal to bury people on Venice. This was one of our top places to visit before we came to Venice and we were not leaving without seeing it. We spent hours in Pere Lachaise in Paris, even picnicking there. Visiting cemeteries is one of our favourite things to do. Though trying to convince other people that spending their holiday with dead people is a great use of their time doesn’t always go down well.

VeniceWe tried using our Murano tickets to avoid paying for the ferry but alas, we were foiled.  The cemetery is actually pretty small. We managed to tour it in an hour. Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos. Or picnic. We found the graves of Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound. Most of the graves are actually ossuaries because you rent the graves and if you stop paying, you get moved into the ossuary. So whilst the island is small, there are a lot of people buried there because they’re all in what is essentially chest of drawers. There were some huge tombs. Some even had chairs inside them with glass doors. Sadly, the doors were locked.

church of Santa Fosca, Venice

church of Santa Fosca

We returned to the apartment to collect Tom and Amy and set out for a day of museums. First we took a detour to find more haunted places and to visit a supermarket. Our first haunted place of the day was by the church of Santa Fosca. An old money-lender, Bartolomio Zenni, staggers up and down the Campo dell’Abbazia, begging for help. If you approach him he turns into a fiery skeleton. That is one of the coolest ghost stories ever. On 13th May 1437, a fire broke out on the opposite side of the canal. He refused to help his neighbours save their children because he was saving his bag with his belongings. He dragged it to a nearby canal and vanished into the waters. Several nights later, he reappeared with the bag, breathless, and asking people for help. Everyone avoided him. His soul will only be free when someone helps him carry the bag from the Campo to the church of Santa Fosca. We’re great at carrying bags. And we hate children.

Mastelli brothers, Venice

one of the Mastelli brothers

We headed for our next haunted destination and ended up walking right past some statues we wanted. Typical. Fortunately, Amy spotted them. They are the Mastelli brothers – Rioba, Sandi, Afani and Antonia and are on the wall of Campo dei Mori. They were merchants who were apparently turned to stone due to their dishonesty and meanness. Rioba used to say “May the Good Lord turn my right hand to stone if what I say is not true.” They could buy any jury and ruined many families. One day in February, a woman came to them to buy Flanders lace for her shop. Mastelli brothers, VeniceHer husband had died and she needed to re-open her shop. Rioba showed her many fabrics, claiming it was Flanders and she couldn’t afford them but he wanted to help. He and his brothers quoted his line about being turned to stone. As the woman paid, she said “May the good lord be a witness to your honesty and may you be held to what you have decided.” With that, the coins and his arm turned to stone. Then his brothers’ arms turned to stone. The woman was Saint Magdalen. “Criminals! Liars and hypocrites! You will turn into the whited sepulchres that you have shown yourselves to be during your lifetime.”Mastelli brohters, Venice

The statue of Rioba has been seen crying in February. If someone who is pure of spirit lays their hand on his chest, they might feel his heart beat. We were too short to reach his heart. Tom and Amy could touch his heart no problem. We managed to touch his stomach while stretching up on tip toes as far as we could reach. Otherwise it would’ve been a groin grab and according to legend, that’s not what you can feel throbbing.

Mastelli brothers, Venice

Rioba, whose heart you can feel beating. If you’re not short arses like we are.

We insisted on heading to the museums through parts of Venice we hadn’t yet explored. Getting lost is how adventures happen! We wanted to see as much of Venice as possible, rather than retracing the same route we’d take every day. First up, we found another vegan gelato/sorbet place, Gelateria Alaska.

Gelateria Alaska

Gelateria Alaska

The guy serving asked if we were here for the carnival. We said we were here for our birthday so he insisted on giving us an extra scoop of sorbet for free. That was so nice! We had strawberry and mango and strawberry and lemon. They were delicious.

Museo di storia Naturale, Venice

dinosauro

We managed to find our way to the natural history museum, Museo di Storia Naturale, despite Cat having the map. Usually CatNav is unreliable and easily distracted. CatNav took detours a few times but did manage to get us to the gelato place and the museum. That was a really cool one, probably our favourite after San Servolo and Doge’s Palace. To be fair, it had dinosaur bones and anything with dinosaurs is a winner. We were so excited as we headed in that we started squealing and bouncing. Some people, can’t take them anywhere. They’re just an embarrassment. There were also sharks and other creatures. We love sharks as much as we love dinosaurs. This was our happy place.

Museo di storia naturale, venice

sharks in Venice

Some people on Trip Advisor complained that none of the information was in English. However, there is an English guidebook at the desk and an English audio guide. Plus, in Britain, we don’t have museum information signs in any other language, so don’t complain when other countries do it. Wales is the exception, as we have bilingual signs in English and Welsh. We were heading upstairs saying “dinosauro” and doing our best not to show our excitement. And failing. Our friends doubted that this was the Italian for dinosaur. Turns out, we were right. It was amazing being able to touch the fossils. It’s like we were touching history without the danger of being eaten.

Palazzo MocenigoLynxNav took over and experienced technical difficulties when she ripped more of our battered map. It was one day from retirement and it was a battle to keep it intact. We headed to Palazzo Mocenigo, which was a perfume museum and had 18thc furniture. That was interesting. There were glass bottles filled with scents that you could sniff. Some places don’t trust tourists with touching furniture, but this place let you lift glass stoppers to smell the scents inside. Palazzo MocenigoCat sniffed too enthusiastically in the scent bottles and spluttered. A woman next to Cat laughed. At least we’re keeping people amused. There was also a table filled with bowls of different raw ingredients that you could smell. It’s the first time we’ve visited a museum that has an interactive olfactory section, so it was good to do something different. There was a collection of perfume bottles, some dating back 6000 years!

Ca'Rezzonico, Venice

Ca’Rezzonico

Our final museum was Ca’ Rezzonico, which had 18thc furniture and paintings. We kept our tradition by touring the museums the wrong way around and only discovering our mistakes when we found arrows pointing the opposite direction. There was a beautiful 18thc writing desk that puts our £10 IKEA metal writing table to shame. Though we have no room for a writing desk in our dungeon. We particularly liked the 18thc apothecary that was randomly inside the house but we weren’t allowed in. Each room was beautiful and proudly displayed its wealth while taunting us that we could never afford such luxury. The upper floor was all paintings.

Ca'Rezzonico

writing desk envy

Then we headed back to discover everyone had arrived for the Carnivale. We imagine the carnival itself is spectacular. The crowds, however, were not. This is officially the worst circle of Hell. You couldn’t move down the streets. We all got very frustrated and murderous and also claustrophobic, as our heads are generally chest, armpit or shoulder height to most people so all we could see was the back of the person in front of us. Being in crowds is horrible enough but when you’re short, it’s even worse. People were moving so slowly! There were even police officers directing foot traffic. We were glad to be leaving the following day to escape the madness.

VeniceWe found our way to another haunted spot, which as it turned out, we walked past every. Single. Day. It wasn’t far from our apartment. Although it gave us excuse to escape the crowds for a bit. In the Campiello del Remer on the Grand Canal, the corpse of Fosco Loredan floats to the surface holding his wife’s head. He was extremely possessive of his wife, Elena, whose uncle was Doge Marino Grimani. In 1598, the Doge heard a woman scream as she ran towards campiello del Remer chased by a knight with a sword. The Doge blocked the knight then recognised them. Fosco said “what right have you to stand between me and my wife? I am going to kill her and it is my right to do so.” The Doge replied that he wanted to know what Elena’s crime was.

Fondamente Nove, Venice

Fondamente Nove

Fosco suddenly recognised the Doge and claimed Elena had been unfaithful. Elena protested her innocence and said Fosco was jealous, even of her cousin, who was young enough to be her son. She begged the Doge to protect her and he agreed. Fosco swore he would do as the Doge wished, but Elena warned him not to trust Fosco. The Doge sheathed his sword. Fosco shouted “behind you! Armed men!” As the Doge turned, Fosco decapitated Elena.

The Doge drew his sword and Fosco dropped to his knees, begging for mercy and swearing he would do whatever the Doge asked, providing he spared him. The Doge replied “you will lift this corpse upon your shoulders and you will hold the severed head in your dirty hands. You will never put them down, day or night and you will go to Rome to see the Pope. When you appear before him, you will show him what you have done. He will decide your fate.” He threatened to chop Fosco to pieces if he disobeyed. Fosco walked for months and when he reached Rome, the pope refused to see him, sending him away without absolution. Fosco returned to the spot where he killed Elena and threw himself into the Grand Canal. His corpse now re-emerges holding her head. Sadly, he didn’t do it when we were there. Perhaps he was also avoiding the crowds.16807644_10155179942500982_5116692098111421778_n

Tom and Amy returned to the apartment while we stayed out because we wanted to find a Murano gondola with black cats and a moon that we saw a day or two before and hadn’t seen since. Lots of shops sell glass gondolas, but hardly any sell them with cats instead of people. We’re starting a collection of pewter models of the cities we’ve visited – for Paris we have the Eiffel Tower, so we wanted a pewter model representing Venice – a gondola or the Rialto Bridge. We didn’t see any, then figured that Murano is famous for its glass, so a glass gondola would be perfect. On Murano, we saw a black gondola with two cats and a heart and whilst we liked it, hearts aren’t really us, so we wanted something different. We ended up constantly in the crush because we kept going wrong. Couldn’t find the cats with the moon so decided to get the one with cats and a heart. We saw it before Tom and Amy left us but could we find it again? No. So we had to retrace our route through the crush. In one shop, a shopkeeper’s dog was barking. She hated the crowds. We agreed with the dog and told the owner we wished we could get away with barking at people too.

p1200288It was so busy, there were police directing the pedestrian traffic at crossroads. That’s the first time we’ve ever experienced that. And hopefully the last. Lynx got stuck behind three women who stopped to window shop, so a police officer marched them on to keep the crush moving. It was like being back in high school when they locked the doors, trapping several hundred kids in a corridor. We eventually found the shop with the cat gondola and headed back. By now, our tempers had frayed so much, the slightest provocation would result in someone being Hulk smashed in the face and tossed into a canal. Our rage is bigger than us.

When we returned home, our feet were back in the pans of cold water while Tom and Amy went to get pizza for them and kindly got chips for us as we couldn’t physically walk anymore. We uploaded our pics, chilled out, packed and celebrated not being outside with all those people.16730201_1452867414755530_7725308376231030617_n-1

16903144_1455424244499847_4630676275197451023_oThe next day, we left. We got to the airport very early and had to sit around for half an hour until check in opened. Our bags were underweight. Hooray! We waved them off and headed to security. Everyone got through without a patdown, except Lynx who got checked for drugs. We needed a Red Bull. We went to every shop downstairs. No Red Bull. They only sold Coke or water. We needed a Red Bull. The headaches were forming. Our thirst was increasing. Our tempers were rising. We headed upstairs, our rage starting to burn brighter than a dying star. No Red Bull. This was reaching dangerous levels. This was reaching…Edinburgh levels, where Cat had a meltdown on Canongate and nearly destroyed a man’s fridge. Finally, as the meltdown started to reach Volcanic levels, we found a shop that did one. €3.3o! For a small can! We paid in disgust, cracked it open and like a bomb being diffused with seconds to spare, our rage dissipated with each sweet sip.p1200594

Mad World

Venice

Settee of Despair

Naked statues, getting lost and visiting an insane asylum island. We spent out birthday in style! We got up at 6:30 a.m.  to take Lesley to the Vaporetto. And found our apartment building’s settee (the settee of despair) on the other side of Pont San Caterina, the next street over, looking like it was contemplating throwing itself into the canal.  This was the settee we’d spent hours sat on as we waited for someone to let us into our apartment. Had our soul crushing despair seeped into its fabric? Could it no longer live with the burden of our sorrow? Or had someone just nicked it and dumped it for a practical joke? So long, settee, you were there for us in our hours of need and we will never forget you.

Museo Correr, VeniceFinally, the fog we were promised had arrived. The Vaporetto arrived at 7:30 so we scurried back, only to discover the boiler had broken so we had no heating and no hot water. Not a great start to our 34th birthday! It’s the first birthday we’ve ever spent away from home so it felt a bit strange. Though our mum and sister did video call us and we opened the presents we’d brought with us so we’d have something to open on our birthday.

Museo Correr, Venice

statues being melodramtic

We set out and went to Museo Correr. It was cool and massive, taking up half of St Mark’s Square. There were a lot of Greek statues, but half of the men were missing their penises. Now we know that in Ancient Greece having a small penis apparently meant you were highly intelligent, but we’re not sure why these statues were castrated. Were they geniuses maybe? Had Cronus snuck in and hacked at them with his sickle? Though knowing Greek myths, their lack of penises was probably a good thing, seeing how many tourists there are in Venice. Have to say, Ares has a better arse than Poseidon. When we see the statues, especially the ones posing melodramatically, we like to make up what they’re saying. In Paris, we immersed ourselves in culture by imitating the statues. In Venice, we ad libbed for them.

Museo Correr, VeniceMuseo Correr, like Doge’s Palace, had stunning ceilings. There was also a large library with beautiful engraved books. You certainly don’t get those covers on Amazon! There were also large coin collections and two Egyptian mummies, which we hadn’t expected to find. We particularly liked the handmade cabinets. They’re much fancier than our Ikea cabinets, though probably took longer to make.

Museo Correr, VeniceWe left there at 12ish and had lunch by the Grand Canal again. It’s now our spot. It’s like recreating our last day in Paris of picnicking by the Seine but without the smell and Lynx jumping in after her phone. It was really cold and foggy. To be fair, we’d requested fog for our birthday. And whilst we were happy that Venice looked suitably gothic for our birthday, we were less than impressed at the cold. At 12:30, we headed to the Vaporetto stop while Tom and Amy went shopping and returned to the apartment to chill out. While our feet were still agony, we were determined to shove as much adventure into our holiday as we could. Our feet would recover but we can’t make up for lost opportunities. Birthdays are made for adventures!

San ServoloThere was only one place where we wanted to spend our birthday: San Servolo insane asylum museum. It opened in 1725 and was run by the religious order San Giovanni di Dio. All insane men were relocated there and in 1798, women were admitted as well. Over 200,000 patients were admitted and most would never leave. It closed in 1978 following a change in Italian law and the Venice government created the “Istituto per le Ricerche e gli Studi sull ‘Emarginazione Sociale e Culturale’.” In other words, the Institute for the Study of Social and Cultural Marginalization. This was to preserve documents related to the history of the hospital.

San ServoloIn 2006, it opened in its current form as a museum. There are nine sections: laboratory; ambulatory; didactic products; sickness therapies; straitjackets; the sick; lodgings; pharmacy and anatomical theatre. Archives house photos of patients from 1874 to the 20th century. The rare trees on the island once supplied the pharmacy.

San Servolo

apothecary

It was foggy on the way over to San Servolo so was really atmospheric. This is the side of Venice we wanted to see. We like to peel back the skin of a beautiful city to watch its dark heart beat below the surface. We wondered whether we should be concerned that unlike other vaporettos where there was barely room to sit, this one had four passengers on board. We were two of them. Our horror brains warned us this was bad. Like we were being unwittingly shipped off to an abandoned island to be sacrifices. Our writers’ brains tingled at the possibility of a story being created from this eeriness. And our anxious brains just loved the peace and being away from people.

San Servolo

anatomical theatre

We landed at 12:45 so wandered the island filming and taking photos. The island now houses a university and a hotel. The Venice International University opened in 1995. But we were here for a different form of education. With all the fog surrounding the island and the silence it created, it felt like we were the only ones on the island. And the only island in existence. It was perfect. It’s rare to experience feeling so isolated in the world. We then decided to head inside to hide from the cold. We should’ve worn our big coats but vanity overruled sensibility and we wanted our outfits to be seen. According to overpriced magazines, beauty is worth suffering for.

San Servolo

asylum chapel

At two, the guide appeared. There were only two other girls on the tour. They were Czech and university students so the guide just pointed to the information and did his best to talk to us in English. We visited the 18th century apothecary first. That was fascinating. All the medicines were kept in pretty porcelain jars as they were herbs. It’s so different from the plastic bottles and blister packs we have today. The museum is inside the university. After the apothecary, we went to the anatomical theatre. It had the examination slab, real skulls who looked like they were in gurning competition and real preserved brains. We could’ve stayed in there all day. It was interesting to read how they preserved the brains. Might come in handy for future…writing. Definitely future writing.

San Servolo

different forms of restraints

In another part of the university, we saw patient admittance records, patient photos of before they were admitted and after they were discharged. The difference was incredible. They went in looking like how asylum patients are usually photographed and came out looking healthy. They’d gained weight. One looked suspiciously like Tom. There were also things the patients had made and a room filled with various restraints – some, like the leather muff and lock gloves, were new to us – and information on the hydrotherapy, where they would be blasted with cold water or put in a bath for up to 12 hours. We get wrinkly after thirty minutes! Another room contained medical equipment.

San Servolo

ECT machine

The guide asked us how we knew of San Servolo. It seems tourists don’t tend to enjoy visits to insane asylum museums. We know. How do these people have fun? We explained about our interest in psychiatric hospitals. If a tourist destination has anything remotely unusual or creepy, we will find it. Research is part of our job. We also explained how usually, the hospitals we visit aren’t exactly open to the public. He looked nervous, like we might use our urb ex skills to hide out there. Not today, sir. But next time…

San ServoloWe caught the ferry back and decided to explore parts of Venice we haven’t seen before so we went through San Marco a different way and walked through Dorsoduro and San Polo before heading back over the Rialto bridge. Only went wrong a few times and that was when we encountered streets that weren’t named on our map. We can get home from Rialto now. We were wandering for two hours! Our feet were not happy. We stumbled across the shop of the guy who made masks for the film Eyes Wide Shut.

Lynx trying the vegan pizza

Lynx trying the vegan pizza

We headed back, put our feet in cold water, like we’ve done every day then went out for chips with Tom and Amy. We’d been gone five hours! We tried some of Tom’s vegan pizza. We’ve never eaten pizza before, not even in our pre-vegan days, but we figured as we were in Italy, we should probably be brave and try Italian food. It was covered in tomato sauce and herbs. And nothing else. We could smell the herbs as Tom walked past us with the closed box and when we saw the pizza, we nearly backed out.

Cat eating the vegan pizza

Cat eating the vegan pizza

But we’d vowed we’d eat an Italian pizza so damn it, we were doing it. If we can hold a tarantula, we can eat a tiny bit of pizza. It was officially the most disgusting thing we’ve ever put in our mouths. It took a lot of chips and Red Bull to rid ourselves of the foul taste. Even now, in quiet moments, it haunts us. Tom and Amy went back to eat the offensive pizza in the apartment while we headed for the vegan gelato place. Us “Due vegano per favore.” He responded in English. Damn it good sir, we’re trying to be cultured here!

We finished the day with uploading photos, writing this blog and doing our squat challenge. 150. Happy birthday to us.

Museo Correr

mirror images

Glass Act

Doge's Palace

Doge’s Palace

We set off for the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), determined that one day was going to go to plan. Each time we go to San Marco, we end up finding a new route there. We’re claiming this as a deliberate mistake to see a lot of Venice and not because our method of ‘keeping heading south’ is not an accurate way to navigate. Normally on holiday we like to do a lot of things, such as visiting as many places as we can squeeze in before closing time. Wandering around, whilst fun on our way to somewhere, does not feel like a productive use of our time. We didn’t pay all this money to walk around. What would we we write in our postcards? ‘Spent five days walking around Venice. Our feet hurt. Wish you were here.’ No. We want to cram so much into our holiday that our family struggle to read all the information on the postcard.

Doge's PalaceWe went to the palace and the guard remembered us. We bought a museum pass so we can do 11 museums. That should keep us busy for the rest of our trip. The palace was stunning. The rooms are huge, the ceilings are beautifully painted and there’s just so much to look at. KT, our polefit instructor, had done splits in the grand hall when she visited in November and we promised to honour the class by doing a pose. We did a double figurehead pose. It was the best we could manage without flashing the other tourists. We’d promised Neen that this holiday, our posteriors would not make a guest appearance.

Doge's Palace

double figure head

The armoury was very impressive and puts our weapons collection to shame. Granted, we don’t have the room for that much weaponry but it doesn’t hurt to dream. Some of the swords were taller than us! Each time we saw the sign for the prisons, we got excited. They were the main reason we wanted to visit the Doge’s Palace and they were saving the best ‘til last. It’s like they knew that if we saw the prisons first, we’d spend all our time there and wouldn’t bother with the rest of the palace. Venice, we’ve only been together two days and you already know us well. Cat found some cell-like doors in the armoury and tried the bolts. They slid back. Before she could open the door, a worker appeared like a ninja and slid the bolts closed again. Maybe Casanova was still inside.

Doge's PalaceWe went over the Bridge of Sighs to the New Prison. That was cool. We imagine the prisoners didn’t appreciate the view of the Grand Canal as much as we did, what with the impending torture they would receive on the other side. Though we failed to cross it without thinking of The Small Faces’ ‘Itchycoo Park’. “Over Bridge of Sighs…” We wondered how many other tourists failed this challenge. We got very excited at seeing the prison. Nobody else on the tour seemed as excited as we were. We ended up going the wrong around the area near the courtyard and got totally lost. This would trigger a habit of going the wrong way around museums that we were unable to break. When in Rome…no wait, wrong city.

Doge's Palace

prison cell

We were able to go inside some of the cells and one area had wooden planks on the floor. We lifted one to see if anyone skeletons lay beneath, grinning at their impending discovery in the longest game of hide and seek. Sadly it was just dirt. A child loitered to watch us do it. Look away, kid, we are a bad example of how to behave in public. Doge's PalaceOne room was filled with prisoners’ graffiti. Mostly it was our level of drawing skills, with badly drawn people and it was clear they hadn’t seen female company for a while as someone drew boobs up by the neck. One prisoner was clearly gifted and had done an amazing portrait of a woman, boobs in the correct place as well. There was also a graffiti penis. Even back in 17thc Venice, men were drawing penises on walls. It’s almost comforting to learn that our male high school classmates had so much in common with 17th Venetian prisoners.

Doge's Palace

Bridge of Sighs

We had lunch sitting by the Grand Canal then educated ourselves on the vaporetto and caught one to Murano. The vaporettos are incredibly punctual, which makes a nice change. Turned out, we could’ve caught one by the Fondemente Nove, by our apartment. We didn’t realise we were supposed to get off on the museum stop and got off three stops too early. It was Paris all over again. But it meant we got to explore Murano. We bought ourselves Murano glass pens with glass nibs, ink and a glass stand. They write beautifully. Being writers, we can’t resist pens, especially novelty ones, but these are the finest in our collection. We were allowed to test them in our shop so drew our C L Raven wings signature and a skull. So should the shop face bankruptcy, the owner can sell that on eBay and raise about 5 cents.

Murano

Murano

We got lost trying to find the museum and had to ask for directions. The lady couldn’t speak English but hand signals are universal so we were able to follow her directions. The museum pieces were lovely. So intricate! We didn’t think it would be very interesting but we really enjoyed it. We were so nervous we were going to break something, but fortunately, most of it is safe in glass cabinets. There was even glass barbed wire! We found more shops and bought our mum a multi-coloured Murano vase, our sister a blue Murano photoframe and our niece a set of green sealions. The woman in the shop couldn’t speak English and we didn’t learn the Italian for ‘sealions’ so we used the fail-safe method of pointing. She laughed and said “multi-lingual.” Yes, our mastery of language is impressive.

Murano

Murano glass butterflies

We caught the vaporetto to Fondemente Nove, convinced the boat was going to sink under the amount of people on board. It was like public transport at rush hour. We protected our Murano gifts, ready to growl and bare our teeth at anyone who so much breathed near our bags. We returned to the apartment, uploaded our photos then went out to get chips and chilled out in the apartment for a bit. We immersed ourselves in culture by watching a French film in Italian and making up dialogue for the characters.

Murano

glass centrepiece

We think our improv was funnier, though not as funny as the lead actress’s dress sense. Then we went out for drinks, as it was Lesley’s last night. After getting lost trying to find the nice bar we’d found on Tuesday, we ended up in a Jazz bar. First time for everything. There were bras hanging from the ceiling. We find the classiest places. We’re so cultured. We wondered if it was a custom of ‘donate a bra, get a free drink.’ Sorry, but our Ann Summers bras would cost an entire round and we’d rather be jiggle free in public. Then when we got back to the apartment, Lynx realised she’d left her gloves in the bar, so we had to go back. Luckily we found them.

One thing we’ve noticed – the dogs don’t care. There are a LOT of dogs in Venice. And not one of them even looks our way. It’s crushing.

Doge's Palace

us and Tom being prisoners

Corpse Groom

VeniceOn Wednesday, we woke so full of hope. We were going to visit dungeons and torture chambers and not allow Tuesday’s curse to hang over us. We were going to conquer Venice and finally achieve something. We were…going to fail.

We decided to head to St Mark’s Square – Piazetto San Marco – and the Doge’s Palace. Doge’s Palace had been top of our list for museums. We’d promised KT, our Polefit instructor that we would honour the class in the palace. We ended up going the same route we took on Tuesday night and eventually found our way to St Mark’s Square using a combination of a little bit of map reading and mostly guesswork. The guesswork consists of ‘keeping heading south’. St Mark’s Basilica is beautiful.Venice It’s where St Mark’s body is kept, after the Venetians stole it and claimed him as their saint. They also stole the lion on the post that is his symbol and the horses on the Basilica. The Basilica also has a ghost story attached. On the corner of the Basilica are two lights, which tradition claims they symbolise atonement for when Venice wrongfully condemned Pietro Faccioli, a little baker boy, to death. On the corner of the Basilica is an execution block where he was decapitated. He was accused of killing a nobleman, Alvise Guoro. The block was a section of column in perfidy brought from Acri. Since the boy’s death, on foggy nights, people report seeing blood drops on it. clock tower, Venice

We couldn’t find it. There’s a surprise. It’s the story of our lives, being in the area something is and not finding it. As we discovered when we went to the front of the doge’s palace – Ducale Palazzo – and realised we had walked right past St Mark’s Square on our first night and didn’t see it. If only we had looked to our left. Yes. We walked past Venice’s most famous square and Did. Not. See. It. In our defence, it was dark. And we weren’t looking. And it was dark.

Doge's Palace

Doge’s Palace

We wanted to do a secret itineraries tour of Doge’s Palace but we’d read that at midday during the carnivale, an acrobat jumps from the bell tower in St Mark’s Square. As it was 11:30, we decided to hold off on the tour until after the acrobat. It didn’t happen. We decided to do the tour, and the guard with the metal scanner at the entrance took one look at the metal on our outfits and laughed. He didn’t speak much English but managed ‘sexy’ as he waved us inside. Once inside, we couldn’t decide which tour to do. We wanted to see the dungeons and the cells where Cassanova was kept. Yes, that Cassanova – world’s greatest lover – he was jailed for hitting on the magistrate’s girlfriend. And we wanted to see the torture chamber. Y’know, the touristy stuff. We were in one of the most romantic cities in the world, the day after Valentine’s Day and we wanted to see the place where people were tortured. And people think romance is dead! We suspected the secret itineraries tour was the one we wanted but the last one was at 11:35. So instead of wasting half an hour for an acrobat that didn’t show, we could’ve done the tour. Now we had to wait until Thursday. Yet another wasted day. If there’s one thing we can’t stand, it’s wasting time. It can’t be replaced. Our fury was reaching a level considered dangerous. Tourists were looking nervous. We cracked open a Red Bull and tried to deactivate Tantrum Mode.Venice

So our day wasn’t a complete disappointment, we decided to check out haunted spots we’d researched. We walked across the water front and stopped at a pizzeria so we could finally get some wi-fi. Well, the others wanted food, we just wanted the internet. It was a good job too because our sister video called us with exciting news: we have a new guinea pig! He’s two years old, called Shadow (we might change that because we had a cat called Shadow) and his owner was about to give him to Cefn Mably farm because he and the other guinea pig he was with kept fighting. So we got to see him on video, as well as our duck, our youngest cat and our dog, who was very excited to hear us and even waved at the phone. Much nicer than his usual response, which is to ignore us on the phone. While our friends enjoyed their lunch, we sat by the Grand Canal eating Discos and waving at our pets. Time well spent.

Venice

At the Grand Canal

We made our way to the island of San Pietro and San Pietro church. It was in a lovely, quiet residential part of Venice. That’s the great thing about incorporating haunted stuff into your holiday – you get to see parts of the place you wouldn’t normally see. San Pietro’s story involves two lovers – Ennio and Tosca. They met in Treviso where she lived and he worked. They swore eternal love and vowed to marry, dead or alive. Technically, two corpses marrying would be impossible as they’d be unable to say the vows and you don’t even want to think about the wedding night. Mind you, Corpse Bride managed it. Ennio, on return from a job in Florence, became ill and died within hours. Tosca didn’t know. The following night, Tosca was in bed and heard Ennio call to her from the courtyard. She ran to the window and he said, “hurry up and get ready, then come downstairs without saying a word to anyone. We’re going to get married in Venice.”Venice

Now our response would have been something along the lines of “get off our land,” but Tosca, although confused, was so in love with him that she didn’t argue. We suspect this is how most marriages happen. After a while of walking, Tosca offered Ennio bread. He said “don’t you know that the dead don’t need to eat?” A gust of wind then transported them to San Pietro. We could’ve done with that magical wind today – saved our poor feet. Tosca was too terrified to scream. Ennio left her outside the priest’s house while he went to fetch witnesses. Tosca shouted to the priest for help. The priest ran down to let her in so she explained the story. He didn’t believe her. To be fair to him, it does sound made up. Magical winds? Dead groom proposing marriage? Hollywood has probably already done this and it probably stars Johnny Depp.

Venice

San Pietro

Then the priest looked out the window and saw Ennio with a group of musicians. He had buried Ennio that day and knew he was looking at a band of dead souls. Ennio said “I want my fiancée, because we swore that dead or alive, we would be married.” The priest said “Away with you, you damned soul. Go away, you and your friends.” Ennio “Give me at least her ring finger or I will never leave her alone.” The priest told Tosca there was no other choice, (um, how about ‘no’) cut off her ring finger and threw it out the window. Ennio caught it and left with the band. Tosca’s mind never recovered and she refused to leave the priest’s house. The priest looked after her until one evening she left and was never seen again.

San Pietro Venice

San Pietro church

At night, she can be seen wandering in front of the church in elegant 19thc clothing, dressed as though for a wedding ceremony. She wanders and moans as she searches for her ring finger, because without it, she can’t enter the church to be married. We also couldn’t enter the church but that’s because we weren’t dressed modestly, not because a priest had chopped off our fingers. Plus you had to pay to enter and the ghosts haunt outside.

We made our way back to towards our apartment and en route, bought ourselves a flail. Y’know, typical Venetian souvenir. Then we ended up by the Fondamente Nove, which is also haunted by the girl who was never buried. On 29th November 1904, Francesco Quintavalle, captain of the vaporetto “Pellestrina” left Fondamente Nove for Burano, despite visibility being almost zero. Two gondolas rowed by Antonio Rosso and Andeto Camozzo were filled with inhabitants from Murano on their way back from Venice. They waited for Francesco to pass the tip of San Michele then left to ferry  their passengers home. Francesco passed the cemetery then decided to reverse. He didn’t see the gondolas and crashed into them. Rosso’s gondola split in two and sank. Four people were pulled on to the vaporetto, but five women disappeared. Rescue efforts began immediately and lasted through the night.

Fondamente NoveSeveral hours later, Maria Tosa Bullo was seen clinging to a post. She was taken to Murano but died a few minutes later. Lia Toso Borella and Amalia Padovan Vistosi’s lifeless bodies were found the next morning in the stern of the gondola. The remaining two passengers – Teresa Sandon and a little girl, Giuseppina Gabriel Carmelo – weren’t found.

In September 1905, Teresa Sandon appeared to her sister in a dream and said “pray for me, for my soul, because my body is still imprisoned, but if you pray it will be freed from the bindings that hold it to the bottom of the canal, and I can rest in blessed ground.” Ten days later, a battered body was found by two fishermen in the canal of the ‘Bissa’ towards the island of the Vignole. The scarf she wore identified her as Teresa.

Giuseppina was never found. But on foggy nights, a floating casket can be seen, lit by candles so ferry boats don’t crash into her.Fondamente Nova

We returned to our apartment to rest our aching feet in a saucepan of cold water and write the blog. After an hour and a half’s rest, we headed out for food and ended up in a pasta place. Tom, Amy and Lesley all ordered. We tried our best to explain to the waiter ‘vegano’ but he couldn’t speak English and gestured for us to point to what we wanted on the menu. We pointed out chips, but ‘what are your chips cooked in’ and ‘are they cooked separately from the meat/fish’ wasn’t available to point at. We didn’t have internet access to Google translate either. We’d just about mastered basic Italian. So we just said ‘no food’. It’s easier that way. He then seemed really affronted that we were taking up breathing space and not eating as he brusquely gathered our glasses, cutlery and plates and marched off. Calm down, sir, we’re just not eating. It’s not like we punched your mother.

vegan gelatoWe then returned to the chip shop for our meal then headed to one of the gelato places on our list that did vegan gelato. We had the cherry/vanilla and it was even listed as ‘vegano’. This is what we like to see. Is it really so hard to just add ‘vegan’ to a label on food? Whilst we ate, we made our way to a pub we had seen last night – The Devil’s Forest. It turned out to be an English pub. Which meant it had football on TV. Real Madrid and Naples. We had to constantly endure deafening chants of ‘Napoli’ as we tried to play a great card game, Million Dollars But. The guy next to Lynx kept knocking her and she was sorely tempted to punch him, but we’ve never started a bar fight and would like to keep that record clean.

The pub had promised us wi-fi but the barman didn’t know the password, so we returned to a café whose wi-fi we had used before and had memorised their password so we could lurk and use it without buying anything. We know that’s bad etiquette but we needed it to access our email as our host had emailed us our apartment’s wi-fi password. That would have been useful before. Lesley then joined us and bought a coffee. We hurriedly uploaded our 200 photos under the waiter’s suspicious gaze. The upload was slow. Lesley had finished her coffee and was ready to leave. The waiter watched us. The upload icon was spinning. Lesley stood. The waiter moved closer. The photo upload froze. We avoided eye contact with the waiter. The photos uploaded. We shut down the laptop and fled before we had to buy a drink we hated. Now we know how Jack Bauer feels when he’s downloading information onto a usb stick while armed men hunt for him. Note to selves – sit further away from the establishment whose wi-fi you’re stealing.St Mark's Basilica

The Italian Job

Venice

the ferry port at Marco Polo airport

There must be a circle of Hell reserved for packing and constantly being a kilo overweight. It’s no wonder we start suffering from packing anxiety a week before we leave! Preparing for holidays is the meant to be the exciting part. Not for us. We get so anxious that we don’t have enough food, or money, so we take way more than we need. We also get anxious that we’ve forgotten something and that our luggage is too heavy. We have a scales so we can test it, but once we’d added our customary vegan shortbread, our suitcase gained weight faster than people at Christmas. Who knew shortbread would put so much weight on? Fortunately, sacrificing one carton of soya milk and an ice block helped the weight issues. But then that made us worry that we won’t find somewhere we can eat. We also worry about getting to and from the airport and finding our apartment.

VeniceWe got up at the ungodly hour of 2:30 a.m. to leave at 3:30 a.m. Junctions 25 – 26 of the M4 were closed, so they diverted us back on to the M4 in the opposite direction. Diversions signs said to get off at J27, so we did. And followed the diversion signs all the way back to J26. Maybe this was another circle of Hell we were trapped in. This time, when we got off at the slip road, we used our classic trick of following the car in front and hoping it knew where it was going. It did. We managed to find Broadfield farm with no problems and just had to wait for the farmer to finish milking the cows to get a lift to the airport. Travelling isn’t all glamour y’know.

VeniceOur suitcase was exactly the weight our scales said it was, so there were no embarrassing incidents in baggage area. Although us and Tom suffered the body scanner and a vigorous pat down from security. We assured the woman that the metal showing up on the image was in fact our underwire bras, but she had a good feel just to make sure. She even checked Cat’s hair. Nothing hiding in there, love, but we hope you like the feel of wax on your fingers. On the plane, Cat was sat beside a couple who hogged all the window space. Lynx felt horrendously sick all plane ride and just about refrained from vomiting into the doggy bag in her pocket.

Venice

finally at our apartment

We managed to book tickets and find our way to the Alilaguna ferry with no problem. Are we…becoming responsible? Will we finally battle our travel anxiety by proving to ourselves that we’re competent? You know what pride comes before. And our fall was about to be more epic than Lucifer’s. Though we were sadly not given a kingdom to rule.

VeniceThe ferry ride in was lovely. The ferry stopped at Murano, which is famous for its beautiful glassmaking. It was our first visit to Venice. We had to do it in style. It would be the first of many boat rides. There was a boy on the ferry we could have cheerfully thrown over the side to swim with the fishes. He spent the entire ride reciting numbers and working out Maths problems to show off to his mother what he’d learned. Why don’t children come with off buttons? Come on evolution, this would be valuable to the survival of our species.

Venice

Rialto Bridge

Then it all went to shit. We were supposed to meet someone to take us to our apartment. In hindsight, we should have waited longer. Although further hindsight revealed that wouldn’t have made a difference. Nobody could get hold of the person who was supposed to meet us and we couldn’t get hold of our host. We decided to find our apartment ourselves using an online map. The online map is a dishonest charlatan. We ended up walking for over two hours, to the middle of Venice, lugging our 20kg suitcase, 8 kg hand luggage and 7kg rucksack up and down hundreds of steps over the many bridges. If we don’t have muscles by the end of this holiday, we will be pissed.

VeniceWe ended up by some sort of school, judging by the amount of screaming kids in the courtyard. That noise was really not helping our stress levels – noise stresses us out at the best of times. We managed to get in to what we thought was our apartment building. A resident informed us we were in completely the wrong part of Venice. And seemed more concerned about who let us in and getting us out as quickly as possible.

Venice

this is where we ate lunch most days – by the Grand Canal

We returned to the Rialto Bridge and decided to ask for help in a handbag shop. We met a lovely guy who not only got out a map to try to find it, but also found a street address book and tried to phone our host for us. When we told him we were from Wales, he said “Swansea or Cardiff?” His mum was helping him, though she didn’t speak English, so he was translating for her. You sir, are a hero.

VeniceWe eventually found the right apartment and waited for an hour in the entrance hall. Still no sign of our host. Luckily there was a settee in the corner, which we named the settee of despair. We returned to the ferry port. Turns out, we were about 5 minutes from our apartment. We were about as happy as someone sitting comfortably on an Inquisitor’s chair. We texted our mum to tell her what was going on, so she suggested phoning Airbnb and got us the number for the Italian one.

Venice

it’s carnivale time in Venice

We spoke to a lovely guy called Luca. He managed to get in touch with our host and she rang us back. She was currently in Brazil. She and her husband continuously tried to get hold of the person who was supposed to meet us but she wasn’t answering her phone. So they arranged for someone else to meet us. Someone who couldn’t speak English. Meanwhile, Tom and Amy managed to salvage some of the day by finding a chip shop that did vegan chips. Luca rang back to see if we were ok and told us to get some food and drinks, photograph the receipt and email it to him. He’d then reimburse us up to €50. He was so nice and phoned us several times to see if we were ok and whether we’d got in to the apartment. That’s customer service for you. A couple entered the apartment building, saw Cat and stopped dead. The woman looked genuinely  terrified and refused to walk past her for a minute. When she did, she passed by as far away as she could then hurried on. Was it the blue hair? The piercings? Or the murderous look due to the shitty day we’d had? It was the blue hair, wasn’t it?

VeniceOur host arranged for someone to meet us at 6 outside MacDonalds. Luckily there was only one MacDonalds nearby so while Tom guarded our bags, us and Amy headed out to meet our new greeter. We had fifty minutes to kill so wandered into Lush. A smiley man greeted us and insisted on rubbing pink heart soap on our hands then giving us a hand massage. It was a Valentine’s offer, apparently. Rub away, sir! Another man tried to persuade a couple to accept the soap and massage, but they refused, so Lynx volunteered again. We were then dragged over to crumble some powder into our hands then wash them off in this soft foam. A lady then gave us the same soap and massage treatment. So while Tom sat alone with our bags, we were getting hand massages. We’re not sorry, we deserved it.

Venice

looking towards the Bridge of Sighs

The lady arrived on time and took us to the apartment. Luckily we were in the right place. She walked at a blistering pace and didn’t slow as she climbed the many, many stairs to our apartment. By the time we were halfway, our thighs were burning like Hell’s fiery lakes and we were tempted to tell her to go on ahead and leave us to die on the stairs. We had to lug our 20kg bag up the stairs. Our apartment is on the fourth floor and the stpes get steeper the higher you climb. There is no lift.

VeniceBut we were finally at our apartment and it was lovely. We unpacked, did our 130 squats (we’re doing the 30 day squat challenge) and marked off the haunted places on our map then decided to head out and explore while we waited for Lesley to arrive. Venice is so much nicer when you’re not dragging nearly half your body weight up countless steps and glaring like gorgons. We made our way down to San Marco but somehow managed to miss St Mark’s Square. We blame it on being dark. And on us not looking left. And poor map reading. Venice is lovely to walk around at night. There’s not much nightlife, so there are no drunken louts and the streets aren’t crowded. It feels safe to walk around, even down the narrow alleys. Luckily there were no little girls in red coats leading us astray.

16819074_1450718771637061_4416583587394694314_oLesley arrived at 10:45 so we went to meet her, took her back to the apartment so she could drop her bag off then went to find the nearest pub. Which wasn’t very near at all. In fact, we wandered across half of Venice until we found a tiny bar and had lovely vodka and lemonades. We have tried to find this bar again since and have failed dismally. Maybe it never existed. We got back to the apartment at gone midnight. Our aching bodies had now given up.

VeniceThere’s one thing we’ve noticed about Venice – there are a lot of lovely looking men around. The level of attractiveness just seems to be generally higher than we’re used to. We might need to make Italy a regular holiday destination.

In Seine

River SeineIt’s a sour end to the trip when you end up naked by the Seine in an area that stinks of piss.

The others went to get breakfast while we finished packing. We were supposed to check out by 12 so they left their bags with us in case they weren’t back in time. So we just hung about the apartment catching up on our blog posts ‘til 12. We then wandered around the main street until we got to a gluten free place in an arcade. The others wanted to wander different shops picking up food as we were going to picnic by the Seine like the locals do. We couldn’t be arsed to traipse from shop to shop dragging our heavy case and carrying the heavy rucksack, so we made our own way to the Seine. There was a metro stop near us but we weren’t prepared to lug our case down all the steps so we walked instead, using Google maps and sticking to the shaded side of the road. We got there no problem.River Seine

River Seine

Don’t leave Goths in hot places

We originally sat under the bridge but it stank of river and piss so we moved to another shaded part near a decent looking guy while we waited for the others. The view was lovely and the Seine’s pretty too. By the time they came, we’d already drunk both Red Bulls and eaten, so while they guarded our stuff, we went looking for drinks and sorbet. We wanted another birthday present for our mum and spied an artist selling oil paintings on Pont Neuf. They were stunning so we bought a small canvas of the Eiffel Tower in grey and red. He’d been sheltering under an umbrella when we stopped so shaded us with it while we looked at his paintings.River Seine

River Seine

Lynx is in Seine

Then the day turned to shit. Lynx has no idea how it happened but one minute Dragonstone (her new phone) and her wallet were on the bag, the next, they were sliding down the concrete bank into the Seine. Dragonstone sank but the wallet floated. And floated away. Lynx slithered down, tossed her boots up to Cat and hurried along the small ledge after her wallet. She managed to scoop it out and returned to Cat and Neen. She got Cat to pass her the walking stick and used it to test the depth of the water. Waist deep. She prodded the rocks and found a large stable one. Against Neen and Cat’s wishes, she passed up her jewellery and carefully waded into the Seine in her lovely dress because she didn’t want to strip in public. She couldn’t see her phone and soon attracted a small audience on Pont Neuf, who thought she was crazy going into the river where people used to dump dead bodies. Not sure how they knew to shout in English – probably because the Parisians know better than to go in the Seine. But she’d had Dragonstone for less than a month and even though he would probably never work again, she could at least reuse the case. If you remember our American adventures, she left Stormborn, our other smartphone on the plane. We knew we’d be coming home without Dragonstone.

River Seine

the Seine at twilight

There was no way she was putting her face in the water so she carefully felt around the area with one foot, keeping hold of the ledge. After several minutes, Neen and Cat persuaded her to give up, as they were convinced she’d catch a disease. She hopped out onto the ledge and they grabbed an arm each, hauling her onto the bank with such force, her feet didn’t touch the bank. She discarded her fishnets and socks and used the last of our shower gel to have a quick wash. Cat got her a change of clothes and she went to hide under Pont Neuf between a van and a car to change, after making sure nobody was in the vehicles. Being kidnapped whilst half naked would put a real damper on things. The area reeked of piss so she made sure not to put her clothes in anything remotely wet. Ending up naked by the Seine was not how she wanted the holiday to end.

Conciergerie

in the women’s prison yard at the Conciergerie

It was time to go home. Our suitcase was almost half our body weight and the rucksack weighed at least a quarter of our weight so while the others went on ahead, we limped after them, not bothering to try to keep up. We went to go down into one train station and a guy offered to carry the case down. The others asked if it was the right station. He said we wanted the one across the street. So the poor guy ended up lugging the case back up. We then went to another metro station. This time, Neen carried the case down. Only for it to be another wasted journey. They eventually found the right station and we waited for the train to take us to the airport. The ticket entrances don’t hold the doors open long enough for you to struggle through with your case, so it shut on Lynx’s rucksack, jamming her. The doors only opened when a guy put his ticket in and helpfully pushed her free.

Paris Metro

riding the metro

The train was hot, sweaty and smelled of hot, sweaty people. And it was the same price as a taxi. So we could have saved ourselves a lot of walking. Disheartened at Dragonstone’s untimely death, and in pain, we made it to the airport without trouble. This time, baggage allowance was 23kg and they didn’t even weigh our hand luggage, making the fiasco of flying out even more unnecessary.

EIffel Tower lift

in the lift of the Eiffel Tower

But Paris was beautiful and we’d love to go back and see the sights we didn’t see, plus return to the catacombs. People often say the French are rude, but every person we spoke to was lovely.

flying home

flying home

They didn’t mind our terrible French and were all very helpful. If a waiter didn’t speak English, they found one who did. Almost every person we spoke to complimented us on our outfits and if they didn’t speak English, they’d gesture to us, smile and give us the thumbs up. Two people asked what our style was. They’d never heard of Goth and were pleased to learn something new. Security guards, instead of being annoyed at all our metal setting off their bleepers at tourist attractions, laughed and told us we looked amazing, while shaking their heads in despair. Paris obviously didn’t have many twins, as we’d get a lot of people pointing and saying “the same?” People would openly stare at us but not in a rude way, they’d obviously not encountered Goths before. We didn’t see anyone even remotely gothic during our stay. Paris certainly wasn’t expecting us but it embraced us.Conciergerie

Dead Famous

Pere Lachaise cemeteryToday was to be the day of the dead. First on the agenda: Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Jules and Alex didn’t want to come so us and Neen headed out on the metro. There’s not many people we could convince that spending a hot, sunny day in a cemetery is the best thing ever. Give us a city of the dead over a beach any day. We can get a tan, see beautiful mausoleums and leave without getting sand in places where sand has no right to be.

Pere Lachaise cemeteryThe metro stopped right outside, so we walked across the road, bought a map of the cemetery (without one, we’d probably still be there until the council is forced to bury our well dressed skeletons) and marked off the people we wanted to see: Oscar Wilde was top of our list, along with Jim Morrison for our friend, Rodney, and some people who either haunted it, or their graves we’d seen in our book about haunted places in France. Neen wanted to see Gertrude Stein for Zoe. And then we spotted a name we had to visit – Sex Toy. No idea who this person is. And no, we’re not Googling it. We’ve fallen for that ploy many times.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Raspail family tomb

Pere Lachaise is rumoured to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. Visitors report intense eerie feelings, a deep sense of unnatural calm, shivers down the spine, ghostly apparitions and orbs. Jim Morrison is apparently seen near his grave and Chopin likes photobombing people. Some say Oscar Wilde haunts it, as well as lovers Marcel Proust and Maurice Ravel, who apparently rise from their graves searching for each other. This will be us when we’re dead – rising from our graves, searching for Red Bull. Pere Lachaise opened in 1804 on Napoleon’s orders to cope with the overflow of bodies from the Revolution. There are over 300,000 people buried here. It’s the place to be seen dead in.
Pere Lachaise cemeteryWe wandered the graveyard, taking photos and getting ideas for our tomb. So far, it’s going to have steps, skeletal hand sconces, gargoyles and castle towers. And a plaque that reads: ‘this is the story of C L Raven (they die at the end).’ But unless we start selling more books, we’ll probably end up in a pauper’s grave. Or eaten by our cats.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Etienne Gaspard Robertson’s grave

We made our way to the closest grave on our list: Etienne Gaspard Robertson – a magician who liked to terrify people. He invented the phantasmagoria, using lantern slides to create horror shows. His grave had featured in the book and had an incredible carving of the living on one side, the dead on the other and a flying skeleton between them, playing a trumpet. We stopped by a tree and consulted our map, certain we were in the right area. Then we turned around. It was right beside us. The carving was fantastic. He also had skulls on the top of his monument. A French couple asked us where Chopin’s grave was, so we directed them.

 

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Jim Morrison’s grave

Despite our poor map reading skills, we managed to navigate the cemetery easily. Neen said it was because it was something we’re interested in. This is true. If we’re not interested, we won’t put effort in. Hence constantly failing school exams. There were quite a few people around Jim Morrison’s grave, but we managed to squeeze in and take photos. There are railings up around the whole section where he is to stop people going to his grave.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Marie Elizabeth Demidoff’s grave.

The next grave on our list belonged to Russian princess Marie Elizabeth Demidoff, who apparently stated in her will that she would leave part of her inheritance to anyone who spent a year beside her corpse. Her monument was impressive, with columns and wolves’ heads. We stood at the bottom, trying to figure out how to get up to the other side. We eventually walked all the way around and up. Only to discover that had we gone the other way, a flight of steps would’ve taken us right to it. We were not shining today.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Sex Toy’s grave

Our next mission was to find Sex Toy. That grave was off the path, so we had to explore amongst other graves. After fifteen minutes of failing to find it, nearly falling over and being attacked by brambles, we realised we were in the wrong area. We crossed a path to another section and continued the hunt. Cat slipped and her hand landed on some brambles. We hunted for another fifteen minutes then Lynx stopped to change her camera battery. And happened to stop by Sex Toy’s grave. Neen had walked right past it. We were expecting something phallic shaped, or with chains. Maybe even something that vibrated. Nope. A simple slab with SEX TOY written in old English font. So like men who can’t find the g spot, we were poking around, trying to look like we knew what we were doing, only to find it rather anti climatic.

Pere Lachaise cemetery, Oscar Wilde's grave

Oscar Wilde’s grave

We stopped for a picnic on a bench before finding Oscar Wilde’s grave with no difficulty. He wrote our favourite poem, the Ballard of Reading Gaol, so we had to find him. We expected it to be crowded like Jim Morrison’s was, but there were only two guys there. Oscar’s grave had a glass case around it, because there was a tradition of people kissing it and leaving lipstick marks all over it, inspired by his quote ‘a kiss may ruin a human life.’ And graves, it seems. The oils in the lipstick were damaging the stone, so the family paid to have them cleaned off and put a glass barrier around it to protect it.

 

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Auschwitz memorial

We headed to the eastern wall where 140 communards were shot at dawn on 28th May 1871 after fighting their way across the cemetery. They were buried where they fell but apparently visitors have seen them. We didn’t see them. There were some incredible memorials to the victims of the holocaust and those that died in the resistance. They showed skeletal figures, reminding people of the horror they suffered. We much preferred them to regular plaques. We found Gertrude Stein’s grave easily. She was a lesbian American novelist, playwright, poet and art collector. We also saw Edith Piaf’s grave as it was near the exit. A French woman asked us where Oscar Wilde’s grave was, so we pointed it out to her then gave her our map.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Auschwitz memorial

We stopped at a café across the road to rest our painful feet before limping our way to the metro stop to go to the Musee Fragonard. We got off and walked down the really long Avenue de General de Gaulle. We couldn’t find it so went into a shop to buy a drink and ask where it was. They didn’t have any squash so we bought a big bottle of lemon water. The cashier didn’t know of the museum. We kept going until Neen checked the number. It was back near the metro stop. We turned around and hobbled back the way we’d come, only to find a solicitor’s at number 7. Neen got out her map. We were at the wrong end of the street. We got back on the metro and went another couple of stops. We had not come this far and put up with this much pain to quit now. We were going to the museum and it had better be damn well impressive. It also closed in an hour.

Musee Fragonard

Musee Fragonard

The museum is inside a university and was well worth a visit and the pain. We did the audio guide but there was so much information, we didn’t have time to listen to it all. There weren’t as many flayed people as were hoping – it was mostly animal skeletons and organs, as it was a veterinary university, but it was still fascinating. And cows don’t have four stomachs – their stomach is divided into four, with each section doing a different job.
Eiffel TowerWe got back on the metro to meet Alex and Jules at the Eiffel Tower. For some reason, we expected it to be silver, not brown. We got pictures as we walked past it then had to walk a long way to find the café they were in. By now, Cat’s bad knee had given up too, but luckily she’d brought her walking stick and had bought ice patches on our first day in Paris. A helpful American translated to the waiter what we meant by vegan then we sat and had chips. Our boots came off the minute we sat down. One waiter said “cook fries in with the meat? Who would be crazy enough to do that?” We replied “The UK.” He was impressed with our French when we asked for the bill.

Seine

Seine at sunset

The queue for the tower was still long so we did a cruise along the river Seine at sunset. It was the best time to do it. The boat was quiet, whereas in the day, the boats are always packed. We’d seen the Seine plenty of times in the day. It was beautiful as the sun went down and the lights came on. There was this annoying couple by us at the back of the boat. All the woman was did was take constant selfies without smiling in a single one, but doing those partial smiles with closed lips, ‘cos heaven forbid your smile should crinkle your face. The typical ‘identical facial expression in every photo so I always look beautiful’. Us and Neen had posted many unflattering photos of ourselves. We were glad when they left the boat, otherwise we were going to push her in. Let’s see her look picture-perfect after a dunking in the Seine.

SeineWe gave each other dares during the evening. Lynx had to ask a guy where the River Seine was, as we cruised along it. She even asked in French but he couldn’t understand her. Jules and Cat had to twerk picnickers as we sailed past. Having never twerked before, Jules had to teach Cat. They did it and got cheered by the picnickers.

River Seine

twerking it

Neen’s dare had been to ask someone where the Eiffel Tower was, as we stood across the road from it. He helpfully pointed it out then a man stopped his car and got out to have his photo taken with us. Alex had to lick her ice cream bowl. Us and Neen claimed it wasn’t a dare, as we’d do it anyway, so Neen dared Alex and Jules to tie their plaits together and walk around. They did it on the boat, but told the captain it was a dare so it didn’t count.

SeineIt was getting dark by the time we got back so the Eiffel Tower was lit up red white and blue. It looked beautiful, so we video called our mum and sister by it so they could see it lit up. Sarah asked if we could ring her when we were up there. We didn’t have to queue long – advantage of going up at 11 p.m. Security check through your bags at every major tourist attraction and the woman confiscated our big bottle of lemon water we’d just bought. Neen tried arguing it was just water, but the woman binned it. Not just confiscated. Binned. We spent €1.65 on that! Luckily, Neen had instructed us to pour some into the bottles we’d used for our squash, so some was saved. That wasn’t taken off us. Either the woman didn’t believe it was water, or she thought Neen looked the type to lob it at unsuspecting tourists. The top of the tower was closed unfortunately. We got the lift to the second floor then video called our mum and sister.
Eiffel TowerIt was so beautiful up there. It didn’t matter that we didn’t make it to the top. To be honest, we would’ve been terrified up there. A man behind us proposed to his girlfriend and we’re guessing by the applause that she said yes. Neen did a fake proposal to Lynx and people thought it was real. We had to explain it was just for photos and Neen is married. Quite frankly, we’re surprised nobody thought the others were real. The Eiffel Tower is seen as a romantic place to propose, even though it’s a popular suicide spot. Over 400 people have plunged to their deaths from it and most of them were distraught lovers. A famous story is about a couple who met at the tower. At the top, he proposed. She said no so he pushed her off. Apparently, you can hear her laugh then scream. Not so romantic now.

Eiffel TowerWe decided to get the full Eiffel Tower experience and walked down to the next floor. Big mistake. There were so many steps that by the time we reached the first floor, our feet were in agony. So we queued to take the lift down but had to wait ages with our feet feeling as though we were standing in lava. It was gone midnight by the time we got down but there was a sorbet place open so us and Neen had sorbet as we ambled to the metro. We had strawberry and raspberry. It was the best sorbet we’ve ever had and was the perfect way to end our last night in Paris. Then on the Metro was a hot guy. He looked like Ed Skrein from Deadpool. The views in Paris were just getting better. And he kept looking at us. So we played it cool. By ‘played it cool’, we mean we avoided eye contact and turned around. Winning.Eiffel Tower