Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A couple of French podcasts

Really having trouble getting to sleep at the moment, despite being tired by bedtime due to lack of sleep from previous nights. Right now, the naughty cat is on the spare pillow next to me, which at least stops her from scratching on my door and crying for a solid half hour or so. There will be trouble if she pees on anything though! I can't really blame her for being more than usually eager to get in though. I think today's high was -3 and low -6 (or that's what it was when I got up this morning anyway). No snow, but it was cold! I think I almost gave myself an insta-cold walking home from work, I had watering eyes from the wind, a runny nose, swollen glands (unless that was my imagination running away from me) and frozen ears, fingers and cheekbones by the time I made it in the door. I need to suck it up and buy a hat, even if I do look silly in it. Also need to buy some more hand cream, my hands start to crack as soon as it gets cold, especially along the joints of my thumbs, and then they just never heal up :(

Anyway, the point of this post was meant to be to share a couple of podcasts I came across recently. They're both from RFI (Radio France Internationale, www.rfi.fr). The first is the Journal en français facile, which is a 10 minute daily news roundup. When I came across it, I was a bit concerned that 'français facile' would be way to easy for me. Instead, it only goes to prove that French people don't really understand how to speak slowly and clearly for foreigners. I swear, 90% of French people will say something at exactly the same speed and clarity level, whether it's the fifth time you've asked them to repeat it or not. That becomes a bit more comprehensible when you listen to this podcast, tailor-made by professionals for people learning French and realise that that's how fast they speak when they're trying to dumb it down! I can understand it, but I should considering I live here and everything - I think a beginner would be totally lost. They even have things like soundbites from correspondents in Cambodia or the Ivory Coast or wherever, who do not always have the easiest accents to understand. Still, if anyone happens to teach French, they would make good listening exercises, or obviously for improving your own listening comprehension. Plus I don't always pay a lot of attention to the news, particularly the French national news, so it's nice to have half a clue about what's going on.

The second one is 'Apprendre le français avec l'actu' which I really like. These are shorter, around 2 - 3 minutes, also entirely in French, and focused on one word or phrase 'making the news' at the moment. For example, today I listened to the one on 'mi-mandat' (this was a few days old). Of course, you don't even have to speak French to figure out that 'mi-mandat' is 'mid-mandate' i.e. referring to the recent mid-term elections in the States. But rather than just explaining the word, they give a brief account of why this word is in the news, and then more about the use and etymology. Unlike 'demi' (but like 'mid' in English), 'mi' is a particle and can't be used on its own. As they pointed out in the podcast, it's obvious but easy to miss that 'mi' turns up in words like 'minuit', 'midi' (formed with 'di' from the Latin), and 'milieu' - literally in the middle of a place. The other day, I learned that 'portefeuille', which means a wallet, can also mean 'portfolio' (and there's obviously a common root there), in the sense of a cabinet minister's portfolio - this is because 'portefeuille' used to refer to a folder for documents. Which makes sense when you think about porter - to carry and feuille - which is a sheet of paper as well as a leaf on a tree.

Anyway, I won't go on boring those of you who don't speak French, but if you do speak French to a reasonable level, I would recommend these, especially the learning French from the news one. Even if your French is really good, you will learn interesting little things about the French language I'm sure!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The 7 month itch

Hey, so I've been in Tours for 7 months now! There's not really any itch associated therewith, just trying for a snappy title.

Normally, of course, 7 months wouldn't be a big deal, but it happens to be the same length of time I spent in France in 2007, and also of course the same as my contract in Nice. It's amazing how much faster the time has flown by here in Tours, it definitely seems to have gone faster than in Nice. I suppose a lot of that has to do with working full-time instead of 12 hours a week (and that only in theory, I hardly ever did the full 12 hours). Funny how time passes faster when you have things to get up for in the morning eh? Another part of it is that I hated where I was living (or, to be more accurate, who I was living with) in Nice, so I'm much happier now that I don't feel trapped in my bedroom because I don't want to run into my flatmate in the hall. Plus there are lovely, huggable kitty cats in this flat :)

Of course there were good things about Nice as well. As anyone who read my blog back then will no doubt recall, I really got in to going for longish walks around the region - just stunningly beautiful and very easy logistically speaking. I feel a bit bad now that winter's set in that I didn't figure out the logistics of how to do that around here in summer, but maybe next year... Speaking of winter, yep, it's cold, it's been snowing a little bit, and much as I get excited by snow, maybe Nice does take the cake in weather terms. But Tours just feels more homey - I love being able to walk pretty much everywhere I want to go (so far there's only been a handful of days where I haven't been able to walk home from work due to the weather) and the city has a nice general atmosphere. There's always something going on, but on a pretty small scale, so things don't get overwhelmingly busy or touristy (well, if I block out getting stuck behind old ladies at the Saturday markets or tourists on Rue Nationale in the height of summer).

Still waiting to hear if I get to stay (i.e. renew my contract) for another year. Soon, hopefully... With the help of the mostly useless Wolfram Alpha computational search engine, I've worked out that between now and the end of my current contract, on the 30th of April, there are 152 days. Take out weekends, and that leaves 109 week days. Now here's the crazy part - I have 35 days of holiday left to take by the end of my contract. 109 - 35 = 74 & let's not forget Good Friday and Easter Monday, taking me to a grand total of 72 work days left. Yep, that's right, between now and the end of the year I'll be working less than one day in two! Even after I come back from my 3 week Christmas break, I'll have enough days left over to take over a week off in February, March and April if I choose to do it that way. And let's not forget, when I do turn up to work, these are 7 hour days we're talking! Ah France, you crazy country, that's why we love you so!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The discovery of France

I've been trying of late to improve my knowledge of French history, because although I took a paper on the French Revolution at uni and several general ones on European history, I've always felt a bit fuzzy on some of the particulars of French history, especially the whole Napoleon-Louis Napoleon-Revolution-Republic-another Revolution-Monarchy bit of it (unfortunately I still am majorly confused on all that, so if anyone knows a good book or something to brush up on it, let me know!)

So first I listened to an excellent Open Yale podcast course on the History of France Since 1871, taught by John Merriman - more info here. Unfortunately, this started after the whole confusing mess mentioned above, but it was still really interesting on the recent history of France. Good to learn who all those 'hommes politiques' every bloody street in France is named after are! Jean Jaurès, for example, who has a major square where the two main axis routes of Tours named after him, was the guy who united the French socialist parties back in c. 1905. He was assassinated on the eve of WWI due to his unpopular pacifist stance.

Anyway, I am currently reading The Discovery of France by Graham Robb (best 1p I ever spent, thanks Amazon! FYI for those reading from France - I always compare prices on amazon.fr and amazon.co.uk - English books on amazon.fr are almost always shipped from England anyway, and althoug the cost of shipping from England is a bit more, often the prices of the books will be much lower and thus offset the shipping & currency conversion differences) and I'm enjoying and learning so much that I thought I should share with any other francophiles who may be reading.

Essentially it's an exploration of France before France i.e. teasing out the 'real' France that existed before everything got centralised and homogenised. I think most people know that France used to be a patchwork of different languages and cultures, but the amount of differences and how long they endured were a real surprise to me. It's billed as a sort of travelogue - one guy exploring France on a bicycle - but it's actually not at all. While the author, a former Fellow at Oxford, really did go around France on a bike, there's very few mentions of this in the book and no sort of 'wacky encounters' or anything like that, just a historic account of what "pre-modern" (i.e. up to the 20th century and sometimes even beyond) France was like.

The first section, which basically describes life in some of the regions and maps out the cultural and linguistic differences, is especially interesting. Did you know, for example, that there used to be a hated minority group in many parts of France called the cagots (or a variant thereof)? They weren't a linguistic, religious, or ethnic subset, just a sort of caste that was shunned and restricted to living in certain areas and working in certain trades, for reasons unknown to even those who were persecuting them. I found it particularly poignant that, when the Revolution came, the cagots tried to take advantage of the situation by burning the records that identified them as outsiders, but this initiative failed because their names were memorised and passed down in the rhymes of the village children. The Wikipedia article on cagots is largely sourced from Robb's book.

After the many fascinating 'did you know' moments in the first third, I found the middle third dipped a little bit, with an over-emphasis on tracing the development of transportation in France and how it opened up the provinces to change and 'discovery', but it's still interesting. I'm currently on the last third (these are my divisions rather than the actual structure of the book) which is describing the impressions of tourists from the Ile-de-France in the regions. One interesting point that is made is that many of the hallmarks of regional identity - cuisine, costume etc. are actually either quite recent - whatever fashions etc. these tourists found at the exact moment they arrived in a region in the 19th century became the 'traditional' costume of the region, even if it had actually been at one a wide-spread fashion throughout France that had just hung on in the slower-changing provinces, or not really representative of traditional life in the province at all e.g. the sorts of rich, meat-filled regional cuisines we know today, which may be native to an area but would have been far out of reach of most of its subsistence-level inhabitants before the modern era.

To sum up, I found (am finding) this a fascinating alternative to the typical Paris-centric, great man sort of history that you normally read about France or anywhere else, full of interesting tidbits and insights into a bygone world. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Licensed to thrill!

In what surely must be a record, it only took 3 1/2 months and two trips to the préfecture to get my French driver's license! They told me after my last trip that they would reply within 2 to 3 months - they waited exactly 3 months and then asked me for a bunch more stuff, including a 'justification of my presence in New Zealand territory when my license was issued', proof of address here and other stuff that I had already given them the first time. So this time I was not expecting them to actually give me the license, I was thinking it would take several more months, IF I was lucky.

So I'm pretty excited, even if honestly I'm way too scared to drive here, with: a) manual transmissions (I suck), b) parallel parking (I suck), c) on the other side of the road and d) surrounded by French people. But you have a year to do the exchange, so I thought I might as well do it and that way I'd be set to drive if I have/want to. And it works anywhere in the EU of course!

Bit bummed that I had to surrender my NZ license, especially since it had a half-decent photo and was a nice plastic wallet-sized card, unlike the cardboard monstrosity that is the French one! More importantly, though, they only gave me a license that lasts three years from when my NZ license was issued, stingy! So it runs out in August 2012, after which I have no idea what happens. They don't tell you that when they tell you you can swap it! They missed the fact that I'm meant to wear glasses when driving, suckers (I mean, I will obviously, but there has been the very odd occasion in the past where they were at the optometrists or whatever).

So, anyway, excited! It feels like another big step towards genuinely living here and not just being a fly by night expat. Not that I know what the future holds, but anyway...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not even for $173 an hour

What's with the creepy paedophile hostage situation being used to illustrate this scam?

In other news, I have spent my long weekend doing next to nothing. Last night went out to karaoke, which was fun. It's fairly amusing listening to French people trying to sing in English, even the ones who were doing a good job of it were waaaay over-enunciating. I did Maggie May by myself and Dancing Queen and Hit Me Baby One More Time with others.

Today is of course the final F1 race of the season :( Alonso is in a very good position to make my pre-season prediction come true and take the title, but we shall see, there's a long race to come. I hope Jenson and Lewis do well in any case.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Acqua alta!

So it turns out I took 846 photos in Venice! Digital cameras - both a blessing and a curse... Don't worry, I won't be putting them all up, but I'll stagger the best (bearing in mind I'm no ace photographer) by theme over the next little while. To begin with, shots of the acqua alta in St Mark's Square (I did see a bit of flooding elsewhere, but it was mostly confined to St Mark's, apparently the lowest point and also sea-facing). It's pretty awesome how you walk to the edge of a paved square, and there's the sea right there, literally lapping at your feet.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Last day in Venice

Back home, without incident, & glad to be here (looking forward to the weekend) although more time in Venice would have been great of course - not necessarily to do more, but to have more time to relax and enjoy it all! In the two full days I had, I saw: two churches, one 'school', one palace, one art gallery, one theatre, the ghetto (briefly), went shopping in the Rialto district, took multiple boat rides, ate in two restaurants, had gelato & pizza on the street and wandered around the city on foot quite a bit. Woof, tiring!

On the third day, I got up bright and early and tackled the absolute mission that was packing my suitcase to comply with Easyjet standards (it was full already going, and bursting at the seams coming back. Seriously, I need to learn to pack lighter. I think I had 2 dresses, a pair of boots, 2 tops and multiple undergarments that didn't come close to being worn in there). Then I went back to St Mark's square (getting slightly lost again on the way) to see the rest of the church.

Turned out I was too early getting there, so I went and looked at a couple of nearby churches, which were apparently not big tourist draws, but were sumptuously decorated (one even had a Titian) all the same. You look at these places and it just seems incredible to think of the wealth that must have been sloshing around in the hands of a tiny elite, and then you realise that we still have pretty much the same situation today, ho hum.

St Mark's was not at all the same with the lights turned off, it really makes an incredible difference, so my advice to any future travellers is to make sure you get the opportunity to see the mosaics lit. Nevertheless, I'm still glad I had the opportunity to visit again. I did all the optional (paying) extras - checked out the Pala d'Oro golden jewel-encrusted altarpiece (with St Mark's tomb next to it), the treasury, full of golden reliquaries and other churchy knicknacks, and the upstairs, where you can go outside onto the loggia and there is a bit of a museum. These were all worth looking at, with the upstairs bit the clear winner. Unfortunately, I was running out of time by the time I got up there, so I had to hurry through a bit. However, you could view the roof mosaics up close, which was fantastic, and they also had some mosaic fragments in the museum bit which for some reason or other were no longer on the walls, I couldn't really stay to find out why. It's quite interesting how this level of opulence and magnificence just makes you gape in awe, I'm not sure quite what it is, since I find anything modern that is that gold-encrusted to be in extremely poor taste (I'm thinking along the lines of when Donald Trump lets the Apprentices into his apartment. Seriously, Donald, stop being so vulgar about it and while you're at it, be less sexist and tell your producers not to play a trumpet fanfare when you arrive at a venue on the show.) But when it's hundreds of years old, I'm all slack-jawed with admiration...

I lingered a little bit longer than I had planned to and had to run back to the hostel, luckily enough even I had more or less managed to burn the route into my brain, pick up my bags, stop off for a takeaway hot chocolate (I had had a gelato at this place and had sworn to return once I saw they served gianduja hot chocolate - it was nice, although it had actual big pieces of hazelnut in it, which was not unpleasant although unexpected), take the boat, then the bus and arrive at the airport with time to spare (although that didn't stop me having to run to the gate when they did the final call).

Oh PS there were these ladies on the bus tricked out in high heels and designer stuff who somehow had managed to arrive from England, I don't know how, make their way to the Piazzale Roma, which is where the bus stops, and then get back on a bus headed back to the airport. They were seriously stereotypes of those sort of wooly-minded English aristocratic ladies who lunch (and they were in fact just headed into St Mark's for lunch before leaving Venice again, for some reason - I only know the parts of the story that were brayed to the whole bus at high volume). You couldn't help but feel sorry for them, of course, but dear me. I thought everyone knew (or at least everyone who was actually going to Venice/already there) that there are no buses or cars on the island itself? One wonders if they managed to make it back to wherever they were going in one piece... Good for them if they managed to walk around flooded/cobblestoned Venice in high heels though!

After that, everything went smoothly with the plane and train back home & I unpacked and did laundry yesterday, so all round was feeling virtuous and actually pretty refreshed, despite the hectic nature of the holiday. And I came in just under budget, even including the shopping! Will probably get photos up in stages, seriously I took a billion.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Venice Day 2

Feeling less on holiday and more on an endurance race right now, my lower back is hurting so much it pretty much goes into spasms when I sneeze or cough! Normally I like my boobs, but not so much when it comes to walking/standing around for long periods of time. Aieyaiyai.

Last night I headed back out for a bite to eat (street pizza) and to take some photos around St Mark's at night. It felt quite special seeing the lights shining off the floodwaters in the square, although the water had gone down a bit. I walked along the seafront as far as the Arsenale and then took a boat to the Rialto and walked back to the hostel. I feel quite privileged to see Venice with fewer tourists (still lots though) and in the floods (well, high water, hardly floods by Venice's standards). It feels like the 'real' Venice, although of course that's a pretty ridiculous statement.

Today it was up bright and early again and out at about 8.15 to go and see St Mark's and to do the tour of the Doge's Palace. I promptly got lost, so it took quite a while to arrive. Venice is magical and all that, but there are definitely moments where you wish the thing would sink just to spite it! Need to take deep breaths and remember that exploring the city is a good thing!

Anyway, St Mark's square was covered in water again when I arrived. It has been raining off and on the whole time, less today though and by the time I got out of the Doge's Palace you could finally walk around on terra firma without gumboots. Anyway, before I went on my 10.45 tour I looked around the palace by myself for about an hour and a half, although even then I had to rush through some of the rooms at the end, especially the prisons. I was under the mistaken belief that the tour would go through the palace - in fact, it goes only through rooms that are shut off to the public. Never mind though. The palace was very imposing and richly decorated, although now I wish I'd just got an audioguide and seen the public part of the palace and not gone on the other tour. However, that doesn't mean the tour wasn't interesting, just that I think I would have got more out of a tour of the main rooms. The tour took you into the back rooms where the state bureaucrats worked in tiny little chambers, looking after secret records and the archives etc., where political prisoners were kept, and where the council questioned, tortured, and judged prisoners in the dead of night. We saw Casanova's cell and learned how he plotted (and eventually carried out) his escape from the prison, and we went up in the attic and saw the underpinnings of the ceiling of the massive hall below.

Amongst other things, I learned that executions (only 1000 in the 11 centuries of the Venetian Republic) were carried out between the two pillars in St Mark's Square, and that you could even be executed for littering! The tour guide was very sure that no innocent people were tortured, because they would first investigate a crime, often obtain a name from a collaborator in a plea bargain scheme, and then only torture someone when they were sure of his guilt. Well, that sounds like a perfect recipe for convicting an innocent person to me! The method of torture was by tying the person's hands behind their back with a rope, then hoisting them up to the ceiling. The next unfortunate prisoners in line were made to watch from nearby cells. The palace had lots of little letterboxes where people could post denunciations, and it was a crime not to do so if you had any information.

Well, after the tour I was super tired and I didn't go back and look at the palace again. I wanted to go for a nice sit-down, but instead I went straight to St Mark's because I knew the mosaics were only lit between 11.30 and 12.30, and it was about 10 to or something like that. Wow. I've never seen photos of the inside of St Mark's before I don't think, but it's just the most beautiful thing ever. EVERYTHING is covered with golden glimmering mosaics, it's incredible. Photos are officially banned, but literally everyone was indulging in a giant orgy of frenzied photo-taking, including me, and no-one made any effort to stop it. It was like an amazing sensory overload. I was there at 12.30 when the lights went off, and you realise then what a difference it makes, I'm really glad I got to see it lit. I plan to go back tomorrow before I have to go catch my plane and, even without the lights, just look at the place properly without taking any photos, and go see the different bits you have to pay for, because it really is deserving of slack-jawed, prolonged admiration. Just wonderful.

I left right away after the lights were turned off and wandered off to find something to eat, because I was extremely achy and tired after standing up for 4 1/2 hours (and yes, I do feel sorry for waitresses, salespeople etc. etc. and I have been one but obviously out of shape!) I found a place not too far from St Mark's where I actually had an alright meal - in general, the food here has been disappointing, although not too expensive. I had a fixed menu of lasagne as a starter and then fried calamari (including not just squid rings, but like the whole legs joined together minus the head) and chips. I still find it weird that they see pasta as an entrée, but oh well, a hearty meal and pretty tasty, although the wine was dreadful and cost 5 euros for the glass. I spent an hour over lunch, determined to have a break!

After that, I made my way to La Fenice theatre to enquire about tickets for the opera tonight. In the end, I decided not to go, since my choice was a 45 euro ticket for a decent seat or 20 euros for a seat where apparently you can't see anything at all... Okay, 20 euros is not that much for an opera ticket, but I'm not going to pay to see nothing, I don't even really like opera! Instead, I decided to take an audiotour of the theatre. It is very pretty, but a bit annoyed that photos weren't allowed (and they were vigilant on this point) and the audioguide was a bit boring. Might re-read The city of falling angels, which describes the 1996 fire that destroyed it, since I only vaguely remember it (I think he was throwing around accusations of incompetence and corruption, which might account for why it was not on sale in the bookshop).

To end my day, I took a vaporetto along the river and then wandered through the Ghetto - for almost 300 years the Jews of Venice were locked in at night on this island that was accessible by only two guarded bridges and was the original ghetto that gave the word to the world (unfortunately). I found it quite nice that it was full of shops and restaurants selling kosher food and Jewish art, although I'm not sure if this really represents a heart-warming effort to keep the Jewish culture alive in Venice or just a whitewashing of history for the tourists... I would have liked to go on one of the tours of the ghetto, but alas, no time. On a not-altogether-unrelated note, I find it weird that I've seen several memorials to people who died in WWII, um, you guys were on the wrong side... Maybe I should be charitable and assume that my lack of Italian is preventing me from realising that they're memorials to partisans who died fighting against Mussolini's thugs or something.

Anyway, have just been relaxing at the hotel this evening, other than a short trip out for a slice of pizza (mmm, average) and a gelato (report: green apple - kinda gross, chocolate - continues to be good, but ongoing monitoring of the situation required). Tomorrow I need to be making my way to the airport at around 11 am, so hopefully can get up early and squeeze in St Mark's take two. It has been short, but I feel I've made the most of it and seen a lot, maybe too much! I won't get home to Tours until about 8.30 tomorrow night, that's if all goes well with the travel... I'm not looking forward to having to go to work the next day, I should have taken it off as well, but at least it's only a two day week, then I can just chill out in the weekend (2nd to last F1 race as well) and then the next week is a short one as well because of Armistice Day.

I have taken approximately a million billion photos, so I will have to work my way through them in stages once I get back home.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Venice Day 1

So last night I went out for a bit of a wander and had dinner somewhere. The meal was okay but not exceptional, I got lemon chicken which was literally just chicken breast slathered in lemon sauce and nothing else! I always think "try something different" but maybe I'll stick to some pasta favourites from now on!

Venice is surprisingly dark at night, I was pretty much expecting everywhere to be lit up like a chocolate box scene, but at least the way I walked yesterday and on the trip in on the vaporetto, everything was pretty dimly lit & most buildings only seem to have one or two lights on in the whole place. I suppose in summer they're all full of tourists.

I slept fairly badly, I was too hot in my room despite having the aircon on full bore, but I eventually figured out that leaving the bathroom door open seemed to help create a bit of a breeze. Despite that, I was up early (went to sleep around 10) and I left the hotel at around 7.45 am, to a nice quiet city outside.

I made my way to St Mark's Square first, only to discover the acqua alta - high water! The whole square was flooded up to about ankle/calf level, and they had set up walkways to get around. This was kind of cool, a different way to experience Venice, although it made taking photos a bit trickier because of course everyone was crowded onto these little catwalks (other than the smartie pants with gumboots on!) After taking some snaps, I went to the Doge's Palace, queued up for only about 10 mins (I'm sure it's terrible in summer) but then found out that the English tour was sold out for the day, so I bought a ticket for tomorrow instead. Then I tried to go inside St Mark's, but I couldn't either because of it being All Saints' Day. (The glimpse I got of the interior looked wonderful though!)

So instead I hopped on a vaporetto (very glad I bought the 72 hour pass for 22 euro, as a single ticket is 6 euro and what with coming from the airport etc. and the weather and the ease of getting lost in this place it has already paid for itself) and headed for the Accademia art gallery. Not sure whether I managed to see all of it, as I read my guide book afterwards and it said it was in 3 buildings, unless there was some sort of gangway I missed, I only saw one... Even if I did see all of the collection there was to see, a couple of rooms were closed off. But anyway, there was some great stuff in there, lots of artists that I know of but aren't terribly familiar with (all or most of them are Venetians) - Tintoretto, Titian, Bellini, Veronese, Tiepolo etc., and a couple of others I liked but hadn't really heard of before like Veneziano, one of the pioneers of Venetian art, and Carpaccio, another early artist of the Venetian school. The Bellinis were my favourites, I really like his use of colour and the sort of sense of cool detachment in his works. I was surprised to see only a couple of Canalettos, but while his stuff is pretty, I'm not much of a landscape fan anyway, so never mind.

By the end, museum fatigue was setting in and I was a bit tired and hungry. Not sure why touring around these sorts of places seems to make you more tired and especially achy than going on a long walk, I suppose it's because you're not really exercising, you're just standing. I aimed to head towards the Frari church, but ended up going the wrong way. Unless you're following the signs to the big tourist draws like St Mark's, it's simply impossible not to get lost in Venice. Even if you try to follow a canal, you keep running into dead ends or bridges you're forced to cross, and before you know it you're hopelessly disorientated in the little alleyways. And here's a tip, if you see somewhere to eat (outside the main tourist bits), go there! God knows when you'll come across anywhere again! At least in winter, restaurants and shops of any description seem in short supply outside of the tourist heart. After a lot of wandering around, I ended up having lunch in a Moldovan/Italian cafe, bizarre. I ordered goulash to start with, which I was pretty excited about, then what turned up was not my idea of goulash! Not meaty and hearty at all, it was a clear broth with occasional bits of meat and potatoes in it and a bit of spice. It was okay, but I was a bit disappointed. Then my pesto pasta was gluey :( Last time I go to a Moldovan/Italian restaurant! Ha ha.

More walking, more getting lost, more rain, one gelato, and I eventually found the Frari church. It was huge, imposing, and had some great works of art in it, especially some of the monumental tombs, including that of Canova, which was shaped like a pyramid, some lovely carved choir stalls, and a fantastic altarpiece of the Assumption by Titian.

The Scuola di San Rocco was just around the corner, so despite feeling that I might be a bit too tired for it, I decided to go in to see the wall and ceiling paintings by Tintoretto. The downstairs was just okay, but the upstairs was amazing, the whole ceiling was covered with carving, gilding, and above all, Tintoretto canvases. You even got mirrors to check them out in comfort. I got told off for taking photos, but it was worth it! Breathtaking! I also ducked into the Church of San Rocco since it was right there and free, which had some fantastic art as well, including 8 more Tintorettos. It is really quite amazing to see art like that just sitting in a church, and nice as well to see it in the context for which it was intended. Tintoretto must have been a busy boy...

I walked back to the hotel via the Rialto, which was fun. Totally touristy, but bustling and bursting with shops selling various trinkets in Venetian glass, masks, sweets, leather goods etc. I did a bit of shopping, I must confess, spending up (not very) large on some jewellery and a gorgeous clutch handbag. Not terribly practical right now, especially since my suitcase was already bursting at the seams (thankfully no weight restriction with Easyjet though), but my normal handbag is massive & the clutch is so elegant! Just the thing for sophisticated nights out! I want some Italian leather gloves as well, but they will have to be going cheap at this stage. Leather gloves are one thing I always long for, but never seem to have the money to splurge on. After this, I really need to be sensible, since I really am in desperate need of more winter clothing, then it's Christmas etc. etc. But I have budgeted for my trip, so no worries really...

Well, that takes me up to right now, taking a much-needed break back at the hotel after 8 hours out exploring Venice. I will probably grab something light for dinner and then prepare myself for a busy day tomorrow again - will be on the tour of the Doge's Palace and then look round St Mark's. That's all I have planned for the moment, perhaps in the afternoon I can do some cruising on the vaporetto, maybe fit in a trip to one of the islands or just wander around Venice some more.