A trip up London's Shard and a reminder to express

London's Shard

As a location independent, digital nomad, or whatever your current term du jour is, its amazing how often i just end up sitting around my flat working or staring into space (productive.) 

Today however, I'm taking my mother out for lunch at a restaurant at the top of The Shard. One of London's tallest buildings. And because - hey! as a freelance writer I can now work from anywhere, I decide to get there early and spend a couple of hours working from a cafe with great views.

I've seen Aqua, the restaurant where we'll be having lunch, on Masterchef. It's on the 31st floor of The Shard, London's tallest skyscraper (until the next one that is.) 

All steel and glass and modern chandeliers, leather seats and sleek walnut bar tops -  it's as masculine a restaurant as you'd expect to find in a big, 1000 ft high glass and steel erection.

Still, I have a soft spot for this particular big, shiny building. The last thing i did before I left London to travel for a year and a half was to persuade a friend to take me "up the Shard" whilst it was still under construction. Floor 55 didn't exist and decked out in high  vis jackets and hard hats we had to get into a metal hoist (cage type lift) on the outside of the scaffolding to go up the final few floors. 

The very tip of the building has been designed with shards of glass sticking out of it, when i last visited me and my friend stood at the very top buffeted by wind with nothing but a small chain link fence keeping us from flying off the edge. 

Now that the building is cpmplete and open to the public its a more civilised affair. They have viewing galleries and posh restaurants like Aqua.

I grab a window seat and obviously tweet the view and then start working (today  - press releases on solar energy.) I get moved. Apparently no one can sit in all these empty spaces because they are getting ready for afternoon tea. It doesn't bother me too much as i move to another comfy seat.

Prices are so extortionately high in London these days it almost makes a kind of peverse sense - if you are going to pay over £3 for a coffee in your local hipster coffee shop why not come to a fine dining restaurant with fabulous views instead for your latte. 

When my mother arrives we are seated, sadly not quite up against the glass (and they have a deeply annoying policy of refusing to allow you to move tables if those with a better view become available.) We eat the beets salad followed by river trout with saffron rice and raisins. Mine is full of bones. This is my usual experience of trout so i sigh and get on with it. Halfway through i realise my mother only has one bone and i'm still disseecting the bloody thing.

I toy with the idea of telling them but talk myself out of it. I've aleady come across as a tricky customer by asking to change tables which they refused, so they'll probably say no to this. However the waitress sees i'm struggling and checks everythings ok. I explain its hard to eat and she takes it back and comes out a short while later with a new fillet completely bone free. Of course, this is exactly what should happen, we are in a high class establishment after all.

"Next time, tell us your feelings, so that you don't have to suffer..." she says sympathetically. 

It's a peculiarly Briitsh form of passive aggressive politeness, this suffering in silence "pretending everything's ok when its not."

It's strange because on the road - i'm being tested and learning all the time on how to speak up, assert my needs and protect myself.  But not for the first time i think about how my home environment really doesn't bring out the best in me. My naturally introverted and self reflective ways combined with the natural froideur of the national temperament make me withdraw, over analyise and I become even less likely to speak up than usual. And not for the first time  i think what would really do me the world of good, would be to get out of my head, into my body and just to become a littlbe bit more...well Brazilian about things. 

So its decided. Next on the bucket list... South America revisited.








How to have a romantic city break in Venice

I inform my friend with glee that i'm in Venice for four days.

"Oh who are you there with, your father?"

Euuuh no, funnily enough. Not my father. There are some places you can do by yourself, there are some places you can go with your parents and there are some places you need to go with a beau. Venice is one of those places. Paris is another, and having spent a month moping around Argentina bursting into tears in San Telmo at the sound of a street musician playing Ave Maria, Buenos Aires is one too.

Some cities were made to be shared.

Some cities were designed to be walked hand in hand.

I have been waiting to come to Venice for literally YEARS but have been refusing to go until a man takes me. Hence on arrival I sigh:

"I can't believe i've never been here before, "


Oh I know, spot the self entitled rich white woman with her first class problems. The agony and the pain, I had to wait until I was 38 and three quarters before a man whisked me away for a romantic city break. I can hear your hearts collectively crack for me.

Live the Cliche We embrace every single romantic cliche you can possibly imagine (as well as each other.) It's not cheap. But you are having a romantic city break in Venice. You don't have to do these things but if you can afford to, well then you really really should.

Arrive by Private Speedboat We ignore the public boats crammed with civilians (as Liz Hurley might say) and the road transport from the airport and take a private speedboat to our hotel. There is no more fabulous way to arrive and you can pretend you're James Bond. You can hire one from the airport and they will take you directly to your hotel. Cost around 70 to 100 euros.

Drink Bellinis The Bellini was invented in Venice, therefore it would clearly be exceptionally rude not to consume it whenever possible. Tie in your quaffing of pureed white peach and Prosecco (Italian sparkling white wine) with some of the more favoured landmarks of the city and combine sight seeing and getting squiffy in one. What better way to see a city. Harry's Bar  is where the Bellinni was invented by owner Cipriani sometime in 1948. It's delicate blush pink colour reminded him of a saint's toga in a painting by Giovanni Bellinni and thus a landmark cocktail was born. Hen nights would never be the same again.

The bar - once a haunt for famous patrons such as Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles is located close to the water's edge near Saint Mark's square. The room is simply done with white linen table clothes and is pretty unassuming. The Bellinis and Martinis come in classy (or cheap depending on your point of view) short and long tumblers rather than elegant flutes and they add a good ten euros to the asking price to experience a little bit of their history. At 18 euros a drink you may want to tick this place off the bucket list or think it's a total rip off and go drink someplace cheaper. In which case...

Hotel Flora What more authentic Italian experience that sipping your cocktail in the little courtyard garden of a hotel, rambling with vines and dripping with the lavender haze of wisteria. We chose Hotel Flora owned and run by the same family since the 1960s, it's a beautiful, art noveau- ish hotel with traditional Venetian courtyard garden complete with stone statues and gushing fountain, and is situated just behind San Marco square. Speaking of which...


San Marco Square You can't come to Venice and not take a stroll through the square. We stop at one of the many restaurants flanking the sides to drink (make mine a Bellini) and listen to the live music. However if you've already had your fill of cocktails then you can always do what the flanks of tourists behind us did and just stand behind the seating area and listen to the live music for free.

Go to the Opera. I studied classical music and as a teenager spent my formative years watching Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and Cher in Moonstruck dabbing back the tears at the opera. What better place to experience live opera than Italy. We go to the Musica a Palazzo situated on the left bank of the Grand canal to see Verdi's La Traviata; a tale of doomed love between Violetta the high class courtesan and her courtly suitor Alfredo. The Palazza is a stately 14th century Venetian/Gothic Italian palace that has been home to bishops, cardinals and two Doges - even a saint born within it's very rooms. The beautiful faded glamour of it's interior features 12th century Bizantine friezes and it is hung with 18th century oil paintings as well as showcasing some wonderful paint work on the ceilings and walls of the rooms. Little candles light up the staircase in the courtyard as we enter. The rooms are designed so you can sit in the audience but a few chairs are scattered to the sides of the set so that if you choose (as we do) you can sit practically on top of the performers (and according to my partner - get eyed up by the second violinist on the left.) The opera singer playing Violetta is extraordinary, and up close we can watch the fall and rise of her milky cleavage too. Her voice is full and rich with incredible range. At the end of the famous toast in the first act "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" I fully expect her glass of Prosecco to shatter as she raises it to the audience. For the second act we move to a smaller room where I snuggle down beside the pianist and yes like Julia Roberts and Cher in Moon struck I found myself dabbing the tears away even without understanding a word of Italian. Tickets were purchased through the hotel and cost between 60 and 70 euros.

Ride in a Gondola There are some things you just have to do in Venice and riding in a gondola is one of them. It costs 40 euros each for a 40 minute tour but really, when and where else are you going to go for a gondola ride?? I also love the fact that they all wear stripey shirts and boaters - it makes me indescribably happy. There is even an option for them to serenade you. We make do with a talking tour. "eeeeeeeh i like a this citeeeeeeee" says our Gondolier. "eeees my favourite thing to know...for fact that Marco Polo - he bring the noodle from China and that is why we have a the spaghettiiiiiiii" It's an incredibly peaceful and relaxing way to while away the best part of an hour. Do it at the start of your trip then the Gondolier can also point out some beautiful buildings to see and restaurants to try.

And Finally Some Tips: 

Don't go on a Tuesday (or check opening times at least)

I'm a very lazy tourist, in fact i'm just as happy seeing a place by wandering around eating and drinking as I am at doing sights. This is just as well -because we decided to save the cultural part of the trip until our last day and do the famous Guggenheim museum and also a Selgado photographic exhibition for the Tuesday. Both places were shut on a tuesday. It's not clear whether this is the case for all venues - certainly the more popular ones seemed open but its worth doing some proper research and planning before hand (something I'm terrible at.)

Cover Up: I was banned entry on one or more of the large churches due to inappropriate attire - shameful hussy that I am. I was used to carrying trousers and sleeves for the temples of South East Asia however wasn't prepared for the conservative dress code of these Catholic institutions. So make sure you have a sleeves for your shoulders and wear jeans or shorts/skirt that covers the knees.

And Enjoy: Perhaps once something becomes a cliche - it's almost like we have to react against it. Most people i've spoken to about Venice can't help following it up with a little dig: "Oh Venice it is beautiful but the gondolas are such a rip off"

"Aaah Venice such a shame about the graffiti"

"Oooh Venice lucky you, but the smell from that canal..."

So i’m nothing but pleasantly delighted by this prettiest of cities. Standing on the Rialto bridge leaning on the worn wood over which thousands of hands have touched, staring out over the water at the far off dome of the Santa Maria Della Salute it really could be any century.

There is no Mcdonalds, no Starbucks and no incessant hum of the motorcar.

Every corner we turn is another picture perfect view of bridges arcing over the deep jewel like glow of the canal, lit up by the early spring sunshine and framed by the crumbling facade of buildings in pastels: peach walls and lazily slung laundry sit side by side with wrought iron balconies, crumbling pink facades and wooden shutters splintered with age. This city knows how to do shabby chic and she’s a girl that looks good from every angle.

And if you do all that and don’t have a romantic and fabulous time, well then maybe it’s time to rethink the company you keep...