Sunday Times - - READER'S WORLD -

LTHOUGH we had at­tended (un­know­ingly) the same nurs­ery school in Rose­bank, Jo­han­nes­burg, it was only af­ter 70 years that my wife and I even­tu­ally mar­ried. Three months later, we went on hon­ey­moon.

Af­ter book­ing a nine-night tour to the ro­man­tic ci­ties of Paris, Venice and Rome, we dis­cov­ered we had only bought fares and ac­com­mo­da­tion. Nei­ther trans­fers nor ac­tiv­i­ties were in­cluded.

So we bought the ho­tel trans­fers and started plan­ning our time in these beau­ti­ful places (even on hon­ey­moon, one can’t stay in your ho­tel room for nine days).

For­tu­nately, the In­ter­net is full of ad­vice, with won­der­ful things to see and do so we set about book­ing the ones that ap­pealed to us. Most in­cluded “queue-jump­ing”, which paid off hand­somely as we were wafted straight past long lines of peo­ple wait­ing to get in to the var­i­ous sights.

First was Paris. What an amaz­ing va­ri­ety awaited us. Our tour in­cluded a visit to the Mont­martre district, as well as the as­ton­ish­ing Lou­vre mu­seum. Emerg­ing from the fu­nic­u­lar on Mont­martre hill, we saw the fa­mous SacréCoeur Basil­ica of white mar­ble, and a panoramic view of the beau­ti­ful city.

We en­joyed walk­ing around this de­light­ful artists’ area and see­ing the huge va­ri­ety of sub­jects and styles they painted. We both love mu­sic so we were thrilled to find a piano bistro to quench our thirst with glasses of ice and Coke, ac­com­pa­nied by the ex­cel­lent play­ing of a lo­cal pi­anist. When he heard that An­abel (my wife) could also play, he asked her to per­form as well.

We did the es­sen­tial hop-on-hop-off bus tour, as well as a charm­ing Seine River cruise. We also saw the great Im­pres­sion­ist art galleries — Musée d’Or­say with our favourite Van Goghs, and the Musée de l’Orangerie, home to sev­eral of Monet’s enor­mous wa­ter-lily paint­ings. Fi­nally, we took a trip to the Palace of Ver­sailles.

Our mod­est Paris ho­tel was very nice. A bit small by SA stan­dards — but with a bidet. The con­ti­nen­tal break­fasts were tasty and ad­e­quate, es­pe­cially the fresh orange juice, cof­fee and crois­sants. There was enough too to take some for lunch. And we were close to the fab­u­lous Metro, to whisk us to the sights once we’d fig­ured out “le sys­tem” and learnt enough French to get the res­i­dents to speak to us in English (“je cherche le metro/toi­lettes/etc”)!

Then, off we flew to pic­turesque Venice, where at ev­ery twist of the wind­ing walk­ways an­other beau­ti­ful scene opened be­fore us. Af­ter the oblig­a­tory gon­dola ride (pur­chased at half price on the In­ter­net), we found a bril­liant busker, play­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic with his wet fin­ger­tips on a row of care­fully tuned wine glasses.

Of course, now we were in the land of the gelato, with gela­te­rias on ev­ery cor­ner — very hard to pass by. And in the evenings, we ate in great restau­rants full of char­ac­ter, with pas­tas and piz­zas to die for.

The beau­ti­ful St Mark’s Square was cov­ered in sea wa­ter, with thou­sands of tourists and us slip­ping off our shoes to pad­dle and cool our tired feet (we did walk a lot). And then on the va­poretto (wa­ter­bus) down the Grand Canal and across the sea to the glass blow­ers of Mu­rano. What ex­quis­ite pieces they make, far be­yond what we would ex­pect.

Af­ter three nights, we boarded an ex­press train to the Eter­nal City, Rome. Our driver took us safely to our ho­tel, point­ing out many fa­mous sights along the way — the Colos­seum, Fo­rum and basil­i­cas.

Again we saw the main sights from the top of the hop-on-hop-off bus and chose which ones to visit. The an­cient Ro­man ru­ins were amaz­ing, with some still in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, in­clud­ing as the Arch of Con­stan­tine, the great Em­peror who de­creed tol­er­ance for Chris­tian­ity.

We vis­ited the lovely Mon­u­ment of Vic­tor Em­manuel II, an awe­some ed­i­fice of white mar­ble built to com­mem­o­rate the king who united the var­i­ous states of Italy for the first time. Here we also saw the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier with an eter­nal flame, and the chang­ing of the two sol­diers who guard it.

At the in­cred­i­ble Trevi Foun­tain, we stood with hun­dreds of tourists gaz­ing rap­tur­ously at the turquoise wa­ters and the beau­ti­ful sculpted rocks and stat­ues.

And so, af­ter a glo­ri­ous hol­i­day, we were whisked to the air­port in a Mercedes to find that our Al­i­talia flight had been can­celled due to a pi­lots’ strike. But a trans­fer to Air France, with a few hours’ de­lay, saw us ar­rive in Paris in good time for the flight home. — © Bev Lawrence

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