It’s a cold winter’s day in the Piazza San Marco. I am posing for a photograph with a pigeon sitting on my head. The square is filled with people, but the bustling crowds of summer are absent. My husband and I have just had a wonderful day exploring all the little alleys of this historic city and my backpack is bulging with trinkets, glassware and watercolour paintings, the distinct smell of the fish market still lingering on my taste buds. Afterwards, we catch a bus – in Venice that means a small ferry – and make our way to Murano, a little island famous for its glassware. We arrive too late for a glassblowing demonstration, but we wander from shop to shop, staring and coveting the beautiful glass chandeliers, animal figurines and vases that are too expensive and fragile to take home with us. I buy my mother glass jewellery for Christmas and we drink hot chocolate with the locals in a small bistro, before taking the bus back to Venice and the most beautiful view of the Ponta Rialto as the sun sets over the water.
The view from the top of the Eye of London is spectacular! My husband and I compete against each other, trying to point out the famous landmarks first. Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Millennium Dome, the river Thames, Westminster Cathedral, Tower Bridge – there are too many to name. It takes an hour to make a full circuit in the Eye, but it is an hour well spent. Later that night we sit with our backs against the statue of a lion in Trafalgar Square, watching the vibrant night life go past. We are dressed in our finest eveningwear, songs from the Phantom of the Opera we have just watched at the West End still playing on my internal soundtrack.
I stand on tiptoes, trying to squeeze past the throng of tourists to get a glimpse of the world-famous Mona Lisa. Miraculously, the blonde giant and the group of camera-happy tourists decide to move on and suddenly Leonardo’s lady is right in front of me. Encased in a thick layer of glass, she smiles her enigmatic smile at me for almost a minute before the flow of people forces me to move on. Feet sore from walking all day, I slump down on a bench in the Louvre. My mother comes and sits next to me and together we watch in amusement as my father tries to get directions to the Venus de Milo – his pronunciation reminding me more of the warm drink than the renowned statue of the Roman goddess. What follows is an animated conversation in English, French and Afrikaans, the guide gesturing wildly and my father pointing to the museum map in frustration. Finally, my father returns with a sheepish grin on his face. He smiles and says: “She’s just round the corner, we’ve passed her twice already. And David is not in the Louvre. He’s in Florence.”