Friday, July 22, 2011

Notes from my travels: Venice is a journey, not a destination

Venice. The city filled with lovers floating down canals as serenades fill the night air. A magical city. A city like none other.  Something  I learned about Venice while there: This city is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the process.

 A lot of places are much different in real life than in movies and pictures; however, I must say that Venice truly exceeds all expectations. We had to take a “water taxi” from the airport, and as we approached the city, I felt like we were coming upon a movie set. The Renaissance-style churches and towers appeared on the horizon and gave John and I that surreal, “I-can’t-believe-I’m-here” feeling. 

Once we got off the boat (with our heavy suitcases) now the challenge began: finding our hotel for the night. Well, we couldn’t hail a taxi because there are no cars. We couldn’t use the elevators or escalators over the many archways and bridges, because there were only concrete steps. My advice: pack lightly or find a nice husband. :) 

The streets were narrow alleyways, filled with lost tourists, enticing bakeries and gelaterias, and pigeons. The maps were useless because the alleyways never seemed to match the name on the map; and even if they did, one labyrinth flowed into the next, connected by beautiful bridges and canals. The canals were helpful navigation devices; if we hit water, we were going the wrong way. We were rats in a maze, trying to find our hotel, and it really felt like someone kept moving our cheese.

 After wandering around and seemingly passing the same gelaterias….the same lion-headed door knockers….and the same umbrella tables by the canal, I wanted to collapse. No sleep for 36 hours makes a person wandering through concrete mazes even more insane than usual. Finally defeated, we asked someone and they pointed to a wooden door, only 20 yards before us. How many times have we passed this same door? Oh well, it didn’t matter now. We were here, and the little hotel was truly what anyone would picture a hotel in Venice to look like.

 It was a vintagey, cherry paned, Venetian styled place with a friendly staff; the window from our bedroom looked right out into the canal and passing gondolas. 

We had dinner that night at a table next to a canal. As you can imagine, everything in Venice is squeezed into every available space. Our table was pushed near another couples table, who we actually struck up a conversation with. They were from Norway, vacationing for several weeks on a rented houseboat with some friends. They shared stories (and even their wine) as we enjoyed our first Italian dining experience.

 Later that night, we traipsed around the city, taking in St. Marks Square. We shared pistachio and tiramisu gelato while being serenaded by a beautiful orchestra. The pigeons flew around; the cool evening breeze came in off the water; and water surrounded our feet….wait…what?!! Yes, it’s true. Many people say Venice is sinking ( you better visit soon!) and while we were standing in the square, water was leaking through the concrete vents, filling the area around us. I’m not sure if this floods every night, but it definitely was turning into a small pond.

 We decided to get out of the water and on it by taking a night ride down the Grand Canal, which is the major canal that runs through the city. Everything all lit up at night looked simply enchanting.

 All we needed now to complete the Venice experience was to get lost again. And we did. However, wandering aimlessly in circles in alleyways sounds more dangerous than it is in this city. There is no crime because really, where would a criminal escape to??? There aren’t many people out and about after midnight, but every time we met a local, we provided them their entertainment for the night by trying to direct the dumb lost American tourists to their hotel. (especially this one table of Italian men, who took a break from their drink and cigarettes to banter over which way the lost tourists should go, ripping the map back and forth between them). After an hour (or more) of wandering the rat maze in the dark, I wanted to cry.  If John wasn’t with me, I probably would of found a little corner and cuddled up there until sunrise. In one last-ditch attempt to find our place, we asked a man smoking outside his apartment. He looked at us funny and pointed directly in front of us. Ha! There it was! Right there. We probably circled it several time but it looked different because it was all closed up for the night.

 I collapsed in my bed, exhausted and dizzy. However, if I have to get lost, there is no better place to do so! Venice is truly a marvelously, confusing city…one that I’d get lost in again.