Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Venice...it lacked that "loving feeling..."

Arriving to Venice on the train brought a bit a panic. I was watching out the window as the land flashed by when all of a sudden it was as if the train itself had turned into a boat and was now skidding across the water. Excitement was building as we pulled up to the mainland; I’d been waiting and dreaming of meeting this city since I was 13. I would finally see the canals, the gondolas, the romance of this unique city! The train pulled into the station and the people peeled themselves from the packed train onto the platform (I had spent the last 30 minutes sitting on the very front edge of a tiny seat with my pack behind me and my knees awkwardly placed between legs of the guy sitting across from me. We exchanged the “I’m sorry this is awkward,” look and I tried not to move for fear of kneeing something important :-S ). It wasn’t hard to find the water taxi I needed to cross the wide canal to get to Rialto, I just followed the masses. Going down the canal on the water taxi wasn’t romantic or exciting since I couldn’t see out the window, but it was cold and crowded. The first sight as we unloaded the taxi was the famous Rialto bridge. I’m sure you know this bridge, even if you don’t think you do. It’s probably one of the most photographed bridges in the world. The bridge and the buildings surrounding it were beautiful, exactly what I expected only… there was no magic. No spark, no “this is my bright and shining moment, all roads have been leading me here” feeling. After all this time, all the waiting and expectation, Venice…wasn’t my city. Luckily the let-down didn’t spoil the fact that it was a beautiful city, and I was still happy to finally be there. I wasn’t sure what time my room for the night would be ready so I decided to carry my pack (ridiculously heavy pack) with me to the Rialto market, which is most famous for it’s fresh fish portion. I had fun looking around all the fruit and veggie stands, listening to vendors try to sell to unsuspecting tourists, checking for the best prices on the best looking bananas for breakfast the next morning. The fish market was beautiful. All the fresh fish, and I knew they were fresh because on my walk over I saw people on boats in the canal unloading it onto palates and palate runners going back and forth from the canal to the market booths. I even saw one lively one jump from the table onto the ground. The market itself was lively with deliveries not only coming up from the canals but butchers and bakers coming with wagons of goods (and dead pigs) from their store fronts to set up their market stalls. I walked around and long as I could trying to waste time while not getting too far away from where my Bed and Breakfast was supposed to be. I took pictures and people-watched until I finally decided I could no longer take the extra 50-60lbs on my back. I bought what I had determined was the best looking bananas for a non-tourist price then headed off in the opposite direction to find my B&B. I wasn’t expecting much out of the B&B since it was only about 35 euro for the night, and I really wasn’t expecting that it would be inside of an apartment building that you had to buzz into, down three side streets only to be recognized by the Chinese fast food restaurant sign, like something you’d expect to see in the crowded streets of NYC. Alessandra, the inn keeper at Santa Sophia Bed and Breakfast let me leave my bag with her in the office and offered to put it in my room for me when it was ready. So I gladly left the pack with her and headed back out to undoubtedly get lost in the canal streets. I had only this one day so there was no time to waste. I head straight to San Marco’s Square…well at least I tried. The streets of Venice are truly charming and have a lot of character in their old bricks but they sure are hard to navigate. If you’re taking Venice by foot there are only certain spots that can get you across the canals, and these spots can be hard to find if you get one or two streets off your route. The city of Venice does try to help out it’s tourist by painting yellow arrows pointing you in the direction of the main attractions on the walls of main intersections, but a lot of the times the intersections would break off into three streets in one direction and two in the other, making it a tricky game of eenie meenie minne mo to figure out WHICH street to the right will lead me to the square? And to make the game even more fun, at times the painted directional words weren’t even yellow and mostly faded, leading one to ponder on whether or not a group of ornery teenagers had gotten bored one Saturday afternoon. My approach to finding San Marco’s square was just to follow the masses, and it worked. I made it there to find the whole thing underwater. At first it was just the far end and the main part of the square under water, but by the time I left the square there were store fronts that could not be accessed unless the patrons had goulashes (which were conveniently being sold at just about every corner). I don’t think I would like to own a store on that square; it would be expensive rent and over half the time you lose about 60% of your customers to high water conditions. Luckily Venice is used to the high water situation and is prepared with boardwalks around the square to allow you to access the Basilica. The boardwalks did force people to walk in two single file lines which made it interesting when someone wanted to stop to take a picture, I’m pretty sure one impatient tourist was about to push another trigger happy tourist off into the water if he didn’t move along a little faster. The inside of the Basilica was beautiful with the classiest gold-laden ceilings I have ever seen. Inside of the Basilica brought me face to face with another “small world” situation. An older man held the door open for me and I said “Grazie,” he replied to me, “You’re welcome, I’m sorry I’m not Italian.” I said “It’s okay because neither am I.” So then he asked me where I was from, and since he was an old man with his grandkids I figured it was okay to tell the truth. I told him Missouri and his eyes lit up. He was from New Jersey but had gone to school at…are you ready for this one?....MIZZOU! Everybody sing with me now, “Iiit’s a small world aaaafter all…” Bizzare. After the Basilica I wondered around the stores trying to find my ring for Italy. I looked at store after store of Murano glass products hoping to find a ring that wasn’t big and gaudy…didn’t happen. I did however find a store that was packed with beautiful, and petite, rings made in Italy in all colors of the rainbow. The old man who owned the store was more than happy to help me find one that was perfect, in fact, he helped me find two that were prefect and when I couldn’t decide on one he gave me a huge discount if I bought both of them, so I figured it was justified to buy two rings for Italy since I had stayed there the longest out of my trip, and really it had felt like home to me. I put on both rings as soon as I left and never could decide which one I like better. When I was searching for rings I also passed and umptine amount of Venetian mask stores. Which I knew that there was such as thing as Venetian masks, and I had always been fascinated by the old masquerade balls but had never put two and two together until now. These masks (the real ones, not the ones sold in the souvenir stands) were individual pieces of art. Each mask was hand cut and formed and then the details were put on by hand. Along with these masks the storefronts would display beautifully ornate gowns that were used for their Carnival celebration in February, which is much like our Mardi Gras. I decided to head towards my next destination, the Arsenal, where there supposed to be large lion statues that I wanted to take pictures of for my dad. I made my way to the coast and began walking, stopping at beautiful Pontes along the way to take pictures. I eventually made it to the Arsenal but the “large” lions were drastically exaggerated. They were tiny, and honestly not really worth the walk over there. I still took my pictures but turned around and headed back shortly after. On the way back I had to stop to get something to make me warm, I was freezing to death from the blowing wind that had a mist of either ocean water or rain. I stopped in a grocery store to buy a tiny bottle of my favorite Venetian drink, Prosecco, and my favorite Italian treat, Chupa Chup. The Prosecco worked to warm up my inside a little but just made my hands even colder. So I decided if I wasn’t going to beat the cold, then I should just give in and join it by enjoying my absolutely favorite Italian indulgence, gelato. I found a gelato shop off the main path and stopped in with only the intentions of sampling but was won over when I was served gelato right off the gelato-making machine. The crème caramel was the flavor of choice for my last real Italian gelato. I licked on my delicious creaminess on my way back to the room. I had spend the entire morning and most of the afternoon walking around and now I was tired. I rested for a bit and refreshed my outfit, putting on something a bit nicer for my planned fish dinner, then asked Alessandra for recommendations on good places to eat. She described to me a place that had great prices and was popular with locals but that was pretty hard to find, so I set out on a search to locate it so I would know where it was when it came time for dinner. I followed her directions, but still got lost several times. I was thrown off by a walkway that was covered and under construction but eventually realized it’s where I was supposed to go. The walkway lead me to a sketchy looking part of Venice and had the restaurant not been a few left turns later, I would’ve turned around. In the end of it all, the “good” prices did not translate to my budget and I decided I’d have to settle for something else. Plus the place looked…dirty. I found my way back to a nicer part of town then tried to head for Campo Santa Maria where I had read in my tourist book that you could watch the sunset from a top of a church there. I, obviously, got lost and met the sunset on the coastline, I hurried ahead to the church but couldn’t figure out how to get up to the top, so I hurried back to the coastline and enjoyed the sunset from a Ponte (bridge). After sunset it was the hour of the spritz, and since this was my official last night in Italy, I was obliged to partake. :) However, in route to a place with good atmosphere and tasty spritz I passed a man who seemed to be lost asking an Italian woman something in English. I decided to play good Samaritan and stop to help translate. I asked if I could help and the Italian woman looked molto felice (very happy) to be relieved of the lost stranger she couldn’t understand. The man, Scott, was looking for a hotel, just any hotel. So we walked a little ways then stopped a priest and I asked in Italian where the closest hotel was. He lead us to a nice boutique hotel just around the corner. At this point my plan was still to drop off Scott then head off to have a spritz and dinner on my own, but when I told Scott of my plans and that I wanted a fish dinner but wasn’t sure if it would be in my budget, he offered to buy me dinner as a thank you for helping. How could I say no? So I waited in the lobby with the receptionist while Scott freshened up. I got another dinner suggestion from the receptionist and some suggestions on where to find a good spritz as well. When Scott was ready we headed towards an area that was really populated with bars and restaurants and found a place to have a spritz. This was exciting for me because Scott had no idea what it was, so I was getting to introduce one of my favorite things of Italy to a newcomer! Scott loved the spritz, so much so actually that we had to try them at 4 different bars then compare to decide who had the best one. We spent our spritz time chatting about our lives. Scott is a Canadian living in San Diego and right now is traveling the world, on no budget and no time limit, allowing himself time to write his screenplay. He had great stories about all the people he had met and connections he had made. He wouldn’t tell me anything about his movie, very hush hush, but gave me his card so I would know when it came out that it was his. At the last bar we asked for another suggestion for dinner. I asked in Italian (because they are more likely to give you a real, better, suggestion if you speak their language) for the best non-touristy fish restaurant. He gave us a name and we wondered off into the streets of Venice in hopes of finding it with directions to the effect of “At Ponte A don’t follow the road but go straight, there will be a piazza at the end of a side road, the restaurant will be in the corner, tell Franco that you spoke with Alessandro at Bernies and they’ll let you in.” So amazingly enough, we managed to find the place with the help of a few locals, but it wasn’t open. Defeated and knowing the other suggested restaurants were too far away we went back to a Trattoria that was full to the brim, assuming it was be delicious if it was that busy. We were lucky enough to get right in but we were in the corner smushed to the wall. The food was worth it though. We shared a bottle of Prosecco and a seafood appetizer plate. For our main course we had clams and pasta noodles with a sauce that was made from the ink of squids! It was completely a purply black color. For dessert we shared a tiramisu, which was honestly sub-par (once again Nonna’s in Springfield beats out the classic Italian…must’ve been those amazing pastry chefs at Nonna’s! ;-) ). After dinner we made our way back towards the Rialto bridge area so I could be close to my B&B then stopped at one last place for the last drink of the night. We happened upon one of those places that you can write on the wall, so I was lucky enough to leave my signature in Venice forever. Well, at least until they paint the walls, and that’s good enough for me. Scott walked me back to my B&B and we parted ways. Who knows if he went home or went back out, but I was done for the night.

The next morning I drug myself out of bed at 7am to shower and get ready to make a long walk to Piazza Roma in order to catch my bus to the airport then to take the plane from Italy to Barcelona, Spain. I was having a rough time finding Piazza Roma. I had to stop several times to ask people, couldn’t find the little yellow arrows, and when I finally found the area I only had 10 minutes to get to the bus before it left. When someone told me that the bus station was on the other end of the long stretch and across the canal, I started to jog-walk, running at this point was out of the question…my pack seemed particularly heavy and my head was pounding (let’s call a goat a goat here people, I was huuungover). I made it to the ticket station 5 minutes before my schedule said the bus left, but when I got to the office there was no one there! How could no one be there 5 minutes before the bus leaves? So I started to freak out because according to my schedule the next bus didn’t leave for another hour and with travel time I would miss my flight. When the person finally showed up right as the bus was supposed to be leaving I asked him if I could still buy a ticket for the bus leaving now. He informed me that there was no bus that left on the hour. I showed him my schedule and my heart sank a little when he told me it was old. He handed me a new schedule and I calmed down a little seeing that the next bus left in just 15 minutes. So I would still make my flight. I bought my ticket then wasted some time buying some candy and waiting by right by the bus so there was no way it could leave without me. At the airport the line for checking into our flight was ridiculously long. Of course on a day that I felt like that it figures the line would be so long. It got even worse on the airplane. I have never been so uncomfortable or sick feeling in my life as when I was hungover on that plane ride. Learn from my mistake, DO NOT put yourself in that situation because all you really want at that point is someone to push you out of the plane. Feeling horrible did keep my mind off the fact that this might be the last time I see my beloved Italy. I’ve never seen a more lovely sight than Venice from the air.

1 comment:

  1. Rachel, Hello it's Scott here, the Canadian Living in San Diego (OK La Jolla!).

    To finish off the question, "let's call a goat a goat here" I left you in front of your B & B and promtly got lost, I mean come on those winding streets with no names, and my map did not read so well that late at night....but all with a smile as i really had fun taste testing Venice with U.

    I am glad no one pushed you from the plane! I too was hurting. I finally got home at 3:30 in the morning and as soon as I got in it started raining like mad. So glad I got in before the downpour.

    It was fun learning about wine,... thanks for teaching me about Spritzer's and Prosecco... my body felt like a truck hit it the next morning.... : ('

    Thank you for taking the time to help me find a great place to stay. I ended up staying there 4 nights, then off to Pisa.

    You are avery special person, full of passion for life... and yes wine!!

    If you get a chance shoot me an email as it would be great to catch up! Scott@lajollafilm.com

    Bye for now your Canadian winger Scott