Pages Navigation Menu

Four Days in Venice, Italy

Arriving in Venice

 

The train pulls into the station and I arrive in one of the world’s most visited cities — Venice, Italy.  It’s a madhouse of people coming and going.  How far I am now from the solitary corn fields of Hungary!

 

From the ferry

The Grand Canal of Venice

 

A ferry takes me to the district of San Marco, the oldest and most popular district in Venice.  The vessel reeks of perfume and is loaded with weary travelers with bags as big as refrigerators.  Exotic languages come from every direction.  Children cry and squirm.  We move slowly through the wide Grand Canal making regular stops.

 

Venice is made of 118 submerged islands within a lagoon.  Throughout the centuries, buildings have been constructed atop wooden pilings driven into the sand and clay.  Because the wood is completely submerged in salt water, and oxygen is lacking, the wood does not decay, and in fact, becomes petrified over time due to the mineral-rich water.  This “floating city” is a wonder to behold in person.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

 

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

 

Seeing Venice for the first time, I am astonished by how close the water is to the level of the promenade.  It seems like a penny tossed into the Grand Canal would cause the city to flood.  Yes, Venice is sinking.  But the oceans are rising faster than it’s sinking.  The crisis is real, with regular flooding becoming a fact of life.

 

The crowd spills out of the ferry and onto the promenade where masked women in Victorian dresses entice tourists to give up money for a photo.  African street vendors sell sunglasses and handbags while looking over their shoulders for the law.  Island booths sell all kinds of schlock.  Buyers crowd around them like sperm trying to fertilize an egg.

 

Naturally, the directions to the hostel have no correlation to anything I see.  I am lost again.  But this time on a scorching hot day in a sea of people.  Frustrated, I approach a handsome host standing on the terrace of an empty waterfront restaurant.  His looks suggest he just stepped out of a cologne ad.  “May I get a coffee please?”  In response, he sneers — seriously y’all — sneers!  Although the restaurant is empty, he tells me that I am in a restaurant, not a bar.  Thank you for the education Fabio.  Now can I sit and have a coffee in your empty restaurant?  He does me a big favor by letting me sit, bringing me a cappuccino and charging an exorbitant five euros for it.  I ask him where I might find the mystery street which leads to my hostel.  He points down the promenade. “Over three bridges.” Welcome to Venice.

 

Day 2 in Venice: Hostel Hell and A Forbidden Picnic

 

I’m in a hostel room with four other people.  Two return at 2 AM to open and shut the squeaky door ten times, unpack and repack their bags, seemingly do a square dance on the hardwood floor and giggle all the while, before leaving the room of three, now awake, people.  Infuriated, I can’t sleep again until 3:30 AM and guess who arrives back at 4 AM?  More giggling.  Must you really perform your entire noisy-crinkly-bag nightly beauty routine on your flawless 20-year-old, tight-as-a-drum, dewy-fresh skin at 4 AM?!  I fantasize about revenge.  Hostels sometimes really stink.

 

Crowds make me feel like this.

Venice’s crowds and bad hostel roomies made me feel like this.

 

The morning air is thick and wet.  In the kitchen, I prepare myself a coffee and speak with a solo-traveling Chinese girl who is currently studying in Italy.  “I made a big mistake coming here,” she says.  Her Italian schoolmates have expressed their disdain for her race.  To her face.  “They don’t like me.  They say we steal jobs because Chinese people will work a lot for little money.”  She wishes she had gone elsewhere.  Sounds familiar except in America it’s a different cast.

 

I venture out, trying this time to get lost.  Wherever the tourist stream goes, I go the opposite way.  Each narrow street and alleyway bestows a visual gift of some kind; a hidden statue, a cat in a window, a doorknocker made of bronze, the floral perfume of freshly washed laundry overhead.  A man walking ahead of me is whistling.  His song sounds lonely in the echo chamber of this narrow passageway.  The melancholy voice of Etta James comes from a lace-lined open window.  On the next block, the music of one of Venice’s own, Vivaldi, fills the passageway with romance.

 

My budget lunch.

My illegal budget lunch.  Laura’s my name, crime is my game.

 

The locals don’t return smiles.  And I don’t blame them.  It must be hell to live in this city with major street arteries always clogged and your very being like a living exhibit.  Between increased flooding, the cost of maintaining an ancient home in a sinking city and the tourist congestion, many locals have left, leaving the city on track to become more of a Disneyland and less of a living city.  It’s estimated that only 60,000 Venetians still live in the city of Venice — a marked decline from 120,000 residents in 1980.

 

After walking for hours and hours I buy groceries for a picnic as I’ve already busted my daily budget just by sleeping not sleeping in my 50 euro/night hostel bed.  Desperate for a place to sit, I discover one of the oddities of the city — a prohibition against sitting down.  I search and search for a bench to no avail.  Finally, seeing an open courtyard I venture in.  Sitting on the stout marble railing I unpack my lunch of local blue cheese, crackers, water and a salad.  With first cracker midway to my mouth, a man approaches and asks me if I am staying at the hostel which shares the courtyard wall.  “No,” I say, stuffing my piehole with the cracker hastily.  “You better ask for permission.”  I ignore him, feeling like a rebel without a cause for having the audacity to sit and (gasp) eat in a courtyard open to a public street.  I later find out that Venice has a “no picnic” law to require visitors to eat in restaurants.  And it is enforced.  Don’t you dare sit on a staircase and eat that panini, you cheapskate.

 

Sexy priest calendar!

Just in case you’ve been looking for a calendar featuring 12 months of sexy priests, Venice has got you covered.  I swear there is something for everyone.

 

In addition to a lack of benches, I notice a lack of garbage cans.  By afternoon the few garbage cans are overflowing, bags of garbage pile up on narrow streets littered with cigarette butts and plastic bottles.  It’s an absolute wonder that each morning the streets are clean again when one considers the logistical challenge of moving the garbage of 60,000 daily visitors out via small boats and canals every day.

 

I end up on a main tourist artery and am swept away with the current.  It’s a teeming mass of slow-walkers, shopping-bag carriers, diamond-wearers and selfie-takers which elevates my blood pressure instantly.  If one more person stops abruptly on a street wide enough for one, God help me not to grab their selfie-stick and use it in a violent manner.  Really, the crowds are ugly.  I certainly understand how one could detest this Venice.  The streets are filled way beyond the capacity for enjoyment.

 

Get off these main streets, unless you like the feeling of someone’s hot breath on the back of your neck, as you move like a cow in a chute towards Piazza San Marco.  Maybe that’s your thing.  I don’t judge.

 

Day 3 in Venice: St. Mark’s Basilica, the Gaze of a Gondolier and a Night Walk

 

I wake to rain, thunder and lightning and enough warm humidity to steam vegetables.

 

The smell of sewage, noticeably absent on previous days, is pungent today.  Most of Venice’s raw sewage flows directly into the lagoon and is carried away with tides.  Perhaps today, the tide was not enough.

 

Graffiti

Venice Graffiti

 

I arrive at St. Mark’s Basilica at opening time, hoping for fewer visitors but am dismayed to see a line snaking through the plaza.  The line moves forward briskly though, and again feeling like cattle, the mass moves as one through the church within rope barricades with diversions to select areas costing money.  I inch along, trying to avoid stepping on the person in front of me while my neck cranes upward towards the glittering golden mosaics.  The fine-tiled floor of this nearly thousand-year-old cathedral is warped and undulating.  Nearly out of the church, and on elevated platforms, I see water pouring around a stone column already eroded and pocked by a millennium.  How long can these pillars stand under these watery conditions?

 

Moving away from the plaza, one is inundated with shops full of “Venetian” bric-a-brac.  Masquerade masks, magnets, Murano glass, leather bags and shoes, and dreadful selfie-sticks seem to be the hot items.

 

Gondolier in Venice

Gondolier in Venice.  This is not the man I caught eyes with.  My gondolier was plump and about 100 years old.  But I take what I can get.

 

Standing on one of Venice’s bridges, I catch eyes with a gondolier.  He smiles.  I smile.  His gaze is fixed on me despite navigating towards a low bridge with six Chinese people in his care.  Under the bridge he goes.  Then he turns back and we catch eyes again.  I smile.  Goodbye, my striped-shirted love.  Thanks for the moment.  I saw you.  You saw me.  As a solo traveler, sometimes acknowledgment that I actually exist is all that is needed.

 

I am searching for the Bridge of Sighs — the first dream destination ever written on my dream travel list.  At the age of ten, I watched a cheesy movie called A Little Romance — a love story set in Venice which culminated with a kiss in a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs (which according to legend will seal the love forever).  At 10 years old, I sincerely asked my mother if I could travel to Venice with my best friend, also 10.  Just the two of us.  She replied with a reasonable “no”.  After 35 years, it’s time to finally cross the Bridge of Sighs off my list.  If only I could find it.

 

I stop for a pizza and ask the Indian owner to show me the bridge on my map.  His directions are as mediocre as his pizza and send me in the completely wrong direction.  After eight hours of walking aimlessly, I give up, determined to find it tomorrow.

 

Back at the hostel, I am resting when Domingo appears as my new roommate.  Forty-five years old and personable, I quickly discover that he’s from southern Spain and an art teacher with a newly broken heart, although our communication is strained by his English and my poor Spanish.  He asks when my holiday is over and I explain I don’t know.  The usual confused/sad face appears.  This is a complicated discussion made more difficult by a language barrier.

 

Reflections in flooded St. Mark's Piazza

Reflections in flooded St. Mark’s Piazza

 

Soon, Sebastian, from Chile arrives for the night.  He speaks English very well which makes him the translator for the remainder of the day.  Sebastian is a psychologist on a two-month holiday and he and Domingo hit it off instantly, speaking Spanish so rapidly I can’t understand a word.  They ask me if I would like to join them for a walk.  Yes indeedy.

 

As we walk the streets, Domingo stops at every corner to admire the view.  He is like a child in his wonder.  An accordion player delivers “Que Sera, Sera” for probably the 50,000 time.  How the street entertainers must hate that song!  Whatever will be, will be.

 

Within moments, we are in front of the Bridge of Sighs, which I had obliviously walked past at least three times in previous days.  There it is!  At this moment, I wish I am not solo.  I wish I was going under that bridge with the person I love.  But that would be so cliché.  I wish I could be so cliché.

 

It seems we walk everywhere, finally stopping for pizza and a shared bottle of bluish-red Lambrusco wine, which tastes as sweet and tangy as blueberry juice.  Venice by night is much more pleasant than by day.  Fewer people, cooler temperatures and the romance of reflected lights on the watery city.  It’s just gorgeous!

 

Back in the hostel, lying in bed, my feet ache with fatigue, but I’m thankful for the time spent with Sebastian and Domingo.  They were great company and quelled a loneliness I didn’t realize I was feeling until I stopped feeling it.

 

Day 4 in Venice: A Reunion and Waiting in St. Mark’s Square for a Hand to Hold

 

Produce market

Red hot peppers at the Rialto produce market.

 

Senja from the European Peace Walk has arrived in Venice and I meet her for a coffee.  Since we parted, she traveled to Croatia’s coast and her report leaves me wanting to explore Croatia more than ever.  We part with a hug and the possibility of reuniting for a long walk in the future.

 

I have a date to meet Sebastian and Domingo in Piazza San Marco at 1 PM but upon arriving there, in the half-flooded square loaded with thousands of tourists, I realize that finding them is a long-shot.  The ancient clock strikes.  I stand tall in the center of the square, watching people, and waiting.

 

A group of English people admire the cathedral.  In restrained English fashion, one says “The architecture is quite special really.”  You think?  A Beyonce-look-alike takes a selfie with her Italian lover.  He holds her from behind, kissing her on the cheek.  He pulls her hair behind her ear and is promptly scolded “Don’t touch my hair!”  Wow.  A couple, composed of two individuals shaped like wine barrels, quarrel about where to eat.  I doubt it matters.  Men with camera lenses the size of cannons make me wonder if they are overcompensating.

 

Gondola

Gondola in Venice

 

Glancing at inscriptions on buildings, I consider that in grade school I should have paid attention to the lesson on Roman numerals as that knowledge would be handy here.  “X means 5?  Or is that V?”  I must have been focused on something more immediately relevant to me in 1977, like learning the words to Stayin’ Alive

 

As the clock ticks past 1 PM, I am still alone.  And the same at 1:10 and 1:20 PM.  My heart sinks a bit realizing I held a secret fantasy of holding Domingo’s hand today.  An innocent enough desire.  Just a hand to hold.  In Venice.  

 

I walk to the produce and fish market which is closing up, leaving only a harsh smell and a cleaning crew of seagulls.

 

Goodbye, goodbye.

 

I wake early to leave.  I need to catch a ferry and a bus to get to the bus which will take me to Bologna.  Domingo rises from his bed with chaotic hair and sleepy eyes.  “Laura, I never meet woman do like you.”  As if plucking an imaginary apple from an imaginary branch, his hand rises up, his fingers join and he pulls down to emphasize his next word: “POWER” he whisper-screams.  Power?  He thinks I’m powerful?  Ha!  If only he knew this powerful woman just wanted the comfort of his held hand if even for an hour.

 

He gives me a kiss on each cheek in typical Spanish fashion and I am out the door.  Thankful for the company but so tired of always saying goodbye.  Hello.  What’s your story?  Here’s mine.  You’re great.  Goodbye.  Rinse.  Repeat. 

 

And then I say goodbye to Venice, an extraordinarily beautiful place, unlike any other, and my first travel dream, now crossed off the list.  I’m so thankful I got to see this city in this lifetime, but I don’t think I’ll ever return.  Unless I can be cliché.

 

At the Bridge of Sighs

At the Bridge of Sighs where prisoners passing through would take their last glance of the world before being brought to their cells. Legend says if a couple passes under the bridge, and kisses, at sunset, when the bells toll, their love will be forever.  Probably a bunch of baloney but life is mostly baloney, so…

 

Lots and lots of Photos of Venice, Italy:

 

3 Comments

  1. Good morning, Laura. Got up at 4 am this morning, brought in the paper, put on the kettle for coffee and switched on the computer. Joy – a post from you in Venice! Never been there, though every friend and relative has, and over the years I have been recipient of books, post cards,pictures and stories of this fabled place. This morning’s early read, here on your spot, gave me the best excursion around this city. Won’t need to go now. Despite your sweet wryness and exasperation, Venice still emerged with a glow. One day, when you are a ‘cliche’I hope you will return to the bridge of sighs. All strengh to you on your travels, and thanks for these reports.

    • Glad I could be a part of your morning! Thanks for reading Erika!

  2. Thanks, Laura! You have shared some fantastic photos!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons

Pin It on Pinterest