18 February 2010
Venice!!!!!! I fell in love!
Im not sure how I can even begin to describe my experiences today, but I shall try. Venice has always been 1st on my list for cities to visit. I cant even tell you why. I can remember loving the idea of Venice from childhood. I think I got an impression of it some where, maybe the movies such as Queen Margot, the Merchant of Venice, or Casenova. Maybe the Casino in Las Vegas sold me on its enchantment. I just know that some day I was going to come here with my Prince Charming and we were going to take romantic Gondola rides, and long strolls hand in hand.
I was so sure of its romance that I had promised myself I would not come untill I had met my prince and we came together. During one of my counseling sessions last year we discussed why I was waiting to see a city I longed for with all my imaginative power for someone to make that dream come true. I replied that I wouldnt enjoy such a romantic place with out someone to share it with. Then she challenged me to come here by myself and try not to enjoy it, with or with out a Prince. This conversation was one of the many factors that led me to think of taking this trip in the first place. No longer would my life wait for someone to complete it. I was going to live my dreams and if someone came along to compliment me in them then fine, and if not at least I was living not waiting.
So here I am, in Venice the city where I thought I would be half of a pair, and Im alone! I decided for my sake, that I would accept this alteration to my dream and try to enjoy myself, not prove my counselor wrong. I succeeded. I am having a delightful time and have fallen in love with this city, and I think this city with me. It does not erase the homesickness, or the deep and challenging feelings of missing Andrew, but it did provide a nice distraction.
Venice as a place is brilliant, I can see its faults but like NY they only make the city seem more human, and by that mis-understood. Currently there is no smell, although I can imagine in the hot summer there would be. The water is Mermaid green, and looks so clean and fresh the craving to go swimming is almost unbearable. Several times I had to talk myself out of taking my shoes off and padeling on the steps. Unfortunately in the winter a lot of the city is under an inch or two of water. I found Venice to be very dangerous for two reasons, lots of water, and many blind corners. Frequently I would be walking through a Square or Plaza looking up to admire the architecture and suddenly found myself ankle deep in water. Twice I was framing a picture when the ground would drop out from beneath me, and I found myself stumbling down a flight of stairs thinking "oh no, Im so gonna end up in that Canal" Once I caught myself, the second time I threw myself onto a boat tied at the wall to save both myself and Henry a swim.
Mis happs and clumsiness aside, I had a brilliant time. The streets are narrow, more than Barcelona, more than Paris, more narrow than your average door way. Passing people is cosy, and the light is minimal (for this reason I do not think I could live in Venice, but to visit its enticing). However the narrow streets also twist, turn, and rise up and down over the canals. So your visibility is very short at any given point. You do get glimpses of tall Churches, or large structures through gaps, along the canals, or over the roof tops. Its almost like the city is teasing you with a carrot. So you wind your way along the streets, glancing this way and that never sure which way to go, and inevitably choosing at random. At first you try to remember that you chose left so when you come back next time you can choose right, 28 turns later and you aren't sure you can get back let alone remember which way you were hoping to go. Soon you realise its like the Louvre, it doesnt matter which way you go, your going to find something beautiful. Then it becomes a surprise, when you approach a corner you stop thinking "what street is this?, or which way to the ___?" and you start thinking "oh what am I going to find". This game of curiosity and joyful surprise draws you in and pulls at your soul. Soon I found myself running because I was so anxious to see where the next corner would take me. Thats were the hazardous blind corners come in. The streets are busy with people, shoppers, post man, police man (all of which I have run to) and then even worse, some times the streets are no more and a canal is practically underfoot. So I had to stop running.
As you walk along the streets letting the city pull at your fascination, you feel almost guided, and safe. I can remember thinking how much I would love to be lost, only moments before I realised I was. Something that surprised me was that there is not very much to do in Venice other than walk around and admire the architecture. There are 2 or 3 museums, all of them had an entry charge and none of them really appealed to me. They do have a Museum of Natural History, but I'm sure it is small compared to the one in NY. They also had an art Gallery, but I knew that would seem small compared to the Louvre, so I decided to save my money. There are hundreds of churches, and most of the guide books list them under "Sights to See". I did go into many of them, and enjoyed them for their artwork, and masonry. However they were dark somber places in Italy, and a bit depressing. One of them had a que out the door so I went in to investigate what was so exciting. I was gutted to see that it was a que for Confessions. Not just normal confessions, those people were walking strait in, but tragically a que for people who broke their lent according to the sign. 20-25 people all waiting to say "I'm sorry Father, its only Thursday and I caved in to temptation" The worst thing is that they do their penance and then continue with lent as is. I'm not so sure this is the best practice, I think it might make giving into the temptation more tempting cause you can just que for confessions and then all will be well again. Perhaps they should make them give up lent for the rest of this year, or withhold their ashes next year, that might be more persuasive. I also think its sad that people are feeling guilty over cracking under pressure, when we are only human, I bet God knows that and would forgive them for a moment or two of weakness. However religion in Italy seems to be a big deal so I tried to embrace that and visit many of the churches when I passed them. There is also the Doges' Palace of course, but as it was the big main attraction in Venice the entry fee was outrageous and the que of tourist to get in was too long, so I skipped that as well. After consulting my guide book and finding that the only thing left to see were Hotels oddly listed under "Attractions" because of their historical ties to a former wealthy family (I assumed they meant Mafia, although the guide book didn't specifically say so), or because of architectural interest, I decided Venice was a city built for the avid wanderer.
I did adore just strolling around, and admiring the unique layout of the city. Aside from the hazards mentioned earlier, a simple saunter seems to be exactly what the city calls for. You will notice your legs getting sore before your eyes do, because despite the fact that Venice is beyond flat, and almost lower than the sea level at times, there are a ton of stairs to climb. Every bridge that crosses every canal goes up a few steps and then back down a few at the other side. You don't even realize how many you have been climbing until your bum starts to cramp in the middle of one of the bridges, and people laugh because you are hopping about in agony grabbing at your cheeks.
One other slightly disheartening thing about Venice is that it seems to be one tourist shop after another. Don't go for the window shopping or you will get board unless you like key chains! Do NOT try to mark your position in the city or your orientation by that cute little boutique with all the Carnival Masks in the window. There are thousands of them and you will get lost!!! I was beginning to wonder what all the rich Tourist 'do' in Venice, then I met one on the water bus. Sadly they pay 95.00 Euros for a 20 min Gondola ride, then they go shopping for tacky souvenirs, they may stop at a restaurant and pay double the price for a meal because they ordered off the "Tourist Menu" and didn't know to ask for the normal one, or were to shy to demand it if their waiter was being stubborn. Finally to finish off the day they que for over an hour, to pay a huge entry fee to see the 18th century furnishings in the Doges' palace and they think they have seen Venice! "Look I even bought one of those party masks they have for Marti Gras", the woman said to me as I cringed! I'll bet she wasn't here for Carnival, will never plan to go, and maybe didn't even know why they celebrate it, but she had a mask to prove that see had experienced Venice. She had taken a private gondola, water taxis, and the water bus several times, but hadn't been lost once. I was so sad to see that Venice was ok catering to these people, and had lost that old 15th century merchant city to a gigantic tourist trap. All the boutiques had been replaced by souvenir shops, all the commerce had been replaced by price tags in Dollars, and people were falling for it.
On a happier note I took the water bus once and loved the trip. It did cost me 6.50 one way and I couldn't believe that other people were taking them every where! Every other city I have been to was between 1 and 1.6 euros for a single ticket on the metro/tram/bus or whatever. Venice had a 600% mark up on their public transport, and their exchange rates were much worse than main land Italy as well. I spent 2 hours convincing myself to fork up the cash for my water bus trip, but I did enjoy it in the end. I thought of it as a boat cruise down the grand canal and circling the entire city, I tried to ignore all the lengthy stops to let other people on and off my fancy cruise. I took the entire journey, that lasted almost an hour and got some amazing pictures. Apparently your not meant to use it like a cruise because they kept asking me where I wanted off, I just replied "not yet, a little further along."
I think Venice and I got along so well because I let myself be led through the city, I stoped when something was interesting, and wondered for hours not really sure where I was going or what I was seeing. I didn't buy any of those beautiful masks because I haven't experienced a Venetian carnival yet, I didn't eat at any restaurant advertising "Authentic Italian food cooked here", and I didn't spend my life on a boat claiming to have seen the city with out offering sweat, blisters, and cramping bum cheeks in return. I felt that Venice liked me as much as I was enamoured with it because although I was almost always lost when I was tiered I would find a canal near my home that seemed familiar and it would lead me back to my hostel, when I was hungry I would round the corner and a market would appear, and when my water was gone I would stumble across a flowing fountain that had a sign "ok for drinking". Venice seemed to be helping me, and I could not shake the feeling that she was pulling at me as well.
Although nothing like the experience I dreamed Venice would be when I was a child, I found a partnership their just the same. I do feel that it is still a romantic city, and would some day like to be lost in those streets holding someones hand, strolling side by side. If you go and can save up for a Gondola ride they do look like the epitome of luxury, and the canal side restaurants are very romantic. However romance aside, I had an amazing visit, and will absolutely return someday, as I was crying when I left!
I'm now on the train to Rome, the 'eternal city' as Manuela calls it. Lots of love