1 Night in Venice

Posted: July 15, 2015 in Italy, Nikola Jajic, Travel, Vacation, Venice
Tags: , , , , , ,

Florence was in our rear view, and Venice would prove to be the final stop in our journey through Italy. But first, there was Santa Maria Novella railway station to contend with.

Maria and I waited patiently in line at the ticket kiosk. Ahead of us, occupying one of the perplexing contraptions, was a young Asian couple, who were having a rough go of it. Behind them, and directly ahead of us, was a very short, very impatient, and very flamboyant Italian gentleman.

He let out an exaggerated sigh, and irritably shook his head at the couple’s failed attempts to purchase tickets. A moment later, he snorted loudly, further rattling the already anxious couple. Maria and I exchanged glances. This guy was an asshole.

A ticket machine next to the couple opened up, and the man claimed it like a caffeinated Napoleon. But instead of going about his own button mashing, the man decided he would first explain to the couple his unwritten rules of the Italian railway system.

He gestured wildly, and raised his voice, intimidating the young couple. He then went on a prolonged rant about letting people who knew what they’re doing, cut in front of you and purchase their tickets first.

This was absurd on a couple of different levels:

A: The man’s grasp of the English language was lacking. “You no know how! Me go! You wait!”

B: He obviously didn’t know that schoolyard rules clearly state: No cuts, no buts, no coconuts.

C: Read the next paragraph.

The man continued his diatribe, while simultaneously trying to procure his own ticket. His tirade came to an abrupt conclusion, when the man realized he was at a ticket kiosk that didn’t accept cash. He punched buttons, and muttered something in Italian, which was most likely “Shit. I look like such a fucking tool, right now.”

The couple finally figured it out. They grabbed their tickets, and shot a satisfied glance at the man, who was still not hip to the fact that he was now holding everyone up. The line behind the man grew, and soon he left his machine, and took a sad journey to the end of the line. There he waited for another ticket kiosk to open up. One that accepted cash. It was comeuppance on a cosmic level.

On the train ride to Venice, Maria flexed her photography muscles, and snapped what might’ve been the best photo of our entire trip, or at the very least, the most impressive.

Quick math problem: A train is traveling at 190 mph (which, according to my math, is roughly 8,000,000 km/h). A man is riding his bicycle in the opposite direction of the train. He is traveling at 14 mph. How much time do you have to snap a decent photo of the cyclist? Answer: Fuck if I know. I’m terrible at math.

Behold:

"No hands. No shirt. All man."

“No hands. No shirt. All man.”

 

1 NIGHT:

Actually, it was about 3 p.m. when we arrived at St. Lucia station in Venice… but 1 Night sounds much sexier. Anyhow, Maria and I waited in line for the vaporreto boat to take us to the hotel. For those who may not know, you won’t be getting to, or from Venice, any other way. And me with no boat shoes.

The city was beautiful, and completely different than any other place I had been to. I recalled the first time I heard about Venice. My father telling me about a trip there with his soccer team, in the early seventies. Back then, he was just a poor athlete in a strange city. He said it was a maze, and there weren’t any roads, just rivers everywhere, and it smelled bad.

He probably told me more about Venice, but I was ten or eleven, and an attention span wasn’t my strong suit. We arrived at the hotel, and Maria was quite pleased. I went the extra mile on this one (basically, I spent an extra hundred bucks).

Soon, we were out the door and exploring a new city. Unfortunately, our earlier explorations (i.e. all the damn walking), had taken its toll on our feet. My favorite pair of boots were starting to fall apart, and my bloody blisters were almost too many to count (more than three). Maria, going the flip flop route, was not in as dire straits, but her feet had also seen better days. Unless you’re some horny foot fetishist, and in that case, you should know I won’t be sharing any of those photos.

Regardless, we would not be deterred from what could prove to be our only opportunity to visit Venice. I hadn’t read up on the city as much as I would’ve liked. I was planning to read “City of Fortune: How Venice ruled the Seas” by Roger Crowley, but only had time to skim. Books on Rome and Florence had taken up too much of my free time. I was a cliffs notes version of myself. So it goes.

I knew the basics: Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge, Doge’s Palace, and lots of shopping.

Considering, I got us lost on multiple occasions in both Rome and Florence, and the fact that Venice was like the Bermuda Triangle meets the Labyrinth, I quickly realized that a map was needed. Within five minutes of walking, even with frequent glances at the damn map, we were still lost.

At this point in our journey, I recall glancing up from the map at Maria, and noticing a very specific look on her face. One that said: “Look at this dope. He thinks he’s Indiana Jones, because he’s wearing cargo pants and has a map. Jeez, what have I gotten myself into?” Still, I managed to get us to a small café. One that served cold beer. So now, my plan was to get her drunk, and even the playing field a bit.

After that, we felt our way to Piazza San Marco. It’s rather easy to feel your way through the streets of Venice, as long as you’re able to shake off the claustrophobia. Exhibit A:

The walls are closing in, maaaan!

The walls are closing in, maaaan!

Once in the square, a common occurrence took place. Our jaws dropped, and we spun in very slow circles. We took in the majesty of another historical kingdom. The piazza hummed with activity, as the church and palaces towered over us from every angle. We toured the square in our slow, meandering way. The selfie-stick men tried their best sales techniques, but their tricks were old hat to us. We didn’t have the time required to visit each of the sites, but Maria snapped away, as we went.

After a couple of hours exploring the area, we decided that Rialto Bridge was next on the list. Now, all we’d have to do is get there. Lucky for us, various signs pointed out the right direction. I still managed to momentarily get us lost. That is to say, until we came to the realization that the hundreds of stores that seem to line every street, would sooner or later deposit you onto the bridge, especially if you were trying to avoid spending money in any of them. Of course, we stopped occasionally to finish our souvenir purchases. Local Murano glass was a popular, and at times, affordable choice.

Once at the bridge, we looked around and nodded agreeably. The sight was now seen.  It wasn’t that we were underwhelmed by it, but after finding yourself on a bridge, where the sun and moon are simultaneously setting and rising on either side of it (See my earlier blog: 3 Days in Florence), you become a little spoiled. And sometimes, a bridge is just a bridge. That said, the area north of the bridge (I think it was north, I wasn’t exactly a compass on this trip), was a very fun spot to grab a drink and hang out amongst the locals.

We sat on a canal bank and watched as the gondolas and vaporretos drove past. We listened as gondoliers serenaded their passengers. And all the while, the buildings across the canal stood defiantly, with their ancient facades and unknown tales.

Soon, being the lush that I am, I noticed a contingent of twenty-something bohemians lounging near us, sipping their beers and bellinis. I politely asked one of them, where two weary travelers might procure such fine refreshments. They pleasantly pointed me toward a booze stand in the old square near us. And so began, the sitting on the dock of the bay phase of our Venetian evening.

An alternative to the gondola ride.

An alternative to the gondola ride.

During our stint drinking at the edge of the canal, we noticed a young woman speed up next to us in her boat. She expertly parked it against the canal wall. Quickly tying it down, grabbing her gear, and jumping off, like a Venetian Navy Seal.

The only proper way to describe her is as follows:

If Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an actual person, living out a new and dangerous adventure in Venice, she would be this girl.  And when our Canal Racer wasn’t bringing social justice to crooked Northern European assholes, she liked to spend her afternoons buzzing around an ancient city in her trusty old boat. Yep, that starts to do this woman justice.

Our heroine in action:

New Millennium book: Girl who drives boats really fast, while being badass in Venice

Anyhow, back to the story. After our drinks at the canal, we decided to find a decent meal. The hotel suggested a couple of different spots, and after a few wrong turns, we found one of them. It was good, expensive, and very touristy. But this late in the game, we were fine with touristy. After all, who were we to deny our nature.

Our voyage home loomed over us, but we were both excited at the prospect of being with our kids, in our own home.

The next morning, we would need to be at our vaporreto stop by 6 a.m. From there, we would take the water bus to the airport, then a flight to Zurich, a quick train to the other side of that infernal airport, and another flight to Chicago.

As the reality of these travel plans sunk in, we thought it best to take the long walk back to our fancy hotel, and have a good soak (The tub in our room was impressive), and then we would finally call it a night.

Venice was a unique city. It had a certain mystery to it. The city’s narrow walkways in lieu of streets, the absence of any automobiles, and the maze-like structure of it, were just some of the intricacies that separated Venice from other cities I had been to.

When I think of science fiction novels, and the strange lands that are dreamt up in those pages, I’ll think of Venice. An alien city. And I write that with the loving naiveté of a tourist eager to return.

Perhaps, it was by circumstance. Venice was built where it was built, no choice in the matter now. And perhaps, in a world of similarities and replicas, the fact that a city like Venice still exists, is the main reason it stands out. A city that defies the rising of the sea. A city, where the fragility of man’s design dances dangerously close to nature’s wrath. Where land and water merge in the most delicate of ways.

And where, at least for a little while longer, travelers will have the good fortune of finding themselves, even when they appear lost.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my long-winded account of our time in Europe. Thanks for reading. -Nik

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