Monday, March 9, 2009

Venezia or Bust!

Last weekend my roommates and I took a weekend trip to Venezia. Our 7.5 hour (12 hours including “layovers” and waiting on connections) journey included 2 busses, the Roman subway (the Metro) and 2 trains but it was well worth it. The treno notte (night train) was a good move on our part because it gained us an extra day and saved us a night in a hostel, once in Venice.

We arrived in Venezia at 5:30am…2.5 hours before our hostel opened and none of us had slept much on the train, so we’d been up for quite some time. We stepped out of the train station and were immediately met with characteristic sights of Venice: the Grand Canal, boats lining the periphery and of course the pigeons. We sat down on the steps near the canal and simply took it all in, becoming slightly more invigorated at the realization that we were actually in Venice- a surreal experience to take in for the 2 of us who’d never been there before. Sitting on the steps of the train station, we ate a breakfast of smashed granola bars and shared a small juicebox then decided to wander around through the city, following the signs to San Marco to watch the sunrise. Being led by bright yellow signs pointing the way through back alleys and what would turn into massive tourist attractions in the daytime, we finally stumbled to San Marco 45 minutes later, just in time to see the sunrise over the canal. Let me tell you; having been awake for nearly 26 hours, squeaking down a sad little breakfast, being completely disoriented in a strange city and still carrying a slight animosity towards the strange man who forced his way into our train car then fell asleep snoring for 6 hours was all overshadowed by the sight of beautiful San Marco at 6am, uncharacteristically without a single tourist in sight. The sun coming up through the fog that had set in over the canal was so relaxing, we sat on the edge of the canal, soaking it all up.

We still had time to kill before our hostel opened so we set off for a more fulfilling breakfast. Walking through the streets back towards the other side of the city, we came across a little “bar” that happened to be opening as we walked by. There, we had the most expensive yogurt and fruit any of us had ever paid for, I think. That’s the thing about Venice that none of us thought to look into- the fact that it is a tourist attraction and as such, prices skyrocket…for everything. Even restrooms. We’re used to ducking into a fast food place or supermarket if nature calls, but in Venice, or Italy (at least in the tourist or smaller towns) you must pay for such commodities. Eventually we made it back to our hostel where the manager told us that while they open at 8am, the rooms are generally never ready for check in until 1pm. Our hearts absolutely dropped. We were so incredibly exhausted, all we could fathom at the moment was collapsing into a bed…any bed, we didn’t care if it was made or not. Then a small miracle- she told us that the one room that just happened to be ready for check in was OURS. I vaguely remember thanking her and dragging our backpacks to our room before the world went dark and I was off in dream land.

4 hours later we woke up and set off to explore the city in daylight and a slightly improved state of consciousness. Venezia in the daytime is a completely different story in comparison to what we’d seen of it at 5am. There are so many people from every walk of earth crowding the souvenir carts, restaurants and sidewalks. There aren’t roads of course, no cars and since we didn’t have money to spend on water taxis/buses, we walked everywhere, taking in the amazing sights of the Rialto Bridge, Acadamia, Roma Piazza and San Marco. Sitting on the bottom step of the Rialto Bridge, sharing a cup of gelato was surreal and one of the best places for people watching, I think. We even decided to splurge and spend 20 euro each (the daytime student price) on a gondola ride down the Grand Canal. Our gondolier’s name was Matteo and he was a character. We learned that gondoliers have 4 years of mandatory education where they are to learn multiple languages and massive amounts of history on their city. They must be 100% Venetian and, according to Matteo, be able to sing. Matteo burst into song before we even started moving, singing to us Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and Culture Club, interrupted every once in a while to tell us when we were passing Marco Polo and Casanova’s houses. As we were heading back, the sun was setting over the canal and he told us we “just missed” the night rates but he wouldn’t have charged us so much because we were his “bella ragazze.” Yeah, yeah…

We spent 2 nights and 3 days in Venezia, realizing 2 days was probably adequate. We treated ourselves to a farewell dinner of non-Italian food at the infamous Gam Gam, a sweet little Kosher restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto. Our train didn’t leave for another 3 hours so we took our time, eating hummus, cous cous, drinking wine and listening to the house accordion player, singing Andrea Bocelli. 12 hours later, we were home in Tuscania again. A pretty fantastic weekend, I think.

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