Evening in Venice
Ah, Venice. I was there only a few days, but it seemed I’d landed on another planet. When our flight landed, we and our luggage were loaded onto shuttles and delivered to the waterfront where tourists and bags were shuffled onto water taxis. Venice grows mysteriously out of a lagoon, and boats are the only way to get there. Vaporettos (small boats) carry citizens and tourists from one shoreline stop to another, rather like a watery bus system. The beautifully appointed gondolas are pretty much reserved for tourists and locals celebrating a special event.
Naturally I began my visit by getting lost. Julia, our Tour Leader, had suggested we meet after lunch at the very small hotel where we were staying. From there she would lead us to the Rialto Bridge, a place I had longed to visit. But noontime came and went, and I couldn’t find the hotel. I had a map, but I still couldn’t find it.
Gondolas in Waiting
The most findable place in Venice, Piazza San Marco, was very near our hotel. It’s a landmark for everyone, especially glassy-eyed tourists. But there were many ways out of the Piazza, including vaporettos. In search of my hotel, I took every exit but the right one and ended up wandering hither and yon for about five hours. I kept winding up in the same places, none of which were the Hotel San Marco. I went into other hotels, showed them my map, and asked for directions. They did their best, but I still managed to make wrong turns. My utter lack of a sense of direction probably explains why I prefer escorted tours. They take me places I want to see, tell me what I’m looking at, and speak the local language.
Piazza San Marco (a small part of it)
You won’t be surprised to learn that my hotel was precisely eighteen steps from the Piazza, including a small bridge across a small canal. I just needed to find the right small tunnel, the one that led to the bridge I needed. Anyway, I missed the tour to the Rialto, and went on getting lost day after day.
There are no cars in Venice. Everything has to be transported by people or small wagons pulled by people. The “roads” (more like stone-paved paths) are narrow. If I held out both arms, I could plant my palms against the store windows. One morning I got off the elevator and saw the tiny hotel lobby stacked with large bags of laundry. Stacks taller than I was. On the street was a cart, and a guy had already loaded it with heavy laundry bags. He was jumping up and down on the laundry, trying to make room for some of the bags still in the hotel. When he gave up, he set off down the street, pulling the cart his own self. This is how supplies are delivered to hotels and restaurants and stores throughout Venice.
One of many, many tourist stores on the Piazza. Lots of restaurants as well, with tables and chairs for outdoor dining.
I’ll be sharing the glories of Venice as well, but I was mostly fascinated by the quirky elements. Where I was staying, snuggled up to the famous Piazza San Marco, the Doges’ Palace, and other sightseeing wonders, I got distracted by the narrow roads and small businesses that lined them. Restaurants. Bars. Wine stores. Merchants ranging from Ralph Loren to tacky souvenir shops, and some nice ones as well. I lived on pizza, sandwiches, and gelato (ice cream) served up by a handsome merchant near my hotel.
Formerly a prison, now a Hilton Hotel.
But I was also on a mission. Lord Byron, an English Regency-era guy as addicted to travel as I am, lived for a time in Venice. My Tour Leader helped me pinpoint the palacio on the Grand Canal, and I boated past it on a vaporetto, trying to take a picture But I couldn’t tell precisely which palacio (they’re all melded together like town houses) was his. The Tour Leader checked it out and said the palacio was currently scaffolded by workers restoring the place. So I have a picture, however scaffolded, for when I put the Duke and Duchess of Sarne in Venice a couple years from now, the last book in the “Dangerous” trilogy.
Pigeon-feeding in San Marco Piazza
Next time, I’ll post pictures and stories about some of the most magnificent and fascinating places in Venice. Ciao for now.