Friday evening I was welcomed by a soggy, dreary Venice. I trudged through the pouring rain, up and over a handful of bridges, and under a tunnel-esk street before arriving at the door of my cozy B&B. Venetian streets seem to have been designed by Willy Wonka, who may have also consulted Dr. Seuss. Not only do they wind and change every ten feet, but some are so narrow you have to close your umbrella and turn sideways in order to fit through.
After getting the rundown from the sweet lady running the B&B, I shed my wet things and hunkered down for a generous mug of tea with a young English couple staying in the room next to mine. Eventually, I braved the rain and cold once again for a dinner of pappardelle with porcini mushrooms at this cozy little Italian kitchen down the street—complete with singing chef and all.
Saturday morning was confusing to say the least. Breakfast was to be served at 8am, yet there was nothing on the table even at 9 when I had to leave to make my appointment in San Marco’s Basilica. Without a map, I wandered aimlessly, but didn’t get far thanks to a little thing called HIGH WATER. I would later learn that the city is prone to flooding during the fall and spring, due to the changing tides. And during both days of my stay, it happened to do just that. Add that one to the cultural experiences. I have never ever seen anything like this. The city had transformed into one massive baby pool overnight. I watched locals don rubber chaps and boots and cruise through water that rose to mid-calf (and even higher in some places). I looked on as they pumped out water from their shops and secured barriers in front of doorways, entirely un-phased by the evident routine. I literally had no idea what to do. Thanks to a kind bar owner, I acquired two oversized utility trash bags and worked hard to fashion them around my legs into something useful. Once again, even less embarrasses me when abroad. You might not want to travel with me;)
In times of high water, you'll find these elevated sidewalks in more heavily trafficked areas.
Somehow, I ran across a very cranky man selling rain boots and was ready to fork over a small fortune for these green rubbery gems, but surprisingly only parted with eleven euros. There is absolutely no other shoe that will get you through the city in times of high water. Many people went barefoot.
Having already missed my appointment at the Basilica and without the slightest idea how to get to a far off San Marco’s (the lowest point on the island by the way), I resolved to purchase a city map and postcard, and practice my Italian with the friendly Tabacchi store owner. He assured me the tide would begin to go down within the hour. At least I was in Venice, right? Even the simple knowledge of being there was enough to sway my mood, and so I bought more time in a nearby café over a cappuccino and nutella pastry. I will never ever grow tired of this heavenly duo. Back at the B&B to drop of my old shoes, I discovered that breakfast had finally been served and I sat down for a second cappuccino with my new English friends. We conferred, reached consensus, and hopped on the #1 vaporetto (waterbus) for Rialto Bridge. The vaporetto system is a funny one to me. The routes are like that of a bus or metro, but with mariners and ropes and jerky stops against the docks. An in perfect Italian fashion, the course of any given vaporetto will travel in zig-zags across the canal. There is no identical stop for the return trip on the other side.
As I waited to meet Amy (a family friend studying here this semester), I explored the area and did some shopping. One of the positives of traveling alone is the people you are more likely to meet, like the three Venezuelan women who invited me to spend the day with them or at least meet up later for dinner. But how would I find them? “Just look for the three beautiful women,” they told me. HA.
On Rialto Bridge
Finding Amy among the masses of Rialto was probably a small miracle. We caught up over a pasta lunch, where I held my breath and ordered Spaghetti al nero di seppia (spaghetti in squid ink), which is typical of the region. Perhaps I’m too trusting of Italian cuisine, but I haven’t had a bad experience yet and this was no exception!
Yes, I realize it looks very disgusting, but I promise it's very tasty.
We spent the early afternoon wandering the streets, which is a fabulously authentic way to enjoy the city. Get lost—every inch is beautiful and you’ll love where you are at all times. We found our way to Academia Bridge, passed the Wake Forest house where Amy lives, and then popped into Santa Maria della Salute Church. One more cappuccino before parting ways and I boarded the #1 vaporetto at Academia, headed for Piazza San Marco.
Santa Maria della Salute 1
Amy and I on Academia Bridge. Her house is in the background, just over my right shoulder.
Sadly, all my good fortune had reached its limit and I arrived just as the doors to the Basilica were closing for a special reserved mass. It wouldn't be reopened until after my train left the next day. Was this some kind of sick joke that I wouldn’t see San Marco’s (the main attraction) during my trip to Venice?! Spotting my first rays of Venetian sunlight, I crossed the square and rode to the top of the Campanile (bell tower) for a panorama. The view was especially breathtaking thanks to the lagoon and surrounding islands of Venice. I never wanted to make the descent. The city is truly a living postcard--that, or one of those simulated countries at Busch Gardens. Hard to believe anyone actually lives here.
Or another example...the building with the arches in the lower lefthand corner is a fire station.
Basilica di San Marco e il Palazzo Ducale
View from the Campanile 1
Another shot of the lagoon
Piazza San Marco
For once, there was no queue in front of Il Palazzo Ducale, and so I had no choice really. My favorite part was touring the prison and walking over the Bridge of Sighs. I could just a little too realistically imagine myself as a criminal seeing my city perhaps for the very last time. This is the view the prisoners would get on their way to their dark future in the dungeon.
Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs)
Palazzo Ducale 1
2. Notice the fourth and fifth columns on the second level from the left. They are a rosy red color and is where they used to announce death sentences to the public. Cute.
From inside Palazzo Ducale (view of Campanile) and Basilica di San Marco
Not quite ready to make the trek back to Riva di Biasio, I meandered the labyrinth of streets behind the Basilica and admired glowing shops and restaurants that could quite possibly swallow up my life savings in one single purchase. In yet another serendipitous moment, I noticed the side door of San Marco’s propped open with an official-looking man ushering people inside. He announced that it was for mass only, no visits. Hey, I could be Catholic for 45 minutes! And it was a glorious 45 minutes too. Trying to follow along to Italian prayers, songs, and sermon was an exciting challenge, and besides, I got to sit and stare at yet another incredible golden ceiling. This one was easily the most impressive though. Awed and utterly satisfied, I was finally ready to take the vaporetto back to the B&B and enjoyed a glowing backdrop of buildings and bridges all the way.
From Palazzo Ducale
Piazzo San Marco
Rialto by night
For dinner, I lugged my exhausted body around the corner in the name of spinach and ricotta pizza. I’m afraid I may be falling in love with myself after all these candlelit dinners alone…the red wine probably doesn’t help either.
Sunday morning also proved confusing, but for a different reason. My Italian cell phone announced one time and my American phone another, when they had agreed just the day before. Daylight savings had happened in Europe and I had no idea. Well happy extra hour in Venice to me! I celebrated over a leisurely breakfast of a tall cappuccino and toast with my sweet British friends. Hearing the whistling wind and pattering rain, I was in no real rush to brave the outdoors. Apparently I slept through the citywide alarm for high water too. GREAT. It really says something about Venice though that the city is still breathtakingly beautiful even under these horrific weather conditions.
I layered on most of the clothes from my suitcase and hopped on vaporetto #4.1 bound for Murano Island. About a 45-minute ride from mainland Venice, Murano is famous for it’s glass art. I ran into one of the first glass shops I spotted and pretended to be a chronically indecisive shopper just to keep out from the wind and freezing rain. I definitely outstayed my welcome. It was strange walking around the island, which not surprisingly, seemed much more like a colorful ghost town on such a day as this. It wasn’t long before I waved the white flag and plopped myself down in a café in front of a generous wedge of lasagna and pint of birra bionda. After my return trip to the mainland, I had certainly spent more time on the boat than the actual island, but it was that sort of day in Venice—one for sheltered boating and café sitting. For others, it was a day of marathon running. Unbelievably, the city held a marathon Sunday morning around the perimeter of the mainland (aka the most flooded portion).
Around 2pm, I waved goodbye to the romantic and watery city and boarded the train for Rome and was ironically assigned to a cabin full of American college students studying in Europe. I couldn't have asked for a better trip!