Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The donkeys of Venice

Venice reminds me of an adult version of Pleasure Island - that super happy fun-land carnival in the Disney version of Pinocchio. You know, where Pinocchio and the other boys go and play games and eat candy before getting turned into donkeys.

Venice is beautiful. It has wonderful food and tasty sweets. It has lots of shopping. It has roving bands of musicians waiting to serenade lovers, and around every corner you'll find gondoliers whose sole job is to ferry people through the canals past the stunning pastel buildings.

On Rialto Bridge during our first afternoon in Venice.

View of the canals.

A building Ryan particularly liked.

Because of all that, it’s infested with so … many … tourists.

It's Venice. There has to be a bridge shot. Surprisingly, there are no tourists on it.

We overheard a rather ridiculous conversation among these American tourists, who felt people would be more likely to stare at them if they removed their masks.
We enjoyed our first afternoon and night in Venice, walking around and taking in the sights and tastes of the city. We enjoyed our second day exploring the historic Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Square and settling in to watch Italy get eliminated by Uruguay at an outdoor patio restaurant.

Then, on the third day, Venice made asses out of us.  

We made a series of bad decisions and assumptions that turned out to be wrong. For instance, we didn't find a place for breakfast – at least in the area we started out exploring. By the time we had something to eat and I had my necessary coffee, it began to pour down rain, dampening our enthusiasm for taking a ferry out to the island of Murano that is known for its glass. We felt equally drowned by the water and tourists in fluorescent ponchos.

Even the gondoliers had their umbrellas out.

Then we got lost.

Rick Steves, whose advice for traveling Europe has generally been invaluable to us, suggested we get lost in Venice to explore off the beaten track. Let’s just say, we can put a big ol’ check mark next to this one. We couldn’t not get lost. The Venetians apparently hated straight lines. What resulted is a hodgepodge of alleys and bridges and dead ends and no signs.

On  my way down one of the narrow alleys. 

Well, there were a few signs. Just not ones that helped us get back on track.

In fact, Venice can be cruel. It’s like a giant rat maze for humans where the gods like Zeus look down and laugh at the stupid humans who kept turning down alleys that terminated at canals (us)  or who made turn after turn only to end up at the same restaurant they left 25 minutes earlier (also us).

The lunch restaurant. I didn't believe Elizabeth when she told me that's where we had eaten.
Eventually, we found an interesting bookstore with steps and walls made of books stacked like bricks and an eccentric shopkeeper named Luigi.

Elizabeth found the staircase of books a good solution (but still a little horrifying to destroy those books).

Books filled both boats and bathtubs.
The proprietor.

Then we got lost again.

Consulting the map for the umpteenth time.
Finally, when we tried to leave the island after a nice dinner, it made it as difficult as possible. The regular trains back to Mestre, where our hotel was, stopped running at 10:30. It was 11:25. We got tickets for a bus ride. But we couldn't find the bus station (what did I tell you about no signs). So we bought tickets for a late train to Rome that went through Mestre.

Let's just say the 12:08 train from Venice to Rome was no midnight train to Georgia. It was one of those trains with compartments of six seats -- three facing three. Elizabeth and I had to settle for seats in different compartments. When she tried to go into hers, a woman who was sleeping in one of the seats glared at her and threw the curtain shut. Elizabeth took my seat, and I sat on one of the pull down seats in the hallway, where I could watch the drama as two families argued over the fact that they had the same seats. The train sat for what felt like an eternity but probably only took off 10 minutes late. It was not humanity at its best, let me tell you.

But it was a fitting ending to our day in Venice.