You can know anything. It's all there. You just have to find it.

-Neil Gaiman


Monday, February 25, 2008

A Room without a View -- Part 1

Okay, I promised I would tell people about our trip to Italy, so here it goes....

We arrived in Venice late morning and took a slow, slow, slow water taxi to the island from the airport. You can get your own private taxi (mucho euros) and have them whisk you straight away to Piazza San Marco (the main square) in about 20 minutes. It took us over an hour because it was the last stop. Luckily we found our hotel easily, as it was about 300 yards away. This initial confidence in directional abilities would lead to our downfall later....

After checking into a tiny room, with an even tinier bathroom, we made our way back to the Piazza San Marco, where they were about thousand people in the square, with ten thousand pigeons. I don't know where they come from and they disappear at night, but you can wade right into the mess of birds and then will land on you. One little boy was covered in them because he was feeding them bread. He was surprisingly calm through all this; apparently he'd never seen Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

We walked along past the Doge's Palace and made our way north where we stopped at a quiet cafe, away from the tourists, and half the price, which was still ridiculous. Actually the worst meal we had was at a restaurant that was right by the square and catered to tourists. When in doubt follow the locals. If everyone in the restaurant you're in is speaking Italian, you've found the right place. Venice is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, probably because everything is so difficult to bring in. No cars on the island, which was great; it is easy to walk everywhere. The other thing I noticed was there was no grass or trees, which gives the city a fake movie-set type of appearance. I felt bad for all the little kids playing soccer in the squares because they didn't have any grass, but they sure liked riding their bikes around like little Evil Knievels.

After our coffee we started walking, and walking, and walking. Did I mention we didn't bring a map? Big mistake. After an hour or so I asked an English lady holding a map where we were. She looked at me; looked at the map, and looked a bit upset. "I don't know!" she said. And she had a map.

So these English people started following us; I don't know why, we didn't know where we were going, but we weren't worried. Yet. I got a pistachio gelato and it was good. We kept walking. Certainly we would find our way back before dark, I thought. I've never been lost. Never. I've always know what direction I was going in, even in the woods. Also, I would remember where I went so I could backtrack if I went the wrong way.

There is a fine line between wandering and being lost. It stops being fun when you are tired, you're feet ache, and you don't know how to get back to your hotel. You want to, but you can't. It is humiliating and humbling. We asked people and they would say, "Oh, go that way, then take a left and then you'll run right into it." Fat chance. After a few hours it was dark.

Part of the problem is there are only 3 bridges that cross the Grand Canal. We must of crossed the Rialto a few times, and we knew our hotel was on the west side, but the problem was we didn't know what side of the bridge we had come from in the first place. The other problem is many streets dead end into buildings or canals so you try to back track and go another way and you go north and east when you are trying to go west. I suppose we could have broken down and taken a water taxi back, but we had too much pride and were too cheap to do it. So we kept walking. After 4 hours I sat down by a cistern and made Matt ask the museum guide directions. Venice sucks, I thought. The guide told us to go around a corner and then keep walking. So we did and finally recognized where we were. We were about 50 yards from our hotel... We ate at the restaurant next door and pigged out. I drank a whole liter of house wine myself... More about the wine later. Then we went back to our room to watch CNN. We learned our lesson and never left the hotel again without a map. And we never got lost again either.

Next edition... Florence.

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