Venezia!

Ponte di Rialto is probably the... (click for full caption)

Ponte di Rialto is probably the... (click for full caption)

Venice! I have to say that this is a most remarkable city.  I almost skipped it on this trip, as it’s quite a bit out of the way, tucked up in the northeastern corner of the country.  That would have been a pity.  So, I already had a rough idea of what this city is all about: built on the water, famous for canals and gondolas.  What I guess I never quite realized is that this city is completely devoid of vehicles other than boats.  There are no cars, trucks, trains, delivery vehicles, horses, or even bicycles!  It is a completely pedestrian city.  Garbage collectors and delivery men have to carry their loads on push carts between boat and destination.  Still, they must operate mostly at night or early morning, because I saw only a few of them.

Venice must also be the most labyrinthine city I’ve ever seen.  Very few roads are straight, at least not for very far, and most of them are comically narrow.  The narrowest are called rughettas.  One I walked down was so narrow, I had to only slightly life my elbows to brush against both walls.  Others, called sotoportegos are like tunnels with surprisingly low ceilings that go through buildings.  I’ve been in corn mazes and hedge garden labyrinths before, but Venice is a brick and mortar, city-sized maze!  To make things interesting, every now and then streets dead end on canals with no way to cross.  Some narrow streets twist and turn only to come to an abrupt dead-end.  I went down a couple of these before I learned they were called a corte.
Fortunately, I just barely made my connection yesterday at the massive station in Milan.  The train from Nice arrived a few minutes late, and because I hadn’t checked my connecting schedule ahead of time, I wasn’t prepared with my luggage to depart as soon as we arrived, leaving me stuck waiting in the queue of disembarking passengers.  I had only 3 minutes to make it to my next train!  No sweat, though.  I found my seat and fell asleep in minutes.

I arrived last night right as the sun was hitting its golden hour.  I found my way, with only a moderate amount of confusion to my hotel in San Polo.  My room is rather small, with only a sink, but it’s the first time in my travels thus far that I’ve had a room entirely to myself!  For €50 ($75) per night though, I’d better get something!  Lodging in Venice is NOT cheap.  This hotel was the cheapest I could find.
Having had only a croissant for breakfast, I was ready to eat and found a pleasant sidewalk trattoria not far from my hotel where I had gnocchi bolognese.  Though it was already dark by the time I finished eating, I decided that after 16-some hours on trains, I could use a little walk.  I found my way to the tourist epicenter of Venice, Piazza San Marco.  Even at night this place is busy, though it seemed the famous flocks of pigeons had turned in for the night.  Three ensembles scattered around the giant square were echoing classical and operatic music off the arched walls, creating a distant, pleasant atmosphere.  I eventually found my way back to the hotel, tried working for a few brief minutes on some photos, but quickly yielded to the pillow.

Today started with a small but pleasant continental breakfast at the hotel before heading out to cover probably 6 miles in my Mephistos.  I think I covered most of the city.  By lunch time I found myself in the public gardens at the far southeastern side of the city.  A very pleasant restaurant there persuaded me to stop for a light lunch at a lovely, linen-covered table under giant awnings and shady trees.  Others around me sat in modern, upholstered wicker couches with low tables.  Just beyond my table was the sidewalk and sparkling blue water of the sunny harbor where I watched boats meandering past.  I lingered for a while, checking e-mail and Facebook on my iPhone.  I learned that Venice is perhaps the last city on earth to embrace the Internet, and there is pretty much no public or free WiFi anywhere.  There are only about two Internet Cafes in the whole city!  I plan to use one of them briefly tonight.  It’s remarkable how much effort I put into finding Internet connectivity while I travel.  It shows how much of my life operates in an online world.

I briefly braved the crowds in Piazza San Marco again today, noting that Venice is not unknown to the large, flag-waving, Japanese tour groups.  The pigeons were on duty, but I fortunately made it through the gauntlet, guano-free.  From there, I walked west through the high-rent retail district with stores like Gucci, Hermes, and Fendi.  The only store I ducked in though, was a glass store with some dazzling works at arresting prices.  They had a window full of bowls priced at €9,000 each.  I don’t even want to know what their massive chandeliers go for.

I tired of the 5th Avenue scene quickly and ducked down some quieter side streets, realizing that I seemed to do better without maps.  Just using the sun as a compass, I weaved my way north and then east till I crossed the grand canal at Pont di Rialto.  From there I made my way west, then north, and eventually across the grand canal again at Pont dei Scalzi near the train station.  A little more north and then east and I found the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, a small island which has the infamy of being the world’s first Jewish Ghetto.  As I left the island, heading back for my hotel, a young Jewish man approached me to ask if I was Jewish.  I told him that I wasn’t but that I very much liked Jewish people.  A fellow American, he followed me along for a ways, chatting about travels until we passed what he told me was the only Kosher restaurant in Venice.  He more or less invited me to join him for a meal, but I passed on the hints, not feeling terribly hungry.  Shortly after crossing back over the grand canal, I regretted not joining him, where I could have most likely talked about the Bible with him.  Why is it that I think of these things 10 minutes too late?

On my way back to the hotel, I stopped at one of the many stores selling elaborate face masks.  I purchased two small, hand-made masks and had them shipped to my home address.  I negotiated what I think was a pretty good price of €49, including the shipping.  If I had the money, though, I’d love to get one of the larger ones with stunning details.  These can go for over €200 though.

I spent my last couple of hours at an Internet Café I found a few “blocks” away.  I needed to check up on credit card payments and that sort of thing, and it cost me a rapacious €9 for a mere 90 minutes.  Finally turning off the light at around 1:30, I failed to get in bed early, something I had hoped to do considering that my train leaves in the morning at 6:40.

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