So. Saturday night. Flying to Europe from Montreal. On the Plane. I get 3…count ’em….3 seats to myself….thanks to these lovely old ladies moving to a different section. (I didn’t force them to move, honest…)
And STILL I cannot sleep….my brain is working overtime. I am visualizing the complex plan that I have set out for myself. I have a small folder of papers for different travels plans, airbnb accommodations, bus journeys, scattered all over the place. Its a complex multi stop tour, and I am in mental prep mode. Plus, I am super excited. Of course. I think I get perhaps 1, 2 hrs sleep, on a 7.5 hr flight to Venice….so, I am tired by the time I arrive, 11am Sunday morning Europe time.
This is to be my theme for the first week of the trip. Sleep, or lack of. It rules the majority of experiences. It coats everything in a layer of molasses that I attempt to drag my brain through. I am sure it would have been a more exciting experience had I been able to break that layer of gauze wrapped around my head called jetlag.
Venice is an island, with one main bridge connecting it to the mainland. The bridge has both road, rail, tram, and pedestrian access. Around the main island are a whole bunch of smaller islands. The airport is a little off on the mainland. You can actually choose to arrive in style by water taxi, however, it costs a small fortune. From the plane, you can see water ‘highways’ with boats going back and forward to the mainland in various directions.
Off the plane, in to oppressive, apparently unseasonal heat. Gathered my stuff together and got on a bus headed for a local railway station, not heading to Venice island just yet, but towards the airbnb based off-island. I arrived a little early, and the host hadn’t gotten off work yet. Nobody was answering the door, so I just sat outside, soaking up the heat. I was a wet rag of sweat with my bags, searching for the shade, and another guest at the airbnb arrived.
Another guy arrived, looking for the same airbnb. Nice man, from South Korea, working for Daewoo, doing oil business in various locations. He told me it was easier to call him ‘Hiro’, so ‘Hiro’ was his name.
Got to check in, slightly unpack, shower, replace a layer of sweat with a layer of water, swiftly covered by a fresh layer of sweat, but at least with a layer of clean clothes on top…
I am acutely aware that the clock is ticking. I have about 48 hrs in each exotic location. This feels like a modern vacation though. Quick, go HERE, have THIS authentic experience, capture THIS picture, stand in THAT spot, do THAT great thing, have THAT memory and then you’re done and packed and moving on to the next spot. An Instagram Vacation. An Insta-cation?
Anyway, with that in mind, gather my thoughts, and head out to Venice for the first time with Hiro. Tired eyes, but must experience things. A short bus ride takes us to the island, and on to a water taxi, and then, BAM….Venice. Like a thousand books, films, pictures at once. It is what you expect it to be. Beautiful and picturesque and historical and full of tourists. An extensive water taxi like a subway system that snakes around and through the island and to a network of satellite islands surrounding the main one.
People…people everywhere. Tour groups and tourists and languages floating around every corner, from every corner of the globe, all here to experience NOW. Apparently theres only about 50,000 actual residents of Venice still left on the island, and around 200,000 tourists on and around the island every single day. Crazy.
We get the water taxi to the heart of the island, St. Marks Square and San Marco. It is around 5pm on Sunday and I am finally at the first destination, trying to soak in thousands of years of history through bleary eyes and sweat. Actually, it isn’t as busy as I first thought it may be, but it is hard for me to take it all in.
Me and Hiro split up, not really by choice, we just drift apart in the crowds and start to make our own journeys through Venice.
I start to wander through the countless streets and back alleys, back across the island, back towards the station, in order to get some kind of sense of the place. Thank you Google Maps…Thank you Google Maps….I cannot thank that little app enough. I am in a labyrinth of alleyways and streets, some are dead ends, some just end at tiny canals without a crossing…..I would never be able to head in the right direction without constantly checking my phone to re-orient myself.
Wheelie suitcases everywhere. The sounds of the cases echo up and down the tiny passageways announcing the next family group and the next audible language hurrying past to find their hotel, a bar, the railway station, the water taxi…..the cases rumble past in a small plastic convoy, and dissapear around a corner. Apparently they almost passed a resolution to ban wheeled suitcases from the island because of the potential damage to the ancient streets.
Wandering around Venice is a curious experience. Turn a corner, and suddenly, there are people everywhere….a large Chinese tour group surround you, flowing past rapidly around you, a small herd of wheelie suitcases rumble past like wilderbeasts, a romantic couple drift past, drowning in each others’ gaze….then turn another corner, a small passage shrouded in darkness from the proximity of the ancient buildings….and suddenly its complete silence, the stone around you has isolated all the bustle and noise elsewhere, and you are alone…..another corner and you stumble to a dead end, a canal cutting your ongoing journey off, forcing you to backtrack towards one of the larger arteries with a bridge crossing, enabling you to continue your journey in the right direction.
Pockets of silence and noise, stillness and movement, flow and silence, a perpetual duality.
My somewhat rambling, stuttering journey on foot takes an hour or more, until tiredness and jetlag makes me wimp out and catch a water taxi back to the head of the island for a bus back towards the airbnb. I end up in a local restaurant, eating authentic (?) pizza through a thick fog of exhaustion, and then back home to sleep.
Sleep doesnt come easily. Summer heat, jetlag, being in an unfamiliar location, my mind processing the first days’ events, and a running battle with the local mosquitoes all conspire against me and rob me of a good nights sleep. This is a running theme for my first week of travels. For some reason, Italian mosquitoes REALLY like me.
Monday brings what will be my only full day in Venice, so I aim to make the most of it. I wish my trip was longer here, because the airbnb is wonderful. But I cannot afford to relax there with the island beckoning. Plans are formulated, and Hiro and I set out in the morning.
I soon get distracted, and with Hiro’s generous participation, plans are abandoned. Our first premature stop is to a gallery to see Damien Hirst’s new exhibition ‘Treasures From The Wreck Of The Unbelievable‘. I felt I had to do something…..artistic. I mean, here I am, in one of the richest, historically artist spaces on the planet, in the middle of the Biennale, the world’s biggest annual art fair. Arguably one of the world’s biggest artists, arguably one of the world’s biggest exhibitions (I wasn’t even aware that it was so big, it was split between two galleries, we only had time to see one of the galleries).
I won’t go in to a review here, but I really enjoyed it. The gallery was amazing, the exhibition opulent, extravagant, and with tongue firmly in cheek throughout. I was amused to be introducing Hiro to a previously art-free existence. I wonder how he felt about it….
From the Punta della Dogana gallery, we gather ourselves, and after another walk, we head out to one of the satellite islands recommended by our airbnb host, Burano, It is a tiny island over an hour away by water taxi, filled with colorful houses. Apparently, the Daily Mail reliably informs me ‘Legend has it that population began painting their homes luminous colours so that the fishermen could see them even in in thick fog and avoid crashing into the shore after a voyage at sea.’
The island was small, you could probably walk around it in about 30 minutes, again, a maze of alleys and canals, but because the houses were low, much more light gets in to the more intimate areas, and less deserted spaces because of the size of the place.
After exploring the island, again, fatigue takes over, and as I have an activity reserved for the evening, I part company with Hiro and leave him to explore another island as I head back for a rest in the airbnb and enough recovery to head back out in the evening for a 1.5hr walking ghost tour.
I would love to list some fascinating facts about the island and tell you all about the names and people that haunted the place over history, but it was the end of a long day, and the ghost tour sank in to a funk of tiredness. Having said that, I actually do remember a couple of tidbits, and it was entertaining enough, so I am glad I went on it, but I am not sure I am a guided tour type person. Perhaps if I am older, or if I was with someone else….I am not sure.
The end of the day took me to the side of the Rialto Bridge, a famous central landmark in Venice, eating dinner in the ‘Ristorante Rialto Sul Canallgrande’ (yes, I had to google that). It all felt quite decadent and, well, just nice, really. A moment of calm, soaking up the evening atmosphere in the center of the island.
I met back up with Hiro and we went back to the airbnb together and talked about our travels. We were both due to check out the next morning, onwards to separate destinations. We made vague plans to see each other in the morning before checking out, but it wasn’t to be. I finally got a decent nights sleep, finding the controls to the air conditioning, and managing to evade mosquitoes, and made the most of a lie in, and Hiro headed out.
My train out wasn’t until around 2.30pm, and check out was at 11am, so I had time to kill. I ended up hanging out in the railway station for the majority of it, sucking up free wifi and sipping expresso and trying to be all Italian n shit, whilst really looking like another tourist.
I liked Venice….however, perhaps because it has been so well exposed in a million articles and videos and tour guides…..I felt like 48 hrs was enough to see what I wanted to see. It felt like how I expected it to be…which isn’t a bad thing….in fact, there was a certain comfort in that. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I came….however, I don’t have a huge desire to return. There are a couple of reasons I would go back…..either for the Biennale, to really experience the giant art fair….I heard you need at least 2 or 3 days just to absorb all on offer there….or I would like to go back and experience the more opulent side of Venice. Some experiences really need a lot…..staying in a luxury hotel in the middle of the island…..going to a Casino only accessible by water taxi…..the Opera…..those kinds of experiences need deep pockets, but I am sure they are lovely.
From Venice, it was off to Florence by train, 2 hrs 30 mins, and seeing an ex-roomate….