Tales of a wandering lesbian

Venice, day 1, part 1

After a fairly comfortable 6 hour train ride, I arrived in Venice.  The trip came together quickly – about two days after I realized that my time in this leap is coming to a swift close.  The journey to Venice itself was a nice adventure.  I thought I’d get up at about 6 or 6:15 to walk to the station and catch the 7:35 train to Lucca.  But, through a series of miscommunications, I ended up sleeping until about 7, which mean I had exactly 35 minutes to get dressed, shoulder my pack, walk to the station and secure a ticket.  Fortunately, I’ve taken the train from Fornaci to Lucca once before, and the ticket machine was being agreeable, so I was able to navigate with about 5 minutes to spare.  Perfect.

Like last time, I ended up commuting with a bunch of high school kids who were headed to school.  Once in Lucca I waited in line at the ticket counter with the kids, and purchased a ticket for my first ride on a high-speed train.  I’d pick up the train in Florence, after an hour-long ride on a regional train from Lucca.

I grabbed a seat across from a nice young woman, wrapped my legs around my pack, and drifted off to sleep – along with the woman across from me.  Getting up at 7 meant no time for coffee, and it was now almost 9.  My brain was shutting down with the lack of caffeine.

When I woke up, it was to find a hand near my face, pointing to my foot.  The young conductor was here – and he was agitated.  I reached for my ticket.  “No.”  He was concerned about my foot, which was resting on the seat opposite me.  Oh shit, I put my foot on the seat.  I don’t really know what he said, because I was still half-asleep, but the woman across from me had her eyebrows raised.  Somewhere inside me I must have understood, because I reached over and brushed off the place where my food had been (there was nothing there, just by the way), and then heard him say something to the effect of “with velocity”  “con veloce” possibly.  So I brushed faster, and he seemed moderately happy.  I apologized, in Italian, for not speaking Italian well.  This led to a minute long tirade, in Italian, about how, if everyone put their foot on the seat every day, it would make the seats disgusting, and he wouldn’t want to sit on them.  (Just by the way, the seats were already disgusting, and my shoe was probably cleaner.  Still, I got the point.)  I had attracted attention, and people were leaning into the aisle to take a look.

I apologized, told him I understood and handed him my ticket, secretly excited that I had understood the lecture.  I closed my eyes and heard another voice.  When I opened my eyes again, I found the woman across from me smiling – and offering me some hand sanitizer.  She obviously agreed that the seats were already disgusting.  I thanked her, we smiled at each other, and promptly both fell asleep, her head bent completely forward and mine lolling on the headrest.

When we reached Florence, I was excited.  I’d been here twice before and knew the station.  And I had about 40 minutes – enough time to grab some coffee and a pastry at a place friends had taken me to last time I was there.  I made my way out of the station and found the café.  I ordered, ate, used the restroom and made it back to the station with plenty of time to catch the train – which was late.

The second the reader board posted the departure platform, I rushed over with a zillion other people.  I walked down toward the end of the train, hoping to find a relatively empty car, and ended up sitting in a row by myself while the other hoards of English-speakers combed the compartments for their assigned seats.  (Truth be told, I didn’t even think to look at my ticket for an assigned seat.  I think I just lucked out that the ones I chose were empty.  Excellent.)

We rode along and I napped, read my Italian Harry Potter and listened-in on the business man who was talking non-stop on his cell phone.  The landscape changed from city to suburb to vast, open green dotted with houses, and finally to water.

And then we were in Venice.  The 10 minute train ride to the island felt oddly like the tram ride from the parking lot to the gates of Disneyland.  People were milling about, gathering their belongings.  Couples were kissing and taking each other’s pictures, and I was hopping from one side of the train to the other, trying to capture the views.

Venice from fast train

In the approach to Venice, I had studied the map, trying to make sure I’d be able to find my way to the hotel, a good 30 minute walk from the train station.  I could take the vaporetto boats but I thought it would be more interesting to walk and see the neighborhoods.  I was confident that I could make it to the hotel eventually.  Go across the bridge, hang a right, turn left after the second canal, cross at the 5th bridge, turn left at the canal, walk past the hospital , over the bridge, hang a left and there it would be.  Simple, right?

And then it started raining.  Due to the train delay, I had exactly 35 minutes to get to the hotel by check-in.  So I put on my rain gear, walked out, and started the trek.

As soon as I left the area of the train station, a quiet settled over the neighborhoods.  There were very few people on the streets and almost no tourists.  I became immediately distracted by the immense beauty of the city.  Everywhere I turned was another postcard.  Everything seemed so peaceful and dreamlike as I walked over bridges and along canals.


Distractions aside, I did pretty well.  I was able to make it into the Dorsoduro neighborhood just fine.  In the end, I only missed one turn, but realized it almost at once.  I walked right past a street that looked like a normal street on the map, but in reality was about 3 feet wide.  I almost missed it the second time.  This was my introduction to Venice streets.  Not intended for anything other than pedestrian traffic, these alleys are tiny.  I thought I was about to walk into Diagon Alley at every turn, and really wondered if anyone else saw the turn that I had missed.

Diagon Alley

A short walk further, and I saw the emblematic lantern of my hotel, Locanda Montin.  Placed along a quiet canal, the hotel was perfect.  I walked in the door to find myself in an old-school inn.  The high, dark wood front desk stood just to the right of the door, inside the restaurant that makes up the first floor.

Georgio showed me to the upper floors where I had my choice of the single I had booked, or a 10 Euro upgrade to a double with private bath.  Bingo.  The canal view room sits at the top of the hotel overlooking the quiet, picturesque canal below.

Canal from room

I threw down my backpack, grabbed my computer bag and rushed downstairs, eager to head out into the city.

The next two hours were spent tramping around as much of the city as I could see before my feet started screaming at me about the two days of downhill trekking they had just completed.

Starving for a bite to eat, I found the first shop selling pizza by the slice and ordered one with veggies.  It was huge and lovely, covered with zucchini.  I sat in the piazza and watched as a couple of men and a few seagulls cleaned up what looked like a fish market.

Pizza 1

The pizza was excellent and I was still hungry.  I considered going back in for another, but decided to walk along and see what else I could find.  The second slice had eggplant and peppers.  It was a piece of art to look at, and tasty.

Pizza 2

I stuffed it in my face as I walked past jewelry shops and bakeries, and in the first dead end of the day that lead to a private dock on a tiny canal.

Dead end

My third and final slice of the day was margheritta (tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil).  It had the best crust of the three, but ended up soggy due to the amount of grease rolling off of it, and down my chin.

Pizza 3

This one I enjoyed as I walked down small, residential alleys.

I didn’t pull a map the entire time.  I just walked and let my gut guide me.  And it guided me well.  I passed the same sweet shop three times from different directions.  On the third pass, it had been long enough since the pizza that I thought I could have a cappu and a snack.

This resulted in a fantastic, dense, chocolate cake with a layer of some kind of berry jam.  I enjoyed it at the bar along with my cappuccino as I gazed into the back at the racks of beautiful panettone that are starting to arrive in shops along with the Christmas season.

Ciocolato Venice cappu Panettone

The day wore on, and I kept walking.  As it got darker, the city felt warmer.  A kind of glow seemed to come from the bricks and stones themselves.

Venice wall Venice street Fancy street

I decided to head back to the hotel.  After wandering for an hour and a half, I had started to see the pattern of Venice emerge.  I watched as women disappeared into little more than cracks in the wall at the end of apparent dead ends – and I followed them, winding my way back to where I thought the hotel was.  I ventured into little piazzas and found beautiful Corinthian columns hiding just out of sight.

Columns in Venice

And I watched gondoliers making their way through the canals at dusk.

Gondola at dusk

The day of wandering served me well.  In no time at all I was back in front of the lamp and the front door to my hotel.  And then in my room wishing my family a happy Thanksgiving, and planning my night – my next adventure into the beautiful, surreal city.

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November 28, 2009   3 Comments