Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ah, Venezia, II

A bridge near the Rialto area
 To build a city where it is impossible to build a city 
is madness in itself, but to build there one of 
the most elegant and grandest of cities is 
the madness of genius.
~ Alexander Herzen

What about Venice makes it one of those cities that people—even those who have never been there—absolutely love? The bridges? The canals? The gondolas? The gondoliers? The masks? Is it an elegant dream that we all have?

Truth be told, I have a number of friends who have been there and actually do *not* like Venice. "One day was enough for me," one told me recently.  Another couple told me they spent three days there, and they'll never go back.

Some years ago, Mike and I spent three days there, and I'll admit that it was not our favorite city. In considering whether to go yesterday or not, I tried to remember exactly what it was in particular that we didn't like.  I remembered all too quickly once I got there.

But, let me start at the beginning.

Departures yesterday
I got up early because I wanted to catch the 8:20 train to Venice because I'm cheap.  The cost of the 8:20 ticket was 11 euro as opposed to 35 euro the next few trains would cost. The difference was that the 8:20 train would take two hours while the later trains would take about 90 minutes.

Apparently everyone going to Venice from Bologna yesterday had the same idea as the train was full. I arrived early to get a seat, and over 30 minutes, I watched as the train filled with more and more people bound for Venezia.

(Side note: The regional trains in Italy do not assign seats, so if you want to sit, you have to arrive early enough to grab a seat. Even though they don't recline, the seats are comfortable. The biggest drawback is that, except for the first row, the seats in Italian trains are grouped in fours on both sides of the aisle—two facing forward and two facing back. On one side of the train, the first row has only three seats.)

I chose to sit in the first row that had three seats. I was watching people running down the platform when a group of six plunged through the swinging plexiglass doors in front of me. A woman and two men threw their luggage on the seats across from me, and another woman and man tossed theirs on the seat in front of and next to me. They never said a word to me, even when the man knocked me with his over-size backpack as he moved it so he could sit.  Tourists.

Another Venetian canal
Except for the screaming kids at the back of our car, the ride got off to a good start. With each stop, more people jumped on the already full train. Since the number of people getting on was greater than the number of people getting off at each stop, many people had to stand. Most of them stood in the "lobby" area of the car (the area where one enters/exits the train), so the car was not overcrowded.
The only thing that bothered me about that situation was that a nun got on in Padova (Padua), and while there were a lot of young kids in seats in our car, not one offered her—nor did their parents make them offer her—a place to sit.

Early in the trip, the man next to me decided to stretch his arms above his head just as I turned mine toward him. The skunk that once built a nest under our Nashville furnace had a little competition. Unfortunately, the man must have been pretty tired as he had to stretch quite often.  Worse, he must have also had a bit of an allergic reaction to something because he sneezed a lot.  Had he covered his mouth, I might not have cringed as much.

The two hours seemed a lot longer.

Near the Accademia

When you arrive at Venice Santa Lucia, the main train station, and exit through the front, you find yourself on a canal.  In front of you are loading areas for the water buses, water taxis, private boars, and even gondolas.  As soon as I walked through the big doors and into the sunlight, I remembered what it was that I didn't like about Venice. Tourists. Crowds. Chaos.

My plan for the day was to spend some time in Venice and some time on the island of Burano. Unfortunately, I stupidly forgot to research getting to Burano from Venice, so I had to wade through tourists to get info from the tourist office.  Fair enough. I didn't have to wait long.

"I would like to go to Burano today," In English told the gal who waited on me.  "How do I get there? Does it take long to get there?"

"No," she said. "Eet's only a lee-till-a time=a to go-a by boat-a. Buy-a da tourist-a pass-a so youse canna save-a time-a."  The 20-euro tourist pass, in short, is a card that one can use on the water buses. If you buy a single bus ticket, the cost is 7 euro for one hour, and that doesn't get you far, as you'll see.

"Ok. I'll buy the tourist card.  Which bus do I take?"

"42," she replied. "Four. Two.  Four. Two." She added the last in English in case I didn't understand. I did, but that was fine. Fine until I got to the water bus and found that there is *no* #42. I looked at the routes and saw that #1 went to St. Mark's Square.  I decided to get on it and play it by ear.

I read once that tourists in Venice (and Rome, Paris, London, etc) do not have a sense of staying in line. I found that to be quite true yesterday when the water bus door opened and people behind me started shoving to get on board.

"My gosh," I said to one woman who stepped on my foot, "the boat is not going to leave without you." She, apparently didn't care because she wanted on so she could stand in the way of everyone else trying to get on.

"Move inside, please.  Take a seat, please," the steward yelled in Italian and English. Of course, no one standing on the deck wanted to move inside or even get out of the way because, darn it, they wanted to be on the deck of a vaporetto in Venice. Honestly, there were fewer of us sitting in the seats inside than there were standing on the small space on deck. 

St. Mark's from the water
 The day was beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride to St. Mark's, although it took almost an hour to get there. The views of Venice from the water are phenomenally breathtaking, and I always wonder not only how they built the city so long ago, but also how they keep it from sinking.

(Side note; There are 118 islands connected by over 400 bridges that make up the city. Because the island were not strong enough to support the structures, underneath all of them are millions of piles of wood that hold Venice up. The city also has almost 200 canals and about 125 piazzas.  The alleys not on the canals and away from piazzas tend to be narrow, dark, and in many cases, dirty. Graffiti, a pock on the face of almost every city in the world, covers a lot of the walls.)

A small alley
 Once the bus finally arrived at St. Mark's Square, I decided to immediately  hop another boat to Burano Island. Like its sister, Murano Island, it's a "leetilla" off the coast of Venice and accessible only by boat. I figured I'd spend a little time there and get back to Venice to spend a few hours walking around and looking for where we stayed when we were there before.

As we waited to board the boat to Burano, a girl standing a little to my left let out a sneeze that would give a 200-pound man a run for his money. She, of course, did not cover her mouth and sprayed just about everyone in the general vicinity of Venice. She laughed and said something. I have no idea what it was because she spoke some language I'll never learn. Most of us glared at her, and she continued to laugh until they opened the doors to the bus.  At that point, she pushed past most people to get her place on the deck.

A little piazza

 To make a long story short, the "leetilla" water bus ride to Burano ended up taking 70 minutes, and that's not counting the time I spent getting to St. Mark's.  It was, though, a beautiful day to spend on the water. There were hundreds of speedboats and fewer sailboats out. Being on water that long usually makes me a little ill, but I actually was fine.

I'll tell you about Burano tomorrow, but I want to go back to my time in Venice later in the afternoon. When I got back, I headed to where I remembered our apartment was. I walked through a number of narrow alleys and got lost, but came upon a small bridge that looked familiar. (below)

The canal near our apartment

Sure enough, down the street I found the bar, butcher, and cafe that were right outside the apartment entrance. For old time's sake, I bought an apricot pastry and walked the old back alleys in the area.

By 4:00, I was more than ready to get away from the hoards of people all over the city even though I hadn't seen everything I wanted to see. I got on a water bus, found a seat, and held on.

Tomorrow: Let me introduce you to butts (no photos!), boats, and Burano

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