Thursday, May 5, 2011

Venice Part I

Wendy has shown me some truly magical places. She did not nurture a love of new places in me, all she had to do was 1) make me fall in love with her, 2) have me visit and 3) show me the wonder known as Madrid. That was all it took for me to realize “you know nothing Jon Snow.” It awakened in me a longing to see and do more. To finally quit avoiding sunlight, playing video games and believing everything I needed to see was on my TV, and everything I needed to eat was at Hannafords. As I have mentioned so many times before, I did not know I needed these new things, but I did. And in the wonderful five years that we have been together she has shown me places that, when I see them, feel like a ray of bright sunshine on my soul.

We have been on a staggering number of trips together. Almost all of them have been amazing, enriching experiences. But we still had never been to the one place that I actually have always wanted to visit, ever since I was a child.

Venice.

As a child, I thought a city built on top of the water must be a magical thing. Like an Elven city built high in the trees, it had to be so different than everything else I had seen.

In preparation for this journey I read a few things on the web like “The twenty things you can’t miss while in Venice,” and TripAdvisor forums and the Wikipedia entry and a few others. I also read some of Rick Steve’s guide to Venice and a book simply titled “Venice” by Jan Morris.

The sad thing was, all of these things discouraged me rather than the opposite effect that I expected to have. Of the twenty things I wasn’t supposed to miss fourteen of them were museums, palaces or churches. I’ve never been a museum person (luckily neither is Wendy) and palaces can sometimes be nice but they suffer from the same thing as churches. While I found them fascinating the first dozen times it takes one really special for me to be impressed anymore. Rick Steve’s advice was along the same lines with the added caveat that “While I usually try to save money and I don’t like tourist traps, Venice is expensive. Just roll with it. Spend the money and have a good time.” (Not an exact quote.) Anthony Bourdain did a show on Venice and started with the quote “Venice is known for bad food at expensive prices.” (Also not an exact quote.) Jan Morris’s book started out with not a lot of nice things to say about Venetians as well, claiming they thought they were superior to everyone else, never wrong, had the best opera house, the best food, the best art, the best church and the most wisdom of anyone on the planet. I think it was also her that mentioned that people are frequently underwhelmed when visiting Venice. You’ve seen it in movies, on TV, calendars, etc. You get there and, you want to be overwhelmed, but, you already know what you are going to see and it’s exactly like that.

Well, doesn't this trip sounds promising so far.

I didn’t let this discourage me for a number of reasons. Wendy and I like to stroll, see the fish markets, look at the outside of beautiful buildings, find the dark alleys and restaurants that serve the locals and people watch in the sun with a fine glass of wine in front of us. We’ll do those things, we’ll get lost among the alleys, have a nice gondola ride, and eat Italian pizza which is something I can never get enough of. (I used to be a deep dish pizza guy. Thanks to Italy, I have changed my mine entirely and wish to only eat thin crust for the rest of my life. Something with a little char on the bottom please.)

We arrive in Venice and the first problem that a city built on water rears its peculiar head. How are we going to get to our hotel? It’s across the bay over there! I am glad my wife has 1) been here before and 2) has always done the research. Now, to be honest, we did discuss this at home and she presented me with three possible options and asked my opinion, so I know what to expect. But once again, experiencing it is a completely different reality. Having traveled a lot, I know how to do things. You get off the plane, you find a taxi stand and you give them an address. Voila. You do the same thing if you wander around a new city looking to get lost and then you actually do. “Taxi!” Problem solved.

As you can imagine, this doesn’t work at all in Venice. If you get lost, you are lost. Taxi stands are on the Grand Canal. If you know which direction that is, you’re set. If you don’t, you’re wandering down dark alleys that end in even darker water.

Wendy buys us a ticket to a bus that takes us to a Vaporetto stop. A Vaporetto is essentially a city bus but it’s a boat. We haul our luggage onto the front when it arrives, meet a nice American mom and her twenty-something daughter sitting next to us as we make our way to Plaza San Marco. The buildings are beautiful, the water quiet and the realization that I am finally here thrills me like an electric charge. You know what, it’s exactly like what I expected, and yet, not at all. The ramifications of what it means to be in a city in the middle of a lagoon continually surprise me as I realize certain things each day.

We arrive at our stop and make our way through the plaza (more on that later) down a side street, over a bridge, take a left, down a path filled with shops, through an iron gate, into a small plaza, into the hotel door.

“Wendy! We’ve been waiting for you! And you must be Jamie. How was your trip?”

Ladies and gentleman, meet Alex.

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