A high speed train took us from Rome this morning through the Italian countryside. Rolling hills lined with trees and patched together with recently disced farmers fields sped by. The train travelled at 245 kilometres an hour much of the time. Soon the hills gave way to an immense flat land that remindedus of British Columbia’s lower mainland. Suddenly the train was surrounded by the Mediterranean and we were gliding into the Venezia S. Lucia Station. The moment we stepped out of the train terminal and into the plaza I fell in love with this city.
The blueish green waters of the Grand Canal were spread out before me. Boats of varying sizes plied the water laden with passengers of all types. A blue sky could not restrict the sun from pouring itself out upon the mingling crowds. Across the canal blocky heavy buildings sat directly in the water seemingly resting immovable on the gently heaving water. In the middle of these sat a white stone building its Roman columns pushing up from its foundation to a high domed roof blueish green and strangely captivating.
Like a fool I had put little good use to my three hours of idle time on the train. I could not be bothered to take the time to register for the wifi on board. I should have been plotting our course to the hotel from the station. My kingdom for a wifi signal! Actually, I hardly cared. We made a left and started walking into Venice. The stone road we followed was lined with shops, restaurants, fruit stands, pizzerias, gelato stands… oh gelato. I convinced dad to stop for gelato! The atmosphere was carnival like but somehow different. For a moment it reminded me of Disney World but no this was real. Real people lived in those apartments overlooking our path and the shops below them. Real Venetians ply their wares, live, love and eventually die here. An old man, clearly a local, shuffled past me intent on some unknown destination. We walked a kilometre into the city until we spotted, of all things, a McDonalds. Certainly they’d have wifi. The place was beyond packed and I could not connect to the wifi. We must have passed 25 or more restaurants all moderately busy and McDonalds is over run. We decided to back track to a restaurant we’d seen along the way. Turns out they had free wifi too. Google really is awesome. I quickly learned that our hotel was a simple 2 kilometre walk away or we could cut that trip down to 450 meters with a ride, on what I’ll call, the water bus. Dad opted for the water bus. I don’t blame him. I’d already walked him a kilometre into the city and a kilometre back. The transit is far from cheap; it’s 7 euros for a single ride or 30 euros for a two day pass. We purchased two day passes.
As we motored slowly down the Grand Canal I marvelled at the ingenuity of this city. Its earliest inhabitants had fled here to escape the barbarian hordes that were the ruin of the Roman empire. It seems the most brilliant cities rise from most unlikely of places. There is a life lesson somewhere in these thoughts. Perhaps it is that what we perceive as our great flaw, terminal weakness or most painful setback may ultimately turn to good with a little effort?
Using my GPS we meandered through the venetian labyrinth to our hotel. Narrow stone pathways run in every direction caught in the gloom of brick building rising on either side. There are no crosswalks, no stop lights, no horns blaring in the distance, no motors tap tap tapping in idle impatience. The streets are too narrow for rickshaws and there are no fields to support beasts of burden. The occasional cat wanders past or a small dog leading its owners. This evening I saw a rat scurry down a dimly lit path seeking some morsel of food. This is a walking city! Men pull oversized dolly’s through the streets burdened with boxes and assorted cargo. These are the truckers of Venice. The sounds that fill the city are the idle talk of strangers and friends in the soft roll of Italian and a hundred other languages. I am entranced with its beauty.
I left my dad in the quaint hotel tucked down an obscure dead end lane. While he grabbed a shower and a nap I ventured out to find the Piazzo San Marco. You know this place. You’ve seen it in a thousand movies. The pigeons congregate here to be fed by countless tourists. A large rectangle surrounded on three sides by columned buildings and crowned on its east by the enormous Basilica di San Marco and to its right rises a brick bell tower. The bells are ringing as I walk through the plaza smiling at the birds as they land on the outstretched arms of tourists and the frightened shoulders of children. There are quartets playing classical music or jazz every 50 meters or so for the passersby and the patrons of restaurants that have spread their tables out into the square. It is all a little surreal. Later dad and I would walk through St. Marks and marvel at the 12th century byzantine floor and the mosaics painted far into the lofty domes above us.
Moving beyond the square I found myself along the waters edge where artists painted venetian scenes and offered them for sale. Kiosks sold knickknacks of the usual sort. It is then that I stumble upon a public park. The city is hardly green but for the potted plants that hang from the windows and balconies of towering residences. Here though in a patch no bigger than a football field is a treed square. The scent of roses greeted me at its gates and I was suddenly aware of the smells of the city I’d passed through already. The tight spaces trap the aromas of bakeries and pizzerias, of tobacco smoke and perfumes and less frequently than I would have thought the smell of the sea.
I got lost returning to the hotel. The GPS was confused by the rising concrete around me. I walked past hundreds of shops: glass works, exquisite masks, books, stylish fountain pens, fine clothes and shoes and everything else imaginable. I began to feel as though I’d been trapped in a condensed Mall of the Emirates. A tinge of sadness at this thought. Yet, a small price to pay to enjoy this city with its thousands of twisting lanes and its hundreds of stone bridges, its solid wooden doors that hide enumerable secrets. This is the setting for a thousand million stories. This is a city to set the imagination ablaze. How badly I wanted my family here with me. My children should be running these streets. I saw Kirsten in every artist and Lilli in every foreign conversation. I saw Jaron in every care free child feeding the birds or running through the plazas. I am already mentally planning the European bike trip that will some day bring Lisa and I to this gem in the Mediterranean.