Europe | Italy | North East | Venice – Lost in a giant Venetian maze
Italians like to communicate with each other using a series of wild hand gestures and gesticulations. When I asked a local for directions in Venice the other day, he proceeded to make a series of windmill arm movements and actions as if he was throwing a soccer ball in from the sidelines. It was the only time I had ever asked for directions and left more confused than before.
The train journey from Milan didn’t take very long. I also wasn’t aware that Venice itself is built far from the mainland and is connected by a long bridge for cars and trains. And so one minute I was looking out the train at the landscape, the next minute there was the sea right beside the window, gliding swiftly by. Like a mythical city, Venice appeared out of the haze as if by magic.
Here’s a tip. Never arrive at Venice during Easter week without a reservation. All the hostels I called were full, and so were the cheap hotel rooms. Fortunately outside the station were a couple of guys representing a campsite. As they offered cheap individual cabins I decided to give it a go, even though the campsite is back on the mainland. Besides I thought it might be fun staying at a campsite for once.
Venice certainly warrants the description unique. Built on 118 tiny islands, it is entirely roadfree with water traffic as the only means of transport. Hundreds of bridges connect the walkways to one another. The vaporetto (waterbus) is the handy public transport system along the canal. The Grand Canal snakes through the heart of Venice, and I caught a vaporetto a couple of times to some point further down the canal. It must be one of the most scenic public transport systems in the world, as it glides along the canal dodging gondolas, water taxis and delivery boats. Along the way it passes various historical Venetian buildings and houses.
One afternoon I caught the vaporetto to the Piazza San Marco, which is the main square in Venice. At one end sits the Basilica di San Marco, a large building in the Venetian style covered with paintings, reflecting brightly in the sun. The square is always full of tourists as well as a large number of pigeons.
Lost in a maze
After catching a vaporetto to some far point along the canal, I would try to make my way back on foot to where I started by idly wandering the narrow and confusing network of streets. This must be one of the most confusing street systems in the world, but somehow by the Zen way of navigation I would find myself back to where I wanted to be.
Along the way were plenty of things to distract me: tiny shops to poke my nose into (all shops are tiny), cafes to stop at, buskers to look at, markets to browse through, and bridges to linger on while watching gondolas glide underneath. Without any particular rush it was a perfect way to spend an afternoon. In the late afternoon when the sun is at an angle, the pastel coloured houses would take on a different shade and the water would shimmer with a golden glow.
Italian way of coffee
I like the way the Italians have their morning coffees. They would stop at a tiny pasticceria, have their espressos standing up at the counter, then depart. And so one morning I spent some time on a pasticceria crawl, stopping off at various shops and indulging in some marvellous Italian pastries and an espresso, before moving on to the next one sampling different items. Sometimes the shops were really small and the counter space barely a metre in length, but the Italians would gather round and have their coffees anyway, sometimes standing in the back.
My new favourite Italian thing, besides Isabella Rossellini, is gelati. They make the original and the best in Italy, and I would treat myself to one everyday. Sometimes two or more depending on when I felt the whim.
A different city
For the rest of us, the appeal of Venice is undoubtedly the fact that it is built on water. Without this, it would be almost like any other. The best thing to do is perhaps to just walk the streets and take a vaporetto ride, although the well heeled might do well to hire a gondola. Two or three days are enough to see the city, after this getting lost in a giant maze might begin to lose its appeal.