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venice: where my italian journey begins

June 16, 2009


March 17, 2009

I am lying on a powder blue duvet in a powder blue room with a powder blue couch and powder blue curtains.   Patterned powder blue, people.  The “less is more” motto certainly does not apply here.  The bells of Basilica di San Marco ring 6pm. Gondolas sway on the rio. Three storeys down, I hear ciao ciao and the click of high heels against cobblestone slowly fading in the distance.  I am in Italy.  A place I had only ever dreamed of.   That place I thought of when someone asked “What is the one place you have to see before you die?” and I would cheat by answering “the European continent“, but when forced to narrow it down, I guess I’d have to say Italy.  And now here I am, in a powder blue room, in Venice, in Italy, on the European continent.  And I can hardly believe it.

I hadn’t planned on staying at a hotel.  Come to think of it, I planned nothing beyond the flight and even that was a last minute decision as Venice wasn’t on my initial itinerary.  Too north, too expensive, too much (I thought).  But Rafael generously gave me one of his buddy passes and one doesn’t argue with a free plane ticket.

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I make it as far as booking the plane ticket and figure I’ll wing it on the whole accommodation thing.   When I arrive at the airport, I expect to find an internet station that will support my laisser faire ways and assist me with my mission.  Italian lesson number one.  Never expect anything.  So I ask the woman at the Last Minute Hotels reservation counter for the cheapest room available.  The woman is very kind.  She has long nails and perfect hair.  She finds the 3 star hotel with the powder blue room for 35 euro with breakfast included.  The thought of having a room to myself suddenly appeals to me particularly since I only slept 3 hours last night, so I say sold and she books the room and I buy a water bus ticket and take the 45 minute-long ride into Venice and all the doubts I had about coming here vanish as the boat departs.

The smell of sea, gulls chilling on posts (Italian gulls are way chiller than North American gulls), sun shining, me in Italy, my first view of gondolas and ancient buildings  stained with years of salt water and sea weed lapping against them.  There’s a reason Venice is such a tourist destination and I already know that I won’t regret the stop.

The street system is pretty complicated here but I eventually manage to find my way to the hotel.  I hesitate to enter.  The first floor is pretty run down and, frankly, a little creepy.   But once you get past the dark entrance and up the 3rd floor of Locanta Antiqua Venezia, it opens to a beautiful lobby with big brass keys hanging off the wall and a gorgeous red espresso machine.  A red espresso machine is always reassuring.  It says, I care.

I drop my bags in the room, wash my face, grab a coat then spend the next few hours walking the city.  Even though it is one of the coldest days I’ve had since starting this trip, I head strait to la gelateria for my first Italian gelato.  Two scoops, coffee and tiramisu.  In front of St-Marc’s square.  With a hundred pigeons bobbing heads up and down the open plaza.  My lips are blue, I am damn well past the freezing point but I lick away like a happy kid.


I buy a bottle of wine and pick up some greens, an orange and a roasted veggie sandwich at a quaint market.  My Italian is a little rusty (as in, non existent) so there is much pointing and smiling. This has become my new way of communicating, book-ended by hello, please and thank you.   I’ve traded in buenos dias for buon giorno, por favor for per favore and gracias for grazie mille.  Subtle, yet major differences.  I return to the hotel, pour some wine and eat my sandwich on the rooftop terrace overlooking church steeples and terra cotta shingles.  I go to bed before midnight for the first time in weeks.

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March 18, 2009

I get up at 6:30am and head out to snap some photos before the hustle and bustle.  I expect golden morning light but instead find myself in a deep fog rolling in off the rio.  It is perfect silence, visually and aurally.  To see a cathedral slowly appear as the sun burns the brume away is a thing of beauty.  The San Marco bells ring in 8am.  Venice slowly awakes.  I make my way back to the hotel for free breakfast; an apricot croissant, a hard boiled egg, a carafe of coffee.  e perfetto.

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I check out of the hotel and leave my bag at the desk while I roam the streets in search of the perfect post-breakfast espresso and treat.  For some reason, I have a hell of a time finding anything.  I end up at a Danish bakery.  The irony does not elude me.  I have  a strudel and a cappuccino.  I write postcards and pay 10 euro to send them.  Italian lesson number two.  Stamps are very expensive here.  Postcards to second cousins and friends of friends are not advised.

I wander back in zigzag fashion over bridges, across plazas with random orange carousels and into the occasional dead end.  I pick up my backpack  at the hotel, walk with said heavy ass backpack for 40 minutes to the train station.  The general direction I am aiming for is NW, but in Venice it looks something like this N-W, S-E, W-N.

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I make it to the station with 7 minutes to spare and buy my biglietto.  I dash to the train, sit in the seat and breathe.  I have 2.5 hours to just breathe.  And I still have a half bottle of wine left from last night.    The sun is shining through the window.  The scenery is strait out of a dream.  Small Italian towns and long stretches of green.  I dip into my secret wine stash, pouring into a glass under the table.   An hour later, I am somewhere between tipsy and Florence.  The view is one of vineyards, old villas, cherry trees with pink blossoms blowing in the wind.  I could spend forever looking out this train window.  I’m living la dolce vita.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2009 2:45 pm

    And here I thought it couldn’t get better after Spain. WRONG!

  2. June 16, 2009 4:14 pm

    these italy images are truly incredible! and i’m so loving keeping up with your travel tales as you share them!

  3. June 16, 2009 5:52 pm

    *swoon … i seriously welled up … someday i will make it there!!

  4. June 16, 2009 5:59 pm

    i’m glad you went…there is no other place like it.

    your photos are really magical.

  5. June 16, 2009 10:14 pm

    Wow. I’m practically speechless. These shots combined with your story are just wonderful! Can’t wait for the next installment.

  6. June 17, 2009 11:47 am

    oh how magical! i love venice and the photos in the fog…wow. thank you.

  7. June 17, 2009 7:42 pm

    This was lovely. My recollection is that Venice was magical. It’s now on my list of places I must return to.

  8. June 17, 2009 8:58 pm

    Oh my goodness, what a treat…coming here to find this delectible story and breathtaking images. I want to curl up and read more……

  9. sophie permalink
    June 19, 2009 2:17 am


    I remember that view from the bridge… and that old well in the little piazza….

    I can’t wait for the next Italian installment!!!

    Arrrgh, how I want to be looking out of a train window, lost somewhere in Umbria!!

  10. June 19, 2009 6:05 am

    amazingly i somehow think that even if I stand where you stood to see what you saw I’ll never ‘see’ it more vividly than thru your eyes and words – thank you

  11. Alison permalink
    June 19, 2009 11:22 am

    “somewhere between tipsy and Florence”. I love it!. What a fun place to be. hic…

    And Venice always reminds me of glass, shawls and my twin. Good memories.

  12. Stephanie permalink
    July 2, 2009 7:54 am

    Just started reading your blog. I’m finding it personal, eloquent and just the right amount of whimsy. So far into your memoirs, I can share your experiences of Venice and Florence but before I keep reading I am captured by your photograph in San Marco’s square (?) with the red outdoor chairs in their grey background. I love it and would like to have this image in my house – would you allow it?

    I am a kiwi living in Hong Kong and I love to travel.

    As we say in New Zealand…keep on keeping on.


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