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Looking around Do you know that kids show 'Go outside' with the woman and her collie in the biplane? I took her message very much to heart.

The Other World of Venice

UNITED KINGDOM | Monday, 22 June 2015 | Views [224]

When the train pulled into Venezia San Lucia train station I was surprised by how much water separated the mainland and the islands. It seems like a stupid thing to be surprised by. I suppose it’s obvious to most people that, being an island, it would be separated by more than just a canal, or a river. Venice has a habit of being surprising in blindingly obvious ways. I was surprised how much the houses were submerged in the water. You could see half visible doors and windows bobbing on the water’s edge. I wandered how many stories it was to the bottom, whether you could still go downstairs and see the water line, or whether they’d filled them up somehow. I wandered who had lived there before, whether the furniture was still there, what the water had done to the wallpaper. I imagined it looked like the sunken ballrooms of the Titanic. I was surprised how much of the architecture was influenced by the Middle East, despite learning about the permeation of cultures during Venice’s high days as a centre of maritime trading (history lectures coming in handy). I was surprised that there were absolutely no cars, not even many bicycles, which are as common as Tabbachi’s in every other Italian city. The canali are not just pretty waterways, they are a road system. They have taxi’s, buses, traffic lights, stop signs, right of ways, speed limits. Even though you expect it, it’s very different when you actually see it. It’s like a completely different world. It’s like a world from Gulliver’s travels- a topsy turvey version of human civilisation. There’s something quite bizarre about watching people hailing boats with orange ‘Taxi’ stickers on them as the police cruise about in blue speed boats. It’s like looking at your reflection in a spoon; you recognise yourself, but you look so different.

Google maps said it was a 30 minute walk from Venice train station to the hostel. 20 minutes of dodging hoards of tourists and navigating the tiny streets and bridges with our huge rucksacks on our backs and I knew it would be more like an hour’s walk. Venice is more like a maze than any city on Earth I’m sure. Corner after corner, tiny alley after tiny alley and then boom, a dead end. A Piazza appears from nowhere and you cross a tiny bridge and boom, another dead end. The buildings are all several stories high, like a forest of houses, so you can’t look out over anything to try and find out where you are and there are very few sign posts to direct you. All it needed was a Cheshire cat grinning and mocking you from the side lines and the feeling of disorientation would be complete. In the last few days we must have walked almost every square inch of the city, we have walked back to and from the hostel 4 or so times and I still have no idea where to go. Although I’m not particularly well known for my sense of direction as it is. When I first moved to Edinburgh I walked up and down George IV Bridge three of four times looking for the turning onto the Cowgate before I realised it was underneath me; you’d think the ‘Bridge’ bit would have given it away sooner.

But finally we found it, a floor of an apartment building on the edge of a bend on a thin canal. The receptionist Yuri, a handsome Albanian, showed us to our room and we all collapsed on the beds. After freshening up we headed out again to explore and find somewhere to have dinner. We walked down to Saint Marks square to a nice, if a little expensive restaurant in a side street along the Grand Canal. My friend tried some octopus and ink spaghetti whilst I was forced to opt for Pene Al’Arabbiatta again. It’s not that I don’t like it, in fact Arabbiatta is one of my favourite dishes, it just gets a little dull having the same meal over and over. But Venice is famous for its seafood, so there aren’t many vegetarian options here. Afterwards we thought about splitting a gondola with an English mother and son sitting next to us but nothing came of it. Gondola’s, we were told, are a complete waste of 100 euros and it was better to pay 7 euros for the taxi if we wanted a boat trip on the canal. And yet perhaps we missed something by not getting one. By the time we had finished dinner the restaurant was about to close, and as we quickly found out, so was everywhere else. Bed time in Venice is strictly 11 pm, so if you like spending the night drinking or socialising in a bar your sore out of luck. But we were pretty tired anyway, so we just headed back to the hostel to rest for tomorrow.

It’s lucky that the narrow streets and dainty bridges and dead end piazza’s are so beautiful otherwise the frustration of never really knowing where you are would be too much. But this way, gazing at the ornate windows and balconies and sun lit piazze make it so you don’t mind being lost. Venice is mostly houses and yet I’ve seen very little evidence of locals, expect the shop keepers and waiters. Perhaps they blend in with the hoard of tourists suffocatingly crammed along the tiny streets or maybe they stay well out of it. The epicentre of Venice, around Saint Mark’s square, although beautiful, is like a cattle pen of tourists. In the midday heat in peak season this part of Venice is like one of the seven circles of hell. But a little further out in any direction and the crowds disappear and it becomes a nice adventurous stroll in the maze. You shouldn’t walk around Venice with a destination or even a route in mind you should just look around and see what you stumble upon.  That’s how we found a small enclosed garden/art installation whilst we were hunting all the 27 churches that my friend wanted to visit. It was a small red brick walled Romanesque courtyard with modern art sculptures scattered about and some decaying roman statues in a columned veranda type thing, smothered in creeping ivy. And when your feet hurt from walking you should just find a place to sit, be it a café or some steps on the edge of a canal where you just sit and watch the boats go by, letting your breathing syncopate with the gentle waves.

Knowing to expect early closing times the next night we went to a supermarket to get some wine and some food to snack on, out on the balcony of our hostel that evening. We sat out there for only half an hour playing cards with the deck my friend brought from Prague, that had Mucha ladies on them, before another hosteller came and joined us. His name was Avery. He was a chubby, blonde haired frat boy from Tampa, Florida who spoke with a southern American twang and offered us all some of the 4 boxes of Cuban cigars he was hoping to smuggle back to the US. Soon Yuri came to join us and we all sat, sharing life stories, playing blackjack for cigarette filters, sipping white wine from a carton and puffing cigar smoke into the night air like we were feasting at Belmont listening to the music of the stars like the lovers in The Merchant of Venice. There's just something about Venice, almost as if its not a part of the real world, but instead lies in the world behind the mirror, with its own rules of space and time; familiar but strange.

Tags: blackjack, cuban cigars, maze, st marks square, strange, venezia, venice

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