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The Flying Dutchman

Almost Falling in Canals, and other short stories from Venice

ITALY | Monday, 25 January 2010 | Views [2877] | Comments [1]

Almost Falling in Canals

and other short stories from Venice

SO, we arrived in Venice, the city of canals, and were like, “So? Amsterdam had canals too.”  This city had something it had to prove to us. 

We arrived in the evening, so we did not see much of Venice that night.  We just walked down one street near our hostel and got some pizza of course (Easier said than done: Alice was worried she was suddenly going to over compensate for her lopsided backpack and fall into a canal and then be completely unable to swim while being weighed down by all her life’s possessions on her back, and I was too busy looking at the buildings along the canals to notice where the canal itself was, which nearly sent me to a watery grave once or twice as well).  When we found our hostel, the old man running the place showed us to our room.  He led us outside and into a locked courtyard, and into another building, where we found our room, which was like a hotel room, but with a communal washroom.  This was cool if you liked to get a good nights sleep, which I hear some people like to get, but we didn’t meet a single person our entire stay in Venice.  It seems like all the hostels in Venice are like this, more like hotels than like hostels.  I guess its more of a honeymooners paradise than a backpackers.  It also had zero nightlife.  In spite of all these early pitfalls, we had a great time on those 180 little islands in a lagoon.  

The first morning there, we decided to check out what the real Venice was all about.  We hadn’t yet seen it yet, as our hostel was off in the far corner of the island, situated just across a canal from “the ghetto”.  Oh, but this was not just any ghetto, not your standard, run of the mill ghetto that we have all stayed in hostels in.  This is the oldest ghetto in the world!  FACT: ghetto is an old Italian word for foundary.  All the Jews in Venice were forced to live in the foundary district of the city, so then whenever a city in Europe forced all the Jews to live in one part, they called it a ghetto.  So ya, not just any ghetto, a Jewish ghetto!  Any previous ideas I had about “livin in the ghetto” were completely changed.  

Anyway, we were on our way to St. Mark’s Square, the main piazza in Venice.  We took the vaporetti, which is a fancy Italian word for boat, down the Grand Canal and all the way there.  We got out off the boat a little bit before the correct stop, but thought we could find it just fine on our own.  Easier said than done.  Venice is a really old city, apparently older than city planning itself. The streets go in no particular order, and even trying to follow one’s progress on a map is confusing.  The travel guides say to put the map away, and get lost.  You are on an island, there is  no way of accidentally getting off the island without getting wet, and eventually you will stumble upon whatever it is you wish to see.  Even the locals get lost.  So, like good little backpackers, we did as we were told, and put away the map.  With the aid of a few signs directing us down the correct streets, we found St. Mark’s Square.  

The square was surrounded by huge Renaissance buildings, a nearly thousand year old, ornate basilica, and a tall bell tower.  We headed into the basilica, after dodging past pushy rose salesmen who try to put a rose in your hand while saying “Happy New Year, this is for you, Happy New Year” and then try to make you pay them for the rose if you accept it.  The basilica had a pre-Renaissance gold-everywhere interior with super-complex mosaics covering all the walls.  We weren’t allowed to take any pictures, so that memory is for our minds only. HA.  The basilica had been turned into a bit of a museum, and on display were all the other old stuff that filled it.  Most of it predated Venice, and was the stuff that was stolen when the Venetians raped and pillaged other places during the Crusades, like Jerusalem and Turkey.  There were some horse statues that were from ancient Rome, and some more awesome mosaics, and old tapestries and the like. You get the idea.  After the basilica, we left the square, and did some more wandering through the city streets.  At times I thought I recognized where we were, but soon learned that another reason Venice is so easy to get lost in is because all of the buildings kind of look the same - all of them beautiful - but all the same style, Venetian Style I guess.

We next hopped on another vaporetti and headed out to another island, Murano.  Time for another fun fact!  In 1292 all of the glass makers were kicked off Venice because their kilns were starting lots of fires, so they all set up shop on the nearby island of Murano, which today is still filled with glass-blowers and glass figurine shops.  On Murano we arrived just in time to snap some sweet shots of the sun setting on Venice (sidenote from Alice: Neil did not even BEGIN to do this sunset justice. We got off the Vaporetti turned around and the sky was a brilliant shade of orange. More specifically, the sky over the main island was a beautiful shade of orange (so the reflection in the water was as well) and all the buildings had just turned into silhouettes. AND THEN we actually watched the sun SET. We were standing there taking pictures and it was just going down and it was amazing. It went quickly though, within a minute (literally) the sun was gone and it was only the lovely, lovely, sky. Moral of the story: I love sunsets and this one was DEFINITELY one to be remembered), and then headed home, so we could write the last blog about Florence.  

The next day,  we stopped for stopped for the mandatory-before-Alice-can-do-anything and I’m-starting-to-enjoy-it-too-but-only-with-lots-of-sugar cappuccino.  For only 1.20 euro, its a bit of a steal, not to mention the magic that it performs on Alice’s energy levels.  I believe we also got a slice of pizza each, because, when you are in Italy, you’re going to eat fresh pizza for about 83% percent of your breakfasts.  Why? Because you can, and it is delicious (you also eat pizza for most of your lunches and for all of your suppers where you don’t eat pasta). 

We then hopped on the vaporetti, and headed back to Murano to see some authentic glass blowing. It was a much nicer day then the day before, the sun had come out, and I didn’t need a jacket so I was happy.  We got to Murano and browsed through the many glass-making shops until we found one that was free (we are poor travelers - not glass blowing connoisseurs).  We were told that we would have to wait fifteen minutes before we could see the show becuase “The Master is eating lunch”.  This glass-blowing place was a cult.  Well, we don’t know for sure, but we got a really creepy vibe from it, and everyone who worked there referred to the glass-blower only as “The Master”.  “The Master is ready to show you now”, we were told, and we went inside the little shop to see it happen.  The dude never spoke a word, he just had one of his employees, or followers, narrate what he was doing.  After the show was done, creepy or not, we were impressed.  The Master had turned an orange glowing ball of something that was really hot into a clear, glass horse, in about 2 minutes.  We took pictures of it all, but didn’t stick around after to tell The Master how good at glass blowing he was, like we had been told.  We didn’t really want much to do with this place.  

So, we continued to stroll around Murano in the sunshine, stopping to look at EVERY SINGLE window with little glass thingies in them because Alice suddenly REALLY likes little glass thingies.  At one point, we had stopped to admire a large glass sculpture in the middle of a plaza.  I soon realized that Alice was nowhere to be found.  This is scarier than usual since neither of us has a cell phone.  I waited in the plaza, which had like six roads leading in every direction, so she could have been anywhere, until she poked her head out of a little shop selling little glass thingies just long enough to tell me she was just browsing in there.  

We hopped back on the vaporetti and went to another little island in the lagoon, Burano.   Burano is famous for all of its buildings being painted different, bright colours.  We strolled around this little island town for a while, taking pictures of the canals and the houses, but really just looking for some gelati, because the hot sun had reawakened (it had never really been asleep) our hunger for the stuff.  The island was small, and, though densely populated, there was NO gelati to be found.  This was a disaster! We then found a sign on a shop selling gelato! We went inside and they told us that they didn’t sell gelati.  We wanted to sue them.  We promptly left the picturesque little island and went back to Murano, where we finally found a gelato for each of us, and we were happy.  

We hopped back on a vaporetti and made it back to Venice.  That night we thought we would try our hardest to walk all the way to St. Mark’s Square so we could see it all lit up at night.  Never really knowing exactly where in the city we were, we ended up following the streams of tourists all the way there! Well, almost all the way there.  Near the end we got kinda cocky and decided to take a backstreet to get away from all the slow moving tourists, and ended up on REAL backstreets.  We were quite unsure where we were, which direction we were facing, which direction to go, and ended up following signs that were spray painted onto the backs of buildings like graffiti.  I wasn’t sure if they were taking us to St. Mark’s or to buy drugs.  In this little adventure though, we ended up finding some beautiful secluded canals, and eventually, St. Mark’s!  

St. Mark’s was all lit up with lights, so we sat and marveled a bit, and then walked along the grand old buildings on the waterfront and hopped on a vaporetti, one last time, to take us home along the Grand Canal.  Not all went according to plan though, as we had hopped on the right boat, but going in the wrong direction, so we got to take the scenic route home by going around Venice.  We got to see some amazing sights, and were sad to leave after such a short time.  Turns out Venice is more than just canals. 

The next day we got up bright and early and took the train to Rome.  I finally wrote all my postcards which I had been carrying around since my second day in Amsterdam.  We made it to Rome and it was WARMish.  So excited for this city. Stay tuned.  



Tags: alice berents, burano, canals, gelatto, murano, neil loewen, vaporetti, venice




Hi Neil and Alice,

We really liked your story and decided to showcase it on our Italy feature so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy travels!

  Alicia Jun 1, 2011 10:21 AM



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