Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ah, Venice!

After our crash course in train stations back in Rome, we felt like old pros by the time we got back to the station at Florence to buy our tickets to Venice.


We'd also grown to be old pros at commandeering our luggage around cobblestone streets.


Our tickets purchased from the now-familiar self-service ticket machine, we waited around at the station a bit until our train arrived.


Mr. Steele is ready to board.


We were again seated in Carrozza 8, but this time the train was much more crowded. We sat across from a couple of college-aged girls that started chatting loudly as soon as the train started off. Steven and I looked at each other knowingly, and I pulled the iPod from our bag. Time for some travel music.


But our annoyance with the chatty co-eds was short-lived. Because when we got off the train and walked over to the water taxi, THIS was our view:


OH. MY. GOSH. I love Venice.


Seriously, it was like we stepped into a dream world or a movie set or something. It was absolutely STUNNING.


I was in total awe.

So was Zac Efron, who strangely sat in the seat right behind me and offered to hold my luggage. Crazy, I know, right?


This is what the water taxi (or "vapporetto" looks like (another one passed us as we were headed down the Canal):


And although he'd refrained from saying it the entire trip, Steven finally couldn't help himself, and he whispered reverently, "Its like Disney World.... Wow."


As we watched colorful buildings with flags and barber-pole docks float by, I had to agree with him. Or maybe, more accurately, Disney World sort of resembles Venice.


Because as Steven will now tell you, you've never seen anything quite like Venice before.


Once the water taxi docked, we disembarked and shook ourselves from our stupor, and somehow managed to find our hotel among the winding and narrow Venetian streets.

And I do mean narrow.


Our first stop? San Marco Square, to see the beautiful church there.


And also to see the pigeons. They will mob you if you let them. In fact, they will land on you if you stand still too long. Its very Alfred Hitchcock. And rather frightening. Mostly because of the threat of pigeon poo on your shoulder. (This lady, apparently, was not afraid of wearing a little pigeon excrement.)


From every vantage point, the church was beautiful and intricate.


We also found some gondolas, sans gondoliers.


Where are the gondoliers, you ask? Oh, just standing around, chatting it up. In full costume, of course, including their snazzy straw hats.


After our taxi ride and all of our exploring, we needed a snack, so we hit up the closest thing we could find to a convenience store and purchased a very Italian version of "chips and a drink." Ah, weird European brand snacks. Nothing better.


Revived by our "Cipsters," we were ready to keep going. Everyone had told us that Venice was a maze of canals and bridges, but it was hard to picture until we actually got there and climbed over about 4329532 bridges in the first half hour of our walk.


Yep, they weren't kidding. Need to cross a canal? Gotta climb a bridge. (And they were all stairs. No ramp bridges in Venice. No sir.)


Luckily, we stopped climbing over bridges long enough to spot what looked to be THE INDIANA JONES CHURCH!


You know the one:

(The church is at about 0:42.) Come to find out, this wasn't the right church. Nor were the next 10 churches we saw that looked just like it. Apparently, Indy picked a very common Venetian type of church for his subterranean adventures. (And we checked the inside, just to see if X really did mark the spot! Sadly, it did not. No spiral staircase, no aged librarian stamping books, no big stain glass window with roman numerals. Ah, the magic of cinema.)

Although we didn't find the Indy church, we DID find Steven's boat.


Steven had a few Land O'Lakes moments in Venice. He would look out at the water and say something like this: "Look at all those boats out on the lake.... er, I mean, the river..... er, the Canal.... oh, whatever." And then he would do it again, each time we saw a body of water, it was a "lake." He can't help it. His homeland has ten thousand of them. Its only natural... :)


Once the sun set, we hunted down another restaurant, this one right at the edge of the water. I might have been a little over eager to find just the right spot (and therefore made us walk like 4 miles to find the right restaurant...)


I was tickled pink at the place we finally found. Steven was not quite as tickled. (Don't worry, he warmed right up once the food came.)


Our hotel in Venice was nothing to write home about. It was sort of stuffed down a back alley, with no views of a canal -- no views of anything really.


But it was relatively inexpensive and they had free breakfast (again), so we tried not to complain.


Plus, they had those same ridiculously heavy keychains. (Security tip in Italy: Make your hotel keys really ANNOYING to steal...)


Plus, it was all the more excuse for us to stay out of the room and wander the city all day. Down every alley was a picturesque backdrop of canals and balconies.


The pizzerias beckoned with funny faces made from dough.


The fruit stands looked divine. (I seriously have a weakness for fruit stands, don't I?


And guess what we found for the SECOND time!


Dude, I am an expert yarn hunter. Clearly.

Steven, on the other hand, is an expert donut finder.


We ate our donuts on the Rialto Bridge. It was a little more blustery that day, as you can sort of tell from the picture.


But it warmed right up as we headed down to the Rialto Fish Market.


On the flight to Italy, Steven kept telling me that Italians ate horse meat. I didn't believe him at first, but when we spotted this butcher shop in Venice, there was no denying it. Poor horsies.


At the Fish Market, there was more beautiful (and some strange looking) fruit. (I think the spiky one is a chestnut....)


Despite our best Anthony Bourdain intentions, we did not have any weird seafood from the Market.


On the Vaporetto ride into Venice, we nearly got on the wrong taxi, and only managed to stop ourselves when the taxi driver started yelling out "Solo Rialto, Solo Rialto!" which we somehow figured out to mean that his taxi was only going as far as the Rialto stop, and was not going all the way to San Marco (which was where we needed to go). The way he yelled it, and the way the words rhymed just stuck in our heads, and even now, Steven and I will sometimes randomly call out to each other "Solo Rialto! Solo Rialto!"


The Rialto Market was tourist shopper heaven. It had everything, including these fabulous Italian chess sets. Dad would have loved one of these, but alas, they stayed in Venice (and our last $100 Euros stayed in our pocket. Sorry Dad. Next time!)


Another rare exclusion from my "I-am-disappointed-in-all-the-graffiti" policy: Charlie Chaplin.


The one requirement of our Venice excursion was that we do the most touristy thing of all: A gondola ride.


We scoped out the boats and watched other folks go on the rides, and it seemed safe enough, so we asked our hotel to reserve a gondola for us.


The reservation was set for 6:30 PM, which meant we had some time to kill. We made our way back over to the docks and ordered some ice cream and espresso. (Ten Euros! That's like $15!)


But hey, they made it worth your $15 because you got this special sparkly thing in your ice cream.


Luckily, the espresso had no additional frills.


But my if it wasn't delicious. That might be one of the things I miss the most. Italian espresso.


Here's where we sat. See Steven at the middle table?


Promptly at 6:30 PM that night, our gondolier came and picked us up from our hotel, humming happily to himself. Here's the view from our seats on the gondola.


The gondolier pointed out Mozart's house.


We tried to spend most of the ride relaxing, but we couldn't help posing for a couple of cheesy pictures.


Going under the bridges was wild. The gondola was more wobbly than I'd anticipated, and I wondered if we might capsize during a couple of the turns. Don't worry. We didn't.


The best parts of the ride were when we went out into the Grand Canal with all of the other water traffic.


We picked a good time of night to go, too -- just as the sun was setting.


See my feet?


The gondola ride was perfect. Peaceful, relaxing, remarkable. We loved it.

After two days in Venice, walking down the streets in my swishy skirt and my scarf wrapped just so, I started to feel like I could maybe live here. Buy a few more scarves, pick up some essential Italian phrases, sell bric-a-brac in a random touristy store, and spend my evenings sipping espresso by the canal.


Steven even picked out an appartamento for us. Only 340,000 Euros. What a deal.


But then I remembered how much I like Harris Teeter. And my backyard.

So, after a whirlwind week in Italy, we boarded another water taxi and headed for the airport.


Just like a regular bus, only they are steering a helm up there! Very very cool.


Arrivederci, Venice!


All in all, we saw so many beautiful things and amazing places, and we are so glad to have had this opportunity to travel, but it also confirmed in us how much we love this little corner of the world that we call home. Italy was beautiful to visit, and we could probably pack up and live there if the opportunity presented itself, but something about turning the key in our lock and knowing that your own familiar pillow and sheets await you -- there's just nothing quite like it.

And with that, I start a new job tomorrow. Wish me luck!