Anonimo Veneziano

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Saturday, 6 November 2010 at 16:26

Thanks to the wonders of TrenItalia’s Eurostar Frecciabianca service, I am writing this blog from the comfort of a 2nd class carriage direct from Venice to Milan. Since I can’t work the internet connection, it’s really only being drafted on the way, but, it’s better than rushing it when I get home! Oh, yes, you may have picked up on the word Venice being thrown around…let me bring you up to speed:
On a spur-of-the-moment last-minute decision, I hopped on a train and headed to Venice, La Serenissima. Four hours of travelling, and I turned up at the station, in the dark. Outside the train station are three (or four) stations for the traghetto, or water bus, which would have taken me to my destination – Hotel Belle Arti, Dorsoduro -- in less than 20 minutes. Not having a clue, and seeing that the line for tickets was extremely long, I opted to walk – after all “Venice can’t be that big”
Problem Number One – Venice isn’t just big, it’s spread out over multiple islands, and all of its streets are winding and confusing. That’s just in the daytime. When you get to 6.40pm, on a winter’s night, it becomes a completely different animal – from a rather fetching poodle, to a wolf that potentially has lasers for eyes. I would later find out that it’s so much easier to just get a traghetto from A to B than try to follow the yellow signs that point to landmarks, day or night.
So, I had the fun of walking down dark alleyways, over multiple canals, and in every direction of the compass. I knew my lodgings were in Dorsoduro, which is in the south-west of Venice, and I knew the station is in the north-west of Venice. Simple logic says “Head out of the station, turn right, then turn left, then head straight until you find your street name” – that would work on a nice grid plan. Here, nothing like that ever works. I ended up in San Polo, which is in the dead centre of the city, with signs pointing me back to the station and to San Marco, but none pointing me in the direction of Accademia, the nearest landmark to my final destination.
Let me remind you: it’s twenty minutes via traghetto from Ferroviaria to Accademia. I left the station (Ferroviaria) at about 6.45. I didn’t arrive at Accademia until gone 7.30. Still, on turning up, I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, nowhere in Venice is cheap and I have an unfounded fear of hostels – so, I had booked into a hotel, and paid €65 for the privilege of having a bathroom in the room. Despite bemoaning this, it was well worth the price! The bathroom seemed very modern, and the room was the most beautiful hotel room I’ve ever stayed in – breakfast didn’t live up to my standards, but that’s what you get for thinking it starts at 8am, when really it started at 7am and all the Germans had been up since 5am, with their shared bathrooms, swooped down on the breakfast room, taken the fresh brioches, leaving me with the staler ones.
I’ve neglected to mention that my bit of night-time exploring left me slightly scared – strange city, all alone, and very few people on the streets, so I returned to my room and hit the hay. Saturday, I managed to get out of bed very early, eat, and check-out by 8.30 – I walked, again due to my stupidity, but I guess that was also due to following the advice given to me by the internet: “Don’t use a map; get lost in the streets of Venice” – and I’m glad I did. Foggy though it was, it was quite romantic to be wandering the half-empty streets, the fog making everything look that little bit more tragic. I actually felt like I’d found the perfect place in Italy; a place I would gladly come back to and call ‘home’.
Then the fog lifted, and everything went to pot. The piazzas filled with tourists, either German, Spanish or Sino-Japanese it seemed, all snapping photos and getting in my bloody way; the traghetti, which I figured out how to use-and-abuse, were rammed full of people all day – whether I was going in one direction, or in the other, along the Grand Canal, to the Lido, away from, or towards Piazza San Marco – the couples came out of the woodwork, and everyone suddenly forgot how to speak Italian. Here come my other two problems:
1. Nobody would speak to me in Italian. The receptionist in my second hotel decided to only speak to me in English, even when I refused to reply in English. Even when I stopped off for a caffè, the barista only spoke to me in English. For once in my life, I was actually pissed off that people were speaking my language – I honestly thought it was as bad as we Angolophones who insist on speaking our own language in foreign countries. Annoyed me senseless for a good half an hour, I tell you!!
2. All the couples came out. Whether I was on a boat, on dry land; on top of a church, or out on the streets, they were there in their thousands. It was either young couples who stood right next to me and chewed each others faces off, or old couples who were all gooey without actually showing it. I guess I should have expected it, what with Venice’s reputation preceding it, but I didn’t expect it to get to me – the first 24 hours, I just rolled my eyes and got on with it. Then I saw the Rialto all lit up, and the couples around it being all lovey, and sharing candle-lit dinners on the Grand Canal. Like being punched in the stomach, I tell thee. But, enough of my whining!!
Second night. Different hotel. My first one was in Dorsoduro, and was a slice of under-priced luxury. The second one was…well, different. I was in Canareggio, right next to a traghetto stop that goes right to the station, paying €45 for my stay – and that included breakfast, and a bathroom. The room itself was quaint, and was apparently the oldest one in the building. I’m not complaining; it was pretty good for a 1* hotel; and cheap in terms of what you get in Venice. It was probably more expensive than a hostel, but…it came equipped bathroom, even if that bathroom was in an “under stairs cupboard”. All I care about: My own private bathroom.
My last day was spent riding the waterways, and making sure I saw everything I needed to. Little did I know, for example, that the Chiesa dei Frari, was actually behind the Traghetto stop at San Tomà. I mean, I spent a lot of time wandering San Polo looking for it, when I could have just got off at one of the water-bus stops. Just my luck really. Try as I might, however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were one too many tourists for my liking, and, just like me, they called everyone else ‘tourist’ – even at 9am on the Grand Canal there were loud, brash Americans decrying the state of the Traghetti in the mornings when “Everyone is going to San Marco” (FYI, the examples in question got on at San Marco…I left them at San Tomà, thankfully…)
Now to the most important point:

Did I enjoy Venice? Was it worth it? Well, in a word, yes. I think everyone should see it once, maybe even spend more time here than I did, see the museums and wander the streets just for funsies. As a city, without the tourists, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful and (in the fog) hauntingly romantic cities in the world. Add in the hundreds upon thousands of tourists, and, for someone like me who likes to rush about from point to point, not spend every waking second staring in shop windows at things I can’t afford, and generally just seeing the sights…and maybe not so much. There are some gems here – Via Garibaldi (and the surrounding Calles) in the Castello district is Venice, without the tourists; it is the real Venetians, going about their lives, and was probably one of the few moments that brought me back to reality after being surrounded by beautiful buildings and too many snap-happy travellers.
Will I come back? Yes. Would I like company next time? Most definitely.
(You may notice, unlike other blogs, that this lacks general photographic accompaniment. I didn’t forget to take photos; I didn’t forget to post them. Pictures will eventually be found on my flickr, just because I’d like to ‘free up space’ in these travel blogs)


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