October 7, 2012

Confessions of the Euro-fluenced: Days 93-94

At any given point during peak season, Venice is rumored to have more tourists than locals. Yeah. . .

Hands down, Venice was THE most touristy city we’ve visited. Andrew didn't particularly enjoy his time there mostly because of his semi-agoraphobic tendencies; however, I was able to ignore the throngs of tourists and grow fond of the city!

I knew that Venice was famous for its canals, but I had never given thought to what that actually meant. Let me put ‘being famous for its canals’ in perspective for you:

Having canals means having no roads.

Having no roads means having no wheels.

Having no wheels means having no bikes, trikes, scooters, or anything else depending on those lovely roundish objects.

In fact, the only wheel-like objects I saw were the rubber tires tied to the sides of boats to act as bumpers.

What I didn’t realize was what a society with no wheels does for an alternative.

Alternative #1? Legs. Besides canals, the city was over-run by dark, narrow, alley-like walking paths/streets that went from canal to canal, connecting the tall, pedestrian bridges.

Alternative #2? Boats. Boats for everything.

Ambulance boats. Trash boats. UPS boats. Dump truck boats. Bus boats. Taxi boats. Barge boats. Tug boats. Cruise boats. Private boats. Small boats. Big boats.

[I feel like I’m writing a children‘s book.]

Then there were the gondolas.

One gondola.
Two gondolas.
Three gondalas.

[Again, a children’s book.]

There were many, many, MANY gondolas.

BEFORE arriving in Venice, when Andrew asked if I desired to take an absurdly expensive gondola ride through the Venetian canals, my answer was a definitive eye roll accompanied by 'Duh, yes!'

AFTER arriving in Venice, well, any romantic notion I previously had just up and died within an hour of spotting our first gondola. Why? Because there wasn't just one sleazy gondola driver working the canals, there were hoards of them providing mass-produced-faux-romantic-Venetian-gondola experiences.

Picture this for a minute: Gondolas lined up end to end through the canals, almost like they were riding on a hidden track under the water (think amusement park ride for little kiddos)… Gondola drivers shouting inside jokes in Italian to each other and updating their Facebook status* on their iPhones… all the while nonchalantly dodging much larger motorized boats by mere millimeters.

*GondolaDriver status: 7:02pm Ho, ho, ho. Another sucker paying me 100 big ones to push them through the mucky water… guess they haven’t figured out that they would see the same sights if they just WALKED the canal. #vegashereicome

Sorry to ruin all of your presupposed notions of gondolas rides.
(And if you HAVE had a great gondola experience, don't be offended. I'm just trying to make myself feel better for not going on one!!)

And for all of you fancy people out there, I am well aware that gondola driver is not, by any means, the correct terminology. To prove my literacy, the correct term is gondolier. My choice of using the former, more derogatory term is quite purposeful. The gondola drivers that I witnessed were by no means worthy of being called gondoliers. No way.

So, instead of paying for the whole gondola experience, Andrew and I did the next best thing… we walked beside one. Yes. Laugh it out now. We picked a gondola where the tourists had not only paid for the ride, but also paid to have a man sing to them… and we were off! On our own two feet, paying absolutely nothing for the experience, listening to the sound of his songs echoing off the buildings, watching the shadowy colors of twilight reach far into the depths of the canals, almost feeling the gentle rocking of the boat in the water…

It was actually quite fun. There were a few places where it was impossible to follow the boat on foot. So, we would peek at the map and literally run to where we thought the gondola would pop back out on the foot path. We’d be standing there, on the bridge, waiting, when all of a sudden we’d hear a deep, baritone voice come echoing down the canal…

*GondolaDriver status: 7:07pm Someone call the police. American kids following me. Too cheap to pay for a ride. Stupido. #vegaswillhavetowait

Enough about that. What else did Venice have to offer?

~Free french fries: UNashamedly, we ate McDonalds, pizza, kebabs, and grocery market food the entire time we were there. Instead of having high expectations for low quality restaurant food, we decided to pay just the right amount for food who’s expectations we were familiar with. PLUS, how could we not take advantage of McDonald's monopoly days freebies?

~Locanda Ca’ Le Vele: Owned by two young Italians, Max and Ivan, our hotel was pretty sweet. Murano glass everywhere, cloth wallpaper, large rooms, TVs, canal views, etc. They even delivered breakfast to our room each morning (admittedly breakfast looked more scrumptious than it actually was).

~Getting lost: Since Venice is on a pretty small island, its one of those places where one must ditch the map and explore on a whim. Eventually, you will arrive at a large body of water, and then you must simply re-orientate yourselves and go the other direction. We found too many cool houses, cafes, squares, and markets to even mention.

~St. Mark’s Square: One of the biggest attractions of the city. It didn’t do anything for us (as usual), but what WAS cool was, no matter where you were in the city, there would be signs to the square. I’m not talking official government signs, people. I’m talking homemade signs, taped eye-height, to the corners of buildings (made from spray paint, pen or pencil or marker, paper, cardboard, etc). It literally was Venice’s ONLY graffiti! I found this pretty fascinating. I’m not sure who these people were who made these signs (probably business owners around the square), or why they put in the effort (no matter how little effort they put in). As untrustworthy as the signs looked, we definitely relied on them to find our way through the maze of alleys!

~Rat poison: Apparently Venice’s rat population takes to the streets at night (since they can’t live underground). So about every hundred feet or so on the streets, we would see a small rat trap or a box of poison. Unfortunately, no rats crossed our paths.

~Overall cleanliness: I’m not sure if the government makes any extra effort to keep the dark alleys clean, or if locals are just generally clean people, but Venice did not smell and was not dirty. Even the teal colored canals were strikingly beautiful--unlike Amsterdam’s canals which were murky and trashy.I’m sure the difference here is because the water in Venice’s canals is constantly being refreshed with the ebb and flow of the ocean… compared to the stagnant, murky, freshwater canals of Amsterdam.

~On the third day: This was an especially long one because, having checked out of the hotel in the morning, we had to bide our time until our night train left late in the evening. This was particularly hard because of the city’s lack of Starbucks and green spaces. We were so bored we spent quality time at McDonalds drawing portraits of one another. We even decided to try to take super cheesy/bad tourist photos to bide our time. However, we made it through and we (I) arrived at the station excited for the potentially great sleep a night on the train has the ability to provide…

But for that, I leave you to begin a new entry!

>Food 0
>Location 1
>Activities 0
>Comfort .5
>Hotel 1

The Turner FLACH Rating? 2.5 stars

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