I arrived at the main train station about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The day was a bit gloomy with a light rain methodically drenching everything. The streets were wet and slick and setting out into the city without a map or idea where I was going didn’t strike me as overly appealing. Luckily there was a tourist information center in the train station. Unfortunately, the lady working there was anything and everything but helpful. I did manage to talk her out of a booklet that listed the Venetian hostels, but as luck would have it, the booklet just had addresses and lacked a map. After setting off on a short- lived foray I returned to the station and was about to request a map or directions to the closest hostel when Jordi and Brent – two guys I had met in Split and traveled to Dubrovnik with-walked in. They had just arrived from Rome on a similar train and had two Canadian girls they had met with them. We were all equally lost, but between my map, the semi worthless tourist info lady and their Lonely Planet guidebook we got a map and figured out which direction to head in. With map in hand we found our way to a hostel, only to find that it didn’t open to the public for another 40 minutes. We waited it out only to be told they were full for that night, but that they had space the following evening. The receptionist did recommend a 1 star hotel which was near by. We got 2 rooms. A double for the girls and a triple for us. All told it cost about the same as the hostel.
We washed, showered, got dressed and set out to explore the city. The city itself was a lot different than I remembered it. When I had been in Venice previously I remembered it as smelly, dirty and disappointing. My memories were of a city that had a few small canals but didn’t really resemble the city I had seen in movies. I remember being incredibly disappointed and for years have thought of Venice as a waste of time. My trip there this time was more because it was Halloween and I figured where better to pass the holiday than in the city that celebrates Carnival with such gusto.
Perhaps it was because of the people I was with, or the approach I took to exploring the city, but my views on Venice have changed drastically. I still think the city is a dirty, smelly hole for most of the year but with the fresh rains, cold air and the presence of a soft breeze in the afternoon the smells and grime were mostly washed away. That left a city that was much friendlier and encouraged exploration. I also found that there were a lot more canals than I had remembered, though I think it was because of the part of the city I was in. The area around the St. Marks square is without question a much drier area than the islands we stayed on and many of the other areas I wandered through. Our Hotel the first night was on a larger channel, the hostel the second night on a small one and the hostel the third night as accessed via a bridge over a small canal that took you straight to the door. The same canal then wrapped in a large semicircle around most of the hostel.
One of the things that stands out in my memory is the overwhelming number of Carnival masks. The masks are absolutely incredible. Some are shaped like large animal heads. Others are small and classic in design. Made from plaster, wood, paper mache and other materials I don’t dare guess. Some are decorated with bright colors and large feathered plumes while others are nothing more than eyes, a huge nose and vibrant jester’s colors.
The beautiful thing about it being an oceanside city is the fresh nature of the seafood. During our stay there were several days where the fish stands that were set up, seemingly at random, had a large spread of fresh fish and crustaceans. In many cases the shrimp and crabs were so fresh they were still crawling. The boats themselves having just dropped the fish off straight away after hauling in the morning’s catch.
While Venice is famous for its canals it should also gain a bit of praise for its bridges. After all, each canal needs several bridges and these bridges, while typically simple, add as much flavor to the city as the canals and boats that decorate them. From water taxis to overpriced gondolas the boats race throughout the city busily transporting everything from food and people to refrigerators and car parts. It’s odd in a way, as it feels like a body – more so than any normal dry city. The canals serving as the main arteries while the walking areas full of meandering pedestrians are the veins that disperse the city’s life blood.
I saw the famous sites, though the duomo was covered in scaffolding and fairly boring as a result the rest of St. Marks Square was in excellent form including the famous pigeons doing what pigeons do. It’s pretty neat seeing that many birds all in one place as they wrestle and fight for food. Though I have to say, for all the people that freak out and worry over things like the avian flu places like St. Marks make me laugh. Not to say that a vigilant eye isn’t necessary, but places like St. Marks really illustrate how easy it would be for things to spread if they were legitimate in a more global sense. With people covered in the pigeons, from head to foot, and the pigeons themselves literally walking over each other to try and get at the food on the ground it’s an odd experience on so many levels. Especially if you step back and ponder the greater realizations that can come from watching the behavior.
I spent Halloween in Venice. With my Canadian companions we set out to find our costumes. Making a pact to put them on right when we bought them and wear them until the end of the evening. The girls split off to shop and do what they do, while the three of us went and set to our business. Before long, desperate for something cheap we settled on dressing as gondiliers. Before I continue, I suppose I should note that my Halloween adventures were perhaps the most culturally insensitive antics of the trip. I was well aware of it and decided it was worth it for a bit of fun.
We found the striped shirts they wear as well as straw hats with the ribbon streaming from the back. I threw on a pair of black slacks and from there, when we finished haggling the price down to something dirt cheap, we headed to a small wine store. There we picked up a number of bottles and set to taking advantage of Europe’s liberal drinking laws. Dressed up and looking like idiots with wine bottles in hand we meandered the city exploring canals, alleyways, small shops and larger streets. The looks we received from locals and tourist alike were priceless. During the remaining two days we spent in Venice we bumped into a number of people that recognized us and I imagine we’re in a good number of photos. Given some of the attention we got, I think people may have enjoyed our antics more than they were actually enjoying Venice.
Eventually we met back up with the girls at the appointed time…it turns out that they had been on the same wavelength. They were dressed in the striped venician shirts, though they had skippers caps (think of the skipper from Gilligan’s Island). With a laugh and a few jabs back and forth we all set off to poke around the city a bit more. We explored the city, hitting up major monuments before eventually finding dinner and settling in at a few of the local bars. All in all the night was a blast.
That’s all for now. I also have some new photos up which I’ll try and link to soon.