3/19/08 We arrived at the Ryanair airport in an out-lying town of Venice around 5pm. Not knowing what else to do and being scared off by warnings that Venice is one of the moste expensive places in Italy, we thought about staying one night in the remoter town. Laziness, however had something else in mind and there being a bus with a sign to Venice for 6E tempted us to just step on and ride. We made it to the city around 6, completely dissoriented and found out that we were actually on the island, a complete surprise to us both. We found a stream of people going to and from somewhere and decided to follow it. It led to the train station, where people were coming and going in the dark. Honestly, I expected to hate Venice with its crowds and tourism, but this stream was real. It was people doing something, going to or from somewhere, leaving work to take the train home or arriving with bags. No one was buying glass crap or wandering aimlessly to the big attractions. Rick Steves, who I now think is a someitmes helpful alarmist (for various reasons) says the train station is nothing more than an area meant to rip off tourists and you should get away as quickly as possible. I found it the most authentic part of the island, I felt like I was doing something just be walking in the ant stream of other people doing things.
We made it to the train station without reservations anywhere and no idea where to look. They were no help, would only book hotels (meaning 300E a night) and finally pointed us in the direction of an internet cafe. They were a big help. The guy informed us that there were hotels with no stars and they lined the main road from the station. We found one right across the street from the internet place for 50E. It was in another building from the hotel and was obviously a converted flat in a back alley. We put our things down and navigated the small streets, going with the flow without a map. We found ourselves in St. Marco Square, a crowded Disneyland by day and fairly empty and glowing int he moonlight that night. I like the fact that people leave the city at night. It makes it feel so small after dark. You find yourself alone on a back alley and can undrstand what it was like way back when. We had seen a really cute and reasonable place to eat on the walk and surprisingly found it again on the way back after 2 hours of walking and getting lost.
The next morning, we woke up to shining blue skies, which were definitely not predicted. We headed up the road to a cafe on the canal right across from the fish market. There were people bringing goods to and from the shops by boat and the trash boats were out. Again, people were doing things on this particular alley, which made me so happy. An old woman sat alone at the table next to us. She was probably 80 and wore fur, as many of them did and would call to her friends, all of them over 70 and also wearing fur, who were heading to or from the market. Apparently 25 percent of the population is over 65.
We headed back to the hotel to get our things and meet Jamie at the place we had booked for that night. We took the water bus and found our way to the place. It was in a beautiful area near the hospital and the college. It wasn’t on the route to or from St. Marco, Realto or the station, so it was relatively empty. The thing about the city is that you only have to go off the path 2 blocks to find yourself walking alone looking at the aged buildings, all impressive, all showing you a glorious time long ago without cars and when people took the time to make their homes beautiful and unique.
We met up with Jamie and mom took us on a self guided river tour on the public waterbus (OK, thank you Rick Steves for this). We saw the 7 storey mansions and the museums and the doors half underwater, where long ago people entered by boat. Venice itself is an amazing idea and it is wonderful that people took the time to make it real.
We went to drinks at a stand-up bar, drank wine and chatted for over an hour before heading to dinner. It took us a while to find the right place, some places were intimidating, only local men over 50, some were too hip, only well-dressed teens, but this one was perfect, the waitstaff was older and didn’t smile a ton. There were middle aged people there, well dressed, but not too much. There were tourists from Austria and locals and us and it was perfect. We tried spritzi, which was tasty and got us a little drunk. All in all, I can say I was surprised and excited by the city and I’m glad we were able to start our trip with such fun memories.