I knew when I looked at the cruise itinerary I knew that this was going to be the toughest port. 10 am to 11 pm. The only thing I have to compare that to is Disneyland. I think the most magical time at Disneyland is the hour after it closes. When all the people and it's just you, the castle, and the Hello Dolly soundtrack. The only problem is, I am always so excited to get to Disneyland and wear myself out so fast, I rarely make it. I had a feeling this was exactly how Venice would be.
I woke up early so I could work out and be ready with my camera by 9 am when the tugboat guided us into Venice. The Capitan of the ship taught us about Venice and pointed out important places as we were pulled into Venice.
I had a preconceived picture of what Venice was like. Honestly, I wasn't excited about it at all. I had heard that it's dirty, it smells especially when it's really hot (Which of course today was), and I heard that the gondola rides were TOTALLY overrated. I had no reason to be excited about Venice. For some reason I think of Venice Beach (one of the trashiest beaches in LA) when I thought of Venice. For some reason I imagined tattoo parlors and weed.
So as our boat pulled into port, I was already blown away. Bridges. Oh the bridges! Every single picture perfect bridge. The building were darling too! I could not wait to get off the cruise ship and start exploring!
So as the girls and I were standing in line to get off the ship and into the water taxis (that were privately paid because of the strike, which affect nothing by the way) I tried to warn the girls. I tried to explain that this port needed to be more like a marathon than a sprint. I tried to explain we needed to pace ourselves. I tried to coach them into ways we could conserve energy with water bottles, long lunch breaks, park benches in the shade.... But all my coaching was pretty much in vain. But oh well, we'll get to that later.
Something that shocked me, which I guess Rick Steves warns about in his books is that Europeans don't believe that they should have to wait in line for anything. They think the line doesn't apply to them. Today, as previous learned, we saw first hand how ridiculously true it was. There was a line to get off the ship, a line to show our passports, and a line to get on the watertaxi. At each “line” all the Europeans would just crowd to the front instead of waiting in line. It was quite ridiculous.
So Venice was more beautiful than I thought. It didn't smell at all. The water wasn't dirty. There was very little trash or graffiti. It was wonderful. St. Mark's Square was beautiful but very hot. So we started wondering through the shaded alleyways. I found another oil painting to buy. (I'm buying a painting in each city. I'm pretty excited about it) Then we found what I instantly knew would be our Gondola Driver. He was perfect! Tall, dark, handsome... and he really wanted us to be in his gondola. We each paid the 20 euro... (totally worth it) and we jumped into the gondola. It was amazing! It was about 40 minutes of pure gondola bliss. I just sat and flirted with him, took pictures of him, and dreamed of what life would be like if I lived in this darling city. At the end of the tour we took pictures with him and then he asked if we could be facebook friends. Absolutely hilarious! Don't worry McKenzie took pictures as I wrote my name on a piece of paper so Daniele could add me.
Next we found a airconditioned/wi-fi/cheap place to eat. I ate my caprese salad while I talked to Jason on facetime. P.S. I put some pictures on some of the blogposts. It was lovely. My salad was lovely. The cheese here in Italy is out of this world!
After lunch we wondered around for a little bit, then the girls decided they were hot, they were sweaty, they got what they wanted, so at 1:30 they decided to head back to the ship.
But I knew it was a marathon. I knew that I needed to just endure the awful heat for a little longer and it would get beautiful again. So they took off and I wandered around. I just wanted to sit in the shade and people watch. I sat on the steps of St. Mark's Square leaned against a column and watched the tourists wander by. It was very peaceful. In the distant background I heard a quartet playing at one of the local cafes. I actually fell asleep for a little bit until I was woken up by a man in a bright orange polo shirt that said, “St. Marco's Security” He told me that it was against the rules to sit on the steps. Weird but oh well. (It actually was the second time he caught me sitting down in the shade. I thought I just couldn't be sitting by the cathedral but after I finally found a sign, it was anywhere in St. Mark's Square. Ridiculous right?) But he just smile and me and said, “You again?” I laughed, joked a bit and went on my way. (I later saw people getting tickets for sitting on the steps. Ridiculous)
So I wandered a different direction than we had gone before. It was so beautiful. I laughed. There was so much of Venice that we hadn't experienced yet and I was thrilled to have the chance to explore. There were shops and open markets all along the water. Finally I found what I was looking for. A tree! I was really shocked at how few of trees I had seen. Not only a tree but a park! It was a gated park which lead me to believe it was private but I found an entrance with no fee so I wandered inside. There were beautiful tall hedges everywhere making the paths a maze. I wandered until I saw two park benches facing each other in the shade. There was a cute old couple on one bench and although I thought it was a bit awkward to get so near to them I sat on the other bench. We smiled at each other but didn't say a word. After 10 minutes or so I could tell they weren't going anywhere and I felt comfortable enough in our area especially with them facing directly at me, I layed down on the park bench, used my bag as a pillow and fell asleep. I was dreaming about how wonderful it was. Laying on this park bench feeling the breeze with the smell of the ocean. I fell alseep. All of the sudden I felt weight on my head. It terrified me! I jumped up completely startled to see a fat woman had just sat on my head. Literally sat on my head. There was about 6 inches on the end of the park bench that I wasn't using and I guess she thought her bottom was small enough to fit in that space. I honestly could not believe that just happened! I sat up and saw the cute old couple from Germany were just as horrified that she had just done that as I was. When I sat up the woman called over to her husband to come sit next to me. I'll be honest, I was absolutely pissed. Who the heck does that. I watched the German woman glare at the lady as well. I honestly almost yelled.... but we know I would/could never do that. So I asked, “Hi! Where y'all from?” (Acting like I wasn't fuming that they were so freaking rude when there were PLENTY of other park benches around) Go ahead and guess where they were from.... FRANCE!!!! I laughed. Of course. It was so fitting I almost couldn't stand it. I went on to have a lovely conversation with them until they got up and walked off a few minutes later.
At this point I was at a 9. (I needed to go to the bathroom) but I refused to pay the 1,50 euro to use a public bathroom so I decided to keep wander until I found a place I'd like to sit and enjoy a diet coke. I saw a Hard Rock Cafe. I knew they would have a bathroom and really hoped they would have free refills! And as an added bonus they had free wi-fi. So I sat up at the bar and ordered a diet coke from a handsome bar tender. He laughed when I said diet coke but I just ignored that. We had a lovely conversation while he picked the bottom mint leaves off a stem of mint which looked like it was for some type of drink. It smelled amazing! He was bored I was amused so we had a great conversation about Venice. He was from England but came to go to school in Venice. He lives outside of Venice a bit. So he drives a car to a station then takes a water taxi into work every day. He was 27 years old. He likes to surf so I told him about California. He said he heard that LA is gross. I laugh when I heard people say that. I think Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank, Santa Monica are all just as fabulous as other areas of southern California. Anyway we had a great conversation as I was texting Jason and Zoe. It was fun to see what type of crowd would chose to eat at Hard Rock Cafe in Venice. I was surprised how few Americans came in... but it was fun seeing how they were mostly people that wore very American brands and spoke different languages. Asians in Hollister. Russians in Lacrosse. It was fun. But of course my favorite was talking to this bar tender about life in Europe. He gave me one of the mint stems that had produced flower at the end. It was cute.
After I wandered around more. I figured it was almost time for dinner. All of the cafes around Mark's Square had opened up now. Each one had a band that played. It was so amazing. The heat of the day was gone. The sun was starting to set so everything was golden. I felt like I was in Disneyland. (The ultimate compliment coming from me.) But here was the most bizarre thing... I almost don't dare admit it. I was tired of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Gasp. So I wandered for probably another hour trying to find something to eat. Every single place had the exact same food it seems. I really didn't want seafood..... and I didn't want pasta. I seriously laughed at myself. All I ever want is Italian and when all the italian food I could ever imagine was at my fingertips... I didn't want it. So I just wandered. I thought about going back to Hard Rock Cafe for dinner but then I figured it would have given the bar tender the wrong impression... like he actually had a chance. So I started walking back towards our water taxi. I saw one fabulous looking cafe that had a great looking caprese salad so I was going to make myself eat it one more time. But then I saw a darling navy and white Venice sweatshirt that I had been eyeing all day. I could buy a caprese salad or get a sweatshirt for the same price.... so I bought the sweatshirt for 11 euro (CHEAP!) I bargained for it.... all the other stands were selling it for 20. And I walked towards my water taxi with an extra skip in my step.
What I learned in Venice is the same thing that I have learned a hundred times in life, and I am sure I will learn a hundred more. It is the people not the places or even the beauty that make life so great. Sure the gondola ride was beautiful, fun, and different but it was the driver that made it a blast. Sitting there flirting with him, taking pictures of him, asking him about his many girlfriends that will be the memory. Of course the highlight, like the “win” was when he asked for my name so he could add me on facebook. Or the English bartender that I sat and talked with for over an hour in the Hardrock Cafe. Sure I loved that I was sitting at a bar with a wall of windows that had a perfect view of St. Mark's square and a gondola station so I could sit watch gondola coming and going taking tourists typically lovers on romantic rides around the city but the memory will be more about this handsome 27 year old English guy with brown hair and a red beard who came to Venice to go to Univerisity. Trying to convince him that California is WAY cooler and he should come to the States where people are way nicer. And of course I loved that he asked if we could hang out after he got off work... (probably my favorite part of coming to Europe is how unique and special I feel. So often in Utah Valley I feel like I am just the same cookie cutter girl. I feel like often I hear someone say, “Oh you are a teacher, you have your masters, you play the guitar and love to run? What else have you done for us?” It's so fun to be here and feel like I am unique and special... even if it is it's just in my head and really they only like me because I am from the States.) OR even the fat French woman that sat on my head (I literally had to pull my hair out from under her bottom in order to sit up). I was so ticked off when they woke me up from my great little nap.... and I LOVED the older German couple that had been watching me, making me feel safe. They were just as horrified when she sat on my head as I was! I didn't actually speak to the German couple because I don't think they were confident in their English but our facial expressions said it all. But although the park next to the major water way in Venice was glorious... a much needed sanctuary with trees and grass (so so rare in downtown Venice) but it will be talking with this French couple that made it great. He was a computer guy for a French automobile company, she was a pediatrician as far as I could make out. They live 20 kilometers out of Paris but it takes him an hour and a half every day to take train and metro to work! They have family in Texas but he hates the Texan accident. He said he loved talking to me because he could understand me so much better than most English speakers. They travel all over Europe on holidays but there favorite place is Prague in December. I guess Prague needs to be on my list of places to visit. (Joanie has told me how wonderful Prague is, I guess I'll have to listen to her!) But who knew that another former communist community could be so wonderful? When I felt like I had built up enough of a relationship with this man (his wife didn't speak very good English so I am assuming she just sat and listened) I finally asked, “Why are French people so rude?” (I didn't use his wife sitting on my head as an example...) He said, “The farther north you go the ruder French people get because they are busy schedule. In southern France people are a lot nicer. But in Paris tourist forget that there was people actually working. They have places to go people to see, they aren't on vacation and that is why they are so rude.” It is conversations like this that made my time in Venice so fabulous. Once you've seen a specular cathedral you've seen them all (sorry if that is offensive) once you've seen a city center with darling little outdoor restaurants you know what they are like. The reason I love to travel, and the reason Venice was so great was the experiences with people. And that is why I loved that I got to adventure alone for 5 hours. It is when you are by yourself that you have experiences that I had today. I loved Venice, I loved the bridges, I loved the boats, I loved the houses and buildings, I loved the waterways... but most important Venice was a marathon not a sprint because it takes time to meet people and it is the experiences with people that make a place unique.