beach, Case Western Reserve University, Europe, gondola, hostel, islands, Italy, Lido, missed train, serenade, Smart Holiday, solo, student, tour, tourism, train, train station, travel, Venice, water bus
Although I went to bed late the night before, I had promised Jade I wouldn’t miss the sunrise. I left the hostel at around 5AM and made a beeline through the alleys to the waterfront that overlooked Murano and Burano. I panicked when I got lost a few times, but I managed to get to the water by official sunrise. The streets were incredibly open and empty compared to what they begin to look like during the breakfast hour. There were small bags of trash littering the sides of the alleys and sometimes seagulls and pigeons fought for the scraps beside spilled bags. I only saw one man in a boat and two people on foot on my 20 minute walk to the docks. All of these tourists yet no one thinks to get up early to see the sun?
There it was: a small, red orb in the sky. I got there just after it had actually risen so now it was sitting slightly above the water. It cast an orange glow around it and shot a laser of orange light that dissipated and faded with the choppy waters before it reached the dock. A lone motorboat cut through the streak, temporarily distorting its outline. The buildings behind me were made of bricks that looked like they had just come out of a fire. As people were coming out to sweep the sidewalks in front of their shops, I decided to wander the marble and cobblestone mazes behind me to see where the bouncing sunlight might lead.
The more I walked, the more I woke up. I really craved a coffee and some food but, even after walking so long that it approached 6AM, none of the shops were open. It was like the vendors knew when the lazy tourists rise, and they just sat there idly waiting for that moment. Or maybe the bakers were baking. Or maybe this was their one moment of peace… I wasn’t sure, but I continued walking all the way until I suddenly found myself in San Marco Square, the light bouncing off of the mosaics, sparkling in the water, and spilling across the basilicas on the opposing shores. After I had taken enough photos, I noticed the heat and humidity rapidly rising and the people multiplying in the streets. When I finally made it back to the hostel, everyone else was awake in the streets as well as in my room. I took a fast shower, then uploaded my photos and decided to nap until it was time to check out.
By 10AM, I had my bags packed and left the keys on the desk before heading out. I dragged my bags though the streets and up the ramp of the Guglie Bridge, arriving at the train station feeling like I had just showered in my own sweat. It was so hot already and so miserably sticky. I waited in line for a while to find out that I was not in the ticket booth line, but I filled out my postcards in the meantime. When the lady told me she couldn’t answer my ticket questions, I asked for her to at least tell me where the luggage storage was. I hadn’t prearranged with my hostel to leave mine and figured it was easier having the bags at the train station anyway. She pointed towards platform one and I bought postage and mailed my cards at the neighboring vendor before heading there and leaving my bags.
That morning before leaving, I had made reservations and printed my voucher for a gondola ride and serenade. It sounded silly, but it was considerably cheaper than paying a gondolier to take one person around for a short ride. I looked at my train tickets a thousand times, surprised that I really had a whole day – until 10PM – before I needed to leave. I was almost disappointed because I have gotten so used to seeing things and moving on faster than this. I contemplated what to do with my day and resolved to grab lunch, then head to Lido Island to swim. My friend James had just been here (I missed seeing him by a few days in Italy) and he had recommended swimming. I grabbed a small pizza bread and cappuccino by the train station and could only eat half; it wasn’t very good, although it was relatively cheap and the cappuccino was delicious as always. Next, I walked outside and waited for the correct line to take me all the way to Lido. It was strategic to get on here because I knew, if I hid down in the front of the boat, no one would check my ticket and the busy Grand Canal docks had validating stands rather than gates that only open if you validate your ticket. In other words, I got a free ride to Lido.
The ride was fairly long and I don’t like sitting below the deck, but I figured it was my safest bet. I sat in the very front seat across from a man who kept getting sprayed with water through the windows above us. I liked it and wished I could get hit with more. When we finally reached Lido, I got off, was awestruck by the number of bicycles outside of the dock, and decided I needed to find a rental place to make the best of my time. It wasn’t very hard to locate the store. I followed the mainstream of people coming to and from the docks and found the busiest street with bikes lined up on one side. I rented a bike at a shop. It was up to nine euros for a whole day and the bike came with a basket and a lock. I threw my satchel in the basket, adjusted the seat, and took the map I was given to head to the south end of the beach. I turned around once I reached Malamoco, surprised by how quickly I got there and relieved that I had the natural air-conditioning of biking the whole way.
I decided to loop back so I had time to see the north end, too, before returning my bike. I wanted to be sure I could have dinner before my tour and there was no way I could miss the tour; it was the only one that had been available and was at 6:30PM. I biked back towards one of the fancy hotels I had seen, grabbed an ice cold Coke from a store, and parked my bike on the street. I’m not sure if the beach was open to the public or not, but I slipped inside without paying. There were bathrooms without charge where I changed into my swimsuit. No one seemed to speak anything but Italian except for one bartender I encountered. I walked to the beach, realizing I had no towel. The sand was very hot on my feet. Looking around, I was disappointed that so many people were lying out in front of white tents that made a little beach village in front of the restaurant and bathrooms. The only people I did see out were either standing in the water just off shore or lying on the rocky jetties that littered the waterfront. I joined a woman and a man on their jetty, leaving my bags and kicking off my shoes.
I slowly walked into the water. James had told me it was cold, but this water was hot. It was the Adriatic Sea and I could see an enormous cargo ship on the horizon. I knew that somewhere, on the other side of all that haze, were the shores of Croatia and Slovenia. I kept walking across the sandy ripples and broken shells until the water was almost to my hips. It took a while to get that high and I decided it was time to swim. I lay down in the water and began kicking, going farther and farther out into the water. I could see a lifeguard on a boat watching over the shores from the end of a jetty. Then I noticed the people to my left who were casually wading in the water. I went to stand more vertically and smashed my feet against the bottom; the water was still incredibly shallow. I had to swim quite a ways before I finally could no longer feel the bottom of the sea. The top of the water was still very hot, but the parts were my feet were kicking were nice and cool. I think it was actually the hottest water I’ve swum in apart from beaches in the Gulf of Mexico.
After trying to float and instead choking on waves for some time, I decided to swim slowly back to shore and head out. I had a glass of white wine from the restaurant so I could join the others in chairs in the sand. The wine was amazingly cool and soon I was ready to head back. I got on my bike and let the wind dry out my swimsuit as I headed back up the shoreline, taking spontaneous turns until I found the church at the north end that the bike vendor had told me about. Nothing I saw was open for public viewing; I took some photos from the outside, then chose to bike back towards the street. Might as well turn in the bike rather than rack up the cost, I figured. It only cost about seven euros for the few hours I had taken the bike out. This time I had actually looked at the boat schedule before excitedly running from the shore and knew that boats to take me to San Marco arrived every 20 minutes or so. Looking at my watch, I had enough time to grab a scoop of pistachio gelato before walking back to the docks.
These validators are gates on Lido, meaning I actually had to have a working ticket or risk someone seeing me slip through the doors. I was at the machine, fumbling with coins because the machine rejected my credit card when the boat arrived. The assistant was calling out for San Marco and delayed the boat just long enough for me to run through the gates and get on board. This time, I stood on the dock, taking pictures as we came to shore. This dock always has violent landings; our boat crashed into the metal and threw water several feet into the air. The entire ramp lurched aggressively as people, young and old, were trying to scramble onto shore without falling off. When I got to the square, I turned down a few alleys, looking for a place to eat.
I really wanted cheese again. The cheese I had had the first day was so good that I wanted more, but from somewhere else. I checked a few menus, but none of them had what I wanted. That’s when I came across a restaurant that had intrigued me before when I was wandering the streets at night, following the smell of burning wood in the alleys. The menu on the glass front listed a cheese platter, so I went inside to order the cheese with a glass of rose wine and to change out of my still-wet swimsuit in the bathroom. At least I had remembered to put clothes on overtop before returning from Lido! The food was out quickly, accompanied with breads and preserves. I finished, paid, and was surprised when I saw the bill was the first I’d seen in a long time that didn’t include a service tax. I left my first European tip on this trip because of this.
It was only 5PM when I was done. I was supposed to meet at 6:15PM at the docks. I asked a waiter where the docks I needed were, then followed his directions to assure I knew where to go. It was where I had suspected. I next wandered some new streets for a while, taking in my last of Venice. I bought a few more souvenirs. I found a museum in an old building that had string instruments. Being a violinist who also plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo, I found this exciting. (Sadly, my violin is from China and not Italy, but it’s still very pretty!) I saw a glass art exhibit and walked around it but didn’t go in. Then I found a large church and walked inside as some people ran back out. I was confused by their haste. I read over the signs before I walked in, frustrated that churches can never be photographed, and was confused by a sign that showed a man and a woman with a line through them. I didn’t know what this meant. When I walked inside and had a man come from behind, point at my tank top, and shake his finger “tisk, tisk”, I knew that’s what the sign meant. They were turning people away from wearing shorts and tank tops. Unbelievable. I scoffed at him and walked right out the door. It only added to my hatred of organized religion.
Finally, it was time to head towards the docks for the ride, the one moment I had waited for forever in Venice. Now that I’ve seen the Taj Mahal in India as I’ve always wanted, I knew this would be exciting no matter what the price. I also felt like this tour was a nice step around the tourist trap that gondola rides often are. I met a nice British family in the line and was hoping to get put on a boat with them, but I was stuck with another group of five instead. The grandfather had been joking with his granddaughter about the requirement of participating being singing when in fact there was an accordion player and a singer already a part of the entourage. We boarded several gondolas and all drifted out into the opening of the Grand Canal, idling for some time while the men played and sang music as part of the “serenade”. I thought a walking tour was included, but I guess not. For a few minutes, we idled there, my gondolier trying hard to keep us next to the boat with the entertainment. Then the gondolas made a line and took a trip through a back canal, one that I had passed earlier when a smaller tour like this was passing. We were right behind the entertainment. It was good Italian music, and I watched as the gondoliers ducked under bridges, pushed off of walls with their feet to keep straight, and navigated with a long wooden pole. I wondered if any gondolier was left-handed or if having the oar on the right was standard.
People were lining up to photograph and film us as we came slowly through the canal. I was impressed at how the old man’s voice carried in the back ways and how he could stand so strongly on a rocking boat to sing. I also noticed the eroding bricks at the water level and thought about houses in Venice and if they ever flood. I saw many doors had extra reinforcement to block the water at the base. As I was noticing this, our gondolas exited the small canal back to where we started and slowly lined up to start docking. Our tour had been around 40 minutes and was probably the cheapest ride a single rider can find in all of Venice.
I had a handful of time still to go, considering it was only just after 7PM now. I headed for Rialto Bridge for one last picture but got lost in going there. With only a little time now left, I wanted to shop so I stopped off at one store and bought two cheap dresses that I can wear to the festivals while I am in France. I also got some drinks between San Marco and Guglie Bridge, taking advantage of the lack of laws in so many places in Europe. Alas, I was walking slowly into the train station, not loving the city but not wanting to leave either. And that was the moment when I pulled out my ticket and my stomach dropped. How is it that I can look at 20h00 a thousand times, read “10PM”, then, in the moment when it’s too late, think clearly and read “8PM”? I had worked so hard to find the right tickets to get me to Arles, I had paid so much money, and now I had lost everything.
I called my mom, panicking, and she told me there was nothing else to do but talk to someone. I ran to the ticket counter but it had just closed as it was 9PM. I put my phone down just in time to have a man stop me and ask to use my phone because he missed his train. “Me too,” I said, then I started to cry. He comforted me. He had a daughter near my age who was also very comforting and polite. I offered my phone, but warned him it was around a euro per minute and that he would be better asking a local for their phone. Then he asked what I was going to do. Long story short, he walked with me to get my bags (another 27 or 28 euros lost) while he daughter waited for his brother. We got back to find them both there, then all shared bags to drag them back to my hostel which I had called and said it had openings. We used the wi-fi and cell phone there, courtesy of one of the managers, before deciding what to do. The family called me an “angel” for helping them find a cheap place so last minute in Venice, then left with the manager to another apartment where they had space for all three. I waited, trying everything possible, then caved to the manager when he returned and asked for a room. He took me to yet another apartment, carrying my heaviest bag, where the first manager I had met greeted me and showed me around. He didn’t remember me at all and repeated the speech he had given me the first day about the sights. I just kept quiet and let him go.
Back in my room, I searched planes, trains, cars, carpooling, everything I could possibly think of. I decided to wake up and go to the train station just after opening, ask them if there is another itinerary or if I should get the same one and show up a day late. If the solutions were unfavorable and expensive, I could wait a couple hours and see how much a car rental would be. What an ending to my day. To think I had read that paper so many times and still…I still continue to read 20h00 as 10PM and I have always done that. Even after this incident, I misread a shop sign. You would think I would learn… But, like the girl and I kept repeating to each other that night, “Everything happens for a reason, right?”