Bundled up a cold Saturday with snow still swirling in the wind, the bright sun is deceiving. The temperatures here have not gone above freezing in the past few weeks. To keep my mind off the cold, I think back to a few months ago when the sun did warm my face and the air was brisk but not abrasive.
My short stay in Italy will remain one of my favorite times from when I was in Europe. So many adventures, mishaps, and yes, Dad – learning experiences 😉
The pictures, full of warmth and sunlight, are so different from the pale and proud photos of Paris. Italy itself just exudes friendliness and familiarity .. it’s almost like it was an old friend. I had been dreaming about Venice since I was a little girl: Somewhere throughout the years we had gotten a monthly calendar with beautiful pictures of Italy. When the year was over, my mother let me have it. I would often (and still do) save scraps of paper / magazines / cards / you-name-it to use for various projects. So I cut up my favorite pictures from the Italian calendar – some bigger, from the page of the month, some smaller that were nestled in between the days of the week. I put the bigger ones up on my wall, and the smaller ones I saved. Anyway, one of my favorite pictures was of the Grand Canal in Venice, with the swirled poles and the gondolas, and the light shining just-so upon the water.
So when I finally saw that same view that I had envisioned so many times throughout the years, it was magical. We stood upon the Rialto Bridge and watched the sunset ..
But let me go back. The story starts a few weeks before, in a library in Paris. We (me, Ryan, Penelope, Katie, Emma, Thomas) were discussing plans for fall break. I had always had the idea to go to Italy .. I had been to Milan for a few days before, but I wanted to see more of the country. In the end, Ryan, Emma, and Thomas decided to come with. I set myself in charge of booking the tickets, and Ryan did the accommodations. We left Paris on a Thursday evening, took a taxi from the Venice airport, and arrived at our hostel on the mainland. The next morning we took a hostel bus just outside Venice, and walked over to the island.
First things first, we found a cafe. They actually had soy milk, so I had a cappuccino ! Emma’s host father had given her a guide book for Venice, written in French, so we used that, along with the Internet, to piece together a to-do list. I will take credit for having the foresight to do so .. even though we were only there for four whole days, the number of hours suddenly began enormous and I wanted to make sure we filled them wisely. After coffee, we turned the corner and saw an immense columned structure with locals having lunch on the steps. We joined them and pretended to be Italian, basking in the sun (it was actually a bit nippy so the warmth felt nice) and chatting. It was just surreal to be there !
We tried to follow the list as efficiently and economically as possible. So whenever we could, we did multiple things that were in close proximity to each other. We were actually pretty close to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a beautiful building dating from the 15-16th centuries, noted for its collection of paintings by Tintoretto.
We spent a good deal of time in the Scuola. We took our time looking through the wonderful paintings by not only Tintoretto, but also Titian, Giorgione, Tiepolo, and others. It was a moment of calm and true admiration in the midst of our busy-ness as tourists. It was a bit of a game to pick out which scenes we could recognize from both the Old and New Testaments, and match them to the stories we remembered. The detail in the Church was just incredible. Everything gilded or carved, and attended to with such care. Even after we left, we talked on and on about the gloriousness and luxury of the Scuola. It was absolutely a good way to start off our trip.
By the time we left, it was late afternoon and we were starving ! We found a little restaurant a few streets over and I had a vegetable pizza (without the cheese). I have to say, it’s very very difficult to be dairy-free in Europe, but especially in Italy. And to be honest – it just can’t compare !! I was so jealous of my friends with their real pizza and gelato, their real cappuccino with the milk frothed into a heart, their delicious pasta. I lived on pesto for the next few days. Not complaining, because I avoided a stomachache and I also happen to love pesto, but one goes to Italy partly for the food, no? 😉
We continued along around the city, and one of the things I like best about being in Venice is that you have no choice but to get lost. I truly do not know what I would have done centuries ago without guide books and maps, let alone decades ago without the Internet and GPS. It didn’t matter during the day because we were in no rush to get anywhere, and part of the fun was wandering aimlessly and meandering through the canals. But once darkness fell we all shared the sentiment that we were glad to have a way to get back safely, even if we did take a few wrong turns here and there.
We stopped around 6pm for the sunset along the Grand Canal. We pushed our way through the crowds on the Ponte di Rialto, the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. It was genuinely one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was one of those life moments when you accomplish something you’d only ever dreamed of before.
We still had a few hours ahead of us before we needed to take the bus back to the hostel. We found one of the very tourist-y “shopping hubs” of the city, which we breezed past, but not before marveling at a man in his workshop making beautiful beaded necklaces. We found a clocktower, a candy shop, (which we went into a few days later) some beautiful shoes, but the real treasure that we found was an old bookstore – the Libraria Acqua Alta. They have found a solution to the flooding in Venice: keeping books in bathtubs and boats ! It was a sweet little shop with so so many books they were overflowing everywhere. It’s amazing they even have a system to keep track of them all, but they do. There were little alleys with piles of books, small back rooms .. the store went on and on. At the way back however was a mound of books piled high, with an invitation to climb up ! We did, and were rewarded with a view over a canal with the lights glimmering on the water.
We closed the night with a glass of wine along the canal, shared our ‘highs and lows’ of the day, and celebrated la dolce vita !