Thursday, April 8, 2010

Venice: Disneyland on Rotting Foundations

I used to have recurring dreams about New York City.  I would be there, late for a Broadway show and never be able to get to Manhattan.

Then I went to New York and the dreams stopped.

They were replaced with dreams of Venice.  In my dreams, I searched through a golden gilded city looking for masks and swimming along the turquoise blue canals.

The only way to put a stop to these dreams was to finally visit Venice.

I guess I didn’t fully realize that Venice relies solely on the tourist dollar.  It’s not really a functioning city for anything but the 20 Million tourists it gets a year.  That’s 400 tourists for every ONE Venetian.  And for me, that means one big horrific headache.

The Engineer and I arrived later in the evening and made our way to Venice by night.  At eight o’clock the streets were empty, the shops were closed and only a few, true Italian restaurants were open.  It was sort of eerie and creepy – like this bizarre ghost town floating on water. 

We chose a tiny little restaurant where not a word on English was spoken, and sat in a cozy corner on the top floor. This place was so Italian.  I mean it was nearly ten o’clock and the woman across the way was breastfeeding her baby while a dog sat at her feet.  And she wasn’t using a breast cover-up or anything.  Did I mention she was drinking wine AND smoking?

I pulled my usual Sarah tourist thing and pointed to other people to order.  That’s what I like to do.  If something looks interesting I may as well point to it rather than try to find it myself.

So I got a spriz.  Which I think is a seasonal Venetian drink that is red wine, compari, something else, an olive and an orange.  It was good.  I also got amazing tortellini and a huge plate of vegetable antipasti.  Antipasti are for sharing but the Engineer was still sick so I managed the whole thing by myself.  Surprise surprise.

It was so quiet and Italian.

I should have appreciated it while I could.

The next day could only be described as entering into the depths of tourist hell. 

I have never seen so many people in one place.  And let’s remember that I just lived through the 2010 Olympics, I live half the year in New York City, and I have been to Bangkok.

None of that compares to Venice on Easter weekend.

Technically, the walk from San Roma (the bus depot – it’s like being at Disneyland and entering the magic gates, except the gates in this case was an uber busy bridge) to San Marco is about thirty-five minutes.  

It took us over an hour and a half.

Granted, I stopped many times along the way to pick up goodies.  All of the bakeries were spilling out Easter yumminess in the form of Marzipan lambs or eggs with chicks, pastry stuffed with Nutella, buns and breads full of nuts and chocolate, and of course, Lindt Easter bunnies smiling happily in every window.

Not to mention a store that sells wine from these big caskets.  I got a liter of Prosecco for two Euro.  TWO EUROS!  AAAAAAAAAAAH

We then walked through the Rialto market full of fish, vegetables we can’t get at home, and fruit. 

It was pretty incredible.  Well, it would have been if it weren’t for the extra slow-moving 20 million tourists.  I know that not all 20 million tourists come in one day, but it certainly feels like they do.

The colourful vegetable stalls gave way to lines and lines of tacky tourist crap.  Stripped shirts that say ‘I Heart Venice’ or aprons with the David statue shown with some ‘extra’ down-there glory. Perfect for the mother-in-law.

By the time we actually reached Rialto Bridge I wanted to hit someone. 

We pushed and prodded our way to St. Mark’s, where not only were there 20 million people taking pictures, but also there was scaffolding everywhere.  Of course.

I didn’t have the patience.

We found a little spot on the Grand Canal looking across the water and dove into the food. Well, I did.  The Engineer was still suffering his ‘stomach bug’ so I drank the entire litre of Prosecco (using a wine glass I had stolen from some square where everyone was drinking wine) while eating some ham, mortadella and cheese.  And quite possibly the most amazing cream puff I have ever tasted.

You can imagine what the hot sun and a litre of Presecco will do to a girl.

So we had to go home.

But how?

We decided to take the waterbus.  Well, that was a joke.  And an expensive one.

It was 13 Euros to take us to the wrong stop.  And we waited for the freaking bus for about an hour.  The worst thing was that our bus was sitting there; just floating and the Italian bus guys were just standing on the dock laughing amongst themselves.

The German couple behind us said ‘too many people wearing sunglasses having fun’.  So true, my orderly German friend, so true.

By the time we got to the wrong stop, I was feeling like I too was coming down with the same stomach bug. 

We had to wait in another line (so smart these people are that they have one person working on a busy holiday weekend) for some super slow-minded people to purchase tickets (another 13 Euros).  With our tickets finally in hand, we raced down to the bus boat just as he was pulling the ropes up. 

Would he let me on? No. I lost it.  Out came a stream of profanity about ‘stupid people’ and I glared at the slow-paced ticket purchasers who were gazing vacantly at the air as if they were surprised to have gotten to the bus stop by themselves.

The Engineer told me to not be so loud.  Whatever.  No one speaks English anyways. All the tourists seemed to be fellow Italians. 

In my Prosecco-hazy state I think I said that Italy would be better if it wasn’t for all the Italians.  That’s right.  I am apparently racist.  Or one of those American tourists we all hate.

Here’s the thing:  American tourists may be loud, but they are also polite and efficient.  Unlike European tourists who think just because you are on vacation, you must walk the speed of a hairy mammoth.  AND PUSH IN LINE!  Or not say 'sorry' when you run over a pink-clad blonde girl - SAY SORRY when you push me over and step on my toes!  

Anyhoo, I passed out for the rest of the day.  And night.  Woke up with not only hay fever worsening, but also a case of the ‘stomach bug’ that I had no patience with the Engineer for.


What does one do when one is blowing their nose, sneezing, has a sinus headache the size of Rome, and Italian food shooting out of them (from every direction) every 20 minutes?  Goes on a walking tour.


For two hours, the Engineer and I were bored to tears on a ‘Hidden Venice’ tour.  If I think the tour is boring, that means it is.  We missed out on everything else because I had not read Rick Steves clearly (FYI – book your Doge’s Palace tour WAY in advance.  Same goes for Florence – still waiting to see if I get to go to ANY gallery). 

I didn’t learn any fun facts.  Which always saddens me. 

We both felt like crap but thought we should eat.  So eat we did.  After only half an hour (new record for me!) we found a truly Venetian place to eat where my wine (yes, I realize should not drink wine when ill) was the same price as water!  We had soup (I had bean soup – I realize the irony with said stomach issues), which was amazing and then shared the daily pasta special.  Rick Steves says to eat seafood when in Venice so we did. 

Why we thought this was a good idea,  I don't know.  Look at it.

That’s when the badness really started for me.  Lucky for me, we already had mapped out all the public bathrooms Venice offers.  For 1 euro 50, you are guaranteed a clean bathroom in Venice.

Which is a really really good thing.

So basically, that was how I saw Venice: the basin of a white toilet.  Awesome.

We went back to the hotel room and slept for about fourteen hours.  Then watched some ‘Friends’, then slept some more.

I am happy to report our stomach issues seem to have left us; unfortunately they also left me with a bad taste of Venice.  

I am sure I will return someday, preferably in the winter and on a Monday  - when I may be lucky to arrive on a day when Venetians outnumber tourists.

PS.  I also fell down the stairs of the San Rialto Bridge.  Like fully.  And not because of Prosecco but because of a hole in the stairs.  I grabbed some poor German woman – but luckily her husband was strong enough to pull us both up.  So many people came running, making ‘oohs’ and ‘ouches’ – I pretended it didn’t hurt and then limped to a hotel.  Ugh.

1 comment:

Marisa said...

Sarah - what the hell is that slimy brown blobby thing in your seafood pictures? That is gnarly in an extremely bad way!