Lost in Venice
When my boyfriend Scott and I went to Venice, we stayed in a fabulous room above St. Mark’s Square, which was great but was also in the thick of tourist-land, near tons of shopping. On our first excursion into the fray, we passed store after store, some designer names and some shops selling Murano glass and those ubiquitous carnival masks (which would have been a massive score for my high school theatre-geek self). Scott asked me what I wanted for my birthday. What I wanted? What more could I want? We were spending half a month away from regular life and work, traveling the Italian countryside – yeah, that seemed plenty for me. He meant a specific gift, from him, so I said that I wanted to take a gondola ride. It was basically the number one item on my Venetian itinerary, as it represented Venice to me the way the Eiffel Tower represented Paris. I knew that it was the most touristy thing we could do, but I couldn’t help myself. He agreed and I was absolutely giddy at the prospect. That first day we wandered about, ate dinner, then bought some wine and pastries to enjoy in our room, which had windows opening onto the Square. We opened the windows, listened to the orchestras and the people below, and relaxed into the first of our two nights in Venice. Perfection. Once the daytrippers and cruise ships have shipped out, Venice is a spectacularly different place.
The next day I had plans for touring the Basilica and finding a gondolier. We awoke to an earthquake, which was an odd sensation considering our room was located in a 15th century clock tower, but all was fine and we looked out the window to see the Basilica queue was already quite long as a ship had docked that morning and released the masses. We spent the morning walking around and getting lost in the city, which is as wonderful way to spend a morning as I can imagine, even with the crowds. We did take a traghetto, which is basically a gondola that they use to ferry people across the Grand Canal for 50 Euro cents (and in a pinch, it gives you the general idea). We made our way through the Basilica, followed by our then-daily gelato. It was another brilliant day.
Back in the room, Scott mentioned that he had been reading online about the gondoliers, pricing, and so forth, and I sensed that perhaps he was growing skeptical. Neither of us enjoys haggling. I knew we might have to negotiate the price, and hoped that it wouldn’t be unreasonable, but I remained completely enamored of the idea. We headed back out for the evening, taking a vaporetto (a water bus, that acts as public transportation) down the Grand Canal.
We took the vaporetto a fair distance, then intended to walk back. We had stopped for dinner at a little tavern on a square where people were ballroom dancing outdoors. They continued dancing in the thunderstorm until the extreme rain required the music to stop. Everyone was laughing and dancing, and even when the rain insisted they stop, all simply sat down for a glass of wine or grappa. It was another perfect memory of this unique and magical city.
We found a vaporetto stop when the rain let up a bit, and made it back to our room. St. Mark’s Square was such a different place in the rain – with a reflective, empty beauty disturbed only slightly by the occasional couple or group passing through. This was our second and last night in Venice, and I had had a terrific time. At some point that evening, I realized that we were leaving the next day and I had missed out on riding in a gondola, but it wasn’t the end of the world – after all, these two days had been spectacular. It was all so much more than I could have hoped to experience, and one missed gondola ride shouldn’t ruin that for me.
The next morning, however, my thoughts had returned to gondoliers. I knew it was a little cheesy, a little pricey, a little touristy. And I didn’t care a bit. It was Venice, and Venice had been wonderful, but I wanted to have that moment – Scott and I drifting through the canals as so many couples have for so many years. Being the emotionally astute gentleman that he is, Scott asked if I was disappointed about the gondola just as I was about to mention it. We decided we had plenty of time to take the ride that morning before catching the train to Florence, and it was the perfect ending to our time in Venice. Turned out there was no need to haggle on the price, our gondolier was lovely, and the ride was romantic and special and everything I remember of Venice wrapped into one beautiful memory.
(So what I’m saying is, Venice is like nowhere else I’ve been. If you’re lucky enough to be there with someone you love, if you want to, if you can, TAKE THE GONDOLA RIDE. At least once. I wouldn’t trade that memory for all the shoes in Italy.)