After a lackluster visit to Switzerland I was looking forward to another spicy culture and visiting with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Arriving in Venice via bus was a good way to see what the locals would be like as we slowly headed towards the infamous sinking city. My first encounter outside fellow travelers was an adorable Italian family. Mama, papa, and two bambinos. The unity of the famiglia was something I came to see was a universal value. I suppose we all have this assumption about Italians due to our overexposure as Americans to the mafia and what we see in Italian-American culture in places like New York and Chicago but I wasn’t sure what the real Italy would be like. Well, it was a pleasant surprise to see young, old, men, and women just adore children. My friend has twin girls that are 15 months old and the attention they garnered was fascinating and heart warming.
Nonetheless, once the bus arrived in Venice I was first struck by the smell. Yes, Venice stinks. It depends on your level of olfactory sensitivity but I’m from the Pacific Northwest where most of the time (ahem, Tacoma) the air is clean with little fragrance other than pine tree scent. Venice has the smell of…stagnant sea water. Aqua alta (high water) is a continual problem for the city which means the water from the sea begins to seep up through the pathways of the city and puts everything under a few inches of water. It seemed possible that this had occurred recently judging by said smell and the puddles. Surprisingly, the water in the canals was still a glorious blue/green color regardless of hundreds of years of extreme pollution. How do they do it? Food coloring like Chicago on St. Patty’s Day? Doubtful.
Walking through the city attempting to get from Piazzale Roma to Piazza San Marco, I quickly found out why people say it’s impossible not to get lost in Venice. It’s insane. I utilized my phone’s GPS nearly the entire afternoon just in the interest of being on time for my train to get back to Vicenza where I was staying with my friend. I had my large pack on my back so I didn’t love all the small passageways and tempting shops. Instead I took a few photos to prove my arrival then sat in a ristorante for two hours giving my back a break, utilizing free wifi, and writing about Switzerland. I gave myself an hour to find my way back to the Stazione Santa Lucia and boy was I happy did that because it took the entire hour.
After a 1 hour train ride I met up with a friend I have known since kindergarten but haven’t seen in years. She lives in Vicenza with her husband and twin girls, they teach for the military and have lived in the Azores Islands in Portugal and now here in Italy. They have a big beautiful home with two extra guest rooms and bathrooms with all modern American amenities. It was great to be there and reconnect with a long-lost friend. We decided that I would be on my own Friday then we’d wing it for the weekend. After a good sleep albeit not long, Tinder traffic was a little nuts, I woke up early ready to shop and wander Venice. This turned out to be the best solo day of my trip.
I started out coming off the train pretty early, 9:30am, by Italian standards so I just strolled the streets waiting for shops to open. I came across one of a thousand Venetian Mask shops and decided to go in to check them out. I think I was in there an hour trying on 30 masks yet only scratching the surface of what they had. I also tried on a cape, it was all so magical, the promise of intrigue at Venetian Carnivale. I ended up buying WAY too much but I think come next Halloween, it’ll be totally worth it. I wandered a little more and found more shops to buy presents for my Italian-American friend who was excited to get some legit Italian goods. Somehow, I found myself walking down a street along one canal and I saw a professional costume shop with custom professional Carnivale stuff in the windows and decided to check it out. I went in and browsed the vintage costume jewelry, finding a wonderful pearl bracelet that fit perfectly. The mama of the operation (who spoke no English) followed me around, finally forcing me to try on a handmade bronze embroidered cape they had made. I tried to take a photo but mama would not have it. Even though it was 70euro (reasonable considering) I couldn’t justify two capes. However, I left that shop thinking that experience of being bubbied by an Italian mama was priceless.
I kept on wandering headed leisurely toward Piazza San Marco, ended up in Furla and made more unnecessary but fabulous purchases from an adorable guy, Alexio. I forced him to allow me a photo for my records. I have left a trail of embarrassed men behind me on this trip. Then decided at 2:00pm, maybe it was time for some sustenance. I hadn’t eaten all day but was running on a shopaholic high. I stopped into Caffe Florian, a place a friend had Pinned for me when she heard I was going to Venice, and it did not disappoint. It was expensive but the environment, place setting, and service was well worth the price. After my light meal I decided to check out Marina Rinaldi, the only Italian designer catering to the curvy lady (Italian women are TINY). I had personalized service, bottled water, chocolates, a shop girl catering to all my needs. Of course, I’m not used to this kind of thing so I probably said “Grazie” five thousand times. I ended up buying two tailored dresses that were classic and gorgeous plus an off the shoulder sweater that I’m currently wearing while I write this. Worth it!
If all this consumerist glut wasn’t enough, I had quite a ride home. I eventually made my way back to the train station, a little earlier than anticipated but ready to unload my insane bags. I buy my ticket and the train’s platform has not been announced so I need to find a place to lounge while I wait. I look around and see this group of benches near one of the displays, as I’m walking I see this really cute guy sitting at the end and no one else is seated near him so I make a B-line. I ungracefully place my bags around me as I not so subtly check him out. I look at him, he looks up, I look away – repeat. I keep telling myself to not be a chicken and just ask him something completely inane to start a conversation. He’s editing a paper of some sort but I can’t will myself enough courage, instead I take a sneaky photo. Soon after, he gets up and leaves. I look at the display and my platform has been called so I grab all my bags and head that way. When I start to walk down the platform I see him getting on the same train. Yes! I engaged in slightly stalkery behavior by boarding the same car and following him to the same area of the train but sat a few rows away. I sit assuming the likelihood of anything happening at this point being slim to none. Out of nowhere, he appears in the stairwell directly across from my seat and I can’t help but smile at him. Out of reflex shyness I make eye contact, smile, then look away. He stops and asks, “Where are you from?” I may have been a little exuberant in answering but this started a conversation. I’ll spare you details but I told him I’d be in Milano (where he lives) on Monday and he suggests that maybe we grab a beer while I’m there. Winning!!!!!!!!! Best. Day. Yet.
The remainder of the weekend was chill, full of amazing food, wine, and toddler time. I was so happy to see some parts of Italy that I never would have seen if it weren’t for my friend, Nikki. I did the whole Romeo & Juliet experience including their castles in Montecchio and the balcony in Verona. It was wonderful and I loved every minute. It is now Monday and I’m sitting in Milano writing this post and I’m sad to say my drink date with Rias, the train guy, did not pan out. He had a busy day and couldn’t find a way to see me during the short hours I am here. :( Nonetheless, we’re connected on WhatsApp and you never know what may happen.
Italy has been pretty magical and I do enjoy the culture molto. I have more stories but these are the best ones. Nikki and her husband are often gone for two months during summer and need a house sitter for the dog…thinking of how I can make that happen. Living in northern Italy would be beautiful thing. I can’t wait to come back!
One note: Italy has a bad reputation for being unpredictable and often late with its transportation. I was lucky enough to not experience this at all until my final train ride. The train to the airport from Milano Centrale was a complete clusterfuck. Every train headed for Malpensa was canceled or severely delayed. I finally boarded a train that I technically didn’t buy a ticket for (I bought for Trenitalia but boarded Trenord) just to ensure I got to the airport in a reasonable amount of time. Thank God they didn’t check tickets but I’m sure I could’ve played the ignorant American card – I wonder how many people never made it in time. I only managed to arrive thirty minutes before boarding and my flight was half full. Ugh. Ciao, ciao!