Venice waits for her demise like a ship whose hull has been breached and has only a few hours before it is submerged completely under water. I didn't really think much of this as Joy and I boarded a city bus to take us to the water taxis that awaited the arrival of a mix of tourists and locals as they prepared to join the doomed on this sinking city.
Joy and I were only halfway into our bus ride when we mistakenly exited the airport bus 20 minutes early at a stop where only locals seemed to get off. We were sitting on the bus without the ability to speak one word of Italian (this was becoming a painful trend for us) and like sheep we followed the first horde of people getting off the bus thinking we were at our intended destination, Piazzale Roma. As soon as the bus pulled away Joy and I knew that we had made a mistake and the fumes from the exhaust of the bus that choked us only added insult to injury.
We quickly surveyed where we were dropped off and we saw a ticket counter with a very kind Italian man sitting behind it graciously answering questions from people all over the world who seemed to have made the same mistake as Joy and me. When our turn in line came Joy pulled out her phone and quickly began typing our dilemma into her Google translate.
The man watched and before Joy could finish he said with a smile, "I speak English, Italian, French and Spanish."
Nothing like a European speaking multiple language to make me feel like I should have paid a little more attention in my foreign language classes in school. I spent a semester in school trying to tackle our new friend's native language of Italian and came away with only one phrase which incidentally held little to no value; "quanti anni hai". This translates to, "how old are you?" The man selling the tickets was 32, I discovered, and after I had exhausted all of my Italian we all then consented to just speak English and not embarrass anyone any further.
Our directions were quite clear. We were not that far off track he informed us. "Walk 50 meters to our left to the bus stop and get on bus number 2 and take it to the Piazzale," the kind Italian man instructed.
Simple. Walk to stop and get on bus number 2. What could possibly go wrong?
We walked our 50 meters and then stood waiting for the next bus number 2 to arrive. The sign near the stop indicated the bus would arrive in 8 minutes. We waited for our bus and then for some reason we decided we were on the wrong side of the street. We quickly hurried across the street to the sign reading, "bus 2 to Venice" that would arrive from the opposite direction. Our instructions were clear however we felt maybe, just maybe this local bus guide who had lived in this country his entire life was somehow wrong about which bus to take.
As soon as Joy and I got across the street another very kind local informed us that indeed if we wanted to get to Venice we needed to be on the opposite side of the street so we grabbed our bags to head back to our original place of waiting. As we were hurrying back across the street bus number 2 arrived, loaded up its passengers and then departed without two very lost Americans.
Joy and I glanced at each other and chuckled as we regrouped and looked up at the sign to see when the next bus would arrive. Then, for some unknown reason, we decided the bus that we needed to take was bus 24H. Why? Because this is what you do when you are in a foreign country, you discredit local advice and you improvise.
This may sound completely insane but we convinced ourselves that bus 24H was arriving at the very street where we needed to be. The sign read, "24H Ospedale". Our final destination was a place called Ospedale but what we weren't taking into account is that in order to get to Venice one must do so by air or taxi. A bus simply doesn't have the skills to deliver a tourist to Venice, a city that has no motor vehicles.
It didn't take long before getting on 24H that we learned Ospedale happens to be a very popular street name in Italy. Imagine catching the bus to Main Street in Lawrence, Kansas in hopes of getting to Main Street in Fort Worth, Texas. This was the equivalent of the breakdown in logic that Joy and I employed and thus began our 45-minute tour on a bus through a city that was not Venice.
As Joy and I were chauffeured around the city a thought struck me. Yeah, we may be lost but how cool is this that we are riding on a bus in a city in Italy, not speaking one word of Italian, and realizing everything is not only okay but in reality a dream come true. This is adventure. This is traveling without a net or plan of how to get a net. This was exhilarating.
Joy and I rode around taking in all of the local flavor of this small quaint Italian town until we finally arrived at what appeared to be another central place where the busses converge. As the bus came to a stop we approached the driver and asked in our now broken English (how our native language began to fail us was beyond me) if he could direct us to where we needed to go.
His face instantly revealed that we were a long way from our intended destination. He instructed us to cross a rather small street, go under the bus platform to get to the other side of the platform and catch bus number 2 to Venice. 90 minutes later we were on our way to the water taxis to catch water taxi 5.2 via our original transportation, BUS NUMBER 2.
Once we arrived at the dock we decided to take the advice of the locals and we took the exact water taxi we needed to arrive in Venice. It was a quick boat ride that carried a mix of excited tourists and grizzly locals all making our way to this beautiful but rather maudlin city.
Venice reminds me of a trip to see your grandmother. Venice is aging and may not be with us for much longer. She feels like a city of a bygone era. Her buildings are crumbling underneath the water, mosquitos and rats prey upon her waters and the local people who make her their home possess a ghostlike energy due to their knowledge of Venice's ultimate demise. It's a family secret no one seems to talk about but everyone is fully aware of. She is sinking and like a grandmotherly figure we know we should check in on her pretty frequently in order to enjoy her final days because soon she will no longer be with us.
Upon stepping foot on the shores of this aging city its obvious to see this is a city that was at once the most beautiful girl at the ball and now is reflecting on those days of her former beauty. Venice is the star of many painted canvases that omit the omnipresent boats that are used for transportation, the graffiti that covers almost every wall and the trash that lines her streets. Venice is weathered. Venice is tired and her people have taken on her energy.
As beautiful as Venice is a sadness permeates her being. She knows she is dying and she is simply waiting for the shoe to drop. Venice and the people who populate her space have accepted their collective doomed fate. Or so this was my impression as Joy and I first stood on her shores.
Joy and I met our contact "Mario" so that we could be taken to the AirBnB that we had rented. We stayed in contact with "Mario" and as soon as we arrived he wrote us informing us that his wife would meet us to take us to the apartment that we had rented. For the life of me I can't even remember her name because she was so quiet and unassuming as she lead us through the tight cobble stone streets of Venice to the apartment on the water.
Joy later told me that her instinct was that "Mario" was always a woman and that she felt that she performed her business under a pseudonym to ensure her safety. After Joy pointed this out I couldn't help but think she may be right. It saddened me to think that we live in a world where women had to take such precautions in order to feel protected. Although I fundamentally believe in the good of man there are limited few that don't necessarily confirm my belief and because of this a wonderfully kind soul may indeed go by the name "Mario".
Joy and I settled in the small apartment that was very similar to the feeling of a houseboat. Upon walking in the door we could hear the rats screeching as they swam in the nearby water. We knew our stay was going to be short so we dropped our bags to walk through the small Italian city on the water. Shops occupy many of the buildings near the square selling everything from masks, to trinkets, to gondola rides to cafes that feed the tourists that cram themselves onto this island.
Joy and I had an early dinner at Spaghetteria Pizzeria and then strolled through the labyrinth of streets that cut through the buildings. We slipped into the shops to peruse the masks that were made famous from the old art form the Italians call Commedia dell'arte. We watched as locals walked their dogs without leashes through the city streets. These dogs were incidentally much better behaved than most American canines. Their masters strolled and the dogs followed without the least bit of resistance.
After a long day of travel Joy and I called it a night returning to our somewhat eerily apartment right on the water. As we drifted off to sleep mosquitos feasted on our flesh and rats serenaded the night sky with a cacophony of high pitched squeals. I couldn't help but feel I had was being detained in the Italian version of Alcatraz, silently planning my escape.
The next morning we awoke, packed our bags and left them housed in the entryway of the apartment so that we could retrieve them later in the day. We wandered the city stopping for a cappuccino and a gelato. We slipped into what we discovered was a casino and had a breakfast lasagna that tasted exactly how one would expect a casino lasagna to taste. The Universe still continued to shine on us when Joy slipped 2 euros into a slot machine and found 100 euros soon spilling into the awaiting receptacle below. Even in our funk the Universe continued to find a way to shine on us. We gave thanks for this amazing experience and walk backed into the late morning sun.
With our winnings we decided we hop on a gondola ride, which took us around the city revealing just how much of this relic was grumbling below. Venice, like many people, looked great on top but seemed to be in such pain down below where our heart lies.
We would only spend one day in Venice and as much as I don't want to admit it, it felt like enough to me. There are many people who fall in love with the charm of Venice and don't want to leave however that is not the feeling that I had. I could feel Venice's sadness. I could feel it in her people. I could feel it in every pore of her being. Venice reminded me of a city of ghosts stuck between a world that no longer exists and a modern world that was quickly leaving this island behind. The only thing left to do was to honor her journey and to wait for her to depart to her final resting place.
Venice waits for us to visit before she descends below the water to be lost like another Atlantis. She sits on her rocking chair waiting for us to visit knowing her time is short. She waits and she waits and she waits...