Day 569 – 20 September, 2016
Disembarking from the train station in Venice felt like a dream. I had romanticized Venice for ages, but it always seemed like a place I wanted to visit with a significant other. Without a consistent travel partner, I had always passed it over for someplace where I could get dirty and sweaty all by myself. Hiking in the Himalayas didn’t often leave me with much time to yearn for a love interest. But here I was, in this romantic place, for three days alone before Martyn joined me at the weekend.
While I had my head in the clouds, I was stealthily being stalked and (almost) victimized by a would-be pickpocket. Before buying a ticket for Venice’s famous vaporetto, I made a stop at the ATM. I’m a double, triple, quadruple checker with my stuff, always keeping an eye out and making sure I keep an eye and/or a hand on everything, always. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know I zipped up my bag like I always do and intermittently placing my hand on the same bag while I walked just to make sure it was still in tact. I was fully loaded with a backpack and a frontpack, yet it’s a nervous habit, I always touch the zipper especially when I can’t peripherally see my shoulder bag. While waiting for the vaporetto, it couldn’t have been more than seconds when my hand wasn’t touching the zipper but when I touched it again, it was halfway open. I immediately plunged my hand down frantically and blindly searching for my wallet (my phone was safe in the zipped pocket of my jumper), realized it wasn’t there, and instinctually flipped my whole body around to face the exit, fully expecting to see someone sprinting out of the tiny ferry terminal. Instead, a petite girl behind me handed me my wallet and said, “you dropped this.” Utterly confused, I thanked her and was relieved to see that my fresh ATM withdrawal and credit card were still inside. I can only guess as to what happened, but my best stab is that I thwarted the act in progress when I whipped around and hit about 4 people in the face with my giant backpack.
It took me a couple of days before I could visit the highly touted tourist areas like San Marco’s Square and Doges Palace and the Rialto Bridge. Instead, I wandered in the local areas, peeking in shop windows and sampling gelato.
One day when I was sitting down to my first authentic Italian plate of gnocchi with tomato and basil, I met a lovely American couple from Texas, James and Joanie, who seemed to take an interest in my travels and we chatted for almost an hour at the restaurant. I can’t imagine what they thought of me at first sight. I was sitting at a table in the corner, ipad perched on the table (punching away on some writing), iphone in hand (rapid fire texting with Martyn), and a half liter of red wine in a carafe at my fingertips. In my defense, a glass of wine would cost 8 euros and a half liter cost 10 euros (hello, value!). However, in my metric-challenged brain, I was having trouble picturing what a half liter looked like until it was on my table. Anyway…..James and Joanie had been in Italy already for a few weeks and they were sharing some of their favorite spots – I really enjoyed their company and James was great with historical facts about the various places they had visited. When they got up to leave, James whispered that they took care of my bill and I was floored. Such an incredibly generous gesture and my biggest regret was that they left before we exchanged any contact information or before I could thank them properly.
Fast forward a few hours and I saw them yet again in a completely different part of the city. They were sitting down for a picnic in one of the many piazzas and offered for me to join them. Truth be told, I was on my way to get food at just that moment, but I hated to intrude on their meal yet again so I fibbed and said I had already eaten. I was glad to have the chance to see them anyway and to say thank you for lunch so this second “brief” encounter wrapped up after a couple of hours of more chatting. James was a former military guy and knows all about roughing it so when he learned that my next destinations would include parts of Africa and camping, he had lots of stories to tell and even gave me a flashlight that he insisted I would need more than him. They were wonderful people and I was reminded of the kindness of strangers.
By the time Martyn arrived, I was already an old hat at navigating the narrow alleys and had already circled many of the neighborhoods several times. It was fun for me to show him around and pretend like the last three days had actually been three months. “This was the place I got lemon and mango gelato. I didn’t care for it near as much as the place over there where I had chocolate and peanut butter gelato. And this was the bridge where I took that photo that you liked. And this is the bridge that gets really crowded around sunset.” I don’t blame Martyn in the slightest if he rolled his eyes a time or two, but of course, he didn’t even though I was super annoying.
There are loads of places to climb in Venice for a sweeping view so Martyn and I chose the Campanile in San Marco’s Square, the 322 ft bell tower. I’ve learned that just because a structure boasts a nice lookout doesn’t mean it actually has one so I was hopeful but not overly optimistic. Forever difficult to please as I am, I suppose it passed muster.
We ate and drank our way through Venezia. Prosecco, spritz with aperol, loads of red wine, thin crust pizza the way it should be, homemade pasta….it was the food I dream about. We each bought the traditional Venetian masks made out of papier-mâché. Experiencing the city with Martyn was really special, but also bittersweet knowing that it would be the last time we could see each other for awhile. Spending the first few days on my own was memorable in a different way, yet I was glad we chose Venice for our final European rendezvous. There’s something about those romantic bridges that will wake a spark in just about anyone.
For the grand finale, I had always wanted to go on a gondola ride. Gimmicky, yes. Touristy, absolutely. I so rarely give in to these obvious money wasters that I wholeheartedly agreed to accept all the negative with the fun of floating through the canals with our gondolier. It was thirty minutes that felt like five and even though our gondolier didn’t sing and wasn’t much of a tour guide, I don’t regret it for a minute. Finally I could say that Martyn and I had a proper goodbye (for now) on the canals in Venice.