16 November 2008

Venezia: Finding Mimo

Alright. At long last, my highly-anticipated account of my adventures in Italy. Here we go.
So I had a 6:05 am flight out of Barajas. There's a direct Metro line up there which is pretty easy for me to get to. Problem is, the Metro stops running at 1:30 each night, and doesn't start again til 6 am. What most students do in similar cases is wait up at Barajas all night, and I decided I would rather do that than pay 30 euro cab fare to get up there.
I nearly missed that train, though, because I left my packing to the last minute. I had to wait like 5 minutes for a train out of my station, which put me on edge, and I literally ran to get on the very last train to the airport for the night. Then I realized I had no idea what terminal my flight was out of. When I heard some boys near me on the train speaking Italian, I asked them what they thought I should do, and they told me they thought that all international flights (besides ones to Portugal, which apparently don't count as international because they are on the same peninsula?) went out of a certain terminal, so I followed them to that terminal, and luckily it turned out to be the right one, or I might have had to walk around for a while in search of the right one.
There I was, waiting around in the vicinity of the ticket counters, at 2 am. Plenty of other travellers had had the same idea, and all around me were people watching movies on iPods, listening to music, and napping. I tried to make use of my time by finishing up a few unsent postcards I'd found lying around my room and by watching some clips on my camcorder. There are some hilarious moments on there of me and Cousin Sam dancing around at Easter, and of Gracie teaching Emmy how to feel empathy for other dogs. It was nice.
Sometime around (after, I think) 4:30, the ticket counters opened up. I was pretty proud of myself because I kept my conversation entirely in Spanish, even though I think the Alitalia chick started it with 'Hello' because of my passport. I love it when they ask you if you'd prefer an aisle or window seat (I always choose window).
Then it was on through security, where two drunk pijos from some other country (Portugal? France?) harrassed me pretty much all the way through. I think they had to get searched though, so that made me feel better.
After that it was more of the waiting game. I desperately wanted to set up my laptop near a supposed wifi hotspot near my gate, but Vodafone, in a moment of genius, had neglected to supply us with any outlets. I really needed that internet too, because I realized I had totally forgotten to write down the address or directions to my hostel. I even considered calling home to have someone check it for me, but ultimately I didn't do anything but wait for my flight. I just about fell asleep too.
Finally it was onto the plane. I was pretty much exhausted, and nearly broke my rule of never sleeping on public transportation. The flight attendants seemed to think that when I spoke Spanish, I was trying to speak really bad Italian, and used slow, broken English with me instead. How patronizing and embarrassing.
I connected in Rome. After initially waiting at the wrong gate for like 30 minutes and then panicking, I realized that my flight was not boarding at its scheduled time and got some food. Then I waited some more, because this Alitalia flight was two hours late. I thought I was in luck because I saw an internet station, but it ended up being broken, and just ate my two euro piece.
Eventually we got rolling, and after about an hour or so, I began to see lagoons and swampy things out my window (yep, I chose window seat to Venice too). I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love being around water, so I was super excited to spend a weekend in a place where there are canals instead of roads.
When I got into the airport, it was a nice long wait for our luggage, and then finally I found an internet station so I could figure out where I was supposed to go next. Then I bought a bus ticket (plus return) and a one-way ticket for the vaporetto, which is a water bus- Venice's only public transportation.
The bus trip was uneventful, just a 20 minute ride to the square at the edge of the city, Piazzale Roma. From there I caught my vaporetto, the number one (yellow line).
The view from the vaporetto is pretty great. I'm used to being underground when I take public transportation, so to be able to see the canals and the beautiful and old houses built on them was a change.
I'm pretty sure I saw a vampire on the vaporetto. I am slightly embarrassed to admit this, but it's true- I am a Twilight fan (I blame Gracie) so obviously I am an expert on vampires. This guy was too good-looking to be human- he had these long, dark curls and very intense eyebrows and a perfect face. I pretty much stared at him as he walked by me. I could already tell Venice was going to be awesome.
My stop was Ca d'Oro, named for a famous mansion on the Grand Canal. From there I walked down the first main street, crossing three bridges, to arrive at my hostel, which was on the Campo de la Maddalena (Magdalene Church Square). It was pretty legit- I even had to cross a bridge to get to the front door. I did have a tough time finding it though, if only because I overlooked the most obvious, location, thinking there was no way it could be in such a great spot.
Once inside, I met Mimo, the man with the plan, and got more or less unpacked. I was staying in a room with ten other girls, which I had never done before. I'd never stayed in a hostel at all, actually. But I could tell that this one was going to be pretty great- it had better be, because hostels in Venice are like 3 times as expensive as hostels in other, less touristy cities. I knew I was getting my money's worth from the get-go, though, because I could see a gondolier out my window.
I decided to explore the city a little. I hadn't had much to eat all day, so the first thing I did was hit up a pizzeria I'd seen on the way to my hostel. I got a slice with artichoke, pepper, and mushroom on it, and ate it out of a piece of paper. It was great.
Then I went on my way. I don't know why I did this, but I basically tried to get lost. I'd meant to buy a map but somehow hadn't really seen any (or probably hadn't been looking hard enough). I have a decent sense of direction, so if I start out from one place, I can usually tell which way I need to turn to get back towards that place no matter how many turns I've taken. I just wandered, and took pictures, and it was nice.
Eventually I ended up back near the Grand Canal, and there I bought an apple for dinner and a map plus guidebook. By this time it was after four, and starting to get dark. I flipped through the guidebook, and remembered that one of the things I'd wanted to see was the Jewish quarter (well, not a real quarter, but a ghetto, actually). Looking at the map, I realized I'd probably gotten very close to it earlier, and thought maybe I would go check it out again the next day. Then I saw a guy in a black suit and a fedora with little glasses and remembered that it was Friday evening, and the sun was setting. The Jewish quarter would be closing soon for Shabbat. So I rushed over there (Venice is way smaller than it looks on the map), but by then it was sundown, and everything was closed. There were a lot of kids playing pickup soccer out in the square though, and they were adorable.
The Jewish quarter/ghetto is pretty interesting because, until just a couple of centuries ago, it was exclusively Jewish. It was basically cut off from the rest of the city, and the only way to get to it was by crossing a bridge. Because it was seperate from the rest of Venice for so long, it has maintained a rich culture and is well known for that.
I headed back to the hostel, intending to take a nap before Mimo served dinner at like 8:30. I slept through it, though, and woke up around 11. I took advantage of the fact that no one was on the computer, and got on facebook and sent a message home. Then I heard other guests arriving and jumped into bed because there was no way I looked good after having just slept for 5 hours.
I slept until 7 or 8 or so the next morning, and took a stroll around town before breakfast. Then Mimo served us eggs and biscuits (that's cookies to you, but I was eating with a bunch of Aussies and they say biscuits) plus eggs. And then I took off again.
My intended destination was St. Mark's Square and all that touristy goodness. There was a lot to see along the way though. I stopped in at a couple of churches. The awesome thing about some of the old churches here is that they have original artwork by some of the great Italian/Venetian artists, like Titian, the Bellinis, and Tintoretto. Like stuff any museum would kill for.
I didn't really have much of a route planned out- like I said, I have an okay sense of direction so I was just like "Well, I should probably bear right, but not too far right. . ." but because Venice is waaaaaaaaaay smaller than it looks on a map, I walked all the way to the eastern edge of the island in like 30 minutes. It was a nice view, at least, and it was easy enough to get back on track.
Before I knew it, the domes of the most touristy parts of Venice were in sight. What can I say? The Doge's Palace was pretty cool from the outside, but I didn't feel like paying 10 or 12 euro to get in. I headed to St. Mark's Basilica instead. It's free to get in and just walk around the church, but 4 euro to go upstairs to the deck and museum. They were totally worth it though.
Then I walked around the Square, and eventually I went for gelato. It was pretty good, but maybe not as great as I'd expected. I did like that it seemed very light, while ice cream can normally seem a little heavy.
I continued on towards the Accademia Gallery. That was an experience. The Gallery of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, or Gallerie dell'Accademia (I think?) is an art gallery full of famous art and masterpieces. They had several rooms that were just altarpieces or other religious art, and then a lot of the other pieces were religiously themed as well. I saw several pieces that I'd reviewed in my art history classes, such as (I'm not sure about the names in English) Madonna and Child Enthroned with Sts. Job and Sebastian and Feast in the House of Levi. They also apparently have a sketch of da Vinci's Vetruvian Man (I'm not sure if there's more than one or if that's the real deal) but I didn't see it.
I spent a while in there, but had to leave eventually. What else happened in Venice. . . oh yeah, a dog with a cast on its leg (ironic because I'd just watched Grace putting a paper towel roll on Emmy's leg as part of those empathy exercises), I had some more pizza (delish!), also had some more gelato (way better this time!), tried a Bellini- the official cocktail of Venice, made from sparkling wine and peach puree (meh, it was okay), and evertually made it back to the hostel with some time to spare before din din.
Mimo made us a nice dinner of pasta. I had a good conversation with the other girls (we sat at one end of the table while the boys sat at the other, and each party totally ignored the other). The three of us who were American griped about how much we miss Forever 21. The other two Americans were from North Dakota and Colorado, so we were all fairly Midwestern. The other three girls were Aussies. When one of them heard where I was from, she mentioned that when she was 10-12 she'd lived in the same area because of her father's job. How random is that?!
We all sat around talking for more than two hours, until Mimo told us he was taking us out. There had been a lot of wine consumed at dinner (not really by me, because as I have made clear, I am not really a fan of wine by itself) so just about everyone was up for that. We headed to a square, carrying the leftover wine bottles with us because, unlike in Madrid, that is totally legal in Venice. There we got some typical Venetican cocktails- I forget what they were called, but it wasn't the Bellini. We thought the party was there, but it turned out that was just Mimo's way of pregaming, and he led us next to a club. We did nearly get lost along the way though, because I was hanging back with a couple of really funny Aussie boys, and we had to sort of search to refind our party, which led me to quip, "We're finding Mimo!" (I know, I am too funny.)
We waited outside the club for a while before we learned that it was 12 euro to get in. During the wait, a couple of the American boys started beat-boxing and freestyling, and they were legit. The Italians had no idea what to think of that, but I think they liked it.
Since none of us had 12 euro to spend at a club, we all went back to the hostel, which was super close because, again, Venice is super small. We ended up just hanging out and talking well into the night, and it was awesome. Or should I say Aussome? (I apologize for that.)
I woke up around 7 the next morning so that I could walk back to Piazzale Roma. I left my key next to the computer, because Mimo doesn't like to wake up before 9.
It was nice to have a quieter Venice to myself for the walk. I took some more pics, but very few of them came out like I wanted because it was pretty grey. (I still haven't found an overcast setting on my camera yet. I know that's good lighting for portraits and stuff but not for landscapes.)
Arrived at Piazzale Roma, took the bus back to Marco Polo Airport, and then promptly waited around for a flight that was 2 hours late. I was a little upset- I would have had time for Mimo's breakfast had I known.
Because we were two hours late to Rome, I had to sprint through the airport to catch my flight back to Madrid. It didn't help that my flight had switched gates since my ticket had been printed that morning in Venice. Then that plane (which, I should add, was ghetto fabulous- there was one seat that didn't have a back) sat on the runway for well over an hour. I didn't mind that because I figured it would give my suitcase time to make it onto our flight. Wrong. I arrived in Madrid Sunday evening, but my luggage did not. Grazie, Alitalia.
I eventually got my suitcase back, but not until 3:30 pm the next day, after enduring two classes sans makeup or straightened hair. I felt disgusting. All in all, though, a great weekend. My only regret is that I never ended up taking a picture with a gondolier. I guess I'll just have to go back soon.


Harold Brooks said...

Glad to hear you had a good time. Venice is a really special place and it's hard to explain the charm to someone who hasn't been there.

uncle Dave said...

Loved reading your blog on the Venice trip. What a great semester your having!

Dittos re the bellini. Had one at Harry's Bar once... what a waste of money.

Harold Brooks said...

It looks like you picked a good weekend to go to Venice: