. it's straight out of a fairytale book. For hours and hours, I walked around. It's so cool how there are no cars, just cobble stone streets, some so narrow, barely wide enough for one person. I eventually found myself in the famous San Marco (Saint Mark's) square. Again, I was cursing in my head. The Basilica is so stunning and all the people and pigeons in the square is also quite a sight to take in. Boy, there sure are a lot of tourists here... it's a little crowded. Apparently, October is peak season... what ever happened to summer vacations? Most of them are Americans, French and Japanese...mainly retirees. Anyway, it was sunny and I was in one of the most romantic cities in the world... what more could I ask for. Oh ya, a special someone to share the experience with. All around, I could see couples kissing, hugging and holding hands. Poor Filipo, all alone! But I soon met a new friend. While strolling a busy shopping street by San Marco the next day, I came across a store with an amazing window display of traditional papier mache masks. You see the masks everywhere in the tourist spots, but there was something about this shop that attracted me inside. I soon found myself chatting with the guy working there named Tomaso. We talked about the masks and my travels. We chatted a lot about India... he's been there several times and is doing social work with abused women. Tomaso hasn't lived in Venice for seven years... doesn't like it anymore. He's now in Lyon, France. He comes back often for Carnivale and was here now for a month to help out in the four co-op shops he used to be part of
. They're run by 14 artists who make everything by hand. Their work is outstanding... there's so much I want to buy. Before I knew it, I spent two hours talking to Tomaso while tourists came in and out of the shop. He's a friendly guy who likes to chat up the customers. I promised to come back and visit him in one of the other shops. I did a couple days later and spent the evening hanging out and giving them some business. We then spent a while talking to a woman who came into the shop with her daughter. Turns out she's a radio journalist in Sweden. And small world... Gunilla lived for a year in Courtenay some 20 years ago as part of an exchange. She came to Italy to pick up a dog, a kind of breed that's unique here. Gunilla went away with a couple masks, inviting Tomaso and I to a costume party she would be holding back in Sweden. But then she questioned who would go to Sweden... saying it's a boring place. Over the course of the next few days, I would pop by here and there to say hi to Tomaso. He's now back in France and was nice enough to invite me to visit him in Lyon when I'm in Paris next month. I will definitely take him up on his offer. Other than that, I've been busy touring all the churches, (which are more like art galleries showcasing masterpieces) and museums I have access to with my Venice Card. For 68 Euro, the seven day pass gets you into the 10 civic museums, 20 churches, (I've never been to so many churches in my life!) unlimited use of the buses and acqua buses and most importantly, the water closets
! That alone is worth the money since it costs 1 Euro to use a washroom in the city. Not one vegetarian restaurant to found here... but a few have veggie options, so I haven't been starving... lots of pasta and cous-cous. I've been temped by the delicious looking, but bad-for-you deserts in the bakery windows. However, there are a couple natural food stores, so that's kept me satisfied. Now more on the buses and why I should have forked over the dough to stay in the city. It's the worst transit system I've encountered so far. Buses are always running late or don't even show up, they're overcrowded and infrequent. The day of the Venice Marathon... which I actually wanted to see, I missed the last bus into the city by a few minutes, before they shut down the road for the race. I kept waiting thinking a bus would come, but they never did... I guess that's what the notice sign in Italian said. From where I was staying this was the only road and bridge into Venice. With no other choice, I had to walk four kilometres in the other direction to catch a ferry. After 45 minutes of speed walking, I made the sailing with a minute to spare. Otherwise I would have had to wait another hour. Four hours after I initially set out for the city for the day, I made it. Then the next day, some factory workers decided to set up a protest blockade during the morning commute, again, on the only road leading to Venice. Traffic was going nowhere. When a bus finally did arrive, it barely moved for an hour. A frustrated American couple asked me if there was another way to the city. I told them about the four kilometre walk to the ferry. They decided to try it. I wished them luck. I decided to wait out the protest and eventually made it into the city a couple hours later. That night, trying to get to the hotel, the bus never showed up. It was funny watching and listening to a woman swear in Italian at the guy delivering the bad news about the late bus. Italians love to talk and talk... loudly, with emotion, with their hands, arguing, complaining. Transit troubles aside, Venice is definitely a place I want to come back to... but next time it will be on my honeymoon! Arrivederci for now.
So much for keeping the terrorists and other criminals out of Venice. At the Marco Polo Airport, you get off the plane, collect your luggage and then you're out the door... no passport control. I understand EU citizens not having to be checked, but it seems rather strange foreigners are allowed to come in freely, with no one keeping track. Maybe not, oh well. My hotel is a little out of the way from the heart of historic Venice... it's on the mainland. I was told it would be 10 minutes by bus, but it's more like half an hour and the bus only runs once an hour. A bit of a pain, but I didn't feel like shelling out 200 Euros (almost $300) a night to be in the middle of the action... now I wish I had (more on that later). I arrived in the evening and the next morning it was up early and into the city to explore. When I got there, I was speechless at the beauty... I kept cursing in the my head... in a good way, out of amazement. It was everything I pictured it would be like and more. I was getting goose bumps just looking around at the buildings, the water and the gondolas..