Venice takes your breath away as soon as you reach the top of the bridge into the city. It's so picturesque it doesn't look real, and I haven't even really gotten into the city yet. The water is that kind of unnatural blue-ish green color that you see in the water rides at Disney, and you start to wonder if the whole city is really just a big manmade ride - nothing's real, just a sort of romance-infused Disneyworld for adults. It sure looks that way.
The directions to my hostel look like they're written for a six year old: Cross the bridge, take the second left, walk 80 meters, take another little bridge (right, because there's only one of THOSE in Venice), take a left at the white church (again, is this a prudent landmark in ITALY?) It turned out that my preemptive mocking was unnecessary, as the directions actually turned out to make perfect sense in practice, and I got to the hostel in about 5 minutes.
By this point, I was feeling gross and exhausted since I had been out until 2 and up again at 3:45. I got to the hostel around 8:30 and decided to take a quick shower. I have to say, this is one of my favorite hostels yet. The place is run by this little Japanese guy, Tomo, who has lived here for a week and has tremendous difficulty keeping the bookings straight. I moved into a room with Gideon, who incidentally will be starting a MA in Urban Planning at Penn in the fall, and Adam, who lives in MD and just finished a year of teaching in Spain. As soon as I unpacked and got to know the roomies, Tomo informed me that he made a mistake and asked me to relocate. Was it something I said?
I later met roommate Abby from Australia. There was another girl who I never actually met, as well. I showered and changed and my getting ready to go explore coincided with Adam's, so he invited me to join him for the day. Why not? We took a water bus around the canal to get a feel for the city, stopping once at a little market to buy the sweetest strawberries and cherries that I have ever tasted. Then we hopped back on and headed down to San Marco square, where we paid the overpriced fee to go up to the top of the bell tower for the most outrageous (and admittedly, worth the fee) 360 views of the city.
I think Venice is like the lovechild of Rome and Fes. It's all the European charm of Rome, with all the craziness of the streets of Fes. I don't think I ever fully comprehended just how extensive the canal/bridge system is in Fes. It's unbelievably complex. Basically, people only travel by foot or boat. No cars (or motorbikes) here - the streets are too narrow and there are steep little bridges everywhere.
Venecian specialities include the handblown, handpainted Murano glass and crystal and the handmade paper mache and ceramic masks in the style of Comedia dell Arte. They are unbelievably. The really cool part about this stuff is that you walk into a shop, and the artist is molding, shaping, painting or beading the work RIGHT THERE, so you know that everything is really special and one of a kind. In another life, I would really like to invest in one of the fancy paper mache kind of masks, because they're really fantastically beautiful. I did purchase a small hand painted ceramic one because I think they are pretty cool, and especially appeal to me because of the theatrical meaning behind them. I would love to come back to Venice during Carnivale and see all of these masks in action. They are truly works of art.
Adam and I wondered around and found our way back and I took a little nap before venturing out on my own. I had a drink in a cool little square where they played reggae music - it was a really interesting mix of tourists and Venecians and I had a little apertif called a Spritz which is a kind of anytime cocktail that is super popular around here. I wondered for a few hours and when I consulted the map that I regrettably purchased, I discovered that I had traveled three islands away. I have no idea how - I didn't even remember crossing any bridges. And that's the charm of Venice.
Today I set out on my own determined to buy some lovely souvenirs and gifts. In typical Jessica fashion, I scoured every shop on the island, mentally noting my favorite items. Then I retraced my steps, and thanks to my freakish semi-photographic memory, found my way back to the shops that housed my new treasures. Get excited.
I brought my purchases back to the hostel and then wandered some more. The thing about wandering into dark alleys in Italian, is that occasionally you are met by a strapping Italian waiter who'd very much like to take you for a little drink and give you a private tour when his shift ends. Um... yes, please. I promised to meet Alessandro back at 3pm, provided I could find my way back to this particular alley. Photographic memory: go! I did find my way back and I think Alessandro was surprised, but happy to see me.
We took a little stroll (passagietta) to a really cool spot on the Canal and talked about American/Venician culture. They're quite different. I also learned that gondoliers make about 300,000 euros each year. Are you kidding me??? Ladies and gentleman, family and friends: we are all in the WRONG industry. Mom and Dad: just think, instead of sending me to Penn, you could have sent me for gondolier training and I'd be making about 10 times what I am now! Who woulda thought?? (Too soon?) Apparently they train for like four years before they are full fledged gondoliers. A gondolier costs about 70,000, but they pocket every euro they make - talk about a return on investment!
Tonight, I'm having dinner at the hostel. Tomo is cooking. I'm eating pasta in Venice cooked by a Japanese man. Good news? My third room overlooks the Grand Canale. 2 points!