I had intended to look around Bologna before heading to Venice, however it was pouring rain that day and I didn’t feel like lugging my backpack around while dodging puddles and getting drenched. It almost became routine that it rained for one day in each place I stayed in Italy.. I decided to go straight to Venice and was glad I did. I met up with my couch surfing host, Dario. He owns a Gelateria and I was most interested in this concept, and being new to gelato/gelati (one is singular and the other plural but I’m not sure I can remember which is which..) I was intrigued. The samples I’d had thus far in Italy were pretty good, and amazingly tasted exactly – or pretty close at the very least – to the flavour it was meant to be. This was, I later discovered, because it was made from a heap of chopped fruit, sugar and a few other ingredients to make it malleable enough to serve. Yum yum!
Dario was kind enough to show me the buses from his place into Venice, and took me for a brief walking tour of this enchanting city. I loved it! There are no cars once you get past the bus area, and the canals and bridges are so picturesque – I had to control how many photos I took so it was a reasonable number to go through afterwards. Venice was amazing. So different to the other Italian cities I’d visited, and was a welcome change. Everyone walked everywhere or took the traghetto (public water boats to cross the main canal for €0.50 per person) or the ferry boats (€16 for 12 hours to use as often as you want) if they couldn’t afford a gondola trip – which would set you back about €80-€100.
I met Dario’s flatmates, and was introduced to Venice at night, and to the local popular drink of Spritz – a concoction of wine and Campari or Aperol and sparkling mineral water with an olive on a stick to stir it all around. It was then I realised just how much we pay for alcohol in Australia. It’s crazy how cheap it is in Europe – and I can understand now why so many young people can afford to drink their way around Europe.. It was really nice to have some friendly faces to meet, and be shown some local spots and be told more about the city than you will ever find in a guide book.
The next day I headed into Venice early and wandered around the streets and got lost even with a map. I discovered you asked at the police station for maps if the info desks didn’t have any, so there’s another handy tip for those wondering where and how to get orientated in a new city in Italy – try the cop shop! I didn’t even manage to cover a good section of Venice, even though I walked for about 10 hours. It’s amazing how many streets and public spaces and tiny bridges there are to navigate. Many times I saw a couple musing over a map while trying to find their way back to where they started, or to find a new location to visit. If you waited in the same place long enough you would sometimes see the same couple reappear a short while later and still not know where they were!
There was the annual regatta in Venice that day, which meant I couldn’t take any of the ferries because they weren’t running until the evening to return the locals home, yet there were heaps of photo opportunities and so many gondola’s winding their way through the canals. I heard some Gondoliers singing, but most just talked (shouted) to the nearest other Gondolier while they raked in the cash. I saw one group of Japanese tourists in a gondola and the mother was so excited, clapping along to the singing of her Gondolier, I was concerned she might fall in the canal she was so taken with the experience. I don’t know how people can think it’s romantic because for every gondola I saw there were numerous people on the bridges and sides of the canals taking pictures and watching those in the boats and it didn’t seem to be particularly romantic or private..
I heard that a Gondolier can make up to €200,000 per year, (about AU$250,000) and that is only working for six months a year for a few hours a day. The guide who said this also said that until last year there had only been male Gondoliers, but the ‘President’ of the Gondolier Society/Association didn’t have a son, so he had to change the rules to let his daughter take over. Apparently there are only two places in Venice that make the actual gondolas, and it is a ‘secret’ trade as such. The gondola is made for the particular weight and size of the owner, although these then get ‘leased’ out to other Gondoliers to use, while the ‘Master/Owner’ counts his cash at home. I was intrigued by the shape and meaning in the various aspects of these boats.
They are not symmetrical, they curve around to the left, sort of like a banana laying on its side. This is because the operator only uses one paddle on the right side of the vessel and this curve assists in his control. The silver fin at the front represents the fish shape of Venice, and the seven prongs on this fin represent the seven districts of Venice. I couldn’t find an answer to why some Gondoliers wore navy blue striped shirts while others had red stripes, but they were interesting to watch nevertheless. I particularly liked when there was a ‘gondola traffic jam’ and I saw about seven gondolas all approaching the same section of canal between two bridges at once. There was much shouting and pushing off walls with their feet and holding onto the underside of the bridges to slow the boats down. These gondolas can be manoeuvred forwards and backwards, and can turn the sharpest corners imaginable. A collision was avoided and I was suitably impressed – although not enough to pay for the ride myself.
I had won an Italian walking tour with Intrepid before I’d left for Europe, so I chose a tour that included a few drinks and snacks along the way, and figured that was my dinner sorted for that night! I hadn’t expected to be fed much at all, but the third place we stopped included a good serving of lasagne, which of course would be rude not to finish it all off, so I did just that. I met a nice couple from Geneva, Switzerland on the tour, and they convinced me I should also visit their city on my trip, which I think I’ll do. I’ll shuffle things around and see what I can organise.
On my last day in Venice it was cloudy and overcast, and it rained as well. Italy was determined I not forget it was winter back in AU just yet.. I took the ferries to Murano to see the glass blowers at work, and then to Burano, where all the houses are painted bright colours. Apparently this dates back to when the island was a major fishing base and the colours helped the fishermen identify their own house when they returned in heavy fog. I was not expecting the brilliance of the colours, yet I saw reds, blues, greens, yellows, oranges and purples. The island was small enough to cover within a short time, and I did just this. I will aim to have the remained of my Italy photos up soon so you can see what I mean by these colours.
I wanted to send a parcel home before I flew to Spain, to reduce my carrying load and also to protect the presents I’d bought. Well, lesson learnt – and for anyone considering this in future, take note – DO NOT MAIL ITEMS FROM ITALY. It will cost you a fortune, and apparently there is a high chance it will not arrive safely anyway. Dario came to the post office with me, as I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t get ripped off if I tried to negotiate it myself. Well the lady weighed it and after much negotiation in Italian that I didn’t understand, I was told that the 2.03kg package was going to cost me €50. My face dropped and obviously said it all, because I certainly wasn’t going to pay that for two kgs. Holy moly. That is roughly $65. That’s insane! I was told I could open the parcel and remove 30g worth of goods, but I was running precariously close to time to arrive at the airport and couldn’t honestly be bothered. Dario managed to negotiate the price to €29, which I still thought was outrageous, however it was slightly better and would get if off my hands. I bought two more stamps, at the official price of €2 each (so those who get postcards with Italian stamps should consider yourself lucky – I only sent five of them because they were so expensive), and the total came to €38 – somewhere another tax had been added on that even Dario couldn’t explain. I am still amazed that they can charge those prices and get away with it, but this is my warning to anyone travelling in future – send your parcels once you leave Italy. As an aside note, I’ve since discovered that stamps from Spain to AU are only €0.80 which is much more reasonable, so I’ve posted some from Spain.
Overall I loved the northern cities of Italy that I visited, and would certainly go back there again and see those cities I didn’t have a chance to visit this time, although I think I’d avoid Rome next time. Or if I did it would be for a day and that would be tops. It was very nice to get into this couch surfing to meet people from the local area rather than just fellow tourists (thanks again Dario!), and I had my fingers crossed for nice weather and new stories to post from Spain. Stay tuned..