I had never been to Venice before, and always wanted to go. So when they suggested I come back to Switzerland (Post not written yet but when it is, it will be here) for an extended 3-week trip, I decided to take a weekend and “pop” over to Venice. (Yes, Italy, not California as some people thought) This made it all worth while. So I worked from the hotel in the morning, then flew Friday afternoon to Venice, and immersed myself on Saturday, and took the train back to Switzerland on Sunday. It was quick, but a very fun weekend.
I really came blind to Venice. I have been so busy at work that the break was nice, and needed.. but I hadn’t planned a thing, read a thing, knew NOTHING about Venice before landing. So all was new and fresh and I was at the whim of my momentary desire. I hadn’t even realized Venice was an island (duh!) and so from the airport I took the water bus out to town. I hadn’t really realized until I was there for a day that there are no cars on Venice… (duh again!) and the only transportation is by water…. I guess this is what makes Venice so famous. It really is very unusual.
I stayed at an AirBnB that was right in town, up a narrow little alley that is iconic in Venice, and “two bridges” as they say in Venice from San Marco Plaza. The small flat had 3 bedrooms and a “great room” (barely larger than the bedrooms) where the owners had a small kitchenette and room where they created elaborate costumes for Carnivale… That is Fiona’s main business. Ian (From New Zealand) works in Australia, and spends most of his time there, although also works some remote from Venice. Fiona has roots in Italy but has kids etc. in Australia… but her heart is in Italy.
Of course, a high priority in Venice was to pick up a Geocache. I’m highly motivated to log a geocache in as many countries as practical.
Geocaching lest you are not aware is a high tech treasure hunt. Individuals hide a “cache” any size container that can contain trinkets to share, but at a minimum includes a log to sign to prove that you found it. You hide this cache and then list it on geocaching.com with it’s GPS coordinates. Then I come along as a player, and find the cache, sign the log, and go back and log it on the computer too. I have found 414 to date (since 2001)… .which is hardly any in the world of dedicated geocachers.
As anyone knows who hangs out with me, I find Geocaching very motivating, not only because I’m a data geek (I strive to get a geocache in as many countries as possible, as many states as I can, and on as many days of the year as possible) but also because geocaching takes me lots of places I might not otherwise go. Venice has somewhere around 40 geocaches on the island. I found 5, and the pursuit got me walking from one end of Venice to the other.
On the way I saw all the big sites of Venice; San Marcos Plaza, the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto Bridge. I walked past Saint Mark’s Basilica, the lavish Doge’s Palace and the tower of St. Mark’s Campanile. I walked the alleys and bought pizza on the street, lots of little shops, and great coffee! Fiona told me to save money I should only buy coffee where you cannot sit down.. Venetians stand while drinking coffee. The tables on the street, while charming, are only for the tourists.
“In the Parts”
My favorite geocache was down a narrow alleyway, probably 24 inches wide and 50 feet long. I would not have even considered walking down this alley if not in pursuit of a geocache. At the other end was a tiny courtyard with entrances to residences on each side. So Cool.
Another geocache was in an alley built on the site of a fabled historic love story from Venice. There is an obscure heart there that all tours visit. People rub the heart for luck. What the tours don’t know is there is a geocache there. I took Mari back here to introduce her to geocaching… She knew of the spot but didn’t know of the Geocache, I’ll introduce Mari in a minute.
While in Venice, I had to take the obligatory gondola ride. The weather was turning and the Grande Canal was pretty choppy so I thought I really would rather ride through some of the narrow little canals. I wasn’t completely sure how to get a gondola and I happened to walk by a gondola stop, so I grabbed a glass of wine and waited. After an hour I went into the bar and asked why I hadn’t seen a gondola come by. They told me the water was too high and that the gondolas would not be on the smaller canals in Venice. She told me where I might have better luck. So off I went.
It was fun, and he even sang for me…. maybe to get the best tips that is required. He was born in Venice, his Dad was a Gondolier. I guess it is a profession traditionally passed down.
It was fun, and I definitely HAD to do it, but it wasn’t my favorite thing.
After walking 21,000 steps around Venice, I was dog tired when I wondered back home about 10:30 that night. Since I had to hike up 4 flights to my room, I didn’t head home often in the day. That evening when I got home Fiona and Ian were out to dinner, and Mari greeted me at the door. She is a woman living with Fiona and Ian, helping Fiona with the costumes. She grew up in Scandinavia, but lived most of her adult life in Australia where she met Fiona and Ian. So she decided she needed to take a break for real life and follow where her path takes her… Right now it’s Venice.
Mari started talking about the wonders of Venice in the eyes of a local. The next day I was leaving on the 1:00 train. We decided to go out for breakfast, and she could show me some favorite spots.
When I titled this post “Immersed in Venice” it was not only that the first day I had so much to do and so little time that I had to immerse myself, but it also referred to the water I had to immerse myself into the second day.
Many people were wearing plastic pull over booties, that the tourist shops all sold for 6 Euro. The Gondolier said they are for “high tide” I didn’t really understand. As I walked back through San Marco’s Square there was evidence of water over a significant part of the square. As I said earlier, clueless. I was pretty surprised and looked it up on the internet.
This phenomenon is called Acqua Alta, and it happens about 3-4 times a year usually in November/December, with exceptionally high tides happening about once every 3 years. This day was exceptionally high and working toward 3 days later when the water was 156 cm above normal… one of the highest in recorded history. Approaching the record in 1966 when the floodwaters topped out at 194cm.
As Mari and I walked around we heard the horns announcing the Acqua Alta. This horn blasts about 3 hours before the high tide for the town to prepare. The stores all put 18 inch high steel plates into their doorway to block the incoming water. In the more popular alleyways, a raised platform for people to walk on is set up. In other alleyways you just have to walk through the water. Pretty exciting to be here on this particular day.
Libreria Acqua Alta
Mari took me to her favorite bookstore, famous because it is very low. You actually step down into the store. The books are all in bathtubs or in the large gondola in the middle of the store to keep them out of the water when it’s high tide. The clerks all wore knee-high galoshes and would go into the lower parts of the store to retrieve books someone might want in that area.
The store is also famous for the “staircase of books” on the back patio that you can climb up to look over the wall into the canal. What a cool bookstore, and what a cool day to be there.
Everyone in Venice was drinking this unnaturally colored orange drink. I asked Mari what it was. Mari decided that I could not leave Venice without one. We went to her favorite bar around noon, and sat out in the courtyard and drank our Aperol Spritz. Glad for the experience but not really sweet enough for this sweet girl!
The bar owners were just putting their barrier in the door when we walked in. There was 4 inches of water in the alley when we left. The bar staff stood in the doorway straddling the barrier to help patrons step to and from the platform. Crazy… I still ended up soaked before I got on the train.
Life goes on
The most amazing thing is that life doesn’t slow down for the flooding. The waiters, shop owners, etc, just all don boots, and carry on like normal. I was so thankful to see the Acqua Alta first hand, and so thankful to meet Mari. I love seeing a place from the eyes of a local… She was my favorite, unforgettable thing in Venice.
On the airplane flying to Venice, the mountains of Switzerland were breathtaking. I was really looking forward to the train back on Sunday, but the 2 hour ride to Milan across the Italian Countryside was less than spectacular, and I boarded the train from Milan back to Zurich just as night fell. I didn’t see anything. Well, no worries. The weekend did not leave me wanting.
I asked the Gondolier why Italy was famous for Love, and he replied without skipping a beat, “Because we have Spaghetti”. I asked what Spaghetti had to do with Love, and he said, “Spaghetti + wine = Love.” Obviously I need more spaghetti in my life (and I doubt he meant gluten free!)