Thursday, February 15, 2007

Venice

To celebrate our engagement, Andrew and I went to Venice last weekend—a trip Andrew had planned while I was whiling away the weeks in the U.S. It was a trip we’d been looking forward to for months, and a place we’d both always wanted to go. Just days after I moved to Barcelona, we’d compiled a list of trips we wanted to take during our time here—subdivided into weekend, long weekend, and longer trips—and Venice was close to the top of the “weekend trips” category. And it did not disappoint.

We took a bus from the airport to Venice, then a vaporetto (a subway-like boat) toward our B&B. We were instantly turned around when we stepped off the boat into the tiny, winding streets, and getting turned around in Venice poses unique challenges: many streets dead end into canals, with nary a bridge in sight. But even in those first minutes, trying to find our way to the B&B, the timeless, lost atmosphere of Venice was palpable. It actually feels much like Girona—seemingly separated from regular life by both time and space—so it made a particularly fitting engagement-celebration destination.
The weekend we were in Venice was the start of Carnival, which we looked forward to with both curiosity and apprehension. We’d planned the trip in the off-season specifically to avoid the choking crowds of tourists, without realizing it was Carnival weekend, and hoped it wouldn’t mean we had to elbow our way through the streets. Fortunately, Friday and Saturday seemed calm, and the only indication of it being Carnival were the occasional masked or full-costumed passerby, and, at night, the remnants of concerts (empty beer cups, groups of what seemed to be primarily American study-abroad students) in some of the major squares that we walked through as we explored the city.

On Saturday, we joined a (manageable) throng of tourists and pigeons to see the Basilica San Marco and climb the Campanile bell tower in Piazza San Marco. The views from the tower were spectacular; what was more spectacular was the enormous bell just inches above our heads that began swinging—and then ringing—at noon. A woman unfortunate enough to be standing directly underneath nearly got knocked out cold. Though we forewent a gondola ride (the price was prohibitive), we took to the canals two other ways: first on a traghetto, a gondola whose purpose is simply to take people from one side of a canal to another when there’s a long stretch without any bridges, and then on the Line 1 vaporetto for its full circuit out to the Lido area and back. Saturday night, we couldn’t resist buying masks of our own, which we wore to do some nighttime strolling through the Venice streets.

On Sunday, when we went back to San Marco to take a “Secret Itineraries” tour of Doge’s Palace (where we saw the cells in which Casanova was imprisoned and from which he subsequently escaped), the square was packed with people—tourist and Italians alike—so tightly that we barely managed to elbow our way through. And it was true elbowing, pushing old ladies and children, the kind of crowd that makes one claustrophobic if one stops to think about it. We soon learned that this was the kickoff to Carnival—at an attic window of the Palace during our tour, our guide said “Look! The flying dove,” and gathered us at the window—it was a white-clad acrobat descending from the top of the bell tower, supported on a tightrope-like wire.

Some of the main thoroughfares were crowded that afternoon, but by simply taking a side street we escaped the crowds entirely—indeed, we often found ourselves completely alone, with only our heels clicking on the stone streets. Small, empty squares; bridges appearing from nowhere; smells of food cooking—Venice was, despite all we’d read and heard, a lovely, secret-seeming place. The ending of our trip was true Spain: Somehow, Iberia managed to lose our luggage somewhere between Venice and Barcelona, along with the luggage of twenty or so other people from our flight. It was delivered to our apartment the next evening. Who knows where in the world our little suitcase spent the night?

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