I spent last week in Venice with my sister Trish, a bucket list trip for us both. I’ve been to Italy several times – a few trips to Rome, most recently in 2012. To Florence in the way back. Trish has also been to Italy. But Venice was something altogether different.
Hard to know where to begin….
We arrived mid-morning on a Saturday, after one of those exhausting all-nighters, and a somewhat chaotic lay-over in Paris that allowed just barely enough time to clear passport control and make our way to the right terminal. But made it we did, and landed an hour-and-a-half later into the mayhem that is, apparently, Aeroporto Venezia on a weekend.
We had pre-arranged for a water taxi to take us directly to our hotel, which was on the Grand Canal. It took a while, but we found the taxi company desk, where we were relieved to see our name in print, even if that print read Mr. and Mrs. Rogers.
There was an elderly couple ahead of us, both in wheelchairs powered by helpful airport employees, the wife tethered to an oxygen tank, and the pair trailed by a porter pushing a luggage cart with at least eight suitcases piled onto it. This was in addition to the large roller-bags the couple had by their ironsides.
The husband and wife team was told that the water taxi would not be able to get them to the door of their hotel, but would let them off nearby, from whence they could find there way to their hotel. The taxi person suggested that, once the water taxi dropped them off, they might want to call their hotel and have someone come fetch them and their bags. The reason that the taxi couldn’t make it to their door? High tide. The couple was told that they did have the option of waiting for the tide to go down, but it might be two hours, it might be six.
Our hearts dropped. We had done enough reading up to realize that, when in Venice, you really do want to be let off at the door of your hotel, not sort of nearby.
Venice is not an easy town to navigate. There are no cars, and it’s not exactly designed with pedestrian ease in mind. The main island, where we stayed, is a warren of little “streets” and passageways, some only an arm’s breadth wide. There’s not much of a grid structure, at least as far as we could tell. Wend your way around, take a couple of lefts, take a couple of rights, cross a couple of bridges that span the many little canals that run through town, and you’ll end up in a “campo”, a square with a no-longer-in-use, capped well, a church (generally) and a bit of commerce (a couple of stores, a restaurant, a gelato vendor…).
Not all of the streets aren’t marked, by the way, and some of your navigation is of the follow your nose, and the occasional sign reading “Per Rialto” or “Per San Marco”, and you’ll eventually find your way somewhere. Try to follow the same path you took the day before, try to retrace your steps. Good luck to you!
Given what we knew about the confusion of the city’s layout, and with a warning from Rick Steve’s about not wanting to lug your roller bags up and over those little arched bridges, we were not looking forward to being dropped any place other than at the door of our hotel.
Meanwhile, Mary and her husband (the old folks) – we never caught his name – decided to take their chances and head into the wild Venetian yonder. Mary negotiated twenty Euro off of the fee, which didn’t seem quite fair off a door to door fare of 130 Euro.
We had visions of running into Mary and the Mister, sitting amidst their many bags, in the middle of a square somewhere, but, as it turns out, there are porters with dollies at many of the drop off points. So I’m sure the vecchios were able to get to their hotel, which, Mary explained to us, they’d chosen because they actually wanted to experience more of the “real” Venice by not being on the Grand Canal, even though, when it’s high tide, the bridges are too low for the water taxis to get under.
Then it was our turn to secure our water taxi.
Fortunately, if you’re on the Grand Canal, high tide isn’t a problem.
A van transported us to the taxi dock – all of a couple of hundred yards from the terminal, but part of the service we’d paid big enough bucks for.
There, we were helped onto a speed boat, bobbing in the choppy water. The fellows manning the dock and the boat made sure our bags got in, then reached out and helped us on. Mind the gap, all right. I had visions of falling into the drink, shattering my shin on the way down and watching in pain as my passport floated away. Arrivaderci, passport.
Fortunately, Trish and I took the leap of faith, and made it on in one piece, but, of course, I proceeded to bonk my head on the cabin.
The ride into Venice was fun, although a bit choppy at points. I think our taxi driver was showing off a couple of times, revving his jets to give the American touristas a thrill.
It is really amazing to approach Venice, and see it rise up out of the water. But the thrill of the ride was tempered by worrying about how difficult it was going to be to disembark once we got to the hotel. Visions of falling in the drink, shattered shin bone, etc. etc.
Blessedly, between the boatman and the hotel bellman, we made it onto dry land – if there is any such thing in Venice.
We’d made it, and, after a brief nap, began our exploration.