A 17€ meal from Bologna
needed to last me three days.
Before departing for Venice, I had downed the 2€ wine, all of the cheese and meat, and much of the baguette in a misplaced effort to drown my financial woes.
At the time, I thought I had another paycheck coming when I was to leave Venice for Austria, so I was certain I could scrounge through Venice.
Food wouldn’t be a problem as long as I rationed my rosemary crackers and dried plums well.
Venice smelled familiar, even after 8 years apart. I felt as animated at 21 as I had been at 13. The train station steps provided a view of the pervasive gondolas, trinket booths, and even the ass crack of an overweight tourist.
How much more freeing to travel now sans parents.
The only not-so-freeing part was the complete lack of money… But what did I care?
This trip defined carefree.
The knowledge that no one knew I was here left me constraint-free, alone, in Venice.
Unfortunately, the lasting feeling of those aforementioned was being alone. Alone. Completely. No hotel reservation or money to make one, not even for a youth hostel. Alone.
I could be scared or feel detached… or I could forget it and explore the city.
How relieving it was to decide to sleep on the street.
I found a courtyard that was nearly impossible to stumble into accidentally. Private, waterfront, peaceful, perfect. I would sleep here tonight!
My only companion during this leg of the journey was my roller bag, which hadn’t been the same since my march through the uneven stone streets of Bologna. Venice was no more friendly, with staircase after staircase to go over-under over-under: bridge after bridge, canal after canal.
Most solo, cross-country European travelers opt – wisely – for backpacks. But my spontaneous departure from the French school where I was studying abroad didn’t give me that option. My poor little roller bag would have to do.
I followed signs for Saint Marco’s
at first, until I came to this.
That helped me to decide I didn’t care where I went. In fact, I began challenging their signage, and going the opposite direction from any tourist hub. My goal was to lose myself in what I have always perceived to be a deep-souled city.
The crowds were so overwhelming; I feared the city would lose its brilliance if I didn’t escape.
I began to see less and less tourists. Instead an elderly Italian couple crouching through an otherwise abandoned, bright yellow alley.
The tops of the houses began to lean together so closely that I couldn’t see the sun to orient myself. It felt like nighttime, though I felt sure it was still mid-afternoon.
It transformed into a fantastical place.
No inhabitants. Abandoned. Dark, until I found one beam of horizontal light and followed it to a pier.
A moment I envision well enough to never need a photograph:
A dozen small, elderly Italian boaters are circled together on wooden chairs, smoking cigars in their matching light blue uniforms. The closest one, with a walrus mustache, turns, smiles in a way that says “we don’t see tourists here” and nods, “Ciao, bella.” The other men all stared in the same way. Not offended or bothered, just surprised.
I walked away from them feeling like I had discovered real Venice.
I could never find them again if I tried.
When I finally made my circuitous way to Saint Marco’s Square, I barely had enough light to snap pictures of the pigeon-filled plaza before having to meander my way back to my chosen campground.
The last light left the city just as I reentered my courtyard.
Ready for Part 2??