We landed on the mainland after a traumatic airport experience in Berlin, on a hazy, overcast afternoon. We were exhausted both physically (up far too late the night before, saying our last good-byes to the city and the people we knew there) and mentally (we put every ounce of energy we had into experiencing Berlin, and it drained us....it's an odd city: the site is old, but many of the buildings are new. Neighbourhoods of glass and concrete, not unlike Vancouver, erected since 1945, or even since 1989. So it feels very young in parts, and it's discombobulating. You know there's something older below that shiny new exterior, but you'd have to stay a lot longer to really see it. We sure tried though!)
Mr.Q had his heart set on taking a water-bus across, insisting that the view of the city from the water would be breathtaking. Me? I was more concerned about how spendy it was, and the dull day & salt-stained windows of the boat did nothing to spur any enthusiasm. Plus, I had directions to get to the hostel via bus; not a boat coming in from the opposite direction.
First impression: a dingy, grungy city. Peeling paint, and plaster flaking off walls in chunks. Lagoons and canals murky, not with the wealth-bringing jade of a Feng Shui garden, but with boat fuel and probably sewage. Foundations exposed at low tide were slimy with algae and mold. Not so much the magical city of Mr.Q's recollections.
We docked, closer to the hotel than I had expected: an encouraging sign. The bridge between us and Campo San Geremia, where we needed to be, was jam-packed full of tourists. Less encouraging. The throng was fairly easy to navigate: the pendulum swung up again. The hostel was somewhat dingy looking...less thrilling. The Italian hipster at the front desk was cheerful and welcoming....Good. Four narrow, twisty flights of marble stairs to our room, which had a view of mildewed rooftoops and a shower the width and breadth of a refrigerator...somewhat discouraging. But it was clean, and painted a warm yellow, and I only had to endure it for two days, and what the hell - let's go outside and see what we could see.
We immediately found a trattoria with cheap, tasty panini to eat while we walked back over the bridge. The sun had come out, and the city looked a little brighter. We stumbled almost immediately across a gondolier, who was honest about the price he quoted. I don't think we even looked at each other, let alone discussed it we just got in the boat.
Because we were staying in Cannaregio, the old Jewish quarter, it was a bit less frenetic than the more central, touristy parts of the city. Glidng down some of the smaller back "streets", it was almost completely silent. The late afternoon sun gilded the buildings, so the city looked less dingy, and more like a dowager duchess, defiantly clinging to the elegance of her youth.
It's a city that has to be seen from the water to be appreciated.
After the gondola ride, we just wandered the streets as the sun set, and stayed out till well after dark.
Dinner was eaten here: a slice of pizza, enjoyed while listening to a trio of violinists play Vivaldi...and then some rag-time tunes.
Day the second: armed with day passes for the city water buses (vaporetto) and a city map, we decided to just get on a boat and see where we ended up. We got turned around and sort of lost a couple times, but that was part of the adventure: you can only go so far before you hit the water, either the Gran Canal or the surrounding lagoon, and there are vaporetto stops at regular intervals.
(The idea that somebody actually mapped the city is amusing, given that some of the "streets" are maybe 3 feet wide, and a few dozen feet in length. Whoever took the time to do the job must have laughed their asses off at the idea of tourists trying to decipher the warrens laid out on paper....)
A street performer, playing Ave Maria on water glasses. The idea sounds cheesy, but the reality sounded exquisitely pure.
Last sights of the city...
The weather began to turn as we got back to our hotel, and we left the city the next morning as the rain started. It seems to have followed us to Florence....More about our arrival here later; we have museum reservations: off to see some Renaissance art!