Venezia…so glad to meetchya. Okay, I should be able to come up with a better pronunciation helper. Actually, I referred to the city as Venezia del Toro as I navigated the narrow walkways and bridges looking for my hostel which turned out to be as complex and elusive as many of the actor's characters (see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Traffic…on second thought, read the former and erase the latter from your database so you don't have to explain to your kids why you're in the bathroom for the next three days).
The train ride from the Venice-Santa Lucia station on the mainland to the Venice-Mestre station in the lagoon felt like leaving our planet for the moon (more Space Mountain references later in this paragraph)—only with a lot more water. Actually, as I watched from the train, the landscape had the ethereal look of the Floridian everglades only instead of gnarled mangroves we passed by wooden posts protruding from the water like ghostly pilings of bridges past. I had the sinking feeling you get on an old wooden roller coaster as you're pulled and yanked along the rickety track wondering about the qualifications of the engineers and hoping the construction materials were sourced from someone other than Fat Tony whose only concern was lining his pockets. Well, I thought, at least I can swim.
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We had a safe arrival at the Mestre station and still I was glad I could swim. Everywhere you looked there was water and waterways that the town seemingly floated on. It made me wonder if indeed the city was built with mob money that used styrofoam instead of concrete. Pic#1 is the view as you exit the train station and pic#2 shows one of the aforementioned waterways.
I crossed and re-crossed many of these narrow bridges and walkways, side-stepping throngs of tourists while keeping my dualie packs from knocking someone into the man-eating, rat-infested waters of the lagoon. These rats did not exist that I saw but since I made a Hunter S reference anything's game except the truth. After, re-tracing my steps multiple times I realized a cab couldn't take me to the door of the hostel. The best a gondolier could to is get me to a cross canal nearby and I'd look like a forty-year old at a Hannah Montana concert floating along solo being serenaded by a dapper young man in seamen stripes.
Here were the handwritten directions from the train station and an example of the ones I followed at each stop on the trip:
NE on Ponte della Constituzione - 50m
continue on Fundamenta Scalzi Cannaregio - 73m
continue on Rio Terra Lista di Spagna - 0.2km
L towards (one I especially detested...how do I know if I'm going towards somewhere?) Salita San Geremia - 38m
R onto Salita San Geremia - 38m
take stairs (not a big fan of this one either) at Ponte Guglia - 0.3km
R take stairs at Rio Terra Maddalena - 0.3km
continue on Strada Nuova - 0.1km
R on Calle Fiori - 19m
L on Calle Nuova - 11m
Easy enough. Finally, I recquiesced (yep, I made that one up but I think you'll know what I mean) at a restaurant near the address to the VeniceLuxury hostel. With the packs set down and lasagna ordered, I looked around the flow of tourists for a sign, any kind of sign, for my luxury suite. I looked to the skies in desperation and saw the sign for the hostel above the restaurant. I wound down two narrow alleys before a street urchin with a hand-rolled cigarette pointed me to the discreet door of my lodgings.
Well, it wasn't luxurious but I'd recommend it as the most authentic hostel experience I had on the entire trip. My large pack wouldn't fit in the storage locker and I had to screw the door back on as two of my roommates snored next to their cheese plates. Instead of heading back out on the town, I went to the kitchen/living area to download photos of the day. Ho-hum...no need to tell you about Lya and Elles, the two twenty-something Dutch backpackers who cooked me dinner and shared their wine and changed the word "cookie"--ahh, that accent--for the rest of my natural born life.
One of them, Elles, attacked my stash of ginger snaps like a French-braided version of the cookie monster--I know, kinda hard to imagine but a sight to behold nonetheless...well, she crashed hard but Lya, the farah fawcett-blonde; a Hungarian doctor working in Germany; and a Danish nurse who looked unsurprisingly pallid, all stayed up and learned hearts with my Macchu Pichu deck of cards (thanks Hil!). Not surprisingly, the Hungarian doctor "shot the moon" on the first hand.
I escaped early the next morning and saw the must-see sights. I wasn't too impressed with the Rialto Bridge itself but here's a view from the apex.
Next up was the Piazza San Marco with it's beautiful buildings in expanse and in detail. There were visitors and vendors of all kinds and I was ready to leave the bustle of the big cities once again.
I made my way reluctantly past the hostel and the sleepy purrs of the Dutch lioness cubs and headed for the aqueous graveyard trestle and the Alps beyond...