When I grow up I want to be a Gondolier in Venice…

Posted on June 27, 2011

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Dear Armani Hotel,

When this Hotel is finished it is a must see when I return to Milan. I don’t know when I am coming back but I definitely enjoyed this “fashion capital” of the world and the many famous structures in this wonderful city. It was an impulse decision to take a weekend with my new friend Miss Vue but my mind was made up after two minutes of talking with her!  A few of us were having late drinks on Friday night and she told me that she was leaving at 8 am Saturday to go to Milan. I wanted to go so I asked who she was going with to see if I could invite myself! She was going solo so she was more than happy to let me tag along. After we split for the evening I realized I had no idea what I was getting myself into for the weekend. We exchanged numbers and I asked her what I should estimate for expenses. I truly thought she told me Milan and then Verona on Sunday…she said VENICE! I was already committed. What was one more city that I have been dying to see since my arrival?

We met at the train station early Saturday morning. It took the train from Saint Peter’s Station and barely arrived 6 minutes before the train departed for Milan! Luckily, she is awesome and bought my ticket for me when she arrived so I just jumped on the train with her. First class is always nice but since I have been taking the train more and more and further and further I am realizing that if you are “fortunato” (fortunate!) as I am you can buy a regular seat for much less and sit yourself in the First Class area. Someone might ask you to move if you are in their seat but there seems to be other seats open so you just move! One of my tickets read “standing room only” meaning that it was full yet I still found a seat in the nice air-conditioned oversized seating area. This “fast train” ride was only about three hours to Milan. Not bad but I didn’t have anything to read or do. My iPod was still messing up, the bad ear buds continue to fail, but at least I had something to listen to. I never got any new music but I did eliminate some music I didn’t care for so at least there was less “skipping” of songs. Once we arrived in Milan we stumbled around looking for a map, using Google maps on her phone and trying to ask strangers where to go. I have a pretty good sense of direction but maps make the most sense opposed to just guessing when you are pulling a suitcase behind you in a HUGE piazza with 7 different ways to go.

We checked into the New York Hotel across the street from the Central station. When we were discussing “check-out” time I was taken aback! I didn’t know that we were catching the 6:30 am train to Venice! I laughed and assured her that I was “in for the weekend” and didn’t mind. I was already on only 3 hours of sleep so waking up early was just another reason to lose more sleep. Once sleep is “lost” it is gone forever. We went back to the station to buy my ticket for the early train and then rushed to find something to eat before her “Last Supper Tour” at 2 pm. This special tour must be booked in advance since only 15 people can be accommodated per trip. She lucked out since someone cancelled a few days before. I waited around with the group in hopes of getting to go along but in the back of my mind I didn’t really want to pay over 70 euros for a place that only costs 8-13 euros to enter. The three hours of “lecture” I can only take for so long for the amount of money. Art History was my minor in college so yes I am always interested but I like to just “see” as much as listen to a stranger with an accent tell me dates and mediums. Maybe another time I can witness “The Last Supper”…

We split ways and I was checking out my map deciding which way I wanted to go when I received a text from her telling me to find a tour bus for cheap. I went over and decided that for 10 euro I could get a small lesson on the city and get a free ride to all the high points on my map. I had three hours to burn so an hour was a deal. I paid and found a seat with my hot salmon pink ear phones to plug into the seat in front of me to hear the tour guide (I kept my new ear buds and NOW my iPod works!) I must have been sitting for a good ten minutes when I realized that the person next to me had a different “station” number on hers. I then changed the station and found an English one! I had been listening to it in Italian…hahah oops! I caught a couple of words and dates but I am just a big dork like that. As soon as I changed the station she began telling us all about the 65,000 square foot Armani building! There are not only clothes, shoes and house decor but they are hoping that the hotel finishes sometime this year. What a gorgeous place to stay at…I am sure that we will be reading about this place in People magazine this winter or fall that will be frequented by A-list celebrities.  A “complete experience of the Armani lifestyle” could be established. Not only shopping in the fashion capital on the world but shopping and staying in the same exact place. Genius.

I began the tour on the bus at Palazzo del Duomo and was dropped right back off there. The Duomo began in 1386 and is quite the masterpiece! After Miss Vue and I met back up we went inside together (her second time now) to check it out. There are so many things to do and see for free it is amazing. Before she found me I had to get this Italian stranger away from me, of course! He started to talk to me and I responded but I was not interested in having a coffee, gelato let alone DINNER with this guy! At least he complimented me on my Italian for being such an Americana but still I wanted nothing to do with him. Speaking of being an “American” when we called the tour guide information to go the Venice the next day the lady on the phone couldn’t believe that we were in Milan, traveled from Rome and then were arriving in Venice the following morning AND then going home to Rome Sunday night. “You Americans CAN do it, it is strange!” she told me on the phone after the charged my Nordstrom Visa card for a whopping 108 euros! It included three full tours, a boat ride and a gondola ride so it was worth the expense….

When we were at the hotel the woman working gave us a map and showed us where all the good shopping was, the places to eat and where to go for the “night life” since we were spending the evening. Miss Vue’s guide told us an area for the evening and it was the same place so we headed there early around 6 pm to find some drinks and food. Apertivo is such a great deal! Free buffet of food with the purchase of only one drink. This particular place was right on the water canal and had a gorgeous view. We must have sat there and people watched (shoes mostly) for over three hours! Some sweet outfits, beautiful purses and big dogs in this area of the world. We enjoyed the free buffet (which the drinks were only 6 so for the additional 1 euro the food was fantastic!) Fried zucchini flowers, pasta, barley and vegetables, eggplant, lasagna with vegetables or meat, even chicken fingers! We watched the sun go down and only had one drink. I ordered a “sex on the beach” while she had a terrible mojito! I even went back to the bar to help him “fix” it but it just was plain bad. She didn’t drink it at all. We sat so long that it was nothing but liquid with a little mint chunks by the end of our sitting. Around 9 we decided to give up our seats to the people awaiting dinner. We strolled and checked out little shops along the canal. As it got later more and more people were everywhere! What a beautiful place to live. Around 11 pm we found a few vintage shops, plenty of hand-made wear and plenty of artwork to admire. This is a busy place at night! It was nearing midnight and we realized that we were pretty far from our hotel and were unsure about how late the metro ran in Milan so we headed home early. First we stopped in an old book store since the sign invited us in “2 euro!” I found an old book in English and she found a fancy old school Italian/English dictionary! What a steal these items were. We got home around 1 am and finally fell asleep around 2 am! We set our alarms for 5 am and caught some sleep. Three more hours we were running on…

We asked the hotel to have our “breakfast” ready in to-go bags so by the time that we checked out and made it to the station we would have something to eat. Inside was a chocolate cornetto, some nutella and fruit. We sat in first class (again!) and even though I was excited to have something to read I was too tired to think. We napped in and out of the few stops and by 9:15 am we were off the train and looking for our “meeting stop” for the first tour. We were over an hour away from our destination and the first thing that Miss Vue asked the Information center was, “where can we get a taxi!?” and they said, “you mean “water taxi”?? I knew that this place was all on water but I guess neither one of us realized that no one even had cars! Once we had a map it was already too late. We missed our first tour but decided that we still wanted to take a gondola ride so we found the one that we missed. An hour late the crew was not very understanding about our tardiness. She tried to talk him into giving us a deal since we had “already paid” for it while I checked out the babes in sunglasses and their striped blue and white uniform shirts. These guys were HOT! I was starting to wonder where all the babes were hidden in this country and now I know the answer: Venice. Almost every one that was under the age of 30 had sweet shades on and tattoos. Babes.

She did well and talked him into taking us for a minor discount but we also gained a FREE boat ride later. He invited us out on his boat around 12:30 and we accepted after the gondola adventure. These gondolas are the best thing in the world!! It was the “chief” boss who took us out (sadly not any of the babe-slayer clad striped shirt hotties) but it was nice to get a lesson about gondolas from an expert. Originally it was solely a “father and son” job but as times changed so did the rules. I asked right away if a woman is allowed the job and he told us that he employs one female and she is very good. I want to be a gondolier when I grow up!! It looks like such a great arm work-out, plus it is beautiful AND you are in the sun all day. Pick me! Pierto (Peter the chief) sang some love songs to us in Italian and I realized now why S told me that Venezia is one of the most romantic places in Italy. I wanted to cozy up to a man and weave in and around the “streets” (water!) and drink wine together while some other striped shirt babe was on board too. Either way it was so much fun and we took lots of photos! After our gondola ride and my attempt at getting hired as the second female we barely had enough time to grab lunch and head back for the free boat ride. We found a place that had the most amazingly delicious pizza with gorgonzola and walnuts! (sorry dad but it would be just as good with ANY nut…we can make it at home!) Some penne pasta and some roast chicken with rosemary. The boozer that I once was craved some vino so I had a small glass of the house wine (watered down but who cared at this point? I was in Venice!) We rushed back over the many small bridges across the water and found the boat waiting for us. As we got a personal tour of the islands I learned what it would entail to seriously become a gondolier! It is like having a taxi permit so not only do I need that and permission to live and work in Venice but there is also a test to prove that you can in fact do the job. I asked all the right questions because I seriously am interested! There is nothing like Venice. I learned too that people don’t “live” there they just work. It is a strictly tourist attraction. They work 7-8 months of the year and they live away at other islands near by. What an amazing place to work and then have time off? As we pulled back towards San Marco I finally asked Pietro what the babe in the green sunglasses name was. Luca. Of course it was. We had been personally dropped off right at our destination and found our tour group with ease. After they handed us our ear phones and one-way radios they offered to take our suitcases and watch them until the next tour since they were not allowed into the church. While we were on the gondola ride they did the same thing for us! Traveling with a bag on wheels is not ideal in a place you have never been, let me tell you.

St. Marks Basilica is probably the most gorgeous church that I have ever seen in my entire life so far! It is full of mosaics from the floor to the ceiling! Enormous and breathtaking. It has been named the “Chiesa d’oro” which means, “the church of gold” and that it is! There is so much shiny golden goodness covered in the inside it is unreal. Since we were part of the tour we got to go places that were roped off, not have to wait in line and got the history lesson. This amazing place was first constructed in 828 when Venetian merchants stole the supposed relics of Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria. The structure has been altered many times throughout its history since the decor prefered and changed over time. Byzantine to Gothic. This gothic structure of the Doge’s Palace lie adjacent and connects to the basilica itself. This palace is certainly nothing to ever forget. We got to see the old prison cells (Prison Palace. I can’t believe that those words are in the same line!) and walked across and inside the “Bridge of Sighs.” Each tour we took and person that we talked to gave us the low-down on this famous bridge: As prisoners were taken in and under to the cells they walked through this small bridge and would look out the stoned bar windows and literally “sigh” at the beauty outside. The clear water and town was the last thing that they saw before they surrendered to prison. There was a famous inmate named Giocomo Casanova who escaped prison by climbing through the roof, then re-entered the palace and then was let go! Here is the view from the inside of the bridge looking out…

After the Palace of Prison were taken to a grand room in the palace and had a long look at a gigantic painting. I got to see the breathtaking reputed “largest painting in all the world” inside the Doge’s Palace!! It is called “Paradise” created by Tintoretto in 1588. It truly is humongous and full of detail. There are easily over 500 people painted in the scene. I stole a photo off the internet but since there are no actual people in the photo I am unsure if you can really sense the serious size of this painting!

The next tour we had we boarded what I would call a “Water-Limousine”! These “taxis” are HUGE and full of babe drivers too. I am telling you this is where all the hot men are hiding. About ten of us sat comfortably inside and got another lesson about surrounding places, hotels and churches. This special ride even offered us a bellini, which I was so excited for I downed it in two drinks. It was in a tiny plastic cup and it wasn’t much but it tasted delightful! I think that one tour is enough and it is best to try to make friends with people that work the area so that they can give you free lectures! Everything that this last boat trip over the Grand Canal told us what we already knew. But it was already paid for…another thing that I would rather WAIT to do since we missed our first pre-paid tour because we didn’t know how far the station was to the location. After the water limo we said goodbye to the cute little asian family that had been with us for all three tours. The cutest couple with a two-year old named Isabella and the mom looked about 6 months pregnant. I can see this place of more a honeymoon destination then a family trip but whatever people want. This place is the most amazing place in the world I guess everyone of all ages should see it.

After the tour was finished we had enough time to grab some food and then board our train home to Rome. We checked out a few menus near the station but everything looked weak and expensive! We landed on a smaller type place and ordered some pasta. There were different prices for eating inside and for “take-away.” I knew this was not worth the “inside” service when our waiter gave us paper mats and plastic utensils in clear bags. Really?? We should have told him “to-go” and saved the 2,50 euro. Not only was I already turned off because of the plastic forks but when my microwaved pasta arrived there was a fucking hair on it! No joke and I am not sorry for cussing. There are only a few things in life worth bitching about or bad service and gross food is one of them. I am in Venice for God’s sake! Come on! I was so mad but remained calm. I told him in Italian and in English what was going on and he took it, showed another (boss I assume!) person, he threw it away and told me 5 more minutes and he will bring me a new plate. I waited and watched the clock glad that I didn’t take my “hairy pasta” to go after all. It was only 7 pm and we had a long 4 hour ride coming up so we took some sandwiches from the same place along with us. I told the boss that our sandwiches should be “gratis” for the inconvenience that he caused us and he agreed. He did something even better he didn’t charge me for the pasta and only for one sandwich. Our total was a deal; when in Venice. Truly this place is expensive but now I understand why. These people who work there ONLY work there! This is a tourist place and that is why it is expensive. It makes sense and I still want to become a gondolier. I will never forget that gorgeous place and I hate that a tiny hair ruined my last hour of Venice but what can I do? I found a place where I actually prefer the public transportation. I am coming back!

 The sandwich sucked as much as the pasta but once I was back in Rome I was eager to make a stop. I knew that I was going to stop at Mickey’s work since I was going to have to wait for my night bus. I would rather wait with him than alone at the station. Not only are there crazies at night but I don’t need an excuse to want to see him. I had bought him a tiny pack of some candies that I know that he likes last week and I had them in my purse since. I rolled up with my luggage and the boss asked if he could help me with it but I told him that I was just peeking in to say hi to Mickey while I waited for my bus. He came out and was glad to see me but confused by my luggage. I told him about my trips and he looked a teeny-tiny bit disappointed that I went to Venice without him BUT I assured him that I would love to go again and it would make the most sense to go with him after all. I didn’t get any promises (this time. He did “promise” me many months ago but that must have been when he didn’t realize that he actually liked me after all) but I did get a second invitation to the beach this week. Thursday. I told him that I hope that I can but was not sure. Once I saw my bus I said goodbye and kissed him. Not for long or that serious but he was surprised because he said, “wait…you are kissing me?” I didn’t know what to do and I had no time to say much besides, “ummm sorry I guess?” and gave him a strange eye. I almost missed my bus from the intense eyes but he whistled just in time and the bus came to a screeching halt. I ran and didn’t turn around. Confused still by this green-eyed mysteryI pulled my luggage behind me and couldn’t wait to get home, wash my feet and get into my own bed. All I could think of was the song “Untouchable Face” by Ani Difranco…

Lex

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Posted in: When in Rome