The nice thing about getting lost in Venice is that there’s always a new gorgeous discovery around every corner.
This is fortunate, since by my count I’ve already gotten lost 127 times. Or, from a different point of view, I’ve gotten lost just once, beginning the moment I stepped off the train and ending once I left town.
If I had been so lost whilst driving I’d probably still be there, on the side of the road somewhere, cussing up a storm. Thankfully in Venice, you can’t drive. In fact, I was originally going to entitle this blog “A city without cars,” but an experience with Soo and a hungry pigeon changed my mind.
Most people know Venice for her picturesque canals, but many don’t realize that these quaint waterways snaking their way through the city are Venice’s only thoroughfares. Apart from the canals there are only narrow footpaths and alleys, not streets.
No streets, no cars.
It’s odd to be in a vibrant city, teeming with people, and never hear the sound of traffic or the random bleat of a horn blown by an irritated driver. Odd, but completely peaceful and serene, even for a city boy like me.
So our introduction to Venice, like everyone else’s for the past few centuries, began on water.
After exiting the train station Soo and I did what we do outside every train or airport terminal: we hailed a taxi. Only difference is that in Venice, taxis are boats, so we motored down the canals in a water taxi all the way to the exquisite Westin Europa, our hotel.
Once there, and after we were done ohhing and ahhing at the stunning view from our balcony, we ditched our bags and immediately set off on foot to explore, and get lost in, Venice’s maze of alleys. We planned to find a nice café on the Grand Canal and grab lunch, which should have been easy since the Westin fronts the Grand Canal.
We wound up instead in the Campo S. Stefano Square because, of course, I got hopelessly lost. We were hungry, and Soo had long since figured out that I had no clue how to navigate Venice, so we picked one of the restaurants lining the square at random and settled in.
Le Café (really, that’s what it’s called; they didn’t work up much of a sweat coming up with that name) turned out to be exceptional. Soo had a scrumptious salad of greens, avocado, shrimp and artichoke while I enjoyed a delicious spicy lasagna bolognaise and the best mimosa I’ve ever tasted.
(Ok, if we’re being totally honest, I enjoyed three of the best mimosas I’ve ever tasted.)
And here the title of this blog changed, and it had nothing to do with my orange juice and champagne induced buzz.
The square — and as it turns out, most of the dry-land parts of Venice — is home to flocks of huge, fat pigeons, totally unafraid of people, who seem to love nothing more than sharing a little bread with tourists. Possibly my favorite picture of this trip came as Soo was innocently feeding a large group. One pudgy pigeon decided that the pace at which she was dolling out small bites was unacceptable, so he flew up and snatched the entire piece from her hand. I’ve never seen a look of such utter and complete shock on Soo’s face. I was lucky enough to snap a picture of it even though I was falling over laughing. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
We shared food with pigeons at every meal, and each time found plenty to feed. Or rather they found us, all of them eager and unafraid enough to strut right up and eat from our hands. It was an altogether cool experience.
After lunch, and too full for another long walk, we hopped into a gondola for a 45-minute tour of the canals. This is an obvious must for anyone visiting Venice, and it’s as fascinating, romantic and beautiful an experience as I’ve ever had. I think we took about 200 pictures. Each.
Little more than a tourist attraction these days, gondolas wer once the primary mode of transportation for Venetians wishing to navigate the city’s 177 interconnected canals.
Our gondolier was delightful, and split his time with us between singing at the top of his lungs, chatting up every other gondolier we passed and teaching us the history of Venice. He pointed out things like Marco Polo’s childhood home and explained (incorrectly) the origin of pasta in Italy.
Legend has it that Marco Polo, a native of Venice, brought pasta back to Italy from his 24-year expedition to China. Many, including our gondolier, believe this to be the true beginning of the food for which Italy is now famous. Good story, but historical research has discovered that pasta was being made in Sicily long before Marco Polo was born, and both the Greeks and Romans enjoyed dishes very similar to modern-day pasta.
The Chinese were apparently baking rice pasta as far back as 1700 BCE.
Historians differ on exactly who first began boiling pasta, though most believe it was the Arabs that started doing so around 2,000 years ago. One thing is certain, however – this very Italian dish isn’t very Italian after all.
Soo and I debated taking in one of Venice’s museums or art galleries but decided we’d rather spend our brief time here just sitting in a waterfront café, sipping wine and grappa, and marveling at the amazing views not found anywhere else on earth.
Grappa, we learned, is an 80-90 proof traditional Italian alcohol brewed from wine-making leftovers. Those of us prone to getting lost in strange cities ought not try grappa, especially late at night. But some of us did. And found ourselves wandering the winding alleyways of Venice, a little loopy and a lot lost, with no one to keep an eye on us.
Except a bunch of pushy pigeons.