Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The river ran through it

Right now I am on the train, zipping through the Italian countryside on my way to Florence. Unfortunately, I will be there for only about 20 minutes before I’ll be catching the next train to Pisa…but, no leaning tower for me. Instead, my final destination is Monterosso, the northernmost village of Cinque Terre. After the hustle and bustle of London and Venice, this chain of 5 seaside villages will be a nice retreat.

This being said, Venice was an experience unlike any I’ve ever had. The labyrinthine streets and canals can lead even the most skilled navigator astray and it seems that every restaurant and cafĂ© is designed as an unjust trap to the hungry tourist. While still picturesque, the Venice I left at 6:00 this morning was far different than what the travel channel displays. My Venice had no sun saturated squares or singing gondola captains to offer; instead, the streets were congested with umbrella traffic and our shoes seemed to have acquired small oceans. Already I am imagining a return trip to Venice when my view of this world-prized city will not be constricted by an umbrella impeding my view of anything above eye-level.

Though I still feel slightly soggy and can smell the dampness on the clothes that I washed in the bathtub and hung to dry on every protrusion in the hotel room, my Venice hardly dampened my traveling spirit. In fact, the constant downpour provided a Venice experience that could never be found in a guide book. With only the Museo Correr under our belt and lunch that nearly cost us our unborn children, we gave up on the traditional tourist hot spots and split off to see what we could make of this waterlogged city.

Megan and I decided that the best use of our time would be shopping, an automatic go-to without churches and museums. Of course, our college-student budgets kept us away from the Guccis, Armanis, and D & Gs that give Italy its fashion status, but the stores full of jewelry were enough to keep us occupied and somewhat dry for most of the afternoon. After enough window shopping to make any boyfriend drop, we both made successful Venetian purchases: a pair of Murano glass earrings for Megan, and a Venus cameo pendant for myself.

With a few hours to spare before we were meeting the others for dinner and emboldened by our finds and a scoop of tiramisu gelato, we decided to brave the storm and go for a run. Though we found our way to a small park a few miles from our hotel, which I’m sure is lovely when the sun is shining, this was no “jog in the park.” Aside from hurtling over boardwalks, running up stairs, leaping over puddles, and dodging poncho clad tourists, we were weighed down by our rain-drenched clothes and soaked to the bone within minutes; so much that the concierge at our hotel asked us why we went swimming and asked if we were participating in a triathlon. And in ways, it felt like we were in a race of some sort, running to cheers of “Ole! Ole!” and “Bravo!!” from passersby.

After hot showers and thorough towel-drying, we headed to the ultimate post-run carbo-load: a hearty Italian meal; little did we know that getting to our restaurant would either require a boat or a sturdy pair of waders: it was only 7:30pm and the Piazza di San Marcuolo had already begun to fill with water. But, a long detour and some skilled navigation by Jeff brought us to our cozy restaurant where we had a delicious meal of fresh mozzarella, pasta, bread, and wine and friendly conversation with a Greek couple who adamantly insisted for us to visit them in Athens. But towards the end of our dinner the sirens started and we soon found out that this meant “high water…” and high water there was. Only 20 feet out of the restaurant, Megan, Jeff, Paige, and I had to lose our shoes, roll up our jeans, and dive in. As we got closer to the Piazza, the water went from ankle deep, to calf deep, to knee deep, but at that point there was no turning back.

Picture the scenes in the movie Titanic where water is beginning to flood into the corridors, now apply that to an entire city. Little did I know that when they say “Venice is sinking” they literally mean that Venice is sinking to the point that it floods every single night. And by this I am not meaning one or two inches. In a matter of a few hours, the Piazza di San Marcuolo had become a lake. The sight was eerie. We stood in the middle of the flooded square that had been filled with tourists earlier in the day. The water shimmered with the reflection of the Basilica, chairs from the plaza’s cafes were almost completely submerged, and the soft sound of a violin resonated off the walls of the Museo Correr. Watching people wade through the water was reminiscent of cinematic end-of-the-world scenes we know so well. And yet, leaving the hotel this morning at a quarter past 5:00 revealed that the world had not ended, and only the damp streets paid testament to the previous night. In another part of the world, this might seem disastrous; but to Venetians, they merely say “Let the water come.”

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