Venice (Venezia in Italian) is one of those places that — if you're going to Italy — you simply cannot and should not miss. Possibly the most romantic city in the world, Venice is (as far as I know) utterly unique: they don't make cities out of winding canals and thin-as-can-be cobbled alleyways and bridges anymore; and let's face it, they never really did earlier in history, either. As well as being oh-so-cliché and unbelievably gorgeous, Venice is also jaw-droppingly expensive: two nights here was all I could afford, plus tips.
Exactly one month after arriving in Italy, today I said goodbye to this crazy but lovable country, and headed north to the colder, more efficient, not-quite-as-fun world of Central Europe. Once again, I had to battle with my dear friends at TrenI-frikking-talia in order to get anywhere — boy, will I be glad to see the back of them — but even in the face of a nationwide train strike today, I managed to cross the border, to cruise through the majestic snow-covered peaks and still lakes of the Swiss Alps, and to reach my uncle and aunt in Zürich by the afternoon. Italy, it's been a pazzo four-and-a-half weeks, but I'm afraid it's time to say "ciao baby".
I had a mad pre-dinner Venetian adventure this evening: I attempted to go to the supermarket and buy some wine (to do with dinner), and to find a public call centre (for ringing my Uncle in Switzerland, who I'm supposed to be visiting tomorrow); however, I failed to do either of these things. Instead, I narrowly missed various shop closing times, got extremely lost in the bowels of Venice, and ended up completing an epic run through the cobbled alleyways — and miraculously finding my way back to the hostel — in order to get back in time for dinner. Anyway, it all ended well: I collapsed back into the hostel in time for another night of delicious pasta (plus more wine — not everyone missed the shop closing times); and after that, the crew (some old faces from last night, some new ones tonight) went out onto the streets, bought a large quantity of beer, wine and sangria, and got wasted by the Canal Grande: what a bunch of yobboes we were, drinking on street in Venice! Nothing quite as fun as doing something completely uncultured and improper, in one of the great cultured and refined cities of the world.
One of the more interesting things that I did today — more interesting than my aimless wandering, at least — was to visit the 500-year-old Jewish Ghetto of Venice. In this quiet and (to this day) gloomy-feeling corner of Venice, there's also a modest little Jewish museum. I went and gave myself a brief tour of the museum: but there isn't much to see here, just two or three rooms of Venetian Jewish memorabilia (e.g. siddurim, torah adornments, various household silverware), and a little bit of history; I spent more time downstairs in the bookshop, where they have some very interesting titles. I declined from going on the tour of the Ghetto synagogues: pity, since apparently this is one of the best-preserved and most impressive sights in the Ghetto. Amazing to see that the place has survived, and is still inhabited by Jews, to this day.
When I was out with the crew last night, I asked Kaie from Texas what she thought was the best thing to do, as an introduction to Venice. Since she's been to the city three times before, and is "in love with it", I figured she should know. Her response: "Venice is the perfect city to get lost in... so just wander!" So today, that's exactly what I did: I spent the better part of the day admiring the neverending maze of beauty that is Venice, and getting well-and-truly lost within her embrace.
For my first night in Venice, we at the Fish turned out to be quite the crew tonight. As the evening wore on, and as four drinks started to follow the previous three, names and faces started to get blurred and mushed-up a bit. But I do remember most of the gang. There was Canadian Scott: very funny guy, and the two of us ended up rebounding comic stupidity off each other for most of the night, and inflicting it on the others. USA Scott was quieter, but also a fun bloke. There was Kaie from Texas, who's been to Venice three times before, doesn't know how long she's staying this time, and professes to be in love with the city. There was the hot blonde American chick, who was a little limited when it came to deep intellectual discussion, but who fortunately had plenty of other redeeming features. There was the quiet Aussie girl from Melbourne, who said little and drank even less. There were the random Aussie westies with the private room, who we saw only briefly during the evening (they piked on dinner). And of course, there was the Persian. Together, we engaged in much fun and revelry during the evening, there was much singing and telling of rude and inappropriate jokes, and it was good.
Nobody can ever remember this guy's name: but he's the guy who not only cooks the dinners at A Venice Fish every night; he also single-handedly runs the place, virtually 24/7, week after week. And as if all that wasn't enough: he's also a really friendly and sociable bloke, who enjoys taking his guests out on the town later on some nights, and showing them the best pubs and clubs. The Persian was very impressed that one of my best friends back in Sydney is from Iran, and that I can say one sentence in Persian: "tavalodet mobarak" (lit: "happy birthday").
Good hostels (and, quite often, any hostels) are hard to come by in Italy: but A Venice Fish was a lucky find, in a city where a good place to stay makes all the difference. This hostel is clean and friendly, and it has charm and a laid-back atmosphere. But without a doubt, the main selling-point of the Fish is its free dinners: not only are they a huge cash-saver in this most pricey of cities; they're also delicious, and a great way to meet and greet all your fellow guests at the hostel. This is the first free-dinner hostel I've stayed at in Europe; and not surprisingly, it's also the most fun I've had at a hostel on this side of the Atlantic.
It was a lazy old start this morning; but eventually, I checked myself out of the guesthouse in Pisa, and I jumped on the midday train to Venice. The local train from Venice to Florence was fine; but when I reached Florence, I realised that the city has two main train stations, and that my connecting train on to Venice departed from the station that I wasn't at. Eek! Apparently, while I got off at the "main" station of Firenze SMN, the InterCity train to Venice leaves from the "other main" station of Firenze Rifredi. Anyway, I managed to get the high-speed EuroStar Italia service to Venice instead: that train does leave from SMN; and although it has the added cost of a compulsory seat reservation and supplement, it is quite a nice train, and it didn't get me there too late (less than an hour later than planned).