Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Beautiful Country

Italy is full of wonder. Taking the train down underneath the alps into Milano and then to Venice I felt a magical connection to this country almost immediately. People answered their phone with a soft and elegant "Pronto." People are warm and inviting and the countryside here is beautiful.

The air conditioned ride under the alps was interesting. Going through the tunnels here your ears pop almost constantly from the change in air pressure. My friend Cassie was smart to bring gum along for our ride to Milan.

I sat across from a woman who did not speak any English, but with whom I managed to have an amusing few moments with. I helped het move the fold out table in front of her. She made a sarcastic gesture about me putting my stuff on the floor and we had a laugh when I realized that she was joking.

When she got up to leave the train in Milan, she started talking in Italian and the only word that I caught was "chocolate" as she reorganized and repaired her strangely wet bag into something that she could take off the train with her. Out came three wrapped bars of Swiss Chocolate and the lady broke off a large chunk for Cassie and I, which we both refused to take until it was then planted in front of us. She also gave some chocolate to the gorgeous itailian woman sitting next to her and across from us. The young woman and Cassie and I chatted the rest of the way to the Milano Cle Station and shehanded off the chunk of chocolate that shehad been given as well.

When we got off the train in what we thought was Venice, there was a blast of humidity and heat unlike anything I have experienced before and I immediately started to sweat like crazy. I was coated in sweat in probably around ten minutes. This was at ten at night when the sun was going down and the heat continued into the night unrelenting and harsh.

Cassie and I wandered into a place called the Hotel Plaza to grab a map and get out of the heat for a little bit. We found out that we were still on the mainland at the station Metre and that getting out to Venice meant waiting about 45 minutes for the next train, or taking the bus. We waited in the miserable humidity, wanting to just find somewhere to sleep. There were plenty of expensive hotels that we could not afford, but we managed to find a Ostello (Hostel) on the island of Guidecca, the lovely little wave shaped island on the grand canal, across from the Piazza di San Marco on the larger fish shaped islands.

We had to take a boat to get anywhere in Venice, which was pretty awesome. They have boats there that are basically buses on the water that do regular routes around the city and the canals.

Venice, despite the suffocating heat and drinking over two litres of water a day to stay hydrated, is a beautiful city. You can turn any corner and have a picturesque scene with which to capture in a photograph.

I took around 120 pictures the first day I was there and exploring the city.

The waters of the Mediterranean are a curious and beautiful teal color, unlike any other water I have seen. I suspect this is due to mineral content, but I do not know exactly why.

I visited a few sites on Venice, but quickly found it borderline ridiculous trying to navigate the city itself. Twisting narrow alleys like a complex web span all the main islands and tended to make real site seeing hard.

In Europe they mark streets either with often ambigous plaques on the walls, or not at all, or sometimes a block down the street will jog to the left and be a different street halfway through. Very confusing, but also a little charming in it's somewhat disfunctional system.

The night before I was due to leave Venice, there was a festival due to celebrate the city itself. During the day you could watch people meandering into the city by boat, bus and train. There were a few boats blasting Michael Jackson, some sort of rap techno tunes, or something that was definitely European pop music.

People young and old were out in bathing suit style! Women wearing teeny bikinis and men typically in speedos. A string of goldenrod lanterns were set up to either side of the grand canal and sailboats were crammed in and tethered to the walls of Guidecca and San Marco, or parked like sardines in the middle of the main canal. Everyone was set up and waiting for the fireworks and then a long night of partying out on the town.

The fireworks were breathtaking and lasted for quite a long time. Police boats with their gently flashing blue lights circled the fireworks area to clear boats out from the middle of the canal, so they wouldn't be set on fire from the show. I sat absorbing the light show and watching beautiful young men walk by, there faces something out of a painting or sculpture from the Rennaisance.

Something I tend to notice is the destinctly different facial features of every country I go to. People in Switzerland tend to have squarer, flater features and fairer skin. People in France are slim, sharp featured and finely boned, men and women both. In the UK there are a variety of facial structures and features, all with there own unique charm.

The festival in Venice lasted long into the night, and was cut short by a blast of refreshing cool air and wind from an intense thunderstorm. Lightning rittled the sky and the intense wind and cold air turned a night of sweating bullets in bed in my undies to pulling on a blanket and welcoming the howling blasts of wind and they brushed away the heat of the day.

I got up briefly to watch the thunderstorm and saw the chopping waves and noticed that the goldenrod lanterns covering the lights from the festival hung jittering, broken and torn off the line completely by the intense wind. Sailboats that had been parked were now heading back home with the help of the petite police boats. They were brushed south on the waves, facing into the wind.

From Venice I headed to Florence, a city that was mostly leveled during WW2 and lost the majority of it's highly rennaisance age architecture. Cassie and I said our goodbyes late that night and without sleep I stumbled out of the hostel in Venice at 6:30am to catch the boat to the train station.

It was still raining and windy from the ongoing storm. I nearly lost my umbrella in a few rather strong breezes, and managed to wet my feet in rather unsavory and fishy smelling mixtures of sea water, mud and beer. I went to the wrong boat station at first, just missing the boat that I needed out to the train station. And then sat the waited for the next one, all the while being stared at and oogled by some older Italian men who appeared to be hung over and taking refuge from the rain in the boat station, with no intention of actually taking a boat anywhere. They were all wrapped in blankets and taking quietly in Italian and laughing.

The boat ride to the station was a moment of amusement. It felt much needed since I was now alone again and feeling a little tired and uncertain and homesick.

There appeared to be a few groups of young Italians on the boat who were exhausted from a night of partying. Many were napping, some had literally fallen asleep. The boat was stormed by a mob of ticket checkers, and there was one young man in his seat who was out cold. The ticket guy tried shaking him, talking loudly and even opening the window to let in rain from outside to pelt this guy in the face. That said it was pretty hilarious and everyone was either snickering or rolling in laughter as this kid wouldn't wake up.

Finally at his stop he snorted and woke up, babbling in slurred italian as it appeared that his friends were going to just leave the boat without him. The ticket issuer tried to hide his amusement and merely patted the young man on the back and helped his stumble off the boat. I think he was still drunk from the night before.

In Florence I have seen a few of the sites, and made another friend named Kyle, a very nice young man from Newcastle Australia. We traveled out to Pisa and Lucca for a day and enjoyed hanging out and talking over a traditional Italian dinner at our Hostel.

I will update more about Florence hopefully tomorrow. My hostel here has Internet for free, so it should not be a problem. I miss everyone terribly, but I am also having a blast and am in love with Italy and it's people.

Caoi for now!

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