This is a story from about exactly a year back. It was a dark evening. My family and I were on a train which departed Florence earlier that evening, and it was around 7 pm. The train ride was quite wonderful and the views on both sides were immaculate. We were on our way to Venice!
Damn, was it surreal when were first got off the train on to the platform. The station’s atmosphere possessed a beautiful calm, one which was eluded in train stations of India, and all four of us were excited for our next three days there.
That was exactly where the excitement and thrill started. We were booked to stay in a house somewhere in the north-west of the island, near the seaside. Our landlord had informed us that it would be very easy to get there – we had to get on a vaporetti in front of the station (they have boats in Venice instead of metro trains for public transport) and get off at a station called ‘Bacini’ and the house was just about 5 minutes walking from there. Sounds easy enough? We were obviously new to the island and knew no Italian. It seemed like the only and best option.
…and it was. Until we learnt that – surprise, surprise – there was a vaporetti strike that day. “What the hell? How do we get to the house now? Let’s call up the landlord and ask for his advice.” But wait, the strike wasn’t the only surprise that night. When we tried to call the landlord, we also learnt that my dad’s phone very conveniently stopped working. Wow, were we pissed off and scared, at the same time. No one in the island was known to us, we didn’t know the language, it was freaking dark and the one known means of transportation to our house was on strike. To top it all off, it started drizzling and it looked like it was going to pour. Great start to the trip, right?
What did we do then? The only thing we could – we started walking. Thank goodness there were public payphones everywhere. We quickly got to one and searched up the landlord’s phone number from the reservation documents we had on us. Also, thankfully the phone had an English language option, so we weren’t left in the dark (literally) about how to use it. After a little figuring out as to how it works, we managed to call up the landlord. He said that since the vaporetti is on strike, we’d have to walk. He gave us the name of a landmark, Ospedale SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Confusing as it was, he told us to search for ‘the Ospedale’. Relieved that we had a little more information in hand now, we started walking again and constantly asking people for directions to the Ospedale. It was all going well – until we asked this one man on a street corner, chilling and sipping his coffee, as to where the Ospedale was. His reply confused us further – “There are two Ospedales in Venice! Which one do you want to go to?” Great, so now all we knew was that our house was near a hospital. Thankfully, my dad remembered the name of the one we were meaning to go to (trust me, it sounds easy written but when we heard it from our landlord in his thick Italian accent over the phone, it was a challenge to remember it). We were on our way again!
You know, European cities are a lot different than Indian ones. Not just in appearance, but also in their working. I noticed this in a lot of European cities I went to. In Paris, shops opened in the morning at 10 am. Closed in the evening at 6 pm. In Nuremberg in Germany, it was a similar story. Since it wasn’t much of a tourist town, the markets closed half day on Saturdays and remained closed on Sundays. In Venice, it was even worse. The entire city shuts off around 6 – 7 pm. That night we were walking in Venice, trying to reach the house where we could finally spend the night at, it was dark. It was raining. The streets in Venice are also very narrow – they looked scary. Barely any establishments were open. Continuously asking for direction to the Giovanni e Paolo Ospedale, we kept walking in the rain – all of our luggage in tow. That was also when one of our bags’ wheels decided to give way and break due to all the rough rolling on the streets. The night was still young.
Eventually, we reached the Ospedale. It was so grand and enormous. It was made entirely of rock, and looked ancient. Even though the next day I learnt that it was a beautiful structure outside of which small kids played around and ate gelatos, it looked incredibly creepy at night and in the rain. More so because I knew it was a hospital. So once we were there, we had no idea what to do. The landlord had just given us instructions to come to the Giovanni Paolo Ospedale. What do we do now?
We saw that there was one restaurant which was open. We tried entering it and asking for help, but there were barely any people inside. One man, bald as a ball and quite plump, came up to us and tried conversing with us and enquiring as to where we needed to go. He knew no English, and we knew no Italian. He seemed to start giving instructions to come inside and follow him, and that was when my mum told my dad in Hindi “Yeh ek theek aadmi nahi lag raha hai.” (he doesn’t seem to mean well.). I sort of thought that as well, and I can’t blame her – I’d seen way too many movies to hypothesise where we might end up if we followed him. So we just stood there for about 10 minutes, trying to figure out what to do. The payphone nearby didn’t seem to work (nothing in that city was working properly that night, was it?). The creepy Italian man came back, this time with a phone. He made a call to someone, and spoke in Italian. Turns out he figured out that we had to stay with that particular landlord (maybe his house was popular with tourists in that area?) and informed us that the landlord was coming to pick us up.
The landlord arrived. He was bald as a ball too and really tall and slightly lean. At first, he seemed quite scary too, especially since he was taking us to a house which was owned by him. Turns out he was a nice guy though. We kept walking through smaller and smaller walkways/streets until we finally reached the house. How relieved we were!
The house was nice. It had a nice kitchen/dining area where we could cook and eat. No one was in the mood of cooking that night though. We were all hungry. My dad and I decided to step out and look around for a place to grab some stuff to eat for all of us. We found this one pizza place which looked nice which was also thankfully near the house. We ordered two pizzas (they were HUGE) and set off back ‘home’. I had such good sleep that night, knowing that I was safe within the walls of the house.
And that’s how was My First Night in Venice.