I’d read that everyone gets lost in Venice. That you’ll have your map in hand with explicitly clear directions to where you want to go, but as soon as you hit those winding alleys and tiny lanes it’s all over. After heading over a bridge from the bus station to the main island (a bridge that was one long series of steps – particularly fun to cross whilst hauling a mammoth suitcase), I was utterly surprised to find the street to my hotel within five minutes with no complications. Granted, I almost missed the street, which was more like a small gap between buildings posing as a street, but I was feeling pretty smug nonetheless.
Venice clearly made me pay for that smugness later that evening. I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO COMPLETELY LOST IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. It started off well – I had dumped my stuff in my hotel room (surprisingly large, by the way), enjoyed a room service snack of red wine and crisps, dolled myself up a bit for a night out on my own, and began to explore the magical city around me.
I didn’t really refer to the free map I’d grabbed from the hotel reception, and instead crossed the Canal Grande and wandered around aimlessly, generally marvelling at the beauty of Venice. There is just so much to look at in that city, it’s bordering on ridiculous.
I walked further and further inwards, finally arriving at the Ponte di Rialto (the Rialto Bridge) to stop for a drink. By this point the sun was definitely on its way to setting and I was faced with a decision – continue on to check out the Piazza San Marco, said to be particularly great to visit after dark, or turn around and head back while it was still light. What I really should have done, in hindsight, is stayed where I was, grabbed a nice meal at one of the tucked-away eateries, then taken the water bus back to my hotel on the other side of the island.
I didn’t do that. Instead, I thought I’d leave San Marco till the next day (that was the wise part of the decision) and walk all the way back, maybe taking a new route to check out some new scenery. That’s when it happened. I had my map in front of me the entire time – seriously, I’d look down at the map, find where I was, walk to the next corner and … bam, lost.
Just like that. I know I’m not the best at map reading, but I was trying really hard and walking so slowly and concentrating so much I probably looked a bit, well, special. It didn’t help at all. The night was getting darker, fewer and fewer people were around me and I was starting to panic. I tend to think slightly irrational thoughts when it’s night time and I’m alone, so visions of me having to find some dark and creepy corner to spend the night in were running through my mind. I was even at the point of seriously considering forking out the 100 euros or so for a private gondola ride, just to get back. Luckily, after asking about the sixth person I passed for help, I was given a very useful tip of keeping a nearby canal to my left at all times, thereby leading me back to the Grand Canal. It worked – and I had never been so happy to see a bridge in all my life.
Seeing as it was 9.30pm by then I was pretty famished – and strongly in need of a drink after my near meltdown in the dark alleys of Venice. I picked a touristy restaurant near my hotel and sat down for a fairly average meal and half a litre of cheap white wine.
Honestly, it was one of the happiest meals I’ve had, so glad I was to have made it back. And I sat there for what seemed like forever, just people watching and sipping my wine. Some things I observed while in Venice:
– When you travel alone, couples ask you to take their photo. A lot.
– The annoying guy who goes around selling roses will never approach a single person. This is a relief, but also a bit depressing.
– Venice feels like a beautiful set or theme park, where no one actually lives, but tourists come to visit and run around the streets and play, buying postcards and Venetian masks and taking gondola rides.
– There were no swarthy Italian men giving me far too much attention, contrary to what I’d been promised. Frankly, I was disappointed.
– There were plenty of middle-aged white men wearing polo shirts and knee socks and bum bags, however. One even walked past me wearing two souvenir gondola boater hats on his head.
– Venice is a wonderful place, but I think probably best enjoyed with a significant other or, at least, a group of friends to explore with – hopefully minimising one’s chances of getting lost.
The next day I learned my lesson and took the water bus over to visit Piazza San Marco. It was a bit bloody pricey, at 6.50 euros one way, but I was more than happy to pay for the security of actually making it to my destination. Also, it’s a pretty great way to see the canal, and if you use your imagination and try to block out the 50-odd people squished up against you, you can pretend you’re on your very own private cruise.
Next up and a must-read: HOTEL BREAKFAST BUFFET WARS – Uncovered!