Maps, Loose Wine, and Nudity – Adventures in Venice!

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View snapshots of Venice and Ferrara

After traveling with David for 7 days – we have fallen into our travel groove. I think everyone we meet thinks that we are a couple as we are constantly bickering about things. Don’t get me wrong…the fun kind of bickering…not the ‘ball and chain’ bickering. So – we kind of fell into the acceptance of people thinking that we were a couple and didn’t really try to explain things unless people asked.

There was no better person to experience Venice, the most romantic city in the world, than with my gay boyfriend. Ok – so I would miss out on the joy of making out with some hot man that was in love with me in St. Marks Square. However, David kept me in stitches laughing so much about silly things – that I honestly didn’t dwell on it! He actually moon-walked in St. Mark’s square and then effortlessly went into the worm and the running man. He proceeded to grab me and swing me around like a rag doll in circles – my feet flying off the ground as I erupted into laughter. Neither one of us could walk after this…or maybe it was the wine…who knows. I believe that years down the road – the laughter is always more memorable then the making out (I’ll stop there as you really don’t need to hear any more of my cynical view on relationships).

Photo: Grande Canal – Venice
grande canal2First I have to back up…to the story of how we made it to Venice…because getting there is always the most fun – and it involves at least one melt-down and a jumbo size bag of Peanut M&M’s! We took a ferry from Split, Croatia to Ancona, Italy. It was actually a pretty smooth overnight trip. We had a little Kuna (Croatian Money) left so we bought a jumbo bag of Peanut M&M’s at the duty free shop. We had our own little bunk room with bathroom, a bottle of wine that we bought before we got on, a deck of cards, some Dramamine, and Twizzlers. Booze, drugs, and gambling on the open sea…a perfect evening on the Adriatic.

We rented a car when we arrived in Ancona with the intention of exploring the Italian coastline up to Venice. The plan was to make no plans. We didn’t have a place to stay that night – we had the map from Hertz, and no guide book…we took off the travel training wheels that day. We left Ancona with the initial jubilation of riding on our own for the first time, wind blowing through our hair, feeling like you are on top of the world. We made it pretty far on our own…gaining confidence in every town…this one doesn’t feel quite right…lets keep going, no – this one doesn’t have the right vibe, not enough hot men, no cobblestone streets, so we just kept driving. We did make a short stop in Rimini for lunch and continued up the coast. Our initial expectations of the Eastern Italian coast was that it would be breathtaking…unfortunately, we found out that the East coast of Italy was the home of Italian manufacturing. Instead of cute little towns that beckoned you to come, sit, and have a bottle of wine; there were big smoke stacks bellowing and regurgitating manufacturing waste – this is not the Italy that I fantasize about! Sure, there were a few little beach towns, but they were still boarded up for the spring…not ready yet for visitors. So we just kept driving. Driving, driving, and driving.

st marks nightWe seemed to fill the time by eating M&M’s. We were halfway through the jumbo bag when each of us were starting to get a little concerned about the lack of a plan and lodging but not ready to admit it aloud. We went through Ravenna, and didn’t really feel any vibe, so we kept driving…and eating M&M’s We decided that maybe this idea not having a plan wasn’t the best idea after all. At this point we were only 1 hr from Venice and decided that maybe we should just go straight to Venice instead. However, showing up to Venice with no accommodations is like trying to get into a hip club in NYC on Saturday night dressed in zip off hiking pants and a fanny pack…impossible. That’s what that red rope is for – to keep people like that out. We convinced ourselves that we could just simply call our hotel that we were to stay in the next night and see if they had extra room for tonight. We were delusional to think that it would actually work…grasping at straws – we were ready to beg the bouncer of Venice to let us in past the rope…just this one time…paaallleeeaaassseee – we’ll dress better next time…just let us in, we’ll bring hip friends next time….we promise!

It was about 5:30PM, and we had been driving since early that morning, the M&M’s were officially gone, and we both had a stomach ache. I was in a chocolate coma – which equals cranky. We decided to bail on the coastal driving and hop on the Autostrada so that we could get to Venice quicker and figure out lodging. I tried to call the hotel that we had reserved for the next night in Venice – just to see if they could accommodate us a day earlier than expected. For some unknown reason, my cell phone decided not to cooperate and the call wasn’t going through. This irritated the crap out of me, equaling an even crankier mood. It was the beginning of my melt down…damn cell phone…I really hate it when electronics don’t work as they are supposed to.

We decided that we needed to go find a public phone, so we exited the Autostrada at the next town and entered the town of Ferrara. With no map available, we followed the signs for centro, hoping that somewhere there would be a pay phone. However, that didn’t solve the problem of how we would make the call. There aren’t really coin operated pay phones in Europe, they all take a card…that you buy from a store. So – we were frantically looking for a pay phone, with no way to use it, and we had no idea where we were going without a map. Now I’m really, really cranky…but I did my best to keep most of it inside…I don’t think David noticed that I was about to have a meltdown. We drove aimlessly around these narrow little streets deeper into the town center, with no sight of a phone.

We finally just pulled over on the side, parked illegally and got out to look for a phone on foot. He stayed with the car and I went out looking for a phone. I was completely befuddled though as even if I found a phone I didn’t have any way to use it. Plus, deep down I knew there wouldn’t be a room available…so the whole thing seemed completely futile…but there David was…his little puppy self…all positive that this was going to work. I wanted to pull his leash and give him a does of reality…but I still tried to remain positive on the outside the best I could as I was the anger was eating away at my insides…or maybe that was the pound of M&M’s that I had eaten.

I frantically went from shop to shop looking for a phone, I felt like I was a chicken with my head cut off…no real plan…just running in circles. Finally someone told us that the nearest public telephones were at the McDonalds in the Piazza about 5 minutes away. You couldn’t drive there though…hell, we wouldn’t have known how to get there anyway. So – after a bit of discussion, we decided that David would stay with the illegally parked car and I would go find the phones. Off I went…I had a mission, I was going to find a phone and someone to call if it killed me – I knew that I was not coming back to David without some sort of solution. I walked into the square, went into a Tabachi shop and asked about a phone, he showed me where the nearest public phone was and luckily he also sold phone cards…perfecto! I made the call and got the answering machine…shit…now what do I do? As I was listening to the message I was frantically trying to decide what to do…leave a message…no…where are they going to call me back? I just hung up…completely dejected.

ferrara castleNow I was really in a bind. I couldn’t get a hold of the place that would never have space anyway, and we still didn’t have a bed for the night. I was thinking about how comfortable it might be to sleep in the car…better than a park bench I guess. I went out into the square again and looked around…it was beautiful. There were people everywhere, a castle, a huge pink marble duomo, and hotels….ahhhhh…hotels….now there’s an idea. I quickly went to a hotel to see if they had any rooms here…it was a really cute town, and we needed a place to stay – so what the hell. I found a hotel with someone inside…unfortunately she spoke little to no English…and my Italian was pathetic – especially in stressful situations. I tried to ask if there was a room available for the night and how much it would cost. After about 10 minutes of trying to figure out how to say “tonight”…I gave up and simply asked for a map. She gave me a map and showed me where I was. I saw the ever-so-familiar ‘i’ symbol on the map…information …great…my savior.

I went to the information booth in the square and they were about to close and said they couldn’t help me, they forwarded me to the city information booth, that was to also ready to close in 5 minutes. I frantically ran through the square to the castle and found the information booth there. All they could do was provide me with a little booklet of hotels in Ferrara…this was at least a start. However, it had been about 30 minutes since I left David and I had no idea what he was doing…so I quickly looked at the 2 star hotels in the book, determined where they were on the map and walked back over to the phone and called the first one that I saw. Someone answered and I asked if they spoke English. “Yes” he said…hallelujah! I enquired about a room and cost and they had one available for 70Euro…perfect, we’ll take it.

I wasn’t sure if I should be making this decision without David – but it was a place to sleep, and we were both tired of driving, and I had no better solution…so what the heck. I raced back to where I left David to tell him the news – it had been close to 50 minutes since I had left him to go make a simple phone call.

I later came to find out David’s side of the story. He was as worried as a mother letting their child cross the street the first time. He said that he kept on imagining that I got lost, got mugged (yeah right…in small town Italy), had an accident, you name it…his wild imagination came up with it. He had my passport, so he continued to worry that if I was in an accident that I had no form of identification with me. He imagined himself scouring hospitals with my passport asking if they had seen me! He said that he had given me an hour time limit and if I didn’t show up by then that he was going to find the police! My lord…I thought I left my mother back in the states, but apparently not!

Actually – I found it sweet that he was so worried. He obviously didn’t know how determined I was to come back with a solution! It made me happy to know that my crisis resolution skills were still in tact. Note to self…I can add to my resume “Ability to find hotels in foreign countries with no understanding of the language, no map and no cell phone. Demonstrates excellent problem solving skills under pressure.” It is funny to think about how in the world cell phones have become such an integral part of our life. This whole situation would have been different if there would have been cell phones involved. I could have texted David my progress and what I was doing…diverting all ‘nervous nelly’ worrying on his part.

Photo: Running path around Ferrara
wall running routeWe parked the car safely, made it to the hotel and quickly found a shop that sold beer and had a cold one. The hotel room was a huge 3 room apartment – the deal of the century. It also had free wireless…yippee! We showered, and enjoyed our beer and then went out right before sunset to see the square and duomo that David had yet to see at this point. The town as buzzing, the little outdoor bars were filled with after work people…this wasn’t a tourist town…which made it all the better. David and I had wine and marveled at what a great little town this was – truly proud of ourselves for discovering it…as if we were Columbus.

The next morning we woke up and decided to go for a run. According to my map, it looked like a big wall surrounded the city and there was a little trail along it. We found a way on to the trail and we took off running. The only problem was that we didn’t really know how far around the wall was. It could be 3 miles, or it could be 13…since I don’t run over 3 miles anymore…I was more than a little concerned that David was going to be carrying me piggy-back style back to the hotel. As we continued to aimlessly follow the wall, stopping frequently for me to catch my breath and freak out about the fact that I didn’t know how far it was….we marveled in this little towns’ public planning. The running/biking trail was exquisite – well maintained, and one of the best running routes that I had been on since I left the US. It had wide dirt trails, with huge trees lining the trail as if it were Central Park. It ended up being 5 miles around the city and we did eventually find our way back.

As we packed up, got some pastries, and hopped back in the car – we both discussed how wonderful this place was…Ferrara…the best mistake we made. I decided that I liked it so much that I would come back to Ferrara after David left Venice. It was such a calm little town, I knew where I could run, and we didn’t get to see any of the sites – a perfect reason to return on my own! Andiamo Venezia!

gondola hatArriving to Venice by rented car is a bit stressful – and after our previous day we were both a bit nervous about the whole thing. However, it was surprisingly easy. Especially when we came over the bridge to Venice island and immediately to our left was the Hertz office. We dropped off the car, grabbed our suitcases, walked across the street to the water bus, boarded the bus to Lido and in one hour we were at the doorstep of our hotel…completely simple! Sometimes the travel gods are on your side. We stayed on Lido island at a little old guest house run by Marcus. Lido island was a barrier island basically protecting Venice from the open sea. It had beaches and a wonderful little community that lived there year round. Marcus, the caretaker, welcomed us warmly and proceeded to do the most thorough check-in that I have ever encountered. He ensured that we understood every aspect of transportation, times, tickets, routes, you name it…he covered it. He must have showed us the map at least 3 times explaining where we were. He took us outside to show us exactly how to use the key in the door…and then he made David demonstrate that he understood. He took us out to show us the bus stop (that we just came from mind you), then he took us to our room, and showed us every aspect of the room, explained the concept of complimentary water, how to lock the windows, the map one more time and after 20 minutes of being checked in – he finally left us on our own. I am not joking, this guy was thorough! David and I were betting that had smoked at least 3 joints already that morning! I make fun of him – but he was certainly one of the nicest hosts that I’ve had. Every time we came back from Venice or every time we would leave he come out and make sure that we were doing ok, and see if we had any questions. He was extremely helpful, dependable, and simply endearing.

Photo: Grand Canal near Rialto Bridge
grande canalBy the time we got settled and had a beer at the guest house, we were ready to go to Venice. It was about 3PM when we hopped back on the water bus and went into the city for the first time. We packed a few warmer layers of clothes since we were planning on staying in Venice through to dinner and beyond. The buses ran all night…so no transportation curfews…yeah! I was armed with my camera – ready and excited to see this floating city. The moment we entered the Grand Canal I was in awe…it was as if you were in a fairy tale. I’ve seen many great sites this year – but few have had the effect that Venice had on me…I was giddy, kind of like losing your virginity.

I have no idea why I was so excited about Venice. I mean the temples of Angkor Wat were certainly more impressive – but Venice was a fairy tale come to life for me. I have always romanticized Italy in general, so maybe that had something to do with it….who knows…but I was in awe. The gondolas, the little, narrow canals, the bridges…just beautiful. We hopped off the bus near the Rialto Bridge and continued our adventure on foot. Every corner that you turned seemed to be even cuter than the last one. I was a picture taking fool. It reminded me of the same feeling I had when I arrived in Hanoi…I wanted to document everything!

loose wineWe quickly realized that we had no idea where we were going. The little map we brought with us was hardly workable as most of the detailed streets were missing. Then again, since we had no where to be, and we were on an island – it didn’t really matter if we were lost. So we just wandered around…leaving no bread crumb trail – throwing caution to the wind.

Photo: Me in front of all of the loose wine!

David had read in a Venice guide that one of the unique things about the city is that you could purchase loose wine at wine shops. Basically this meant that you could bring in any type of bottle, and they would fill it up with wine from a hug jug/keg for next to nothing. Upon reading this, we both quickly emptied our plastic water bottles that we were carrying and were in search of a wine shop! After asking a few Venetians, we found a wine store, and sure enough, they had about 12 types of loose wine! We each filled up our little water bottles with wine for about 1.50 Euros! Soon we found a little cheese store and bought some goodies for snacks later on.

Drinking wine out of a water bottle is like drinking beer with a straw…it’s wrong. It’s mainly wrong because you tend to guzzle it like water, not sip it like wine. After about an hour we realized that we were getting rather toasted. The sun was starting it’s descent and we wanted to get on the outskirts of the city so that I could take some great sunset pictures. The only problem with this plan was that we were lost, and we were drunk.

David disappeared while I was in a little Piazza taking pictures. map I found him in a little store buying a map and trying to get an understanding from the shopkeeper on where we were on the map. The shopkeeper didn’t speak English…therefore it was a pretty difficult conversation…if you can even call it that! He started leading me through the narrow streets, over bridges, and through the woods…oh wait a minute…there were no woods…maybe I needed another guzzle of wine.

Since we had a map and David felt confident that he knew where we were, some other tourists started following us – thinking that we knew were we were going.  We even admitted to them that we were drinking wine out of water bottles – but they still tried to follow us. However, at the point when David actually put the map on the ground and stood on it trying to figure out the direction we were going, they finally gave up on us and went their own way. I think that he was trying to invoke super powers from the map that would simply transport us to where we needed to be…but that didn’t work either.

He finally had to stop and ask person number two for directions. Luckily this was a very patient woman. I have to admit, he did eventually lead us out of the maze and to the water…he did better than I ever could have done! I was able to take a number of photos in the low light that made the city glow gold.

initial st marks sqNext, we were finally on our way to St. Marks Square. I had been holding out all day saving myself for the moment that I walked into that famous square. It had allowed me to build up a great tension and excitement about the place – and it allowed me time enough to get sufficiently tipsy.

David and his map led us straight to the square, and my first step into the square was memorable. It sent chills up my body.  I just stood there in awe, David did the same…we just stood and slowly took it all in. It was dusk so it had a beautiful glow to it. So big, so majestic, so many pigeons! After taking a number of initial pictures, we made our way over to the Doge’s Palace and sat on a bench looking out onto the square in order to take it all in. We decided that this would be a great time to have our little pre-dinner snack. We started unpacking the swiss army knife, the cheese, crackers, peanuts, and salami. We set our plastic bottles of wine on the bench and we had a feast.

nakedHowever, as the sun had went down, it started getting chilly. I got my jacket out of my backpack and started layering up. David however proceeded to get out his pair of jeans, long sleeved shirt, jacket and different shoes. He was getting all dressed up for our little ‘picinic date’ on the square. However, I wasn’t quite prepared when all of a sudden he started stripping off clothes in the square – as people walked on by. I thought he was joking at first – no way was he really going to get naked in St. Mark’s Square! But before I knew it – he had stripped down to his lime sherbet colored underwear and was putting on his jeans.

Ok – that’s it – I needed to obviously cut him off the cheap wine! I freaked out at him…but was able to snap a few pictures…my journalistic tendencies taking over I guess. After his strip show in public…we sat down to have a rather civilized cheese and cracker snack. We had cheese from Venice, wine out of a water bottle, sausage from Split Croatia, and Crackers from Dubrovnik…a little bit of everything.

Photo: St. Mark’s Square…pigeons and people intermingling
umbrella in squareAfter finding out that the going price for one of those famous and syrupy, romantic gondola rides was 90 Euro, we decided to look for a hot guy traveling with his gay brother to try to share the cost with, else we would pass on the gondola ride. I think you all can guess the outcome of that search….no gondolas for us. However, we watched many of the gondolas from the bridges. Some of them even had opera singers and musicians on them. The music would echo through the walls of the canals.

David decided that he should move to Venice and start an 80’s Gondola singing service. He started practicing by singing Footloose out loud…there were no takers on his idea…they must not have been enjoying Venetian loose wine like we were. If disco bowling can be a hit, why can’t the ‘Totally 80’s Gondola Ride’? The next day we went back into Venice to do more exploring, and this time we brought a bigger empty water bottle – 1.5 liters…and two smaller bottles to drink out of. We shopped around, took tons of pictures, went to the cathedral, and to the top of the bell tower in the square.

We went back to Lido late that afternoon to relax a bit and get off our feet. We sat on bench along the ocean and watched a spectacular sunset. It was our last night together so it was a good time to reflect upon our travels. We talked about life, work, love, friends, and the future – all topics that scare the shit out of me as I have no answers…but then again – who does. I was extremely sad that night. I didn’t want David to leave me for some reason. After spending the last month with my good friends David and Miles, I felt as if I was leaving NY all over again. It wasn’t easy the first time and now for some reason I felt as if I were starting all over again. Normally after traveling with people for about a week, I’m ok with being on my own again. However this time, the tears just flowed.

That night we went back into Venice for a simple dinner, enjoying our last bit of time together. I asked David if we could go to St. Mark’s Square one last time before we left. We arrived in the square and that’s when David proceeded to do the moonwalk. It broke the sadness of the whole moment for me…a gay, white man moon walking across the cobblestones…priceless. Regardless of the lack of romance for us in the romantic city (yet there was nudity)…we had a blast enjoying everything Venice had to offer; especially the loose wine – and our everlasting friendship.

Photo: David and I in St. Mark’s Square

david and i st. marks sq

Sherry Ott
Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of Briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice.

Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at Ottsworld.com.com.
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