After the three days in Tuscany and some wonderful evenings spent at an Italian Carnival, Travis and I were heading to our last stop in Italy. We drove into Florence to park the car at the train station – we were taking the train to Venice! Travis had never been on a train before and I had only been on my first ever train since I arrived in Europe. Cars were useless in Venice anyhow, so a first class train ticket was in order! Travis wanted to get first class return as well, but I suggested we only buy one way first class to get the experience and save the money (for the record, this was a great decision as there wasn’t much difference between first class and coach!). We drove through the madness that is Florence to find the train station, then decided to park at the airport as it would be cheaper and take the bus into the train station. We left a bunch of our stuff in the car and went with lighter bags as we planned to walk all through Venice. It was a high speed train and we neared 300km/hr cruising through the Italian countryside and before we knew it we were in Venice!
It was raining, no surprise in October for Northern Italy, and we popped open our umbrella, opened Maps Me, and began the 3km trek across the island to find our hotel. With lightened bags, the trek wasn’t nearly so miserable as some of my hikes to find my accommodations have been on this trip. And it doesn’t hurt that I was walking through Venice! Every street was lined with shops, their windows alight and full of magnificent displays of masks, ceramics, limoncello. Beside every shop was a ristorante and beside every ristorante was a gelateria. The rain pattered down lightly and as we got deeper into the city, the streets narrowed and we played the tricky game of maneuvering yourself and your umbrella through the narrow walls of Venice without knocking down another umbrella. I stopped at nearly every street crossing to look down the beautiful water canals. I had never seen anything like this place! Sure you read about it, sure you see it in movies, but to be there – to be walking in a city that has no cars, no real streets but only tall narrow cobble stone pathways, and the only ‘roads’ are water canals with tiny boats rowing down them… it was bizarre and absolutely wonderful! The place was quite crowded, even this late in the day with the sunlight fading fast, the city lights making up for the disappearance of the sun. The soft yellow lights added a beautiful glow to the city and before I knew it we had come to our hotel. It was adorable, tucked away behind a tiny little square – but in Venice, everything is tucked away! The building are all several stories high and made of brick, with flower pots hanging from windows and only bits of blue or grey sky showing to you as you look up. Yet it doesn’t feel claustrophobic because there is simply so much to look at all around you!
As it was already evening, we dropped our bags, showered up and headed down to the nearest restaurant for dinner, which was just below our hotel, where we got a discount. The food was good, but we noticed that Venice was startlingly more expensive than the rest of Italy! But Venice is a tourist destination, the entire towns survival is because of tourism, it’s nothing but shops and restaurants and hotels now a days. Thus, like Banff, the Canadian version, everything is steeply more expensive – because it can be.
A day of exploration was in order after a nice sleep in and we hit the streets of Venice. The first thing we saw was the flooding. So. it turns out that Venice floods every day with the tide! Thus, half the streets nearing the coast are impassable as they are flooded out. The city sets up walk ways each morning for tourists so they can still get to and from certain points, but these walkways become unbearably crowded. We noticed that loads of people were wearing these atrocious colorful plastic bag rubber boots that you slipped over your own shoes. I thought it was some strange Asian fashion thing as there were heaps of Asian people here and they were all wearing them. However, we soon found out that if you wanted to get anywhere in Venice, you had best buy a pair. They allow you to ignore the flooding and walk where you will as the flooding in most places is only about a foot deep, and the boots come up to your knees! Travis however wouldn’t be caught dead in them! And so we were stuck to wait in the lines along the walkways and shuffle along with thousands of other tourists, trying to get to no place in particular, as we were just exploring. But there were so few streets you could use in the mornings when the tide was in, that everyone was on the same ones!
Even with the overcast and drizzly skies, I loved Venice. Even with the overcrowding and the flooding and the occasional whiff of sewer, I loved Venice. There really is no other place like it in all the world! That night we got tickets to a quintet performing a Vivaldi tribute – this was his home town after all! This was Travis’s idea and I was simply smitten as I adore Vivaldi (though I humbly admit, I had no idea he was from Venice prior to arriving here)! We ended up getting lost, as we did each day in Venice, and made it back to the hotel with just enough time to change into something nice for the show and scarf down some pasta we picked up on the way home – it was Fettuccine Alfredo and we were worried it would just be a let down compared to the last dish we had in Rome, but this was just as good, yet completely different! It had a strong spice of nutmeg to it, and we loved it! The show was outstanding. They started with a Bach opener and then brought out their star violinist, a beautiful young blond who stole the show and took us through the four seasons. I was in heaven. I had listened to Vivaldi extensively in college when I studied and so was at the edge of my seat the entire show – I get strangely excited by classical music, especially the upbeat variety like much of the Vivaldi they played. It was a small hall (really, every building in Venice was small, it had to be to fit in the narrow street formations) and so an intimate show and I was on top of the world when it ended. We left and walked out into the main square of the town where two separate quartets were playing to the public, all dressed in tuxedos, sending their fine music drifting off into the dark night sky where it was absorbed and where the stars winked back in applause. It was dreadfully romantic. We walked the narrow streets hand in hand back to our hotel, and slept in late again the next day.
For our last full day we headed over to Burano Island by water taxi, about a 45 minute ride over. Burano is known for its colourful buildings and its Risotto, and I was excited to experience both! I was enamoured as soon as we stepped off the boat and walked down the first little pathway as it opened up to the main channel running through the island. Burano is tiny – you can walk around the entire island in less than an hour – which we did- twice! Where Venice was busy and bustling, noisy and narrow, cluttered and crowded – Burano was small but spacious, quaint and quiet. The buildings were short and and the alley walkways much wider. More sky came through, and thus more daylight. And best of all, there was a fraction of the people ambling around Burano compared to Venice.
And the buildings! Oh the colours! I’ve never seen such a wonderfully colourful place in all my life, it was mesmerizing! We must have walked every single street on that adorable island, looking at the vast assortment of brilliant colours the houses were painted. It was more than postcard picturesque – it was the cutest little city in all the world, I’m sure of it! A bright blue house had white linens hung on a line outside. A Purple house had lavender on the windowsill. A pink house with green shutters held a blue pair of rubber boots and a pot of basil leaves on its windowsill and a purple umbrella hanging next to the sill. A green house had out a line of pastel coloured lacy linens drying. Elderly ladies sat outside the front of their houses on little chairs chatting with one another in their swift Italian, hands all a flutter as they gesticulated. A little yellow house sat squished between a purple and blue one. Oh my sweet colourful Burano, you stole my heart and filled my eyes with rainbows!
After thoroughly wandering the streets we tried to find one of the recommended Michelin star restaurants for some late afternoon risotto, but found out they were only serving drinks! We were heartbroken to leave this island without getting a taste of its renowned risotto, but it just wasn’t in the books this time! Instead we picked up a few souvenirs – a few prints and one original by a local artist who was painting in his shop, and some classic Venetian masks to decorate our non existent house with some day. We were famished and grabbed some calamari at the little shop next to the harbour, but it was absolutely awful and we didn’t eat more than a piece or two. We caught the last boat back to Venice, sadly waving goodbye to beautiful, colourful Burano. It was a much needed little getaway from the madness of Venice. It was so nice to walk around without crowds, without bumping into people, without flooding and to finally get some beautiful sunshine! It didn’t have the same excitement, the same bustle that Venice had, but it had its own alluring charm. It was the perfect last day in the Venetian archipelago, a nice way to unwind and relax. In the morning, we caught the main water taxi and rode it all through the Grand Canal to get to the train station where we caught our noon train back to Florence.
Oh I simply adored Venice! Yes,its crowded, expensive, and it floods and sometimes you get a whiff of something awful smelly, but the place grabs ahold of you. It sucks you in with its brilliant window displays like a moth to the flame. It tickles your taste buds with its endless selection of gourmet restaurants. There is an undeniable romance that hangs heavy in the air as the evening descends on the island. As the light fades, the yellow glow of the lamps cast an amber glow to the city, the lights reflecting off the wet cobblestones and endless water canals. The crowds disappear at night and as the towering buildings swathe you, their dark shadows embracing you in secrecy, you walk hand in hand with only the sound of your shoes clicking on the stones, and the distant melody of a violin as it bounces of the brick walls and drifts up to the sky. It was the perfect way to end our whirlwind adventure through Italy, just a few relaxing days wandering and getting lost in the whimsical streets of Venice and Burano, eating heavenly food, listening to Vivaldi, sleeping in, and simply being lovers. It was just what Travis and I needed.
We picked the car up from Florence and cruised back to Rome that day (making a pit stop back at the Carnival in Impruneta and nearly crying when we fond out they were out of ribs!) arriving late at night and met up with Paul and Patricia again at our guesthouse. In the morning they were off to Poland, Travis back to Canada and myself the following day off to Greece. We had a bit of a late start and rushed around to get ready, grabbed breakfast and then Travis kindly dropped Paul and Patricia off at that airport and then took me to the highway just beside the metro station where I would take the metro over to my hostel for the night. It was dreadful, being on the side of the busy highway, cars flying by, both of us rushed, not wanting Travis to miss his flight, lugging my ludicrously heavy bags out and saddling them up on my back. We hugged desperately, we kissed and said our sad goodbyes. I couldn’t help the tears. I tried to be strong, but I was simply heartbroken to say goodbye to Travis yet again. He held me tight, and I then began walking away as he got back in the car, and we waved, wretchedly, at each other.
I cried the whole 5 minute walk to the train station and then tried to pull myself together. The old me suddenly came back and I was all flustered and stressed out. I had my heavy bags on and I couldn’t get a ticket from the machine for the life of me. Finally someone in broken English told me I needed to buy it from the store – the machines were down today. I made the long journey on the metro and then the 2km walk to my hostel in the 30 degree heat with 25kg of luggage on my back, sweating terribly. When I arrived to the hostel I had to wait an hour to check in, and could only sit on the couch in the narrow hallway crowded with furniture. Finally I got my room, showered, and laid in bed, feeling dreadfully melancholy . Part of me just wanted to go to sleep and cry, but I knew this would make things worse, so I began to research what I could do for my last two days in Rome, and resolved to set out and explore to take my mind off the heartache. I was in Rome after all!
Moments later I received an email with the subject line “missed my flight”, from Travis. Oh No! I had this sinking feeling when we parted that he was cutting it rather close as he still had to drive the hour to the car rental office, drop off the vehicle, take the shuttle to the airport and get checked in. He had nearly three hours to do all that but from my experience, three hours is when you want to arrive at the airport, not start heading there! He had no phone, nothing but his iPad and no way to really deal with this so I told him I would take the express train out to the Da Vinci airport to meet him and bring my laptop so we could use the internet there and figure something out – to hold off re-buying a ticket at an exorbitant price as he may be covered with his credit card. An hour and half later I was there, for once coming to his rescue, instead of him always coming to mine. I hugged him tightly when I saw him and we sat down in a corner and got to work. I got him on my Skype account with Air Canada to figure out what they could do since there was no counter in the airport for Air Canada and luckily they were able to get him on the same flight the next day for only $350. The man who Travis spoke to earlier in the airport had told him he needed to buy a new ticket for over $1000! I was secretly elated that we suddenly had one more unexpected day together in Italy. He confessed he was too and that the money meant nothing for one more day together. My hostel was booked solid, so we found a guesthouse near the train station. We checked in, went for dinner nearby and savoured these last few sweet and unexpected hours together.
With plenty of time, we woke up, had breakfast, and made our way to the train station where he would take the express to the airport, only a half hour ride away. And here we were again, suddenly saying goodbye. I had said goodbye to this wonderful man too many times in the last year. I had to say goodbye to him last September when we separated and again in October when he left Yellowknife to move home to Regina. I had to say goodbye again in January in Regina right before I left on my trip. I had said goodbye to him just hours before on the side of a busy highway. And here I was saying goodbye once more in Italy at the train station. We had talked in Venice and decided he would come meet me once more, in Vietnam in February, so that we didn’t have to go another awful six months without each other; this would break it down to just four months. But it doesn’t make saying goodbye to someone you love any easier. Especially after we had reconnected so strongly.
I don’t think either of us knew what Italy would hold. It was a test for us in a way. We hadn’t see each other for more than a week since we seperated a year before. We had talked every day and reconnected through our words, but reconnecting physically was another thing. I was scared and nervous that we would meet in Italy and something would be missing as it was when we broke up. But it wasn’t. It was there, just as strong as when we had first met five years before. Italy felt like those first few months when we first met, but even better, because we know had five years of history, five years or learning about each other, five years of practice to make it better than ever. I knew now that he was it – he was my forever. We had been through so much together. We smartly separated before things got ugly between us; we had time apart to learn about ourselves again, as individuals, not as part of cohesive partnership. And we learned what life was like without each other. We learned what we thought was important before maybe wasn’t all that important after all. We learned that sometimes you need time apart – distance – to gain true perspective. And all our time apart taught us was that we were madly in love, and would be together until forever. Travis is the man of my dreams and I can’t wait for Vietnam, I can’t wait to come home and visit him in Regina, have him visit me in Yellowknife and then take off on our own adventure a year later to travel for a year. I can’t wait to settle down somewhere and marry this man who still makes my stomach flutter, and brings a smile to my face, laughter to my voice and love to my heart every time I am near him.
And so it is needless to say how hard it was to say goodbye – yet again – to my love. I cried as he walked away towards the train, and watched him go, watched the train pull away, watched the love of my life begin his 10,000km journey home, away from me. I pulled myself together and said there was to be no sulking! We were gifted with one last unexpected and wonderful day together, and now I had one more afternoon to spend in Rome, wandering the streets alone. I spent the next hour ensuring I knew how to get to the Ciampino airport tomorrow afternoon, and then set out to see the Pantheon, Spanish steps and Centro Storic neighbourhood. I wanted to see the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum, however it was Sunday and thus it was all closed down. It was healing to wander the streets alone, streets that now seemed familiar to me with their cobblestones and brick walls, tourists and gelateria’s, cafes and hawkers. To relive the memories of the last two weeks through the familiar sights. I was withdrawn and introspective as I took in all the sights, savouring them, the last I would see of this beautiful city for a long time.
And then I had one of those beautiful, sentimental moments. I was walking down a long narrow cobblestone alley way, when an old man, surely in his 80’s began to gracefully play his ancient, tattered accordion. He was wearing a striped dress shirt, black slacks and dress shoes. His white hair, receding, was combed over to the side, and his worn and weathered face was wrinkled with lines of love, laughter, and undoubtedly grief from his long life. He had a small white box in front of him for donations, and stood slightly bend over, as if his small stature was under great duress from the weight of the accordion strapped to his chest. He played a peppy nimble melody over and over before fading away into the bridge. His lips were pursed frailly into the slightest of smiles and I fell head over heels in love with this elegant charming old man and his beautiful music. I threw a few euro’s into his box and leaned against the adjacent wall, mesmerized by him for over 15 minutes, enjoying the sweet sounds he was creating in that little alley. I motioned whether I could take his picture and he nodded and smiled and I happily captured the moment that meant so much to me. I hoped that he was out playing simply for the joy of playing, not for any real need of money. I wanted to tell him how much his music meant to me at this moment, how much it helped to lift the burden of heartache and goodbyes that hung heavy in my heart, but instead I simply clapped voraciously as he finished, pressed my hands together, bowed slightly and mouthed my thanks before heading on my way, as his fingers took back to the keys and his melody carried me down the rest of the alley way, and stayed with me, playing over and over in my head as later that day, my plane soared up and away from Italy.