Again, I traveled with Bus2Alps because of their great price — €59 roundtrip verses €86 booked separately. I slept on and off for the three-hour bus ride.
There were more than 400 Florence students going to Venice for the day with Bus2Alps. It was Venezia Carnevale. We moved off the bus and toward the water taxi like a herd of cattle. There were too many people, and it was far too cold for me to process my surroundings.
Erika and I weaseled our way into a couple of seats for the half-hour ride to San Marco. And it started to hit me: We were literally on a bus on water. It made stops and people stood staring at the maps and ads above the seats. I squinted my eyes to look through the grimy windows.
“Erika. You don’t understand. We’re in Venice. You don’t get what it means. I’m finally in Venice. No. Listen to me. I’m. In. Venice.”
She laughed at me as I kept repeating myself.
People shoved their way off the boat, seemingly concerned that they wouldn’t make it to land.
We scurried along the river and over bridges and canals in search of food. In my excitement, I forgot to eat before I left that morning.
We eventually found a restaurant and piled inside. There were 10 of us, so we split into five tables. Amy was my date, per usual. Also per usual, I forgot to take a picture of my main dish.
Our waitress was a large, bustling, smiling woman. She was my mental image of an Italian mother. She brought me a delicious cappuccino. Although I used to want American coffee, I know I’ll miss true cappuccinos and Italian caffeine come May.
Venice is notoriously expensive. I was debating over my cheapest options and looking for something new to try when she came over and eagerly asked for our order. I panicked and chose spaghetti con pomodoro.
Simple, but spaghetti is my dish. Ask my family. Throughout my childhood, everywhere we went out to eat, I would get spaghetti if possible. I stopped opening the menu at Bob Evans.
So I would consider myself a spaghetti expert. Every plate of spaghetti I’ve had in the past 20 years combined can’t meet the standards of those I’ve had in the past month. Except perhaps my grandfather’s homemade spaghetti sauce.
Suffice to say, lunch was delicious.
Amy and I split a dessert. It was a dense cake-like pastry filled with chocolate and covered in a cream.
We bundled up and continued walking. I had to resist the impulse to hunch over and keep my head down to hide from the wind. It was freezing, but I took as many pictures as I could. I only brought my point-and-shoot this time, knowing I would be able to take more and better pictures when it’s warm in April.
We meandered through shops, all looking for a mask for Carnevale. I found one I love! I wanted one that was handmade in Venice. The stamp said handmade in Italy. The shopkeeper told me it was in Venice, but I left hoping to find one that said Venezia. I was about four shops down when I decided to turn around and get it. It’s still Italian — and far more fabulous than the rest of my ensemble.
Once everyone donned their masks, we started walking back to Piazza San Marco. We passed a parade with people wearing everything from pig costumes to Teletubby outfits.
We didn’t get much farther before ducking inside a bar to warm up. A couple came in shortly after us.
“Americans?” she said immediately. We nodded. “Wait wait wait. Let me guess. Midwest?” Another collective nod. “Woooo these are my people!” She exclaimed as her husband/boyfriend quietly sat down, either shy or not as excited to see 10 Americans surrounding him.
We talked to her a little more. She studied abroad in college, then found a way to work in Europe for a while until she “fell in love” and moved to London, where she’s been living for 12 years.
Someone said, “You do realize you’re living every woman’s dream, right?” She just laughed. Despite his quiet apparent judging, they were very nice.
Before we knew it, it was 5 p.m. Time was slipping by so quickly. We set out in search of some sort of DJ party that was supposedly on the other side of town.
We were walking for probably a half-hour before we realized none of us had a map. We all thought someone else in the group was navigating and knew where we were going. We laughed at ourselves and continued to walk aimlessly for a little while before turning back. We stopped and bought some confetti, which Yelena and I shamelessly threw at passersby. It was fun.
Once again, we returned to Piazza San Marco. By now it was dark. There was a sparse crowd of people inside a gated area. We thought we needed tickets to get in, but no one stopped us as we walked right through the gates and up toward the stage. It must have been some sort of break between acts. A man stood on stage yelling Italian words — which must have been animals, because the crowd continuously replied with moooos or bahhhhs.
We just stood there looking confused until some music came on we could dance to, and we did for a while.
We decided to go get dinner before taking the water taxi back to the bus. Someone yelled “let’s go!” and I led the way out of the crowd.
Once outside, I realized only three of the nine other girls had followed. I stood on my tiptoes to see everyone still dancing, including those who were insistent upon food. I pushed my way back into the crowd, confused, only to find them dancing for a TV crew. I went along with it, danced and threw my last bag of my confetti everywhere. It turns out it was a Russian TV news station covering the event.
So I guess I can check dancing at Carnevale di Venezia for a Russian news station of my bucket list.
But eventually they got their footage, so we went to get dinner.
As we left, I saw a waiter serve a plate of what looked like worms. It was cuttlefish, one of Venice’s trademark foods. It’s served with its ink, making the color black. Odd, but kind of cool. I don’t know if I’d have the guts to try it even if I did eat meat.
We rushed back to the water taxi and hopped on the first one we saw, anxious to get out of the cold. A little too anxious. About five minutes into the ride, I realized that we were on the wrong line. It didn’t take us to the right stop. So I started trying to figure out how to transfer, and several people around me started to look concerned.
“Me too,” a chorus replied.
There were about 35 of us on the wrong boat, which was comforting. We knew they couldn’t leave that many of us behind. Eventually, a tall, bearded guy in the front figured out the best way to transfer and we all followed him and made it back.
I feel like I barely even skimmed the surface of Venice. I was too busy rushing to a boat or looking for the right mask or finding somewhere to warm up. But I’m in love with even the bare minimum of the city that I did see.
I can’t wait to go back in April.
Editor’s note: Former Grand Haven Tribune intern Lydia Coutré is spending a semester in Italy. She is a junior at Kent State University, studying journalism. Her blogs during her stay in Italy will be posted here and at http://lydiaislost.blogspot.com. All photos by Lydia Coutré.