During my cozy, rainy afternoon in Lake Como, I spent some time scoping out my next few destinations. With so many things to see, I am sure I could have spent the entire two months of this trip in Italy and still left unsatisfied. I am banking on the possibility of a future trip to see the “big ticket items” such as Rome and Florence, and I’m following my instincts to stick to the smaller destinations this time around. I also decided to follow the advice of Sonja and Christophe, who counseled me to steer clear of Milan (“a money trap!”), and to make a bee line for Venice (“a must see!”).
While plotting my course from Como to Venice, I couldn’t help but notice that Verona was a nice halfway point between the two locations. A lifelong lover of Shakespeare, I decided to make a midday stop to wander through the famed setting of Romeo & Juliet, calculating that I could still make it to Venice before sundown.
Yesterday morning over breakfast, my grandmotherly host inquired whether I was better prepared for my trip to Venice than I had been for my arrival in Como. Truth be told, I really wasn’t: I’d sent an inquiry to several AirBnB listings on the Venice mainland the afternoon before, and given the typical 24 hour turn around, I assumed that I would hear back from at least one host by the time I was ready to leave Verona that day, and that I could book a room by iPhone before completing the second half of my drive.
As of yesterday morning, however, no one had yet responded, and this wasn’t good enough for my self-appointed Nonna. Tech savvy grandmother that she is, she Googled “Bed & Breakfasts in Venice”, insisted that I choose one from the listings, and called them up on the telephone herself to confirm availability. It took us three tries before finding a hit: what appeared to be a simple but friendly hostel called “Casa di Miele” – Honey House in Italian – what could be sweeter? Nonna confirmed the room for two nights, insisted on feeding me another serving of pancakes, and sent me on my way with a squeeze and double kisses on each cheek.
The trip started off tranquilly enough, winding my way through morning mist and a light spattering of rain along the lakeshore. But all hell broke loose once I reached the Autostrade, and I’m still fairly amazed that I managed to survive the wilds of Italian highway driving. After an hour of alternating between the 80-mile-an-hour speed limit in the slow lane while sandwiched between semi-trucks in dubious states of repair, and venturing into the middle lane where traffic zoomed so fast I dared not take my eyes of the road long enough to check the speedometer, I pulled into a rest stop for twenty minutes to put my head between my knees and try to come to grips with reality. What in the Name of God made me think I was qualified for driving in Italy?! I really don’t know, but there I was, alone in an Italian rest stop, and the only way out of the situation was to get back on the highway.
As I pulled into Verona another hour or so later, the rain started coming down in earnest. I creeped along through the back streets of town, trying to drive as close as my GPS could get me to the old city. Eventually I found a small parking lot tucked behind vine-covered buildings, where I turned the car engine off and just closed my eyes for a moment in an attempt to release my driving anxiety. I listened to the rain splattering on my windows while I grounded back into my body, and then began the tearful task I had appointed myself for the afternoon.
In fair Verona, where Shakespeare laid his scene, there is a house in the old city that bills itself as “Casa di Giulietta Capuleti” – the House of Juliet Capulet. It’s complete fiction, of course, as we all know the story of Romeo & Juliet was purely the work of Shakespeare’s imagination, but tourists through the years have flocked to Juliet’s supposed house to leave love notes tucked into the walls, and I decided to keep with tradition. After all, when else would I find myself in Verona AND in a state of romantic confusion? Perhaps a ritual would help.
I took up a sheet of paper and tore it into several pieces, and on each piece I wrote a short note to the men who had broken my heart, wishing them forgiveness, wishing them happiness in their futures, and most of all wishing them to be released from my heart. I saved one piece of paper for Santiago, which I filled with the prayer, “May I never break your heart the way my heart has been broken.” I tucked the little scraps of paper into my handbag, and ventured out to find my destination.
Even on a rainy day in late October, the courtyard of Juliet’s house was swarming with people. I worked my way over to a corner and attempted to find gaps in the wall large enough for a few tiny folds of paper.
With each note I negotiated into the wall, I took a moment to remember my love and say goodbye. The last note I saved for Santiago. I don’t know why we collided in a train station in Madrid, and I don’t know what the future holds (for “us” or for him & me), but I sincerely hope I never wreak the kind of havoc in the heart of another person that has recently been wrought in mine.
Poignant ritual accomplished, I wandered through the medieval streets of Verona for another hour or so before heading onward to the day’s final destination.
My first impression of the Venice mainland was an outright chaos of construction and detours, for which my GPS was a poor guide. Eventually I did find Casa di Miele, but my arrival was not as sweet as I’d anticipated.
Stuck on a little spit of land between the airport and a huge casino, the hostel was completely empty, save for my host (strike one). I offered to pay with a credit card, but my host insisted I pay him by cash (I wasn’t sure why, but this immediately felt like strike two). I was shown my room on the first floor of the hostel, which was partially underground, and nothing like the photos I’d seen on the website (strike three). After my host showed me to my empty quarters, I discovered that there was no wifi, and that neither my iPhone nor my Spanish mobile phone got reception in the
dungeon slightly underground bedroom (strike four).
Suddenly a grim scenario landed in my mind, in which no one (save Nonni in Lake Como) would have the slightest idea of where I’d gone, with no digital record of my stay from a credit card transaction, no GPS on my iPhone to help locate me, and no one to hear me scream. And since I was traveling alone and even *I* didn’t know my agenda from one day to the next, I wondered how long it would take for anyone to notice I was missing, let alone track me down.
Exhausted from my day’s journey, but unable to ignore the alarm bells ringing in my head, I sat on the edge of my bed for a few moments contemplating my next steps. Was I just high on adrenaline and emotions from my trip, seeing danger where there really was none? Should I trust that Providence brought me to safe harbor and call it a night, maybe slide the desk in front of the door for good measure before going to sleep? Gut check: my sources say no.
I played out the options of venturing back outside and checking to see if anyone had responded to me on AirBnB: if I left without my backpack, I’d have to go back inside and explain myself before departing; on the other hand, if I left WITH my backpack, how awkward would it be to return a second time in the event that I could find no other options for the night?
Wait a second! No. No. Errrrrrp. Wrong. Errors of logic left and right. In actual fact, I realized, I owed nobody an explanation, and I am certainly never under any obligation to be polite at the expense of my own safety. Just after I’d careened into this epiphany, but before finding the courage to execute on proper self care, my host knocked on my door and announced that he had some business at the casino and would be back in a little while. I smiled politely and closed my bedroom door, then sidled up to the window and listened for the sound of his tires crunching on the driveway as he pulled away. I waited another 90 seconds or so after his departure, then made a dash for my own car.
Driving back into civilization, I discovered that one AirBnB host had in fact responded to me, letting me know that he had a room available for the first night only, not the two nights I had requested. Fine, I wrote back, I’ll take it! I’m on my way!
Settling safely into my second lodging (a hostel filled with other guests, in a populated neighborhood), I spent the evening writing postcards and planning for another detour. I’d decided one night in Venice would be quite enough, and so I contacted another AirBnB host in Ravenna, who promptly responded with a confirmation. At last, I could sleep easily.
I woke up this morning, and took the bus from the mainland to the cluster of islands that comprise Venice proper, and spent the morning being underwhelmed.
I’m perplexed, because I realize that most people go into fits of ecstasy when they describe their experiences in Venice, but I have to admit: in spite of the obvious visual beauty, my impressions of the city were really not favorable. At first I tried to tell myself that my unsatisfactory mood was just the residue of anxiety and vulnerability from the day before, but nonetheless, I was never able to shake the feeling that the city was just not for me.
Part of the problem, I think, is that Venice is a city made for lovers: there was no escaping the sight of couples floating down canals on gondolas, couples sneaking a kiss on a vine covered bridge, couples walking hand in hand down alleyways, couples enjoying glasses of wine at outdoor tables for two. But there I was, decidedly alone, and not particularly enjoying that fact.
Trying to make the most of an experience I knew I should be grateful for, I absorbed the grandeur in St. Mark’s Square, took the obligatory photos of pigeons and gondolas and architecture, and bought myself a double scoop of chocolate gelato on my way back out of the city. I paused for a moment, resting on a railing of the Ponte di Rialto to savor my ice cream and contemplate my state of affairs. It was that very moment when I decided it was time to make my way back to Madrid, and to open my heart to Santiago. If love had shown up at my doorstep, then who was I to decide it wasn’t the right time to let it in?
The rest of my afternoon was surprisingly tranquil, and plays out in my mind with the volume turned low: a silent, sweltering bus ride back to the mainland, bouncing out of Venice on the back roads to avoid the Autostrade, passing the Po River delta at sunset and watching the black silhouettes of birds cresting and diving over the horizon.
I arrived in Ravenna just after dusk, and was welcomed by the lovely Silvia, who instantly made me feel at home. My lodgings this evening are luxurious, and the city of Ravenna manages at once to feel both laid back and classy. After Silvia got me settled into my room and bade me farewell, I wandered through the lamplit streets for an hour or so, enjoying the fact that the downtown is filled more with bicycles and pedestrians than with cars, and I breathed easily for the first time since leaving Lake Como.
On the docket for tomorrow: a morning of mosaics, a drive across the Italian peninsula, and a peek at the leaning tower in Pisa… but now, sleep!