Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The (long overdue) Venice Post Part 2


The plan was to hang out until we could meet up with Uberto, another foreign exchange student who stayed with our friends Wayne and Theresa in 2001 and 2002.  Did I explain that?  No?  OK, the original plan was to have all of the European foreign exchange students meet up in Venice over the weekend and share experiences, have a short vacation, and Skype with the host parents in Kansas.  With me moving to Brno for my internship (thus making myself an exchange student of sorts), it meant that it was actually possible to have all of us in one place.  There was Tobias (Toby)  from Austria (might have mentioned him before) who stayed with my family in 2011 and 2012, Federico (Freddy) from Italy who stayed with Wayne and Theresa in 2007 and 2008, and the aforementioned Uberto from Italy, Wayne and Theresa's first exchange student.  Freddy lives in Chioggia, just south of Venice and offered to host this gathering from his place.

Freddy took me and Toby to breakfast at the most popular "locals" cafe in Venice.  The cafe was saturated with customers.  This left little room for myself, my personal space, or my backpack and SLR.  Federico suggested he order for all of us while we tried to stay out of the fray.  Tobias decided to brush his teeth in the street outside of the cafe while I watched in amusement.  The locals barely took notice.  Breakfast was chocolate brioche and cappuccino at the stand up bar while the patrons squeezed by.  Yes it was delicious, I can still taste it.

The tour continued as Freddy lead us through brick archways and narrow alleys.  One of the narrowest was to Freddy's friend's house to leave our bags.  A naive passerby would not take a second look at the alley, but in Venice its apparently commonplace to have residences at the end of such alleys.

Somewhere around this time it began raining lightly and threatened to worsen.

And the tour continued.  Freddy kept asking me "what are you taking a picture of?" every time I stopped to compose a photo.  Obviously I was not nearly as Jaded as he.  Next we visited the Jewish historic district. He told us the story of why the buildings in the Jewish Ghetto are the tallest in the city and how bureaucracy was invented in Venice (couldn't tell how proud of this he was).

After walking around (somewhat) aimlessly, we decided to see St. Marks square.  The rain had worsened and we entered tourist traffic areas.  Umbrellas came out and we had to negotiate our way through window shoppers and the little pointy ends that stuck out of the umbrellas at eye level while discussing the Venice acqua alta.  Did I mention it was Carnival?

By the time we reached San Marcos it was absolutely chucking buckets and we were getting soaked.  We soaked up as much of the square as we could handle then sought refuge in a restaurant.

I honestly  don't remember where we intended to go after lunch, but we got on a boat to circumvent the island.  One of the more amusing memories (for at least myself) was Federico pointing out the boats of the financial police.  Except they were not so much boats as they were gunships.  My mind went directly to Arrested Development:

GOB:  "Are those police boats?"
*drum rimshot*
George Sr:  "Thats the Securities and Exchange Comission"
*drum rimshot*
Buster:  "They have boats?"

All throughout this time  Toby was in his zone, and was on a boat.

He's on a boat
After disembarking, we headed to Rialto Bridge, but I think we did something before that...

Anyways we headed to Rialto bridge in the persistent rain and tourists.  There was a melee to get the famous shot from above the bridge and I was in no mood to push my way through it for a generic shot with the elbows of tourists invading the edges of my frame.  I decided to take pictures of each of us in front of Venice's famous hoards of tourists.  It probably captured the moment better.

Like a gangsta

Yeah its a selfie, or at least 7/8 of one.
Then we got ice cream.  I got pistachio nutella. It was incredible.

Another stop was at a.....bookstore.  Stacks.....piles.....heaps.....mountains of books.  Obviously there was no question of book supply here, so book architecture was pioneered.  I ventured up the unsteady staircase in an attempt to determine why the staircase was there.  With each step water gushed through the pages.  Apparently the repeated cycles of rain and pressure from visitors had turned most of the pages into a pasty pulp; as if going through geologic processes.  The tectonics of the steps helped to neither preserve the volumes nor steady persons.  

The book store was a humbling experience, like viewing the earth from space.  It was the hardcopy.  A fraction of what collective human knowledge exists, and few will read it.  Just take your pick of your favorite tagline from that and just assume I only wrote one of them.

Freddy then showed us the Venice Hospital.  It was more like a monastery.  See the photo in part one.

Uberto, remember that guy?  We still hadn't heard from him and it was well into the afternoon.  I needed to arrange my return trip for the next day so we headed to the train station.  Somewhere along the line we made contact with Uberto and we arranged to meet at the station.  

The trip home was not as straightforward as the trip there.  I needed to be in Brno on Monday for my first "official" day of work and the options were to leave at 11am, arrive in Wien at 8pm, and take the train to Brno at 10pm or leave at 4pm, arrive at 11pm, and miss the last train to Brno.  I was forced to take the early train (so much for seat of the pants traveling).  On top of this I would need to take a bus to Villach, Austria then a train to Wien.  While trying to find a way to take the late train and still get to work on time (early train? nope, would still be late), we found Uberto and his girlfriend Federica.  Unfortunately, Uberto could not make the trip to Chioggia to skype with Kansas. 

We went back into the rain (it was still raining) to gather our bags with Uberto and Federica in tow and got acquainted or antiquated with each other.  We then went back to the train station (that doesn't seem right, maybe I'm remembering wrong) and chatted while we waited for the bus to Chioggia.  We took photos of all of us together with what now was a full blown thunderstorm in the background.  Trying to make the most of the short time we had together, I decided to facilitate a discussion of the most memorable or funny moments of each person's stay.  They aren't exactly my stories, so I'll reserve the right to retell them to the people involved.

We left to Chioggia soaked and cold.  Upon arrival we made arrangement to dry our clothing, or at least attempt to.  Logged on to the computer and made our video chat conversation with Kansas, who was not experiencing any better weather.  Ate pizza and drank Italian beer.  I passed out watching the Wichita State game online, only to wake up and play a game of Monopoly Deal, a staple game of many "Football Saturdays" in Kansas.

The next morning we returned to Venice and ate another breakfast at the famous cafe before making our way to my motorcoach.  We said goodbye and I was off.  The bus ride was surprisingly pleasant as the terrain changed from floodplain to alpine.  At one stop a group boarded including 4 very friendly Austrian old ladies and 2 men with a midwestern USA accent.  I listened to the old ladies explain the geography of the land and made sure the two men didn't miss any photo opportunities.  While listening to their conversation, one of the men mentioned New Prague, Minnesota.  I finally asked where they were from and they said Marshall, Minnesota.  I mentioned I was intimately familiar with Minnesota and Iowa, but they were too enthralled with the Austrian grandmas descriptions of the terrain.

I made the train in Villach after watching the foothills of the alps with fairytale castles and lakes go by.  Arrived in Wien on time and waited around for the Brno train.  This gave me the time to check the night bus schedule, and indeed I could make the night bus to Stara Osada if I ran from the train to the bus (the next bus after it left an hour later).  The train to Brno once again had interesting company, but no one on drugs as far as I could tell.  At Breclav the train stopped and police boarded.  I had not experienced this before, and the Czech Republic was in the Schengen zone, so it couldn't be a border check.  The police arrived at my cabin and checked the guy across from me.  They argued, and the guy got off.  Then they asked for my passport, looked it over and moved on.  The train was stopped for an hour and some.  When we started moving again I asked the conductor why we stopped.  His reply?  "Border.  You get checked.  What you stupid?"  Fuck me, right?  I didn't bother inquiring any further.

The story should have ended when I arrived in Brno, but following the theme of the trip, it didn't.

Ran from the train to the bus (arrived 3 minutes before the midnight bus).  I saw the number 99 bus and got on.  Still not entirely sure I was on the right bus I asked the first person I saw.  He didn't know.  There wasn't a bus schedule, other than the display that showed the next 5 stops and Stara Osada should have been on one of them but it wasn't.  I got off at Ceska (downtown) thinking I could just walk home.

Apparently, Brno is absolutely deserted on Sunday nights, except for the night buses.  I saw a cab, I saw a driver.  He was walking away from his car, suspiciously towards a trash receptacle.  Just as he was reaching for his fly I yelled and asked him to take me to Stara Osada (hey, I wasn't going to stand there until he relieved himself).  He first quoted me 100czk, then 200czk.  I had paid less to go farther when I arrived but I didn't care and I had that much in pocket change.  I made sure to tell him I knew he knew he was ripping me off when I got off at the stop.

I walked home.  Got undressed.  Collapsed. 

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