Saturday, July 13, 2013

Boats, Bridges, and Murphy's Law

Six o'clock in the morning....Madam Neu's still asleep, so, since I'm awake, I'm out on the terrace enjoying the peach-tinged sunrise. The seagulls are conducting a vociferous argument—when really vehement, they sound like squalling cats. The pigeons provide a soft counterpoint, cooing to each other along the roof edges.

We finally solved the luggage problem by going back to Marco Polo Thursday morning, and bullying the troll in the lost-baggage office until she let us loose in the baggage graveyard (a cavernous room filled with baggage of every possible description) to see if we could find our stuff ourselves. We did, and got back to the hotel with it somewhere around 1:00. I found myself wondering, on the return journey, if perhaps Murphy had worked for US Airways......

A quick visit to a small shop by the Rialto Bridge left us with olives, prosciutto, cheese, and a loaf of lovely crusty artisan bread, which we paired with a bottle of fruity Chardonnay in a celebratory picnic out on the terrace. There's a small lizard who lives in a crevice just over the railing, who came out to enjoy the sunshine with us. So far, the weather's been perfect—sunny, low 80's—punctuated by a fine thunderstorm yesterday evening.

The last couple of days have been a fantastic jumble, completely and not at all what we'd expected.

We both find the gondolas endlessly fascinating. We spent several hours one afternoon sitting at the water's edge beyond San Marco, watching them go by—sleek, shiny black craft, loaded down with camcorder-toting tourists. I dangle my feet in the cool green water, which activity Madam Neu eyes with the kind of wariness most people reserve for observation of hazardous waste. The gondolas themselves are largely the same in design: constructed of something like 280 pieces of 9 different kinds of wood, from what I've read, they all have a ferro, or prow, the same shape. However, their owners individualize them with what amounts to a hood ornament. We saw a number of winged victories, some carrying flags or flowers, others that look like statues of saints or other notables, but the one that put a huge grin on my face was a hood ornament that had originally graced the bonnet of a Jaguar.

The gondoliers wear traditional dress—beribboned, broad-brimmed straw hat (shady!), a shirt striped in black or red and white, and black pants. The gondoliers seem to be as diverse as their decorations. Some do a running monologue for their clients; others row in stolid silence. One or two rowed one-handed, using the free hand to hold a cell phone, into which they gabbled volubly. I'm a tad surprised their passengers didn't seize the offenders' phones and fling them into the canal!

Madam Neu's thoughts: We've only seen one gondolier singing, but they all wave and say hi—we must look like easy marks!

It's impossible to talk about one meal or another as discrete units, since the city itself is a feast, and we've been cheerfully willing to founder on everything we've eaten. Our first evening, we ate dinner in a little place in a small courtyard that was no more than a wide place in one of the narrow alleys, bordered by several hotels. Cindy had pasta with seafood that was incredible...clams, shrimp, scallops, and a few other things, in an oil-and-garlic sauce. I had something lurking under the humble name "mixed fish" that turned out to be a plateful of heaven. I could identify calamari, shrimp, very small sardines, and several other things, all thinly coated in a nearly-sheer batter and deep-fried crisp. It hadn't the faintest hint of oiliness, and I pigged it on down despite the fact that the little fishes were whole, and looking back at me.

Cindy's dessert was tiramisu. It arrived on an oblong plate, elegantly garnished with chocolate curlicues and whipped cream—it was, she insists, the best she's eaten in 22 years. I had lime sorbetto—tart enough to have a distinct bite to it, and sweet just enough to cut the acidity, it was perfection, served up in a tulip-shaped glass.

Waiters have been as entertaining as the food has been good—one, a cute little guy of 20 or so named Mario, with hair styled to resemble a hedgehog, had us rolling on the floor with his descriptions of "one of his exes" (!) having made a thoroughly creditable attempt to run him over—with his own car.

We've fallen into a routine of going out directly after breakfast, either to see something in particular or to follow one of the walking tours in Madam Neu's app. We come back to the hotel around 12:30, with bread and cheese, meat and wine, which we consume at our leisure in the shade on the terrace—thereby avoiding the worst of the crowds and heat. It's as humid here as St. Louis, but the sun is far more intense—more like New Orleans. Out again after, until 6:00 or 7:00; dinner around 8:00 until whenever. We're entranced by the separation imposed by canal and culture—Venice was originally something like 118 separate islands—and how the city's 60,000 locals and hordes of foreign visitors overcome it with connections made via boat, bridge, and conversation.

We're enjoying very much learning from them.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Point of (we hope) no return

So here's me and Madam Neu, flopped in the departure lounge at Lambert. Flight's late; we've only got half an hour layover at Philly now—that's cutting it damned close. We're keeping our minds off a possible missed connection by playing with technology, and loading up her travel vest.

Madam Neu tackles a nearby Starbucks, and returns with two coffees and a slice of lemon pound cake. Sharing the cake, we're talking nearly as hard as the girl behind us, catching up on mutual friends and details of Cindy's new job, so it seems like no time at all until we board.She's got one of those high-tech things with a million zippy pockets, gussets, and lanyard moorings—when she dug it out and put it on, I had to jam a fist beneath my jaw to keep from addressing her as 'bwana'. (Not an unsuitable word choice in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that it comes to English from Swahili.)

Around us are an elderly lady reading to what looks like her granddaughter from a magazine, a couple watching a shoot-'em-up on a laptop, and half a dozen folks deeply engrossed in iPhones. Three teenage boys to our left are getting through prodigious quantities of chips and soda, and some poor chick behind us, fresh from a job interview, is chattering nineteen to the dozen into her cell about the job interview she'd just been to.

The flight to Philadelphia is uneventful, until the pilot announces that, thanks to a storm, we're being diverted to Allentown—so much for our connection to Venice, we think. Another announcement from the cockpit tells us we don't have enough fuel on board to get as far as Allentown, so we're now second in line to land. (No, I can't imagine any other circumstances under which I'd be happy to hear that an aircraft carrying me is dangerously low on fuel.)

On the ground, we may just still make our connection, but it leaves from terminal A, and we're at terminal F. We catch the shuttle, along with the rest of the passengers from the puddle-jumper on which we came in from St. Louis. Arriving at terminal A, we're down to minutes from departure time. Only possible course of action: RUN. I kick off my sandals, and run barefoot (*broad grin*) and we make it to the gate just in time to see the plane taxi off to the runway.

Nothing for it but to head for Special Services, where we stand in a line that's slow as a dead turtle. The mood is turning ugly—one older guy in a hat is heckling the hapless staff at the desk, and people are grumbling restively. Technology to the rescue: seconds later, thanks to the marvel of a simple cellular phone call, our travel agents in St. Louis are on the case. By the time we reach the desk, we are able to tell the now-bellicose lady behind it that we're booked on the 8:30pm flight to Frankfurt, with a Lufthansa connection on through to Venice. Her face goes blank for a second, but, checking our reservation, she finds it's already been updated, and prints our boarding passes—kudos to Cathy and Katie at Tiger Travel....!

Back to the gate, board the plane (an Airbus A330, for those interested in aircraft), and we're in the air again in minutes.

Maybe I'm a complete wacko, but I enjoy the unexpected twists and turns of travel. Bravo for life's little ironies, as G.B. Trudeau once aptly put it. Next stop: Frankfurt.

Frankfurt is a quick stop, one plane straight to the next, a small Lufthansa, and in the air again to Marco Polo. An hour and a half later, we find both suitcases are still in Philadelphia. Paperwork ensues, with the Lost Baggage office, then a short bus journey onto the island.

It's only 3:00pm, so we spend the next several hours just walking—feeling—the town, before we finally (after an intense hunt for it) arrive at the hotel. We're on the 4th floor, with our own small rooftop terrace, overlooking a small courtyard.

Absolutely adore the city—looking forward to further exploration!