6th July 99, 0840, Tuesday. Villa Francescati (hostel). HOT
She arrived earlier than I was expecting!
On Sunday afternoon we visited Ponte di Scalageri (the drawing will probably be in the Florence or Rome section), had a paddle in the Adige (very fast flowing!) and headed back to the hostel for a gorgeous dinner (pasta, pasta, pork chop + potatoes). Before dinner, Gemma went for a shower and a rest. I was going to, but after she left I noticed that many of the museums and attractions were free on the first Sunday of each month. With an hour’s opening time remaining, I set out...
1540hrs: Somewhere off Lido, Venice.
It’s a bit crazy, the way I’m having to write this journal. Here I am, on a ferry cruise around Venice, with seagulls coasting over the guardrail and a day so bright and clear you can see all of the islands of Venice and boats for miles, and I haven’t written about Sunday’s visit to a museum. Anyway.
I had a good look round the Roman Theatre and it’s museum before heading back to the hostel. There was a lot of glassware, pottery and bronze figures, and as the theatre is still used, and I was rushing round in the last hour of opening, I sat in on the sound check. It was a funny feeling, sitting on stone chiselled thousands of years ago for people to come and see the plays and theatre of the Roman age, listening to a t-shirted sound engineer standing self-consciously alone at the front of the stage, going ‘Uno, uno, uno, uno, uno, due, due, due...(pause)...uno, uno, uno...’ into a microphone. I considered applauding when he’d finished, but he looked so embarrassed to be there at all, the poor man would probably have dissolved in the limelight.
That evening we went into the town, and, via streets of designer shops packed with elegantly dressed Italians, to the Piazza dei Signori, where a free concert was in progress. Gemma and I took full advantage, nabbing some seats, and enjoyed the Yemeni orchestra hugely, and the dancing men with skirts and knives.
Yesterday, after nearly two months more or less constantly in each other’s company, Gemma and I agreed to spend a day apart. We weren’t too tetchy with each other, but well, I needed some space, anyway. After about, oooh, twenty minutes, I bumped into two Canadian girls from the hostel in the street outside la Casa di Guilietta, and spent the day with them – Kristin and Patti. I had a great day, and really enjoyed myself – it was a good laugh. We exchanged addresses and Patti promised to send me some photos!
That evening we all ate again (expensively for us, but apparently not for Italy, at £.14 000 – it was a great meal!) at the hostel, and went into town to witness another free concert – this time a full-blown operatic ensemble of piano, brass and 30-40 singers! I have no idea why there are free concerts on at the moment, but I’m not arguing. The music that everyone in the world associates so closely with Italy, in a piazza under bell towers with the chattering of swallows overhead against a night sky, and candles dotted around the cobbled square. Magical. Gemma and I were there with Orla and Cormick – the brother and sister form Belfast. We went to bed tired (again) but ecstatically happy.
Today ( I get to write about today! Woooo!) we decided against going to Padua for Venice (Venice is either continually full (that’s the hostels), or extortionately expensive (that’d be everywhere else)) and decided to stay in Verona and commute, having two long day trips in Venice rather than moving to Padua and only having one. We caught the 0935 train (had to pay a whopping £.18 500 supplement because we forgot to in the station – ARGH) but we met two English girls on an Interrail, Anna and Jessica, who are doing the same thing with the day trips as we are, so tomorrow we might go on a gondola ride (if we can afford it now...GRRRR at that ticket inspector!)
Venice is absolutely gorgeous. If I’ve fallen in love with Verona while we’ve been staying there, then Venice is a worthwhile mistress for a couple of days. As we were walking out of the train station, the station opened out onto the Grand Canal, with canal taxis and ferrybuses waiting. It took a while to sink in because everything was so different and the beautiful architecture and sheer stature of the buildings would have been enough to make Venice for me, but on canals and river alleys...
So far, we’ve eaten our cheapo lunch (bread and sausages from Verona) in Piazza di San Marco, the only piazza in Venice and what Napoleon described as ‘the finest drawing room in all of Europe’. We ate sitting on stone steps in the shade, listening to swing hits like ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ played by a small orchestra that was playing for the clientele of ‘Cafe Florian’. They were brilliant.
We went up the Bell Tower on the piazza to take in the views of Venice, and two o’clock struck while we were up there. The bells went from impressively huge and worthy of a posed photo, to being something people were cowering from, deafening us all for two or three minutes. All the time, the terracotta rooves of Venice were spread below us, with water visible in little snatches between the hash of buildings. I enjoyed it.
We are on the ferrybus from Lido and are just about to pull in to San Marco again. Ciao for now...
1838hrs Outside Ferrovia, Venice. Sunny still.
After our round trip to Lido, we took another ferrybus across the Grand Canal and got off at ‘Salute’ for the Basilica della Salute – a huge domed church built in the 15th century. As churches go, I liked it, because of it’s unusual circular shape.
We had a stroll around the alleyways over the bridges and a peek into the shops of Dorsoduro before catching the ferrybus back to here to the train station, where we’ve eaten dinner by the water and enjoyed a bottle of ‘Birra Moretti’. Gemma is umming and ahhing over rings in a glass shop over the Grand Canal.
It’s almost seven o’clock, but the tourist industry is still in full swing – gondolas, ferrybuses packed with camera-toting sightseers, and the more refined water-taxis are all plying the Gran Canal. With a little imagination, it’s easy to see how Venice got the title of ‘La Serenissima’ – Most Serene Republic. Before the introduction of the internal combustion engine, that is. What it must have been like in the days of the 19th century ‘Grand Tour’ for the youth of the upper classes...gondolas peacefully weaving their way along the canals, sailing naval vessels moored in the lagoon, and the city itself full of life.
1942hrs: train in between Venice and Verona. Stormy.
Today, Venice seems to be a tourist town and little else. Away from the main tourist areas, the city seems to be dying. All Venice has to sell apart from gaudy t-shirts, postcards and jewellery, is Venetian glass and itself. Both of which are beginning to become prohibitively expensive for travellers like us on a tight budget. Nevertheless, the city is alive with intrigue, charm and its soft hues. Verona may seem capable to house the spirit, nourish it, but Venice lifts it, gives it flight – a living work of art, food for the soul.
The question of spirituality has unwittingly arisen on a number of occasions on this trip so far. I find it easy to talk about the spirit or the soul being affected by beauty, elegance intrigue and a sense of achievement. I don’t really see any conflict (or rather, feel any conflict) with this and my religious beliefs or lack thereof, and I was relieved to find this out today when we were in the Basilica della Salute, which was definitely a religious building. It was one that I could appreciate without guilt and more importantly, I think, without overbearing cynicism. This also bodes well for the rest of Italy, as many of the principle works of art are of a religious nature or in churches or cathedrals.
One thing that doesn’t seem right to me however (overbearing cynicism here we come...) is that many cathedrals, churches or even chapels with any kind of artistic content or historical connection charge an entry fee, usually around the £.3000 mark. It just seems fundamentally wrong, like the merchants in the temple.
Not only do the two cities I’ve seen so far appeal to me, but the countryside is fantastic too. Literally – it is how I imagined it and then more so. Cypress trees adorn the hills in the evening as we pull into Vicenza.
Italy appears to have hotwired itself into my sense of romanticism. The sunsets here are gorgeous. So unbelievably colourful and vivid that whenever a postcard captures one adequately, it looks like a tacky superimposed landscape on a set, separate sky.
The sun goes down so quickly here, as if it is exhausted by the amount of heat it has given to the land; so much so that it drops from the sky. It’s a quick photographer that can match the picture with the sunset. Yesterday, as the sun set over Verona, I had to make do with the ubiquitous crane on an otherwise perfect silhouette of the hills.
The Italian language has me in its thrall. It’s lilting accentuation and singsong sound have made me want to learn it! I haven’t had the opportunity to use our phrase book yet – if people don’t speak English (a small percentage only), they usually speak either Spanish or French. I feel that when I’m speaking to Italians that speaking English is too easy, and that I should try Spanish or French first rather than speak my native tongue. I suppose I want to be distinguishable who expect everyone abroad to speak English, or even try and make amends for them all by myself. Stupid really. The poor Italian guy in the kitchen in the hostel in Verona has no idea where I’m from or what language to speak to me in the mornings!