It started at 5 AM on Saturday morning, when I woke up, showered, and ate breakfast before boarding the charter bus. Not to start off completely negatively, but that bus had so little leg room that my legs started falling asleep within minutes of boarding. Not wishing to listen to the odd music playing over the stereo system when we boarded ("ABC" by the Jackson 5, anyone?) I put in my headphones and attempted to sleep.
I woke up, completely disoriented when we stopped for a "bathroom break" at a gas station about an hour and a half outside of Florence. I should have foreseen that the mob of 300 API students at that gas station was mere foreshadowing for the weekend ahead, but I pushed my way through the crowd to order what *looked* like a delicious spinach panini of some kind. Though ridiculously overpriced, I was starving. Still in denial after the first few bites, I realized about halfway through the thing that it was disgusting, and I tossed it. When we finally arrived at the Tronchetto, or dock where we would depart to get to Venice, it was around 10:30 AM, and I was already feeling the hunger pangs.
This isn't the actual boat I ended up riding; mine was much larger. But either way, the ride over to Venice (which is an island city located in a large lagoon, by the way) was absolutely GORGEOUS. It was sunny, and though a bit chilly, we were all glad to be off the bus. After docking at the pier, however, we all realized this trip was going to be quite different than we had anticipated.Me, Laura, KJ, and Sam riding on the roof of the boat to Venice.
At the dock, HORDES of crazy tourists, sporting masks and crazy costumes, swarmed everywhere. We were supposed to have a two hour tour of Venice at this point. Locating our guide was difficult, since she was about 4'10" tall and completely invisible in the crowd. Her amusing solution to this problem was to carry a bright green umbrella over her head, like a beacon of hope to her flock, lost in a sea of people. After following the guide for over an hour and learning absolutely nothing due to a) the noise of the crowd and b) the tour guide's own inanity, a little group of us decided to ditch the tour and get some food.
By this point, I was completely ravenous, and not happy about it at ALL. I'd like to think that so far on this trip I have been pretty laid back and haven't had an issue going with the flow. There was absolutely no flow to be had in Venice. I was near hysteria at this point. Every restaurant we tried to enter was either too full to accomodate us, way overpriced, or had no place to sit. The crowds were messing with my mind and I was nearing my breaking point...and it showed. We finally settled on an "Italian" restaurant run by a group of Asians. Enough said. I paid over 15 euro for an underwhelming meal of pizza and diet coke, but I devoured it all.
Masses of people in Piazza di San Marco, Venice's major square.
People wearing attractive garbage bags on their feet to protect them from the minor flood.
Feeling a little better at this point, four of us decided to do the most touristy thing possible and overpay a gondolier to cart us around Venice for about half an hour. Even though we paid way too much and didn't really "learn" anything, this half hour completely changed my afternoon. Away from the crowds, on the canals of Venice, I finally CHILLED OUT and was able to see the city and not just the up-close-and-too-personal-faces of one million tourists flooding the city.
Later, we waited on the pier for API to take us back to our buses. The irony of the scene below caught my eye and I couldn't resist taking a photo.
Our hotel in Mestre, located about 5 - 10 minutes outside of central Venice by train, was very nice. Exhausted beyond all measure after waking up at 5 AM and walking around the city all day, I conked out for about 2 hours before rousing myself in hopes of finding one of the famously delicious seafood dinners that Venice is known for. On the recommendation of the hotel concierge, we walked a couple of blocks to a place called...l'Ostarica...or something like that. Though Americanized (they gave us plates for our bread, which was warm and salted, unlike any other bread I've had in Italy, as well as huge portion sizes...not that I'm complaining) it was quite good. I ordered the linguine with seafood. Check it outtt.
Finally, something had gone right for us in Venice. This moment of joy, however, was disrupted when the man at the register became enraged at us for daring to ask for the check to be split among our credit cards, when a group of girls had done the same not ten minutes before. We spent atoubt 15 minutes at the counter, listening to him scold us under his breath, and then cheerily asking us to "come back soon" despite the fact that we obviously knew how displeased with us he was.
Gillian's bag, stuffed full of food stolen from the hotel breakfast buffet, just to get back at Venice for all that it had put us through so far.
I could have spent all afternoon here. Much less touristy than Venice or Pisa, it was home to the kind of true Italian restaurants where I feel like I could have gotten a legitimate, authentic Italian meal. Of course, we were given only 45 minutes, enough time to pick up some postcards and scarf down a sandwich, hoping to avoid the same kind of starvation that had occurred the previous day in Venice.
Reluctantly, we all returned to Venice for a couple hours of free time. Surprisingly, the city was MUCH calmer on Sunday than Saturday, even though it was the last official day of Carnivale. We actually got to see the city, getting ourselves lost in a few of the city's smaller alleys.