It is a sad and embarrassing part of my life that I have never really been out of the United States (unless Tijuana or the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls count). This is not from a lack of interest; quite the contrary. However, when you grow up dirt poor and have to pay your own way through college the opportunities to travel are few and far between, and by the time you graduate and get a job the habit of never going anywhere gets pretty well ingrained in you. Sure, it always sounds like a great idea, but there is always something else that has a higher priority in your life.
So, I come to Venice, Italy. My day job saw fit to have us do our annual sales meeting here and I have opted to extend my stay by a week in order to explore and appreciate this strange and alien culture.
I am saying like this because I have always dreamed to traveling to strange, new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; and to boldly go where no man (in my family) has ever gone before. Therefore I am going to treat this experience like the proverbial Lewis and Clark of space; I have come across a new and exciting planet, and am reporting my findings to you, my beloved readers, here.
First off I am happy to report this alien world seems to have at atmosphere with sufficient oxygen to support human life, and while there is a slight musty scent to it (not dissimilar to any Earth city set on the ocean) it is generally pleasant and lacking in any alien toxins or pathogens detrimental to human life. Gravity seems to be about 1.0 Earth normal, and the sun shines with a pleasant light that not only doesn’t want to kill me any more than our own Sol but seems to interact with the local flora in a manner similar to Terran photosynthesis.
I am calling this post Day 0 because most of my experience thus far has been related to the travel I have done to get here. After following all the correct signs and instructions on BART I still managed to take the wrong train (BART, like almost everything in San Francisco, is a pale imitation of something in New York City). However, I anticipated this and padded my schedule to make up for the inevitable screw up.
I boarded my flight on Airberlin and am happy to report that the flight, while painfully cramped, was extremely well run and modern. The entertainment screens were recently upgraded and had an excellent touch interface (assuming you are smart enough to figure out what the instructions were in German), the diabetic meal I ordered was one of the best I have had on an aircraft, and the Germans (and most other foreign airlines that I have observed) do not feel a fear of being sued for discrimination and therefore do not hesitate to hire hot young women to be flight attendants. I also love the big Airbuses, and had not a single experience of turbulence. I can definitively give a thumbs up for Airberlin.
I spent the flight next to a pleasant German woman who said her name was something that sounded a lot like Cigarette. I’m sure there is a German name that just sounds like that (any of my German readers please be sure to correct me on this) who was flying home to see her family. She lives in San Francisco and had the amazing decency to make small talk while we were eating our two meals and otherwise shut up and let me sleep or watch Lethal Weapon on the TV. Also on my plane was my new best friend who’s name I can’t remember, but I was destined to keep on running into him for the next twelve hours.
We arrived in Dusseldorf, the German city with the coolest name ever. If ever a city were to go for a nerd name, it would have to be Dusseldorf. It was here and later in Venice that I learned that the architecture of airports is pan-cultural. They all have a lot of glass and steel, a bunch of duty free shops (although the German ones seemed most interested in selling mass quantities of cigarettes. I saw a display pile of Marlborough that must have been eight feet tall), a lot of horribly misleading signs and dead ends, exits that seem to want to funnel you back through security, and some “chairs” that seem designed to give chiropractors more business. After learning that a meal that costs 8.00 is really like $11 after you convert from Euros to dollars and that German chocolate really is better than American (sorry, Girardelli) I boarded my plane for Venice.
Another relatively pleasant flight wherein I slept most of the way (with hot flight attendants) I arrived. I spent 120 Euros on a water taxi (I’m pretty sure I got ripped off there. The price on the sign was 110, but as soon as he saw my passport it went up 10) but as we rolled into Venice I decided it was worth every penny (or whatever they call 1/100ths of a Euro). The slow ride through Venice was shockingly like going through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland; glances through windows at partial scenes of people cooking, hanging laundry, setting up rock bands, or just sitting there drinking coffee and wine (no pirates chasing wenches in circles that I could see). This would later contrast with my walking through Venice experience.
I can say that the story I was told about Italians being super friendly seems to have not manifested itself. The four individuals I met so far-water taxi company dude, water taxi driver, hotel clerk, and waiter later that night-couldn’t have been more perfunctory and uninterested if I had been a large sack of American laundry they were transporting or serving food to. The taxi driver started talking once I started asking him questions, but my experience with taxi drivers in the Bay Area and even more in NYC is most times you can’t get those guys to shut up. Maybe I have an unfriendly appearance (I would actually not discount that possibility) or maybe it’s because everyone who tells me how friendly the Italians are seems to be a hot girl and the old adage “Life is easier for hot chicks” holds true in Italy as anywhere else.
Anyway, walking around Venice at night is less like Pirates of the Caribbean and more like making your way through Raccoon City from Resident Evil (Raccoon City image courtesy of the Video Game T Shirt category). You walk down a creepy, narrow alley respondent with graffiti (point in America’s favor-our graffiti is much more creative and well executed), dark side passages, and weird no purpose stairways only to turn a corner and find an open restaurant or bar (as opposed to Raccoon City, where it would usually be an open gun shop or abandoned hospital).
The hotel room is tiny, but space efficient in a way you never see in even the cheapest American hotels and generally very pleasant. The bed is very stiff and hard, but I like a hard mattress so it works for me. The WiFi was excellent as evidenced by this blog post. Overall very pleasant and interesting.
I managed to lose all my Venice maps and phrase books in the month prior to packing, but this will just enhance the exploratory nature of my time here. I have procured a map from the hotel this morning and will be setting out shortly from breakfast. First task: find an ATM. Look for more on my trip tomorrow. Also, if I find time I have two movies I saw that I have to review. Talk to you soon.