An hour is a long time in politics. It can also be an interminable unit of time on a train or when cooped up in a meeting.
But hurrying, lost, through Venice‘s maze-like streets, coming up against dead ends, blocked off by opaque green canals with a less-than-helpful map and a heavy bag, with under an hour before you’re due on a cruise ship or at the airport … well, then an hour can seem very, very short indeed.
With its bustling cruise port — Europe’s fourth busiest, in fact — and glorious history, Venice is a tourist magnet. Which may explain why getting away from it can be difficult.
As soon as I arrived in Venice, I took a short vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal to the Piazza San Marco. It’s from there that I realized that it’s definitely still a working town. I saw boatloads of fruit and vegetables being unloaded into supermarkets, while police, taxis and firefighters rushed about in specially equipped boats. Amid the crowds of tourists, everyday people went about their everyday business.
Still, I couldn’t help but wish that I had the place to myself.
So I decided to put my map back in my rucksack and walk. Venice isn’t a big city, right? Though I’d never be able to see it all in such a short space of time, I was certain I’d be able to find my way back to the central station in time for my train to the airport.
I quickly lost the tourist crowds and, before long, was walking alongside the wide-open lagoon, watching the afternoon sun lighting the tips of gentle waves and looking at the far-off islands where Venetians have traditionally buried their dead.
But as darkness came, my curiosity went out the window. This had been fun, I thought, but I needed to get back. Now. But the streets got narrower and darker. The shadows stuck together behind me like cobwebs. No one else was around and I was getting worried.
I wandered urgently through narrow alleyways, crossing bridges over water that looked as though it had been used to clean someone’s paint brushes. The crowds of tourists I’d passed before were long gone. Getting lost in a foreign city is an excellent way to step away from the obvious and have a unique and memorable experience. In a city like Venice, you are almost guaranteed to bump into something new and astonishing around every corner.
But there is also something to be said for knowing where you’re going and being able to find your way out again.
By chance, I made it to the only part of Venice that had cars and managed to catch a taxi to the airport. I was lucky, but I was also stupid. I was so keen not to be a typical tourist that I ended up being even more of one by taking the place for granted. I presumed that once I’d had enough, the way out would be plainly signposted and easy to see.
And chasing after a taxi while sweating under a heavy bag, map flapping like a sail, is, I suppose, probably not the best way to see a city either.
— written by Josh Thomas