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Venice, the First Night

In Rome, my camera battery goes flat, so I take photos with my iPad until it tells me it’s full. To make more space I delete some old videos and continue taking photos. I leave my iPad in the seat pocket on the bus, but when I returne and turn it on,  a message says it’s disabled. Seems it spat the dummy!

Searches on my iPhone indicate an iPad can become disabled if the password is tried too many times. Well, I haven’t done that, so I assume it’s something to do with overloading it. I send messages to Noah asking what I can do, and he sends me back links with ideas to try. But I have no luck. It seems my only option is to connect it to iTunes and restore. Bugger! It means I lose some of my travel journal, but not too much. The only ones I haven’t sent on to friends aren’t that uninteresting anyway.

We arrive at the hotel on the outskirts of Venice around 4pm, so there’s time for a break before the included dinner at the hotel at 6pm. Steve offers to lend me his laptop and is happy for me to install iTunes and do my restore. So, before going out for the evening, I hook up my iPad to his laptop and begin the iTunes download.

We’re back on the bus by 7pm. The mainland part of Venice is not impressive. It’s like any old town, a bit industrial. As we approach the docks it appears even more industrial, with smokestacks in the distance. Parking at the wharf, we board a boat and step down into a covered area with seats. A huge ship is docked across the bay. As we motor away from the docks, I climb the steps to the open area to look out, and spray hits me in the face. The tanned Italian driving the boat indicates to me to duck behind the windshield, so I stoop down to avoid the spray. As we near the islands of Venice, we turn away from the wind and the driver indicates that I can pop up again.

Across the lagoon I get my first glimpse of Venice: houses joined together set back from the waterfront, a domed church and clock tower, canals leading back from the waterfront, spanned by small bridges.

There are only 2 ways of getting around in Venice, we are told: by boat or on foot. There are no cars, motorbikes or even bicycles. This is different to everywhere we’ve been. Even in the narrow cobblestoned streets of the old towns, you still come across cars that someone has managed to manoeuvre in.

It’s still light as we pull in to a wharf, get off the boat and gather around Ashley. He tells us that there are hardly any people here at the moment. I look around at the crowds but he assures us that it’s far busier in the day time. We trail him to the spot where we board the gondolas, up over footbridges that span the narrow canals, pausing to gaze with wonder at the buildings lining the canals, the water lapping at their walls.

We are organised into groups of 6 and I join Joy, Ray, Jenny, Debbie and Dory. Joy and Ray get the “love seat” and before we even board, Debbie is taking photos of them kissing. The Italian men around here are all tanned. The gondolier grips our hands tightly as we step onto the gondola. After Joy & Ray get settled on the end seat,  Jenny & Debbie sit facing each other, with a knee jammed in each others’ crotch in the narrow boat, both of them squealing with laughter about it. I sit next, facing sideways and thankfully have enough space for my knees, and Dory sits at one end seat. The gondolier, of course, stands at the other end paddling the boat with his long oar. He skilfully guides it away from the wharf and into a canal, following another boat. More gondolas follow us, one of them with musicians playing traditional Italian music. To be honest, I am so wide-eyed looking at the buildings, that I barely notice what instruments they’re playing, but I’m pretty sure one of them is a squeezebox.

Debbie & Jenny joke and intermittently roar with laughter – I especially love Debbie’s laugh, so infectious. Ray & Joy shamelessly put on a display of kissing for the keen photographers. Using Jenny’s tablet, Dory takes a great photo of us in the boat. We float slowly down the canals, under bridges. Each time we pass under a bridge, Jenny calls to the gondolier to watch his head.

“Oh,” he scoffs, “I do this for 35 years.”

A window opens from one of the buildings lining the canal and a woman looks out and waves to us.  We wave back, calling out buona sera. Gondolas glide past in the opposite direction.

Sitting in the gondola, drifting through the canals, it occurs to me that this my be a little corny, a tourist gimmick, but somehow that doesn’t matter. I can’t be cynical – the atmosphere is amazing.

About 20 minutes later we arrive back where we began. We must have done a lap of the block.

Once we are all back on the promenade, we follow Ashley up to the square where he directs us to a restaurant with tables outside. The people I’m with sit away from the group at the outer edge, since Jenny and Linda are smoking. It is almost dark and there’s a cool breeze, but I’m dressed warmly in my wind jacket. Lamps come on and the buildings around light up. Opposite is a grand white building, a palace I think.

We are given a drink each as part of the deal, and I enjoy a glass of bubbly. Closer in to the restaurant a trio plays music. All I can really see is a man playing a grand piano and another playing a violin. When they play the theme from the Titanic I’m mesmerised. They play it so beautifully, with such depth of feeling. It’s a cliche to talk about the romance of Venice, but the ambience all comes together. When I was a kid I was told about Venice, and it seemed amazing, like a fairytale, to hear about the buildings on canals, and the gondolas. I can’t believe that now I’m here, and it really does have that amazing atmosphere.

I leave the smokers’ group and go to chat to Ros & Merv. They are on this trip as part of celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. Ros always has a mischievous smile on her face, yet she seems so guileless. She asks me if I heard the laughing earlier. She says she didn’t realise the musicians don’t like people taking photos of them. When she did, one of the guys in the trio took out a camera and took a photo of her. She just posed and smiled and everyone laughed.

I don’t want to miss the music, but Ashley had told us the bigger square was further down, so I wander off to look at that. I’m not disappointed. It’s a much larger square, lined with attractive buildings, lit up subtly. Restaurants and gift shops line the square and there are groups of people gathered around ones on opposite sides of the square where there is live music. In the middle of the square people are constantly moving, and lights are propelled up into the sky and falling down again. An Indian guy approaches me to try to sell me one of the lights. He asks me to watch as he stretches back a rubber band to launch it, urging me to try it myself. When I refuse, he launches it himself and urges me to watch it. Ashley had warned us that this was a ploy to pickpocket while we were distracted, so I won’t even look up at it. He may have just been trying to sell it, and I would actually like one, but I’m too paranoid now about having my gear stolen.

I meander around, looking into shop windows at the glass artworks, before I return to the restaurant, which is near to our meeting point. During a break in the music, I ask the cost of their CD, and joyfully buy one from them for 20 Euros.

Next we board a boat similar to the one that brought us here and seat ourselves inside. Rafael, Aurora’s brother-in-law, (who everyone is calling Zorro tonight since he’s Mexican and dressed all in black) goes up to the deck, and urges Aurora to come up. Aurora then urges me to come up too. I had forgotten that now we were going up the Grand Canal, the main “street” of Venice. I am so glad she did – the sight is awesome, motoring through beautiful Venice lit up with lights.

We arrive back where we’d left the bus and board again to return to our hotel. I give Ashley the CD to play on the bus and I relax and listen, barely believing I’ve just been to Venice.

Arriving back at the hotel around midnight, I’m delighted to see my iPad greet me with “Hello”, rather than “iPad Disabled.” However, when I try to restore, it tells me it can’t reach the server. The  laptop is flat. I delve into the bag and find a power cord, but when I plug it in, nothing happens. Tired after my exciting evening, I decide to go to bed and worry about it in the morning.

After lying in bed for 10 minutes, I suddenly have a brainwave. The power cord I was using had been coiled up with a twist tie around it, so maybe it was the wrong one. I turn the light on, jump up and fish around in the bag. Yes! There’s another one that fits, and this time, the laptop comes alive. I stay up and continue with the restore before going to bed around 1:30am.