Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 26: Ravenna and Venice

After a long day of walking around Bologna I crawled onto a train to Ravenna, where I had arranged a couch to surf on. I was staying with fellow Couch Surfer, Robby. I'm constantly astounded how an email can catalyze a real friendship. Another amazing experience for my Couch Surfing success list. Couch Surfing – my backstage pass to the culture. Robby showed me so much culture that I barely slept!

Before we opened his door, we were greeted by laughter. I followed Robby inside and saw he had a handful of friends over. After spending the day on my feet I wasn't expecting a relaxing soak in the tub, but I wasn't expecting a party. As I was introduced to one person after another, their names blended together and I felt bad for not remembering any of them. Exhausted, I joined them, sitting around a table. I felt slightly awkward, unsure of what to do or how to act. However, when they offered me food, I happily obliged. Sausage calmed my nerves.

Robby and friends – what a group!

The wine flowed and food was plentiful, thanks to Robby's own in-kitchen fireplace. Contrary to popular belief, every Italian kitchen doesn't have a fireplace.

The morning after. That's the fireplace, below the stairs.

Robby's and his friends were speaking a mile a minute in Italian. Laughing at one another and smiling. While most of the conversation was incomprehensible, Robby graciously translated and summarized. I really appreciated him including me. I was never a part of a fraternity in college but I feel that Couch Surfing is similar. They joked about this and that, made fun of each other for anything and everything they could think of. One of them burned the vegetables so bad they were inedible. He got ranked on all night. From Robby's translations, everyone got their fair share of verbal abuse. These were good people.

We all nearly wet our pants when Robby's chair broke!

Hanging out with Robby and his friends gave me another glimpse into how Italians live their lives. Robby and his friends are all around 30 and they still live with their parents. In Italy this is completely normal. In America moving back with your parents is a fate worse than death. For Italians, home is a comfortable place to be. "Italians are lazy," he laughed. Even if they are, I think Americans are too uptight about moving back home and work in general. We focus on independence in terms of financial success while Italians focus on enjoying life. Someone once told me that Americans live to work and Europeans work to live. This got me thinking about myself. I feel compelled to work, but I enjoy working. Perhaps after more time in Europe I won't be so sure! Take this blog for example. Posting three times a week is a metric ton of work, but I enjoy it. By forcing myself to produce I must formulate my own thoughts and learn about the world. Many of the highest points of my life were the result of incredible amounts of work. Take the Pratt year book for example. We may not have slept the week before our deadline but it's something I'll have forever and look at how many people's lives we improved in the process. While my work ethic has benefitted me in a multitude of ways, at some point during my European travels I would like to open myself to this 'lazy' way of life. I'm sure I'll discover a part of myself in the process.

Italian generalization #2, "Italians stay up late." We chatted around the table until it was two. Some people had already left, and we decided it was time to leave also. To the bar. Since the bar was right next to the train station, I joked with Robby "Thanks for showing me around." Inside the dark wood paneling produced a relaxed smokey tavern sort of atmosphere. Perhaps there was a full moon or something because the bar was replete with a ridiculous cast of characters. We were greeted by a man slumped over a table who had taken out his teeth and left them on display. The booth behind us was occupied by another woman and a man. She looked about 40 years older than him and she was so drunk she couldn't even stand up. She kept knocking her beer over while the man kissed her. However, the best was a man who was lying on a bench in the back of the bar. He was asleep and snoring loudly. We laughed at him so hard that I think every bar should have one as a selling point. Amidst conversation, two of Robby's friends started playing with a deck of cards that I had never seen before. The suits were the same as the tarot but they were playing cards. Apparently this is a classic Romagnole deck of cards. Intrigued, I learned two games and was excited to buy my own pack tomorrow.

Image courtesy of Andy's Playing Cards

The next morning, fueled by 3 hours of sleep, Robby showed me around Ravenna. Ravenna is famous for its mosaics. I believe it's where the mosaic was first invented. Of course you've got to pay to see the exquisite ones. Robby took me to see one in a church, and you get what you pay for. For a mere €0,50 you could see a mosaic in the church that had been flooded. It was totally neat. Despite the mosaic, my favorite part was putting the coin in the slot to turn on the lights. Unfortunately time wasn't on our side, and that's all I got to see of Ravenna. We stayed out to 6 and I left on a train to Venice at 10:30. I had a blast staying with Robby, despite how briefly I surfed on his couch. Who's got time for sleep when you've made six new friends and you're headed to Venice?

Ravenna's main square, decked out for the holidays.
A flooded mosaic in the church basement. See the fish?
Brooklyn represent!
Thanks again, Robby!

If I had to pick, my mental equivalent to Venice is Atlantis. The only images I've seen are from art history textbooks and TV and Venice always seemed like more than a city – an ancient wonder. You can imagine the excitement I felt when I decided to visit. Despite the rain, I was excited to see it for myself. Yet somehow, as the train skimmed towards the city and we passed an oil refinery, I felt like I was going to the Jersey Shore. Thankfully the feeling was fleeting, and as I emerged from the train station the city's beauty shone through.

Venice, right out of the train station.

I've been putting together a list of travel tips and was eager to try out Ross' Recommendation #6, don't buy maps. I made a beeline for the first hotel I saw in search of a free map. I learned that Venicians walk nothing like bees. I was lead down a maze of twisty little roads, bridges, and dead ends. When I found the hotel and got my map, I was so lost that the shoddy map they gave me was useless! Thankfully someone at a caffĂ© took pity on me and asked if I needed help. After the two hours it took me to get to my hostel I soaked up a lot of sights, and a lot of rain. The best part is, my hostel was right by the train station, literally a short walk across the bridge from where I arrived. Even better, the map they gave me had all the names of the streets. Lesson: HostelWorld has convenient "from the station" directions to your hostel – follow them.

Pretty surreal.
Classic Italian businessmen.

If any of you, lovely readers, decide to visit Venice, don't buy a map, but do get good directions to your hotel from the train station. Oh, and follow the signs, they're the only way to get around. Your best bet is to wander aimlessly and be thankful when you find something you wanted to see. Perhaps we could draw some parallels between Venice's street plan and European lifestyles.

By the time I got set up in the hostel it was dark. Did I mention that Venice is gorgeous at night?

Everyone out and about.
I loved these snowflakes!
Anyone up for a swim?
Too bad I couldn't find a date that would pay for dinner.
Who can resist?
Per Rialto.
One of my favorite photos.
Some big church things.
Who's up for a kiss?
In Venice, even drug deals are stylish.
Santa Maria della Salute.
Santa Maria photomerge. Wide angle lenses are for suckers.
My favorite photo. Note the gondolas.
During 'high water' people walk on the platforms on the left.
Piazza San Marco.
Piazza San Marco - the water was bubbling up through the stones.
Headed back to the hostel.
I feel bad for the mail man.

After a long day of aimless meandering, it was time for bed. Meno Mali. Seeing Venice was a treat. Although it wasn't the Atlantis that I had dreamed about, any city where you can step out of your house and drown is pretty sweet. Ciao!

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  1. oh you're making me very jealous! Looks like you had a great time couch surfing. Venice was amazing huh? I can't wait to go back!

  2. Big luck ;) Only a few days ago Venice had a very high water!
    By the way... I forgot to tell you that the Palio is on the 2nd of July and on the 16th of August.



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