Not all who wander are lost. And yet sometimes some of us who wander are lost. Lost in the daily grind and the call of the road, the ocean or the mountains is irresistible.
Ironically, travel makes me feel more at home. I am not as well-traveled as other globetrotters, but the places I’ve visited have left a mark on my soul. And I’ve decided to start sharing some of these experiences right here.
I’ve received many questions about the header image of my blog. And yes, it is a picture I took myself. While on a tour in Venice.
I arrived in this Northern Italian city on Trenitalia, a comfortable intercity train, from Torino. If you ever go to Italy, go to Torino. This is my home in Italy. It doesn’t have the tourist sights and magic and commercial business attraction like the other cities. However, nestled on the border of Germany they have a unique culture blended from Germanic-Italian roots, that you won’t find anywhere else. And it is the home of Nutella. Need I say more?
Stepping out of the Santa Lucia train station I was hit by a sense of intense surrealism. Boats, gondolas, ferries right off the station steps took me into another world. I was tempted to stamp my feet on the ground, feel my face to make sure I was really there in person. And not in some kind of insane dream. There are no roads in Venice; I knew that. Yet to see this first hand was fantastic. In other cities, you exit the station onto the tarmac. Here, you just about step into the Grand Canal.
During a walking tour of Venice, our group squeezed through the tiniest calles (streets, or alley-like walkways unique to Venice). One particular calle was half a metre wide. I was still pondering the measurements of it when I passed by a doorway. Glancing inside as I walked past it I saw the most intriguing sight.
I was the last in the group so I didn’t stop. The others were not as impressed by this doorway as I was and had marched on ahead spilling out into a spacious courtyard. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I looked back and it called to me. Taking a risk of losing the group and getting lost in Venice, something which happens too easily in that maze of calles, I hurried back to the doorway.
The sight of moulding books, together with wheelbarrows, crates and a car bonnet was so unexpected that it was hypnotic. Also what was with those painted footprints? The postcard rack and table and chairs made it appear to be some kind of shop. But it was deserted. No shopkeeper. No customers. I longed to go inside, explore it and perhaps an eccentric bookshop owner will emerge with whom I could spend the entire afternoon talking. Over cappuccinos. I snapped a few pics, took one last longing look at this mysterious place and went back to the tour group who were already disappearing into another calle.
I intended to go back later that day. But Venice being what it is, you cannot navigate it easily. Not all the Calles have name signs, so even a map will not be much help. Tip: Google maps is not much better either. I glimpsed a man reading a map, turning it this way and that, looking at his surroundings, scratching his head. This was a sign which I ignored at my peril.
I did get lost in Venice. Later that afternoon. After the tour ended, I decided to explore, underestimating the complexities of the city walkways. Every courtyard looked the same. Hundreds of bridges and calles everywhere. When I thought I could retrace my steps I found myself on the other side of the city. By the Ponte Rialto bridge.
I panicked. My train back to Torino was leaving in half an hour. Not only that, but in another hour, dusk would fall and I had no desire to feel my way through the dark. Asking for directions didn’t help. Some suggested I take a boat on the Canal back to the station. But I needed to return back to my hotel to collect my backpack. Eventually, I found an old man reading a newspaper on a stool. I thought he was sitting idle, but it turned out he was watching his kiosk a few feet away. He was reluctant to help me get back to the station. I offered him money. He gladly changed his mind.
Already embarrassed at my situation it was even more embarrassing to find I could not keep up with the old man’s strides. Venetians are fit! With long graceful strides that are deceivingly brisk. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t drive to work and instead tramp along the cobbled calles every day to every place you need to go.
Half jogging behind him, shopping bags in hand full of souvenirs and gifts, I burst out in laughter when I finally saw the sign of my hotel. Thanking him in Italian, (it’s amazing what you remember in moments of panic or joy) I had five minutes to get to the station.
I never made it. Trains in Italy run on time. I was hoping for three minutes delay, but no such luck. As I ran into the station, the train pulled away. Forced to buy another ticket, I sat down and appreciated the fact that I had one more hour in this magical city.
Venice has many names. It is called City of Bridges or City of Canals. For me I will always remember it as the City that Humbled Me. Getting lost was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. And now as it’s unique little bookshop image squats happily on the header of my blog, it has taken up a literary space in my heart. Full of wonder, magic, possibilities and mis-guided adventures.