Date: September 27th, 2014
(Also George Clooney’s Wedding weekend)
I set my alarm for 6:15am for the last morning on board the beautiful Royal Clipper. I went to the sun deck for our entrance in to Venice, passing by St. Mark’s Square just as the clock struck 7am, slightly before sunrise.
It was and overcast and dreary morning, but calm, peaceful and surreal. I enjoyed a few minutes lost in my own thoughts. It is incredibly hard to believe that I have already done and seen so much in seven days and that I would be on my own as soon as I stepped off the boat.
New friends were made, both with the guests and staff on board, and as always, it is bittersweet when you say goodbye to something you enjoyed so much.
I made my rounds to say goodbye to the guests I had met on board, as well as a handful of staff who had made the trip extra enjoyable. Most guests disembark as early as possible. We were advised that after docking, the ship would be cleared by approximately 8:45am. I believe it was actually cleared by about 8:15am and guests started checking out, most heading directly to the airport for onward flights.
Myself, since I wasn’t heading to the airport, I took my time. I wandered around and then sat in the Tropical Bar until shortly after 9:30am. Our luggage was already on shore and would only be guarded by Star Clippers staff until 10am. I followed the exit signs directly to my luggage which was one of about 10 bags remaining. And then the real adventure began!
From the port, I made my way across the bumpy pathway, with my rolling suitcase, camera gear back pack and shoulder laptop Lug bag (thanks Pat Currie), up and down over one little bridge with stairs that I had to life my luggage up, to the yellow water bus shelters and had a look around. It was about a five minute walk from where I had picked up my luggage, so not far. The cruise director had told me to catch the #1 or #6 water taxi into St. Mark’s square and then I would need to switch to a new water taxi to get to Rialto. It was easy enough to determine which water bus to load (or so I thought), but I had to ask someone to point me in the direction to buy tickets.
A couple of blocks away in a little convenience store, I purchased a one way ticket for the water taxi (7 Euro) and headed back to the shelter. There, I validated the ticket (or at least I think I did) by putting the bar code up to the machine. It didn’t get punched or stamped, just scanned. I guess if the water taxi staff ask to see it they can then determine when it was used or if it is valid, but I didn’t actually see any instructions on what to do when you scan it or how you know if it worked or not.
I looked at the sign outside the shelter and chose the one that showed both St. Mark’s Square and Rialto stops on it. I walked timidly into the water taxi shelter. Picture a bus shelter in the city, make it 10 times larger and bopping up and down on the Grand Canal while people wait for their water taxi.
When the #1 arrived, people piled off and then I got swept up in the crowd of people who were piling on. Don’t forget, all the while, manoeuvring my two carry ons and a heavy suitcase (on wheels).
After hearing so many horror stories of pick pockets in Venice, I had made sure that my money and passport were in a bag in front of me so that I wouldn’t be oblivious to someone trying to open a zipper on my bag. I found myself a spot (or rather made myself a spot) in the centre of the water taxi near the area that said luggage, planted my feet and hoped that my backpack wouldn’t be pilfered.
By about the second stop I had been bumped and jostled so many times that I wouldn’t have known if I was pick-pocketed or not. The water taxi was packed … just like sardines, as they say! I swear that every time 10 people got off the boat, 15 got on. The water taxi attendants constantly yelling at people to move inside. People continually ignoring the yelling and staying in the middle of the boat rather than moving in through the doors to take a seat. Normally staff would yell in Italian, but occasionally they would bark it out in English as well.
I wasn’t budging. You could not pay me enough to move all the way inside with my luggage when I could barely turn far enough to look over my shoulder. I figured it made more sense for someone traveling with no luggage to go inside. So, I stood my ground. He didn’t ask me to move, so I figured I was ok.
At the third or fourth stop a local lady started disgustedly talking to me in Italian. I’m sure you’ve heard that Italians are loud and use their hands and gesture a lot? Well, it’s true! This lady went on in a huff, speaking directly to me in Italian. Finally when I shrugged my shoulders as I had no idea what she was talking about she said to me in English ‘Don’t you understand me? Take your backpack off!’ and then she continued to push her way off the boat, complaining to the water taxi staff about my backpack.
At the time, I thought she was telling me to take my backpack off because it wasn’t safe to have it on my back due to pick pocketing. No, in this particular case she wasn’t trying to be nice and helpful to a tourist … instead she was annoyed because my backpack was in her way and makes it hard to manoeuvre on the boat!
I took my backpack off and set it between my feet with my laptop bag on top of my backpack and my rolling suitcase beside me.
Finally, I got off at St. Mark’s Square, nearly run over by the swarm of people (nearly the entire full water taxi) trying to get off at the same time.
Looking back, I’m really not sure how I kept my sanity. It was my first time in Venice, it happened to be a Saturday and loads of extra people were in town hoping for a glimpse of Clooney.
I looked around at the signs and had been told that I needed to catch a different vaporetto to the Rialto. Funny enough it was then that I realized if I had gotten on a different boat to begin with, it would have taken a different route and gone to the Rialto stop early on and then continued to St. Mark’s square. Ah well … it was just an hour of my time, no big deal right? It’s all about the experience!
I stopped at the ticket booth and asked how to get to the Rialto stop. They pointed me down the canal a few hundred meters to a different ‘station’ and told me that I needed a new ticket. So, I bought a new ticket, lugged all of my stuff to another station.
If you look at the photos above, you can see the signage that tells you which station you need to go to – ABCD etc, then a photo of the signage with the letter code and finally, a photo of the actual vaporetto shelter on the water (see the letter ‘D’ on the signs).
When I arrived at my station, I started the whole process over again; Shuffling on to the water taxi that was already full, trying to secure a spot with my luggage, making sure I took my backpack off and trying to keep my balance while also being aware of possible pick pockets.
Four or five stops later, I scrambled, as best I could, off the boat as not to annoy the locals with my slowness. I was exhausted from both the physical challenge of transporting my luggage, the walking, balancing on the boat while being bumped and jostled, not to mention all of the brain power it takes to find your way through a maze of a completely new area. Thankfully my hotel was only another few hundred meters away!
Oh wait, I still needed to go across one or two small bridges through a hoard of eager George Clooney stalkers who were lining the streets on both sides of the canal just waiting for his ‘possible’ appearance sometime in the next few hours.
Just in case you are wondering … I did not see him that weekend. Sadly, his schedule was full and he couldn’t fit me in for a lunch date.
Finally, I made it to my hotel but my room wasn’t ready yet. I opted to sit down in the lobby and wait rather than store my luggage and explore. My brain needed to unwind so that I could keep my sanity. Besides, I needed a shower in case I accidentally bumped into the groom!