My English friend and I left the beautiful apartment on the Anfiteatro in Lucca, she home to Bromsgrove in the West Midlands, and I toward Budapest and my old friends with a guesthouse near the famous synagogue. I was treating myself to a private compartment on the overnight leg of the journey, from Venice to Vienna, and had several hours to visit La Serenissima between trains. I’d spent time in Venice twice before and I couldn’t think of anything better than walking and reminding myself how much I loved Fairyland.
I arrived at Santa Lucia Station in the late afternoon and found the left luggage facility alongside the last platform. There was no one waiting and the guys running the operation were jolly, another pleasant memory to add to all the others.
I planned to have an early dinner at the the railway workers’ cafeteria I’d enjoyed so much during my last visit. A right turn out the front of the station is where it should have been, but it wasn’t. I searched all around thinking I was remembering wrongly, but it was gone. I’d so looked forward to it, the interesting women dishing out the good, cheap and plentiful plates of food, the glasses of wine, and the barman for an espresso after. I resigned myself to the backup option, anywhere that was open that wasn’t too expensive.
I set off in the opposite direction, along the Rio Terrà Lista di Spagna into Cannaregio, in the direction I knew would take me through the lanes and across bridges toward Rialto and eventually San Marco. But I had no plans to go that far.
Before crossing the first bridge, I stopped and looked down Fondamenta Venier Sebastiano to the left, toward Hotel Hesperia where I stayed on my second visit to the city. My room overlooked the canal and I could watch the vaporetti arriving, loading and leaving the pier at Guglie. Across the bridge then and on along Rio Terrà San Leonardo, a right turn onto Calle del Pistor to its end at the bridge across the Rio di San Marcuola, then Rio Terrà Maddalena across Rio della Maddalena to Strada Nuovo and I knew I was almost where I wanted to be.
I paused at the church, Chiesa Dei Santi Apostoli, behind which is the Hotel Giorgione, where I stayed for 2 weeks on my first visit to Venice with an Alitalia air & hotel package. Behind the church in the other direction is the hardware store where I’d bought a green-glazed flower pot that I see every day all these years later. Venice, I knew, was unlike any other city on Earth and I wanted to just stay and love it. It was early spring, cool and sometimes drizzly and the Giorgione was the perfect place.
I had arrived at the water steps, that first time, in front of Santi Apostoli by water taxi from the airport, included in the package and near the hotel. I loved the neighborhood, the hotel was a long block off the main drag and very quiet, while still close the streets that were easy to navigate. Now, a right turn from the church and the bridge across the Rio dei Santi Apostoli brought me where I wanted to be on my changing-trains afternoon and I began to look for a place to eat.
The neighborhood is one of tightly packed, tidy shops of all kinds and the street turns a number of times before crossing another bridge on the way to Rialto. In the mornings the shopkeepers wash the night away from their pieces of sidewalk before they open. The goods sold aren’t the designer variety found nearer San Marco, more affordable, as are the restaurants, and I found what I was looking for, a small place that was serving dinner early.
I went in, the only customer at that uncivilized hour, sat, ordered and ate, nothing special but pleasant, before retracing my steps on the leisurely walk back to the station, with time for detours, reminiscences and picture-taking. It was, without a doubt, the best layover of my life.
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