Trip in Venice by Susan Mellsopp
“I can’t see your map” I kept repeating to the frazzled woman behind the counter at the Stazione di Santa Lucia. I had just arrived in Venice and despite her original instructions, and hauling my suitcase back and forth over the nearby bridge, I could not find my accommodation. Having returned to the tourist office at the station I lifted my white cane up several times in the vain hope the woman would realise her map was of little use to me. Defeated, hot, tired and sticky I asked another backpacker for help. My hostel was up a narrow lane directly opposite the bridge, no more than 100 yards from the train station.
The receptionist, if you could call him that, was grumpy and odd. He kept insisting, despite the fact I was waving my booking made months ago at him, I would have to wait for the other people staying in the room as he had no key. Trying to explain I was on my own he relented and a rather rusty, long and obviously medieval key was produced. It proved to be temperamental and often refused to open the door. I had to admit it was better than those awful keypads on which I always press the wrong numbers. Falling over the well-worn step, obviously trodden by centuries of Venetians, and accidently flinging my suitcase across the room, I found myself in a dark cavern. I could not locate the light switch. After walking into a table and knocking my knees on a bed a dull glow allowed me to pull tiny curtains which gave me a miniscule amount of light and revealed a beautiful manicured garden beyond.
Desperate for a shower I discovered it was not suited to my proportions. I squeezed in sideways and popped like a cork into the cubicle. At least the door shut but I did wonder how I was going to get out. The instructions on how to work the shower were faded, in about eight languages, and size four font. Taking a risk I pressed a button and then turned a lever, the water was freezing! Washing off ten hours of train grime, I used my magnifier later and memorised the shower instructions.
Exploring Venice was more challenging than I had anticipated. The maps were tiny and no one seemed prepared to put one through a photocopier and enlarge it. I resorted to my old travel trick; taking off my glasses and holding the map under my right eye. I soon discovered I could not read any signs, they were painted on walls or in tiny print, difficult for a short, middle aged tourist with poor sight. No one seemed willing to help and apparently had no perception of what my white cane meant. Engrossed in my map reading exercise I walked straight into a very elegantly dressed elderly couple. Giving me a haughty ‘we are not amused’ stare they continued on their perambulations. The temptation to shake my white cane at them soon subsided.
The colours of Venice exploded all around me. I stared in blurred amazement at the rich hues shimmering on palace walls, the many boats on the Grand Canal and the sparkling lagoon which imploded with colourful reflections. I discovered tiny churches with priceless paintings on their walls, an exhibition of the music of Vivaldi replete with a display of very old cellos, my favourite instrument. I was soon told off for peering too closely at them, apparently I was in danger of setting off alarms. The Doges Palace was light and airy, unlike so many other palaces I had visited in Europe which were dark and stuffy. As I wandered, inevitably lost, I soon discovered narrow paths meant people did not move over. I frequently hit people on the legs with my cane and even risked pushing a few into canals.
I travelled free on the vaporetto, unable to locate where I could purchase a ticket. I could not figure out how to share a trip on a gondola and spent two hours trying to find the designated backpack office so I could visit St Marks. Sadly I found the pigeons to be much friendlier than many of the locals.
Then I fell near the Rialto Bridge. I had been carefully negotiating the many steps up and over the canals for days but one moment of inattention on a rough cobbled path saw me sprawled with my cane flung dangerously near the canal and my glasses lying nearby on the cobbles. No one came to help, where were those gorgeous bottom pinching Italians when I needed one, or a homely Nona out doing her shopping. My knee was bleeding and very sore, my ankle twisted and my hands grazed. Fearful I might have to abandon my holiday and fly home I drenched myself in anti-inflammatories and attempted to walk off the injuries.
Taking a break from the humid heat one afternoon I found myself sitting opposite a large man in a terracotta suit who was perspiring profusely. He stared at me for several minutes while I devoured a large chocolate ice cream and attempted to fix my cane which was sagging at an odd angle and refusing to fold up. Assuming I could not see him this obese man suddenly began to play with himself. Bursting into laughter I was very tempted to ask if he wanted one of my anti-inflammatories.
Handing in my ancient key early one morning I hauled my suitcase over the bridge for the last time. I left Venice enchanted with its surreal beauty. As the city faded into the distance I already dreamt of returning. Suddenly a young rather scruffy American insisted I had his seat, I had misread 31 for 13. The joys of travelling blind!
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