As a young girl, I remember being both fascinated by and curiously attracted to the world created in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: all that was the Goblin King and his mythical land of chaos and creature. Though I watched the film several times over the years, the maze and all its wonder was a memory filed away; a world, since “growing up”, that I never dreamed of entering.
Then, as a final stop in my tour of Italy, I reached Venice. Intrigued by tales of this city built atop a sea, I imagined a place where every building exits onto a street of water, one has to boat everywhere and where life is likely limited, a bit musty and constrained.
What I found, instead, was the complete embodiment of a fantasy, if one were to exist on this planet.
The city is, in fact, built in water; I exited the train station and was whisked into a water taxi to take me to my section of town. However, once there, I discovered that most of the city exists on top of the water: without motor vehicles – no trucks, cars, etc. Stores and groceries are stocked on foot, by cart. One walks everywhere, up and down massive flights of stairs, over and under bridges, and around and around incredibly narrow streets, some fitting no more than a person at a time and all resembling a giant maze.
By myself, lugging my suitcases up and down endless steps, I have to admit to sitting down for a good cry. I was seconds away from ditching the majority of my things and going with the bare necessities, when a gentleman came up to assist me over one hurdle of a bridge.
It took me an hour and a half to arrive at my hotel, simply because I was completely lost and confused. As I made my way through the front doors, dripping in sweat and seriously defeated, the front desk woman exclaimed in the best Italian accent, “Oh, distressed! Distressed!”. She ran to me and literally sat me down, thrusting a glass of water into my hands as the bellmen scurried for my things. She’d clearly done this before, and said that many travelers end up lost and exhausted.
But this was the last minute of “distress” I experienced in this phenomenal city. It was on my very first walk around that I began to feel like Jennifer Conley making her way to the castle. Only I was in no rush…
I met the Knockers:
Considered what’d I wear as David Bowie crooned about the world falling down:
And even almost ate from the Bog of Eternal Stench… (seriously… what is this?):
Full of all sorts of fantastic art and architecture the city, itself, is a museum; every step one takes serves as entrance to the next exhibit. From humorous, creepy gargoyles to ornately designed churches and palaces, Venice absolutely captures the imagination and makes one forget to rest, pay attention to where they are, even eat (though the gellatto is incredible).
I ran into a world traveller from China, Iris, who made her way about the city with me. Iris had been on the road for eight months, mostly couch surfing, and was planning another 6 months tacked on her journey. She told of both successes and fails during her stays with random people all over the world, all offering accommodations to her through websites. I admired what she was doing, but wondered if I could be that trusting or bold.
Iris and I made it a priority to attempt to find a Gondolier to take us about the city, but informed that a ride is $85 for fifteen minutes, we opted out, as many did. The Gondolier shared that business was down with the economy, and that he’d paid the equivalent of $36,000 for his boat, the most basic model being $30,000.
Perhaps the most fascinating of the stories we heard was told by the owner of a mask shop. Absolutely in love with his craft and the history of the masquerade, this man explained to us the meaning behind the different masks: for example, masks with curved bird beaks were worn by Venetian doctors to create distance between them and their patients, while cat masks were worn by gay men to “meow” compliments to other men they found to be good-looking.
My stay in Venice was much too short; the scare I’d had in Rome (Lesson #36) had pushed me to move up my flight home and, now, I found myself wishing I had more time. And just to complete my journey through The Labyrinth, my trip ended on a note I will never be able to explain. Iris and I followed our map to St. Mark’s Square, a walk which we were certain we made efficiently, and took 45 minutes to accomplish.
Concerned I would be late for my flight, I left a safe 60 minutes to make the walk back. In only 8 minutes, we found ourselves walking up to the front of my hotel, both staring at each other in confusion and amazement. We were convinced the streets shifted in our favor. It was truly baffling.
I returned home to rewatch Labyrinth, and found during a “making of”segment that the story was, in fact, inspired by a visit to Venice. Who wouldn’t be inspired to weave this tale after being there? Venice is amazing, an absolutely perfect inspiration for a most artistic and fantastical world.