We were all set to gather our impression of the land of Galileo, Leonardo, Monica Bellucci and of course the inimitable Ferrari- ITALY. We were to board our night train to Italy from Paris. Experience had wised us up enough to discard the idea of taking the economical buses to the station.We opted for the taxi instead. Our life in Dubai and India had spoiled us enough and we were completely unfit to carry the burden of our luggage minus the escalators, or the humble coolies. It was indeed an eye opener to see small school going children frolicking with their huge back packs as they walked in organized lines following their scout leaders escorting them, probably to a summer camp at some picturesque location. Clearly fitness was ingrained into their way of life. The railway stations were neat but minus any frills.
One of the passing thoughts frequenting our minds in this trip was “Dubai actually spoils”. Fitness there means looking trim, but it also means visiting the gym at least 5 times during the week. Walking outdoors as an exercise regime is option only during the cool winter months or very early in the mornings. People consider themselves self-reliant, but in reality their dependence on power (electricity) and other resources is substantial-such dependency is most often taken for granted. A metro station or any other place is unimaginable without escalators. With sweltering temperatures through most part of the year, people are used to AC waiting booths at bus stands. While water is scarce commodity in desert, the paradox is that most houses come equipped with a bath tub.
We dumped our luggage at the station. Since we were two families traveling together, we took turns to visit an Indian restaurant near the station, while the other family kept an eye on the luggage. There, at the restaurant was brotherhood at its best. It was heartening to discover that the restaurant was owned jointly by a jovial Indian and a suave yet reserved Pakistani.
I remember very little about the train journey, excepting the two friendly Korean students traveling along with us. We were tired and slept through the night. In the morning before reaching our destination we discovered the beautiful greenery expanding right beyond our window. All the same this train journey was not comparable to the beauteous landscape witnessed from the Glacier Express in Switzerland. I was sure that as this journey unfolds, it too will offer a plethora of unique experiences, not replicated by any other journey.
When we reached Venice, the weather was divine. We dumped our luggage in our hotel and freshened up to savor the idyllic city. We took a bus to reach the old Venice, the real Venice, with houses peaking over the water and the romantic Gondolas.
Venice is a city of many petite islands, improved during the middle Ages. The soil was dredged to elevate the marshy floor above the tides. The canals thus formed inspired a nautical culture to thrive. In today’s times this culture still flourishes and the canals serve as means of conveyance for both the people and goods. Because of its car free zone, Venice is mostly free of the trail of carbon footprints left by the beasts of modern times- engulfing most cities today.
As we waited for the Gondola ride we witnessed a beautiful photo shoot of a blushing bride in white and the suave bridegroom. The kids again found an entertainment option not quiet realized by most adults. They were fascinated by the beautiful tiny pet dogs stylized and dressed up. They clicked snaps of and with the furry bundles of joy- cuddling and petting them.
We had to literally pull and shove them into the gondola. The Gongola’s were decked up in their finery and we felt the romantic vibes taking grip of us. The Gondola man even obliged us with a romantic Italian song. As the sun began to be knocked off to sleep, the soothing gondola ride, the expanding twilight, the sky just beginning to be bejeweled by the glittery stars, the soft folds of ripple on the water –were beginning to intoxicate us.
While my son followed the boatman’s song with “row row row your boat”-my daughter’s lively imagination propelled her to the way of the Italian people in the olden times. The gondola swerved into smaller water channels, compressed by the rows of houses projecting on either side. The balcony of most houses were decorated by a riot of colorful flowers. I imagined a fair maiden peeping out of the balcony, glancing shyly at the boatman who had purposefully directed his boat there-to glance at lady of his heart…hmmm I know too vivid a imagination!!!-but that’s was just the Gondola ride playing tricks on my mind.
After the relaxing ride we thought it best to return to the restaurant and grab some food and much needed rest.
We woke up rejuvenated the next day ready for new adventures. We took a ferry for our visits to the islands in Venice. The ferry gave us 30 min to 2hrs time (depending on what the Island had to offer) to raid the marvels of these delightful Island.
We were fascinated by the simplest things like the colorful and vibrant houses, the cobbled streets, the modest hand pumps, and the abounding nature. The children delighted in the many unlikely things like wild flowers, cocks, hens and farm animals, insects and even the snails on the ferns. We realized that our mundane life in distanced us from nature. We lived an artificial life- our every moment dictated and guided by technology.
Time passed unconstrained here, and we wanted to relish each tiny speck of this world leisurely. I loved every hand crafted product that was displayed- from the brocade table cloth, to the small dresses, to the handmade biscuit and chocolate. I even wanted to pack and take home the beautifully designed wedding gowns.
The amused smile on my husband’s lips shoved me back to reality. Had it not been for the constant nudging of my punctual hubby, we would have missed the bus- oops the boat- each time. Habits do die hard- but this time my husband’s “sticky habit” served us well.
At one of the island’s we saw an amazing glass museum and were given a demo about this amazing craft. It was astounding to watch the scorched molten glass guided into incredible shapes by the dexterous hands of the skilled craftsman- into a beautiful vase, a dainty horse, a sleek statue within seconds.
The glass shop was full of enticing souvenirs and stunning functional items like clocks, decorative etc. When we returned to our boat for the ride back home we were drained off all strength but our heart willed us to invade more islands, and take pleasure in their glory.