So, we’re back after the weekend. Did everyone have a great Fourth of July? (Sorry, non-American readers. And by that, I mean I’m sorry you don’t love FREEDOM as much as us.) My weekend was fantastic! Just a really, really solid weekend. And, fear not, I am finally settled into my new place — and more importantly, my new kitchen — so Gwyneth recipes will continue shortly. Good news for you, terrible news for me. (On a related note, here is a sampling of the types of things I had to pack up and move from my old kitchen to my new: Vegenaise, three different kinds of flour, a big bottle of fish sauce, frozen duck fat. What has my life become?) Anyway, let’s talk about Italy some more!
After leaving Positano, we boarded a train for Venice. Arriving at the Venice station was, at first glance, like arriving at any other station. And then we walked out the front, and instead of a busy street swarming with cars, we were on the edge of a bustling dock. The water taxi ride to the hotel was an experience in mindfuckery, as we sped through boat-clogged “streets,” passed under a slew of bizarre bridges, and eventually were deposited in some small alley right off of St. Mark’s Square at the Hotel Danieli. Which, in keeping with the theme of the trip, was one of the best hotels I’ve ever seen (it was even talked about in The Tourist, apparently. So there’s that).
It looked a bit like Hogwarts. Winding staircases, dramatic architecture, and stained glass everywhere. We asked the concierge how old the hotel was. “Oh, more or less six hundred years?” she casually replied. Oh, right. More or less. Just three times as old as our entire country.
A lobby. From the 1400s.
We were led throughout a labyrinth, desperately trying to take note of any landmarks along the way to ensure we could find our way out of the hotel, and eventually wound up at our rooms. The concierge also gave us invitations to a special party that evening on the rooftop terrace, celebrating the release of Ferrari’s newest champagne. There would be free champagne and food, we were promised. SOLD.
But first, we had to find our way back to the lobby. Somehow, we managed. Although we hadn’t even left our hotel, Venice already had our heads spinning. In the lobby, we met Eddie, a good friend of mine and Nikki’s, who is currently living in Germany and agreed to hop on a flight to come visit us for a few days in Venice. You know, just popping down to Venice for the weekend. Totally normal.
Bolstered by our newest member (and, thank god, an actual male presence for the first time in a week), we hit the “streets” of Venice for some sightseeing. We didn’t have a plan aside from wandering and attempting, futilely, to get a sense of direction. Which is more or less impossible in Venice. The best you can do is get a general idea of landmarks and use those to attempt to move in a straight line — St. Mark’s Square is ahead that way, the Rialto Bridge is back that way, so let’s cross this random bridge? It’s pretty delightful, actually.
Much like the other sights in Italy, Venice is bigger and more complex than I had imagined. I’ve heard about places like Rome, Pompeii, and Venice my entire life, so I expected them all to be disappointing compared to 20 years’ worth of imagination and expectations. Instead, I was routinely astonished by the scope of Italy. Somehow, the entire country outdoes your expectations. Everything is bigger, better, and more exciting than you’ve been led to believe. It’s like Tokyo — it will always exceed your wildest dreams.
The day was also filled with some ironic foreshadowing. On the water taxi ride to the hotel we passed an ambulance, which caused someone to remark, “This is not the kind of city you would want to need an ambulance in.” Later, when traversing many a bridge, I wondered aloud, “How do crippled people even get around in this city?” And thirdly, we all were taking bets on who would be the first person to fall into a canal. The group unanimously decided it would be Sara. This provided us with much entertainment later.
We wandered aimlessly for a while, simply enjoying how utterly bizarre Venice was. Every street was unique (and sometimes had upwards of three street names, just to add to the confusion), so we were greeted by exciting new sights at every turn. Eventually, however, we got hungry, and decided to head back to the hotel for some free stuff. We were not missing out on this party.
The rooftop terrace (if you can find it) is fantastic. The view is sweeping and dramatic, and if you find yourself invited to an exclusive champagne release party, it’s even better. However, we stupidly did not assume we had to dress up for the party, so we arrived in our T-shirts and jeans, sweaty, covered in dust, as we were greeted by men in full tuxedos and women in gowns. We were immediately handed a glass of champagne with a small flower nestled at the bottom of the glass, and we awkwardly shuffled onto the overly classy terrace, attempting to act as if we belonged.
Classy affair. Note the embarrassing American in khakis, going to get more free food.
To add to the embarrassment, we were early. The party started at 7:30 — we arrived at 7:35. Classy! The good news was this allowed more time to enjoy free champagne and an absolutely amazing buffet (all the mussels, oysters, fresh risotto, and 200 other kinds of seafood you can eat!). The bad news was this also meant when the actual guests of the party arrived, they were greeted by us schmucks.
It quickly became apparent that the Ferrari people had invited Venice’s finest — these people were rich, successful, and beautiful — and, in exchange for hosting it, the hotel had invited all of its guests. As the party filled up, the crowd was clearly divided down the middle. On one half, mingling around the DJ and champagne flutes, were the beautiful Venetians in their tuxedos and dresses. On the other half, huddled on the couches in sweaty T-shirts and fanny packs, with over-laden plates perched awkwardly on their knees, a champagne glass in one hand and two free breadsticks in the other, were the hotel guests, all of whom were American, 98% of whom were Jewish.
But we didn’t care how foolish we all looked in comparison, because we were a part of that 98%, so we will suffer whatever indignities and embarrassment thrown at us in exchange for free food. And did I mention the free champagne?! There were actually four tables scattered around the terrace, each offering a different cocktail made with the new champagne (which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even catch the name of. Whoops!). So, of course, I had to sample every cocktail. This, however, required winding your way through the crowd of people who are much, much better than you will ever be, standing in line among said gods and goddesses, and then pretending like you are interested in what kind of ginger extract the waiter is pouring into your champagne, when all you really care about is getting your grubby fingers around that free glass. I got quite good at pretending I was interested in purchasing a bottle of champagne from each station, and I even noted when the bartenders switched shifts, so I could score a second glass from the table. Sure, the Venetians were rich and successful and beautiful, but I guarantee the American side of the party was enjoying themselves more.
Aunt Dana (smiling, tiny, at right) tries and fails to fit in.
The woman on the right had LEGS (and Louboutins). I took a covert picture of her legs.
To sum up how much the Americans felt like fish out of water (and, really, if I was in charge of the party for Ferrari, I never would have let us in — we totally cheapened the whole affair), here is a glimpse of what it was like on our side of the party:
Boston Couple, to me: Are we supposed to eat the flower in the bottom of the glass?
Me: Um… I don’t think so?
(Over their shoulders, I see an elderly Jew on a nearby couch, his mouth filled with flowers, looking quite disgusted.)
I loved every second of the party. But, after six glasses of champagne and three plates of food, we decided we would like to have an actual dinner in Venice. (“What are we leaving for? To eat again? Eat these free breadsticks!” my Jewish grandmother implored.) So we left, now completely tipsy, and somehow found our way to a restaurant on the other side of the city. We had a rather unremarkable dinner, although it may have just seemed that way because we were all drunk. After dinner, we pointed Grandma and Aunt Dana back in the general direction of the hotel, and us three kids and Eddie headed out for a piazza we had heard was the go-to spot for nightlife in Venice. What followed would be one of the longest nights of my life.
We knew we had found the right spot as we neared the piazza from the roar of teenaged voices. Coming around the corner, we were greeted by a massive square, ringed with bars and cafes, filled with young, drunk Italians. This place — and I forget the name, and am too lazy to look it up, but definitely find it if you’re going to Venice and want to get obliterated one night — was fantastic. You simply walk into any of the numerous bars surrounding the piazza, order a drink, take it into the square, find a few spare cobblestones, and have a seat.
After only a few minutes, I noticed a familiar-looking group of three young guys standing right next to us. “Hey, those guys were on our Vatican tour!” I said. (They stood out to me because one of them asked our tour guide almost immediately, “If I commit a crime here, would I be tried under Italian law or Vatican?” which stumped the guide, and which I found hilarious.) Sara immediately bolted over to them and said, “You guys were at the Vatican with us!” This sort of thing passes for a very normal greeting when drinking in Venice.
Our new friends — three med students from Germany, it turns out — joined us, and we quickly became close in the strange way you do when traveling. You go from complete strangers to best friends in ten minutes, making arrangements to visit each other in your respective countries and immediately sending friend requests on Facebook. It’s one of the best parts of traveling. We also became friends with a couple guys from Canada, one guy from, like, Zimbabwe, and a girl who claimed to be from Italy although I’m still skeptical, on account of her American accent.
Seeing as three of these guys were Germans (and I should take the time here to apologize to them, if they’re reading — I’m really, truly, very sorry about all the Nazi jokes. When I get drunk around Germans, my brain tells me, “Whatever you do, DON’T mention the Holocaust,” so then of course I feel compelled to mention it as often as possible. I’m especially sorry for heiling a couple times), we had to try to match them with drinks, which is why I was soon ordering an entire bag of beers from a cafe.
Then things get blurry. A Ferrari champagne release party, followed by a couple bottles of wine at dinner, followed by bags of beer will do that to your memory. But here’s what I know happened for sure: I had to go to the bathroom. Rather than entering one of the 50 bars in the area and using their bathroom, I drunkenly must have thought, “Venice’s streets are like open-air urinals! Perfect!” and I decided to pee in a canal. I unzipped, took a moss-covered step to get closer to the water, and next thing I knew my legs were flying through the air.
My lower half went IN the canal, and I must have used my right arm to stop my fall, because my right forearm was covered in blood. I laughed at the absurdity of it all, returned to the group, and we took a few pictures of my bloody arm. In spite of this, we made plans to meet up with the Germans in the same location the next night, and then we parted ways.
Attempting to walk back to the hotel, I quickly realized something was very, very wrong. If I tried to move my right leg and hip at all, intense pain shot through that half of my body like searing lava. I hobbled for a while, but the non-stop flow of really inappropriate swear words cued my sisters in that something was wrong, and soon enough they were carrying me down the streets of Venice, my arms around each of their shoulders.
Showing off the wound.
This is actually kind of drunkenly charming. Christmas picture, perhaps?
Seeing as we were miles away from our hotel, and lost in the winding streets of Venice, the walk back was anything but fun. I tried to help my sisters as much as possible, but going up and down hundreds bridges with what feels like a leg made of FIRE does not make you an easy traveling partner. It didn’t help that the group had been relying on my usually great sense of direction to get us around for the past week, but I was in no position to figure out the cardinal directions anymore. Eddie ran ahead of us to try to scout out which alleys turned into dead ends. We had to backtrack several times. The labyrinthine streets of Venice are considerably less enjoyable when you’re crippled.
Finally, we found our hotel, and I was deposited in a chair in the lobby. As Eddie cleaned my arm with some wet Kleenex (at the time, I thought he was a paramedic), the concierge called the Venetian equivalent of 911. The humor of the situation had begun to fade, as we had been wandering the streets for over an hour, and it was now nearing 4 AM. It took what felt like half an hour for the ambulance to show up, which was enough time for me to decide that I didn’t need to go to the hospital, because that would be far too expensive. I tried to stand, realized I couldn’t, and decided that, on second thought, the hospital sounded quite nice.
The humor of the situation is wearing off.
Only one person could come with, so Sara gave Nikki all the money she had, as the paramedics placed me in a wheelchair and carried me into an ambulance boat. Tragically, Nikki forgot to snap a picture of me in the ambulance boat. Even more tragically, I’m pretty sure they didn’t even turn on the siren for me.
We finally arrived at the hospital, and the paramedics unceremoniously deposited me in the hallway of the emergency room and left. I don’t know how long we sat in the hallway for, but the humor of the situation had long since wore off, and now we were worried about money. Surely this stupid ordeal would cost thousands of dollars. Nikki and I discussed finances, and how many cards we would have to divide the hospital bill across. Meanwhile, we finally got our first bit of attention from the hospital staff — probably 20 minutes after we were dropped off — when Nikki sat on the floor by me, prompting a nurse to come out and yell, “NO SITTING.”
The most embarrassing part of the whole situation was that the emergency room was filled with drunk tourists. In a nearby room, a British woman screamed as if she was giving birth, while her drunken friend stumbled around the hallways in a cocktail dress, makeup smeared all over her face. The more ambulatory friend stumbled into the screamer’s room, and then both began to scream at each other in chimney-sweep accents. It was highly embarrassing to be in the same company as these ladies, to say the least.
No longer very amused.
Finally, a male nurse materialized and wheeled me into an examination room. He cleaned and bandaged my arm wound, the first and last time anyone in the hospital would give me any sort of actual medical care. The following hour would be an exercise in buffoonery. I’m still unconvinced I wasn’t on some sort of Italian hidden camera show.
First, I was told (through gestures, because no one spoke a word of English) to stand up, remove my pants, and get on a table. When I gestured that I needed help because of all the pain, the nurse gave me a look as if to say, “What am I, gay?” So I went at it alone, pulling myself to my feet, probably while making all sorts of unattractive screaming noises. I slowly removed my pants, and hoisted myself onto the table.
Now, even though we didn’t speak the same language, I like to think I had made it abundantly clear what had happened — I had slipped and fallen, and now my right side feels like it’s being raped by pain monsters. At the very least, pointing at your right side over and over and saying, “Ow,” should make it obvious that it’s your right side that’s in pain, correct?
The female nurse in the room asked me, “Allergies?” and I informed her that, yes, I am actually allergic to two kinds of medicine, so please don’t use those on me. She didn’t understand a word of it (she wrote “none” under “allergies” on my chart, we later saw). Instead, they handed me a box of medicine, asked, “Allergic?” and I took a guess and said that I wasn’t. Next thing I know, a massive syringe is being prepared, and the male nurse is asking me to roll over ONTO my right side. The painful side. I do as he requests because he is a professional, I’m 90% sure, and he promptly jabs the syringe into my left ass cheek.
So now the left side of my body is numb, and my right side is in even more pain, seeing as I am now laying on it. I see no options but to laugh uncontrollably at my situation. “You think this funny?” the female nurse asks me. I try to tell her no through my tears. So let me get this straight: These medical “professionals” don’t know the words for various drugs or descriptions of pain in English, yet they know, “You think this funny?” Do Italian medical schools teach special courses in Humiliating Your Patients?
“X-ray!” I was told, and I began to feel some small hope that maybe these guys knew what they were doing. I also heard a cartoon cha-ching! sound in my head as the hospital bill kept climbing. Wheeling me through the waiting room, I shouted to Nikki, “Call Aunt Dana! We need money!” I was then wheeled through what you would imagine a Venetian hospital would look like — we crossed bridges and canals and wound through narrow passageways. I was pretty sure I was just going to be dumped in a canal and would never be heard from again. I also noticed the sun was rising, and that made me regret a lot of choices I had made that evening.
Somehow, we ended up in an actual x-ray room. It even looked sterilized! Great news! I was dumped off as the responsibility of two large, hairy female nurses, who chattered away in Italian, not giving a shit that I couldn’t understand them. They forced me to get up on my own off of the stretcher and to get onto the x-ray table, a feat much easier said than done with one numb and one maimed leg. But I did it, because Italian nurses have an overwhelming presence that always seems to suggest they are thinking, “You are a pussy.”
The women chattered away and actually pointed at me while laughing, not even hiding their amusement at the stupid, drunk American. One began prepping the x-ray machine to take an image of my pelvis, and I realized that they were going to be zapping my groin with radiation without any protection at all. I didn’t even have any pants on, for Christ’s sake. I placed my hands over my genitals and shouted, “No, no, babies, babies!” trying like an idiot to let them know that maybe I would like things to still work down there after this.
“Si, si, baby!” the woman responded, pointing at me, as the other one roared with laughter from behind the glass. This is the exact moment I gave up pretending this was a real hospital.
“I hate you!” I screamed at them as they laughed over me. “Let me go, I hate you!” And it only occurs to me now, as I am typing this, that in this instance I was no better than the drunk, screaming Cockney women back in the emergency room. Fantastic.
Two x-ray images later, my future children all horribly mutated, I was declared “okay” by one of the two nurses, and wheeled back through the winding hospital to my original room. “What is going on?” Nikki asked as my stretcher traveled through the waiting room. I had no idea how to answer.
“You’re okay!” the male nurse told me. He pointed at my pants and indicated I should put them on. I indicated I would really, really like some help. He once again gave me a look that let me know he would rather die before help another man put his pants on. So I stretched and strained and pushed through the pain to get my legs back in my pants, and after 100 hours I finally was once again dressed.
Then I was allowed to rejoin Nikki, and we were told to pay our hospital bill after we signed a few papers. The bill, happily, came to only 90 Euro, a fucking miracle of socialized medicine. Of course, you CLEARLY get what you pay for in Italy. We paid our bill by, no joke, inserting bills into a vending machine.
Nikki asked the nurse to order us a water taxi, but he refused, and for that I hope he breaks both his arms soon. Instead, we were essentially kicked out of the hospital, and I had to hobble down the street to the bus stop. We then had to wait a good thirty minutes for the bus to arrive — at this point it was nearing 7 AM and we both just wanted to die — and then I had to somehow climb onto the boat and get into a seat.
The bus ride back took 50 minutes, during which we got to witness an admittedly beautiful Venetian sunrise. We also got yelled at by the bus driver, who told me not to sit in the handicapped section, even though we were two of three people on the bus. We refused to move and she gave up, which was a smart call, because I was ready to fight her to the death. The last comfort I had in the world was my handicapped seat on this stupid bus, and I was prepared to do anything to hold onto it.
As the bus departed from the dock at the hospital (which, I’m still not entirely clear where it was, but it may have been on an island. The place had a definite Alcatraz feel to it, for more than one reason), Nikki and I settled in and attempted to nap, a nearly impossible task when the right half of your body feels like it’s been stabbed 100 times. Additionally, the buses in Venice have a tendency to not bother attempting to slow as they near the docks — rather, they turn sideways and just SLAM into the next stop, so every five minutes I was thrown against the side of my chair, causing another jolt of pain to speed through my body. In spite of all of this, I giggled almost the entire ride back to the hotel, astonished at the absurdity of the night’s events. Or maybe I was just still drunk.
Was this sunrise worth it? Not at all.
We finally debarked at the stop in front of our hotel, and I limped through the growing crowds of fresh-faced tourists ready to experience a new day exploring Venice, wanting nothing more for myself than to crawl into my bed and to die. We then trekked up to the third floor, through the winding hallways, and finally, finally arrived at our room. Aunt Dana was there at the door to greet us, having some sort of strange sixth sense alerting her to our arrival, and I was hugged by a laughing Aunt Dana and a semi-hysterical Grandma. Eddie woke up at the sound of the chaos, while Sara just slept through the whole thing. The bitch. I regaled them all with the insane story of what had happened (the first of 600 times I would tell this story), and we had quite a good laugh at my expense.
It was nearing 8 AM when Nikki and I finally got into our beds and immediately fell asleep. Grandma and Aunt Dana went out to see the fish market and get some breakfast, and returned around 10:30 to see if we wanted to wake up and see Venice, since we would be leaving the next day.
I woke up, my sheets stained with blood, pus, and canal moss, and found myself unable to get out of bed, let alone even sit up. As Eddie, Nikki, and Sara got ready for the day (Nikki running on less than 3 hours of sleep), I tried to even move out of my bed. Meanwhile, Aunt Dana set off in search of a pharmacy. Seeing as the sadistic Venetian nurses gave me nothing for the pain, we had to take matters into our own hands.
Keep in mind we still had no idea what was even wrong with me. I knew nothing was broken, because I could move all my limbs, albeit painfully, and I suspected no muscles were majorly torn. There wasn’t any bruising, really, so it wasn’t from the impact on the steps. My guess is that maybe I seized up and hyperextended my back and leg muscles during the fall. Or something. I don’t know. I’m about as much a doctor as the people at the hospital in Venice were.
Our disheveled group. The man on the left is clearly SHOCKED at my injuries.
Eventually, I got out of bed and attempted to limp around the room. I didn’t want to waste my one full day in Venice sitting in the hotel room, so I was determined to do whatever it took to get out and see at least some of the city’s main sights. I took a rather painful, slow shower, and I began to perfect my system of one-legged squats that enabled me to pick up things from low down without having to bend my back. I was beyond pathetic.
But I persevered (thinking of those judgmental nurses the whole time) and actually began to feel a bit better the more I walked on the leg, as long as I didn’t swing my hip too sharply, an act that caused searing pain to shoot through my lower back. Sitting remained a major issue for the next couple days, but Aunt Dana scored me some sweet European painkillers (which, I have since learned, have been linked to the near-extinction of an entire species of vultures? You never really want to see the word “extinction” anywhere near articles about a drug you’re taking four doses of a day), which left me a little loopy in the morning, but able to get around and still reasonably enjoy my vacation.
Drugged. (Aunt Dana may have made sure my drugs were okay for human consumption, too.)
We finally leave the hotel and head down to the bus stop, a bleary-eyed group looking pretty shabby (Eddie’s foot was also bandaged, from an unrelated incident back in Germany, I should note). But we are intent on using every minute of our time in Italy to the fullest, emergency room trips be damned.
The bus took us to Merona, a small island famous for its blown glass. We strolled around the island for a bit, which was creepily deserted and filled with blown glass. I know the island is famous for it, but I didn’t anticipate that the entire island would be nothing but stores full of blown glass. At first, it was cool, especially when we got to go behind a store and stand in the blaring heat of the furnaces, watching some dudes making glass turtles. But, listen, I can only take so many stores full of blown glass before I start fantasizing about going nuts with a baseball bat inside them. Especially when I’m exhausted and in pain. Thankfully, we left after a couple hours.
Back in Venice, we entered the Doge’s Palace, an absurdly huge and ornate structure that goes on forever. It was like a mini-Vatican, even though it was still bigger than most buildings in the United States. After the Palace, we simply did some more eating, drinking, and exploring, which is what you should spend 90% of your time doing when in Italy. Thankfully our German friends texted and said they would have to cancel our plans for that evening, as they were returning to Germany early, and this probably saved my life. Because I would have gone, I would have had more to drink, and I probably would have fallen in another canal. I’m telling you, I’m never going to say no when traveling, no matter how stupid an idea it may be. I don’t even remember what we did instead that night — at this point, my two days in Venice had begun to feel like one very, very long day, so Nikki and I just tried to stay out and conscious as long as possible.
Ultimately, we returned to the hotel and raided the minibar, to drink in the relative comfort (and safety) of the hotel lobby. At some point, it was decided that Eddie would come with to Florence instead of returning to Germany, unexpectedly doubling his scheduled time in Italy.
And this, when you boil it all down, is the main power of Italy: You never want to leave, even if you end up spending money to change the date of your flight out of the country, or if you’ve just experienced the longest night of your life in a foreign hospital. Italy doesn’t let you go. Even Venice holds a special place in my heart, in spite of its repeated attempts to kill me.