For every loss, there is hidden gain. And for every gain, there is hidden loss. A quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan is the perfect way to describe my solo trip in Venice last autumn. Unexpected gain behind a hidden loss that i couldn’t not foresee beforehand.
Venice has many names. La Serenissima. City of Water. La Dominante. City of Canals. But, my favourite one is ‘The Floating City’. The fact that this city is built on top of water amazed me. It makes Venice unique in my eyes. I even could recognise Venice’s harbour sketch from 13th century.
My plan was to enjoy Venice while catching up with my best friend, Bi. He live in Venice and works in Treviso, one hour drive from Venice. I met him five years ago in Indonesia. He was assigned in the company that i worked for several years. Ever since that day, we kept in touch and shared stories of our life. I contacted him before i departed to Venice and we planned to meet during my stay. Accompanying by a local, Venice officially became one of my checkpoints during two months traveling in Western Europe.
On the moment i arrived in Venice, I felt welcomed. My host, Gaia, gave me series of instructions on how to reach her house. Nonetheless, we met at the train station. This is how she described herself, “I am half blond and half dark, wearing sporty clothes and the face of someone just recovering from a long-lasting disease.” The moment i read her message, i smiled ear to ear. I said to myself, She has good sense of humour. My instinct told me that i would get along easily with her.
It was lovely to meet Gaia in person. In the first day, we ended up chat for hours. I guess her age was above 40. She had a short hair and indeed a pale skin. She told me that she was feeling not well in past few weeks. She was happily married and had no children. She was working as lawyer, but she preferred to expand her business and would open Bed and Breakfast in near future. She spoke multiple languages, like English, German, and French.
I asked her, “Why do you open your house for guest?”
“I like to meet new people. I used to travel in the past, but now not so much. With this arrangement, i still can interact with new people all over the world and be at home in the same time.”
Her pure intention is the reason why i tried a trusted community space like Airbnb or Couchsurfing. To discover and connect with local. To try different perspectives on my glasses. Hope to learn the world a bit more from its people.
She introduced me to “Bordeaux Red”, her favourite colour and main theme for her house. Painting was her hobby. When she was young, she used to paint a lot. Her mom need to open the her window to get rid the smell of the paints, so her mom could breath. She shared that she even painted things with nail polish. I was surprised and wondering if she had any piece in her house. Then, she pointed a vase in her kitchen. A Bordeaux Red vase with metallic gold and green nail polishes.
“Do you have bad or interesting stories with your guests?”, i asked.
She laughed and said, “Plenty of stories, my dear. But i should stop now. I should let you rest.”
I started to explore Venice City in the second day. Gaia had this very thoughtful guide and city maps. She recommended me to buy Rolling Venice Card since i was under 30. It gave a great discount for 3-day ACTV Tourist Travel Card that i could use for buses and vaporetto boats (water buses). This card was a value deal since vaporetto was not cheap. A single, one our trip costed me 7.5 euro. Meanwhile, i paid 22 euro for 3 days unlimited rides.
The journey began when i stepped in Piazzale Roma, the main bus stop. I could see the modern Ponte della Costituzione or Constitution Bridge made from steel and thick glasses. I walked a bit more and i found Venezia Santa Lucia Railway Station. Thats when a scene from The Tourist (2010) flashed into my memory, Elise and Frank get off the train station. I continued to walk across the bridge in front of Chiesa degli Scalzi (Santa Maria di Nazareth). Then entered the heart of Venice or what i called as The Labyrinth of Venezia.
Labyrinth because when i walked inside, i had no idea where exactly i was. Each turn was made by pure of instinct. Sometimes left and sometimes right. Each turn was leading to a surprise.
One turn led me to Piazza San Marco. This was the most recognisable tourist spots in Venice, started with the tall Winged Lion of St. Mark, The Campanile – 98.6 meters reddish Italian bell tower, a pink and white limestone Venetian Palazzo Ducale, and the iconic Saint Mark’s Basilica. All amazing architecture in one place. No wonder Inferno (2016) shot a scene here. It was like a dream to see these places with my own eyes.
The piazza was not only full of tourists, but apparently there was a graduation ceremony in the middle of St. Marks Square. Hundreds of graduates along with their family and friends gathered around with beautiful banquet of flowers. Some of them sang their alma mater song in the middle of Piazza. All of them celebrated their graduation along with their hopeful future. And, i got the best seat to witness this moment of celebration, the balcony of Saint Mark’s Basilica.
Another turn led me to Murano where i witness the stunning sunset while admiring Cimitero di San Michele floating in the middle of water. In here, i met a couple Americans who visited their daughter. We chatted a bit on how delicious Italian cuisine was. The wife was worried to get a couple of pounds in this trip, but i said, “Don’t worry. It is winter now. No one will notice it under our layers and jackets.” We laughed and bid each other goodbye.
This was the part i love the most with traveling. Traveling solo didn’t make me lonely, but created an opportunity to engage with strangers. Once i felt connected with them, world seemed a smaller place, again and again. It made me couldn’t wait to meet with Bi.
Unfortunately, meeting with Bi didn’t happen. I was waiting for his reply, but it never came. Instead, i had a lot of fun with Gaia. In one evening, Gaia stopped near the stairs and she asked me to close my eye. I felt a bit strange but i did it anyway.
She says, “Can you please smell this?” Without knowing what actually it was, i smell a sweet refreshing fragrance. She continued, “Is it for woman or man?” I answered, “I think its for woman.”
Gaia burst into laughs. She laughed at his husband. “This is my husband’s shaving cream.”, she said. She thought the fragrance of his shaving cream was too sweet for a man, but her husband didn’t agree. So, she asked a third person opinion to back up her argument. She was a lawyer after all. Three of us ended up laughed together. Later on, she told me that he bought it because it was the cheapest one in store. Classic.
When i saw them together, i saw two different personalities that complete each other as one. Gaia was more talkative and adventurous when her husband was more quiet and reserved. Their sense of humour were amazing. Knowing they could laugh at each other had proven that they walked pass their own ego.
“How do you two meet?” I was curious about her love story.
“Through a friend. She actually tried to set us up. As i told you before, i don’t like match making. But, surprisingly, it worked that time.”, she answered cheerfully. In one of our conversation, we talked about how uncomfortable for us when people tried to set us up or tried intervene with our private personal life.
She continued, “He didn’t live here at first. He moved here because of me.” It was a straightforward process. They met, like each other, and then live together. “At first, i didn’t think about marriage. I was not actually into that idea.”, she confessed. For her, marriage was more like a symbol of love. Only when Italian Law reduced the period of legal separation into one year in 2015, she opened to idea of marriage.
It was not a commitment that she was afraid of. She was being practical. I realised this when she shared me the story of her wedding. “I don’t like the complexity that wedding may cause.” She referred to the event when bride’s friends usually asked the bride what should they wear to the bride’s wedding. Instead, she wrote this in her wedding invitation, “Dress code: Jeans.” She wanted to clearly state that her guests could wear anything in her wedding. Nothing more casual and comfortable than jeans.
Her wedding was small, but full of people that matters to her. She didn’t want a limo. Taxi was enough for her. I didn’t attend her wedding, but i can imagine her wedding as simply beautiful, literally.
The conversation somehow flowed into something spiritual. She shared that she was reading a Zen book and it was very good. “Sorry, i do not remember the author’s name. Let me find the book for you.”
She then walked to her living room and gave the book to me. The author was Thich Nhat Hanh. I was surprised. “Wow. What the odds. Before i come to Italy, i visited his place in France.”, i told her. “You should visit his place one day.”
On my last night in Venice, Gaia invited me to have dinner with her. She reserved food (not seat) in nearby Venetian cafe because i said i want to try local food. We had sarde in saor, fried sardine fillets marinated in vinegar and onions, with some desserts. It was originally a preservation technique used by Venetian sailors and fishermen in Middle Ages. We also had Prosecco (Italian white wine) and Grappa (grape-based pomace brandy) to accompany the meal.
She asked me where i go next. I answered, “I will go to Bologna for one night, before continue to Cinque Terre. Hopefully, my friend, Fulvio, will pick me up in train station.”
“Bologna is lovely.”, she said. She studied in Bologna for few years.
Later in the same night, she texted me, “Do you really have to leave tomorrow?”
It was rhetorical question. She knew for sure that i need to continue the trip. We might be 20 years apart but it didn’t matter. I adore her. Her way of thinking. Her bubbly personality. Her genuineness. Meeting her was a “refreshing” experience; a hint of liberalism in my mostly conservative environment. On my last night in her house, i found a little present near my socks. “An early Christmas present”, Gaia said. A beautiful necklace.
We may familiar with Gaia, the mother of Gods of Mount Olympus. But, i like another etymology from Latin Gaius, which means ‘of cheerful humour, lively’. She embodied that meaning. The truth was I did spend time with my best friend in Venice. It was not Bi, but Gaia, my Bordeaux Red Lady.