BootsnAll Travel Network

Matters of Service

Written at 4:15 PM, 9-25-06, in Corfu, Greece.

From my last blog, one might have gotten the impression that my time in Venice was a solely positive experience. I feel the need to clarify this. Venice was beautiful, true, and there were many cool qualities about the city. It was not, however, all fun and games.

Unlike what I reported last time, the hostel really was as bad as we thought. Initially, it appears clean and well-run, but it is all a façade! Ostello di Venezia is little more than a warehouse to stash away backpackers in crates (we’ll call them beds, for convenience’s sake) while they pay unnecessarily high prices for extraordinarily low services.

First of all, they separated the guys and girls on completely different floors, and God forbid—literally—that a member of the opposite sex should transgress across these sacred borders. This division is apparently a feature of most Venetian hostels, so I could dismiss it. What really did it for us was the 12:00AM lockout. That is to say, if you’re not back by midnight, you spend the night outside. I’ve been in hostels with lockouts, but never in one in a city with such a lively nightlife as Venice.

After checking into the hostel, Jacob and I relaxed for a little while around the hostel, doing some research in our travel guides. We found several cafes and gelato shops to check out and eventually headed back into the city. Because our hostel was on an island independent of the main two Venetian islands, we had to struggle to figure out where the water taxis went and when. It wouldn’t be until the next day that we really got the hang of it.

We went out to a place called Café Blue. We spent a good chunk of the evening there, sipping on coffee. The place also served absinth, which piqued our interest a bit. We decided it would be a calm evening though. I actually was beginning to feel sick. Fortunately nothing so debilitating as Jacob’s food sickness, but it was still troublesome. I had a scratchiness in the back of my throat that had been growing worse over the course of the day. This dictated that I wouldn’t be having much alcohol for the next few days.

Café Blue was a funky sort of place, the kind of bar/café I can really dig. In the afternoon it’s a chill café and then as the sun sets, the bar crowd comes out. It was never too crowded in the bar, but there was enough people to keep things interesting. It also had a computer that provided free internet access, which was how I posted my last blog. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem so keen on my plugging in my usb memory stick and so after quickly posting things, I got chased off by the bar man who kept saying “Internet only, Internet only!”

We left and proceeded on to a nearby gelato shop. We’d had gelator there earlier and had got generous portions, so we hit that up again. After that, we caught a water taxi back across to the main island. We spent about an hour taking pictures and exploring the Basilica and the surrounding area. It became an entirely different place at night. I’m something of a hopeless romantic, and it was just delightful to see all the couples, young and old, strolling hand in hand around the Basilica. Some were dressed up, some held roses, other sat, snuggling. In Venice I definitely saw Paris’ rival for the title, City of Love.

After exploring and taking pictures, we headed back to the water taxis. We were concerned about getting back to the hostel in time. We had one moment of panic in which an Italian girl explained to us in broken English that there were no more taxis running to our island. We later found that we were only in the wrong spot, so I can only assume she was saying no taxis ran from there, or else was being very malicious.

This brings me to an important point. The people in Venice are not very nice. Considering 70% of the city’s income is a direct result of tourism, you’d think they’d be helpful, if not genial. Nope. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were some nice and helpful people, but the amount of rude, unhelpful and downright mean people far outweighed them. In general, our whole time in Venice was marred by pushiness and a general feeling of unwelcome from nearly every retail and tourism-related worker.

Now I understand that a service job, especially one in tourism, can be a bit unappreciated. But then, I’ve worked retail and the number of unpleasant and bad people I had to deal with was virtually nil. From my six months of working, I can now only recall one negative customer experience. The service men and women in Venice made it seem as if every experience with a customer was a negative one.

So we made it back to our hostel only to discover that not only is the lock-out at midnight, but that the common room was shut down as well, forcing every person in the hostel to go to bed. I pondered staying up and reading under the bedside light, but it really didn’t seem worth it. After all, the hostel had a 9:30AM to 1:30 PM lockout as well, so you had to be up and out fairly early.

The beds, I should mention, were sixteen to a room, if you can call it that. As I mentioned earlier, the building was more of a warehouse. Although “walls” separated these rooms, they didn’t actually go up to the ceiling so you could see light and hear people from beyond the walls. The walls reminded me vaguely of the temporary walls that formed most of the classrooms back at my former high school.

I felt sicker in the morning, though once I had some food in my system and got going on the day, the illness retreated to the same irritating scratchiness from the day before. To add insult to injury, the hostel did offer free breakfast, only you had to have a voucher that they had neglected to give us. I tried waiting in line, but as it didn’t move an inch forward in the ten minutes I was waiting, I decided the croissant and piece of fruit wasn’t worth it. Instead, Jacob and I packed up our stuff for the day and wandered down the street to a grocery store.

We took the water taxi over to the Venetian main island. Jacob’s guidebook indicated a place that had really good, cheap coffee. And we like really good, cheap coffee. We got off near St. Mark’s Basilica and decided to meander our way there through the streets. This is definitely one of the best parts of Venice. Around every corner is a totally different alley or canal, making each place a novel experience. We did, not surprisingly, get lost a bit, but eventually we came to the street where the coffee shop was supposed to be.

Only it wasn’t there. We had neglected to write down the name, so we didn’t exactly know what we were looking for. What we did find was an empty building next to a McDonalds. In disgust, we walked away and went off looking for another coffee shop.

The place we found was quite nice. It had a great bar set up against the window so we could do some fantastic people watching. The coffee was also good and cheap (1.50 euros for a cappuccino). We spent the morning there, reading and writing, until our stomachs demanded that we move on to find some food.

And where should we return, but to La Pizzeria Volo. But first, I wanted to buy a mask. Among the many options for souvenirs in Venice was a delightful array of masks. Venice, of course, is known for Carnevale, in which tourists and the city’s citizens take to the streets, dressed in colorful costumes and beautiful painted masks. Well, I just had to have one. So consequently, I have one.

So anyway, we decided La Pizzeria Volo was just about the best deal in town, so we took a water taxi across the Grand Canal and had another delicious pizza (as well as a bit of gelato). We were feeling stuffed and didn’t really know what we wanted to do next, so we headed back to the hostel. I wanted to go to Murano Island where they blow glass, but I also wanted to drop off my recent purchases. Then what was to be a brief excursion to the hostel became a rather long siesta.

Jacob and I took naps until about 4:30, when I realized that if I didn’t go to Murano then, I probably wouldn’t get to see it. It was Saturday evening and I figured the city would be virtually dead on a Sunday morning. So I roused Jacob and we headed over to Murano.

Sadly, the glass blowers were done for the day, but we still got to see the amazing shops. It really was a sight for the eyes. Everything you could imagine—made of colored glass: animals, jewelry, sculptures, landscapes, and a plethora of miscellaneous stuff. The experience was troubled only by the suspicious glances of the clerks, who on a number of occasions would follow us around. They kept asking if we needed help, but to me, it sounded more like “why are you cheap young people in our store?” It didn’t help that Jacob was pretty scruffy looking (hadn’t shaved in several weeks) and that both of us had backpacks on. I can understand their suspicion, but one can keep an eye on someone without being rude about it. I was, in fact, a paying customer and did end up buying something, but not until I found a shop where the woman was polite and helpful.

Within about half an hour of our arrival on Murano, almost everyone glass shop was closed up. This didn’t stop Jacob and I from having a good time, though. The sun was setting and we took a water taxi around the island and back to the main islands, allowing us to truly appreciate the colorful sunset. The clouds on the horizon were absolutely amazing!

We headed back to Café Blue. Jacob was resolved to try some absinth, though sadly, I had to decline. I contented myself with a pint of dark beer. We also got gelato on the way to the café and after leaving it. You can’t really help buying gelato in Italy. First of all, it’s like the best gelato. Secondly, it’s so cheap. The place we went would give us twice the amount you would expect from “two scoops” and it would cost half as much as back home.

We got back to the hostel shortly before midnight and were again forced to sleep. Oh, random thought—I just remembered another thing to emphasize how awful this hostel was. Any women reading my blog will probably appreciate this most—the toilets had no seats. Apparently, it makes the toilets easier to clean. This seemed something of a trend in Venice. I went into two or three other bathrooms that were similar. Yet you’d expect—you really would—that a hostel catering to an international group of people would try to cater to the expectations of other cultures. Nope. Every toilet was without a seat.

Toilets and bathrooms were hard to come by in Venice. Several times I found myself desperately crossing my legs as we headed back toward the hostel. There were some public bathrooms, but they all cost about a euro. What boggles my mind is this: In the morning, shopkeepers have to clean their streets with spray bottles of ammonia because so many people piss on the streets. You’d think, being a tourist town, they’d have bathrooms in order to stop this kind of thing. Apparently, they can’t be bothered for the space or convenience of bathrooms. Better that merchants of the city be forced to spend hundreds of man-hours each day cleaning up piss.

So we went to bed and woke early the next morning the check out of the hostel. Thank goodness! Again, we forsook their meager breakfast and went to find our own. Unfortunately, as it was a Sunday morning, no grocery stores were open. We had to catch the ferry leaving for Corfu, Greece, at 2PM, so we had some time to kill. Unfortunately, we had our huge backpacks with us. I suggested that we head toward the Pizzeria and look for a grocery store or coffee shop on the way.

We didn’t find a place to buy food, but we found a coffee shop with really great prices—a cappuccino was only 1.30 euros. I opted for tea, though, as my throat was still aggravating me. Jacob was a little more indulgent, having two lattes and a little sandwich thing. We did some reading and writing until noon rolled around. We headed for the pizzeria (getting gelato on the way) and then bought a pizza to share.

Time was running short, though, so we hurried toward the ferries. True to the general aura of “unhelpfulness” that we encountered in Venice, there were no signs indicating where we should go. Now, I’d at least expect a “← Traghetto” or something, but we got totally confused. The minutes were winding down for us to reach the ferry and we couldn’t even figure out where to check in. Finally we encountered one person who did help us and told us where to go to catch the ferry. By this time, Jacob was getting pretty nervous. We’d already made reservations in Corfu and only really had two full days there. If we missed this ferry, we’d be pretty much out of luck.

Although the directions helped, we still found ourselves walking through the middle of roads and following convoluted signs indicating which direction to take. We did manage to find an information assistant, only to be told to head “that way.” Well, “that way” constituted a large road with a cracked sidewalk where they apparently loaded and unloaded cargo. We found the check-in office at the end and were told again that we can board, “just over there.” Well, after dodging cars that were pulling into the ferry, we managed to find the passenger boardwalk. Needless to say, we were not very happy with the Minoan Ferry Line. Things only got worse from there…

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