For the three days we are in Venice our home will be the Santa Margherita Guesthouse in the Dorsoduro District of the city. This is a small but immaculately clean guesthouse not far from the Camp Santa Margherita, a large open plaza filled with small eateries and wine bars. Over the few days preceding our arrival in Venice I had received several emails from a mysterious “Maria”. These contained instructions for how to find and gain access to the guesthouse. This place is strictly a “self serve” accommodation with no reception. That arrangement works very well as the place is very well set up and contains everything we need for a short stay.
Our first full day in Venice began with the first overcast sky I had seen since arriving in Italy 5 days ago. This meant that conditions were a little cooler than the scorching days we had been experiencing. I set out into the maze of small lanes, canals and blind alleys that constitute this famous and ancient city. Glancing at the map of the city reminded me of one of those huge puzzles that I loved to do as a kid. You know the type where you have to draw a line to help the mouse find the huge piece of cheese. Rather than try to follow each road on the map, I decided just to head off and follow the general flow of foot traffic. At least you don’t have to worry about being hit by a car, since there aren’t any. Venice is purely a pedestrian city. The only way to shift goods and people is via the numerous linking canals.
In the early morning there was a cloudy mist laying low over the city which gave the place a rather otherworldy feel. Numerous artists were positioned on the dozens of small bridges, each trying to capture the quaint buildings on their small canvases. It is obviously a place where artists of all levels of skill come to try out their techniques.
After about 30 minutes of wandering I found myself in the large Plaza outside the Basilica de San Marco. Obviously the huge cruise liners had already disgorged their thousands of passengers who were now shuffling their way in swarms behind their allocated tour guide. Again you have spectacle of dozens of these guides, each with their own flag or number on a stick followed by their shuffling herd of camera toting customers. The queue outside the Basilica stretched for as far as I could see and served to quickly convince me that I really did not need to see inside another famous church. I was however amused at the large sign at the entrance which warned against wearing inappropriate clothing, taking videos and NO SELFIES ! When I saw that sign I suddenly felt a new respect for this place. Maybe other places should declare themselves to be selfie free zones,
By mid morning the cloud cover was starting to break up and the hot sun was making its presence felt on the back of my neck. I decided that it was time to start making my way back to the sanctuary of the Santa Margherita. Some types of technology are fantastic and, although I am not a fan of the addiction to smartphones, I do appreciate the usefulness of a GPS (especially for someone as directionally challenged as myself). Switching on the GPS it told me that I was about 2 km from home and indicated which direction for me to take. All I had to do was occasionally recheck to make sure that I was going in the generally correct direction.
When I arrived at the Guesthouse I was met by a tall young blonde Italian girl who introduced herself as the mysterious Maria that I had been emailing with. We spent a very pleasant 30 minutes or so talking about travel and our previous cycling adventures. Maria told me that she would love to join us but that “her husband was far too lazy” to ride a bike. I told her that she could become our first Italian Ghostrider and showed her the website.
Maria then turned the topic to that of Mary. She asked how old I thought that Mary might be. Now that’s a dangerous question to ask any man, but apparently Mary had filled in her application form stating that her birthdate was in 2015. Now while I did not know exactly how old Mary really was, I could be pretty sure that she was older than 8 months. Maria said she had been a bit doubtful that such a young girl would be travelling the world, but I was able to say that Mary occasionally suffered from lapses of concentration. That was the reason we heard her banging on the outside door this morning when she could not remember the entry code.
I then introduced Maria to Lance (Oscar, Wallace, Henry, Benedict ?). Rather than great Maria with a beaming smile, Trevor started a rambling diatrobe about how uncomfortable his bed was. I really felt sorry for our newest Ghostrider recruit who tried to apologise to him and explain that she could not make a new bed in the little time available.
When I later went out for another walk I was a little surprised that the chaotic laneways actually made a little more sense than they had just 24 hours earlier. And, by the way, Maria explained that she still sometimes gets lost in Venice and she had lived here for 30 years !