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Tempur Canada


She's Lost and Found in Italy


Journeywoman Maria Murad is a writer living in Minnesota. She has published a children's book, short stories, memoirs and essays in various publications. Besides writing, she loves to travel, especially to Europe. She doesn't love getting lost. Maria writes...

In the fall of 2001, I took a long-awaited trip to Italy. I went alone, but with a tour group that welcomed single travelers. Having been abroad three times previously, I felt confident in my ability to handle any situation, especially with a group leader to guide us.

On my way...

My grown children, turning the tables, admonished me: Be careful, watch your cash, watch your passport, don't talk to strangers who look weird, and above all, don't go out alone, especially at night. Yes, yes, I told them. I know. I know. I am a grownup, after all!

The time to leave came, and I was excited as I always am when I board an airplane. And this trip to the land of my grandparents was especially thrilling. I would see northern Italy, Tuscany and travel southwards from Venice to Florence and then, finally, Rome. I wished fervently I had learned more of the language, but I had my Italian for Travelers and a handy pocket phrase book to guide me. Our first stop was Venice, where we were to stay three days. The guide was knowledgeable, the other travelers congenial and the Italian people welcoming.

Out for a stroll...

One night in Venice, I decided to set out - alone - from the hotel to find the nearest church for the next day's Sunday masses. The hotel clerk, moderately fluent in English, gave me what I thought were clearly understood directions. I conveniently forgot that my navigational skills were never as finely honed as I would have like. I strolled away from the hotel, sure I knew just where to go. Well, I didn't, as it turned out. I turned down streets, and when I failed to find the church, tried to reverse my steps. Nothing on my way back looked familiar, even though I hadn't been gone long enough to go too far. That's what I told myself, anyway. Until finally, as the sun set and the twilight shadows grew darker, I had to admit to myself I was lost. In Venice.

Someone will help...

Well, I thought. I'll just ask someone the way back. Surely they can direct me to my hotel. After all, it was fairly large and had a big sign. And it was opposite a large "supermarcato," the Italian version of the supermarket. I spotted a couple of young women and approached them with my guidebook Italian. "Scusi," I said, "Hotel Venezia?" I had the hotel's card and address and they were sympathetic and helpful. Unfortunately, they were helpful in Italian. I tried to follow their gestures, but alas, it didn't work. Undeterred, I stopped another woman with a young girl and gave them the same routine. They pointed, they gestured, they tried to help, but again, no understanding. Who said that everyone in Europe knows English? Maybe it's just shopkeepers in large cities, not the ordinary Italians I was meeting on the street. I vowed I would take Italian lessons as soon as I returned to the states.

No reason to panic...

I was not about to panic, however. But it was getting dark now, and I didn't see a policeman, a familiar sight, or even a restaurant around. A little desperate, I spotted a group of young teens, milling around, flirting with one another, their small motorbikes parked in a row. They were vivacious, laughing and joking, happy to be out with their friends on a Saturday night. They really were my last hope. I approached a beautiful young girl who looked like one of my daughters.

"Scusi," I said again. In my careful Italian I asked: "Dove se trouve Hotel Venezia?" (Where do I find the Hotel Venezia?) "Oh, si, si!" she said. Calling to her friends, she said to them, "Hotel Venezia?" They all yelled, "Si, si," gesturing toward the left.

 A thousand thanks...

The young woman pointed at the Vespa parked nearby, and then at me. She smiled, hopped on the motorbike and patted the back. I got the message without a translation. So I, too, hopped on the back and she whizzed off down the street. Turning sharply at a corner, she breezed to a stop. "Hotel Venezia!" she said triumphantly, and there it was, with the supermercato opposite, a welcome sight to this nervous American. I thanked her profusely - "Mille grazie" (a thousand thanks), thinking how beautiful this group of young strangers was. And how easily people of goodwill communicate, even without a common language. Everyone I had approached was gracious, but it was the very young who exuberantly rescued this dumb traveler, who should have heeded her daughters' advice.

But you know, I'll probably do it again. I read somewhere that the only way to see a foreign city is to get lost in it. Next time, though, I'll lose my way in the early afternoon when I can spot the bread crumbs.

Pasta, pasta, pasta...

Just got back from Italy three weeks ago and loved it. In Venice I suggest a stop at Rizzo to check out their gourmet pasta - all flavors and shapes (some even in the shape of gondolas). Fun to see and the pasta products make interesting, light and packable gifts.
Denise, Schaumburg, USA

Ed. note: Take note that food shops in Venice often close on a Wednesday afternoon and many gift and clothes boutiques stay shut on Monday mornings.

For more terrific tips about Venice from a woman's point of view, click here.

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