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.
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!
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.
for a stroll...
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.
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.
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
"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.
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
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.
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
For more terrific tips about
Venice from a woman's point of view, click
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