So this is the big day.  All of us, and all of this, and all of them….have to get to Venice.  I’m sure we’ll be fine.  Right?

We leave the apartment in Tuscany at 7:30 sharp.  After the usual roll call and the denture check.  We have to drive to Florence and drop our rental van off-at a rental drop off…which the directions for are in Italian…and even when translated I’m pretty sure they read “we’re in the vicinity of the Train Station. Good luck.”   We say a sad goodbye to our home in Tuscany.  I feel the same way I feel when I say good bye to good friends who live in another part of the world.  I know I’ll see them again, but the time apart will be spent thinking of them and anticipating our next visit together- I’ll survive, but a piece of me will be with them.

Its a misty day-which is making my hair a mixture of Diana Ross and Side Show Bob. Excellent.  But Nicole’s is no better, so that makes me feel better.

We are trying to play it off this morning like we got this…..we’re not the least bit nervous.  We know what we’re doing. But truth be told we’re a little terrified.  But I don’t want to scare Camilla, so-big smiles…WE GOT THIS!

We get to Florence and after driving in circles about 15 time and eventually Nicole and I  getting out of the car and walking, we find the car drop off.  Everything is good with the rental . Since the rental agencies don’t do a rental inspection with you when you rent in Europe, We are always sure to take pics of the cars when we get them so that if there is damage its easily provable that we didn’t do it- and there was a ton of dents and scratches on this van when we picked it up in Rome upon arrival-so we had some concern that they may question some of them.  But the flirty and sweet man at the Europcar drop of is less then concerned.  He’s all “yup. Looks kind of like the one we rented you. Good good”.  Then the fun begins.

We have a total of 19 bags between us.  Not kidding. Each with 2 roll bags (one check and one carry on) and then each with a nap-sack or duffel or large purse.  So picture us, on streets restricted for taxis, so walking is our only option. With all those bags…and a promise to mom and dad that they won’t need to carry anything heavy.

We harness ad suit up the asses (Muppet #1 and #2) with 3 roll bags each, and 2 nap-sacks and  2 duffel bags.  Nicole and I follow with 2 rolls each, and 2 large purses.  Dad with a nap sack and a roll, and mom with her purse.  We look like a scene out of Deliverance.  Except more crying.  And you know how the modern roll bags just roll along without need to pull them behind you? Well, not so bloody much on cobble stone.  HOT. MESS. Sad thing is that most of the weight in these bags is wine.  That’s dedication.

We make it to the train station.  Now thats a whole thing.  Trains always leave on time. The thing is, they don’t give you a platform (like a gate in an airport) until about 20 minutes before they are set to leave.  So there we are with all our bags, 18 platforms lined up over about a 1/2 km….and no idea where we need to be.  And everyone has to pee. And we’re all hungry. And I miss Matias and Carolina from the wine tour.

We park ourselves under the Departures board and take shifts peeing-and Nicole and I run to the McDonalds(!!!) at the other end of the station for egg mc muffins for everyone.  Eventually we find out our platform is in the middle of the station, and the migration east begins.  We are getting stared at, I’m sure because we have enough luggage to start a new colony-and because we are all bickering, shoving egg sandwiches in our mouths and periodically making dad smack his teeth together.

We make it on the platform and to our car-we booked first class tickets, and so thought that since we are in car 1-3 we would be at the front of the plane. We are. But this idiot backed in. So….the front of the train is at the other end of the track.  And all the smart travelers with their one bag loads are passing us like road kill on the highway.  When we get to the front of the line the chore then is to get it all on the train…keeping in mind that some of these bags weigh 70 lbs. no joke.  We get them all on, but then realize that, since it took us so long to get to our car, all the rack space for luggage is gone-and we have a Beverly hillbilly’s situation.  We have bags under our tables and feets, bags in the overhead holders and bags behind our seats-with many on our laps.  I HATE looking like a bad traveler.  But we are the quintessential bad travelers..  In any case, the train leaves. And we leave with it…so…win?  mom and dad sleep Most of the way therein and out of tunnels (I HATE TUNNELS), rocked to sleep by the rocking and noise.  Its a definite win, when, 2 hours later, we cross the water and see Venice-and moms eyes light up.

There’s nothing quite like Venice.  I’ll pre-face this by saying that Venice isn’t my favourite Italian destination…don’t get me wrong, its absolutely stunning-but Venice makes me feel like a tourist.  And after spending a week living in Italy-i hate going backwards.  And both times we’ve come here, we come after spending time cooking and living in the countryside-with people speaking Italian to us because they assume we are locals, and I find it hard to adjust to the “tourist” status.  But when you show up to the party with 3,456 bags, its hard to convince anyone you aren’t just visitors.

But I embrace it whole heartedly this time, seeing it through my mother and fathers eyes.  We get off the train and leave the station and she gets her first taste of Venice.  I have NO IDEA where the claim that Venice smells came from.  I’m sure that there must be some truth to it, so many people have said it, but i have not smelled anything foul on either of my trips here.  In fact, when we get out of the station, the smell is intoxicating.  Salty from the sea water mixed with the smell of carbonara and wine. Dear god.

We make our way to the water taxis (no water bus for us. They are too crowded and stop too many times) and see the delighted look on the taxi drivers face when he realizes that we have all those bags and all those people.  They generally charge based on both.  We dicker a price (90euro) and off we go. Nothing makes you feel more like a rock star then standing up in the back of a Varporetto (water taxi) with the roof open, while you speed past all the gondolas and people, to your water front Venice hotel.  Mom’s eyes are wide with fascination and dad just keeps saying “oh my, oh my”-until we remind him that loose lips sink perfectly good dentures.  Mouth shut Gonzo.

WE pull up to our Pensione and Unload-up to our balconies and windows overlooking Venice and a corner of its nicest waterways-with a view towards Murano Island and a small tributary water way to our side.  We spend a few hours up in our rooms on our balconies with wine and giggles.  We can’t leave just yet.  As we sit there, a group of sail boats goes by….LARGE said boats, and we realize there there is some sort of regatta today! AMAZING!!!  We take lots of pictures, the sail boats looking foreign and like the belong all at the same time here in this water world.

Last time I was here (exact same place and room) I stayed up most of the night on the deck painting and drinking wine and listening to the water lap the side of the wall.  It was one of my best European memories.

I’ve said it before.  Words can be such meagre things.  There comes a point in your time in Venice where your whole body is at rest and so peaceful, but at the same time your mind is screaming “YOUR IN FREAKIN VENICE”.   As with all Italian destinations in my experience, you are drunk while your there-stop laughing, I’m speaking figuratively- drunk on the charm and the smell of the air and the taste of the earth, and then when you sober up, you have to pinch yourself to make sure its all real.  You have to convince yourself that even though you come from a country that is a mere 150 years old, there are places on this earth that have hundreds of years of life in them-that have buildings 10 times as old as your entire civilization- and that those things are cherished by their current inhabitants, and yet shared—and all you have to do is go to them.  Its sobering. And humbling. And astonishing. And its yours-an actual part of YOUR history. That realization changed my world the first time I traveled-and it has continued to change me and even changed the way I treat people-even rehashing it while I type has given me a lump in my throat.

So after a while enjoying the look of Venice from our rooms, we decide to delve in-and bring mom and dad for a walk.  We leave and walk for hours-Rialto bridge, St Marc’s square,, the shopping district. All over the twisty confusing walkways.  Its hitting mom and dad that this is truly a water world.  Boats like cars line the sides of the water streets and the traffic signs and lights are for them.  Not even a Vespa on these streets.  We rent a gondola and make our way for a 25 minute ride through the maze of ally’s and waterways.  Mom and and dad proudly in the love seat with the best view grinning the whole way-with dad still declaring that we cant believe it. And asking if we brought any wine….we have created a monster.

We shop and buy more leather (which clearly we will have to WEAR home) and sweatshirts and scarves.  Then off for dinner at a little waterside spot. Pizza and Lasagne and wine.  This is much different from the first time we were here-let me explain.

Last time we were in Venice we almost killed each other.  It was a Sunday, and we had arrived and done exactly like today, went walking. And got lost. And walked.  And got more lost.  Nicole and I were on a mission to find the perfect place to eat, and by the time we got back to civilization and the restaurants, we realized that being picky about getting the perfect view for dinner wasn’t super smart.  Now we’re tired from the walking, the boys are hangry (like, its gone past hangry, you can see it in their muppet-y little eyes), AND…all the restaurants are closing.  Yup. Closing.  So, we walked, single file (trying to stay out of kicking distance of each other) to the nearest clearly college hangout- it was full of young men and women drinking and talking…until we showed up. 4 old cranky jerks. Not speaking to each other.  The waiter handed us a menu, and backed away slowly.  There was a lot of: Gary-“can you tell Nicole that I am having a whole pizza to myself and I don’t care if she starves to death?”…. Karen-” sure, if you can tell baldy over there that I hate him and also, I need his visa to pay for dinner”….Nicole: “Chris. Tell Karen her hair looks stupid. And also ask her if she wants to share a bottle of wine.” Chris-“bite me.”   Eventually we ate and ended up having hands down, THE BEST carbonara I’ve ever tasted.  I mean-ridiculous. And once the hanger haze lifted,  we realized that we were actually sitting on the water front of Venice, eating and drinking- and everyone got better and we had a great night, me and gary.  Sometimes I think that a lot of the worlds problems could be solved with food. Like, maybe Trump’s just hungry? Just share some salsa and authentic tortilla chips and get over yourselves!  Walls are for quitters.

SO anyway, yes we ate this time before we got hangry. And everyone had a nice meal.  When i asked mom what she wanted to eat-the salad seems like it would be pretty low sodium (congestive heart failure diet) she says, and I quote, “screw sodium. I”m having the pizza and the wine.” Just after dad said, “Judy, Can i have lemon in my pop at home from now on?”.  What the……..

Back to our rooms for bed time for Gonzo and Camilla. Mom’s pedometer says that we walked almost 13, 000 steps (almost 7 Km) today.  Good thing we were keeping it light for them….although they seem FINE. I’m about ready to die and I’d pay good money for someone to roofie me and put me to bed right now, but yeah. The 70 year olds seem to be doin great.  In any case, we put them down for the night, and we set up the rum and cokes.  We decide this is more of a Muppet Speak Easy, since we smuggled the rum here from San G without mom and dad knowing. Its not that we don’t want to share it, its just that we don’t want to share it.  So, we enjoy the speak easy for a few hours and are off to bed with all our windows and doors opened-listening to the buzz of Venice. .  Well, some of us are.  Welling up while I tell you this. I sneak out after I get ready for bed and to check on the candles i have set up on the railing- at about 1am…and see tiny little Judy sitting on her deck having wine in the dark.  Head bobbing around watching all the boats in the fog-with the biggest grin on her face. There is no greater joy then feeling like you’ve made your mom happy is there?  I back away and out of her sight before she notices me.  Good job Nicole and Karen.  She won’t forget this-her Venice dream coming to life.