Our 13 hour overnight train ride from Paris to Venice was uneventful. Sure, I felt like a sardine packed in a canister for 13 hours. But it was a clean canister, and had enough room that I never really felt claustrophobic. Our Italian car-mates departed from the train around 5:30am which gave us about 4 hours of alone time in the cabin, most of which we dozed away.
The Venice train station looks like any other in the world. But as soon as you walk through the gates you're transformed into another world. It was like stepping into Oz. Gone are streets and cars; replaced by canals and boats. It was an even more delightful scene than I've ever imagined.
If we thought navigating Paris took skill, Venice requries a PhD. in orienteering. The "roads", none of which contain cars, and some of which are only a few feet wide are marked. But the map we have doesn't name them all (or most), and there is absolutely no rhyme or reason behind their layout. Consider our hotel. It has an entrance on the Grand Canal. However, to access it, you've got to take one apparent back alley to an even smaller apparent back alley, only to find yourself in a gorgeous hotel.
When I asked people who had been to Venice what I should expect to do, they said just get lost and wander around. This turns out to be trivial to do. One minute you're walking along the next you turn a corner and you're at a canal. Nobody appears to bother with directions, it wouldn't do any good as they would just be too confusing.
We made our way to the main square, Piazza San Marco, the narrow paths gave way to large passages which added open air markets and lots and lots of tourists. It was both depressing and awesome to see such crowds.
We visited the musuem in the Basicalla of St. Mark, the main attraction at Piazza San Marco. I'm hardly an authority on churches, but this one was awfully impressive. The gigantic church is covered in mosaics, which when you consider that each one is made up of tiny fragments of colored rock, makes it a nearly unfathomable project.
Still, for all the glitz of the main square, I'll take the quiet narrow paths and canals around our hotel. It's that side of Venice that keeps me taking out my camera everytime we approach another small bridge.