Imagine a city built atop a lagoon, filled with masked men and women stepping through dense fog, wearing wigs and dresses that date back to the 18th century, gracing the cobblestone streets as if they'd never left them. Children dressed as forest nymphs and princesses stare up at you through dark holes in feathered, painted disguises. This is where I spent my Saturday afternoon.
The bus from Rome to Carnivale in Venice left at 7 a.m. My friends and I spread out in the back of the second deck and prepared for the six-hour trek ahead of us. We drove into the hills until our ears popped and we could see clouds at our side. The mountains were a constant, shadowy presence in the distance as we passed long stretches of land and dirt roads, ghost towns and farms growing nothing but trees of thin, veiny branches. Mist settled onto the grass. I listened to the "Into the Woods" soundtrack and imagined a fairy tale.
We got to the shore after 1 p.m. and boarded a small private boat headed into the lagoon. The fog grazed the water, turning the world stark white ahead of us. Venice drifted into view like smoke. We wobbled off the boat and into Venice with only six hours before we would have to leave for Rome again, leaving us on the docks pressed to make the most of what time we had. As short as the time was, we really did find a way to do it without rushing ourselves. We bought masks in Piazza San Marco and blended into the crowd to explore the islands. The water at our feet was a pale green.
The girls wanted to go looking for a Bellini, so we stopped at a small place beside the water. The shop was stocked with sandwiches that made our stomachs growl, even though we'd eaten lunch only two hours before. We stood near the water and snapped pictures of the passing gondolas and costumed men and women.
At 4:30 p.m, we split. Five of us went looking for a gondola ride, while the others went to a glass-blowing show (something I'd love to see in the future, though I'd pick the gondola again, given the choice). Our boat slipped through the fog and into the green canals. I've always loved being on the water, and the slow rock of the gondola as we passed through high, colorful buildings was incredibly serene. The sound of the water lapping at the sides of the boat was the only thing to break the silence.
After the gondola ride, we found dinner at Dal Moro's, a fresh pasta take-out place that serves food in a Chinese rice box. It was definitely some of the best pasta I've had in Italy, so far. The pasta was great and cheap, and the marinara sauce was even a little spicy. We sat on the ledge by the window, where the people working behind the counter smiled at us as we watched them work the pasta-maker.
The day grew dark, and drops of rain started to fall as we went looking for gelato in our last hours. The night brought masks shaped like plague doctors and skulls, and the eyes of the masks from the morning transformed into black holes in the shadows. Our first stop was a shop that had been recommended to us, but after trying it, we decided to keep looking. We ended up stopping at enough places that I had a small collection of small spoons in my purse pocket by the time we found a spot that we liked.
We joined the bus group again and left before 8 p.m., an entire troupe of disguise-clad college students trying to navigate in the busy dark. We stumbled back onto the boat and watched Venice disappear into the fog as quickly as it had emerged, until it was just a string of bleary lights. We boarded the bus in a tired daze and immediately began falling asleep as the bus took us into the dark hillsides. We were satisfied that even though we, deciding to take the day slowly with just a few priorities, had only seen a corner of Venice, it had been the right choice.