Friday, April 03, 2009

Chilled in Venice and Capuccino

“It will be windy”, Antonio, the travel agent’s local man who accompanied us through the tour in Italy, had cautioned us. “Put on something warm”.

So I pulled the sweater over the salwar suit. My feminist husband who turns macho when it comes to braving inclement weather, chose, however, to wear a half sleeved shirt, and , as a concession (I was nagging) a sleeveless sweater. I must say he looked quite handsome!

As we entered the bus, I noticed that most of our friends were also clothed as though to beat a mildly chilly weather. Of course, none was as inadequately dressed for the weather as my dear husband.

The short walk from the hotel to the bus was brrrrr cold! I got nervous and offered to run up to the room and get the windcheater and the cap for both of us. As expected, the hubby vetoed contemptuously with an upward turn of the left corner of his mouth.

WE soon reached the spot where we had to alight from the bus to board the boat that was to take us to ST. Marks Square.

As we walked, the realization hit us with the bitterly cold blast that greeted us, that we had seriously underrated the weather. It was windy all right but the wind bore no resemblance whatsoever to the welcome breeze or even the occasional chilly wind of our tropical homes. This was terrible - felt as though someone was shoveling ice on me as I walked along. I looked around and saw everybody shivering shamelessly. Some were trying to control the jaws which went kadakadakada.

“They should have told us it’ll be this cold”, someone grumbled.
“They dihidihidihid”, voice unsteady.
“They should have told us it’ll be freezing cold! Pah”

As we waited for the boat, we noticed that the water between the jetty and wall was full of rotting leaves.

The Keralites among us tried to make a joke of Venice being the Alleppey of the west but couldn’t get to the end of the joke as our voices dwindled off into a freezing halt. We tried to smile at each other but ended up grimacing.

I looked anxiously at my husband. He grinned at me nonchalantly, but I thought I saw something laboured in that grin.

“Not freezing?”, I asked him.
“Will survive, don’t worry”. Casually.

The boat arrived and a batch of Chinese tourists came out. All of them looked double their size from the layers and layers of clothes they had wrapped themselves in. Their headgear reminded me of the pictures of Eskimos. And as they passed us, they were grinning at us and at each other, hugely amused at us, the poor tropical creatures, shaking and shivering and crouching in the most undignified manner.

The boat was warm and soon we were in our elements. The view on either side was incredible. It felt as if we were moving through the medieval ages. Cameras were clicking furiously but I sat back and enjoyed the feel – the feel of traveling through some age in the remote past, the feel of the romance of a bygone era.

Oh, it was lovely.

How well these Italians have preserved their heritage! The centuries old structures were well maintained. How well developed is their tourism industry. Why can’t we also do this, I thought sadly. We too have an equally great heritage to preserve. Why don’t we get our act together like these people who are so proud of their history and heritage?

WE reached the jetty near St. Marks Square where the guide was waiting for us. Out of the warmth of the boat, we restarted the uncontrollable shivering act. I saw hands disappearing into the sweaters, noses turning red, teeth chattering as people listened to the very competent guide who was least impressed by our frozen condition. She herself was in a great overcoat with a furry collar, and wore a warm monkey cap which covered her ears well (It took all my self control to restrain myself from snatching it off her head and running away with it). She wore knee high boots, and here we were with nothing more than trousers or jeans or churidars or salwars between us and that sadistically biting wind that was, without let up, sending millions of tiny sharp icy darts.

Needless to say, the square was simply out of this world. Soon it was dark and the lights came. The sight took our breath away –the lights were symmetrically arranged for the best effect. The bell tower, St. Marks Church churches with stunning carvings and pillars – oh, it was all so richly carved with figures from history, myth and religion. Only, we were freezing and wanted to get into a warm place to revive our blood flow which, by then, was beginning to get congealed.

My poor husband by then had given up all his macho pretensions, and was making funny sounds.

“What is it?” I asked.
“Chumma” he said, like Mohanlal.
“What are those strange sounds you are making?”
“Hei, it’s nothing”, he said. He tried that lopsided grin which froze half way thru. I noticed the goose bumps on his arms. He was the only human being in that crowded square who had any part of the anatomy exposed to the stinging wind. I noticed that he too was becoming an item of tourists interest.

I wanted to gloat and tell him “Serves you right”. But I didn’t. After all, I can’t behave as though there is no tomorrow.

Soon, it was time for the gondola ride. We chose not to go. Another couple from Kerala too decided to stay back. We were not sure if we could handle the cold(When the group returned after the ride, they told us that the gondola ride was warmer than standing in the Square). Besides, it was dark and the visibility was almost nil. The guide told us that it was worth going just to feel and hear the sound of the water lapping on the sides of the gondola. Well. We have traveled enough times in the snake boats back home in Kuttanaad. So there was no novelty in the experience, we Keralites who chose to stay back consoled ourselves. It was a different thing if we could see the banks, which, the guide had told us, was not possible in that fading light.

So we hung around in the square while the others went for the gondola ride. The ground floor off the pavement of the square was full of shops where Italian jewelry, Murano glass items and a whole lot of other things were very attractively displayed. We tried window shopping. The rates appeared whopping, particularly when we converted euros to rupees; I guess our frozen state too had something to do with the rates appearing prohibitive.

“Let’s get into a café and have something to drink”, I suggested. “It’ll be warm and coffee will warm us up”

We got into a café and ordered cappuccino coffee. We were thrilled at the prospect of sitting in the warm café and sipping little by little piping hot coffee. Soon the order came. Each of us was served, without exaggeration, half an ounce of bitter coffee! We masked our utter dismay behind a poker face while it was being placed on the table. I even managed a sweet thank you in the direction of the waitress. After all, we are the brand ambassadors of our country!

I wish I had taken pictures of our expressions as we looked at the half ounce blackish coffee and then at each other.

“Maybe more will come”, I said hopefully.
“Mmn. kaathirunno” (you can wait forever for it), my friend said.

We tried sipping the coffee slowly but none of us could go beyond one and a half sips. It was over! One and a half sips for two euros!!(More that Rs.120).

“We came in for the warmth. Let’s think that we are paying for getting away from the cold”, I said weakly. After all it was my bright idea to walk into a restaurant and sip a giant cup of piping hot coffee and feel the warmth seep through your body and thaw the frozen blood. I had to come up with some justification.

All the three nodded somberly in unison.

Looking back, we realized that we should have freaked out on some good food and stopped converting. But I think it takes a few days of transacting in the unfamiliar currency to be able to do that. The Venice trip was in the evening of the day we landed in Italy.

And of course, our brains too were frozen, disabling sensible thinking. It takes sometime to handle the alien climate of an alien place too.


  1. I am feeling so much nostalgia reading this post..coz i was going through almost the same path in dec 2006...

    though our trip was a bachelor gang on a backpacking ride..

    did you buy venetian masks and glasses btw? and Lido..murano?

    'It was over! One and a half sips for two euros!!(More that Rs.120).

    reminds me of my dad's face when he asked me the price of the coffee he just had at one of the airports here...being quite frugal in nature, he looked almost shocked!!;-D

  2. Geee.. that does sound really freezing... here its getting to 40 degrees celcius... would like to have some of that cold !!

    lovely to read ... and ye ye your are the ambassador there !!!

    ha ha

  3. “Chumma” he said, like Mohanlal-----> had me burst out into fits of laughter......

  4. >>It took all my self control to restrain myself from snatching it off her head and running away with it<<
    :D Lol I can imagine you doing that! Infact I can imagine myself doing that!

  5. he he sounds familiar :) My first visit to Italy was when it was Lira's n that was even worse. Was shocked to see so many 0's in the price. That way euro is better. It looks small if you don't convert :P

  6. “What is it?” I asked.
    “Chumma” he said, like Mohanlal.

    ROFL......superb I tell u, ur sense of humour is.

    Enjoyed ur namaste post too;-D.


Dear visitors, dont run away without leaving behind something for me :-)
By the way, if your comment does not get posted at the first click, just click once more.