24 hours in Trieste, Italy.
Our cruise ship had not been able to put us on the return flight the day we returned to port. Tired and with a surprise treat of 24 hours left in Italy, we decided to drop off our bags in the hotel where the cruise ship put us up before working our way outside.
Traveling with Olga in Italy, she played part time tour guide, full time opera mezzo. I bemusedly grinned each time she launched into Italian with aplomb and gusto.
Instead of taking a nap and then trolling the streets of Trieste, Olga suggested a side trip to Venice with our extra day. Who was I to disagree?
We walked over to the train station to buy our tickets and wait for the train to arrive. The trip to Venezia would take several hours one way. After being mostly on the Mediterranean for the past 12 days with a few ports of call visited, it felt comforting to think of heading to a town known for its waterway transportation.
Along the way, we befriended a traveler from Sophia, Bulgaria. I apparently decided to step into the role of “that” American, peppering him with questions about yogurt and buttermilk… From our seats, Olga and I watched Italian countryside whiz by outside.
My excitement built as the train finally began to slow down near our stop.
Anything I might have read about or thought of Venice previous to this point could not prepare me for the sheer beauty and quirky charm of this city with its meandering canals and interesting architecture. We coursed our way in crowded streets, chock full of tourists and doing our best to not be tourists and to soak in the local culture.
Every twist and turn held intrigue and my naturally snap-happy self kept the shutter on my camera busier than usual. We meandered over bridges and down corridors to the bustling Piazza San Marco with its grand church and the iconic former housing for the procurators of St. Mark. An Indian family fed pigeons, and I caught the mother feeding a bird from her hand as the bird’s wings were in motion and frozen in the frame at the same time. We moseyed into a nearby caffe and ordered espresso at the standing bar and felt the short shot of caffeine do its work. We ventured into several stores selling hand blown Venetian glass, marveling at the colors and the handiwork. Olga and I bought rubber stamps emblazoned with our initials and Venetian building archetypes molded into the design from a store specializing in handmade marbleized papers.
In this city, it was so easy to imagine the unimaginable coming true.
Even though it was not their busy season, we were surprised by the crowds and the kind of heat that jettisoned off of the stone buildings only to pummel us. As is true of my previous Italian adventure, we made time for gelato and welcomed the cheerful piccolo cups with their brightly hued plastic spoons. Two hands reached over the counter, taking my euro and replacing my empty hands with a cup of Stracciatella and Rocher gelato. Cold and creamy, the ribbons of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate played off of the sweet cream with a hint of vanilla. It was perfect.
We continued walking the corridor at a leisurely pace, drinking in the glint of sunlight on the fractal diamonds of a window that shimmered. I could imagine men and women decked out in costumes and masks and felt myself a player in a live action drama. If I closed my eyes, I could see Olga burst out with an aria to no one’s chagrin. I pondered if that sense of wonder was something Venetians still possess and thought about my lukewarm relationship to the San Francisco landmarks that make visitors marvel.
We checked our watches to note only 30 minutes remained before the train would arrive. Early the next morning, we would set off for the States, putting an end to this voyage hallmarking my birthday and the passing of time.
If we stop to think about the span of our lives, the brevity can be staggering, a mere blip of time for us to use as we will. What would have been the safe option that day in Trieste would have been to stay in town especially for our two Type A personalities.
But we would have missed the magic of Venice.
Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since Olga’s mother passed away. When I consider the breadth of living Sally squeezed into her life, I recognize that shared desire to take and eat, to live and live well. Over the course of her life she accomplished so much and that continues to inspire me to step up to the plate.
Instead of a funeral, last weekend we attended a celebration of life. Hat stands decorated the room, situated around the coffin. The stands were bedecked with colorful hats that ran the gamut of the colors of the rainbow. Each hat bore its cheering presence at a time that could have only been mournful. As the service ended, Olga proceeded to the podium bearing the grace that her mother and opera bestowed upon her. As she thanked guests for attending, she invited each of us to find and adopt one of the 75 hats. We joined the throng afterwards, walking forward row by row to pay our respects.
Women in the lobby donned pink hats, blue hats, and yellow. I could imagine Sally smiling upon the room full of family and friends decked out in her hats. A sassy red wool felt hat perched atop my head and received a number of compliments at the Denver airport that evening. The hat sits on our art bar even now. It reminds me to dream bigger as I can hear her saying as she asked me once, “what’s holding you back?”
I think back to that unexpected escapade to Venice and can almost feel the sunshine beating on my back. I can almost make out those corridors leading to unknown destinations and the bridges over canals that will take me there. I’m left craving a scoopful of Stracciatella Frozen Yogurt that lets me go back and also dream on.