It rains through the night and is overcast when we wake. Our train from Chiusi leaves at noon, so we must catch a 10:00 bus from Montepulciano. Once again, for what seems like the hundredth time, we cram all of our belongings into our suitcases and prepare to bug out.
I have mixed feelings about our stay in Montepulciano. On the one hand the countryside is beautiful and the town is lovely. Unfortunately the weather has not been brilliant, and we have spent much more time in our flat than is desirable. But we have enjoyed the things we have been able to do, especially walking in the vineyards and visiting Siena and Pienza.
I think our next destination, Venice is going to be a bittersweet encounter. I have looked forward to it throughout the entire Euro2008 expedition, but I also know that it signals the approaching end of our travels. We have been lucky enough to have visited Venice three times over the past year. It is my favorite city of the world. So, as we leave Europe for good, I feel saddened by the thought that it might be a long time before I walk along the canals of La serenissima again.
Perhaps it is my keen sense of anticipation that draws out the hours, but our train journey from Chiusi to Venice seems much longer than the four-and-a-half hours specified on the schedule. As we pass north of Florence I see something that I haven't seen since leaving Vienna: a forest. The mountains are shrouded in broad-leafed trees that are just beginning to turn color. After two months in the more arid regions of the Mediterranean, even a small forest seems pretty impressive.
At last our train pulls out of Venezia Mestre, the last station before Venice itself. We roll slowly across the bridge over the lagoon, closing on the most beautiful city in the world. The bell towers of Venice glow in the late afternoon sunshine. Across the water small fishing boats tend the net-lined traps that are set up in the channels.
We disembark from our train and I fight the urge to kneel down and kiss the dusty, pigeon poop-encrusted stones. It feels as if we are home. Marco Polo must have felt this way when he returned to this radiant place from his long trip to the Orient.
We catch the vaporetto and chug four stops to the Ca' d'Oro station. Here, our landlord, the genial Paolo, meets us and guides us to our temporary home. We are staying just off the Strada Nova, on Calle degli Albanesi. Once we are settled, I quickly unshackle the Blue Anvil, grab camera and tripod, and set off in the failing evening light to renew my love affair with Venice. This first night I stick fairly close to home, wandering the canals to the north of us, tracking down the Fondamenta Santa Caterina to the Jesuit Church. Along the way I spot a small trattoria, which, in the dark of evening, reminds me a bit of a watercolor painting. Back home after dark, where I collect the rest of the hungry team. We find a marvelous pizzeria, a few alleys off the Strada Nova. The dinner is terrific, fairly priced, much better than the horrid tourist restaurants that cluster around St Mark's square. Well satisfied, we walk back to our flat and tuck in for our first night in paradise.