by Natalia Marchuk
I had taken a train from Florence to get to one of the biggest art biennales in Europe. The weather outside was pretty gloomy and the farther we went the heavier the rain was. Through the window, it looked like the train was swimming in the river. That`s how I knew I was getting close to my destination. When I got off, I headed to the biennale and spent the entire day there until I noticed it was dark outside. Somehow I had to find my way to Manuel`s – the guy that agreed to host me for one night. I took a vaporetto (a water taxi) to the other side of the river. Not for a single second did I feel absolutely safe on it, and the sinking of the Titanic kept flashing through my mind. The good part was that the view from the vaporetto was absolutely marvelous. I got off, opened maps and started crossing those little streets, one bridge after another. Eventually I was lucky to find his place.
"Hello! I am looking for a man named Manuel," I said.
My voice was steady. It was late evening and the rain was pouring. I was standing on some tiny dark street surrounded by a bunch of old buildings, knocking at a stranger`s door. Nobody answered. A part of me thought that there was no one in the building at all, or that I gone to the wrong door to find Manuel. He wasn`t answering my calls or my messages. I already felt like I was about to spend my night on the street. I looked around. No people, no lights whatsoever and it was too late to look for a hotel. My phone battery was about to die and I was soaking wet, holding my 24-hour pass for the canal ferries. Although I had never met Manuel and we were introduced over the internet I didn’t have any anxiety up to that point.
"How could he do this to me?"I thought. “That’s so mean! What am I supposed to do now?"
After a moment of complaining to myself about my life, I decided to give it one more try before my phone was completely off. I made a call. Then the door opened.
"Hi! Are you Natalia? I`m Manuel! Sorry, I didn’t hear you. I was asleep."
While talking to Manuel I realized how little I knew about him before coming arriving. He was originally from El Salvador, spoke several languages fluently and had a very sarcastic sense of humor. Manuel seemed like a very warm-hearted and friendly person.
"I'm working night shifts right now, and nobody`s home during the night. So I thought why not help people who travel? I figured maybe next time I travel someone might help me too".
Then he mentioned that I wouldn’t be staying there alone when he was gone for work; he was also hosting another girl that night. While I was trying to get my phone to charge and asking about the food places nearby, somebody knocked on the door. A young Mexican girl named Adriana entered. She was the kind of person who, after minutes of talking to her, already felt like you'd known her for ages. We all got along perfectly with each other and ended up talking for a very long time.
Later that night our little group headed off to explore Venice by night. Twist by twist, tiny street, turn left by this building, turn right, cross the tiny bridge next to the bigger one, turn to the tiny path between the walls of these buildings. Venice seemed to me like a big labyrinth, especially at night. On our way I was singing Christmas carols and dancing with the only umbrella we had. It seemed pretty strange for them at first, but eventually they all ended up caroling with me. So there we were, three idiots, singing “All I Want for Christmas is You” in the streets of Venice in November in the rain.
Eventually, Manuel had to leave for work, but before doing that he decided to challenge us. He said, " I bet you won't be able to find your way back without the help of GPS.” "Challenge accepted, “ we said.
We turned off our phones and started wandering around Venice.
Our sense of direction was anything other than keen. "I’m sure we passed this cathedral too!...or did we? … "I don't remember that stature being next to it…so is it a different cathedral?” "We did cross that little bridge after the big one and entered that little path between the walls of some buildings with a bell we rang for good luck."
After about an hour and a half of wandering around we gave up and used GPS. In our defense, we got pretty close to Manuel`s house. Only the walk that was supposed to take us twenty minutes turned out to be two hours. The other positive thing about it is that after being lost in Venice and wandering around it so much, I already felt like I knew this city by heart.
Natalia Marchuk is a travel artist. She moves from country to country and paints what she sees. Her art is meant to inspire people to travel the world, to treat people of each nationality equally and be more open-minded. Recently she started writing a book about her traveling experience. For more information about her work you can directly contact her via email firstname.lastname@example.org.