We’ve always seen the ocean cruise as a rather ‘tacky’ get away but Anek Lines is different, a kind of poor man’s cruise ship. Our little cabin with the window has cost the same as plane flight, but is far more comfortable and keeps our romantic savourings of travel alive. Other travelers on the ship act like stowaways, a dream Ben says he has always held which he hopes to one day fulfill. Former hippy types set up camp beds on the deck and swags under stairs. In fact they have the ship covered inside and out after opting for the cheap walk-on ticket. As it is low season the ship is practically deserted and weirdly seems there is more staff than customers, milling around polishing and repolishing the brass.
There is a motley crew in the dining room lining up for breakfast. An elderly couple with their beautiful three year old grand-daughter. A Russian mafia looking man clutching a bum bag. A couple covered in fake bling and leopard print. Its an odd ball ship indeed.
On further exploration of the cruise liner we find another of Ben’s often spoken-of dreams – a plunge pool. For as long as I can remember Ben speaks about the wonders of the plunge pool, how he loves the plunge pool, how no home is complete without a plunge pool and how oneday we too will have a plunge pool. Surrounding the ship’s plunge pool, stuck to the plastic deck chairs sunburning in the midday heat, sit the strangest bunch of cruise goers, the ones who bring their own food and drink and sleep the night on inflatable matresses up on deck. For the twelve hours it takes to get to Venice these white-skinned red-faced travelers are making the most of the cut-price journey by ship, acting like they have boarded a 5-star cruise.
I must say I never cease to be amazed at how boats remain afloat and planes in the air. Of course I know the science of such things, but they still defy the eyes, especialy knowing how many tankers, buses, cars and the rest of it are in the hold below.
Finding a comfy little lounge we perpetually gaze out the window all day for something spectacular, a whale, a dolphin, a flying fish. How spectacular this vast ocean scattered by sun-glitter, spanning a seamless infinity. The simple beauty of nature is so uplifting. Its mid June and summer is well upon us and its is quite late when we go up on deck and say sayonara to the day, watching the pinks and lavenders of dusk laid out to the uninterrupted horizon.
Everyone is up and awake on deck at seven a.m. with their cameras at the ready as we gracefully enter the mouth of the ‘Lagoon’ that will take us to the islands that are Venice.
Entering by boat is the most spectacular way to arrive in a city of ‘epic’ proportions, as my friend Crista called it. All I knew about Venice before we planned this adventure was carnevale, gondolas, ‘The Passion’ by Janette Winterson and that the city is said to be sinking.
As the enormous ship enters the Canal de la Giudecca we are flanked either side by more than a millenia of history. Quietly from on high we slip by monolithic churches carved from the finest marble are topped with golden spires, marble bridges arching across tiny calles of the Fondamente giving us a glimpse of moored boats, colourful buildings and the glinting tourmaline-green canal waters under Palattzos with curtains billowing. This is simply the most stunning way to entre Venice, with the city almost an arms reach away and waiting to be discovered afresh. Of course many people know this, because Venice happens to be one of the most popular departure points for luxury cruises in Europe.
We glide past St. Marco’s Square, The Bell Tower and the Doges Palace. Everyone on board is running across the deck to and fro, snapping pictures of the quaint houses lined-up along the canal front with domes and leaning bell towers, spires and wonky apartments rising behind. It is magical and surprisingly its Ben’s first visit to Italy and I can tell he is already well impressed.
Disembarking from the ship with far less drama than we had boarding it, we find ourselves on a ‘vaporetto’ boat ferry up the Grande Canal to The Rialto Bridge where hours later we will meet a girl called Marta who takes us to her apartment where we will be living for the next month. After St. Marco Square, Rialto is the busiest part of Venice in terms of tourist numbers, but once we are up the four flights of 60 stairs we fall in love with our new home. Its a quaint, sun-filled loft high above a narrow canal through which gondolas slip silently past. Going by boat gives one the advantage of arriving clean, well rested and ready for the next adventure. So we are out the door and sipping a delicious Spritz, drinking to the next chapter, getting immersed in Venetian culture PRONTO!