Chianti Countryside
Venice, the city of romance. It’s hard to imagine the city
without thinking about late night strolls, floating down the
canal, and drinking wine while overlooking the magical city.
And we did all this. However, nowhere in our Venice
daydreams did we imagine Lady Gaeta.
Venice and Lady Gaeta
We arrived in Venice without a place to stay, a situation that
causes much less angst now than it did one month ago.
While in Cinque Terre we chatted with a girl who was in
Venice just three days before, and she turned us on to a
good budget hotel. Venice is the one place in Italy where we
were prepared to pay more for a place to stay. One, we
were not staying long enough to make renting a studio
worthwhile, and two, it is Venice. Everything is expensive
here. It’s part of the charm. So, as soon as our train pulled in
we strapped on our backpacks (big one on our backs, small
daypack across our chest) and headed toward Hotel Basilea.
Not three steps off the train, I see an old Italian lady thrust
a small piece of paper in front of Jarrod. He tries to brush her
off, assuming she is asking for money, but just as he is
about to break free I see him voluntarily reengage. From my
vantage point it seemed like she had something interesting
on that piece of paper. By the time I catch up, Jarrod is
immersed in conversation with this woman, regardless of the
fact they don’t speak the same language. Glancing at the
paper, I see “Rooms for Friends” across the top, and then a
description of the two spare bedrooms in her house that this
lady rents out. The flyer reads “hot water, no use kitchen,
bathroom anytime you like”. The price is unbeatable. Let’s
just say it is roughly half of what we were prepared to pay.
Of course, there is the chance this lady is crazy. Or a thief.  
One of the countless scenic side canals in Venice
A note to our moms at this point: We are being very
careful. We usually do not follow strangers home from
the train station. We paid close attention to where
Lady Gaeta led us, in case we needed to escape
quickly in the middle of the night. But rest assured,
we could have gotten away from Lady Gaeta at
anytime. Even carrying all of our bags. No contest.
It turns out, staying with Lady Gaeta was one of the
highlights of our time in Venice. She and her husband
were the most gracious hosts, and made us feel like
long-lost grandchildren. We looked through photo
albums of their family and read letters from other
backpackers who have stayed with them in the past
and still keep in touch with them. We even had hour
long conversations about our jobs, how long they
had been married (47 years), and where they were
born—all with Jarrod and I speaking English and them
speaking Italian. Our hand gestures are pretty good
Other than hanging out with Lady Gaeta,
we did the Venice standard—floated down
the Grand Canal, marveled at St. Peter’s
Square, drank lots of wine, wandered
through the beautiful streets. We also took
the ferry across to Murano to watch the
glass blowers at work. I continued my hunt
for a swimsuit, to no avail. Turns out putting
off a buying a swimsuit before leaving the
States is going to be one of my big
mistakes. Let’s just say Europeans, or at
least Parisians and Italians, have a different
idea of what exactly needs to be covered
when one goes to the beach than
Americans. On a positive note, if I buy a
swimsuit here, it will not take up much room
in my backpack. It can probably fit in my
toothbrush holder.
Maybe it was because we did not come to
Venice with high expectations, maybe it was
because the weather was so perfect, or
Meet our Italian grandparents, Lady Gaeta and her wonderful husband
Erin on a bridge overlooking Venice's Grand Canal
Weighing the odds, we agree to follow her home to check out the place. This makes Lady Gaeta very happy, as we
are immediately thanked with what we can only imagine to be a happy exclamation in Italian, and then a series of
kisses, one on the left cheek, one on the right cheek, and back to the left for three in quick succession.
at this point, and this was obviously not their first rodeo. They brought two Italian-English dictionaries to the table
(one for us, one for them) and also an electronic pocket translator.
maybe it was all due to Lady Gaeta, but mark us down as Venice appreciators now. We had a great time, and now
agree with everyone who told us “Oh, you just have to go to Venice when you go to Italy”. We would just add one
thing. “You just have to stay with Lady Gaeta”.