I grew up in Jakarta, a city so well-known for its poor drainage system that every year without fail, there is surely a case or two of flooding. Moreover, my house is located in the northern part of the city, a mere couple of blocks away from the sea. Continuous rain combined with high tide is always guaranteed to bring the flood to the neighborhood.
Despite this, my parents had always ‘sheltered’ me from the pain of having to waddle in the flood water. As soon as the water level started to rise, they would begin swiftly moving some of our important belongings to the 2nd floor of our home, including packets of instant noodle and an electric stove. My brother and I were never allowed to go down to the 1st floor, let alone leave the house. We often cheered for a flood cos it meant no school for a day or two 😉
My first experience with flood water took place in Europe, of all places. I started my 1st day in Venice with a drizzle, which promptly turned into a rather heavy rain by midmorning. I spent my morning wandering somewhere between the train station and Ponte di Rialto, witnessing the water level in the canals get alarmingly higher and higher.
As I had feared, by the time I reached Piazza San Marco, the water was already ankle-deep. I managed to skirt around the flooded alley and somehow reached a staircase outside a building a few meters away from the entrance to the piazza, with both my feet still completely dry. As I stood there contemplating what to do, tourists around me were busy rolling up their pants and storming the piazza without hesitation, as if it was the natural thing to do. Some even chose to walk barefooted, seemingly oblivious to the fact that their feet were submerged in water overflowing from the canals. Yikes! I frowned in disgust, thinking of the various germs and diseases the water must have carried. The canal water wasn’t exactly clean, although I’m sure it’s still cleaner than the water flooding my house in Jakarta every year 😛
I stood on that staircase for at least 15 minutes, trying to decide what to do. Should I go back to the piazza the next day instead, hoping the water would have receded by then? I had actually planned to visit Lido the next day. Or should I forgo the piazza and the basilica altogether? But it didn’t seem right to be in Venice and yet not step my foot on San Marco at all. A street vendor started selling huge yellow plastic bags at 5 euros a pair for tourists to wrap around their feet and calves. I rolled my eyes at the price. I wasn’t going to pay 5 euros to look like a Phua Chu Kang. After a while, I grew impatient and angry at my clean-freak self. What the heck, I was actually fretting over such a simple situation and making it unnecessarily complicated. All I had to do was roll up my pants, forget about dirty canal water, and start walking!
And that was exactly what I did. I couldn’t help but cringe as my right foot made its first dip into the cold flood water. But it only lasted for a few seconds and soon enough, I was already walking comfortably around Piazza San Marco in ankle-deep water. All around me were fellow tourists in all sorts of foot wrap; yellow, blue, completely bare, or just waddling in their sandals like me. Everyone looked more excited than they should be, as if the flood was actually an added bonus. A naked baby was seen running around happily while the parents were busy rolling up their pants. In hindsight, I made the right choice by bracing the flood on that day as the water didn’t recede at all until late afternoon the next day.
Venice marked the end of Italy for me. After 2 beautiful weeks spent in Milan, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, and Rome, I was due to leave for Vienna via the night train the following day. I knew not then what Austria and the rest of my Eurotrip itinerary hold for me, but I must say I’d had some of my best travel experiences in Italy. Everything I ate starting from a 2-euro slice of pizza to the simplest spaghetti al podomoro tasted fantastic. I made new friends in Milan, developed my love for hiking in Cinque Terre, fell in love with olive oil and Parma ham and fell off my bike in Tuscany, flirted with an Italian man in Rome, and last but not least, took a few brave steps outside a clean freak’s comfort zone in Venice. A couple of germs might have wriggled their way into my bloodstream that day, but I believe what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger 🙂