After a scary night contemplating sleeping in the top bunk of a couchette car (look, they’re really high up, the ladder is made of slippery metal rungs, and the train is bloody moving) I arrived in Zurich, relieved that only one other person had joined me in the compartment, so I’d been able to stretch out uncomfortably on the bottom bunk.
In Zurich I had just enough time to admire the big purple angel on the ceiling of the train station, and be puerile enough to be impressed that they had a beer hall area right there, RIGHT THERE INSIDE THE STATION, before getting on the train to Milan, and then to Venice. The little time I should have been watching the Alps go past, I spent catching up on the sleep I hadn’t had the night before. Occasionally my eyelids would flutter upwards allowing me a glimpse of an awe inspiring mountain. I can confirm they’re very nice.
Arriving in Venice I was astounded to find that I didn’t like it.
I feel almost traitorous to admit it, and surely I will bring down the wrath of the Gods of all travellers, but it left me … itchy.
Never mind the fact that I picked up another four or five mozzie bites on my face to complement the plague blisters; never mind that the hostel I stayed in was a converted apartment, dirty, and had a lackadaisical approach to changing bed linen in between guests… no, no, no those things are not to be taken into consideration.
The truth is that I am part of the problem, as is every visitor to this once splendid city. Venice is not just full of tourists, it is infested with them. We stream through the main circular route around the city, like a thick line of ants. We scale the bridges like cockroaches crawling over one another, and we are disgusting. Cigarette butts caught in every crack in the road, and a pervasive mess that you can’t possibly clean up because there’s no time and no space. The way we’ve inundated Venice and turned it into a run down Dismaland-esque tourist trap; where healthy, young men have no shame in standing in alley ways with a cap held out for money, is simply ugly. It also gives me a sense of something unfamiliar and uncomfortable … ah guilt, that’d be it.
Certainly, it’s possible to get blissfully lost in those quiet streets that are nothing more than paths narrow enough to span with your arms. My first night I meandered around the centre of Venice, S Croce, and kept coming across really cool things like a bar with a double bass and piano combo playing jazz to a crowd in an otherwise deserted square, or a group of people waving flags outside a church (to be honest more culty than cool, but I had no idea what was going on, and religious stuff with chanting always sounds ominous). And yes, during the day I was able to find quiet spots to view the canals and the dilapidated, sinking buildings.
It’s impossible not to appreciate the incredible beauty of Venice, but the beauty is in its decay, not its grandeur. Truthfully, what appealed to me most about Venice, was not opera singing gondoliers, but the slightly sinister potential of a debauched and a macabre circus. It would be hard to resist the intoxicating freedom of wearing a mask and passing in between revelry and shadow. It’s that rich undercurrent of illusion and Loki like mischievousness that is , for me and thousands of Tim Burton fans, so alluring.
I think perhaps I’d really enjoy returning with ridiculous amounts of money, a select group of friends, and coming at the time of carnavale.
From Venice I was excited to move onto Vienna. Imagine my lack of enthusiasm when, as I gathered my bags to get off the train at 7:51 this morning, I discovered my wallet with all my credit cards, debit cards and driver’s license had been stolen during the night. Sigh…. Karmic wrath from the gods for not falling in love with Venice.