[We were without an Internet connection for the duration of our trip so I am now catching up]
The train was delayed by 15 minutes which extended our stay at Como train station. As it was we had to check out of the apartment at 10 and our train was due to arrive at 11:17 so we went and sat at a café in the old town before making our slow and torturous way up the hill to the train.
Like all Italian trains, you never really know what’s happening and you invariably put your trust in powers greater than your own. These powers are not always very informative. Like which carriage stops where on the platform. In the middle of the platform there is always a large group of people just waiting. I guess they figure they are half way, giving them an equal chance of going forward or back in order to find their carriage.
We were in coach 5 and, as luck would have it, we were sat just a short distance from it as the train finally pulled in. Although eventually very comfortable, Mirinda was not best pleased with our seat allocation. It was in a seat facing the wrong way and was sauna-like from the heated window. Actually I have no idea why this particular spot was so hot. It was fine elsewhere in the train.
We put up with the seats until the train reached Milan and then we sat in a nice double set of seats with table and power point for the bulk of the trip to Venice. Mirinda was suddenly transformed to overjoyed, in comparison to her earlier mood.
In general the train trip was good except for the trip I made to the on-board café. At first I had no hope as a large crowd of large Germans effectively blocked the entrance to the restaurant car. They were gathered with their luggage, arguing something with the train guard who didn’t seem to understand anything they were saying. This may have been a convenience for him. Fortunately they had all gone by the time we left Milan so I could get to the café.
The café bar area shares the carriage with tables and chairs where passengers can eat very lurid looking risotto. I say ‘share’ but the people waiting at the bar come a very poor second to anyone sitting at a table. The space you are forced to stand in is quite narrow and, for reasons known only to the saints of railway staff, while I was standing there, frequent bodies had to go by, including one body pushing a refreshment cart. I had to stand and wait for a long time before the grim faced woman decided to ask me what I wanted.
While I waited impatiently, a rather odd woman arrived wearing long grey socks, silver runners that looked like football boots, shiny scarlet (they looked like plastic) running shorts, a cream midriff top and a very weird face. Her lips looked Botoxed to the extent that they were bigger than the rest of her face. I felt I needed to stand at some distance or risk being sucked into their orbit. She had a startled expression on her face so, clearly, she’d just looked in a mirror.
Eventually I managed to get served and started to make my way back to Mirinda. Our seats were two carriages away. The first carriage was blocked by the refreshment trolley. I think the worst thing was the fact that I could have bought everything from the comfort of my seat had someone bothered to tell us we could. Anyway, I wasn’t getting anywhere too quickly so I stood and watched as six separate passengers asked the trolley person to go through everything they were selling, the cost, who made it, when it expired and the grandchildren of the distributors.
I managed to reach our seats just as the trolley rumbled by and Mirinda asked why I didn’t buy what we needed from it. I sat down and huffed.
At Verona we witnessed an American woman abusing the general Italian rail staff because she couldn’t find her carriage. Her yells of “For God’s sake! Where’s 2? Number 2?” could be heard all over the station. This reminded me of the last time we were in Verona. I can only imagine she had had to run between platforms in order to find the train at all. She wasn’t very happy.
Neither was I particularly happy as we slowly made our way across the Italian countryside. The carriage was full of snorting, coughing, hacking and way too loud personal stereos as well as the ubiquitous overloud expressive Italians. It’s all about seeing the world, I guess, but it doesn’t make it very appealing. Mirinda just joined the general hubbub by putting her own headphones on and listening to something boppy on her iPod.
As we pulled into Venice Santa Lucia station, it looked just like every other railway station (apart from the fact that we left the mainland via a thin strip of land, just wide enough for a road and a railway line) in that it was really, really ugly. In fact I texted Dawn to tell her she didn’t need to be jealous because Venice looked rubbish. She called me a liar but I’ll let my readers judge:
Apart from a lack of wi-fi, our accommodation is almost excellent. We’re up a couple of floors in the middle of a dead end alley, somewhere to the north of St Mark’s Square. In fact when we met Simone and he started to lead us to the flat, I thought he was going to lead us into a dark, dank place, rob and eat us. It felt like that as the alleys grew increasingly more desolate, skinny and dark. But all was fine. Unless you’re not reading this because we’ve been someone’s meal.
The bathroom is interesting. The shower stall, while very big and roomy, has no shelves of any kind where a user can put the soap or shampoo or anything else the user may require. The floor is covered with a very odd collection of suctioned plastic fish and shells. These appear to be to prevent slipping but feel quite odd. The water pressure is just above a dribble though the temperature is good. A complete contrast to our luxurious bathroom in Como. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
The hunt for a supermarket was interesting. I had written instructions which, theoretically, should have led me to two. I was gone a long time trying to find either of them. I was quite delighted when I discovered a map left by some helpful previous tenant. I unfolded it, ready to apply the described route to something easier to follow. I stared at it, confused. Where were all the canals? Why was there apparently only one major water course through the middle of Venice? How come they’d moved Venice from off-shore to inland? On closer examination, I realised it was a map of Rome. Very handy. I’m going to leave our map of Como with it. I don’t see why I should be the only person to suffer this level of joy supplanted by disappointment.
I knew my first task was to find a map. Of Venice. This I managed quite easily by heading for the nearest tourist piazza (or campo as they are called in Venice). Although an excellent map, it didn’t have quite the level of detail required to lead me to a supermarket so, out of desperation, I relied on the written instructions once more.
Afraid I’d never find my way back again (I didn’t even know the address) I kept returning to the bottom door from where I started. Then I’d set off again in ever increasing circles. I say ‘circles’ but anyone who’s been to Venice will know there is no such thing as a strict geometric shape in the make up of the streets. It’s tiny alley after tiny alley after sudden bridges over canals to tiny alley to big piazza to tiny alley…and so it goes on.
I eventually gave up using the instructions and opted for the ‘wandering aimlessly’ strategy which worked wonderfully. Almost immediately I found the COOP (nothing to do with chickens, it’s short for Co-operative). This is a horrific supermarket with narrow aisles and far more people than space. Still, I managed to get the most important supplies and queued for what seemed a day and, eventually, emerged into the relative light of some street, somewhere. I’m not convinced I’ll ever find it again.
And now for my first impressions: I’m not that keen. Venice feels like a theme park. It doesn’t feel at all real. No doubt my opinion will change as we wander around and become more acclimatized to the rhythm of the place but I’m not sure it’s the sort of place I’d ever feel like coming back to. The odd thing is that walking around the streets/alleys is like the Tower of Babel. Everywhere different languages all combining to create a mass of gibberish, and all of them tourists.
Talking of undecipherable chatter, I once more went through all 800 channels on the TV to find that there are none in English. None! Not even BBC World. Given the amount of English speakers I keep hearing, this is amazing. Still, we have a few films we can watch if we find ourselves at a lose end. And there’s always the poker channel.
After our late lunch, feasting on the spoils of my safari into the wild unknown, and a bit of a laze around the flat, we went out for a stroll. While quite a few areas are particularly smelly and there are almost constant crowds of people, Venice is very interesting and promises lots for us to explore.
After wandering all over the area near the Ponte dell’Accademia and around the punta della Dogana we made our way to the Campo S Stefano for dinner. We had a jolly time with the waiters who kept forgetting things. We had read where the barbaric tourists always eat too early and Venetians prefer dining from 9:30pm. This is also a great way to avoid the crowds. It worked out perfect for us, though I did think of poor Nicktor who just has to eat at 6pm or he’d expire! Or so he says.
We managed (under Mirinda’s expert navigational) to find our way back to the flat and settled in for the night.