In case you’ve been out of the loop, my little island recently went for a paddle and has become even wetter than usual, so for this post I thought I would look at a city that was intentionally built on water. A few years ago I took a quick trip to Venice, so quick, in fact, that I went there and back in one day, but if you think this was made easier by already being in Italy, you’d be as wrong as a post-3pm cappuccino.
I was living in Turin at the time, and if you don’t have a map handy, getting from here to Venice requires you to travel 3/4 of the entire width of the country. Why did I undertake this mad adventure? Ah, the folly of youth. Also, the train ticket was jaw-droppingly cheap compared to similar in England (about 30 euros), although that’s not saying much.
My train departed at an alarm-clock-cursing 5am, but of course the night before I only fell asleep at about 2am. Somehow I was able to a) pull myself out of bed, remember b) which ticket to buy and c) to change at Milan. I ended up in my own compartment with a proper door and everything, but I still couldn’t nod off, except for five minutes before the ticket inspector arrived.
I pulled into Venice station at around midday and stepped out under a bright sky that was both cloudless and denim grey, opposite a building that looked like a scoop of pistachio ice cream. The canal was gently slopping against the banks and there was a small fleet of tour boats patiently waiting at the exit; I clambered aboard the first one I saw and leant over the rail to get my bearings.
The water below was thick and caramel coloured but certainly didn’t smell like it. The occasional whiff of unpleasantness reached my nose and made me grateful for visiting in May when it was warm but not too crowded; I could imagine it being a tad more aromatic in high summer. On the other hand it was only the cold and frank snaps of breeze from the canal that kept me awake; I was so tired I felt like I was walking in water-logged wellingtons and that someone had driven a needle lengthwise through all the bones in my arms and legs.
As the boat nodded its way through the city I forced myself to look at the incredible architecture and drink in my surroundings. The striking Venetian Gothic façades in pink, brown and white reminded me of exquisitely decorated cakes, while the archways looked like silhouettes of yet more ice cream scoops.
It was at this point I noticed the lack of tour guide – it turned out I had got on a taxi boat used by the residents, but fortunately the next place it stopped off was the famous Piazza San Marco.
To stop you fleeing in terror I’ve only used two shots from before I had a digital camera. The rest have been supplied by our friend Wikimedia.
Given that this was a weekday the piazza was rather quiet, so I could fully appreciate the pastry-like structure of the buildings and more subtle details like a family of pigeons bathing in the run-off from a drinks stand. The tower was a wafer-finger topped with a trophy and I would have liked to explore more, but these similes were making me hungry.
A blindfolded monkey spinning in circles has a better sense of direction than I do, so looking for a non-touristy restaurant somewhere was out of the question. Regrettably, I didn’t chance a gondola either, because I didn’t want to go solo. The only thing for it was to head back to the railway station so I at least got home in daylight.
For lunch I tried to buy a sandwich from a vending machine, but the bastard ate my money – possibly to punish me for buying vending machine food in Italy, for God’s sake – but the kind security guard noticed my mini meltdown and refunded my money. This was but a taster of the journey home.
On the way back the train stopped about eight times due to problems on the track. Fortunately, I could share my pain with a South Korean whose English still wore stabilisers and my mother who rang me once an hour for an update. This was comforting as the deep cloak of night sky overtook me – I made it back to Turin just after midnight. Trust me when I say a long haul flight has nothing on a 12 hour round trip on rails, but the view and experience were certainly worth it.