Ah Venice: the lagoon, the Bridge of Sighs, St Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace, the glass factory. Is there anywhere more romantic? Is there any better way to arrive than by the Orient Express?
We’d already visited once – a day excursion from a rather dour holiday in Yugoslavia in 1982 when, as slightly less broke youngsters we took our first real grownup holiday together. Belgrade was all grey concrete; Kransja Gora a mountain resort of stunning beauty and miserable locals. My one experince of communism, up close and personal just reinforced the idea that capitalism may suck but life under a set of five year plans and zero incentives doesn’t work.
The trip to Venice, via a coach that saw service in the Retreat from Moscow and through a northern Italian landscape still scarred from dreadful mudslides, was grim; arriving in Venice was like slipping through a wormhole to a parallel universe set in a fairytale. We walked around, necks aching from the twisting needed to see everything and vowed to return and see it properly.
In 1989 the Textiliste and I had been married 5 years. You have to do something, but what? She was freshly pregnant and, hmm, long distance travelling wasn’t necessarily what was called for. So, the boy scratched his head and came up with Venice. A popular choice.
I love train journeys – apparent ever since, denied a middle name by my ponderous parents, I added ‘Thomas’ of my own accord, aged 8, my inspiration being the eponymous Tank Engine. So the opportunity to take the Orient Express as the mode of arrival was too much a temptation. It was as memorable and delightful as you would imagine. The baby Grand in the dining car, the day-lounge cabin that turned into a bedroom, the micro bathroom behind a wall, waking up in the Alps – all utterly perfect. Crossing the channel on a Sea Containers ferry with a cargo of booze cruisers and football thugs less so.
The inside of Venice Station is unmemorable – it could be anywhere. But emerging into the light to hail a water taxi was unique.
We sat in our vaporetto, soaking up sights – the buildings, impossibly perched on the canal sides; they extraordinary confection of churches; the lack of any roads and paths. We stared at the crumbling brickwork that our guidebooks told us were evidence that Venice’s days are numbered as a result of rising sea levels and hoped they were wrong. It would be such a loss.
We stepped off the boat at St Mark’s Square. We studied the tower, the bridges, the lagoon. We noted the choreography of the trinket sellers. We smiled at the feral cats slinking amongst the shadows and into the tourists’ affections. We were in love with each other and the place.
For a week we walked amongst passages that ended in courtyards full of history. We held our noses at the occasional stagnant pool. We closed our eyes and opened our imaginations as we sat on a rickety gondola while a toothless alcoholic in stripy top and gay bandana manoeuvred us under crumbling structures.
In short we had a fabulous time.
Well as fabulous as constant unremitting morning sickness will allow..
Do visit if you can; the sea level fears are far from unfounded. Millions are spent to keep this place afloat in every sense.
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