Here’s how to do Venice in a morning on a budget:
– wake up in the Domus Civica hostel which, in term time, is a hall of residence for female undergraduates. Cost: 30 euros for a twin room.
– get up at 8.30, walk to the vaporetto pier by the railway station. Buy a 7 euro one-way ticket and get on the number 2 boat via the Ponta di Roma.
– go anti-clockwise and see the back entrance to Venice. Watch the lorries unloading laundry and food and drink onto boats, and see how this place manages to function without any road traffic. Then join up those boats and trucks with the super-shouldered barrow men of Venice, who carry those same bags of clean linen and expensive wine into the well-appointed hotels of the Grand Canal. This is how you get to understand how this place actually functions.
– creep past the ferry terminal, where the gigantic cruise liners loom over the campaniles of Venezia. Imagine what the old merchants of the Republic would have made of it all. Think that they probably would have found it enormously pleasing. Trade is trade is trade.
– zig-zag between the main island and Giudecca. See the super-controversial inflatable version of the Alison Lapper statue on the corner of Giudecca, put there for the Biennale. Think how this water-borne old Republic is now umbilically linked to the grey harbours of London.
– get off at St Mark’s, but don’t go into St Mark’s unless you enjoy being squeezed by sweaty tourists.
– wander in and out of dead-end alleys, get lost, find a cheap-and-cheerful cafe in a square and eat a spaghetti lunch. Total cost with lemonade: 15 euros
– wander again, back towards the hostel. Arrive back there, pick up your bags and walk to the railway station
Total time: four hours. Total cost: 52 euros.
When we were planning this trip, we came up with the jokey concept of Tourisme Grande Vitesse. It was a response to the question of how you can possibly contemplate visiting somewhere like Venice and spending only a few hours there. Because this trip is primarily about trains and covering ground, it’s inevitable that we’re going to pass through some of the most interesting places on the planet with barely a glance. I’ve decided that the way to make sense of this is to think of it in terms of perspective. Astronauts can’t see political boundaries, only landmasses. We can’t see art galleries or museums or go shopping, but we’ve got a sense for mountain ranges and topography and political evolution which you don’t get from a deep dive into one place.
As a for instance: yesterday we took five trains (five trains!) from Zagreb through Llubljana and the Julian Alps down to Nova Gorica. Then we walked out of Nova Gorica station, across the Slovenian border, and into Italy. The border passes through the place in front of the station. In the 1980s, this was where the Iron Curtain was drawn. Now all that marks it is a steel plaque in the ground.
This, if you were wondering, is why the European Union is a Good Thing, of which more another time.
So yes, we’ve done Venice this morning, in our own fashion. And more than that: this evening, we’re doing Rome. Tourisme Very Grande Vitesse indeed.