Night Train From Hell. The story goes like this…
I walked for an hour along the main street in Budapest up to the train station in the hot dead heat. I arrived to see that my train to Vienna (which I would connect to Venice) was on time. I waited about an hour and realized with 10 minutes to spare the ticker board was NOT displaying the platform number, something was fishy. Eastern Europe can be a pain because no one speaks English and people are not about to go out of their way to help anglos. I found a few young girls in their teens hoping they spoke a bit of English. They informed me that the “20 Pacs” beside my train number meant it was 2 hours late. DAMN I said throwing my fists into the air. The first and only time I have been truly spontaneous on this trip and it ruins me.
For the next two hours I stand in an incredibly long line waiting to get to the ticket booth to change my ticket for the night train from Budapest as I would clearly miss my connection in Vienna. The day from hell dragged on as fights broke out in the line and babies screamed and threw up onto the cement floor. Beads of sweat fell down my brow and all I could think about was sitting in a freezer crying. The local Hungarians love to bud in lines and feel as though they have the right since they speak the mother tongue. I was budded a total of 3 times within a 60 minute time frame; depression and kill me. I finally got to the ticket desk and the lady didn’t even really know what a Euro Rail pass was. I could tell I was in trouble. I spent the next 30 minutes standing in front of her as she jumped back and forth from her little cubicle to the back hall of the ticket counter. I was screamed at and sworn at an innumerable number of times by people who thought I was taking too long. I tried not to cry. I finally got a ticket with no refund (so I wasted a total of 25 euros on my Vienna night train) and bought a couchette and train ticket from Budapest to Vienna which left in 30 minutes.
I ran back to the ticker sign and platform 13 flashed up beside VENEZIA. I ran to the train and was shoved into my room which I fell into and played dead. As I looked up from the floor my face dropped. My room was the size of a water closet. It had three pull down beds that a midget would actually find uncomfortable. The seats were dirty as anything and I had a small and tiny little window to glance out of. The train left 20 minutes late at 5:50pm. I was just thankful to actually be leaving and arriving at my destination, I was lucky that Budapest even has a night train to Venice! I was scared to actually sit down on the smelly seats in my closet of a cabin but did so as I was so exhausted and swelteringly hot. The conductor came around and I found out that I actually had the room to myself. One good thing happened on that trip and that was my single room. I had heard horror stories of cabin mate stealing, gassing and violence. I had my own lock on the door and was not scared in the least to leave out my things unlocked.
The sun blazed through the window for the next few hours as I crossed the Hungarian landscape eating my lowly leftover grocery store dinner. The train traveled from Hungary through Slovenia and Croatia ending up in Italy. That means I had my passport checked 13 times throughout the afternoon, evening and morning. I barely slept as every few minutes it seemed I had my door slammed in demanding a piece of ID. The best part of the night was when we crossed Croatia and the train stopped for an hour because the police felt like arresting someone. I have no clue what went on, I peaked through the door than locked myself inside so I couldn’t be deemed an accomplice. As the sun finally set I realized I had no water on me and I was dehydrated. I walked through the dark shadowed screeching train cars (fifteen in total) to find an empty on board restaurant. It turns out that the restaurant has one, small little, frumpy looking Hungarian attendant. I found her outside my door and ended up following her back to the other side of the train where she sold me one liter of sparkling water that was hot enough to boil pasta for 3 euros and a nice cold Lowenbrau beer for 2.50. As I walked back to my cabin through the fifteen or so train cars I stared out into the red and yellow sun set across the Hungarian horizon. I am still turned off by the eastern European need to smoke everywhere. Half of the cabins allowed smoking and as you enter them you can see a thick fog of cancer causing air. As I entered the last car (mine) I walked by the conductors cabin to find him roasting sausages and onions on a tiny little portable burner (that was cool). I had a wee bit of a photo shoot in my cabin before heading to “sleep”, reading a few chapters of my scandalous book and finishing my beer with a swig of sleeping pill.
The train arrived in Venice 2 1/2 hours late. What a shock. I instantly fell in love with the city as I exited the main station and walked across the main bridge to Piazatta Roma, the bus station. Don’t laugh, but I actually stayed at a Camp Site in Venice as hostels basically don’t exist. The camp has a shuttle that picks up every hour and I grabbed that with two new found friends from Calgary. Arriving at the camp site we decided to ask if we could share a trailer (to hell with tents those are ridiculous). We dropped our stuff in the little room and ran to the bar to buy some beer and Bacardi Breezer. The spot is lovely! A huge cold pool with two hot tubs. I smiled huge when I jumped into the cold waters under the hot blazing Italian sun. Funny thing, the camp site is basically in the backyard of the airport. From the pool we tried to play a game which was simple, “can you guess which airline that is.” Five out of ten it was Ryan Air. The pool got really irritating when the “ten year old witches from Limmerick Ireland” arrived. They jumped on me, called me a midget and pulled my hair. I told them I had a disease and to leave me alone. The new friends from Calgary found that funny. We waited until 6:30 pm when the camp ground restaurant opened to eat for the first time! I had a huge pizza with about 9 million kinds of sausage topped off with a small glass of beer. The waiter of the restaurant was evil, he looked like a Mafia hit man and stared at us as if we were going to steal the fake roses at our table setting. After dinner we popped by the market and I bought a bottle of Bianco Veneto with some sweet chocolate oat cookies. We all sat around and chatted in the shade before heading to bed (as the mosquitoes came out and threatened to eat us alive).
The next day I took the bus into the city of love, Casanova town, Venezia. My day of solo romance was a success even though I nearly melted in the hectic tourist laden streets. I do have to admit the city is cutesy, the canals are cute and so are the little coffee shops, bridges, churches, masque shops and Venetian glass specialty stores. Everyone told me to expect the air to smell like garbage. Venice smells lovely! I asked a local and she told me that the cities reputation has changed in the last 10 years as the city changed the way they dispose of their garbage and sewage. So, come to Venice and smell the sweet gelato! The worst smelling area was the ever so thrilling fish market which I took the time to gander and muddle through.
I arrived at the Gallerie dell Accademia at 10:30am and decided to go in at that moment as the gallery only allows 300 people in the building at any one time (it is an ancient building with no air conditioning mind you). I walked right in and bought my ticket and strolled through the 24 rooms while staring at the world’s most famous art from Venice. Lorenzo Veneziano, Giovanni Bellini, Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto, Veronese (this one made my jaw drop as I entered his huge room and found the ever so famous “Convito in casa di Levi” which is the length of an entire city block. Giambattista Tiepolo, Giuseppe Zais, Jacopo Da Ponte Bassano, Francesco Zuccarelli, Sebastiano Ricci. A room full of his huge expansive Venitian city scapes. Gondolas and men in tights by Bentile Bellini. Vittore Carpaccios “Apothesosis of Ursula and her Companions” was my most favorite newby. As I exited the gallery I was so happy I had entered when I did. From the ticket booth I could see a 3 hour line up that crossed over 2 bridges to the west…score!
A very interesting spot is the Fiorella Gallery. An insane art haven. Fiorella is a Venice born fashion designer with a crazy eye for the weird. The shop is full of incredibly expensive velvet painted jackets. This place was the center of cool town as all through the store were wooden sculptures of famous Lords and Knight of Venice (wearing the oddest looking clothing). Upon entering the store you can see a huge red satin bed with a male mannequin wearing a thong that reads “Venice Low Cost”. The female designer is wacky. She sells many different female corsets made of rubber chickens and plastic apples as well. None of the pieces have prices on them but I asked the cute girl who worked there and she said one jacket (pink painted chickens) was 550 euro. The store has many wall hung pictures of famous visitors such as Sting and Maddona who travel the world to visit this one store (the designer sells all of her stuff from this one location I was standing in).
The employee used to live in California and spoke excellent English. She told me that every 2 years Venice has a huge art and fashion festival that lasts a week. The designer of the store set up a display at the festival which featured a glass encased bed with two male models wearing her designer thongs. A neon light over head reads “Bed and Breakfast”. The models were a show piece as they slept in the bed for 7 nights and ate breakfast in front of the crowds, in bed, every morning…brilliant. I walked towards the heart of the city passing over many bridges and watching many gondola riders snapping pictures. As I came to the main street I found many Venetian glass shops and mask stores as well as a very high end shopping street with every designer imaginable. Prada, Gucci, Valentino, Cavalli etc… Outside on the street in front of all of these stores were literally hundreds of counterfeit purses, wallets and belts sold by many nice African men. I really did have to laugh as I stood outside the huge Gucci store and stared down at the street where a fake Gucci purse was being sold for 20 euro (a bargain?) I arrived at the famous Piazza Saint Marco to find a huge open courtyard filled with tourists and pigeons (filthy little birds). I took some pictures of the church and decided not to wait in the 3 hour line up in the dead heat to enter the church (I know it is supposed to be impressive but it was hot I tell you and 3 hours is to long!). I found a small side street with a few steps leading down to a canal and sat in the shade reading my book and drinking an entire bottle of water. I smiled as the gondola passed and waved as the opera singers and accordion players swayed in the sun as they passed under the bridges in the distance. Only in Venezia do public transit workers wear Prada sunglasses (the Gondola men are walking fashion icons)…can the Guelph transit people raise the bar a bit maybe?
Mid day it was hot as ever and I grabbed a 3 scoop cup of Gelato (chocolate, coconut and strawberry) and spent the next hour finding the perfect spot to eat. I walked right of the main streets and walked down small little allies that coudl have been no wider than a meter. I found a cute little pizzeria with AC and ordered a Viennese Pizza (a special local sausage variety) and a 1/2 liter of cold white wine. I sat in the largest room of the restaurant where several Gucci Mobsters who were clearly drunk wasted their change on the Video slot machines. I made my way (slowly but surely) back to the bus stop, through busy tourist market streets (where I actually bought an elaborate Venetian fan!). On the way back to the bus stop I popped in and out of the designer stores as they were as cold as the inside of a fridge. These quick little visits gave me a chance to wish I had the money to buy the goodies inside. I finally got to the bus and closed my eyes dreaming of the cool pool that awaited my eager plunge.
I arrived back to the camp site from Venice on the shuttle sweating and the colour of a bright red Roma Tomato. I jumped right into the pool and stayed there talking to my friends from Perth until my fingers wrinkled up like raisins. My dinner consisted of two Kronenburg a cup of olive cream cheese and a bag of garlic crustini. I finished off this cheap market meal with half a round of marble cake, genius finish.
Venice is exactly what I thought it would be. Tomorrow I get to go somewhere new, what a thrill. And to think I could possibly be tired after 3 months of travel…pffffft.