We didn’t have a lot of time and we had less money, so we had to figure out how to do this creatively. “An appetizer,” said Sabine, my friend, a resident of Tuscany and my Italian speaking guide for the trip. We would take the night train, spend the day in Venice, then take another evening train back to Austria. The idea was that a bed on the train costs much less than a bed in a hotel in Venice, especially at the opening of Carnival.
The trains we planned on using stubbornly refused to exist. For a brief while, it looked as though we would stop in Venice for only an hour or two. I surfed the web to see if this made any sense at all. Searching under “one day in Venice” I found any number of posts that said one should go to Venice for an hour, even. “Go to Venice. No matter what.” It was a persistent theme.
A day or two of judicious research turned up the itinerary we were looking for. Under a starry sky, we headed to the train station. A devastatingly handsome barista made my cup of coffee and we boarded the train to Rome.
Italian trains are dingy affairs, I’m sorry to say. The stations are dirty and dimly lit, the platforms disappear in to the dark. Panhandlers worked the only open café where we had a quick cup of tea. The barista sang, loudly and quite well, as though he was not behind a counter in a dusty train station. He smiled broadly at me when I took off my jacket, made some probably suggestive remark in Italian, then smiled again and shrugged when I said, I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian.
The signboards in the Rome station sent us in a perfect circle as we looked for the Metro. We arrived via spectacularly graffited subway car in Tiburtini, another grim transit center, to wait. And wait some more. Behind the little conductor’s building a young man softly played the accordion, a cigarette burning in his mouth. A small child bundled up for winter cried and leaned up against his mom. Gypsies appeared with vast quantities of luggage. We waited. And waited some more.
Around 2am, we stumbled in to our sleeper car, tripping over luggage and trying to find the ladder in the dark. Our cabin mate was a symphonic snorer and it was nearly impossible to sleep in the stuffy little cell. I slipped in and out of consciousness. At one point I sat up and dug through my luggage for the earplugs I knew I’d packed. Sabine gently awoke our roommate, who profusely apologized in English with an African accent. “I’m SO sorry, I know, I know,” she said. I must have slept some, but always there was the noise of our roommate, the rattle of the tracks, my feet kicking up against the luggage rack. I was twenty-two again, my backpack holding a battered Let’s Go and a dog-eared Kerouac.
No. I was exactly my age and blinking in the Bologna train station. We stood in line in the cafeteria behind a swarthy man who was delicately scented with rose water. A bleary eyed American family sat on their luggage in a corner. Japanese girls chattered and circled like little birds. Our morning train had not been to Bologna, nor was it coming, there was no such train. Never mind the ticket in Sabine’s hand or the large printed schedule. “No. No train. 7:45.” The ticket sales girl snapped at us.
The 7:45 was packed. For the two-hour trip I dozed and stared out the window and tried not to kick the very nice gentleman across from me. The landscape flattened and the light lifted. “Look,” said Sabine, pointing behind me. I stood up and there in the hazy morning light was Venice, the cathedrals and bell towers, the open water, little boats buzzing towards the skyline. It was a Turner painting updated with construction cranes and electrical lines.
Half an hour later, I stood at the rail on the vaporetto, the camera strap wrapped around my wrist. The sun hit the water. The air smelled fresh. The buildings lining the canal were the color of sand, of red stone, of clay, trimmed with green and white and elaborate detailed carvings. The canal opened up and I saw the cathedral domes. It was so beautiful, I started to cry.
We left Tuscany at 7 o’clock on Wednesday night. We arrived in Venice at 9:45 on Thursday morning. We spent about six hours in Venice. It was totally worth it.
Photo Courtesy of Nerd’s Eye View