Saturday, we went on a day trip to Venice (I could hear Andrei Navrozov chuckling all the way from Sicily). Truth be told, I was very hesitant to go to Venice this time of the year after being advised of its oversaturation by tourist hordes, but not knowing when I will be in Italy next (or ever) and not wanting to disappoint my better half, I took the plunge. We took a 2.5 hour train from Milan's Central Station - a place that brought back unpleasant memories of post-Soviet Moldova. Approaching the station, you are almost overwhelmed with a piercing and nauseating stench of urine and unwashed bodies and have to be careful not to trip over the homeless sleeping right outside it. Inside, you are approached by shifty looking Africans asking to "help you" with buying tickets and various disgusting gypsy women - some thrusting their hands in your face, others breast-feeding their babies on the floor. Then, you finally get on the train and let out a breath of relief - from Moldova back to the West again.
Even with its overabundance of tourists, Venice was magnificent, especially by taking a vaporetto public transportation motor boat from the Santa Lucia train station down the Great Canal to the docks near St. Mark's Square. We had lunch at the "sandwich row" at Via de la Rasse at a German-style pub with great "Forst" beer and black bread sandwiches. Then we visited St. Mark's Basilica with all its darkness and Byzantine-inspired magnificence. We walked by the Doge's Palace and took a gondola ride (the most relaxing and romantic 80 euros I've ever spent) under the Bridge of Sighs. The gondoliere was a charmingly surly big Venecian who derided New York and Moscow at the expense of Putinburg ("Rastrelli - an Italian built it!"), interestingly enough he visited Russia a few years ago. Most of the other gondolas were filled with 5-7 middle-aged Chinese tourists who snapped pictures and chattered happily, waving at other tourists on the bridges and streets. Realizing that because of our limited time and the obscene number of tourists, we would not have time to see much of Venice, we took another vaporetto to the Lido beach. Even though, the whole place seemed to be one big tourist trap, we had the best gelato at a stall on the approach to the beach (Venetian creme and melon flavors).
Getting back to Milan, we got another taste of the chaotic, Soviet-style nature of Italy. Our return train departed not from Venice's Santa Lucia, but from the Mestre station on the mainland. The information center clerk was adamant that since every train from Venice stops at Mestre, we should take any train going from Venice and get off in Mestre (a mere 15 minutes from Santa Lucia). We tried doing that, only to be discouraged by several conductors tellling us to take a regional train. Running throughout the station for about 15 minutes we finally got on the right train. "Back to Moldova, yet again", I muttered angrily to my Moscow-born, but American-raised wife and uttered a sigh of relief when I settled into my seat on the train back to Milan, took out my Kindle and lost myself in Ed Moloney's magnificent "A Secret History of the IRA".
My next piece will be about Sunday's day trip to Bergamo (Dr. Fleming, I owe you a bottle for advising me to go there!). Ciao!
Eugene Girin is a New York-based attorney and commentator.