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Once We Can Travel Again, What Road Will You Choose to Travel On?

Updated on April 21, 2020
Beata Stasak profile image

Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.

Take the road less travelled Alone or with someone close

Just the two of you A lonely planet guide in your back pocket

To guide you through an ancient Bulgarian city

on the plains of Saskatchewan

Or the unspoilt mountains on Polish and Slovak borders

Where no one goes

Use local transport and your common sense

Support local people offering you home made fare

And unique bed and breakfast ancient cottages

You never forget

They teach you the language and their customs

Offering you a glimpse of a real life that you have never known

to exist on our beautiful unique planet Earth

In a place you have never been before

And that no tourist has bothered to visit

Or keep floating on overcrowded vessels

Spreading human waste and germs wherever you go

In every historical port or unspoiled nature spot

Belching after too much food and drink

Feeling full and uncomfortable

And wasted, just like every other

spoilt ageing traveller around you

In places that are exceptionally lovely but fragile

Cramped and badly run

Just like Venice

UNESCO has put most European

historical ports on its list of endangered sites

unless cruises are banned

Venetians have voted for many years now to ban cruise ships

But the cruise ship business is booming

And the tsunami of ageing rich pensioners

Is ever growing. Are you one of them?

Last year just like everyone else around you...

You dreamt of visiting Venice

Strolling through alleys, squares and bridges

Since the best things there

Are free

There is no need to spend money

You just hopped on one of the thousands

of international vessels that ply their trade

Over indulgent, over sized vast cruise ships

With air fares, food, drink and transport paid

In no time, you anchored in the lagoon

And towered over the city of your dreams

You were just one of the of the 700,000 cruise passengers

Who used the port annually

You promised to meet your friends from Europe

On St Mark’s Square

They arrived on buses and trains

Pushing through the other 80,000 travellers who visit the city daily

You were so excited to follow the route from the Rialto Bridge

To the square

The bridge was the hub of the trading empire in the Silk Road times

The merchants of Venice hung around the bridge for information

Promising deals and lost cargoes

“What news on the Rialto?”

“A bloody traffic jam. They closed it.

There is a crack in the middle.

Too many bloody tourists taking selfies on it.”

A fellow Aussie from your cruise ship in his 90s

gets back onto the cruise bus with difficulty.

“Back to the deck to sip a sherry, if you ask me.”

You decide to soldier on

The walk is just a few hundred metres so you decide

to wriggle through the tourist tsunami eastwards

From the business district of the ancient city

Through the narrow passageways and ‘sotoporteghi’

to dream of emerging through the great arch at the base

of the 15th-century clock tower into Venice’s heart

Bad luck - the route is jammed with a slow moving flotilla of tourists

All oblivious to those around them with their headsets on

Listening to their guides in one of the many languages

You become wedged - unable to go forwards or back

The pushing and shoving

The bulging bags and sick body odour of hundreds of sweaty arm pits

The strong elbow of an oversized overweight stranger wedged painfully

into your ribs - you can barely see through the pain

You vomited your huge cruise breakfast on someone's shoulder

and wished to be a thousand miles away from this place, back home.

When you are finally released from this overcrowded smelly cityscape

You forget about the selfie in front of the Basilica 25 million visitors take every year

Rushing back, you nearly knock over bancarelle

one of thousands of cheap souvenir stands that take up every free space

A hawker from South Asia forces you to buy pigeon seed for two euros

To release his tight grip, you throw the seed to the ever present

flock of pigeons, whose piles of excrement are further damaging the old buildings

A scruffy noticeboard that you passed by, was barely visible under stickers, chewing gum and grime

asking tourists not to pollute with waste

Nobody paid much notice

“This is Venice, for goodness sake! I paid with hard earned dollars to get here so let me enjoy it, will you?” A burly man with an American accent stacks his half eaten McDonald's plastic tray on the sign.

Everyone nearby laughed

“They treat Venice like ‘Disneyland’ The gondolier from South Asia sighed as you paid him handsomely with your last dollars, finding refuge at his bancarelle

You watched the dirty stinking water lazily splash while the gondolier pushed on

“ They do not understand, those tourists. Disneyland is sterile and fake and it separates tourists from their money fast. Venice does not raise enough taxes from tourists to even dredge these smelly canals.”

You smiled, replying: “Imagine when passport ownership in China reaches the American rate,
450 million of them will invade this place. Taking selfies to send back home.”

He looked at me in panic: “My gondola is owned by a wealthy Venetian. They just employ us as we are cheap.”

“Everything has become cheap in Venetia’s tourist Disneyland.” I sighed, watching from the water all those identical eateries dotting the pavements.

They offer day-trippers frozen food heated up in a microwave. 'They don’t come back anyway'

And you know deep down that they are right. You have no wish to come back

As your cruise finally leaves the overcrowded port

The old buildings’ marble columns are stained by the acqua alta an ugly muddy green.

High tide is creeping ever higher as the city is literally sinking in front of your eyes

When your huge colossus of a ship sails away with it's high flying business corporation colours

And holding the multicoloured plastic glass that is meant to resemble crystal

You are standing under an enormous cheap plastic chandelier that is meant to resemble the past glory of the Titanic, in the exquisite cocktail bar among other pensioners

who have already forgotten stinking, drowning Venice and now have their eyes on another exciting port

that will be presented just for them in a fake and sterile way: ‘Disneyland of Zanzibar.’

Suddenly you remember the European friends. You never managed to see them

And you promised to take them onboard to show them all this fake luxury

Well, they did not miss out on anything, you thought to yourself as you finish your drink, throwing the plastic glass into a plastic bin in the shape of a Venetian urn.

This Year you are just like everyone else around you...

Home bound in self isolation

Watching on your computer screen

The crystal clear water of the Venetian canals

Even the dolphins came back to play!

In the fish market beside the empty and repaired Rialto

The seafood is heaped high on piles of crushed ice

The crowds are gone and the locals come back to the market

In their masks, they smile shyly with their eyes

There are no gaggles of tourists in front of the stalls to take selfies

So locals have space and time to pick from a pile of eels, swordfish and octopus

Or twitching local 'squilla mantis' that is sold alive

Outside the 'Arsenale', an ancient military base just a few minutes walk

from San Marco, that you never reached

A retired baker opens his shop again that was replaced last year

by a souvenir shop selling trinkets that has no use here now

Instead, the locals come back and the fish stop nearby opens too

A happy baker waves at the visiting cameraman

Before he puts his face mask safely back on

The long suffering inhabitants came back to rent their properties

After the greedy, rent seeking behaviour of the tourism business was stopped

The locals want tourists back, but not the overcrowding

The bigger the low budget crowds, the less attractive the place becomes to the true lovers of Venice and its history. No one wants to struggle through mad misbehaving crowds to go to the opera or the gallery.

“We should never have become an historical Disneyland for bored cruise passengers and selfie taking day-trippers. We are the real thing. We should never sell ourselves so cheap.” In the cool reception of the Danieli, the hotel’s marble columns gleam, cleaned of the stains of the high tide

The cameraman is offered a frothy cocktail in an expensive Venetian glass while standing under multicoloured crystals of enormous Venetian chandeliers, among the antique furniture used by the first merchants of Venice

“Good for you, Venetians,” I sighed to myself. I go back to my home grown organic vegetable patch. Maybe it is time for all of us not only think about sustainable living but sustainable travelling too. We would all be better off for it in the end


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