The Venetian Affair
The Venetian Affair
The Idea is born
Two years ago my beloved and I decide to take on a European grand tour. I, of course, because my extensive traveling over the years believe that I can do a better job than travel agents and the internet has just made that easier. My experience of landing at JFK with a transfer to a flight leaving from La Guardia for LA an hour later, just being one of many examples of the travel agent's meticulous planning. The Vagaries of New York traffic and the fact that that airports are at least 70km apart obviously being know to the aforesaid agent to test my navigating and timekeeping skills and ability after a 20 hour overnight flight from Johannesburg. Or on another occasion a flight into London Airport with a connection to Europe from Stanstead Airport about 30 miles away with worse traffic was a similar illuminating experience. I won't even talk about hotels in the wrong place. Not understanding what Downtown in a US city means and so on.
Planning the trip
So I started planning our trip. I initially wanted to go to Paris for about 7 days end of trip.
Dearly beloved had other ideas. "What about London and Brussels and Switzerland and Nice and Venice"she said. You get the picture, now we had a journey of note on our hands.
I decided the nicest way to do all these places were by train. So I did my homework. First Eurail pass, train timetables, types of trains. I also assessed how many connections we would need to make and so forth.
I prebooked hotels In Paris and London (more or less the beginning and end of the trip) and planned to book the rest on a last minute, Information at train stations basis.
So all the planning was done, flights were booked and off we went.
Our first hotel was fair. Paris was wonderful, we had 3 days sightseeing. We did everything.we sailed up the Seine via a Batobus. Saw the Eiffel Tower, Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral as well as the Louvre, where we saw amongst other things Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisas. It was also the height of the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code hype so we saw the places in the book and Da Vinci Code tours were coming into vogue. We also had a Paris by night bus tour culminating in dinner at the Eiffel tower. After 3 wonderful days it was time to get onto the train to Nice.
We had booked a coupe on the train . In our country a coupe is a two berth private berth on a train and expected it to be the same.. We discovered to our horror that we shared this with another couple. Well sleeping with perfect strangers who only spoke broken English and French. We had no French apart from a few phrases like Bonjour Merci and Bien. We thought they would rob us during the night and they harbored similar sentiments. We slept with our clothes on. We had the top bunks. We had to change only once wewere up in the cramped bunks, and under cover, keeping our underclothes on. During the night we somehow managed to kick our wallets and purses off the bunk onto our fellow passengers below. There followed much huffing and puffing, putting lights on and off, apologizing while clambering all over them to find our stuff. They were clearly terrified. At about 3.30am they got up, lights on again and packed up going into the corridor saying that they had to ge off soon. When we arose around 7am they were still in the corridor apparently waiting for the train to arrive at their station! A day in Nice , bus tour and walking on the famous Promenade des Anglais, a running alongside the Mediterranean. We also walked on the pebbled beaches The Hotel was adequate and our next challenge was the train to Venice.
No problem, great train, airline type seating and a comfortable journey. But we did not know that there are two Venice train stops, Venice Messe and Venice proper.
Luckily a fellow traveler gave us the right advice or we would have ended up in the dark at the wrong place.
Booking the Hotel
On arrival I went to the last minute info place and booked a hotel. But To get there! Firstly we had to use a Vaporetto (water Taxi) and go to the right station. We wanted to go to St Marks Station but again a helpful stranger guided us to the right station or once again we would have ended up lost.
Finding the Hotel
Our directions were very rudimentary. There are no easily visible street names. Eventually after a series of turn left , turn right maneuvers and a little yelling and screaming at each other, crossing bridges, canals and stairways, we find a doorway. We look at each other in dismay. Can this be the hotel? We are now tired, sore from lugging suitcases (wheels on suitcases are no good on cobbled streets with many stairways). I open the doorway with trepidation and a swarthy distinctly Arabic looking gentleman greats us. No No this is not the hotel. "I take you to Hotel' "Nice Massage in hotel" "Nice Hotel" Nice Breakfast". He takes our passports and booking document and grabs dearly beloved's suitcase and off we march.
Now by this time, dearly beloved is in a tizz. It is pitch dark, no street lights everything, is boarded up an away we go. Up and down and round and round narrow deserted streets. Where are we where are we going wails dearly beloved.. Dearly beloved is trying to wrestle back her back "NO NO I carry" says our minder. Imagine a 5foot nothing slip of a girl against the hunchback of Notre dame - no contest.
Any way we finally arrive at what looks like a hotel from a horror movie, looming up out of the canal opposite a bridge. No lights, no entrance nothing. This guy pushes a brass key slug into a groove and the door opens - darkness.
He stamps his foot and the lights go on. Empty reception area and a stairway covered in a linen protective cover like an abandoned house. Dearly beloved is by now close to hysterics. We get taken upstairs and into a room. A magnificent room.I has sculptures, wrought brass, exquisite double bed and a magnificent shower with a built in massage nozzles. This was the massage our guide kept referring to as ‘the massage" which caused dearly beloved so much angst!
We then say here are no people where are the people. He say "No worry, lotsa people, you see at breakfast tomorrow!' I insist that here are no people. Eventually he knocks at a door opposite and two very frightened looking woman open the door. We explain the no people thing. They hug us with relief saying "thanks god for other people in the hotel'.
They booked over the internet and had also recently arrived. They harbored similar fears to ours.
I now decide that we need dinner. Dearly beloved is busy barricading the door with a chair saying I am going nowhere. I say fine You can stay on your own. She changes her mind quickly, particularly after I remove the brass key thingy from a groove that it was stuck in and (after a few seconds) much to our alarm the lights go out. Suppressed hysterics return. We now look for a fuse box or a switch board. We check all the switches in the dark. I then, out of frustration at holding this large brass key holder, while looking for switches stick this brass thing into the holder. Poof! the lights are back. This damn thing only allows the lights to work when it is inserted. We calm down and prepare to leave for dinner.
We find a restaurant, have a lovely dinner and, miraculously, find our way back to the "abandoned" hotel. We figure that we are in a hotel that has not opened for the summer yet, but this Arab guy is working some scam as we think we're paying far too little per day.
The next day I go for my run and on my return the landing has miraculously turned into a breakfast room with people and waiters. A miracle indeed! It aturns out that the one wall is a removable partition which opens up like a concertina and reveals all. We eat a perfectly respectable breakfast and our Venetian 3 day stay truly begins.
The next surprise is all the boarded up alleyways have had the boards remove to reveal shop after shop with magnificent shop windows a true cornucopia of wonderful shops.. These were concealed by the boards as we walked down, what had appeared to us as deserted alleyways the previous night.
On the last day, we are really worried, we still have no passports, we have bill to pay ( I had only paid he deposit so far). We have breakfast and the waitress says "I see that you are checking out today, please sort everything out at reception". To date (3 days) the reception has been an empty shell. Today it is manned. There is a credit card machine and our bill is presented. We were worried, as we felt the quality of accommodation far exceeded the quoted cost. But low and behold cost was as quoted less the deposit. So we paid and were sorry to go.
We were now off to Lucerne for the next leg of our trip.
But the rest of the trip is perhaps another hub.