Friday, January 8, 2010
A very long day
After a busy day of last minute chores and a few final market purchases our flight to Bangkok left the ground on time at 8pm. We waited out a couple of hours dozing in transit then were finally on our way to Venice, Italy via Malpensa airport Milan and a 3 1/2 hr train ride on the National Eurostar- not to be confused with this Eurostar- or so we thought.
A semi horizontal, relatively comfortable few hours fitful kip, thanks to a half empty plane, were broken a couple of hours before landing by the sounds of our small airborne village making it's way one by one to the teeny bathroom cubicles and the smell of sausage and cheesy omlette snaking it's way down the aisle- not exactly a vegetarians favourite wake up call. Being only about 5 am at our destination it was still black as night outside so to get my bearings I flipped my screen on and clicked till I found the flight plan map. Our plane, it showed, was slightly more north than I had expected and an announcement about half an hour later provided the explanation.
While we slumbered the already arctic conditions in Milan had blown themselves into a fierce snow storm necessitating a diversion to Zurich to wait for the all clear. We landed a while later, at dawn, and watched the light leak over the alps from the plane as the authorities decided what to do with about 200 odd visa free interlopers(although techniquely as Kiwis WE do not require visas to enter Switzerland). Eventually we were let into the glass terminal with vouchers for 'lunch' which we should have realised was a pretty clear indication of how the day would progress.
The view as stunning as it is could could only sustain a restless holiday ready mob for so long.
After changing our train reservation to Venice to the 5-30pm instead of the 11-30am we were obviously not going to make, numerous games of card Scrabble, Egyptian Rat Screw and Spot That Chalet (ok that last one doesn't require cards) a tedious drawn out 8 hours later we were back in the same seats and
flown over some incredible scenery (we would not have seen otherwise) to a newly scraped runway banked by a good half a meter of snow and a still well below freezing Milan, in chaos.
In what was the first of a series of lucky catches we purchased shuttle tickets and squeezed into the last four seats on the crowded shuttle into Milan Centrale Statione. The usual 40 minute journey turned into a 2 hour ordeal on clogged roads punctuated by the intermittent sound of huge clods of snow hitting the roof as they became dislodged from power lines and tree branches. We hit the station running (very carefully on the slippery marble tile) a pack each front and back, towards the platforms a good hour after our revised train was supposed to have left.
'What do we do?' J asked our e-ticket clutched tightly in his ungloved and by now almost certainly numb hand.
The 'Tourist information booth' was helpfully closed.
'There', I huffed between chattering teeth pointing to an open door with a sign that read 'Passenger Assistance'.
'Try in there'.
I watched him disappear into the muddle of displaced humanity bitterly conscious that if we got separated without a working phone we would be forced to stay put helpless and freezing until he found us again. It was incredibly cold and in the rush none of us had had time to put nearly enough clothes on for the conditions. I was beyond shivering.
Then suddenly he was back.
'She said to just get on' he flung over his shoulder as he plundered past.
We all followed in silence.
A train sat mutely at the end of the tracks it's doors steamed firmly shut. The digital sign above the platform said Venezia SL and, I think, 5-30? People were fading down the platform then reappearing still dragging bags or lugging, like us brightly coloured packs. After a few minutes someone managed to open the first door and we all fell in and rolled into the first four seats that were facing each other around a tiny bench table. J was sent on a sortie down the length of the train to see if we could get into our reserved seats but quickly came back after finding the through carriage door still locked and the rest of the train still dark. Too tired to do anything else we just sat and slowly the carriage filled. At 9pm almost unbelievably and without any fanfare at all the train began to move.
The conductor who checked our tickets didn't say anything about the fact we were supposed to be on the 5-30 but he did point out we were in the wrong seats.
'It's no problem' said the Italian man opposite, 'the snow...it's Italy...they tell us we should bring sandwiches for tourists on the train (he flung his arms in the air)...this is Italy...' he said by way of explanation.
We sat wordlessly, no longer cold just relieved and exhausted beyond belief. The next 3 1/2 hours we sat eyes propped open with failing toothpicks watching the snow piled landscape pass as the train hissed through deserted dimmly lit stations and the carriage slowly emptied again. Finally I saw 'Mestre'.
'Next station' I prodded.
Venezia Sainta Lucia was wet AND cold. Piles of dirty ice were heaped in corners and the canal in front of the station entrance was full of choppy inky water. We headed for the vaporetto dock and tried to work out the stops, the directions, the lines. Our B and B directions said clearly line 1, stop Ca'd'oro. We bought 4 tickets from the machine and debated whether to 'validate' them in the yellow box at the end of the bobbing gangplank. Deciding against it for the moment and realising we had just missed our boat we could do nothing but wait. Thankfully a few minutes later another boat turned up and we tumbled on with sleep deprived lack of balance and damp numb toes. The boat captain did nothing more than glance at J's fistfull of tickets before going back to his wheel, there are usually big fines for unvalidated tickets.
At our stop, which was clearly marked even in the post midnight darkness, aware that tourists often get hopelessly lost in Venice's tight lanes even in the daylight, we followed a bunch of locals who looked like they knew where they were headed for the length of a couple of alleyways and through a small square and then we were abruptly alone.
'Where to?' I asked.
'Maybe back' mumbled J rereading the instructions. 'It's supposed to be only minutes from the stop.'
We backtracked, tried the opening in the little campo that had been previously obscured by a large round fountain and were immediately rewarded by a picturesque little arched bridge and alongside the canal on the other side the door of our little B and B.
'Watch the water' whispered J as he buzzed us in.
We were greeted warmly, even at 1am, and quickly in hushed tones in exchange for our passports were given our key.
'You can do the rest in the morning'
Later that morning, after a long sleep-in, we were to learn we had 'just missed' a meter high tide- the acqua alta- which had flooded the ground floor by half a meter. In fact as high tide was during the early hours although there was an even higher meter and a half rise the night before we left we never had to wade as the locals do or use the boardwalks that are placed helpfully along the main oft flooded throughfares. Just as well as there wasnt any room in the pack for 4 full sized gumboots and 30 Euro each for new ones would have meant a lot less gelato!