Sunday, 31 August 2014

There and Back Again: An Unexpected Italian Journey

No, this isn’t some kind of weird mash-up between The Italian Job and the Hobbit. It is in fact a rather detailed account of my trip to Venice using the overnight train from Gare de Lyon with my forever faithful travelling companion, my darling sister – Pip. Now this sounds like a very good idea in theory, I will grant us that. We got extra time in Venice by sleeping on the train so we saved money on our “hostel” – definite bonus. The piece of the puzzle that we hadn’t banked on was other people. These other people were more specifically tourists. That group of people who seem to always be in the way when you don’t want them to be and who always scupper your plans for a nice relaxing break. Now obviously someone reading will be saying to themselves (either out loud or internally it depends on how vexed they are) “But Kate, surely you count as a tourist?!” Dear reader, you are sorely mistaken. Of course I’m not a tourist, I’m a Parisian (I can technically say this now after living here exactly a year!!!) We barge past as many tourists as we can; it’s like the city’s sport.
Anyway back to the story. So we were meant to be in a six bed sleeper compartment at the very end of the train.  We ended up being in a different compartment because being the kind citizens of the world that we are we swapped with someone in another compartment so that he could be with his family. I did have one thought that this could all go a bit Agatha Christie and one of us could get murdered in our sleep instead of this guy who was a secret Mafia boss – or at least he was in my head…..
Our new compartment consisted of us two, a Brazilian couple and an Italian couple. There was me thinking that I was going to be able to dazzle my fellow Parisians with my wonderful French. Sadly this pleasure was only for the train worker who took our passports for when we crossed over in Switzerland. The compartment itself was comfortable enough. There we two top bunks that were permanently there and the back rests for the seats folded down to make the bottom and middle bunks. Whoever got the bottom bunks were in for an interesting night as they also came with the headrests of the seats. One of these lucky people was me. It wasn’t the worst night’s sleep I have had but it certainly wasn’t the best. But I must concede that the benefit of being on the bottom was that I could look out of the window each time we stopped and have a good nosy at the different train stations we stopped at. My favourites were Lausanne in Switzerland and Milan in Italy, the worst being Venezia Saint Lucia our final destination. Maybe this last choice is out of anger from my latter experiences there but we will return there later, I must keep chronological!
Arriving in Venice our first thoughts were that is was beautiful and as people had told us before, just like the pictures. Indeed my pictures must look much like those that were taken by every other tourist there, save for a few very interesting selfies. The next step after actually arriving there was to find the hostel we had booked. The website said that it was in the centre of town and that if we got lost then we were to go to the only McDonalds in Venice and to ring them and someone would come and fetch us. We decided that it was probably best to go to Maccy Ds and to wait as we’d already got surprisingly lost in the 20 minutes that we had been there thanks to the myriad of dark little alleyways that are the main highways of Venice. So we were met around 10 minutes after I had called the hostel by an Italian woman and her 5 year-old son who was wearing matching green sandals and green glasses. No names were exchanged but she asked if we were the girls for the Rialto Star hostel. We said we were and that was that. She took us down “roads” that we would never have found by ourselves until we got to the building which contained our “apartment”, a room with two single beds with a door onto a kitchen and a bathroom down the corridor. Apparently there were two other people there but we never saw them!
We were then left to our own devices. So after tracking down vast quantities of pizza, pasta, spritz and a slack handful of museums whilst dodging all of the tourists with a sprinkling of ice cream for good measure we were Paris bound again. This time we thought that we were going to have a compartment to ourselves but alas we were joined 3 or 4 hours into our journey by an Italian girl who had the most luggage I have ever seen one person carrying!! This was fine until we were joined by three Korean lads at Milan who also had three enormous suitcases and rucksacks. We both managed to avoid the game of Tetris that was arranging our fellow travellers’ luggage by pretending to be asleep. A wise tactic I think you may agree!   

It was overall an enjoyable trip. Well any trip involving an overload of carbs and frozen dairy goods can’t be all that bad can it? But it’s good to be back in Paris where I can actually understand what people are saying and having a moody stare is obligatory. What I’m most looking forward to now after a short spell back at home is definitely getting back to uni (well Freshers Week) and fingers crossed finding a new job!

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