Awoke alone and lay cosy in the dorm a while. Dragged myself to get ready, checked out and caught the bus across the city to Park Güell, as I wanted to catch the views in the midday sun. Entrance to the park’s centre is ticketed, and I was given a slot around midday. To kill time, I hiked up the hill behind the park and sat in the sun enjoying magnificent views of the city, it’s soft edge square blocks of rooftops and terraces, viridescent mountaintops beyond, and at the end of it all, sparkling ocean merging with the horizon.
I wish I was a sailor. Can you imagine the adventures?
I dusted back down the hill, scraped my arms on harsh thorn bushes but paid no mind, dancing as I went to sunny hip hop in my headphones. Got my photo in the iconic location out on the veranda with the vibrant mosaic benches and Barcelona shimmering in the heat beyond. It took a while, a large, thick headed family were spread eagled across half of the benches, gazing around and scratching themselves and preventing crowds of people from taking their photos. I asked a young hipster with a DSLR slung around his neck if he’d mind taking mine, assumed he’d have a vague idea of how to frame a photo, but apparently not:
Missed out half the park. Thousand pound camera hung from his neck and no clue how to take a photograph. Bloody hipsters. Well, never mind; a decent record of my time here would have been pleasant, but you can’t have everything.
After I’d finished taking photos, I saw some school trip kids playing catch with a smartphone. They kept dropping it accidentally-on-purpose, and I got the feeling it wasn’t theirs. They started kicking it around, smashing it to bits, and I began scanning the crowd for a sad faced nerdy type who’d been robbed. There was no victim in sight, but regardless, I was filled with a sense of empathetic indignation, and my blood started to boil. I had visions of myself storming over and sternly lecturing the six young adults on the rites of becoming a man and demanding they give the phone back, and if that failed, deftly battering them all simultaneously. Of course, there was no de-phoned victim; it seemed the Hispanic youths were just smashing their own phones up for the hell of it. As I get older, I’m slowly understanding what the media means when it says kids are pure stupid.
I rolled on back into the city centre, grateful to leave the park and the hordes behind. A couple of sleepy beers in a town square to pass the time, a little reading, and finally a shuttle bus ferried me to the airport in the late afternoon. Two hour flight to Venice, and the next adventure. Don’t know what to expect. Not making any predictions this time because they’ve all been wrong. Just hoping.
I landed after dark at Marco Polo Airport, and with my dwindling resources I was concerned to find that the bus into the city cost 15 euros. This may seem cheap, but bear in mind I have around 100 left to last me, including paying for accommodation. Hell, I’m gunna have to starve.
The bus whisked me along a bridge connecting Venice to the mainland, dropped me in the centre of the floating city, and drove off. Wasn’t much to see at the depot. It was around 10 in the evening, the streets were quiet, and I had absolutely no idea where I was. No map, no phone, no Italian, no money, no light, just dumped on the pavement alone with my rucksack.
I’ve been in situations like this before, lost and skint and fucked, and I’ve always found the best advice comes from Douglas Adams:
I crossed a few roads and found the water’s edge, and the stop for the waterbus – which is the only way to access my hostel, which it turns out is on its own separate island and is only accessible by boat. I had a vague notion of which waterbus I needed to be on, but had no idea of which direction the boats would be heading. The little waterbus shelters float on the river, and as I waited I became seasick from the frantic bobbing and went to stand back on solid ground. Probably need to address that before I think more about being a sailor.
I eventually realised I had read the timetable wrong, and that the stop I needed was miles away. The only bus for the next half hour was due imminently. I forgot to not panic and, er, did. I powerwalked, jogged, then sprinted along the water’s edge, realising with each passing step how bastard far away it was. I finally arrived at the shelter, panting, only to realise there were no ticket machines anywhere, save for the stop I’d just been at.
I sprinted back, my rucksack humping my spine with every step as my trousers slipped and exposed my arse to the ancient city streets. Grabbed a ticket from a surly girl and was astonished to find that a single, one use, one way ticket costs (are you sitting down?) seven damned euros. And I was staying on a sodding island for two nights.
I ran back, sweaty and stupid, and made it onto the waterbus with seconds to spare. I chose a seat outside so I could feel the cool breeze on the night air and watch the lights drift past. Only, they didn’t. The boat took off on a half hour excursion through a grimy, smoke belching industrial complex. Was this it?As the boat chugged through the night, calling at various desolate waterbus stations where solitary old characters teetered aboard, I shrugged and sank low in my seat, and zipped my jacket up against the whipping sea winds and salt spray. At one point, we veered far away from the land, and in the seasick dark I lost sight of the shore. It looked frightfully as though we were heading out to sea. Perhaps that’s why the damned ticket cost so much, I thought; I’ve accidentally booked a voyage to Africa.
We then turned back and rounded an enormous corner, left the industrial waterways behind, and finally, Venice revealed itself. I gasped aloud when I saw the buildings lining the banks, ornate and sandy, studded with warped and gilded windows, and grand oak doors with all paint worn away. Hundreds of little boats rising and dropping with the surf, gently clunking into one another like little old drunk men tottering home from the pub.
And the lamps! Row after row of delicious yellow light kicked up off the waters, a mise-en-scène so delicate and fantastical it embraced all the senses at once, I saw it and felt it, smelled it and heard it, even over the rumbling old boat engine and the squabbling waterbus drivers. I stood up at the front of the boat with the wind in my hair, alone on the black waters a thousand miles from anywhere I knew, and I felt bold. For the first time, being alone didn’t feel bad. It felt wonderful. I did this; all myself. I am here, I planned it all perfectly, I did this. There’s a couple of lines from a poem that spring to mind:
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
Streetlamps reflected in the black waters play a trick on the mind; looks like an oil slick, or tar, with my little stubborn boat plugging on through the evil slick. We zigzagged across the canal, collecting nighttime passengers, until finally I was dropped on my island and the boat belched away into the darkness, taking the light with it. Silence swooped down from up high. Only lapping black waters and creaking old mooring ropes. I slowly turned a full circle in the stone empty street, and laughed aloud.
I took a guess at my hostel’s direction and set off, walking parallel to the water’s edge – didn’t seem to be any other way to head. My pace was glacial, stopping every few metres to gaze in wonder at some new semi-aquatic Renaissance delight. I couldn’t believe it was real. A floating city! In this world, so huge and bloody and grimy, I can’t believe such a place exists. I stood on the quiet bank, totally alone, absolutely electric.
Half an hour later I found the hostel, huge and newly renovated with a roaring fireplace, a wide, open bar, and young, fresh faced backpackers sprawled everywhere. I spent the evening chatting to two smiley girls from Canada over beers, and finally slept around midnight. I’d gone hiking up the hills of Barcelona that morning, now I was curled up in a crowded dorm on an island in ancient Venice. Long day. Long, mad, wonderful day.
Drink, Play, Loathe: Day 7, Venice
…In which I meet the most fantastic and utterly insane couple of my life.