Holiday: Venice (June 20 - June 23)

8 July 2006


A Blue Perspective: Holiday: Venice (June 20 - June 23)

It was a curious mix of cabin mates to be sharing a train ride with for the next two hours – a nun in a brown habit, a student/musician/vagrant from San Diego, and an Italian native who we never really interrogated. But considering that the rest of the carriage was dominated by some topless US frat boys holding an all night kegger, it seemed pretty good.

Due to a stinking hot day in Prague we spent most of the outbound journey standing in the corridor with our heads out the window, tongues flapping in the wind like overjoyed dogs, dodging the odd metal post which came hurtling at our skulls. It was here that we eoncountered the ticket collector who informed us that we'd have to get off the train at 1AM in Salzburg to get on the connection. Wasn't this meant to be a direct train? Shrug. One thing that the Czech train ticket vendors weren't was informed.

The only other cabin member who could speak English (and so, who we had any chance of getting along with) was a guitar-case-toting San Diegan (we never did figure out if the case actually contained a guitar, or just a death dealing array of automatic weapons). In my experience Southern Californians are some of the most laidback people on the planet. Laidback to the point of falling asleep mid-sentence. This guy was no different. Straw fedora askew, we chatted amiably about travel, trains, Melbourne (Mell-born) and playing (or not playing) in bands. He also admitted a fascination with Polaroid photos – quite a novelty in this age of digital disposability, where taking a photo has no resource costs, and you get immediate gratificaiton. Mid-trip, he wandered off to capture one of the quintessential train photo journey, and came back with a bit of a stunner: taken leaning out of a window, a caravan of train carriages stretching off down the tracks as the setting sun glared off every window.

Gazing out the window at the same sunset, my eyelids slowly blinked ... then we were being woken by Austrian border police demanding our paperwork. Rick's passport passed their stringent flick-through test pretty easily, but my passport got the third degree. It has a thick centre page which actually contains a chip with some of my info on it (harder to forge, I think). Unfortunately, I don't think provincial Austrian cops have been made aware of this. After 5 minutes of careful inspection, and just as I was sure one of them was about to whip out a scalpel and dissect my passport, I think one of them got the OK from a higher up, and I managed to get it back intact. Bonus. Shortly after, we had to disembark in Salzburg for our mysterious 1AM connection.

Salzburg may be a centre for culture and a bit of a tourist attraction, but at 1AM it ain't too happening. Luckily we (the San Diegan, Rick and I) found a kebab shop which was serving beers and holed up there for 45 minutes, downing a couple of bottles of the local brew – Steigel – in the process. Jason (we found out his name, but not his last, which he was rather coy about) grabbed a slightly drunken Polaroid of the event, then we wandered our way back to the connecting train at Salzburg station.

On board our second train of the evening, the conductor seemed a little flustered, and we soon found out why. Those wonderful Italian rail workers had decided to have a strike, so all trains were terminating at Italian borders. Bugger.

"Villach is well known for its cultural variety. Street art and grand cultural events, marvellous festivals and enthusiastic artists, the entire town is one big stage." Unfortunately, we were there at 4AM, boarding a bus which we had to pay an extra 15 euros for. The air conditioning was set to maximum. I was freezing. My jacket was in the luggage hold. Thankfully I slept most of the way, and we pulled into the Venice parking lot at 8:45AM. Strangely enough, right when our train would have pulled in.

Possibly the only upside of having to switch to a bus at 4AM? Everyone was required to write down their name for record keeping purposes. I managed to sneak a quick look at the elusive San Diegan's name. Jason Mraz. Travelling incognito? Maybe.

After wandering around aimlessly for 15 minutes, we decided to actually buy a map of Venice, and also to skip taking a vaporetto (water bus) in favour of walking to our lodgings. After the 14th bridge, I was still satisfied with our decision, happy to trudge along with my backpack. But Rick was regretting his purchase of a wheeled suitcase. Little did he know that the Rialto bridge was soon to come – fantastic photo opportunity, bad wheelchair accessibility.

We found Venexia – our room in Venice – after only a couple of wrong turns. I don't think we ever found it again without making the same set of wrong turns. It was a humble shared apartment, but a good place to dump our bags and go exploring for the rest of the day. First stop: Piazza San Marco.

Probably the highlight of St. Mark's is the pigeons. The good thing about them is they're everywhere, they're free, and there's no line to get in. We didn't actually go into Basilica San Marco because the lines were always enormously long, but from the outside it looked like Franco Cozzo had bought up every offcut of marble he could find and hammered it onto the facade. Ugly. I'm sure its beauty lies underneath. The Campanile guard tower dominates the actual square due to its height; the only thing higher than the tower is the prices at the cafes bordering St Mark's. We paid about 20 euros for a latte and an iced tea. But it's probably worth it to sit there in the mid-morning hours and soak in the atmosphere.

We actually bumped into Mr. Mraz partaking in high tea as we sat down at one of the cafes, so we joined him for our refreshments. He couldn't resist getting an historic Polaroid with the infamous pigeons, so Rick obliged as photographer, snapping a wings-aflutter action shot. That was the last time we saw Jase.

I'd have to say that Venice is one of my favourite cities that I've visited on this trip. I could get lost in its labyrinthine streets for hours; just letting serendipity be my guide. We stumbled over the hidden studio of a watercolour artist, cheered on Portual versus Mexico, bought some fruit, became part of a human maze in an art student's photographic project, bought some pizza, took a ferry and watched the glass blowing at Murano, and were bought a beer by a chess-playing ex-con from England who organised construction labour in Norway and who was trying to offload 1 kilo of hashish whilst on holidays. Ummm, I'll pass.

One thing you should do if you go to Venice is get out of the tourist centres. We pretty much walked to every part of the city, over countless bridges and islands. Although the main areas are a sweaty crush of humanity, it's really quite peaceful as you head out into the more residential areas, but still just as beautiful. We rambled around the south-eastern tip of the islands for a good two hours, seeing hardly a soul.

Out of all our experiences in Venice there were probably two main highlights: a German, and some Australians.

* Coarse Language Warning *

Tomas turned up on the doorstep of our apartment on the second night. The people running Venexia weren't ... shall we say ... punctual. Tomas had been standing at the doorway, in a dingy little alley, for about 45 minutes, trying madly to contact them. I think the first coherent sentence that we managed to get out of him was "I can't believe this shit fucking hostel, the owners are fucking shit, I can't get in, fucking shit!! SHIT!". Black pants, black shirt, bowl hair: calm appearance. Foul language, heavy German accent: seething inner turmoil.

Rick let him phone the owners on his mobile phone and then unwisely let the guy come up with us when he asked to. Like, who the hell was this guy? He could just run off with our stuff if we went out for dinner. So we had to sit around for an hour making small talk with this high strung SAP programmer until the owners turned up. Then we were out of there. That's not the best part though.

Back from dinner, we were relaxing on the couch when Tomas unlocks the front door and stumbles in with a takeaway pizza box. Relishing the thought of digging into some real Venetian Margarita, Tomas goes into the bedroom, strips off, struts round in his tighty whities for a bit, preparing the impending feast, then pops into the bathroom for a shower. Door locks, mild sniggering ensues.

Five minutes later, we're still on the couch, the water in the shower turns off, we hear the bathroom lock jiggle, but the door doesn't open. Now, this door's a little tricky – the lock gets a bit stuck when you turn the key so you have to force it a bit. Tomas doesn't know this.

"Hello? Does this bathroom door open?"

"Yeah, you just have to force the key a bit."


"This fucking door does not open!"

"Yeah, just turn the key, it might feel like it's breaking, but it'll pop open."


"I can't fucking open this piece of shit! I can't believe this fucking hostel piece of fucking shit. Fucking owners lied to me with their shit fucking apartment. I'm going to fuck them!"

Repetitive banging on the door for a minute or so. There might have been some kicks in there as well.

As good samaritans, we rang the owners to get him out, then high-tailed it back onto the Venetian streets at midnight for a good laugh. We weren't around when he got out, but we figure it takes the owners at least 40 minutes to get there ...

The second major Venetian event: Australia versus Croatia. Last game of the World Cup first round.

We'd scouted out a venue the night before: the totally non-cheesily named "Dreams Planet". We'd bought plenty of drinks the previous night and the owners had assured us that the Australian game would be on. Uh uh. When we got there they were showing the meaningless Brazil versus Japan match, even though 20 out of the 25 people in there were Aussies. Someone eventually managed to get them to switch to a channel that was showing split coverage of both matches, 2 minutes on, 2 minutes off. But when Australia went down 1-0 in the first five minutes, that wasn't going to cut it.

At halftime I ran frantically through the streets of Venice, looking for the only bar in town that was actually showing the game. C'mon people, you know that Australians are pissheads, why aren't you catering to your market? Off a distantly remembered memory of an Australian shirt hanging in a window, I ran up past the Rialto bridge and found it – a bar owned by an Italian who had lived in Australia for five years and was cheering on the green and gold. A sprint back to Dreams Planet to tell Rick and we were there for the kickoff of the second half.

In true Socceroos fashion it was a nail biting, up-and-down affair: Craig Moore's penalty kick, Kalac's uncoordinated fumbling, Kewell's late equaliser. When the final whistle went and we were through to the second round, the bar erupted. Hugs from total strangers, free shots from the owner, that rather unimaginative chant of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie", it was a complete experience. What a way to stumble home.

After a night like that, there wasn't anything left in Venice that could top it, so it was probably best that we had an early train out to Rome. There was time for one last chance at getting into St Mark's Basilica, so we arose bright eyed at 7AM, down to the Square at 8. But ... oh .... you don't open till 9:45 ... OK, that was kind of dumb. Let's just get out of here.



  1. 1/3

    LinkTiger commented on 9 July 2006 @ 01:31

    Check it out! On Jason Mraz's site, he *is* fascinated with taking pictures *with his Polaroid*. Coincidence? I don't think so.

    Man, you web designers have all the luck!

  2. 2/3

    Kerry Mraz commented on 24 July 2006 @ 12:38

    Heading out to Europe in a few days and came across your site looking at the Venexia Hostel in Venice. Found it amuzing that you ran into Jason Mraz. Unfortunately, we only share the same last name and no other relation that I know of, but amuzing all the same. Just looking for reviews on where we are heading so thanks for posting your information!


  3. 3/3

    Tuggle commented on 7 August 2006 @ 12:06

    All that adventure in only a few days, I really need to travel abroad more.

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