Monday, 18 October 2010


Travelling as a tourist is like being on a low-carb diet... you take in so much rich-flavoured stuff, so many new details, and it's all intense and complex, so that you long for bland, normal, quiet, peaceful times.

Our last day was a non-stop process of change and mid-level stress, everyone is very tired now. Up early, onto the top deck and freezing winter air and rain to see the ship glide back into Venice. Astonishing. Back down, grab some breakfast in the cafeteria, empty the cabin, put the hand-luggage into a temporary left-luggage place, do the final admin, find somewhere to sit, collect friends who we will travel home with, buy bottles of water, wait, wait, try to hear the announcements which are perfectly audible in Italian and muffle in German, French, Spanish, English etc. Go back and get our hand luggage. Eventually file out, past an embarrassing line-up of token staff - a chef, a waiter, a cabin steward, a waitress, a bar-steward, a customer-services person, a tour guide.... how humiliating, how pointless. They have fixed grins, wave wanly at us. They are from Brazil, India, Colombia, Philipines (worrying about the super-typhoon about to strike their country)...

Through the perfunctory exit gates, find our luggage waiting neatly for us, take it to left luggage, wait in the rain for the free shuttle bus, get to Piazzale Roma, try two different ticket offices for an airport-bus ticket. Lead our little group into the Cannreggia for a coffee and lunch... over that glass bridge, watching the waves punch up and down in the gale. The rubbish bins are stuffed full of broken umbrellas. The thalidomide man (with no body below the hips) is not there this morning as he was last Sunday. We find a coffee (lucky when all the cafes are looking for lunch customers). The owner is Chinese. Then we go out to another place nearby for lunch: pasta with seppia or bolognese, fegato or escalopes, salad, lovely local white wine, and it's all very nice despite being cheap and touristy. We chat to other diners - Americans. Pay, get back to the Ple. Roma, back on the shuttle to the ship terminus, find our left luggage office closed. Try getting in. Upstairs, huge crowds assembling as we did a week ago, waiting to board for their cruise..... ha! what we could tell them!!!!

Go back down, find another way in, get the big bags and back onto the shuttle to Ple. Roma. Then queue for the airport bus. Phew! Twenty minutes takes us to Marco Polo. I manage to scavenge some acorns from under the extraordinary fastigiate oak trees growing by the bus stops... like those Lombardy poplars but oaks.

The plane is delayed. Andrew is searched coming through the security gate and because I distracted him by picking up his case, he loses some cash in the trays. When he goes back they say they put it in the Third World box. Then our doctor friends is fleeced in the shop - they give him change for a 10 euro note when he had handed over a 20. No argument, but I feel better that other people can lose money through not paying attention too. We find somewhere to sit. The sun comes out as we climb the airplane steps.... (it has been raining and cold all day). Someone says, it was waiting till we left. If only we had such influence!!!

We finally get airborne just a few moments late. The whole of Europe is covered with one huge cloud mass a nd we are just above it all the way. I talk to the cabin crew about radiation damage and how our capsules can help. One used to work for an eminent eye surgeon and has heard of John, the consultant in our little group (who just lost 10 euros). The cabin staff are pleased to learn about Juice Plus, and take my leaflets with alacrity. As we leave the plane at Gatwick, an old friend, Elaine Calnan, who is godmother to my daughter, is there - she was sitting just behind us on the flight and we didn't realise.

A friend is there to meet us and bring us home... The house smelled a bit damp when we walked in, boo. But it all looked so calm, and peaceful. Travelling as a tourist is a crazy thing to do, especially in planes. It's easy enough in some ways, miraculous in fact, hurtling through the air or over oceans at great speed and in carefully costed comfort, but it's all stressful and exhausting and there is not enough human contact, or real experience. It can't be right.

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