Tuesday, April 6, 2010


What's nomrally the most arduous part of any journey-the long train rides-wasn't awful between Budapest and Venice. Of course 14 hours-from 5 pm to 7 am-got long, but it was shortened the first 4 hours or so by watching the sunset on a cloudless night over the plains of Hungary.

I arrived in Venice right on time. Around the station was a bit ugly, but once the water taxi got around to the grand canal the views got much better. The city was still waking up and was filled sparsley by locals preparing for the day. Unfortunately, this was the best part of my 24 hours in Venice. After I got to the hostel, settled in, and had breakfast the tourists had woke up. And the closer I got to Basillica di San Marco(the main monument in Venice) the more disturbed I got. It was like Disney world, except, instead of being in an amusement park designed for such a thing, they were trampling on some of the World's great heritage.

There's an essay-"Consider the Lobster" by David Foster Wallace in which Wallace discusses how tourists change the thing in which they've come to see, and when enough people do so-the thing worth seeing is essentially destroyed. If he got such a dark impression at a Lobster Festival in Maine, I can only imagine how he would have felt sitting in the center of St. Marks.

Between the pillars of an 800 year old basillica, one of the world's greatest-he would see tours led by guides holding 'funny' umbrellas, street artists making pendants with people's names on them, vendor's selling everything from 20 euro, fake, venetian masks to protraits of Sylvestor Stalone, Nigerians with arms full of 7 euro handbags, italians trying the 'petition/donation' scam, and a 5 hour line to get into the church.

I took a few-ugly-pictures and got out of there. It was not for me. I did find a park about 30 minutes away which was quiet and I sat and wrote for the afternoon and my day was ok, but I didn't need to be in Venice to do that.

More on the tourists in Venice. I know there are some conflicts with me complaining about tourists in a city I too am touring. I'd like to go over those.
First, I know everyone has a right to see the great monuments of the world-They are not for my eyes only. I get that, and it definitely redirects most of my frustratin from the individual people and more to a general consternation towards a situation for which there is no real remedy.

However, there is a certain style of tourists for whom I feel my frustration is justified. The term that comes to mind for them is 'Fat Tourist' but I know that's hardly a far adjective for me to use. A( because they're not all fat and B) because I'm not one who can fairly use the term 'fat' in a derogatory way.
So, the best way I can describe them without using that term is, perhaps, 'unconscious' tourist. They seem to be so wrapped up in the act of being "on vacation" that they don't really consider where they are. Typically, they're the families (Or lots and lots of couples in Venice obviously.) Mom, dad, 9 year old over maked up daughter, 12 year old chubby son. The kids push in line, climb on you in the train. Dad pays no attention because he's on his blackberry. Mom talks entirely too loud. Chubby boy wants an ice cream. He gets it. Then he wants a pizza, a snow cone, a 15 Euro character drawn of himself. He gets them all. Over-make-upped gets angry and watns it all too. Gets it. Blackberry dad has dropped 100 euros waiting in line. Then mom takes a picture of the kids with a fake screen backdrop of David(who stands in a Museum down the road.) and thinks that's just great. As they reach the end of the line, make up is crying because she's had to stand for an hour and wants her PSP. Chubby boy is asking where they are anyway. Dad says "A church".
Bret just walks away. Tese people I am not like. These people destroy what they've come to see. These people do not consider the lobster.
I, at least try to, leave no imprint on the places I've been. Give the vultures no reason to be around.
(And if any of you take pictures in a church or museum that has a "No Photo" sign every 5 feet. Consider of friendship over. That's pet peeve number 1.)

This was Venice and the first 36 hours of Florence.

Although I did manage to witness Easter celebration here:

It was one of the most colorful and grandiose evens I've ever had the priviladge to be at. So much so that I'm not sharing. That experience is just for me. (Or I'll show you the pictures when I get back.)

These 2 and a half days though did teach me my first important lesson of the trip. Ive learned this trip will be less about where I'm going and more about who I'm meeting. And by proxy, where I'm staying. The quality of the hostel, leads to meeting people there, leadns to not spending dats at a time on my own. Which, unsurprisingly, got boring.

However, my second night in Florence I was able to remedy that. I stayed in a hostel in Florence-Dany House-run by an older Italian couple. For 25 Euros I got a bed, free win, and a piano concert from the guy who owned the place. And all the friends I could handle.
I wound up chatting with 4 other people who've been traveling alone. All as desperate as I was to meet some other people to chat with. There were South Caroline, Argentine, Texas, and Lithuania. Names weren't all that important. Sunday night(the first night in the hostel.) we went out serching for more wine-Caroline yelling "Dovè Vino!?" at everyone who walked by while Argentine-who can get by speaking Italian-tried to ask "Excuse me, do you know where perhaps we could purchase some drink?"

Then Monday we went together to Siena-an ancient Tuscan town about 90 minutes from Florence. Lines and museums and Gilato are all better bared with friends-or I guess I should say a days aquantennces.

Now, as I write, Im on a train to Rome. Florence had some amazing art. I've now seen original works of all 4 ninja turtles-including Michealangelo's David. I'm not even going to try to describe what it's like. Suffice to say the emotion evoked is...exhiliration. It's fun to be contrarian, but when they say David is the perfect sculpture ever and none more profound have, or will, be made better-they are not over exagerating. From 30 feet away he is inspiring. Standing under the massive statue is, captivating. Literally, you are in a room of world famous art, and you can't help but stare solely at him.

And to think, it came from a crummy slab of marble laying around when Michealangelo said "Hey, if you're not gonna use that, mind if I?"...
The greatest "One man's trash" story of all time.

(Apologies if this is poorly editied, copying it onto the computer in an internet cafe. Got 5 minutes yet!)

More in a week or so.


Marta said...

Your 2.0 blog is good reading, Bret. Fun to hear about your adventure as it's unfolding.

I had a similar impression of Venice when I was there a year ago, and I maintain a similar sentiment about all inconsiderate tourists of the world at large. I try to maintain some empathy along the stream of, "forgive them...for they know not what they do." But it can be a challenge.

Enjoy Rome!

Michael Charlton said...

Dude, what did you expect? The stuff there that you are going to see was created by probably the most famous people of their time. Everybody knew them! They showed their faces in all sorts of commercial circles. Who could get through the 90's without hearing about the exploits of Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and of course the dude himself Leonardo! They collectively made Italy what it is today. As for Splinter, was he from Japan or China?

Argentine said...

Amazing Blog Bret. Loved the "Unconcious tourist" description, and your reflexion on Florence. We talked about it on the trip.
I'm glad we managed to ameliorate(?) your stay in some way...
When I came back to Lyon, I was telling everybody the amazing time I had with "Tall-backpack-guy", "Just-dissapeared-Texas", "Korean teacher" and "Photographer wannabe"...
Bon voyage, have fun, and buena vida!