amw (amw) wrote,

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Venetian hangover

Perhaps it's just because i have a hangover, but holy hell the main islands of Venice are a bore. When you take a boat past the outside it looks spectacular, but when you start ducking down alleys it's just Yet Another European Oldtown. Shuffling hordes. Big-name stores. Overpriced restaurants. And pointless knick-knacks galore.

I am on a train to Mestre (the mainland) because there is nowhere to buy a clean phone here. I guess it's not worth it to ship Windows phones over when only the nerdliest nerds buy them these days.

Here's a thing i never knew about Venice. It's a handful of islands in the middle of a lagoon. So all those canals are seawater. And up until ~150 years ago literally everything had to be shipped over by boat. Knowing that makes all the ornate masonry even more ridiculous. For some reason i always thought the city was just a regular town on a river somewhere. The guys who built this stuff must have been hideously rich.

And now it's Disneyland Italy.


Mestre is great. It has such a seedy 70s holiday town feel to it. Most of the shops are closed. I don't know if that's a "thing" in Italy, like siesta in Spain, or if it's just really economically busted down here. No doubt malls have bitten out a chunk. But a mall is exactly what i need right now.

I'm at a restaurant that lured me in with a sign saying "vegan burger". I'm drinking a fresh fruit smoothie to soothe my hangover. The burger patty is some kind of homemade vegetable croquette, fat and oily and delicious. Solid.


So here is something great. Mestre. But i'll get back to that. What is great is discovering that there is a bus that goes straight from the Venice islands across the causeway and all the way to this exact shopping mall. It took me several hours to walk here from the Mestre train station. When people said to get lost in Venice this probably wasn't what they had in mind. I tried to follow a (circuitous) bus route, but without a map and no understanding of the language i zigged and zagged all over the place.

But what a walk! Mestre is much more than the shabby hotels, Chinese groceries and halal chicken joints near the train station. I walked through a delightful little oldtown, along tree-lined streets and highrises, and past some epic mansions. Army barracks, meadows and parks. So much to see, and space to enjoy it.

Everyone seemed chill, unlike on the main islands. Each shop had its own character. The hardware store. The hair salon. The fruit shop. The bar. The tobacconist. People squatting on the sidewalk puffing their smokes. Young parents ducking in for an Aperol spritz. Teenagers kicking about with nothing to do. Normal, everyday people. People dressed like me. People just living their lives. If i'd taken the bus, i would have missed it all.

I had many photo opportunities. Without crowds blocking the view, every building and wall caught my eye. Sadly no phone does not just mean no map and no phrasebook, it also means no camera. You'll have to trust me when i say it was lovely. Such a stark contrast to the depressing genericness of the main islands, and the upscale - if a little sleepy - vibe of the Lido.

Driving back along the freeway it's remarkable how a mall can turn a whole neighborhood pedestrian-hostile. The walk to the mall was largely pleasant - little alleyways and streets with separated sidewalks, bike lanes, trees and so on. Small businesses dotted everywhere. But the last mile or so was like something out of nightmare. Or, you know, the United States of America. The signposting was dire, and i couldn't follow the bus stops any more because it went onto the freeway. I ended up walking completely out of Mestre altogether and spying a billboard advertizing the mall from the other side of the freeway, so i crossed back only to get trapped in one of those appalling suburban cul-de-sacs that is right fucking next to where you want to be but the roads are built in such a way you have to walk all the way round in a circle to get there. By the time i finally got to the mall i almost wanted to fall to my knees and touch the left foot of a mannequin.

I had some beer and chips after picking up a replacement phone. It was great. Coffee, 1€. Vegan burger and smoothie, 12€. Beer and chips, 3€. Mestre is the fucking bomb and don't let anyone tell you different.
Tags: travel

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