A high speed train from Salzburg with one change in Innsbruck was supposed to take us to Venice by afternoon. But someone had killed himself by jumping in front of a previous train, which unfortunately isn’t uncommon in Europe. So our train wound its way through breathtaking valleys along the back rails of Austria and Italy at less than half its normal speed and we got to Venice at nine at night. At the train station we took a water taxi and met our Airbnb host at the Piazza San Marco stop who led us through a labyrinth of passages lined with high fashion stores and enotecas to our apartment.
We did the touristy things – breakfast on the piazza, lunch in the shadow of the Ponte di Rialto, a gondola ride, photos at the Bridge of Sighs, gelato by the Riva at sunset. And had so much fun.
Astonishingly we literally ran into our friends Sunil and Sabina from Hyderabad who had arrived the day before to spend a month in Venice. Twenty million tourists visit Venice every year. The odds of an accidental meeting are skinnier than wework’s profit margins. They invited us for dinner. We left the kids at home and had an adult evening and stumbled back home drunk without falling into a canal.
Speaking of tourists, last year an astounding number of 1.4 billion international arrivals were recorded. I am very much a part of that problem. We are in Venice during the shoulder season, hoping to escape others like us. But low seasons are a thing of the past. The quality of our time in Venice was diminished by the overwhelming number of people like us. I asked Vivian and Evan to imagine waking up at home one morning and finding Rosedale Avenue choked with tourists. Every hour, every day. They grimaced.
The democratization of travel has been amazing. I can plan my trip and get there without much work, comparing costs and options effortlessly from my phone. I don’t need local money. I get directions on my google maps. My Uber takes me where I want like a magic carpet (and the carpet guy is magically paid). I stay at an Airbnb. International travel is easier than staying at home!
Cynicism aside, travel breaks down misconceptions and stereotypes. Our host, Tim from Gansbaai, South Africa, said “You’re not just teaching your kids. You’re giving them an education”. Jo and I hope so. The more you know about people and places and animals and cultures and languages and food and art and music that is different from your own the more you understand and the less you fear.
But then you see a person posing in front of a phone pouting like Zoolander, tossing his or her hair back obsessively to get that perfect Instagram selfie, oblivious to the world around. And you think “C’mon man. My friends are dying to see *my* picture. So hurry the fuck up and move over”.
And when you see this for the 1.4 billionth time, you have to be clinically optimistic about the human race to not jump off the stone walls of Dubrovnik.
Here is interesting news story about tourists from yesterday.
ps. We saw graffiti urging tourists to go home and Airbnb to fuck off in Athens. We and other tourists promptly stopped and took our selfies in front of the graffiti.