Tuesday, 30 September 2008

It wouldn’t be Italy without it

So far on my trip the public transport had behaved itself admirably, every boat on time, every route running correctly. It felt almost Swiss.

Then today, the transport system disintegrated. I’m not certain why, it’s a Tuesday, so its not as if it is the weekend, or the start of the working week. The weather, whilst not being as great as the previous few days, was still OK, the lagoon no choppier and the canals not noticeably higher or lower. There didn’t appear to be any more tourists that there had been yesterday, and yet everything stopped working.

The “next boat” boards which had previously been happily displaying the times of the next services were now all replaced with a message “Servizio Irregolare”, queues were building up at all the stops, and none of the boats appeared to be going to where they said they would.

It was so refreshingly like the Italy of my childhood, and the everyday occurrences of life in London!

Perhaps the transport authorities in the UK could learn from this. Rather than having information systems which keep displaying trains that either left or were cancelled two hours ago, or having everything flashing “Delayed”. Perhaps, in Italian style, when the service goes wrong, just bring out the Gelati, crack open the Chianti and put up “Servizio Irregolare” on the indicator boards.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Don’t bother with the signs

In work there have been numerous occasions where I have felt that the signs I have put up have had little or no effect. This was hammered home in true style today.

Visiting the Cathedral of San Marco is one of the “Must Do” things of any trip to Venice, every guide book, every guided tour, every recommendation is always to have a look around, and in every one I have seen there has always been the message that the cathedral doesn’t allow people to come in with bags, they have to be left in the cloakroom which is located about a minutes walk away from the cathedral.

To add to the information signs are displayed in Italian, English, German and French fully explaining. There are even signs which have images of a piece of rolling luggage with a line through it, a backpack with line through it and a shopping bag with a line through it.

In the process of queuing for the cathedral you pass at least three of these signs.

You would have thought that people would get the message, but no, at least one in ten visitors get to the front of the queue and get sent away to drop their bag off, and in a queue that can take the best part of an hour to get to the head off, that’s quite a serious issue.

About four people in front of me in the queue had a bag, we passed all the signs, no flicker, we passed the big visual one with lots of pictures of bags with crosses through them and a sign pointing to the luggage office, not a flicker, we get to the front of the queue and she is stopped by the cathedral staff on the door, after an initial attempt in Italian the, clearly weary, member of staff said “no bags” to which the woman erupted into a self defence saying that nobody had told her and they should put signage up to that effect if they wanted to enforce such a stupid rule. With a simple hand gesture the member of staff signalled to the line of signs, and the big colourful one. The response “you could have made it more obvious”

Perhaps she would have liked one posted the entire height of the bell tower which flashes in 25 different languages no bags with clear symbols, perhaps she wanted someone to spend their working life walking up and down the queue announcing, in every possible language, that bags have to be left in the office. Perhaps, she, like the countless thousand other tourists this year that will have missed the signs, needs to get to an optician sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

A childhood revisited

I went on a wander around the northern part of the Lagoon today, and in the process brought all the memories of family holidays flooding back.

At least twice (though in the clouded depths of my mind it might as well have been every year) as children my parents took my sister and I on holiday to Jésolo. It’s a beach resort on the Veneto coast, about 25Km North-East of the Lagoon and filled with the nameless hotels that make up a package holiday resort. The kind of place where the Germans, Swedish and Brits all head to in the summer, and attempt under no circumstance to mingle with anyone other than their own nationality (and the Brits make comments about sun loungers, Germans and their towels!)

On several occasions my parents, trying to instil some culture and appreciation of history and the arts in me and my sister, took us into Venice. I can still vividly recall at the time complaining that there were too many steps and bridges and that it wasn’t the beach. The only reason I liked going was the journey. From Jésolo it was a long bus ride to the ferry on the kind of bumpy and rattley bus that would have made anyone else sick. I however was different, the more a bus rattled and bumped the more I enjoyed the journey and I didn’t feel ill. Put me on a luxury air-conditioned coach with perfect suspension that behaved as though it was flying over air and I would be spectacularly and copiously sick (usually over my poor mum!). Then there was the long ferry journey across to Venice, which was also an adventure, before we finally arrived where the art was, which was where it got boring, until the time came to come home again and to repeat the journey in reverse.

In my memory the journey always took hours, but I can now categorically confirm that my memory lies. The journey to Burano and Torcello required catching the ferry across the Lagoon which stops at Punta Sabbioni, the part of the mainland which forms the top of the lagoon, and the place where the buses to Jésolo depart from. In fact as the ferry arrived, just over 40 minutes after leaving Venice, there were two busses parked up with Jésolo as their destination. According to the map it’s less than 20Km to Jésolo so the entire journey from start to finish couldn’t have been much more than an hour.

As we approached the landing stage, all of a sudden I stopped being a 30 year old man, I was an 8-year-old boy again, the bus was in the same place as it always was (albeit a little more modern than they were 22 years ago, though as the ferry I was on had a manufacture date of 1981 proudly being displayed it was almost certainly the ferry had I had caught previously.), the ferry was docking at the same landing stage, the same small café, the same battered ticket office, and I really had to remind myself that I wasn’t getting off to get the bus back to Jésolo!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Shop till you drop

A couple of days ago, it was announced, to the usual levels of self publicity, that Ryanair were about to offer the ability to use your mobile in flight, at vast expense. Michael O’Leary, the chief executive, and a man who knows how to bleed the public dry, was, for once, quite open and honest about his airlines philosophy. He stated that “if you want a quiet flight, go with someone else. We’re noisy full and we are always trying to sell you something”

Noisy and full are also words that could have been used to describe my easyJet flight. It’s not been that long since I last flew with them, but I’m pretty certain that they have got even more into the “sell sell sell” mode than they used to be.

They have even now introduced lottery style scratch cards, where you can win up to £25,000 (though I would suspect that this might just be in speedy boarding credits or a free luggage allowance for the year)

It’s led me on to think about what else the budgets can try selling.

Coming Soon…

  • Speedy Evac, pay £20 and guarantee to be one of the first people down the escape slide should the plane be involved in an accident.

  • £1 charge for using the toilets.

  • “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, credit card machines will fall from the ceiling. Insert your card, enter your PIN number, and once a £5 charge has been debited from your account an oxygen mask will be released.”

  • £7.50 for the life jacket (perhaps a special deal could be arranged, £10 for a life jacket, and an oxygen mask.)

  • £35.95 for a seat, if you don’t pay this fee you have to stand all the way to your destination (not as daft as it sounds, some budgets have been investigating using harnesses similar to hanging roller coasters and perch seats, so that they can squeeze in double the number of passengers by having them all stand for the flight – it would prevent DVT!).

I would like to point out all these are my copyright, so if Stellios or Mr O’Leary decide to introduce them, then I accept all major world currencies, or lifetime free flights with a full-fares airline.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Honest, the blog hasn't been abandoned

14th July - "Of course, this could all be a fad, I'll write a couple of posts on my first couple of days on my next trip and then abandon the blog to rot!"

And so far, I have proved myself right. But, there has been a reason, sort of.

I've been having a big overhaul of the website, getting rid of the rarely visited or difficult to maintain parts and updating much of the mapping on the site.

I've also been hard at work sifting through all my photos from my big trip around Central Europe. In the end I got quite carried away with the camera and took over 2200 images (with the highest "snap-happy" rate happening in Interlaken)

Still, I've sorted through them, and am about to start uploading them to the fotopics site.

I've also been preparing for the remainder of the year, and into 2009 taking advantage of some particularly good deals.

For the first time ever I have been able to get hold of the mythical 1p flight (albeit with over £35 of taxes), for Granada next March, plus a £0.00 flight (plus £35 tax!) to Belfast. Finally, media hungry Travelodge, always bombarding me with e-mails from the couple of times I have booked with them peaked my interest with their sale. Four nights for less than £40 (that's the total for four nights, not the nightly rate!). Though as to what the Scottish/English boarders are going to be like in January could be interesting, but based on the weather this so called summer in the UK I am confidently predicting 32C and glorious wall to wall sunshine (or -6 and trench foot)

Next up, in a couple of weeks in Venice, so if I don't post again before then, it's not because I'm forgetting my Blog, it's just I've got nothing to say at present, and I've always been told, if you haven't got anything to say keep your mouth shu....