On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Venice remains a hot tourist spot in summer

If you are a movie buff, then you would have also watched
Chalize Theron in The Italian Job, which also used Venice
as the setting.

And who can forget watching Madonna squirming in a gondola
in her music video Like a Virgin.

Arriving in Milan
on Saturday, I was told that I could catch a train to Venice.
It would just be an hour's ride.

It was too good to resist. It would cost me only about 20
euro (RM94) and I could return to Milan
the same day.

Besides, the hotels in Venice
were too expensive. It would have been over-indulgence to stay overnight just
to join the rich romantics watch the sunset and drink expresso by the sidewalk

With fellow journalists from the other press, we joined
thousands of tourists in the unbearable hot summer, leisurely admiring the
canals that had inspired poetry, art, music and literature.

The quaint cobblestone streets and medieval churches were
as quaint as I expected.

The movies captured those Venetian scenes well. If you
had watched The Talented Mr Ripley – which starred Matt Damon and Gwyneth
Paltrow – you would know what I mean.

Summer is really not the best time to visit Venice.
It's uncomfortably hot at this time and, while the Europeans love the sun,
Asians like me looked around for some shade.

The restaurant and ferry (and gondola) operators
overcharge you because it is the peak season.

Many of the eateries do not have air-conditioners. The
spaghetti dish I ordered was mediocre yet pricey.

I could never understand how the Italians could have
their pasta with tomato sauce alone – no meatballs, no seafood, nothing – and
at 20 euro per serving.

There were two Chinese restaurants but the idea of
sitting in Venice eating fried rice
seemed out of place, even ridiculous.

The souvenirs were overly expensive for us, bearing in
mind the ringgit-to-euro exchange rate, but the positive part was that none of
us spent our money unnecessarily.

To console ourselves, we agreed it was "patriotic" to be
thrifty and that it was not worth buying those tacky tourist rip-offs.

I had to tell the illegal African immigrants peddling
fake Louis Vuitton handbags not to bother me.

Like a two-hour movie, my one-day visit to Venice
was over by 6pm. We had missed the 4pm train back to Milan
because some of my colleagues lost their way in the maze of the Venice

As a result, we missed watching the Euro 2004 final
between Greece
and Portugal at
the Duomo Square where a
huge screen was set up for city folk.

We missed the train, the football final but, most of all,
we missed Venice.