Simon Calder: After 'The Tourist', meet the tourists
The man who pays his way
Saturday 11 December 2010
The tourist who gave the film The Tourist its title is, promisingly, played by Johnny Depp; less alluringly, his character is a maths teacher. But it all adds up in the end. Like all the best blockbusters, The Tourist is breathtaking, witty and stylish. Upstaging the female lead, Angelina Jolie, is Venice herself – almost at her ravishing best (though the helicopter film crew must have been furious about the tower crane sprouting from alongside the Grand Canal).
As the stars, cops and robbers romp across the rooftops and chase through the canals of La Serenissima, the film reveals some secrets of the city that we ordinary tourists might have missed. See if you're not tempted to stay at the Danieli, though perhaps in a €256-a-night deluxe double (the prepaid online rate at danielihotelvenice.com) rather than the Doge's Royal Suite as featured in the film, costing 10 times as much.
The Tourist will encourage the tourist to explore the mysteries of the lagoon, across which pieces of the Venetian jigsaw are scattered. This journey is at its spine-tingling best on a moonlit night when the visitors have evaporated and the vaporetti carve elegant curves from Murano to Burano. Most of the waterbuses are large ferries, but to follow in Ms Jolie's wake, try the motoscafo (small launch) deployed on late-night services route LN from the Fondamenta Nuove. It follows a spangled course across the lagoon, illuminated by a necklace of lanterns – without, in my experience, gun-toting gangsters in attendance.
ppp Venice is not the only backdrop that can expect a boost in business thanks to The Tourist. Europe's rail network will also benefit, with filmgoers inspired to seek the 8.22am departure from the delicious Gare de Lyon in Paris to Santa Lucia station in Venice. They will quickly discover there is no such train. The closest equivalent, this morning's 7.41, runs only as far as Milan, where you have 15 minutes to appreciate the magnificence of Milano Centrale station before catching a connecting train.
Ten minutes before the express arrives in Venice, according to the film, the train is still purring through pretty Piedmont countryside. Make that stewing, at the scruffy station of Mestre – the last stop on the mainland before the bridge to Venice itself. You arrive one minute short of 12 hours after leaving Paris; there are worse ways to spend a day.
If you insist on a direct train between the French capital and La Serenissima, there is only one solution: the luxurious answer is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, meandering through the Alps via Innsbruck and Verona on a journey that takes one minute short of 20 hours. The one-way fare for two, £2,830, looks steep relative to the typical easyJet fare on the same route of £29, but compares well with a night in the Doge's Suite at the Danieli – with the added bonus of cinematic scenery rolling past the antique windows.
The release of the film this weekend could not be better timed for those of us who love the railways of Europe: tomorrow new, accelerated schedules take effect between Paris and Geneva: a re-opened short cut in the foothills of the Alps slices 20 minutes off the journey. As the skiing season gets under way, you can travel from London St Pancras to Geneva in six hours (subject to some swift footwork changing stations in Paris). The new high-speed line from Madrid to the Med – halving the existing journey time to Valencia – will open up possibilities for combining the capital with Spain's neglected third city. And even Brighton gets a bonus, with a third train each hour covering the ground from London Victoria in under an hour – weather permitting.
Dali without delay
Next weekend, Spain finally joins Europe's international high-speed network. You can reach any Spanish destination you like aboard a high-speed train from Paris, so long as it is the small Catalan town of Figueres.
Train 6203 from the French capital is not named the Salvador Dali, but it should be. Five hours after leaving Paris, the TGV arrives at Perpignan station, which the great surrealist deemed to be the centre of the Universe. The train pauses for a few minutes, enough time to nip out and photograph a statue of Dali splayed out above the clock on the façade.
Next, instead of pottering through peaches-and-cream stations to the Spanish border along the old line, the high-speed train swishes through the Pyrenees on new high-speed track in 20 minutes flat. This is the end of the line for the TGV and also happens to be the home of the Salvador Dali Museum – a temple to absurdity that is so absorbing I lost all sense of time. Or perhaps that was just my watch melting.
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