Roger Marolt: An apocryphal train of thought
When it comes to turning ambiance into gray noise, Venetians must think about cruise ship companies the way Aspenites do about timeshare dividers.
A layover between a ferry boat trip and train ride on the way from Croatia to Switzerland can allow just enough time for a quick foray into the heart of the walk-though maze of the water-locked Italian city that is, in fact, a trap for tourists. The only motivation you need is a quest for a take-out pasta joint that is the equivalent of Aspen’s Big Wrap.
An hour and a half to cover a two-mile roundtrip from the train station is barely enough time to accomplish this mission. The place is a still water flow of tourists rippling and eddying from ancient wall to ancient wall. The first time you experience it, it is charming before the claustrophobia sets in. After that, it is all about jumping in, measuring your breaths and paddling as hard as you can against the sweating, heaving current, coming and going.
There is an outcry in many of Europe’s biggest tourist destinations. They are too crowded! The experience is greatly diminished for everyone. Merchants complain that the masses don’t spend much money. Very few locals choose to live in the over-hyped towns anymore.
Many claim the problem is cruise ships. Coming into Venice on a ferry, you can’t doubt it. We passed five immense ocean liners in the port on the outskirts of town.
Think of the impact. If each carries 5,000 people, the fleet of them unleashes 25,000 people on the city for the day. These people are eating and sleeping on the ships so the local lodging economy benefits little. Town merchants sell a lot of gelato cones and souvenirs, but at the cost of massive crowds ruining the experience.
You know things are bad when you think about the faux Venice they have created in the bowels of the gigantic eponymously named Las Vegas hotel and have to write out a list of pluses and minuses to decide which is the better experience — Food? The real Venice. Cleanliness? Vegas. The costumed gondoliers? Toss-up. And, the fake one is at least air-conditioned.
So, I’m bumping into people while slurping my pasta getting back to the train station, riding the boat-tourists hard under my breath, when it occurs to me that a train tourist isn’t any better. I pulled into town, did my part to jam the streets for a couple of hours, grabbed my pasta lunch, and left. I was nowhere near part of the solution.
When we mercifully made it back and boarded our train and got to relax for a minute, it all came together for me. The train is great. And, that is one thing I don’t think proponents of a train running up and down the Roaring Fork Valley have considered hard enough. It may be a little too great; maybe as great as a cruise ship, even.
A train may be great enough to ruin Aspen for all time. A clean, efficient, fast and comfortable train would not just be what the doctor ordered for frustrated commuters, it might also be the ticket, so to speak, for masses of tourists.
It’s hard to believe developers haven’t tried to drive the first spike for a rail line into Aspen’s heart already. Imagine some conglomerate surreptitiously acquiring large tracts of land all up and down the valley. Then they magnanimously appear before the citizens of Aspen and offer to solve the traffic problem by building a private railway through the valley. It won’t cost taxpayers a dime. All they have to do is give the developers the right-of-way to build it across. All we lose is a stinking bike path. Hooray! Our traffic problems are solved! The dream of becoming a car-less city is becoming a reality!
Just like Venice. … Just like Venice? Wait… what?!
As soon as the ink is dry, before we can reconsider, big resort hotels are popping up all along the train route, all offering fine dining, shopping, spa experiences and quick access to Aspen via the all-new, easy to use, high-speed, valley-wide train system. It’s a brilliant formula. All the money stays in the all-inclusive new resorts, and all the people come up to Aspen for the day while things get polished back up at the downvalley resorts for their return in the evening.
I like trains. You like trains. We all like trains. The problem might be that everyone else might like our trains, too.
Roger Marolt thinks the Little Train That Could might end up being the Big One That Does Us In. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Proposition EE isn’t a silver bullet against fighting teen smoking or finding funds for public schools, but it is a good start.