It was shortly after my 22nd Birthday, and I was compelled to get away from the cheap vodka and mephedrone-infested house parties of East London. All of my mates were either working or skint, so I decided to hitch off inter-railing for a couple of weeks all by myself, somewhere I had never been before – Italia. I was in need of cultural enrichment and spiritual awakening – something like an ‘Eat, Gay, Love’ – style adventure.
I booked return Easyjet flights to Rome and an inter-rail ticket, and before I could say the words “Dalston Superstore”, I found myself in the sun-drenched Caput Mundi.
After days of hungover galleries, 24-hour friendships, and limoncello-fuelled train journeys across Rome, Milan, Florence and Naples, I pitched over for a retreat in the city of couples and canals - Venice.
I dragged my lovelorn carcass to a crumbling but majestic palace converted into a hostel, perched right by the main canal. After I rang the doorbell, a tall and beautiful young Israeli man called Antony opened the ancient doorframe. He smiled briefly, and I wondered if I caught him eyeing me up with his intense hazel eyes, but he quickly welcomed me in and I thought nothing else of it.
That evening, I found myself in the regular hostel routine of sitting with the other travellers, drinking, playing cards and swapping stories like old friends, with that notion that – just like casual sex – this was a good time only for a night. The air was heady with the magic that nothing anybody said really mattered; when travelling you could be anybody from anywhere, and our common history was being created in the present.
Antony was at the center of the night’s social engagements, and was a hit with the ladies – flirty but aloof, cheeky but disarming, and constantly entertaining. The Europeans and Americans alike were drowning him with affection: not only was he handsome, but he was interesting. However, there was something in particular that intrigued me: I couldn’t read him well at all.
After taking the motley crew on a bar crawl, which started innocently sipping Negronis and Spritzers by San Marco Square, we ended up in the basement of an old castle ordering shots of absinthe. The buzz of excitement in the air had reached a fever pitch – everybody seemed to be on form, hurtling towards some communal euphoria.
Stumbling into the hostel, the other travellers crawled to bed, while in my absinthe-induced ecstasy, I climbed onto the dining table, reaching to swing from the chandelier and belted: “C’mon guys! Let’s partaaay.”
Everyone laughed but nobody seemed sober enough to stand… except Antony.
“You wanna keep partying man?” he said.
“Come with me then. ”
He grabbed me by the hand and led me up a spiral staircase through the heights of the old palace for what seemed like forever. Giddy and inebriated, I couldn’t stop laughing, but when I got to the top, the view ground me to a halt – across the balcony, as far as I could see, was the quiet of Venice, slowly being bathed in the rising sun. I breathed in slowly, trying to drink in the moment.
Antony pulled me from behind, and kissed me hard. I was initially in shock, then realised how much I had been lusting after him, and how quickly my heart was beating. Was it the absinthe, or my hormones?
“You are so cute” he grunted, in between his passionate kisses.
He pulled my shirt off along with his, wrapped his sun-kissed arms around me and pulled me into his tiny bed in the corner of the palace attic.
“I should go downstairs…” I protested, nervous about fooling around with a guy after a long dry spell.
“No. Just stay with me a while. Please, just a little.”
His body was like a furnace, his skin soft and smooth to the touch, and it was safe to say that there were two towers of Pisa between those sheets which had no problems with leaning. I lay with him, watching the early morning light spill into the attic, not wanting to close my eyes in case this was all a dream.
Wrapped within this tender stranger’s arms, I fell in and out of consciousness until the heat from the Mediterranean Sun became too much to bear - and with the daylight dawned the understanding that this was nothing more than a traveller’s dalliance. Antony was still asleep, so I accepted this as a momentary taste of European amore, and decided to fish for my shirt and bow out of the fantasy.
“Mmm.. .. Don’t go.” Antony groaned in his slumber.
“I have to… I have a train to catch.” I muttered, under alcoholic breath.
Antony let out a heavy sigh. “Always the way...” As I tip-toed towards the door, he said “If you’re ever in Italy again, look me up.”
I quickly replied “Sure!” trying not to reveal my confusion at letting the past few hours in paradise simply slip through my fingers. I turned to kiss him on the cheek, but he’d already understood the holiday romance rules, and turned to embrace his pillow instead of me.
As I walked through the maze of Venetian streets towards the station, it was then I realised how lonely it must be to run a hostel by yourself here in a foreign city obsessed with love. Antony was the life and soul of the party, but a party that only ever lasted one night. Everyone else was simply passing through.
Once I found myself back in the recesses of East London, I came across Antony’s Facebook through the other travellers from the ‘Hostel of Passion’. He never responded to my request. But why should he? Like the others – I was also only passing through. Still, if you can’t find love, you could do worse than a bittersweet encounter with a handsome hostelkeeper, and one unforgettable night in Venice, in a room with a view.
Dating World: 1 Me: 2