Suitcases on Cobblestone Streets

02022-07-07 | Jon Gagan, Lx, Touring, Travel | 3 comments

Venice is cursed. I walked cursed Venice in a cloud of confusion. Why did so many people bring so many roller suitcases? Did they not know they were coming to Venice? Did they not know Venice has a stone-stepped bridge every fifty yards? Sweat soaked beneath the savage sun, they heaved their suitcases — all of which were big enough to hide a dismembered body or two — up and down and huffed and seemed distraught at the amount of heaving required to make headway.

Walking Venice — Ridgeline issue 144

This opening paragraph from Craig Mod’s very enjoyable Ridgeline Newsletter could have been written about Lisbon as well. One hears them from afar, the tourists’ suitcases clattering up or down steep cobblestone streets, their wheels squealing from the abuse while the people get the workout of their lives. Mod calls this noise the Rimowa Thunderdome.

Some cities have cobblestone streets while the sidewalks are concrete or asphalt or otherwise fairly smooth. Not Lisbon. Here many sidewalks are made from a different color cobblestone, a smooth beige stone that becomes super treacherous when it rains. I am still experimenting with different pairs of shoes, hoping to find some that offer enough grip during a rain shower, so as not to break a leg. The experience of walking on snow in Santa Fe for thirty years gave my body the very useful ability to react to a slipping foot without going down. So far so good.

What’s the ideal baggage for travel? I don’t think there is one right way. Jon is in the duffel camp and has carried a Tumi duffel for at least two decades. It’s traveled all over the world and has been repaired several times. I used to be a duffel man but a few years ago I switched to a suitcase. There are times when it is so much easier to push a suitcase with one hand (those wheels have become really great, haven’t they!), with my backpack riding on top of the suitcase and the guitar case slung over the other shoulder, while Jon carries his bass case (not exactly light!) in one hand and the Tumi in the other. But arrive at a cobblestone street and he is the one smiling while I have to put the backpack on my back, hold on to the slipping shoulder strap of the guitar case, and drag the suitcase along pitifully.

A few things I have learned:

    – we carry more than we need to and could make do with less
    – be aware of the terrain of your destination
    – will you ride to the hotel or will you need to walk and carry or pull your luggage
    – suitcases, especially hard plastic or metal cases, break like oak trees while duffels can bend like bamboo
    – can your luggage be repaired or will it need to be replaced?

Even if a company replaces the broken suitcase, as they did with mine after the frame got bent, it would no longer lock properly, and a wheel came off, it’s a waste of materials and not a good solution.

Back to the clattering suitcases on cobblestone streets and sidewalks… Take heed and don’t start your journey with a long and exhausting and noisy nightmare of a walk.


  1. anne

    Some brands of water shoes look like running shoes. .. should work on slippery stones ?

    Cobblestones are charming to look at – but not so much after an injury.

  2. Steve

    I seem to be on a 9 year cycle visiting Venice. So … 1986, 1995, 2004, 2013, and … WAS scheduled to go there in 2022, but so far, looking like this year will break the cycle.

    > – we carry more than we need to and could make do with less

    I have a Tom Bihn backpack that I got so long ago that I don’t even remember when it was purchased. It is the only “luggage” I travel with, and it’s been all over the map with me.

    You are absolutely right about carrying more than we need to. A trip to (of all places) Tigard, Oregon in 1985 taught me this (quite painfully). I have been a “luggage minimalist” ever since. If there is a business situation that requires more “stuff” than will fit in 36 litres, (backpack size) the excess is shipped ahead of me.

    > – can your luggage be repaired or will it need to be replaced?

    The folks at Tom Bihn have been excellent with replacement/repair parts so far.

  3. JaneParhamKatz

    Backpack is the way! I carry one small backpack and a shoulder purse. Never have to check bags on airlines and wait to pick them up after the flight. Never lose any luggage. Never have problems with cobblestones or stairs. I have never felt I didn’t take enough of anything. You do have to do a little laundry.

    I learned my lesson on a Mediterranean cruise. Reading that the passengers wear formal dinner attire,and wanting to be glamorous, I took a suitcase almost as large as a steamer trunk. We never got back to the ship in time for dinner, anyway. It had wheels, but there were stairs and ramps to navigate. Once, I just THREW my bag down the flight of stairs on the boat we later took from Spain to Morocco . NIGHTMARE! Then, we spent a week in Ibiza, Spain, and had a long, exhausting walk from the airport bus, which dropped us off at least a mile from the hotel, over rough terrain on which the bag wheels would not turn. The other hideous thing was that the weight limit for bags on flights within Spain was much smaller than the international flight. So we stood at a trash bin and threw away at least a third of the clothes and stuff in the bags before we boarded the plane to avoid a very hefty baggage charge. I let go of a very pretty yellow jogging suit!

    By the way, cruises suck! Imagine being in Rome for only four hours, and it was an hour train trip each way back and forth from dock to City. You’re always under the threat that the ship will leave without you if you don’t get back promptly. We had a harrowing near miss after our few hours in Florence, but that’s another story!


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