Monday, September 8, 2014

Venice, Take II

Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge

 "It is the city of mirrors, the city of mirages, 
at once solid and liquid, at once air and stone." 
~Erica Jong on Venice

"I think I'll go to Venice on Monday," I said to Mike over the weekend.

"I thought we didn't like Venice," he said, adding, "and weren't you just there a few weeks ago?"

 "I don't not like Venice," I told him, "I don't like the crowds. When I went last month, I spent most of my time on the stupid water bus and Burano. This time I'm going to stay in Venice itself."

And, I did.  I decided before I left this morning (at 6:30 am), that I was not going to take the water bus anywhere. I was going to walk everywhere. And, I also did that. For five hours. For five hot and humid hours. For five hot, humid, and interesting hours. 

Santa Lucia train station (back) & water bus stop (front)

I loved it. At times I walked alone down tiny streets so narrow that I couldn't stretch my arms across them, and so dark that even the bright sun couldn't sneak in.  Other times I stood on bridges and watched people and boats and gondolas and just listened. Except for the very touristy areas near the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's Square, everything seemed peaceful.  It was so interesting to head one way and suddenly find myself in a tiny "campo," or courtyard that faced either a church or a small hotel or cafe.
Show me the way to go...

I got lost more than once, but I always was able to find my way eventually because I not only had the map I bought and didn't use last month, but also because the Venetians actually put signs up directing tourists (and probably locals) to major destinations (above).

In addition to discovering I could walk for five straight hours without collapsing, I discovered a number of other things about Venice today.  (Side note—especially to my husband: I also discovered that I am not going to be crazy enough to try to walk five straight hours again.)

St Mark's Square from water bus (last month)

St. Mark's Square, or Piazza San Marco, is probably the biggest attraction in the city.  Most people recognize the campanile (bell tower) and Doge's Palace. In the photo above, they are left and right respectively.  Basilica San Marco (below) sits behind the Doge's Palace.

Part of Basilica San Marco

Because it's on the water, Venice experiences high and low tide like every other water-based city or town. Some of the bricks in St. Mark's have "hole" in them so that the water rises and drains through them.  There was water still in some areas of the square at noon today, and tourists were taking their shoes and socks off and playing in it. Some parents were even letting their little children sit and splash in it.  When I see something like that, I have to wonder if some people have gray matter between their ears.

High tide in St. Mark's

Please allow me to explain.

From the late 40s through the late 80s, the city did not clean the canals as they had in the past, so Venice literally smelled awful. They now clean the canals every 10 years or so, which is about what they should do.  That said, 90% of all human waste produced in the city flows out of the city through those canals. In addition, industrial waste finds its way in the water. And, don't get me started on the darn pigeons, their feathers, and, well,  you know.

More high tide

As I was walking by trying to stay as far away from the pooled water as possible, some kid was splashing and dad was laughing.

"Holy crap!" I exclaimed. "Don't splash that water in my direction. Good grief!" I have no idea if they understood English, but the kid stopped, and he and his dad stared at me. Darn spoil sport American woman.

The water flowing into St. Mark's directly from the canal

 There are only 400 licensed gondoliers in Venice, and the city only awards three or four new licenses every year to replace those who retire.  In order to qualify, the applicants train, apprentice, and take an exam which includes both handling of the gondola as well as history, culture, landmark, and foreign language competencies.

Most of the gondoliers wear the typical uniform—black pants and stripped shirt.  Some wear the boat hat. The rides last anywhere from 25-40 minutes, from what I've read. Mike and I didn't take one when we were in Venice together because I'm cheap and didn't want to pluck down 85 euro. I heard that the price is now 100 euro with a 20 euro surcharge after 6 or 7pm.


 A less expensive way to experience a gondola ride is to take a traghetto (photo above) from one side of the Grand Canal to the other. The ride lasts about three or four minutes, and it costs 2 euro. Most Venetians (who pay 70 cents) use the traghetto to cross the canal for work or business.  Venetians typically stand during the crossing, and most tourists sit (probably out of fear of tumbling into the water).  The other differences are that there are two "drivers" to the traghetto, and they don't sing.

One of the old bridges
The city of Venice is actually 18 islands connected by the canals and about 440 bridges. Many of the bridges are hundreds of years old, although a few renovations have occurred over the years.  I read somewhere that many of the "new" bridges are falling apart more rapidly than those built ages ago.

One thing that bothers me about Venice—and every other city—is the amount of graffiti on the buildings. I know I sound like a broken record on that, but good grief. If you look at the photo above, you can see the crap some idiot with nothing better to do left on a century-old bridge and the surrounding buildings.  I just want to smack the crap out of people who do deface property like that.

A bridge over part of the lagoon

 One thing that breaks my heart is the fact that Venice has become so expensive for locals that most of them have moved out and now live in Mestre or other surrounding areas. After World War II, the city had about 175,000 residents.  Today, the number is just below 60,000.  The fact that the city is slowly sinking due to the acqua alta (high water flooding) has a lot to do with it, but the economy also makes it difficult for anyone to live on the islands. The biggest threat to residents, though, is tourism. The tourist board estimates that 50,000 tourists visit Venice daily. 

The bell tower in St. Mark's
 Today, I was one of them. I don't think I did much damage, though...unless you consider the psyche of the kid I yelled at for splashing water.

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