This was my fourth visit to Venice — the first in too many years. It is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, and as such, attracts unbelievable crowds. Unless you go out very early, stay out very late or get off the well-traveled paths, the hordes are unbelievable. At one point, I tried to count the number of guides’ flags and furled umbrellas within my line of sight, but I couldn’t.
Fortunately and serendipitously, my husband and I arrived for a short stay in the wee hours of the morning, long before our small hotel was unlocked. We hung around the Rialto, watching a woman sell beer to teenagers through the security gate of a café. When we were able to leave our stuff at the hotel and stroll to St. Mark’s Square at daybreak. We visited some of the main attractions, including hyper-touristy Murano and Burano, but I tried hard to focus on the details — the close-up charmers that make Venice so captivating, crowds or not. Here’s a random selection of very personal images of people, places and things that caught my eye:
One tourist death & one near-miss will hopefully change laws
Four of us, celebrating two landmark anniversaries, are heading for Italy at the end of this month (my husband’s and my 20th and our brother- and sister-in-law’s 25th). Our first stop will be Venice. A lifetime ago, I visited La Serena three times — once each in fall, winter and spring, so never in summer’s peak tourist season and before the cruise industry explosion. These ever-larger floating sea monsters destroying Venice’s tranquility and ancient foundations might finally be banned from the Lagoon following two recent headline-making incidents. As eTN Global Travel Industry reported:
“The eyesore of cruise ships on Venice’s famous skyline could soon become ancient history, as the behemoths are set to be banned from the city’s waterways. The new proposals by Italy’s Environment Minister follow a crackdown on water traffic, after the death of a German tourist two weeks ago.
“Joachim Vogel, 50, a professor of criminal law, was crushed against a dock by a reversing vaporetto water bus as he took a tour with his family by gondola near the Rialto Bridge. The tragic accident has prompted authorities to bring in a series of new safety regulations including ‘a floating congestion zone’ on the Grand Canal to ease the chaotic rush hour waterway traffic. . . Venice’s proud residents have long been up in arms about the presence of large cruise ships passing through the lagoon, with a flotilla of protesters taking to the waters in June. Lobbyists argue that the huge ships, sometimes ten storeys high, erode the canals and the city’s fragile foundations, contribute to the worsening flooding that occurs every winter and damage the delicate eco-systems of the lagoon. The cruise companies pay huge port fees for the privilege, but their passengers frequently eat and sleep on board and contribute little direct revenue to restaurants and hotels.”
Back in July, according to the UK’s Daily Mail Online, another incident was a close call (a near-miss, in airline lingo) of a cruise ship coming perilously close to the shore to show off for a mega-yacht owned by a VIP:
“Venetians have reacted with fury after a cruise ship allegedly passed within yards of the city’s historic banks while performing ‘a salute’ to a major company shareholder. Film footage of the [110,000-ton] “Carnival Sunshine,” which is owned by the same parent company as the notorious “Costa Concordia,” appears to show the 110,000-ton liner passing within 20 metres of the city’s fragile shoreline. The ship botched its manoeuvre, squeezing a vaporetto water taxi and other boats between the ship and the bank, witnesses claimed….
“At the time of the incident an 150ft super yacht belonging to former Carnival CEO and major shareholder Mickey Arison was moored on the same part of the shoreline, the local newspaper Nuova Venezia reported, fuelling rumours that the manoeuvre was an in fact a sail-by salute. The incident raises the spectre of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which sank after hitting rocks off the coast of Tuscany during just such a salute to the island of Giglio last year.”
The cost of refloating the paralyzed “Concordia” (hopefully) without harming the Mediterranean’s largest marine sanctuary, is approaching $1 billion — more than a year and a half after s hot-dogging captain brought her too close to the rocky shore. The accident cost 30 lives, but the cruise line seems not to have learned much from the tragedy. It seems, though, that the government has. The Italian Environment Minister, Andrea Orlando, said he would present proposals for reigning in the cruise industry before a cross-party committee of Parliament in October. He told the paper Il Gazettino thatthe proposals would implement the emergency legislation drafted after the “Concordia” tragedy, prohibiting ships of more than 500 tons from coming within two nautical miles of “landscapes of value such as the Venice lagoon or fragile environments such as the marine sanctuary between Sardinia and north-east Italy.”
I’m waiting to hear what, if anything, the Italian Parliament does to prevent future incidents and to restore La Serena’s serenity. It won’t be in time for our visit, but others will benefit to restrictive new legislation.
Award-winning travel blog. Colorado-based Claire Walter shares travel news and first-hand destination information from around the corner, around the country and around the world.