You should make sure that you...
You should make sure that you walk around some of the neighborhoods and islands away from the obvious tourist beaten tracks (i.e., places like that on the left). There are actually a few parts of the city where real people still live and go about their daily business and you'll miss them if you stay too close to the guidebook major sites.
Consequences of city being built on water
So why am I writing about all that ? Just to make aware how much of effort it is to keep a place "running", which is entirely built “on water”. While preparing my trip, I found so many negative remarks about the city, that it is smelly in summer, has acqua alta all the time, is expensive and is one single tourist trap.
Well, again, it costs a huge amount of effort and money to keep the city functioning. The goods for preparing meals need to be transported by boat, and then in wheel carts (similar principle as described above) over bridges and through the small calles. That’s very much “manpower” intense. And as this is Italy, and not a so-called third world country, people’s salaries are not that low to give us special deals on meals as in say Uzbekistan or Tajikistan.
Electricity, clean water, the possibility to pull the string in the bathroom and get rid of our human waste – this all requires specifically designed mechanisms to transport to and from the houses and the hotels. The water, now with a higher oxygen content than before we masses have started to invade the city, gnaw at the houses and require a much more frequent restoration than in La Serenissima’s past days.
Or take the gondolas. Yes, a ride in a gondola is expensive ! A licence to navigate a gondola costs around 70.000 Euro, the gondola itself is not a mass product where thousands hop from the belt every evening. It takes some months to finish a gondola (as by now there are not many artists left, who master the building), and then it costs around 40.000 Euros. As hardly anyone wants to take a gondola ride in winter, the guys have only several months, maybe 6 or 7, to work. And if in the past days one gondola was passed on from father to son and maybe grandson, this is no longer the case today. Again, the very much high oxygen content (thus algae) requires a much more frequent repair and care for the boats. By now, the life cycle of a gondola is not longer than maybe 25 to 30 years.
Oh, and a fiaker ride in Vienna costs 100 Euro per hour – does anybody complain about that ? It is easy: if it is too expensive, then just leave it, but stop complaining.
Acqua alta – yes, it is more frequent today than in the past. And parts of the reason are the deep navigation channels that have been digged into the lagoon to enable the oil tankers a shortcut to the plants in Maestre. But also to enable these …. cruise ships to come close and sail through the lagoon.
Or the toilet fees. Yes, we have to pay a toilet fee (if we didn’t buy the Venice Blue or Orange card, or use the ones of a restaurant when we have lunch or dinner or a coffee). Public toilets do cost 1 Euro per “nose powdering”. But the money is paid for a good reason. And of course it is us, who have to pay – no one would expect the Venezianos to pay for our nature calls, would one ?? And apart from that, in other European cities we also have to pay, and also quite a “nice” amount. In some German towns the fees in cities or at highways are also as much as around 0,70 Euro.
Please remember this all before you want to rant about the prices, smells, and other things.
Get informed - Acqua Alta & weather
Now acqua alta can be a nice sight for us tourists, when Piazza San Marco is slightly under water and we can take nice reflection photos. But it is horror for the city and her marvellous art and architecture. And of course, not much of fun for the locals, mainly for the shop, hotel and restaurant owners. Sestiere San Marco and here all around Piazza San Marco is affected most, as it is the “lowest” district, directly at the wide open Bacino di San Marco and not protected in any way.
From what I have read acqua alta is mostly occuring between October and March, and is a result of approaching scirocco wind (with high differences in temperature in northern Italy and the wind) and moon (full or new). If it is raining some days before, then it all will be a big disaster. Consequently, the highest measured acqua alta has been mostly in November, 4th in 1966 with the absolute record of 1,94 m above sea level and 6th in 2000, when 80% of the city was flooded.
It is happening more often than in the past, as a consequence of the negative impact, man made in the lagoon (digging deeper channels for the oil tankers and cruise ships, the increasing amount of watertaxis and their being used, etc). Since this worst case of acqua alta in 1966, Venezia’s officials did a lot to warn the people early enough, as it is mostly foreseable, given the weather conditions.
There is a permanent recording of meteorological data at the northern wall of campanile on Piazza San Marco (photo 1), there is an info phone number, and a website which tells the actual status. In addition, people who live in very much endangered areas, are being warned 24 hours prior to the assumed start of acqua alta. For us tourists this means that we can check with our hotel or with bars and restaurants, in case we stay in appartments, the people will tell us about the actual situation.
Acqua alta is definied as water being minimum 80 cm above sea level. Sirens are warning Venezia-wide if the water is as high as 1,10 m asl and state of emergency is declared if it is 1,40 m and higher.
We should be aware not to block Veneziano life in any way if we are in the city during acqua alta. This means that we should keep discipline (if this word exists in our vocabulary) when walking over the bars that are laid out in the most critical areas. Venezianos have the right of way anytime. Just watch how they behave and do the same. The locals will appreciate our cooperation very much ! Each vaporetto station has information about the most critical areas (see photos 2 and 3). You can see that San Marco is the most critical one.
Information is available at:
Acqua Alta website
Information phone at Centro maree: 041-24 11 996
Talking with the neighbours or relaxing
On the narrow roads of Venice, you can see some people that sit on banquettes or chairs, in front of the house door, and talk with the neighbours or friends.
Other people take simply a rest in front of the house.
This is possible only on the quiet roads without many tourists.
Definately take an umbrella! I don't know if it is all the time or not, but the weather in Venice changes suddenly without warning... :) We were lucky to have our umbrellas with us. Of course you can buy an umbrella from the many men selling them on the streets too...they'll try as hard as possible to get you to buy one...even if you already have an umbrella of your own! ;)
Good walking shoes are also a must...you will walk lots while you're in Venice. :) I think you could buy almost anything in Venice but the prices are very high! Bring most of the things you'll need with you. Take a tripod for some nice night photos of the canals and buildings.