Venice, tourists and pigeons

I have sailed into many ports over the past years, and only a handful of them are memorable. It is hard to forget sailing into New York, Sydney, San Francisco or Valletta. But nothing can prepare you for the experience of sailing into Venice. It is magical. We sail past St Marks square,

and past the Grand Canal

High up on the decks of the ship proves to be the perfect vantage point for views of the bridges spanning the narrow side canals

And if like us, you can splurge for a special occasion and get a large balcony, you can sit sipping champagne while taking it all in

Life doesn’t get much better than this.

The ship is in Venice for two days and a night, a big part of why we chose this particular cruise.

If you are  reading this and deciding you too would like to experience sailing into Venice  (and you should) then book it soon. If the locals have any say in the matter cruise ships will not be sailing into Venice for much longer. A few years ago Venice built a huge new cruise ship terminal and as the saying goes “Be careful what you wish for”

There are 5 cruise ships docked when we arrive.  The city is overrun by tourists and the cruise ships are not only making it worse, but adding to the wear and tear of the city. Venetians have had enough of tourists and while the cruise ships only add a small percentage to the total number,  they are bearing the brunt of the blame.

The population of the historic centre of Venice has shrunk dramatically over the past few years, and is now down to under 50,000. There is a huge movement to stop all cruise ships coming into the city. The idea is that by 2021 they will all have to enter by a “back door”  and will no longer be able to cruise past the historic part of the city

It has been 52 years since I was last in Venice.  I was 19 (OK, I will let you do the math) and while I was too immature to fully understand the romance of the city I did think it was the most beautiful city I had ever seen. Of course, that didn’t mean much as I hadn’t seen many.

Today I have returned, and the Fabulosity Meter is making one hell of a racket. There is no doubt about it. It is the most beautiful city in the world, and it has aged much better than I have. Remarkably it looks just the same as it did 50 years ago, while I definitely do not (No need to comment, Ed)

I remember Venice as overrun by pigeons, but not tourists. Today it is overrun by tourists but not pigeons. They seem to have persuaded the pigeons to go elsewhere (is that Pollyanna speaking?) which is wonderful. They are dirty, drab little creatures, always grubbing around looking for cheap food and somewhere to crap. Sadly the tourists are just the same. And there are so many of them. We are but two, but we want to do the same things as the masses.  We want to sit in St Marks Square, listen to a band playing Sinatra favourites, have a cappuccino and a biscotti and watch the world go by.

And just like them, we are shocked when the bill comes for $35

And just like them, we want to have a drink at Harry’s Bar. But unlike them, we are not prepared to stand in a long line of hot sweaty people getting grumpier as the line slowly gets shorter. It isn’t worth it.

And besides, we have to find the restaurant we have booked for dinner. We had read a review for it in an English newspaper, and it sounded wonderful. The only drawback – there are just 4 tables and a reservation is a must.  I have been trying to book a table for weeks, but when I phoned they said they only took reservations 2 days before. We pleaded that we were only in town for one night, but to no avail. Exactly 48 hours before I phoned and got a table.

The restaurant is hidden away on a tiny back street and the article mentions that it is hard to find. When we eventually get there we are a little shocked. We knew it would be tiny, but we thought it might be glamorous. It is not.

The Fabulosity Meter goes into shock.

The menu is just as tiny and is a fixed price for three courses. The waitress is delightful and explains everything. We wait with anticipation for the food. When it comes the Fabulosity Meter soars. It is a wonderful meal and a fun evening. The crowds of tourists are forgotten. They are eating their pasta and pizza elsewhere, no doubt in much more glamorous surroundings. But we are sharing a little piece of Venice with just a handful of people. We feel we have found an undiscovered gem.

Just half a block away the city is packed. With the increase in tourists comes the increase in traffic. In this case it is not the roads that are congested, but the canals. And just like in Palermo, anarchy rules and whatever rules there are, are ignored

When I was last in Venice it was with three school friends. The two girls were desperate to ride in a gondola, but we had no money.  Gondolas were hard to find, but somehow we managed to persuade one charming gondoleer to just take us under a single bridge. It took two minutes and cost pennies but it is an experience we all remember 50 odd years later.

Today, there is a set price for a gondola. It is 80 euros for 30 minutes. That’s $100. And that price is dependent on finding an honest gondaleer, which is no easy task.  There are many unscrupulous gondaleers, and the more unscrupulous they are, the higher the price they ask.  Gondolas are everywhere. There are hundreds of them lining up at every tourist spot.

And that still isn’t enough. Try and take a gondola ride and you will be standing in a long line. And once on board it bears a distinct likeness to a Disney ride, with the gondolas nose to tail down each little canal

And don’t even think of asking for a quick ride under a bridge for a dollar or two.

We take the water buses everywhere. It’s the perfect way to explore the city’s waterways and admire the incredible palaces that line them

And when we see one that actually looks like someone’s home we can only dream of what it must be like to live in this city

and wonder about those who are lucky enough to do just that

But like any city, Venice has its problems. And the problems seem insurmountable. Venice is sinking. There are signs of it everywhere. The water is lapping at the entrance of fabulous buildings and there seems to be nothing that can be done.

But the romance of the city is still undeniable. The canals, the bridges, and the buildings create the most incredible  atmosphere.

Where else in the world can you stay in a hotel that is hundreds of years old with water lapping at its walls that looks as glamorous as this? (We of course didn’t – but we did go inside and take photos!)

Where else in the world can you have dinner in a setting like this (We of course didn’t)

Everything about the city is Fabulous, except for the tourists.

And sometimes the Venetians themselves aren’t too impressive. On beautiful sunny days (and there are many of them) everyone heads for the beaches across the Venetian lagoon. The wealthy can do so in their little speedboats and even smaller speedos

They throw caution to the wind, along with their clothing

But just as I am despairing of the stylish Italians, along come two of the most inspiring inhabitants, still in full Venetian mode, tackling the choppy waters of the lagoon with great style, and just a little bravado.

Like me they were probably here 52 years ago, living the life as they do today, but with darker hair and better posture.

I think I remember them.


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10 Responses to Venice, tourists and pigeons

  1. Peter says:

    Andrew, thanks for your wonderful blog! Many of us look forward to each post; today’s was exceptional.

  2. Pat C says:

    I agree with Peter’s assessment of this blog. It is fantastic accompanied by the terrific pictures. Gordon still has the anemic owl glasses, I see. I love the dining area pic!! Well, and the balcony on the ship is not shabby either. You gentlemen make the most of wherever you may be. I admire that trait in you both.

  3. andrew says:

    Thanks again Pat. We try hard to have a good time!!

  4. bob colin says:

    Che Bella Vita! Ciao Amici!

  5. says:

    Tears running down my face, remembering and remembering. Thanks for sharing the best yet!

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. Nancy Whitley says:

    I want to know what you had at your fabulous dinner.

  7. Colette says:

    must be suffocating living in Venice anymore, wading through all the tourists – che peccato!

  8. Colette says:

    gorgeous photos!!!

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