|GRAND CANAL VENICE|
We decided to forget the crowds and visit anyway—spending our last few nights in the ancient city of Venice. It had been over thirty years since our last visit, and the beauty of its historical setting, architecture, music, and artwork was calling us back. Situated on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by 400 bridges, it is one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
This unique place has become a tourist mecca, causing the locals to leave the historic center and move to the suburbs at a rate of 5% a year. The local population in the old city has declined from 175,000 in 1951 to 55,000 in 2016. The center is now pretty much left to the estimated 60,000 daily visitors and those in the business of tourism like restauranteurs, hoteliers, shop keepers, and trinket sellers. The local community and soul of the old city is diminishing. However, as long as this lovely place keeps floating, and the world population keeps growing, the tourists will come.
“Venice is one of the most romantic places in the world, but it's even better when there is no one around.” --Woody Allen
The first morning, I rose early and headed out to explore the old city center before the crowds showed up. I carefully followed the signs because I knew that I could easily get lost in the most maze-like city I've ever visited. After navigating the many passage-ways, alleys, and winding streets, I arrived at the Rialto Bridge, home to the original merchants of Venice. Built of stone, it was designed by Antonio da Ponte and completed in 1591. On either side of the center portico there are covered ramps with rows of shops. This early morning I was the only one around. I strolled slowly over the bridge and back again, enjoying the view and perhaps feeling a little smug because I avoided the crowds.
|SAINT MARK'S CATHEDRAL|
I continued walking another ten minutes to the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square), the principal public square of Venice that had its beginnings in the 800s. The huge ancient Piazza is surrounded by incredible architecture, monuments, and views of the Adriatic Sea. I took my time to enjoy it and to photograph it from different perspectives. The oldest known mosaic in the world (1260-70) is located above the doors to the Basilica San Marco (Saint Mark's Cathedral). It depicts the 9th century merchants smuggling relics out of Egypt for the Venice cathedral. There were just a few people wandering around at 7 am.—the museums, restaurants, and cafes were all closed.
Next on the agenda was hooking up with my husband, who enjoyed a relaxing morning in our apartment. We felt fortunate to have a spacious first-floor apartment for three nights in the old city (125 euro) booked on Airbnb, where it was referred to as "sweet home with garden."
|VAPORETTO/ WATER BUS ON GRAND CANAL|
Another benefit of the pass is that it allows for rides on the sea to visit the outlying islands. I loved our excursion to Burano which is considered one of the most colorful places in Europe. The multicolored homes are situated along a peaceful channel that is lined with fishing boats. We walked around mesmerized by the beauty of the place and fascinated by the two-three story attached houses with shutters on the windows and curtains hanging over the doors. In the background looms the leaning bell tower of San Martino—the only church on the island. It is also home to the original Burano lace. Visitors can enter the shops, and observe the friendly, elderly ladies doing their embroidering.
We flew back to the US from the Venice Marco Polo airport which is an easy thirty-minute bus ride from the city. We left behind a charming city surrounded by water that has been sinking for centuries. The low-lying salt marsh that it is built on is dissolving. The sea levels are rising. High tides are at an extreme level. There is heavy boat traffic speeding on the canals and the cruise ships keep coming. Despite the problems, some progress is being made. The MOSE Project, to keep high waters away from the city, is near completion. Pollution and sewage projects are underway. A ban was recently passed to eliminate cruise ships from the lagoon.
Next time I return to Venice, I'll probably need a ticket and advance reservations to enter. Italy has already imposed visitor limitations on Cinque Terre with a tourist ticket system. I just hope that this spectacular city, with its incredible history, will be around for future generations to enjoy.
|DOGES' PALACE SAINT MARK'S SQUARE|
|SAINT MARK'S SQUARE|
|PALACE ON THE GRAND CANAL|
|DOGES' PALACE AND THE ADRIATIC SEA|