“There is no way a gondola ride costs $100 per hour,” I declared. My coworker was trying to tell me how expensive it was to visit Venice, and I wasn’t having it.
“No way,” I argued. “That just isn’t possible.”
A few days later I picked up a National Geographic and read an article that confirmed he was correct, that Venice has extortionate prices. Moreover, I learned that 22 million visitors per year go to Venice.
I will never go there, I decided. And I should probably apologize to Dane, I thought.
But strange things happen when you get married. You lose a certain amount of control over your life; you can no longer just toss your shoes off anywhere you want; you have to immediately clean up the sink after trimming your beard and you have to take your wife to Venice when she wants to go.
And so last fall we went to Venice and I must say that I am glad we did. Venice is a masterpiece. No wonder so many movies have been shot there; no wonder it has captured the imagination of artists and poets for ages.
Venice assaults you with charm from the moment of arrival and never stops; it is a constant barrage of idyll. We walked out of the train station only to be greeted by a beautiful green copper dome, blue sky and a bustling canal. Normally when I emerge from a train station I see hobos and touts, hookers and hustlers, trash and scurrying commuters. I have never walked out of a train station and been so gob smacked. I’d seen Venice on TV hundreds of times, but never thought I’d be there.
As a photography enthusiast, I’ve rarely been someplace so perfectly photogenic and yet so hard to capture. It was difficult to convey the magic through my camera lens, impossible to sum up the juxtaposition of charm and grandeur in megapixels. I could spend a year photographing the city every day and not get tired of it.
But visiting even in late November, there were tourists everywhere. Outside St. Marks Cathedral, there was a huge and ever-growing line of impatient tourists. It looked like the midnight premier of a Harry Potter movie.
St. Marks Square and cathedral form the beating tourist heart of the city, with veins and arteries of narrow alleyways shooting off in all directions, pumping tourists out all through the city. Tourists coagulate atop every little bridge to gaze or photograph every charming little canal. Walking anywhere is an exercise in patience and I often found myself going upstream, against a current of humanity, feeling like one of those salmon leaping unluckily into the mouth of a bear.
When people run out of patience, feelings get hurt. On two occasions, different elderly Venetian ladies elbowed me in the kidneys, once when I’d come to a stop in front of a grocery store, and another when I’d paused on a bridge to admire the beauty of yet another stunning canal. I was offended and saddened at first, but now that I’ve had time to reflect, I’m not taking it personally. Ok, maybe a little.
And again, we were there in November! Imagine going to Venice in mid-summer, mid-tourist season and dealing with the 80,000+ tourists that can be in the compact city in any one day. I just broke out in hives thinking about it.
On our first morning, we woke up before dawn and watched a sunrise behind the San Giorgio Church. St. Marks square was totally empty save a few workers sweeping up trash from yesterday’s barrage of tourists – a never-ending struggle.
We watched the sunrise over the water, with gondolas in the foreground, the church in the back and shared it with just a few likeminded photographers. It was gloriously beautiful and perfect, sort of like my 2-year-old niece when she is sleeping, before she wakes up and raises hell.
Where you have tourists, you have crap to sell tourists. It seems like every other shop is selling cheap Carnival masks and costumes, made in China. And those that were not selling tacky souvenirs were selling $20,000 purses. I did not realize that Louis Vitton, Prada, Versace and Fendi sold purses that cost more than a practical, fuel-efficient Honda Civic.
Venice, in the end, wasn’t as expensive as advertised. We got a good deal on our room and ate pizza almost every meal (not sitting down as they charge for that). We didn’t ride the gondola. At $135 for a 40-minute ride at night, it was just a little too expensive for us.
Thomas Mann summed it perfectly when he described Venice as “Half tourist trap; half fairy tale.” It is one of those places that must be visited, must be experienced to appreciate. It is a truly great city, but I’d recommend not going in summer.
And if you get a sharp elbow in the kidney by an octogenarian woman, don’t take it personally. Just move over to the side and let her pass.
Have you ever been to a touristy place and enjoyed it?
Have you every been to Venice? Did you like it?
Has an elderly lady every made you cry?
I’d like to hear your comments.