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What’s Wrong With Venice?!

The Real Italy - What's Wrong with Venice- - www.rossiwrites.com

From the thousands of tourists coming only for the instagrammable spots to the locals not cleaning after their dogs, there are so many things that are wrong with Venice that I am surprised by myself for still considering it to be my favourite place on Earth.

I first visited Venice for a glorious day about twelve years ago and I have been hopelessly devoted to the city on water ever since then. Yet, lately, no matter how hard I have tried not to, I have started to wake up to the awful truth that Venice really is not just the sum of its history and beauty but of its problems, too.

The demise of every relationship starts with the smallest of cracks. It could be a disagreement over a mundane issue, a lack of communication over a tiny thing or the first signs that trust is about to be broken in the most spectacular way.

House on a canal - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

Over the years and my many visits to Venice (I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to see this beautifully unique city over a dozen of times), there have been many tiny cracks in my relationship with it. Bad or gross food served for extortionate prices, crowded and very expensive vaporetto rides, unreliable information online about things to do and see in the city, shops selling absolute tatt.

I didn’t mind it at all.

Houses on Salizada dei Spechieri, Cannaregio - Venice, Veneto, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

It was all a very small price to pay for the beauty of Venice, for the ability to walk along its canals, look up and see yet another heart-inspiring work of architecture and/or art. I didn’t complain when in winter it would get piercingly cold (it’s a city on water, after all) or when after a rare snowfall the walkways along the canals would get dangerously slippery (it’s all stone, so what do you expect?!). I didn’t mind it when in summer the heat and the humidity would leave me feeling like I was about to get a sunstroke any minute now (there are so many churches, palaces and museums you can pop in to cool off while looking at some fab art!).

It was all fine. It was all part of the experience of being in the greatest city on Earth, a place built on water – the most inhospitable environment for us. The first settlers and dreamers must have experienced many hardships erecting Venice as dramatic and beautiful as it is, so why shouldn’t I suffer a bit trying to see it and feel it for myself?!

Punta della Dogana and St. Mark's Square covered in snow - Venice, Veneto, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

As every person who is in love, I was only too happy to ignore the small cracks, the constant warnings that things were not quite right between Venice and me.

The first huge shakeup that my dedication to Venice suffered was during the opening night of the world-famous Venetian Carnival in 2018.

I decided that it would be a great idea to go to Venice for the afternoon together with my small child, see the opening parade in the early evening and then catch the train to Vicenza (where we live) after that.

Venetian palazzo being restored - Venice, Veneto, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

Having been to many Carnival events in Venice over the last eight years or so, I was absolutely sure that I knew what to expect and that I could navigate the crowds. No problem! I’ve done it many times before.

We had a great afternoon in Venice, my little daughter and I. We took part in a treasure hunt for children organised by a local association in the area of the historical Rialto market. It was a lot of fun and an opportunity for us to socialise with real Venetians – that elusive breed of people who keep living in Venice in spite of all the problems that the city on water has.

A capital adorned with fish - Rialto Fish Market, Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

In the late afternoon, we headed to Rio di Cannaregio – a large waterway off the Grand Canal – on which the opening parade was to take place. And here the nightmare started for us. And for thousands of other people, too!

As there were thousands of people that were also trying to get to Rio di Cannaregio and see the opening parade for themselves.

This free event had been heavily advertised both online and offline in the days before the start of Carnival. On the way to Rialto earlier that day we had seen the places from where the crowd was to be filed through to Rio di Cannaregio but there was no-one to ask how many people would be let through.

Narrow Venetian street - Venice, Veneto, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

We walked through the crowds which got denser and denser to the point of finding ourselves completely surrounded by people an all sides. There was pushing, shoving, people getting anxious, people starting to act like cornered animals.

You may ask why I put myself in a position like this, seeing that I was with my small child. The answer is that there really was no way to know or to see what was going on until it was too late. Strada Nova – one of Venice’s main thoroughfares – is usually quite crowded. So, at first, it all seemed quite normal to me. When winter darkness fell, street lights were not very bright, to say the least, so I couldn’t see what was happening mere meters ahead of us. And, then, again, walking in Venice is unlike walking anywhere else. The streets leading from Rialto Bridge up to Rio di Cannaregio and to the train station beyond, albeit being ones of the widest (at points) streets in Venice, can also suddenly get very narrow and curvy, creating terrible bottlenecks.

Carved stone decoration - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

I won’t get into too many details about how scary and hopeless it felt being caught among the sea of people on the opening night of the Venetian Carnival 2018. It’s not because I can’t but because I still find it very traumatic thinking about it all.

In the end, as the crowd stood blocked at the same spot for what felt like ages, I glimpsed through the sea of heads a hotel on my left-hand side. All social decorum dropped, I started shouting: ‘Please, let me pass! There is a small child here!’, I managed to get to the doors of the hotel. Inside, I tried to book a room for the night (impossible! the hotel was full because of Carnival!) and then my little daughter and I spent an hour in the lobby wondering what to do next (thank you, hotel people, for not asking us to leave!).

Masks with gondolas - Venetian Carnival 2011 - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

My little daughter kept her cool (I was very proud of her!) and we kept a line of communication with my husband (who, at the time, was in Greece for work). We watched the bottleneck through the big glass windows of the hotel’s lobby and it didn’t look good. People were blocked there for a very long time. There were lots of children in that crowd, parents had to put them on their shoulders, as other people would push forward mistakenly thinking that a gap by an adult was a free space they could claim.

There were both tourists and Venetians caught in the bottleneck. The tourists would complain that they had not expected Venice to be like that. The locals would add that they were trying to get back home after a long day only to find bridges and alleys closed off because of the opening parade.

Mask - Venetian Carnival 2011 - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

After a while, a rumour spread that water taxis would pick people from the back of the hotel for ten euros a head and take them to the train station. My child and I rushed to the quay. It was true! I asked the driver of the water taxi that was closest to us to let us get on board. He refused, preferring to pick a company of eight or so people first.

The crowd clamouring for water taxis was getting bigger every minute. We were right on the edge of the Grand Canal, everyone was trying to get the eye of a water taxi driver and pushing us from behind. A kind lady helped me stay on firm ground and, finally, we were allowed to get on a water taxi. I paid 20 euros for me and my child and the several other people on board paid ten euros each.

Tourists taking photos from a water taxi - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

We all specifically asked to be dropped at the train station, yet the driver continued all the way to the other side of the slippery Constitution Bridge where he finally let us out. And yes, I almost fell on the notorious bridge, becoming one of the many visitors of Venice who have lost their footing on its glass panes.

I was really shaken for a long time after this.

I couldn’t believe that Venice could fail itself so much. What about crowd control? What about avoiding bottlenecks? If you watched the TV news from the opening parade of the Venetian Carnival 2018, I assure you that you saw more than me, even though I was there and you were safely tucked at home.

A photobombing seagull - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

As the months passed, I tried to put this bad experience behind me. I tried to forget how vulnerable I had felt in that huge mass of people and how scared I had been for my child.

I tried to get back to simply loving Venice for what it truly is: a unique city with a rich history and incredible art. I continued visiting Venice as often as I could (seeing that I only live about 45 mins by train up the road). As everyone who has ever been hopelessly in love or has been suddenly betrayed by their very best friend, I continued finding all sorts of excuses to whitewash the memory of the Carnival’s opening night.

Mask - Venetian Carnival 2011 - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

That was until this past Sunday when I was getting ready to get the train and go to Venice yet again. I had booked a very nice tour allowing me to visit the depository of a lovely museum and hear the stories of some of the artefacts they have there which are not shown to the public yet.

I invited my husband to come along with me. He said:

‘I’m OK. You go and have a good day!’

I was rather surprised.

‘Is everything OK?’, I asked.

‘Yes. I am just a bit over Venice at the moment’, he said.

‘What’s wrong with Venice?’, I asked puzzled. After all, we had gotten engaged in Venice and have always enjoyed visiting the city together.

‘You know… The heat, the crowds, the walking. It’s just too much!’

I was rather surprised. But I enjoy spending time on my own and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I headed to Venice and upon arriving, I realised that my love story with the city will never be the same again.

Adam & Eve - Doge's Palace - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

For the first time in many years, I found it difficult to close my eyes to the actual real life and focus just on the historical and artistic side of things. Let me tell you. It wasn’t even that hot and it wasn’t even that crowded. It was, actually, rather nice for a day at the end of the busiest tourist season.

But, for the first time, I couldn’t ignore things or gloss them over at least.

Starting with the people buying beer on the street and walking around drinking straight from the bottle. Once finished, the beer bottles would be left by the historic water wells which grace the squares of Venice.

Campo dei Gesuiti with the Church of Santa Maria Assunta known as I Gesuiti, Cannaregio - Venice, Veneto, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

Then, I noticed the people who would walk into a church, look carefully around from the door and then quickly walk outside so as to avoid paying the very humble fee that some churches in Venice charge to visit them.

Considering the incredible amount of art each church in Venice has, the fact that many famous artists are buried in the Venetian churches and that each church in Venice has a unique architectonic beauty, I found it quite offensive that people would try to steal a glimpse inside and yet refuse to pay the very humble entrance fee.

La Maddalena Church, Cannaregio - Venice, Veneto, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

It was also painful to see an old man throwing his rubbish on the street and then arguing with his wife (who told him off) that there were no rubbish bins around. It’s true, rubbish bins are hard to spot in Venice but there are some if you look for them. Or you take your litter with you as you would do in London where rubbish bins also don’t abound.

Not to mention the groups of tourists in the early evening blocking the little side streets while they were drinking and eating outside.

A sotoportego - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

And while all of the above were the acts of tourists, the Venetians seemed to be failing their own city in their own way. For everywhere I went, there was dog poo on the streets. There was even a man walking his two dogs around and nonchalantly not cleaning after them. Not to mention the many small black bags filled with dog poo, tied up and left by the edge of the canals and at the bottom step of so many bridges. I kept wondering what was with that. Why leave it there?! What do you expect?! That the next aqua alta would take the plastic and the poo away?! How is this helping the lagoon?!

Grand Canal - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

I had a fabulous day in Venice otherwise. I saw some amazing sights. From the large canvasses of Tintoretto (and his tomb) in the Church of Madonna dell’Orto to the glorious views from the top of St. Mark’s Clocktower. From the concert in support of Rialto Fish Market (which, after 1000 years of existence, seems to be under threat) to the fabulous temporary exhibition on the revolution of book printing in the Museo Correr.

When it comes to history and art, Venice never disappoints.

The stairs of the Correr Museum - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

But I was feeling disappointed with Venice for the first time. And I was feeling sad for it, too. As the city, marketed as the most romantic place on Earth, is so much more than the sum of its instagrammable spots. But to the people coming to see it just to tick it off their bucket lists and to the people leaving their dog poo behind, this didn’t seem to matter at all.

Tourists Go Home - Venice, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

 

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About the author

Rossi

Rossi

Hello! I am Rossi - a Bulgarian currently living in Italy after a 14-year stint in England. This is my blog about my life in these three countries, travels around Europe and opinions about the world we live in. For regular updates, please, subscribe to my newsletter and follow me on social media online. You can also get in touch via the Contacts form or by commenting on the articles in my blog.

6 Comments

  • Dear Rossi, I just stumbled on your blog while I was google searching for some reviews of Venice.
    I was there yesterday with my parents and we were disapointed with the fact that there were no benches in space beetween Rialto and Riva Scavioni where our organized tour was organized and too big crowd. My mother was very tired since we had 6 hours of spare time and she could not stand anymore due to her health condition. We were in one restaurant for cca an hour and half but still she could not stand anymore so she decided to try and sit for a while on a chair from an restaurant. Three older ladies did same and owner wascery rude and tried to get them to leave. But they manage to stay for a bit while. He did that although there was noone trying to sit there and order.
    I understand that sitting in Restaurant without ordering is not appropriate, but the route os pretty physically demanding especially for older people.
    Benches really do not cost muchand Venice has gpt money.
    This could all be avioded with some benches on the sore, so people can rest without charge.
    It is very beautiful city but I dont feel a welcoming vibe there.

    • Dear Barbara,

      Thank you for stopping by. I was really sorry to hear about your experiences.
      Venice can be a difficult place to explore in a group and requires a lot of stamina. It’s a historic city and the narrow streets and hard paving can easily take their toll especially in the most crowded parts of town.
      The local people and the people doing business there at times can appear to be at the end of their tether but we only need to consider how taxing life can be there as everything needs to be transported by boat and then by hand or a small trolley at best. It takes a real physical effort to make it livable and/or workable there.
      I really don’t know how much money Venice has got, especially considering how many heritage sights and art places there are which need a lot of regular maintenance.
      As I said in my blog post above, Venice remains my most favourite city on Earth. At the same time, it’s a place that requires, at least according to my purely personal opinion, a special preparation to visit and a full understanding in advance that it is not an easy place where everything is perfect.
      Once again, I am really sorry to hear about your experience. I hope, at least, that the extraordinary beauty of Venice made your visit worth it.

      With best wishes,

      Rossi 🙂

  • My first time reading your very informative blogs Rossi. You write so well, and your descriptions are so well conceived.
    We are two old artists from Hawaii USA who will be visiting Venice September 2019. I must say I had to talk my husband into spending 5 days there. Last time I was in Venice I was 21, and some of your descriptions were obvious even then.
    But the wealth of art and history are undeniable. Just to add a little tidbit on the dog poo. Last September 2018 we were in the Spanish city of Toledo, and admired their solution ancient for poo. Early early in the morning, as we were up and exploring we noticed brigades of men and women in yellow jackets pulling long hoses through the winding streets, plugging them into water hydrants hidden in the walls and then with great gusto, hosing down the entire street, poo pee and all into oblivion (or some channel that might have taken it all down to the river?) I will research that. But the streets were totally free of any garbage, poo or whatever after that. Until the next morning! Mahalo nui loa for your wonderful blogs
    Pamela and John Hanor Keaau Hawaii USA

    • Dear Pamela,

      Thank you for stopping by and for your very detailed and lovely comment!
      All problems aside, Venice still remains my most favourite place in the world. I think I can easily spend a whole year living there just exploring the different layers of history and art.
      Toledo’s solution sounds really interesting. I am not sure how practical a similar method would be for Venice seeing that everything will just end up (one way or another) in the canals. In any case, it is commendable that the city authorities of Toledo are making sure that the urban environment is nice and welcoming for everyone – both visitors and citizens. I remember visiting Toledo 12 years ago for a day and I loved the local jewellery and the city itself perched on top of a hill.
      I wish you a truly wonderful time in Venice. There is so much to see, experience and love there.

      Best wishes,

      Rossi

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