A week before our scheduled visit, we heard that Venice had record flooding up to six feet deep. Three days before, we called our hotel, and they reassured us that the water had receded, and our accommodations and sightseeing would be just fine. Skeptical of their motives, I asked locals in Florence, and they also reassured that that everything would be okay. Although we still had our doubts, we figured we wouldn’t be back in Venice for many years. By that time, a trip to Venice might be like visiting the mythical, underwater city of Atlantis.
So we reserved our train tickets and headed in.
And everything looked fine.
Based solely on our view from the vaporetto (water bus) through the grand canal, we never would have known that the internet was predicting the imminent destruction of Venice due to corruption, climate change, or whatnot. The sun and tourists were out, and nothing looked damaged.
On arrival, the hotel receptionist assured us that although the flooding was bad for Venice, it was nowhere near as bad as the internet would suggest. Roughly paraphrased from slightly broken English,
People just aren’t thinking right about it. They say Venice is under 1.8 meters (6 feet) of water, and they also show pictures where a man is up to his knees in water, so maybe another 1 meter. If you do the math, then it doesn’t make sense. Do they think that Italians are 3 meters (10 feet) tall?– Receptionist at Locanda Al Leon who vaguely reminded me of Orlando Bloom
We looked at the predicted high water over the next few days, and it was going to spike again up to 1.4 meters on the day we were leaving.
But I’ll get back to that later.
In talking to the receptionist, doing more reading, and looking around, we learned that this level of flooding is normal. Yes, Venice is sinking, and maybe climate change matters, but the tides are just higher in November,and everyone is ready. They have temporary elevated walkways (like folding tables), door inserts, and water pumps. The locals made it seem awfully routine.
We really enjoyed sightseeing the big Italian cities because they encompass the history of the western world. Roman ruins, early Christian churches, and Renaissance art, we saw the recurring themes from primary school history class. And it’s all remarkably well-preserved. I heard that Rome hasn’t had new building erected since Mussolini. And due to a mess of building restrictions, Venice is slowly emptying out to become a medieval theme park.
To me, that sounded dire. However, I sensed that the Italians were fine with it. They liked their lifestyle and were willing to enjoy it as long as they could.
On a Saturday night in Rome, we went to a restaurant at 7PM (as indicated on the sign) and were just turned away without explanation. We ate elsewhere, and walked back to see them open at 8PM. We tried several times to make reservations at another restaurant without any luck. Later, we walked past and noticed how tiny the restaurant was. If they just made the restaurant a little bigger or were open an hour or two longer, they could easily increase their business.
But that’s my capitalistic, American thinking.
Why did they need to make more money? I trust that the restaurant owners and staff were perfectly happy to keep the hours and size that they did. Maybe it couldn’t last forever, but they could enjoy it right now.
So on our last morning in Venice, we had to catch a 11:10 train. We were close to a vaporetto stop that would take 30 minutes to get to the train station. However, high tide was predicted at 1.4 meters, so we woke up early to see how we would handle it.
At 8:30, we talked to a different receptionist, and we opened up the door to see water a few inches deep in the street. From the previous evening, we knew that the water was much deeper on the walk out to the vaporetto stop, so we needed a new plan.
The receptionist gently told us that there was no way that we were going to make it in our equipment as is. We had waterproof boots, but they probably weren’t tall enough, and even if they were, the salt water would ruin the shoes. From the hotel, we just needed to walk out to the stand at the intersection maybe 30 yards away and buy plastic booties.
But we still had to get out there. And he didn’t offer to go for us. And we didn’t ask him to. So he suggested that I take off my shoes, roll up my pants, and wade out to buy cheap plastic from a street vendor who knew I had no other option. I guess there are capitalists in Italy.
I don’t have pictures of me, but after we got back to our hotel, I snapped this picture of another couple who did exactly what I did.
Booties secured, we stepped out around 9:30 in the morning to head to the vaporetto stop and catch a ride to the station. The water got deeper, but it didn’t get up past our ankles or so until we arrived at the elevated walkways. I thought we were through the worst of it.
At the vaporetto stop, some confusing signs indicated that our desired route wasn’t making all stops. In fact, they stopped the route about half way up the island from where we were. We asked a vaporetto driver what was going on, but he clearly hadn’t even read the signs. He told us just to take the line that was stopped.
We briefly discussed whether to walk all of the way or to try to take another vaporetto. Eventually, we decided on the latter to get us closer, but we soon realized that we could get off early and walk to get there faster, so we did.
And then the water got deep.
Starting at the south side of the island, we got off on the southwest side and needed to walk to the northwest side. Our phones directed us along the canals for the shortest route, and we noticed the water getting deep as the canal and sidewalk blurred into one.
On our first try, the water came three-fourths of the way up our calves before we turned back. We tried a different route, and the same thing happened.
And the rain got heavier. Did I mention it was raining?
And perhaps an hour since we had left and having not made much progress, we were beginning to despair that we weren’t ever going to make it to the train station on time.
However, we got smarter. Since none of the map offered a “avoid currently underwater walking paths” options, we just read the map for our own directions. And we preferred routes that took us through the middle of islands and away from canals other than where we needed to cross bridges. And made it with about 10 minutes to spare, or about 3 times longer than it was supposed to be.
I didn’t remember to take any pictures since we were under some duress, but here’s a rough, simplified version of the route that we took that morning to get to the train station
We probably should have just walked.
Other than being a good story, this anecdote also validated our decision to get new travel bags for the trip. We already had carry-on roller bags, but we didn’t want to take them through Venice’s bridges and cobbled streets. Instead instead, we bought travel packs to carry everything on our backs. I can’t imagine how we would have made it out if we took roller bags.
Well, I can. We would have just waited and gone out on a later train.
And that’s why we’re okay if we never get another chance to go to Venice again.