The next day marks the fourth gray and gloomy day in a row. Although it is not snowing or raining anymore - which at this point we consider pretty positive. It is obvious the key is not going to get here today, and the roads are in better shape, so we decide to try the Venice thing again.
After our breakfast (during which Markus turns down the 80s pop music again), we are off, and this time there are no treacherous blocked roads. It takes us less than an hour to escape the mountains and emerge onto the broad and very flat plain of the Po river, the major waterway that drains almost all of northern Italy. Venice is essentially at the mouth of the Po where it empties into the Adriatic sea. And soon we are at Venice itself, parking in one of the nearby immense parking facilities. For in Venice, you can't go anywhere by car. Or motorcycle. Or bikes. Or any other wheeled conveyance. Transportation is purely foot or water based, a fascinating thing in today's world.
The usual scenario is to take one of the public transport system's "Vaporetti", or water buses. These are exactly like city buses, yellow, with bus stops, routes, except it is all over water. Reasonably priced and fairly fast. Of course, Murphy's law being what it is so far on this trip, it turns out that today there is a 1-day protest strike of the entire public transport system. Apparently, "ci sono sempre i scioperi" is a very commonly-heard phrase in Italy.
So here we are, with no public transport. Of course, free enterprise being what it is, the local garage attendents and local boaters have gotten together and are essentially herding us into some private boats instead. Except that the cost is much higher: 8 Euros one way to the center of town. Wary of scams, but realizing that there is no other option other than walking, we get into one of these boats. Immediately after casting off we are asked for 10 Euros instead of 8 (typical....), and in his zeal to collect his loot from his passengers, our friendly captain almost careens us into another boat. I'm thinking maybe we'll walk back.....
Anyway, we are soon cruising the Grand Canal, and the richness of old Venice starts to glide by. Everything looks grand, yet run-down, colorful, yet drab. A sense of past grandeur is upon the place. And a curious mix of the present, as well. Police cars, except they are floating; Traffic lights, except that they are hanging over water; docking piers that are bus stops; "driveways" in front of houses, staked out with poles sticking out of the water.
Soon we arrive at a bus stop near the Piazza San Marco, one of the more well-known spots in Venice. Markus is starting to grumble because he is feeling overwhelmed by the money-grabbing tourist trap that he feels he is being sucked into - but we are here now and we are going to experience Venice. Period.
Slowly sinking Venice
As we walk into the Piazza, it is apparent that something is not quite right. The piazza is wet, but it is not raining. In fact, there are several centimetres of water in spots. Also, there is an entire outdoor patio of a cafe, with chairs, tables, everything, that is sitting in many centimetres of water.
Then, looking out towards the piers, we can see that there is no shoreline! the water from the ocean comes right into the piazza! We are experiencing one of the so-called 'acqua-alte', or high waters, where a combination of high tides and other factors cause the water to rise higher than ground level, at which point the sea spills over. Venice is in fact slowly sinking, a product of the way Venice is built and a period of subsidence of the land itself, caused by various human activities, including dredging, drilling, and fresh water extraction underneath the surrounding bay. A massive attempt at stopping this process is underway, but in any case the future is uncertain.
Crazy pigeons on Andree
In a dry part of the square, we are greeted with another amazing sight. A massive flock of pigeons is attacking a little girl, landing all over her; and they are thick on the ground, so thick that all you see is grey and feathers - no cobblestones are visible. Nearby stands a bird-feed vendor. Somehow these particular pigeons have become so tame that if you have food they will land on you, en-masse, clambering over each other in an almost frenzy. Bob gives Andree some bird seed and is engulfed, as can be seen in the pictures.
When the "acqua-alte" hits, portable walkways go up in the squares so that tourists can walk around without getting wet. Locals usually don galoshes and go about their business. It is not uncommon to see police officers directing foot traffic while standing in the water with hip-waders. As can be imagined, the sea also gets into houses and buildings, and when we visit the ancient San Marco Church, the entire foyer is underwater, beautiful tiled floor and all.
Since Markus is suffering from one of his bouts of gouge-itis, he splits off from us while we tour the church. From the upper deck of the church, we can see the sea slowly creeping into this beautiful square. The church itself seems to be suffering from the effects of the sinking and the sea, and in some places the floor and walls are noticeably warped or tilted.
Soon we rejoin with Markus. Bob and Annette have decided to wander off by themselves for the day. For the rest of us, it is time for us to explore Venice more intimately. We decide to wander around the back alleys and see what the place is like away from the throngs. It does not take us long; there are many really narrow, quiet alleyways. Hard to believe that these are peoples' streets, their front doors, their laundry hanging up above. The network is labyrinthine, and it is easy to get disoriented or lost. And many of the back alleyways are actually canals, many without bridges, so dead-ending is common. Here it would truly be nerve-wracking to be running away from an undesirable sort that was chasing you...
Deserted Venetian sidestreet
We find many examples of back-ways where there is not a soul around. A welcome change from before. A strange place this is, as I realize that I haven't seen or heard a car or bike all day, even though we are in the center of a major city. The buildings are often semi-decrepid, but still manage to look somehow scenic. And occasionally one comes across a grand building with brightly colored walls, brilliant plants and a smart-looking sport-boat in the garage. Evidence of subsidence is everywhere, especially near the Grand Canal, where some buildings are visibly leaning, the low side awash in the high tide.
More narrow back alleyways.
The days winds on, and we decide to walk back to the parking area rather than deal with the tourist-gouging canal-runners. So we make our way back, over about 7 kilometres of back allyways to the car. After seeing no vehicles all day, it was a bit of a shock to come across the train/car terminus, and to hear engines, honking, and all of the other things that come along with cars. Only a day, and yet we'd gotten used to being without them.
So ended our exploration of Venice. Really a fascinating place, and worth visiting, especially on one's own terms. Below are a few extra pictures of Venice I thought worth including here...
Tourists in the Piazza San Marco.
Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Darryl, Markus, Andree, Bob