In contrast to our honeymoon trip, this visit to Venice was going to be everything the last one wasn’t! On our honeymoon it poured down rain, the gondoliers were mostly seeking shelter under bridges and the lines to see Saint Mark’s Cathedral were out the door. There was, however, a magic in the damp air that I could not wait to show our children. This time, I had it planned out weather and all, and I was ready to show the kids the Venice Casanova, Marco Polo, and Vivaldi called home.
While Venice was once the center of beauty and elegance in Italy, the Queen of the Adriatic is only a shadow of it’s former self as it tries to hold on to that image. The graffiti and overflowing garbage cans were only the beginning as we wandered, disillusioned, through the tired “La Serenissima” (serene republic).
It was not until we left Venice for a jaunt in Innsbruck, Austria that it became clear to me why Venice fell short. Venice and Innsbruck have virtually nothing in common except for the contrast visiting the two in the same week provided.
In Innsbruck, we felt as if we happened upon life going by in a vibrant city. We watched people meet after work near the river for a tall beer on a checkered table cloth. We played chess in the park with school children on a field-trip and we wandered into strudel laden bakeries. We observed ladies tidy the pews at the Cathedral of St. James but mostly we watched life happening before our eyes.
In Venice, the absence of “real” life happening was palatable. More than 60,0000 tourists a day visit Venice which is more than the number of people that call Venice home. The number of tourists, in such a limited amount of space, forces residents out. It is a strange phenomenon because tourism has been important to Venice for a very long time, but now it is losing the very heart of what makes it such a popular place to visit.
It was challenging, during our time there, to find museums open, church doors ajar and locals to talk to (even for August in Italy) because the cruise ship industry drives this massive tourism market and people just come for the day, shop and leave. The crowds overwhelmed and overshadowed everything and left a very superficial and one-dimensional footprint on a fading gem.
There is a heritage that is being loved, or simply visited, to death in Venice. The most frustrating part is that there are glimpses of the beauty and history in the well worn stones, pocked walls and intricately carved boats but we couldn’t get to it. We could not wait to leave not because we didn’t want to be there, but because what we knew was once there, was no longer accessible, and the absence of that authentic Italian character and imperfect glowing allure was sad.
As the hours passed in Innsbruck, and the hikers and bikers descended from the surrounding vertical with animated stories of their adventures, we listened, unnoticed to the heartbeat of a city in perfect balance.
As Victor Hugo states, “Sublime upon sublime scarcely presents a contrast, and we need a little rest from everything, even the beautiful.”