Friday, July 4, 2014

Cruise Day 11 & 12: Venice.

Venice pictures HERE.

And so the cruise comes to an end. We arrived slightly ahead of schedule in Venice at 12:45 PM, after a spectacular parade past the sea-level city. We had the remainder of the day (Saturday) to play in Venice and spent the night on the ship. Then the following morning they kicked us off—after feeding us one last time, of course! It’s always a melancholy thing to get your card scanned one last time as you leave the ship, passing a boundary whereafter you are no longer granted all the privileges you’ve enjoyed for the last week or two.

And it’s been a really glorious cruise, my favorite yet by a goodly margin. I loved each and every port, and everything seemed new and interesting to me. We had letter-perfect weather, and we walked a ton. I feel like I know Europe (to the extent that anybody “knows” Europe) just a little better.

Venice is simply not like any place I’ve been before. It’s a shade like Amsterdam, in that there’s water everywhere. But Amsterdam feels like a city with canals cut into it, whereas Venice feels like somebody floated a city on top of the sea. It’s so odd that buildings rise out of the water with no land around them, and there are NO streets whatsoever in the middle of the city (there are cars and buses of course on the outskirts, like the cruise ship docks, which are near the train station, both of which require good road connections). That’s one of the big differences from other places: Venice has NO street traffic. None. Zip. There are no bicycles, no scooters, no cars no trucks no buses. Nothing. And the rights-of-way where motor vehicles DO operate—the canals—are not places where you could or would be as a pedestrian anyway. So it’s really a pedestrian-only city, and I’ve never seen that before. Like the other places we’ve been on this cruise—Dubrovnik, Kotor, Kerkira—the paths of Venice are winding and very narrow, and they open up every couple blocks onto a square ringed by a church and a bunch of cafes. It’s very civilized. And very crowded with tourists.

We bought a 12-hour pass for the water bus (their city bus, like every other mode of transport, is a series of mid-sized boats that travel six or seven different routes) and rode a couple routes. Like the rest of the city, this mode of transport is unique to the place. Amsterdam has a water bus system, but Venice has ONLY a waterbus. Venice also has water taxis, but they run 72 Euros for a one-way trip. Despite the expense, which is not so bad if you double up with another couple or if you have kids, they were doing a booming business. And the water buses were jammed to their capacity of a hundred or so people all day long. And of course there are the gondolas. There supposedly used to be upwards of 14,000 of them, and now there are just 400 or so, but they seem to do a good business as well. But they are slow and atmospheric rather than utilitarian. It would be a bit tiresome to live in the city and need regularly to get anywhere, as there are no straight lines, and none of the transportation goes directly anywhere or at any meaningful rate of speed. But again, everything was jammed all the time on both days.

When we pulled in to the cruise ship slip we were one of, I think, four ships of about the same size (our ship carries 2,200 passengers), and when one ship left another took its place. So there must have been, on ships alone, a good 8,000 people in town at any given time. Venice has a indigenous population of some 60,000 (down from 200,000 at its peak, we were told), and so these 8,000 folks plus maybe an equal number there NOT from the ships, makes for a substantial jump in bodies wandering the streets. Tourism is the only show in town, I think, and it shows.

And I think despite snapping a thousand pictures (everywhere you look seems to demand a photo) that is my primary impression from the walking we did: Venice seems like an all-tourist place, kind of like an adult Disneyland rather than a real city where we just happen to visit. Wandering this evening before dinner, a Sunday evening, we got off the beaten path and saw the natives gathering outside for dinner and to chat and catch up. But even then it doesn’t feel like a real place so much as a special magical shopping mecca that thousands visit every day and then leave. I’d be very happy to come back here, and I’m thrilled that I got a taste of the place, but I don’t think I’d plan a visit specifically to come here again, even if I don’t expect to see anyplace like it again. Everyone treated us very well and seemed happy we were there, and the food was excellent.

Tomorrow, we take a train back to Rome, and then, 36 hours and a Vatican tour later, we’re off for home.

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