Tears for Venice

When I wrote a post about Venice after my first visit in October 2017, (see Venice post) I said I wasn’t drawn to return because it wasn’t the warm culture that I had experienced in Tuscany and southern Italy.  A friend of mine posted a comment saying that while he agreed with the Disneyland for tourists aspect of Venice, ‘it [Venice] is still worth the adventure because it really is unique and reeks of history – shouldn’t be missed.’

I agree with that, and because of the city’s history and beauty  as well as the devastating floods in November 2019, I’m glad I was able to return, if just for two days, in October 2019.  I’m writing this post mainly to draw attention to those floods but also to add some information and pictures from new and old places we were able to visit.

Getting Around Venice

I wrote in my first Venice post, that I was utterly turned around and had a difficult time figuring out where I was, especially our first day. In 2019, most of our walks were either in the eastern part of the Cannaregio or in the Dorsoduro.

We were less than 10 minutes from the Ca` d’Oro vaporetto stop and we made good use of our three-day vaporetto cards which we bought at a kiosk just outside the main train station.  A couple of web sites I looked at discouraged readers from buying a 2 or 3 day card but we thought it was super convenient and we more than broke even, taking the vaporetto from the train station to the Ca` d’Oro stop, then back and forth from Ca` d’Oro to the Accademia, from the zattere to the train station and from Ca` d’Oro to Piazzale Roma.

The latter trip was due to the fact that we were staying in Venice prior to meeting a tour group at the Venice airport, then transferring from there to Opatija, Croatia.  And let me also add a shout out here to Get Your Guide.  We purchased tickets online for the express bus from Piazzale Roma to the airport through them before leaving the U.S.  And their web site provided detailed directions on where to meet the bus which only took 20 minutes and was much easier than taking one of the lagoon boats.

Wandering in the Cannaregio

Even though it was much cooler than our first visit, and rained most of our second day, Venice’s beauty transcended the weather and the crazy crowds.  We stayed in a small hotel in the Cannaregio, near Campo Santi Apostali,  (see Where to stay, or not, below) and it was a great location, at least for our purposes.

So going back to Venice’s beauty… after settling in to our hotel we walked through Campo Santi Apostali, looking for Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli which I thought my sister would like. But we were unable to find it or more accurately unable to find a bridge across the canal between it and Campo Santi Apostali.  So we went back to the campo and sat outside in the late afternoon sun having a vino and meat and cheese tray.  It was a beautiful afternoon and we enjoyed relaxing and people watching after a somewhat crazy train trip from Firenze.

From Campo Santi Apostali we walked down Strada Nova, then took a street along  Fondamenta Felice.  When that street dead ended, we zig zagged our way across several canals and totally by chance ended up in Campo dei Gesuiti which is bounded on one side by the huge baroque Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta Detta I Gesuiti.

Fondamente Nuove
Fondamente Nuove

It’s a lovely area and I wish I’d taken more pictures of the campo and church but I left my sister to explore the interior while I strolled up to Fondamenta Nuove where you can see across the lagoon to Murano.  I took a few pictures there, and met my sister back at the church.

(The article at this link, https://venetosecrets.com/en/art-style/chiesa-dei-gesuiti-a-jewel-of-the-venetian-baroque/, has some beautiful pictures of the church. And if I ever get back to Venice, I will definitely go inside and possibly take advantage of the restaurant on the grounds.)

It was fairly easy to find our way back to the hotel and we cleaned up and had dinner at a little pizzeria near the hotel.  The clerk at the hotel recommended it and it definitely seemed to have a lot of locals but we thought it was pretty average.

Sunday in the Dorsoduro

Our second day was the first Sunday in October and therefore a free day at the state museums.  So I talked my sister into getting up early and taking the vaporetto to the Accademia (Gallerie dell’Accademia http://www.gallerieaccademia.it/), a museum we didn’t see on our 2017 trip.  It was raining when we left the hotel and we felt very lucky that when we arrived at the Accademia, we were able to walk right in.

The main part of the museum is dedicated to Renaissance art, with many works by Bellini, Titian and Tintoretto.   Although I’m not generally an aficionado of  church art, I do love the rich colors, especially the reds, blues and golds of the Renaissance and middle ages and there were many stunning examples.

We spent nearly 2 hours in the main building then crossed a courtyard to the Palladian wing where there was an ultra modern exhibit plus some beautiful sculptures by Canova. In the same area as the sculptures there are two lions  as well as some friezes or bas reliefs that look as though they might be pieces from Roman ruins. I’m fascinated by Roman and Greek archaeology and did take a few pictures of the latter.  Here’s a gallery with some of the pieces.

When we came out of the Accademia late morning, it was raining even harder (perhaps a precursor to what happened in November) and there was a long line waiting to get in, making us glad we’d come early.  From the Accademia we walked to Santa Maria della Salute a beautiful church that we’d only seen from a distance while standing on the Ponte dell’Accademia or Accademia Bridge.

View of Santa Maria della Salute from Ponte dell’Accademia

The church sits at the very end of the Dorsoduro and after taking some pictures, we walked to the Zattere, a fondamente or ‘promenade’ along the Giudecca Canal.  We stopped in a small café for a cappuccino and when we came out, it had finally stopped raining and there were even a few breaks in the clouds.  So we strolled along the Zattere, enjoying the views and the sun.

Along the Zattere

We picked out a restaurant we thought we might like for dinner (Oke Pizzeria) mainly because it had ‘insalata di tonno’ which we’re very fond of.  (See Where to eat, or not, below.)

From the Zattere we walked to Campo San Barnaba which, as I mentioned in my Venice post, is probably my favorite campo in Venice.  Unfortunately the little restaurant where we ate in 2017 (and the only one with seating in the sun) was closed for Sunday.  We sat at the restaurant on the other side of the campo and had good tuna and egg tramezzini along with glasses of rosè.  Even though we weren’t in the sun, it was reasonably pleasant for about an hour, then it started to cloud up and drizzle again.

We walked back to the Ponte dell’Accademia and first took some pictures in front of the museum.

Then we tried to figure out if there was a vaporetto that would take us around the end of the Dorsoduro, through the Giudecca to the train station where we could get the number 1 vaporetto back to the Ca` d’Oro stop.  When we couldn’t figure that out we walked back to the Zattere and took a vaporetto from one of the stops along the promenade to the train station and then to the Ca` d’Oro.  The point of all that was the faint hope that the rain might stop and we might be able to take a ‘sunset’ cruise through the canals that evening.

Giving up on that thought, we cleaned up and then retraced our route from Ca` d’Oro to the Accademia vaporetto stop, walking from there to the Zattere.  We lucked out and by the time we reached the zattere, the rain stopped and we were able to take several lovely photos of the sunset.

Where to eat (or not)

Oke Pizzeria

It was pretty chilly by the time we reached Oke Pizzeria and we didn’t want to sit next to the canal so we asked if we could be served at a table next to their building where there was a heat lamp.  After a lot of consulting, the waiter said yes and brought us menus. Then he never returned to take our order.

After 20 minutes I went inside to see if we could get served and realized there was seating in the back of the building.  I asked if we could sit inside and after first looking at me like I had two heads, a waitress reluctantly took us back to the dining room.

It was a huge barn like room and we were the first to be seated.  For some reason the waitress sat us at a tiny table in the middle of the room, although there was much nicer seating along the walls.  (And from what I observed later, only the locals were seated there.)  While the food,–wine, our ‘insalata di tonno’ and a dessert– was good, service continued to be slow and unfriendly—at least towards those perceived to be tourists.  When I  went to Tripadvisor’s site to write a review, almost all of the other reviews said the service was horrible.

While we were sitting outside, I took several pictures of cruise ships going by in the canals and as you can see in the gallery below, they dwarf the Zattere and are being blamed in part for contributing to the horrific flooding of this past November 2019.

Acqua Alta

The floods of late 2019 made me think of the Hands sculpture we saw in 2017.  In restrospect, the sculpture seemed to be an accurate prediction of the future.

Here are some articles and links to discussions about the causes of the flooding and things you can do the help.  I only wish I had the means to return and volunteer with the clean up.

Before reading these articles, you should look at the pictures shown in this link: https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/13/world/gallery/venice-flooding-autumn-2019-intl/index.html

They are heartbreaking and beyond devastating.

Links to and excerpts from articles:

From https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-50401308

Italy was hit by heavy rainfall on Tuesday with further bad weather forecast in the coming days. The highest water levels in the region in more than 50 years would leave “a permanent mark”, Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro tweeted. “Now the government must listen,” he added. “These are the effects of climate change… the costs will be high.”

A project to protect the city from flooding has been under way since 2003 but has been hit by soaring costs, scandals and delays.  The project has already cost billions of euros in investment. According to Italy’s infrastructure ministry, the flood barriers will be handed over to the Venice city council at the end of 2021 following the “final phase” of testing.

Is climate change behind Venice flooding?

By BBC meteorologist Nikki Berry

The recent flooding in Venice was caused by a combination of high spring tides and a meteorological storm surge driven by strong sirocco winds blowing north-eastwards across the Adriatic Sea. When these two events coincide, we get what is known as Acqua Alta (high water).

This latest Acqua Alta occurrence in Venice is the second highest tide in recorded history. However, if we look at the top 10 tides, five have occurred in the past 20 years and the most recent was only last year.   While we should try to avoid attributing a single event to climate change, the increased frequency of these exceptional tides is obviously a big concern. In our changing climate, sea levels are rising and a city such as Venice, which is also sinking, is particularly susceptible to such changes.

The weather patterns that have caused the Adriatic storm surge have been driven by a strong meridional (waving) jet stream across the northern hemisphere and this has fed a conveyor belt of low pressure systems into the central Mediterranean.   One of the possible effects of a changing climate is that the jet stream will be more frequently meridional and blocked weather patterns such as these will also become more frequent. If this happens, there is a greater likelihood that these events will combine with astronomical spring tides and hence increase the chance of flooding in Venice.

See also  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/20/travel/venice-flooding.html  which has siimilar information as the BBC article.

From: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/25/people-of-venice-protest-over-floods-and-cruise-ships

Thousands of Venetians have taken to the streets to protest over frequent flooding and the impact of giant cruise ships.

In heavy rain between 2,000 and 3,000 people answered the call of environmental groups and a collective opposed to the ships. Critics say the waves cruise ships create are eroding Venice’s foundations.

Chanting “Venice resist” and calling for the resignation of the mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, the marchers also appealed for a massive project, Mose, to be mothballed.

The multi-billion euro infrastructure project has been under way since 2003 to protect the city from flooding but has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.

The protest follows unprecedented flooding that devastated the city, submerging homes, businesses and cultural treasures. “Venetians have just endured a deep wound. The flooding … brought this city to its knees and revealed its extreme fragility to the world,” said activist Enrico Palazzi.

Venice saw yet another acqua alta (high water) event on Sunday with levels reaching 1.3 metres. The UNESCO world heritage city is home to 50,000 people while about 36 million more visit each year.

August 2020 update:  I wrote in my Tutto Andrá Bene  post that one of the benefits of the pandemic lockdown is that the canals are much cleaner due to significantly reduced number of boats including the massive cruise ships and as a result wildlife is returning.  Perhaps,  the campaign among some Venetians to take back their city, encourage environmentally responsible tourism and rediscover their unique biosystem will gain traction.  See, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/nature-is-taking-back-venice-wildlife-returns-to-tourist-free-city/ar-BB11sjfH?ocid=spartanntp 

December 2020 Update:  I was thrilled in early October 2020 to read that the floodgates in Venice were used for the first time and according to this article, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/03/world/europe/venice-floodgates-flooding.html, they worked well.

But then in early December the acqua alta hit again and apparently the authorities were caught off guard and didn’t activate the gates in time.  (See https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/12/08/venice-floods-before-safeguard-barriers-are-activated/)

The pictures of St. Mark’s Square, completely underwater, are devastating.

Efforts to recover

When I first wrote this post, I included several links to how to help in the recover such as a GoFundMe page.  And an AmericaLoves Venice fund.  These efforts were largely successful and as stated in this article: https://www.npr.org/2019/11/18/780553293/after-venice-floods-volunteers-wade-in-to-help-salvage-what-they-can:

“Nobody was ready for that. But at the end of the situation, well, I think we are all feeling pretty lucky because a lot of young people came here in Venice to take care of us and help us. They helped them a lot,” she says.  That volunteer spirit has taken over much of the city. Young people have helped older residents dispose of heavy appliances, such as now-useless washing machines and refrigerators.

The Italian Culture Ministry has sent experts to assess damage in the flooded crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica, where mosaic pavements and frescoes were submerged by saltwater. But in many of the city’s less-known cultural institutes, volunteers are doing the salvage work.

The COVID pandemic inadvertently helped with the recovery in part because the huge cruise ships were no longer contributing to the acqua alta.

May 2021 update:  And according to several news outlets including CNN, https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/venice-canal-dolphins/index.html, dolphins have been seen in the canal. 

This article and video gives me hope that maybe the canals are cleaner.

July 2022 Update:  A recent article in National Geographic,  Saving Venice from flooding may destroy the ecosystem that sustains it,   (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/saving-venice-from-flooding-may-destroy-the-ecosystem-that-sustains-it?rid=DDA7CDCFEFE1BB9CDB1FC73D6EC1D57F&cmpid=org=ngp::mc=crm-email::src=ngp::cmp=editorial::add=Planet_Possible_20220726)  provides a detailed description of how the Mose (Moses) system of walls is supposed to work to prevent flooding.  However the article warns that using the system too often may prevent the saltwater marshes surrounding Venice from receiving sufficient tidal sediments to survive.

According to the scientist from the University of Padua, researching this issue:

The salt marshes are “hotspots for biodiversity,” D’Alpoas says; without them and the ecosystems they foster, the lagoon would die. They also account for one of nature’s most critical roles in the struggle to confront climate change.

“They are extraordinarily efficient at sequestering carbon dioxide and storing it in the soil as organic carbon,” says geologist Massimiliano Ghinassi. “One square kilometer of the Venetian marshes annually removes 370 tons of carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere, at a rate 50 times greater than that of tropical forests,” such as those in the Amazon.    

To save Venice, only to have its beauty surrounded by dead marshes is unthinkable.

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