Back in the early 2000s, as a young girl of about eight, I had the delight of being a subscriber to a Barbie mail order for travel files. These ‘files’ would arrive in the post and, after I had excitedly read about the month’s focus travel destination, would be stowed into my – suitably pink and trendy – ring-binder – a girly girl’s archive of Barbie-worthy travel locations for the future.
Okay, the subscription was a rip-off and didn’t last all that long, but, in spite of this, Barbie’s travel bible had planted a seed. The seed was the desire to visit Venice – an alluring city of bobbling gondolas and sunsets ablaze with golden hues. My eight-year-old-self knew it, I would one day see this grand Italian city which, for some reason, had captured my imagination. Roughly seventeen years later, my vision would become my reality. Oh, and Daniel’s too!
Riding up one of Venice’s major canals on a water taxi, Daniel and I were able to take in the rows of buildings literally rising from the water – their sides coming into continuous contact with the island’s lapping waters. Of course, we’d seen similar, water-bourne structures in Amsterdam, though Venice’s appeal was certainly not lost on us. Even with the afternoon sun in our eyes and steady beads of sweat dressing our foreheads, we knew we’d arrived in a special, somewhat mystical, place.
Now, I do have to be honest, Venice was incredibly busy – and hot. As we were there in August, the place was heaving with tourists, making for a rather hectic, stuffy experience of the city. We found ourselves weaving through narrow back streets with hoards of sightseers from all corners of the globe. It was in the midst of these melting pot moments that we began to contemplate the possible impact of tourism on the island.
The city of Venice is fewer than 8km2, yet, despite its small size, an average of 60,000 tourists visit the city each day. Today, there are more tourists in Venice on any given day than there are residents! And, alarmingly, many of the tourists visiting Venice are arriving by cruise ship – the most detrimental touristic operation in Venice. In a nutshell, these large-scale ocean hotels are polluting Venice’s waterways, altering the water’s currents, eroding the mudflats and, most obviously, delivering hoards of tourists all at once. When you stop to consider this, you realise it’s not a pretty picture.
The humongous crowds – and the heat – lead us to the decision to take it easy in Venice; coming to the end of a month-long, Italian adventure, we were running out of steam, and tolerance! We opted to enjoy the simple things that make Venice great. On any given evening, you could find us near the canal, sitting on a side-street step devouring a Margherita pizza or on a low wall, enjoying a conversation over a bottle of wine (unglamorously divided into our plastic travel cups).
Many of you may be shocked to find out that we chose not to do a gondola ride. At €80 for the boat, we could not justify the experience. We questioned just how romantic the ride would really be with the gondolier steering us past a myriad of gawking land tourists and fellow gondola goers. Maybe we were a little pessimistic, but, hey, there’s always next time, right?!
Aside from indulging in more excellent Italian food, Daniel and I enjoyed a trip to one of Venice’s comprising islands – Murano. Famous for its glass making, Murano is home to numerous glass factories, blown-glass stores and a museum dedicated to the island’s historical and contemporary relationship with glass. Finding artisanal glassworks is definitely not difficult on Murano. While Daniel wasn’t so keen on shopping for blown glass trinkets, we did both thoroughly enjoy our private glass blowing demonstration.
Another highlight from our stay in Venice was the time that we spent in the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square). Undoubtedly the hub of Venice, the Piazza San Marco was alive with people from early in the morning until late at night – and it was easy to see why. Standing in the square, one is confronted with the remarkable sight of Saint Mark’s Basilica, as well as the Doge’s Palace, the San Marco Campanile and the connecting buildings of the Procuratie which enclose the piazza.
When our stay in Venice had drawn to a close, we were ready to move on. There was no doubt about it, Barbie knew a thing or two about Venice, yet, I think, in the years since my childhood travel files, Venice has rapidly changed. I guess I wasn’t the only one inspired to see the city in light of commercial propaganda…
The Floating City was brilliant to behold. Though, we agreed that we were finally ready to take a break from the pizza, say ciao to daily gelato and escape to bluer waters and slower days. The Adriatic Sea which washes in on Venice was calling our names.
As we sped across the water to Marco Polo Airport, our feelings of excitement grew. What would Croatia have in store for us? Oh, and how did we say hello in Croatian?
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Most of the information in this blog post regarding the impact of tourism on Venice was sourced from the following online article by Lisa Gerard-Sharp from The Guardian: