On arrival, the uniqueness of Venice hits you. It is a special place and you’ll be wowed by its magic.
Dizzy yourself by winding through the alleyways, meandering along canals and posing on quaint bridges. Yes, it is all so romantic. This is Venice. The tourist’s Venice. But if you happen to look behind you, there is a dark shadow lurking.
Venetians are outnumbered. Tourists bombard their city. This isn’t a new concept, the oppression of tourism has been a contentious issue for many years. But the cracks are deepening on the city and its people.
You can feel it. There’s a history of hard times here, an inheritance of suffering. Not by all. But enough for it to be real. The frowning Venetian who rushes hastily past you through the streets, weaving around slow-moving holiday makers. It is no easy task for the local who tries to run errands and get to work each day through the packed narrow streets. It is a traffic jam that never ends.
Despite all this, many locals are grateful for the revenue brought in by tourism. Yet not all tourism is created equal. There is a side of tourism that is harming the local economy. Daily cruise ships spew out multitudes of passengers who fill the streets and only stay for the day. A local explained to me that the tourist who stays overnight is a welcome tourist. They stay a few days, bringing money into the city through accommodation and food. But the day-trippers are generally perceived as a liability: leaving rubbish, creating traffic and no revenue. It gives a new meaning to ‘stop the boats.’ There is a heavy burden here and if you can pull yourself away from the romance of your holiday – you can see it, etched in the faces of a worn, powerless people.
One lunch, we enjoyed a take away pizza on the steps beside a bridge in the busy San Marco district. We thought we had chosen a spot to eat that was unobtrusive. But after a few bites of our delectable pizza from Pizzeria L’Angelo, a shopkeeper burst out of her artisan yarn store and yelled ‘no rispetto!’ We jumped up and left, apologising profusely, as the frustrated woman continued to yell at us and other tourists who were eating their take away pizza on the bridge.
Such an outburst might not be the norm in Venice but it’s difficult to ignore such an experience. There’s an elephant in the room. And I couldn’t help but wonder what it took for this woman to become so incensed…how many years, how many battles had she fought for peace in her own city?
What is the solution? A ban on cruise liners, limited tourist numbers or higher visitor taxes?
Whatever the case, it’s an ongoing conversation for all. The best we can do is travel consciously.
Venice truly is a breathtaking world, a chance to step back in time.
Be the type of stranger you would welcome at your dinner table. Step out of the tourist hot spots. Emerge from your hotel at the more peaceful hour of aperitivo and visit a local bacaro. Sit along the canal and learn to order a drink or two in Italian. Smile. Give them your understanding. Be generous, be respectful. Be grateful.
Visiting Venice is a privilege not a right. It is a cultural experience, not just a holiday. Let us all work together to preserve this magical place.
For more of Nadia’s travels in Italy, visit: