Humorist Robert Benchley is famously remembered to have dispatched a humorous telegram upon his arrival in Venice: “Streets flooded. Please advise.” Very funny. Well, maybe uproariously funny any week other than the one we were there. Because I hadn’t done my homework and didn’t realize we should have packed hip boots.
We arrived Venice on a sunny mid-October afternoon and checked in to our “splurge’ hotel of the trip, the fabled Hotel Gritti Palace. We enjoyed a late lunch on the hotel terrace and watched the gondolas drift by, all the while, my heart doing little cartwheels to celebrate I’m in Venice! I’m in Venice! I’m in Venice!
Things didn’t exactly go downhill from there, but some things, notably water, inexplicably went uphill.
I had not bothered to avail myself of some key information about Venice in the fall and winter months, that is, the phenomenon of acqua alta. High tide, low atmospheric pressure and a keening scirocco wind from the Adriatic floods water from Venice’s lagoon into the canals, over the bridges, onto the sidewalks and turns the Piazza San Marco from a pigeon aviary into a fishbowl. Oh, and those sunny skies must have departed for Rome, because it poured rain for most of our visit.
The selfie stick vendors around St. Marks thoughtfully switch to selling plastic booties, but you have to be able to get to St. Marks in order to buy them. “Duck boards” – long narrow tables that bring to mind a fashion show catwalk are erected and the swarms of tourists press and grumble and jostle along in a huff. Imagine the I-405 freeway being reduced to one lane shared by both north and southbound travelers and you kind of get the idea.
Our tour of St. Mark’s Basilica (which, regrettably, was under scaffolding anyway) was canceled and we couldn’t get to the water taxi launch for our planned lunch at the Hotel Cipriani. But we didn’t exactly suffer, as we simply retreated to our exquisitely lovely room to wait out the tide.
The water retreated between tides and we eventually made it to St. Mark’s and to the Doge’s Palace.
Oh, and a little water didn’t keep us from having a few fine meals while we were in Venice. We sat canal-side our first evening for a casual but romantic al fresco dinner at Da Raffaele, had a wonderful Sicilian meal at A Beccafico and a memorable “last supper” at the tiny Osteria alle Testiere, which I couldn’t find again if my life depended on it. Being lost in Venice is a kind of art form, I am told.
Despite the rain and the flooding, it was very hard to say goodbye to Venice, and to Italy. We made light of it, certain that this was not a final farewell but just a temporary displacement from our true home. I don’t think a first trip to Italy can possibly also be the last. The place! The people! The art! The food! The limoncello! As Giuseppe Verdi famously said, “You may have the universe if I may have Italy”. Amen to that.