Venice: Come Hell or Acqua Alta (Part One)

Acqua Alta = High Water in Venice

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For many years now, Venice and Prague have been on my short list of travel destinations.  A list that was thwarted back in 2008-2009, because of unexpected work obligations.  That was supposed to be the year of Prague, the year of Venice, the year of far flung travel adventures.  But, best laid plans and all that.

So 2015 turned out to be the year of Prague and Venice, and many towns in between.  I wasn’t going to be thwarted this time around: come Hell or high water, my trip to Venice was going to happen.

Well, I’m happy to report that Hell stayed at bay.  High water did, however, make an appearance. Creative Commons
Old Map of Venice.
Creative Commons


Venice is prone to this problem, especially in November and December.  Seasonal winds, high tides, and full moons all play a hand in this, but, you know, the island of Venice is in a lagoon. The original settlers of Venice moved to the marshland from the mainland to get away from the constant threat of marauders.  They knew no one would bother them in the middle of the marsh–no one would make the effort.  Check out the old map above–note that water is not only all around Venice,  but it snakes its way through every “street” of Venice.  In fact, water actually  IS the roadway of Venice.  No cars, just boats.  

The “streets” of Venice.
View from St. Mark’s Campanile (bell tower) over the Dogges Palace and out to sea.

 Obviously Venice has flourished and the marauders were kept at bay, but the sea must be built over the top of and constantly drained out.  And when the Acqua Alta comes, raised walkways are put in place and life goes on.



Pedestrians in single file, walking on "risers" above the flooded walkways.
Pedestrians in single file, walking on “risers” above the flooded walkways.
Cafe tables--plenty of open seats, if you don't mind wet feet!
Cafe tables–plenty of open seats, if you don’t mind wet feet!









Makeshifts waders in Venice acqua alta.
Makeshift waders in Venice’s acqua alta.

Even St. Mark’s Cathedral isn’t spared.  In fact, maybe especially St. Mark’s isn’t spared.  Piazza San Marco is right by the water, so it’s  a first stop for the flood waters.  The water seems to wash in and linger like an old friend  with the locals–and the locals greet it as such.  The tempo of life is not much paused:  merchants continue their sales as best they can, in boots and waders, while tourists whimper and moan, and eventually just get on with it, taking their cue from the locals.  

Any port in a storm? Any dry strip in a flood! Piazza San Marco
Any port in a storm? Any dry strip in a flood! Piazza San Marco
San Marco Cathedral
San Marco Cathedral

 Inside of the Cathedral, the tile floors were beginning to lap with seawater on the morning of our visit.  The flooding wasn’t bad this time, but it’s clearly a frequent enough event.  The beautiful tile floors of the cathedral are far from level–they are wavy like the sea itself.  Whether that’s from years upon years of flood waters spilling through the doors, or from the foundation being built on sinking marshland and bolstered by wooden pilings under the soil I don’t know (every structure in Venice has underlying wooden stakes sunk into the ground/marsh below it to stabilize the building).  I will say that I’ve never seen such a wavy floor before . . . but I was absolutely in awe of it. It seemed nautical, like the city itself–as if the very character of the sea, its rise and fall, its most essential quality, was purposefully captured in tile and stone for Venice’s magnificent cathedral.  It was beautiful.

It was also a reminder of the absolute impossibility of erecting such a massive cathedral in the middle of a marshland . . . and yet, here it is, still standing all these centuries later. Not swallowed by the sea, not sunken in the sludge.   I don’t care what your religious affiliation is (or isn’t)–this is the sort of sight that makes you burst into a Hallelujah chorus.  They must have been brilliant architects, engineers, and laborers to have ever built this place! (Hallelujah!)  They must have been absolute mad men to have ever thought that this was a good idea!  (Hallelujah!)  And we must be very lucky travelers to have the chance to come and see this, knowing that there is just no way it can live forever under these circumstances!  Unless, perhaps, it can.. . because, so far, it has.  (Hallelujah!)  

So there you have it–our first brush with high water in Venice.  First, the water came up to meet us. . .

. . . and then we went down to meet the water.  Or, at least, my husband did. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself–that’s a story for part two of this post.  Maybe next week.*

If you are interested in a short “Wonder List” video on Venice’s Acqua Alta, click here.

*My daughter and I are about to fly off to catch London Fashion Weekend, so there may be radio silence for a while.  But I’ll be back, with photos of London, and a “part two” post about Venice’s Acqua Alta.   Until then,  Ciao! 



En Guard Paris!

Young boatsmen/fencers in the Jardin de Tuileries

It’s a grey mid-winter week in Germany.  I miss sunshine and green grass underfoot, and I find myself daydreaming about warmer places and times.

Places like Paris, maybe.

There is something about Paris.  It’s astonishingly beautiful, elegant, and delicious.  It may be a big city with the trappings of crazy traffic, the hum and drone of business, the crushing throng of summer tourists, but it rises above that in every moment.  The beauty and joie de vivre  is always what stands out. It’s the sort of place where even the mundane becomes majestic.  And in summertime it absolutely shimmers.

En guard!

Bird in the Jardin de Tuileries
Bird in the Jardin de Tuileries


Eiffel Tower watching over the Tuileries at a distance.
Eiffel Tower watching over the Tuileries at a distance.


Love locks
Love locks