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! 



Winter: Strasbourg, France



The Rhineland-Pfalz is just crawling out of a cold snap– if winter was sluggish about arriving for the holidays, it caught up to us with a vengeance last week.  Flurries, ice, streets and lawns that didn’t thaw.  Winter.

Paying my respects to the season, here are a few winterish photos from a trip to Strasbourg, France last winter–another frightfully cold week.

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Actually, this photo is from December 2015--Christmas trees by the altar area--but too pretty to leave out of the post.
Actually, this photo is from December 2015–Christmas trees by the altar area–but too pretty to leave out of the post.


And the Season Begins . . .

Snow on rooftops, smoke from chimneys– winter is here.

We woke this morning to a dusting of snow and ice in the Rhineland-Pfalz.  The cold had swept in yesterday, and we were beginning to feel the holiday spirit.

Late yesterday afternoon, we zipped over to Bernkastel-Kues, on the Mosel River, to catch the opening salvo of their Christmas Market. DSC_0072 We drove from cold and drizzle, through a snowy pass, and down into the town of Bernkastel, which seemed to be gripped in an arctic cold.

The market opened just that day (and will continue through December) and it was much less crowded than when we visited last year– which left us able to enjoy the beauty of the town without having to dodge the crowds.  All sorts of food and gluhwein were on offer– and we sipped the hot wine, but not too quickly (it was a great hand warmer!).

At one point, we had to clear a narrow lane to let St. Nikolaus and his horse-drawn carriage and entourage of mariners and fire fighters pass.  We had read that St. Nick was the patron saint of mariners.  In fact, I read that last year after visiting Bernkastel’s Christmas market and seeing Nikolaus and his sidekick Knecht Ruprecht in a boat.  Here’s a photo of last year’s boat display with St. Nick and his ominous sidekick (the mannequin to the left, in the black cape and boots).

St. Niklaus and Knecht Ruprecht--sit between them. Were you naughty or nice this year?
St. Niklaus and Knecht Ruprecht–sit between them. Were you naughty or nice this year?

It’s too bad that I didn’t have my camera with me yesterday  because Knecht Ruprecht was even more ominous this year.  This year, that sack he’s carrying wasn’t just stuffed with something out of sight (coal and switches was my assumption).  This year, someone’s been really naughty–there was a child’s leg and boot sticking out of the sack.   Yikes!  These draconian sidekicks of St. Nikolaus (Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, or Schwarz Peter, depending on what region you live in*) often whip naughty children or give them coal and switches instead of candy.  But occasionally the children have been so bad that they are abducted (dragged to hell?) or carried off to be thrown into the cold river.  This could make a good child of the worst of us, because the Mosel River is VERY cold right now–polar bears aside, no one wants a dip in that.

I am breathing a sigh of relief today, because Nikolaus gave me a friendly wave as his carriage passed last night.  Pretty sure I’m on the good list this year.

Being American, my family begins our Thanksgiving week today, so the holidays are now in full swing for us–how nice to have that echoed by the weather and the Christmas markets here.  My oven was cranked up to full tilt today, the house smelled great, and the holiday candle arches were set up in the windows.  We’re getting ready!

Now, if we could just conjure up a little Peace on Earth . . .


*If you want a little more background information on Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht, see my post from last year Saints and Devils, Fire and Snow )