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A few observations about Venice

We are on the train headed to Milan this morning, so as is customary on this blog, here are a few observations from the last few days in Venice:

  • Venice was a dominant republic for some 1,000 years. It was the fulcrum point of trade in Europe and, at one point, its wealthiest city. But that started to change in the 15th century, which is an important reminder that nothing is guaranteed. The world changes. Markets change. And maybe you won’t be as relevant tomorrow, unless you can find another economic reason for being.
  • If you’re an old city with lots of history, perhaps the easiest fallback plan is tourism. And it goes without saying that Venice gets a lot of tourists. I was, of course, one of them. After Italian, the most commonly overheard language on the streets seemed to be French. Maybe it was the time of year?
  • Besides my debilitating spring allergies, May feels like a reasonably optimal time to visit the city. I don’t think you want to visit Venice in peak summer. Too many meandering tourists taking photos (myself included). And too hot and humid. A high probability of “walking rage.”
  • Hotels in Venice are not cheap. But the city itself didn’t seem overly expensive, at least compared to many other top tourist destinations. Think €2.50 jugs of wine, €20-30 for very nice local leather goods, and €110 for a 7-course Michelin-starred meal.
  • Venice has some of the most compact streets I have ever walked in. I didn’t have my laser distance measurer on me, but in many cases, you can barely fit two people side-by-side. I certainly couldn’t extend my arms fully outward. (See above photo.)
  • Wonderful doorbells. Virtually every apartment in Venice, has an array of doorbells at its front door. They are beautiful, typically in metal, and almost always round. But in addition to looking nice, there is also something very personal and about seeing people’s names right on the street. This probably tells you something about how differently privacy and security are viewed in the city.
  • That said, Venice isn’t a place where I would want a pied-à-terre. (I like to think about this sort of thing when I travel because it speaks to impressions of a place.) I mean, I love it, but: Too many tourists and the whole “we are sinking and have regular floods” thing seems like a bit of a problem. For me, it’s a city that I’d like to regularly visit. We spent much of our 2 days at the Venice Biennale, and there’s obviously a lot more to see.
  • Finally, and this also goes without saying, but Venice is a city that is necessarily preoccupied with controlling water. Our hotel room had big rain boots in it, just in case. The base of every building is generally solid up to knee height. Interiors have tall tile baseboards. Front doors have removable flood dams. And there are markings across the city indicating some of its historic flood levels. As I understand it, this was always a problem for Venice; however, it is getting worse. I think it tells you just how economically valuable it was for Venice to be located where it is, in a shallow lagoon at the top of the Adriatic Sea.

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