28 November 2010

Discovering and rediscovering and re-rediscovering Venice in winter

This just in: The New York Times' travel section has discovered Venice in the off-season. Again. For the third time in six years.

2010: "Venice in winter"
In summer, Venice is torrid, stuffed to the gills with the 18 million tourists who overwhelm it each year, clogging its bridges, swelling its vaporetti, vastly outnumbering the famously grouchy residents and making the city seem like one big floating Disneyland— a perverse metaphor for the future of Italy, if not all of Europe, a place that has staked its future on selling an image of its past and may yet be destroying itself in the process.
2009: "Frugal Venice, family style" [The link goes to the Frugal Travel blog, but I'm 90 percent sure I saw it on the front page of the travel section when it first came out.]
It is hard to imagine such consideration in the depths of summer, when Venice is descended upon by millions of tourists, who constitute a flood as unnavigable as the acqua alta, or high water, that periodically drenches the city’s sidewalks and campos from September to April.
2004: "Breathing more easily without the throngs"
For anyone who has been to Venice in summer -- when it becomes an Italian theme park, with thousands of tourists jostling for space on the Piazza San Marco, trying to snap a souvenir photo of the Campanile and then lining up for a coffee at Caffe Florian, which opened in 1720 and has presumably been overcharging ever since -- winter can be a revelation. Gone are the cruise ships, the group tours, the throngs of camera-toting daytrippers flooding out of the Santa Lucia train station each morning, guidebook in one hand, stopwatch in the other.
Way to branch out there, guys. And while I certainly agree that Venice in the summer is, well, stuffed to the gills with millions of tourists in search of an Italian theme park . . . I'm also not convinced that telling people to go in the off-season is the best, either, at least not for a tourist hotspot like Venice. Because in the same sense that some people argue that staying on the beaten path is the most ethical way to travel--because you're not beating new paths--one could also make the case that expanding the tourist season in Venice won't cut back on the numbers in the summer; it'll only increase them the rest of the year. (I'm not actually sure I completely believe any of what I'm saying in this post, by the way; I'm mostly just putting it out there for discussion.)

VeniceLand. See that elaborate building? It actually houses a roller coaster.
Personally, I think we should just leave the good people of this famously dying/drowning/theme-park-ifying town alone. Seriously, don't go. Or limit stays to one or two days (or, conversely, mandate week-long stays). Or maybe we can be open to visitors for one month a year. Perhaps we could all work out a deal where, like children of divorced parents, tourists can visit Venice and, say, crumbling Pompeii on alternate weekends, plus the Roman Forum on holidays.

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