Last week I was reading the New York Times on line when I ran across an interesting article “Venice Tourist Ships Rattle Windows and Nerves” by Elisabetta Povoledo.
The article raises the question of the environmental impact of massive cruise ships sailing into the passenger terminal at the end of the Giudecca Canal, to unload over one and one-half million cruise passengers into Venice a year.
I have warm memories of the first time that I visited Venice. It was the summer of 1977, after my freshman year at college. I originally traveled to Europe with my freshman roommate at Duke and two buddies from prep school. After two weeks in Belgium and Holland, where we spent more time in the beer halls than in museums, we got on each other’s nerves. We strapped on our backpacks and went our separate ways.
I had bought a $200 “Eurail pass” that let me hop on trains all over over Europe. It even covered a couple of cruises (where we slept on the open decks) on old tubs from Brindisi, Italy to the island of Corfu and then on to Greece and back.
Before I headed south, I spent a week in Venice by myself.
I loved it.
For $8 a night, I rented a single room in an Italian’s family upstairs apartment. I spent my time visiting St. Mark’s Cathedral, walking around the narrow winding streets, and eating incredible Italian ice cream. I stopped at all of the little bridges over the canals which criss-crossed the city and leaned over the rails to watch couples and families ride on gondolas navigating below me.
I took a few photos (above and right) which have been in an old photo album for the last three decades.
I have lasting images and feelings from my experiences in Venice. I felt at ease in this incredibly tranquil city, especially in the evenings when I would sit in the plazas drinking wine or espresso and wonder what my future would bring.
Now 34 years later, I am looking at the photo (below) in the New York Times’ article of a massive cruise ship looming over Venice. (I took the photo at top when I returned to Venice after four decades). What a stark contrast to my fond memories of the quiet and quaint city with the gondola drivers pushing their poles along the little canals.
Are those monster cruise ships really sailing by the Riva dei Sette Martiri, a quay near St. Mark’s Square?
There seems something disrespectful about arriving in Venice aboard a cruise ship taller and wider than anything that could have been imagined when the city was built 500 years ago.
What happened to the tranquility of the beautiful, delicately scaled maze of canals and plazas where the poets, artists and travelers inter-mingled in the uniqueness of this old city? Are the mega cruise ships and their one and one-half million cruise tourists ruining the charm of Venice? Has the world forever changed, leaving only the memories from my youth?
September 30, 2016 Update: Forbes: Venice Is Fed Up With Cruise Ships And Angry Protesters Are Blocking Them
August 2, 2017 Update: New York Times Venice, Invaded by Tourists, Risks Becoming ‘Disneyland on the Sea’
Photos top (taken June 2017) and middle two (July 1977): Jim Walker
Photo bottom: Manuel Silvestri / Reuters