I’m not a Venice person.
When I first visited “La Serenissima” in March 2008, the city was rainy and cold and grey for the duration of my stay. Maybe it was the weather, maybe I had built it up too much in my mind, or maybe I was distracted by the presence of my high school friends, but I just didn’t like Venice.
I was eager to try Venice again. I decided to put my previous visit behind me and give Venice a fresh start, a blank slate.
Last weekend, Venice was cold and grey. Much colder and greyer than Venice in March. Weather-concerns aside, I found Venice to be overly touristy. It felt artificial. Venice’s population is declining and aging rapidly; just 60,000 Venetians reside in the old city. Since the city is slowly sinking into the sea, tourists will soon have to pay a daily visitor’s tax to help defer the city’s maintenance costs. The way things are going, tourists might as well go to Disney World and visit St. Mark’s Square in Epcot – the exchange rate is better.
But, it’s tough to complain about a trip to Venice, so I shall put my grumpiness aside for now. Last weekend, my travel group visited Venice through a John Cabot weekend program in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. Two tour guides accompanied our group through Venice. The first guide, a young guy, was much more engaging than the second guide, an older woman, but both of them had interesting things to say.
We took a train from Padua to Venice and arrived at the Venice train station early. The first guide walked us through Venice’s labyrinthine streets to a large residential square surrounded by tall buildings. It was, he explained, the Campo de Gheto Novo, or the New Ghetto Square. We were standing in the middle of the first Jewish ghetto in the world. The term “ghetto” was actually coined in Venice. The Doges (dukes) who ruled the Venetian Empire allowed merchant Jews to live in Venice as long as they stayed in a particular neighborhood. The area that the Doges reserved for the Jews was in the vicinity of the metal foundry, an important spot for the sea-faring empire since the foundry cranked out a new ship every day. In the Venetian dialect of the time, melted metal was called “jeto,” the nickname of the foundry area. The German Jews pronounced this word with a hard g, so it sounded like “ghetto.”
From there, we went on to see most of the main sights in and around Piazza San Marco. I was very disappointed that our second tour guide spent so little time inside the Basilica itself. It’s a thousand year old church built over the stolen bones of an evangelist! It’s got a gold mosaic ceiling! It’s jammed with Byzantine loot and Crusade swag! We spent eight minutes shuffling through St. Mark’s. I listened to the Rick Steves’ podcast tour of the basilica on the bus ride home.
The Bridge of Sighs was covered in advertisements.
The Ponte Vecchio wasn’t.
I kidded about the Epcot Italy Pavilion version of Venice earlier, but I was only half joking. Anyone who knows me knows I love Disney World (more on this later). Disney Venice has it all – the Campanile, the Doge’s Palace, the gondolas. And you can count on Orlando to be sunny, too.