Venice: Postcard from a city under water
February 26, 2010: I awoke this morning at 5:55 to the sound of an alarm. It wasn’t my travel alarm clock, however. It was more of a siren, it was moving in the street, and it was loud. Once I remembered that I was in a hotel in Venice, all worries were cast aside. This could only be one thing: The flooding had begun!
Although excited (a bit like a child on Christmas morning), I had no difficulty falling back asleep, lulled by the steady rainfall. At 9 AM, when I went downstairs to breakfast, I headed straight to the hotel’s front door to check out the scene. Sure enough, the water had come, turning my street, the Calle de Botteghe, into a stream.
My hotel is the charming, 10-room Locanda Art Deco just off Campo Santo Stefano, in Venice’s San Marco district. Last night before heading to bed, the receptionist had warned me about the water’s expected arrival. “It should start in the morning and peak at 10 AM, when it hits 1.15 meters [above the water table],” he explained. They really have this down to a science.
I’ve been in Venice all week, visiting about 50 hotels for our Venice guide, updating reviews and scouting out new picks. In between rooms, I’ve had a chance to talk water with the hotel owners. Yesterday, one owner showed me a text message she received during the day warning her of today’s expected flooding. They’re high-tech!
The water hits the city unevenly, depending on elevation. The Piazza San Marco is one of the lowest points in the city, and is thus constantly flooded. I took the photo at the top of this post yesterday in the piazza, while hardly any other streets were flooded. Note the pedestrian walkways the city constructs to help tourists cross the most heavily-trafficked areas.
This morning, I approached the hotel’s front door to find a metal guard secured in the doorway, locked against the front of the building to keep the stream at bay.
The morning receptionist explained that, in fact, the water wasn’t as bad as expected. “They told us to expect 1.15, but it turns out it will only be 1.05,” she told me, with a bit of a smile and a shrug. That’s nothing, in fact. If it goes over 1.2 meters, the water will enter the hotel’s lobby, forcing them to move all of the furniture (and there’s quite a bit!) up a staircase to the second landing.
Meanwhile, outside on the Calle de Botthege, Venetians sloshed by in their rubber boots, unfazed. A delivery man pushed a cart past the hotel stacked with boxes headed for the wine shop next door. Life goes on.
The water is set to peak at 10 AM (which is, by the way, right now as I write this in my room), and then subside over the next hour. The rain stopped about two hours ago, but it will take that long for Venice’s drainage system to do its work.
As for the city’s tourists, you either stay put and wait, or shove off. A British couple sitting at the breakfast table next to me decided to go for it. With the rest of us watching from our tables, they stood a bit apprehensively at the door, behind the metal guard, “Lonely Planet” in hand, sporting their heaviest shoes (decidedly not rubber boots). And then they took the plunge. The water went up over their feet, and they pushed off down the street.
As for me, I’ll give it a few minutes to drain before I set sail. But alas, the rain just picked up again.
Hmmm. Which pair of shoes do you think…