Tuesday, February 19, 2013

High Water Time

To continue with the Venice trip, we arrived in Venice on Friday evening, spent Saturday and Sunday, and left on Monday morning. On Saturday evening, we heard that Sunday morning would ring in with a very high Acqua Alta. Venice is a city built in the middle of a lagoon. All that picturesque water you see in photographs is tidal, so at times, the high tide brings flooding. The entirety of Venice does not flood, just the low lying areas...which hold the majority of the tourist sites, hotels, and in general, places that visitors to the city want to see. Sometimes the flooding is just a light coating of water covering the streets for a few hours. Sometimes the flooding can enter the businesses. And sometimes, they get that once in a few decades flooding. One guess as to which happened on our trip!

About 5am on Sunday morning, a loud alarm started going off, rising in intensity. At first, we thought it was a fire alarm, but then realized that it must be the high water alarm we'd read about. The alarm rises to certain decibels depending on how how high the water prediction is, which lets residents know how to prepare. Water is a-comin'! At 7am, a little tap-tap-tap on our bedroom door was my sister, summoning me into her room, which overlooked the front street outside the hotel and a Burberry store (pretty much the perfect room for her). We watched as residents made their way through calf high flooding. Still in our pajamas, we ventured to our hotel's lobby, just to see if water had come in. Yes, indeed, and it was rising even more as we watched. And yet, the hotel staff members were busy laying out boards for guests to get to the breakfast room. By the time our crew got ready to actually eat breakfast, the water had risen so high that breakfast in the breakfast room was not a possibility. The electric appliances holding the hot foods had to be unplugged, the cold foods could not be restocked due to water blocking the refrigerator doors. Water was knee high. Let's not talk about what types of bacteria were in the water - it's enough to say that the stench was so bad I could not eat food in that room anyway.

Nathan decided he did not want to wade through dirty, smelly water. My sister and I thought playing in the water sounded like a ton of fun, so we taped on the heavy duty garbage bags our hotel provided and went out to explore the city. In places, wooden walkways were set up to avoid the deepest of the flooding, but this Acqua Alta was the highest since the 1960s, so there was no way to avoid stepping in water. My bags sprung a leak about 20 feet from the hotel, and by the time we'd gone three blocks, I found it easier to throw the bags away, roll up my blue jeans, and walk around in the flip-flops I'd packed. Travel tip #472: Always pack flip-flops, even if it's a pair of thin, shower type ff's. Personally, I pack a pair of Keen, trail ff's that I can use both around the hotel as well as for walking around all day long.

We broke down eventually and purchased waders, mainly because my sister's nice leather boots under her garbage bags were soaking wet and my legs were burning and developing a rash from the filthy water. We got to watch the clerks in the fanciest of stores (think Prada, Rolex, Gucci) sweeping water out their front doors, enjoyed looking at the water barriers many stores put up to try to hold back Mother Nature, and visited my favorite jewelry store in Venice (Winter Dreams - beautiful beads that are the real deal, made in Murano, stuff, i.e., not made in China and then slapped with a Murano Glass sticker) to see how the proprietor had fared. We'd gone in the day before and spent some time picking out matching necklaces and just chatting with the owner, and we were relieved to find that she'd had very little water enter. At her store, we were able to get the lowdown on the flooding. If I'm remembering correctly all these months later, predictions were for 120cm (about 4 feet), which the businesses and residents find manageable. This morning's Acqua Alta had reached 150cm (about 5 feet) and caught everyone off guard. Added to the irritation was an orienteering race that had been scheduled and not cancelled, so while business owners were trying to get their places swept out and cleaned, hundreds of race participants were splashing through the very narrow streets, greatly impacting the clean-up process. I was amazed that most of the businesses were open in the first place. Sunday + winter + high flood. And yet, as tourists, the only impact we felt was having to take breakfast to our room and not being able to go out with the stroller for a few hours.

By noon, all water had receded and life was completely normal. In contrast, we were stationed in Key West a few years back and one of the hurricanes that passed by caused a post-storm surge of flooding about 2-4 feet high. Damage on the island, including to the Navy bases, was over 100 million dollars, we lost about half of our worldly possessions due to furniture soaking up water and things stored in lower drawers and closets, and we spent six months living in a hotel while our house was going through mold abatement and renovation. Perhaps the hurricane zones of the U.S. should take some Venetian lessons. Marble floors and concrete furniture are much cozier when dressed up with silks and velvets.

Another Acqua Alta, much smaller, returned in the late afternoon. We went to Piazza San Marco to watch the water rise. My niece went all out by wearing a tutu dress and her Venetian mask with her cast stuck out the side of the stroller. And the following morning, our departure morning, we found out that our beloved water taxi could not reach the hotel's rear water entrance due to yet another Acqua Alta. The water raises too high for some of the lower bridges, and boats cannot get through the canals. Nathan had left early to catch his plane home. As my sister and I sat in the lobby to consider whether we wanted to hang around until 1pm or so for the water to recede or the two of us spend an hour getting us, our two children, two strollers, bags, and miscellany over the very narrow wooden walkways and bridge between us and the vaporetto stop. With a four hour drive ahead of us, plus over an hour of baby feeding stops, and on top of the time it would take to get back to our car and get it loaded, I was not crazy about waiting until noon. My sister finally had the brilliant idea to bring up our dilemma to our hotel clerk. No problem - they would send a porter with us to help. I loved our hotel! With the porter helping us, we reached the vaporetto stop in less than ten minutes, shoved our way onto a crowded vaporetto stop, then sat back and enjoyed our final cruise down Venice's Main Canal, one of my favorite views in all the world.

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