High Waters in Venice – An Even More Surreal Experience Than Usual

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Trash cans overflowing with the carcasses of maimed and massacred umbrellas.
Vendors making a killing on selling yet more umbrellas because the lifespan of said umbrellas have been abbreviated by powerful gusts of icy, rainy wind. (What a great business model).
Vendors also making a killing on:
A. Makeshift boot-like coverings (usually bright orange or sky blue).
B. Over-the-calf rubber boots as a sure-fire solution after above-mentioned makeshift boots have become torn or eroded because of the high salt content of the water. (Again, what a great business model).
Sirens going off twice a day (much like the bomb raid sirens in London during WWII) warning of rising waters. (Don’t ignore these warnings or your window of opportunity to respond and plan accordingly).
Raised platforms elevating locals and tourists above the murky and smelly high waters.
“Dams” constructed at the doors of most establishments.

These are just a few of the memories etched into my brain after our 2 1/2 day “jaunt” during the period of high waters in Venice.

I’ve been to Venice so many times I actually can find my way around the city without a map. I don’t say this to brag, just to say I’m not a complete novice when it comes to the city. I’ve visited Venice during different times of the year – and I thought I’d “seen it all”, until this most recent 2 1/2 day trip. I’ve dealt with periods of high waters, not letting such conditions impede my explorations of the many nooks and crannies of the city – especially the more off-the-beaten-path gems of Venice. But, this trip presented new challenges and new extremes.

We arrived from Rome on Italo – one of the fast train options (the other being Trenitalia’s Frecciarossa). The weather was halfway decent with partly sunny skies and moderate temps. Because of over an hour’s delay, our arrival left us only a few daylight hours to wander around. Still, I grabbed my camera and we headed out to visit one of my partner’s best friends, who is from an old, Venetian family, and who has a wonderful, whimsical shop in the Rialto area. After a brief visit with her, and plans to meet up later for drinks and dinner, we had cicchetti (Venice is famous for these “light bites” or side dishes) and drinks in a narrow alley close to the shop. Our evening was spent primarily in the Dorsoduro, with our friend, and some of her friends (who were delightful). We returned to our B&B around 1 a.m. The wind was picking up, but otherwise all seemed calm, lulling us into a false sense of confidence.

The next two days required patience, flexibility and a sense of humor. Oh…and, a strong back.

The sirens began around 9 a.m., and by 11 a.m. many of the passages close-by were several inches deep in water. Even the shopkeepers in Venice were remarking that the height of the water was more than usual, and that the waters weren’t receding as anticipated. Instead of being in major freak out mode, the locals seemed to roll with the conditions and wryly comment on the dubious judgment of the city’s founders to build a city on a lagoon.

Personally, I had a decision to make. Get on board with the conditions, avoid complaining, and “have fun” as Simone kept reminding me – or fight the conditions and be miserable. I chose the former, but first I had to accept that initially I had made some poor choices in addressing the conditions. Namely, buying the crappy umbrellas that lasted all of five minutes in the high winds, and buying the short-life, boot-like shoe coverings. I gave up completely on the idea of an umbrella that would survive the conditions. Fortunately the rain was light, and I never became drenched. We ditched our shoe coverings and bought good rubber, over-the-calf boots from a nice Chinese woman (15 euro a pair). Once we had the right boots, we were good to go, and I wasn’t in such a state of anxiety.

Regarding the need of a strong back…

On our last day, we had a checkout of 10:30 a.m. Unfortunately our B&B in the Dorsoduro had its checkout quite a hike back across the Grand Canal and near the train station at a hotel. This meant carrying luggage while wading through the waters and maintaining balance. We had packed lightly, but we were also with my sister, who had a rolling bag which wasn’t exactly light. And, with a bum knee, she wasn’t able to carry her bag. I guess we should have thought that scenario through a little more thoroughly.

On the bright side, I had been lamenting missing my daily gym appointment, and this turned into probably one of the best cross-training two days I’ve ever had.

Our time in Venice ended after a “drive-by” to Piazza San Marco, where raised platforms were packed with tourists heading into Basilica di San Marco. We boarded a vaporetto back to the train station. It turned out to be painfully slow (locals were theorizing that a child must be driving the boat). And we arrived at the station, with less than 10 minutes cushion. We still had to retrieve our luggage, so this meant a sprint in my rubber boots. Ultimately we made it….with about 1 minute to spare. I was ready to collapse, but I reminded myself again that I was getting great, creative exercise.

And, so ended our visit to Venice.

I suspect many of you reading this post have already been to Venice and have experienced the challenges of the high waters. Maybe you’ve experienced what we experienced during this trip, but this was FAR worse than prior experiences. If you are planning a visit to Venice, I’d encourage you to check the weather forecast and prepare yourself if high water is in your future. I’d also encourage an investment in a hurricane-worthy umbrella, and some really good rubber boots. The latter can be purchased while you’re here, and easily disposed (or donated) when you leave if you don’t want to be weighed down.

I’m learning to lean into the experiences that push me out of my comfort zone. I ended up having a great time, and as a photographer, this trip provided me with a unique perspective and flavor of this amazing city.





By |2015-11-09T19:04:19+01:00February 9th, 2015|A Romance with Venice|2 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Misti February 20, 2015 at 3:11 am - Reply

    Just got a chance to read this and I love it! The memories of the few days there are priceless. Thanks to you and Simone for being so good to us.

    • Jed February 20, 2015 at 2:03 pm - Reply

      We had a wonderful time with you and Dale. Thanks for always being such a good, positive sport when we had to deal with such challenging circumstances. I hope the trip is staying with you. Now you know what to practice (in Italian) for your next trip! xoxoxox

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