On visiting the city you are one of the more than 20 million tourists a year! The result of this huge influx of people is not only that the number of people here who are fixed residents has halved over the past few years, but also that the wondrous city has a sort of theme park atmosphere – an atmosphere enhanced by the fact that the floating houses and the teeny tiny streets don’t look like they could exist in our reality.
Entering the City
If you come into Venice by means of train or bus, your first sight will be stand after stand of tourist crap on Tronchetto, baggage handlers offering to help you over the bridges with all of your stuff for a fee at Santa Lucia Train Station, or overpriced cafes and ticket stands and more kiosks selling magnets and fans and bags and keyrings at Piazzale Roma. Alternatively you enter through the airport, and every traveller knows that the airport is not where your money should be spent due to the inflated prices and rubbish quality of almost everything they have to offer.
This all means that your first sight of the historical Serenissima is at least made fuzzy by the buzz of “the tourist traps“. No fear, these can be avoided, and are in fact routinely avoided by the people who manage to live and lead fairly normal lives permanently on the main island.
The idea for writing something about the reality of life in Venice came from one sunny day when I was crossing Accademia Bridge – an extremely busy bridge and popular site for visitors to stop in the middle of the walkway to take photos of their friends or to erect the horror that is the selfie stick. I walked behind a group of people who were pointing things out in the scenery and then one girl turned to a friend and said: “Surely no one can live in Venice“. Wrong.
This is one of the examples of what you hear from the tourists. Another and far more horrifying example is when one person turned to their significant other and asked them sincerely “What time does Venice close?”. This confused me terribly. Did she mean what time do the shops close? When do most restaurants stop serving? Did their hostel have a curfew? She could have actually meant any of these things, but her wording was fantastically tragic and recalls the commonly noticed fact that Venice is becoming more and more like a theme park, and these arcades close for the day around 6.
The sad but funny reality is that Venice does appear to have a sort of closing time. The bars in Campo Santa Margherita wave off their final visitors at a strict time of 2am so that they can avoid noise complaints from the neighbors. The kebab shops begin to close down at about the same time, and there isn’t a real restaurant in sight that will still feed you. Residents are safely in their houses with the shutters closed and there are few if any boats streaming down the canals. Walking through the city after 2am is like walking through a closed theme park, I imagine. Not in the way that it is creepy and a thing of nightmares, its really just the opposite. But in terms of the complete abandonment of the city’s streets for the hours of the very very early morning.
Any one who thinks its impossible to live in Venice has probably only seen the postcard worthy lifestyle: beautiful architecture, museums full of treasures, aperitivo in one of the many many bars and high prices in one of the many many restaurants, not to mention the people on the streets trying to sell you ghastly rubbish like a funky torch or a squishy ball with an animals face on it that splats flat on the floor when you throw it. Its quite true that life here is different from anywhere else. But it can and does happen.
Early morning the bins are left outside your door, of course separated and labeled as Venice requires. It is then picked up around 8am by a worker with a trolley that has special wheels to deal with the bridges. They then take it to the nearest canal that is big enough for the bin-lorry-boat. This boat functions much like the garbage trucks you would see in you regular suburbs. But its a boat. This then transports the rubbish to a near man-made island which is essentially a tip.
Coffee in your regular place where they know your order and charge you various prices depending on who’s watching and how they feel that day. You stand and speak to the other people who you know through the fact that they are also there every morning. Then a tourist walks in and struggles to order something and everyone will look at them and really wish they wouldn’t come to their place because this is their coffee stop and not a tourist cafe.
Shopping happens really much like anywhere else in the world, you just have to know where to go. It may appear that there is no where to buy the silly household things like adhesive hooks, shower mats or towels, but this is only because of the curtain that the tourist industry puts before you to blind you to anything else but endless tat stores!
The commute to work. Whether this involves taking the vaporetto or walking, it follows a pattern of being very very easy in winter (i.e low tourist times) and being horrible difficult and sweaty in the summer (i.e popular tourist season). Even if you are the nicest, most considerate and polite tourist, you will probably piss off a Venetian resident whilst they are on their way to somewhere and you happen to be on the same path. This also applies to trying to get anywhere. Sometimes even trying to cross a bridge is the single most exhausting and frustrating act as you stand at the bottom and watch tourist after tourist slow down the whole process to stop and take a photo (always slowly, very very slowly) of the view, the view that you see every single day.
A day full of normal work or studying that happens anywhere in the world! Just like the routine of any normal day in any normal city. Sure many of the jobs are based on the tourist industry, a more than normal amount in fact. But there are also the jobs of teachers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, advertisers and dentists. The only difference is that Venetians do this whilst surrounded by the unimaginable beauty of Venice.
The commute home. Normally much less busy but still a little crowded, much like any commute.
Going out for a drink or a meal in Venice in the evening is always interesting. You hear so many people with so many languages discussing their days and pointing on maps what they’re going to do tomorrow. You sit there with your fellow resident of Venice and talk about your normal day in the city that has become your normal. You see tourists walk past and take photos of the houses that have become your normal houses and you don’t even think for a second about it. You don’t even think for a second about the fact that a tourist you befriend will be gone really really soon and its nothing but a fleeting friendship, or that there isn’t your favourite seat available because a tourist has taken it to house their drinking for the one night that they are here. Because just as everything else in Venice becomes your norm, the tourists are also your norm.
There is so much that is special about Venice and unique and wonderful, so many aspects that you don’t find anywhere else in the world. Simplifying it the way I have above doesnt include all of the magic and excitement that comes in tow with the beauty and the history, these features were removed in order to show that this city can be like any other city where people live and work and raise families and have social lives. Venice is not something that is here for the use of the tourist industry and doesn’t exist when visitors aren’t looking. Venice is still here when the tourists go. The Venetians still inhabit their island and they are really very proud of this.