In my exhaustive search for trivial minutiae I have to ask, what is Venice thinking?
Since my resolution to travel less lightly, I have conducted an affair with my wheeled luggage and now Venice is bringing that lovely relationship to a grinding, hand-held halt.
As if global warming and acqua alta were not serious enough, Venice is planning to introduce fines for anyone caught using wheeled luggage.
Venice officials are concerned that the noise from hard-wheeled suitcases and traders using trolleys is causing “serious discomfort” and “progressive deterioration” of historic marble steps, stone pathways and footbridges around Venice’s old canals.
Beginning in May 2015, the city plans to institute fines of up to €500 for anyone caught rolling luggage with hard rubber tires, stating that this law is “an opportunity for an entrepreneurial luggage to cash in in by creating a Venice-friendly suitcase that runs on soft tires”.
Seriously? How am I supposed fit this into the overhead compartment?
I would think that there are bigger problems. Venice’s population has decreased by half in the past thirty years…and that is not due to the unbearable sound of luggage wheels on its stone streets.
The average water level in the Venetian lagoon has risen by 24 centimeters over the last century and even conservative predictions give Venice less than 100 years before it is completely submerged.
Property taxes have risen dramatically in the city and everything costs a third more due to the fact that it has to be brought in and out of the city by boat.
Nightly rates in pensiones or hotels have doubled or tripled in the past decade, and while the increase in the number of tourists (over twenty million annually) mirrors that steep curve, the number of tourists actually staying in la Serenissima’s pensiones or hotels has fallen nearly sixty-five percent in the same timeframe.
Nine hundred-foot cruise ships dwarf the Byzantine houses, palaces, churches, and canals, and disgorge over two million daytripping passengers a year into the city’s streets, churning up and polluting the lagoon and causing much more damage through the vibration of their enormous engines and the waves they leave in their wake than my regulation size roll-aboard…but these same ships create nearly twenty percent of the city’s economy.
Venice has always been a victim of its own popularity, a beautiful and expensive courtesan who finds herself waaaaay overbooked, but neither the city nor the Italian government seem to be able to maintain any viable balance between daily life and the theme park that the city is in danger of becoming. Banning wheeled luggage seems to me only to promote the daytripping travel that officials claim is destroying the city.
Have you been to Venice? There are no cars. There are no taxis. There are no eager sherpas waiting at the terminale to carry your wheeled luggage on their backs through the labyrinth of winding, unnamed streets and campi that you must traverse to find your hotel.
With all that said, I am as big a sucker as anyone for what is arguably the most beautiful and magical city on earth and I will find some compromise.
And for those interested in reading a well-researched, fictional account of Venice in the fifteenth century, I highly recommend Sarah Dunant’s vivid, engrossing novel “In the Company of the Courtesan“. I love historical fiction as a guidebook when visiting cities for which far too many guidebooks already exist.
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