Isn’t it equally perfectly fabulous and tortuous to be back travelling again? Airport woes aside (and they’re pretty horrendous across the continent), it all fades away when you actually step off your flight, that blast of hot air hits you at the top of the plane’s steps and you immediately start scouting for your train, bus, hire car or, in Venice’s case, vaporetto.
I was lucky enough to visit arguably the most beautiful place on Earth before Covid struck.
And like pretty much everyone else who has ever been to this most romantic (and packed and smelly and incredible) of cities, I marvelled at the canals, the ancient buildings, the cobbled back streets and the intricate manoeuvres of all shades of boatmen navigating everything from the tourist-bedecked gondolas to the traghetti constantly ferrying from city to island.
The astonishment on visitors’ faces when they encounter boats doing the job of trucks, police cars, delivery vans, even ambulances and hearses makes this unique place what it is. Venice has been doing car-free since the invention of the motor.
However, centuries of industrial- isation, manufacturing and, worst of all, the 30 million visitors each year decanting into a city of only 50,000 permanent residents has resulted in irreparable damage to buildings.
There have long been major concerns about tourism. The 1968 film festival was just one scene of mass protests.
A series of socialist governments tempered the capitalisation of this fragile place for some decades, resulting in big events, including the planned World’s Fair in the ’80s, being cancelled.
Alas, corruption scandals put paid to the idealism, and the world’s intense focus on heritage, environment and climate change saw it witness the real damage of traipsing millions, endangering the very things they came to see. The annual high water flood was at its worst in 2019.
Ironically, the arrival of Covid could be the best thing that ever happened to Venice. Lockdowns caused canals to rinse themselves clean, tourism was banned and the astonishing sight of fish and sea mammals traversing the silent, empty waterways seemed more extraordinary than it should have been.
Venice has regrouped uneasily. Mindful of its primary product, it has had to carefully juggle care of the city with the need for tourism income. Banning cruise ships teeming with day-trippers took effect last August, and now the city has announced that the day-visitors – four in five of all tourists – who descend from enormous floating hotels and clog up the streets will need to reserve and pay a fee to do so.
From next February, tourists who aren’t staying overnight in one of the ferociously expensive hotels, will be charged a fee (€3 to €10) for the pleasure and privilege of visiting the world’s ultimate theme park.
As Venice enters its busiest period, I don’t think any of us can blame locals for wanting to preserve this most thrilling, ancient and fragile of places on Earth.