This was our second visit to Venice but my parents were joining us and it was their first trip here. I read quite a bit about aqua alta in Venice, but had noted that it mostly happened in the winter, particularly November and December. For those who do not know, aqua alta literally means “high water” and is a phenomenon which causes exceptional tide peaks in the Adriatic Sea. These peak cause major flooding in the Venetian lagoon, particularly St. Mark’s Square, as it is the lowest point in Venice. I am always interested in experiencing something unique to a culture or city and I always considered that I would like to go to Venice during an aqua alta at some point. However, this trip was in late March so it never occurred to me that it might be happening now.
We were arriving in the evening after a long trip with some longer layovers so I decided we would take a water taxi as our hotel had it’s own dock and entrance from a small canal. I thought this way we would not be wandering at night with our luggage looking for our hotel. Unfortunately, because the water was so high the water taxis could not travel on the small canals under the bridges so we had to be dropped off near the Rialto Bridge and guess what? We had to wander through the streets with our luggage looking for our hotel. Well, it would not be a visit to Venice without that I guess!
I noticed that night the gangplanks were set up near the Rialto Bridge and I thought – Oh my! They must be having an aqua alta with all this rain! The next morning we had a Secret Itineraries Tour at the Doge’s Palace scheduled. We headed over there but stopped when we saw that St. Mark’s Square was flooded. Now here is the tricky part. When it is flooded you can only enter St. Mark’s Square from certain spots without having to walk through the ankle deep water- the two main entrances are up near the entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica. The gangplanks set up are just wide enough for people to walk both ways, umbrellas can make this even more precarious. Please note the gangplanks closest to the Basilica enter straight into the church. The gangplanks located just a bit further from the church go to the campanile and then over to the Doge’s Palace. There are no signs telling you this and we first got on the gangplanks entering the basilica when we needed to head to the Doge’s Palace. We realized too late then had to turn around and go all the way back out from the square and enter again through the other set of gangplanks. Luckily we made it to the Doge’s Palace only a few minutes late and only missed the first few minutes of the tour.
Keep in mind that the high water will only last for a few hours, by early/mid afternoon the water had receded and St. Mark’s square was dry again.
So just try to avoid that area in the morning. If I had known we might encounter this I would definitely have come prepared. Probably would have worn cheap rain boots on the plane because having a pair would have made getting around very easy as we could have walked wherever we wanted with out having to worry about walking on the gangplanks. I have read that some of the smaller B&Bs and hotels provide rain boots for their guests but ours was a larger hotel and did not.
The vendors would set up in any dry spot they could find.
The view of St. Mark’s square from the top of the campanile as the water starts to recede.
I know our aqua alta experience was actually a bit mild compared to other’s I have heard about but, while a bit frustrating it was also fun to experience something so unique to Venice.