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Venice; the “Big” Canal

Venice's "Grand Canal," as it opens into the Adriatic Sea copyright 2013, Andy Richards

Venice’s “Grand Canal,” as it opens into the Adriatic Sea
copyright 2013, Andy Richards

Last week’s blog illustrated a small sample of the many images I made of Venice’s small canals. They were my favorite part of the island, for sure. But when most people think of Venice, they think of the big one – The Grand Canal. And grand it is. Deeper and wider than the smaller canals of Venice, the Grand Canal sweeps through the center of Venice in an “S” curve. It is also much more active.

Most of the Services that we often take for granted in other cities, are provided by watercraft

GRAND_CANAL Venice Italy 091220130066

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Virtually every service that we often take for granted in other cities, is provided by watercraft. All of the goods necessary to stock the stores, bars, restaurants, flower shops and pharmacies are supplied by boat (and sometimes from the nearest landing, by handcart). Travelers’ luggage is either hand carried, or is often delivered as part of a hotel/boat delivery service. This means an industry of small and medium sized delivery boats. Because it is a tidal island in the middle of the sea, there are no municipal sewer facilities. Instead, there are boats that are specifically designed to pump out island residents’ septic systems and dispose of the waste (one of the things that I found was an adjustment was bathroom facilities, which we again generally take for granted here in the U.S. Public bathrooms very often required paid admission throughout Europe. One of our guides told us that part of the reason for that was to help cover the significant costs of waste disposal).

Grand Canal from Ponte Rialto, Venice, Italy copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Grand Canal from Ponte Rialto, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Unless you do it by watercraft, there is only one transportation alternative on the island—your legs. On the water, there is a complex public transportation network that resembles the same network in large cities with streets and vehicles around the world. The Vaporetto System is essentially a “bus line” system that is operated on the Grand Canal by boats, and around a couple of the other smaller islands that are part of Venice (especially Murano and Burano). Scattered around the canal are named vaporetto stops, and maps with different “color lines” showing where the numbered boat stops. It is about as easy or difficult (depending on your perspective) to figure out as a modern city bus line. Often, there are 2 – 4 “platforms,” sometimes spread apart a fair distance and you do have to figure out which of the platforms you need to be on.

Rialto Vaporetto Stops copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Rialto Vaporetto Stops
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

The boats are large and basically open, though they do have a roof and the main passenger compartment is under the roof in the hold. But much like city busses, during rush periods, they are extremely crowded. And, because a single stop often has boats going to different destinations, getting on the correct boat can be a bit of a challenge. There is a large covered platform at most stops where passengers “qeue,” to wait for their boat. But there is no line for boat 1 and another line for boat 2. So, if you are at the back, there may be people blocking the way that aren’t even going to get on your boat when it comes. You learn to be aggressive about get up to the front and getting on your boat.

There is only one transportation alternative; your legs

GRAND_CANAL Venice Italy 091120130109

Water Taxi; Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

And then, of course, there are Venice’s most famous boats; the gondolas. These romanticized and picturesque craft are ubiquitous in every canal of Venice, including the Grand Canal. They are essentially a glorified canoe, and it is with wonder, that I watched them negotiate the chaos of the Grand Canal, moving among the Vaporetto, delivery boats, water taxis, private motorcraft, and various specialized transportation and delivery traffic. I plan to devote a blog all its own to Venice’s gondolas. These days, they serve primarily 2 purposes. The most visible is the tourist “gondola for hire” for the “romantic” ride around Venice’s canals. A less well known use though, is the Traghetto, which, for about 1.5 euro, will take you directly across the Grand Canal at certain points. These are the same gondolas as the ones you see all over the canals of Venice. But they are more of a workman’s boat. They are not as well known, and are, perhaps more used by the local residents (who, by the way, pay a lower price than we do). There utility is soon seen, as you try to get from “point A” to “point B” in Venice. You almost always have to cross the Grand Canal sooner or later. The problem is that there are only 4 bridges that cross the Grand Canal in the city. Two of them are quite close together near the western end of the city, where the busses, train and parking lot for vehicles are. The others are widely spaced apart. The Traghetto gives a quick, relatively cheap and convenient alternative to the bridges or the vaporetto.

Traghetto Gondola Stop, Grand Canal, Venice copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Traghetto Gondola Stop, Grand Canal, Venice
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

On a given day, parts of the canal can be chaos. But it is organized chaos. I marveled at the shear number of boats, moving both directions on the canal, at varying speeds and size. I never saw even a near-collision! Every operator seems to know his own right of way and when he can go and when he cannot.

The Grand Canal is the "Main Attraction" in Venice Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The Grand Canal is the “Main Attraction” in Venice
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Whether from the side, on top of one of the bridges, or in the canal itself, the view is clearly “grand” and something a photographer is just drawn to.  Perhaps one of the best views of the canal is at night, when all is lit up.  I did not, unfortunately plan as well as I could have and the only night photos I took were handheld, with the Sony NEX set at very high ISO.  These images show lots of noise, but hopefully you get the idea.  I do have a plan to be back in Venice in the not too distant future, and tripod mounted nighttime shots are definitely on the agenda!

Grand Canal at Night, Venice, Italy copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Grand Canal at Night, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

On a given day the Canal can be chaos; but it is organized chaos


2 Responses

  1. I enjoyed catching up on your Venice blog entries, Andy. (I just read all three.) Very nice travelogue and excellent images to boot.

    Just FYI… I noticed that, for this most recent installment, the images couldn’t be enlarged. I’m not sure if that was intentional (the other images sets could be enlarged), but thought I’d mention it in case it was an oversight.

    • Thanks, Kerry. That’s odd and I have no explanation for it. I uploaded the images the exact same way and in the same sizes for each blog. I’ll watch it next week and if it is not just an anomaly, I will contact WordPress.

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