Looking for St. Mark’s Square? You May Find Yourself in a Shipyard Instead
MONFALCONE, Italy – Vittoria Comparone had never been to Venice. So, for her next honeymoon, she booked a dream cruise that included a majestic approach to the city beyond St Mark’s Square, the Doge Palaces and all the amazing photogenic treasures along the Giudecca Canal.
At dawn on Saturday, the 2,500-passenger ship MSC Orchestra headed to its designated stop in Venice, and Ms. Comparone, 28, and her husband, both from Caserta in southern Italy, climbed onto the balcony of their cabin. Under a magnificent salmon-colored sky, the couple took advantage of the view.
Huge cranes leaned over a vast shipyard. A peppermint striped thermoelectric cooling tower towered above the walls wrapped in barbed wire. Signs in the distance announced the main cultural attraction, the Shipbuilding Museum.
“It’s not exactly as charming as Venice,” Ms. Comparone said.
A navigation error did not bring him to Monfalcone, an industrial port with a renowned shipbuilding history more than two hours’ drive east of Venice. The government did.
On July 13, a day after Ms Comparone’s wedding, Italy’s prime minister banned cruise ships and other huge boats from Venice’s lagoon and canals – a move long sought by environmentalists and local activists to protect the ‘fragile ecosystem and exasperate residents after years of mass tourism.
On Saturday, the last day before the ban took effect on August 1, cruise lines had already abandoned Venice and reoriented themselves to other ports, including Monfalcone. Locals wading in front of the harbor on a beach stained with rusty debris and abandoned buildings with shattered windows admired the ship “Spectacular in the morning light,” said Sabrina Ranni, whose husband worked on a larger mega-liner cruise still in the yard.
But some passengers were less satisfied with Monfalcone than Monfalcone was with them.
“We were really upset,” said Erika Rosini, 43, who learned of the change once the ship set sail. “It wasn’t great to wake up this morning and see this horrible sight.”
She decided to skip the long bus ride to Venice and spend the day with her family on the boat. “The pools are awful,” she said as she stood in one of them, sipping a mocktail, shouting on muffled music and trying to look out to sea rather than the shipyard. . “It’s small with a lot – a lot – of people. “
Some passengers, including the newlyweds, braved the bus.
“I was hoping we would arrive by sea, but with these changes we knew something would be different,” Ms Comparone said as she got off the bus at the Venice cruise ship terminal, wearing a t-shirt black on which was written “Life is beautiful”.
“It’s doable,” she said.
She, her husband, Gaetano La Vaccara, 32, and the rest of their group boarded a smaller boat that took them down the same Giudecca Canal that cruise ships used to cross. They shared the space comfortably with public vaporetto buses, water taxis, an array of motorboats and rocking gondolas.
Under a blazing sun in St. Mark’s Square, the couple followed a tour guide and waded through the crowd thinned by the pandemic. They held hands and craned their necks with expressions of wonder at the glorious mosaics of the basilica, the sculpture of the winged lion atop a column, and the towering bell tower.
They learned a bit of history and took pictures. They looked thrilled with each other and with Venice, and without caring about the world or resentment about the extra step to get here.
“That’s true, I think,” said Mr La Vaccara, his neck draped over a shoulder bag, blue audio guide and ID cards, in reference to the decree banning the ship from enter the lagoon. “It’s more respectful.
As the couple continued towards the Rialto Bridge, leaders of the anti-cruise ship resistance in Venice rejoiced over their victory.
“For 10 years we have been protesting on the water, right here,” said Tommaso Cacciari, spokesperson for the No Big Ships committee, pointing to the slush channel. He said when the ban was announced last month, he was with his wife and son – who is 3 and yells ‘ugly ship’ whenever he sees a big ship – in a flagged cafe. No Big Ships.
“A party has broken out,” he said, calling the decree “liberation”.
With the war over, the grizzled veteran of cruise ship conflicts took a puff of his cigarette and said he was considering his next move. Among the possibilities: fight a cruise dock project in Marghera, the lagoon’s commercial port on the continent, or maybe to help people in other towns keep ships away.
Said that earlier in the day the employees of the bar on the beach of Monfalcone begged for more cruise ships to come and more passengers to stay, Mr Cacciari smiled. “Wait two years,” he said.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, tourists flooded the city so much that residents began to describe the influx as an “assault,” an existential threat like high-water flooding. The economy had long since become addicted to tourism. Residents converted their apartments into lucrative Airbnbs and abandoned the city. The low cost airlines were bringing more and more people to more and more places.
But cruise ships, although they bring only a tiny fraction of tourists, have become the most glaring symbol of this flood, and they have inspired passionate resistance. When the pandemic cut off cruises, opponents gathered momentum. And when the ships briefly returned, despite a previous government claim that they would not, anger in the city exploded.
For a long time, No Big Ships flags, t-shirts and stickers hung the windows of the committee office in a trendy part of town, where cruise ship day trippers hardly ever ventured. And when they did, it often didn’t go well.
“Some of these people ask me ‘Where is St. Peter or the Leaning Tower of Pisa’,” said Valentina Zanda, 31, who supported the ban and worked in the former kiosk of the No Big Boats committee, which became a Dr Boutique Green “Hemp Life Benefits”. “Seriously, they should preselect who can come here.”
Still, she wasn’t entirely unfriendly. Ms Zanda said that a decade ago she worked at the cruise terminal reception herself and even spent two weeks aboard a cruise ship as a hostess.
“I gained 15 pounds. All alcohol, ”she said. Then, with a very relaxed look towards the middle distance, she reflects: “On the one hand, it gives work. But at what cost ?
In the closing hours of the cruise ship era, this question hung over Venice.
Gondoliers called it a “punch in the stomach” as the pandemic had already toppled the city. The makers of traditional Venetian masks said protesters who had no interest in the tourism industry had acted selfishly.
Many residents remain torn. Alessandra De Rispinis, 75, whose family has owned the Cantine del Vino già Schiavi wine bar for over 60 years, loved seeing the reflection of the ships passing by in her bar mirror. But after accidents, especially when the towering MSC Opera crashed into a dock in 2019, she said “there was a real fear that they would fall on you. They are skyscrapers.
As residents of Venice envisioned a post-cruise world, the newlyweds happily visited other sites and ate a lunch bag before returning to Monfalcone. They drove past the harbor hotel, where a model of a Crown Princess cruise ship sits in the lobby among sailors and groggy workers, and the front desk manager recommends the “dedicated to people exhibit.” deceased of asbestos “at the Museum of Shipbuilding.
The couple boarded the Orchestra as Ms Rosini’s husband stepped out of the pool and on his phone posted memes about how he was promised a view of St. Mark’s but only got that ugly shipyard.
As the sun began to set, the Orchestra sailed again. Mrs. Comparone climbed onto the balcony and watched the shipyards, cranes and cooling tower shrink. She thought, she said, of Venice – “with its palaces, its bridges and its spiers.”
Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome.
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