Loving Venice to Death

When we think of Venice we think of riding down the Grand Canal atop a gondola while sipping wine and listening to a gondolier sing. Though this experience is still plausible, the cherished gem of Italy, with its rich history, exquisite art, and many attractions, is sinking. This city has been on the top of many travelers’ list of where to touch down abroad. Due to the rising sea level Venice is a wonder that is slowly slipping out of our hands, and therefore the rising interest to see the city before its too late is alluring to most.  Venetians are slowly leaving their homes due to the fact that what they once called home has changed so much.  Granted time will tell as to when the city submerges, Venice continues to take a beating with high tide and a growing tourism scene.

An arial view of Venice, Italy.

An aerial view of Venice, Italy.

The city is sinking approximately 0.08 inches each year and because of the progressive sinking, Project Mose was put into play.  Starting back in 1982, after the massive flood of 1966, the plans and implementation have been drawn out. Consorzio Venezia Nuova (CVN), Venice’s best-known construction company took on the job.

Gates will be built at each entrance to the lagoon.

The gates will be built at each sea entrance to the lagoon.

This project is a multi-billion underwater floodgate system installed to keep Venice afloat for as long as possible. The gates create a barrier that will help with the annual flooding by blocking the Adriatic Sea from entering the lagoon.  With the help of a pressure system the gates will rise to block the high sea level from flooding Venice.  This ambitious construction will cost upwards of $7 billion dollars and should be completed by 2016.

There was a skeptical halt to funding for the project to save Venice in June 2014.  Mayor, Giorgio Orsoni was arrested for accepting money for his personal political campaign from CVN. Corruption and money laundering made donors hesitant to help the submerged city. “It is a tragedy of epic proportions” expressed by the former chairwoman of Venice in Peril, a donating charity to Project Mose. Project Mose will continue, though it’s controversial and heart breaking that people would do that to their own city.  The high tide has driven some Venetians out of the city, but most stay because it’s been home for so long. This contraption should aide to the citizens’ protection and the survival of their properties. Venice is slipping away more than just physically, but culturally.

The crowds of tourists in Venice, Italy.

The crowds of tourists in Venice, Italy.

Another form of aide that is needed in order for Venetians to stay in their city and that is tourism control.  Tourist season in most vacation spots is dreadful to locals, but it is beneficial for the economy and the merchants. This increase in tourism would seem valuable for Venice’s citizens by creating a boom in the spending in the city.  The current typical tourists usually take day trips, and after the day is out they board back on the cruise ship. Even though they don’t stay long, when the cruise ships unload, the tourists engulf the city.  The tourism scene certainly brings in money, but it has taken over residential areas. Venetians are slowly leaving the city because their former streets of unique artisan shops are now filled with products geared toward the visitors.  Merchants change their product to appeal to the customer, which happens to be a mainly visitors.  According to Travel, “Since 2002, the number of Venetian properties dedicated to tourist lodging has increased by 450 percent.”  This rise in tourist lodging causes the price of residential properties to soar driving Venetians to the main land.  The residents are outnumbered by the tourist population

Venice is disappearing from what it once was. Venice being the top of the list for many travelers has sent the city into a downward spiral of change. The tide is rising along with the tourist count leading this cultural change to take the charm of Venice out of Venice.

From the Top of Europe.

Switzerland. Interlaken. The Balmer’s Resort. The turn of the twentieth century exposed Europe to a variety of ambitious dreams. Much of the dreams resulted in war and divided nations. However, the country of Switzerland had other plans in mind, and in action. At least for Frida and Adolf Balmer.

The two began serving others as they housed family members and many friends passing through the area. Different from dominant forces invading much of Europe, the Balmers focus was service to Switzerland. “Touristenheim” –meaning tourist house—housed its first residents in 1907.

The now third generation family operation has housed thousands of residents seeking extreme thrills from the top of Europe to this day. Beginning in the 1950s, the Balmer family served British school groups visiting the Swiss Alps to hike and learn more about culture different from their own in England

“Touristenheim” now takes the name “Balmer’s Resort” and has grown from 50 rooms, to 350 rooms. With the help of the Balmer family, Interlaken continues to grow as a number one spot for European travel destinations.

Personally, many of my friends have had the opportunity to travel to Interlaken and shortly discover that it’s a place unlike any other traveling experience. Megan Monsees said, “Oh, it’s surely a place unlike any I’ve ever been to.” She said, if she could, she’d stay there forever. 

Balmer’s has more than just bunked beds and bathrooms. According to many that stay at the hostel, Balmer’s has a Biergarten and Restaurant for many to end their days as they exchange stories and watch the sun go down behind the Switzerland mountains in the distance. Yeah, that’s the Swiss Alps. Imagine that panoramic view as you chow down a burger and wash it down with one of the domestically brewed lagers.

After the sun goes down, I’ve heard one might want to stick around and commit to a night at the Metro Bar and Nightclub. The beats are deep. Apparently, visiting artists and DJs take the stage for tenants to unleash and socialize with each other. Is there any better way to spend a night in Interlaken? For many, including familiar faces I know, it’s an easy “No.”

Countless times they’ve dreamt of going back. Yeah, they went skiing, they bungee-jumped, and some went canyoning through the breaks in the mountains and valleys.

But the most accommodating and unforgettable experience has been the unanimous memory for many. And I feel it’s safe to say it stuck for many since the very beginning of the Balmer’s Resort.

According to close friends, the “Swiss Quality” isn’t remotely similar to domestic items that involve cliché-consuming practices. No, it’s not like the Swiss cheese, Swiss Army knives, or even Swiss Toblerone chocolate.

It’s “Swiss Quality”. And, apparently, it’s lasted for over 100 years sitting at the top of Europe.

And I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

Would you stay here?

Versailles: The Manga Invasion

Photo by Jaclyn


The Château de Versailles, arguably the most beautiful castle in France, was and still remains a symbol of France at the height of its monarchical power and cultural splendor. Not only did Louis XIV move the political center of France from Paris to Versailles, but he brought some of the best architects and artists of the era (le Vaut, le Nôtre and le Brun, to name a few) to develop a palace fit for a god.

So, what would the Sun King say if he knew there were sculptures of gaudy mushrooms and dreamy blondes being displayed amongst all of his prized possessions?

Since the opening of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s exposition at Versailles on September 14, 2010, there has been a lot of outrage. Many art and high culture critics are upset about Murakami’s use of manga, a popular type of Japanese comics.

According to Le Figaro, the idea of putting contemporary art inspired by mangas alongside the historical and royal finery of Versailles is sacrilegious. Not only is it considered by many a disgrace to the historic and artistic value of its era, but also to France’s current culture and pride.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, museum director at Versailles, defends Murakami’s exposition on French 2 television show On s’est pas couché by explaining that contemporary art rarely ceases to have a controversial first reaction. The Louvre’s glass pyramids and the Centre Pompidou were originally critiqued with indignation – Now, they are structures with universal success; that have become symbols of French culture and art around the world.

Photos by Jaclyn (1&2) and Baptiste Lafontaine (3)

Aillagon also argues that exhibiting contemporary art along with historical and “high culture” art is stimulating. The art of the old complements the art of the new.

So, what would Louis XIV have to say about Murakami’s exposition at Versailles? Would he be offended by this intrusion of popular culture? Aillagon disagrees. Versailles was intended to be a place for happiness and good living, he says. At the end of his life, Louis XIV believed his palace to be too serious. He told his architects, “Mettez de l’enfance partout” (roughly meaning, put childhood throughout).

Photo by Charles Nouÿrit

NOTE: This isn’t the first time that Versailles has held a controversial exhibition. Be sure to check out contemporary art expositions by Jeff Koons (2008) and Xavier Veilhan (2009).

Now You Can Cop the Parisian Attitude!

FRENCH.

What words just came to your mind?

Before you read further, take minute to let the various nouns and adjectives flow freely.

Okay…

"The Shrug"

"The Shrug"

If you’re an American, there’s a good chance some of the negative words that just popped in and out of your mind were ones like arrogant, lazy, coward, dirty, anti-American, socialist (maybe even communist?), hairy and rude.

Now, I’m sure words like food, wine, fashion, Eiffel Tower, romance, cheese, art, tradition and maybe even fries came up as well.

But, for now we’re going to take a look at the role these negative descriptors play into France’s – specifically Paris’ – tourism industry.

Big surprise to me and maybe to you as well: Turns out, there are actually tourist manuals that help educate the Paris-hesitant traveler on how to “cop” the Parisian attitude.

Yes. It’s true…you too can now be as rude as some deem the French to be!

According to tourist agency, Gadling.com, “Parisians are well known for their rudeness to tourists and other foreigners. This has always been very frustrating, however, to the Regional Tourism Committee of Paris whose job it is to attract foreign visitors to the French capital. They’ve discovered over the years, however, that many tourists simply don’t want to go to Paris and be accosted by this legendary rudeness.”

So, several years ago, the Committee launched a “tongue and cheek advertising campaign [that] could best be described as an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach,” according to an article on ScienceDirect.com. The article’s author goes on to criticize the campaign saying, “Such an approach is so, well…French,” and asks, “When, exactly, did the lowest common denominator become ‘best practice?'”

The campaign is directed toward Brits who’ve turned to other tourist destinations where they can more pleasantly spend their spare pounds.

While offensive to some, some heavy-hitters in the tourism industry have welcomed the humorously helpful travel tips through the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach.

Fodor’s, for example, says, “The Web site, created as a marketing tool by a cheeky French tourist agency, is a clever attempt to make light of the quirks and tics that have come to characterize our friends across the Atlantic.”

Here are some examples of “Parisianisms” that can help you cope and blend in with the stereotypically rude culture:

1. The Pout: “Start by looking bored, then pucker your lips and shake your head slowly for impact.”

2. The Shrug: “Stick out your lower lips, and then reaise your eyebrows and shoulders simultaneously.” (See Image Above)

3. The indicator that someone should shut up (a.k.a. “tait-toi!”): “Hold your hand in the shape of an ‘L’; then bring your fingers and thumb together.”

Personally, I never felt the need to use any of these gestures, nor did I find it necessary to “cop” the Gallic, French attitude while visiting the City of Light.

However, for the nervous or hesitant tourist who is debating whether or not to visit Paris, humorous tips like these may help you make light of any rudeness you may encounter.

To take a peak into more aspects of French culture, please visit TheSecretLifeofFrance.com for an Englishwoman-now-living-in-Paris perspective.

“Tight with money, arrogant, unable to hold their drink and always on the lookout for girls…”

"Hohn, hohn!"

"Hohn, hohn!"

The above quote is a summary of what tourism workers from around the world think about French tourists.

According the article, “Are French tourists the worst in Europe?” a recent survey taken from 40,000 hotels in Europe and North America voted the French as the most hated European tourists in the world.

One contributor to the France24 Observers article basically said the French are know-it-alls, who barely give a non-native French speaker a chance to complete his/her sentence as impulsively correcting grammatical errors seems to be higher up on the priority list.

In all honesty though, isn’t this a common occurrence in other parts of the world as well? Haven’t you caught yourself “helping” a foreigner speak in the language of your native tongue? What about correcting the grammar of a friend or family member whose first language is your own?

Let’s be real…if you’ve received, or are receiving, a degree in journalism, communications or English, you are bound to have done this. And probably more than once.

Now, there are more criticisms of French tourists in the article, but are they all valid? Is it fair to generalize the French in such a negative way in this kind of survey?

Perhaps the worst kind of tourists are not the “French”, but are in fact, “Parisians”. In my travel experience, this label seems like it could be more accurate.

What do you think?