Vail Daily travel column: Godzilla drives a monster truck

Leigh Horton
Special to the Daily

Editor’s note: This is the second column in a series from Leigh Horton, who is traveling through Europe this fall. Visit to read the first installment.

It’s a well-known scene — peach-colored plaster silhouetting a gondola’s gold prow; striped shirts sagging from gondoliers arms as they maneuver tight waterways; accordion players accompanying unemployed opera singers serenading passersby; light glinting off water splashing against hotel docks — Venice is a city of details.

But then, like Godzilla descending on Tokyo, a white Celebrity cruise ship lurches forward — a floating city entering the sinking one. Locals shake their heads; I took my photographs.

This behemoth of modern engineering and planning completely throws off the city’s scale. It imposes a contemporary view of excess on a city where proportion is used delicately. It distorts the historic significance of entering the former trade capital in small boats and standing in awe of the Doges’ Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica.

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Venetian architecture is outdated. Regardless, residents are determined to stay true to their past while making their lives as convenient and modern as possible. Often, this process of blending modern needs with traditional habits results in charmingly ineffective methods.

The hotel in which I stayed in Venice is an excellent example. Just down the Grand Canal from where George Clooney wed (we barely escaped the carnage), it has every contemporary comfort. My needs were met with alacrity (a blessing when the need was coffee) and the recent refurbishment included a state-of-the-art pump that prevents flooding during the Aqua Alta — the invader that transforms Venice into a city-wide swimming pool.

But the next night, that machine did not stop rainwater from pouring down elevator shafts while tuxedoed hotel employees futilely vacuumed water threatening to ruin antiques and trip well-heeled women. I was completely in the way and was charmed at its foreignness.

As the narrow streets filled with sleet and rain, I thought it appropriate that such a small weather event could have such large repercussions. In Colorado, we go on with our lives, rarely wondering if our property is being destroyed (the notable exception is Boulder). But in Venice, without a complete infrastructure overhaul, there is no way to stop most buildings from flooding during a downpour.


Venice’s charm is its use of size. The small streets that lead to St. Mark’s Basilica increase the visual impact of the church and its piazza. Size confers the gravitas of Venetian buildings in a way that once impressed traders entering its lagoon.

And when cruise ships disgorge their passengers in groups of 80 or 100, they disrupt the daily flow of the city. The streets are constructed for ones or twos — individual workers, lovers and families. When herds leech through these passageways and stop in alleys, they block the city and prevent its natural flow.

The immense size of cruise ships and the excursion groups falsifies the image tourists form of the city. By clogging streets and cruising past important monuments in ships that dwarf the city, we drive a monster truck through a space Napoleon referred to as “the drawing room of Europe.” And we miss the point of Venice by distorting its human scale.

Leigh Horton is a Colorado School of Mines alumna traveling Europe before graduate school. Email comments to

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