High tide in Venice

We’ve had several days with high water lately here in Venice. Not extreme high water, but enough to be a burden for the locals and an amusement for the tourists.

The city canals are very quiet when the tide goes above a certain level, as most boats can no longer pass under the bridges, and we had planned to go paddling to enjoy having the city’s waterways mostly to ourselves.

First thing to notice is that at high tide there is quite a bit of rubbish and other stuff floating around, like this part of a bridge or dock.

Floating debris

Give the lack of traffic we quickly gravitated towards San Marco, here from the front.

View of St. Mark's

Here’s a gondola stuck under a bridge by the rising water, just behind Piazza San Marco.

This gondola isn't going anywhere

This is the view from the canal behind the square onto the Piazza San Marco. This is the lowest point level entry to the square, but there is far to little water to do any kind of stupidity.

Passage to the Piazza San Marco

I got out of the kayak and walked in though the water and found this view.

The Piazza San Marco under water

Flooding in Piazza San Marco starts in front of the basilica at a very normal level of 75-80cm, and at a level of 110cm there are up to 30cm of water on parts of the square.

Just because you can paddle in, doesn’t mean you can’t get in. While I was surveying the situation, one of the others came in pulling the kayaking along, just to get a few photos.

Piazza San Marco with one kayak

One then drags the next person in.

Piazza San Marco with another kayak arriving

While not exactly legal, the situation does create some photo ops.

Second kayak in the Piazza San Marco

Second kayak leaving Piazza San Marco

Kayak and reflection

Which a good deal of others onlookers weren’t late to spot.

Some people like the attention

Photographer on the hunt

Some people still like the attention

The others waited patiently for those fifteen minutes of fame (or infamy) to pass.

Others care a bit less

While tourists in their tourist high water protection gear watched baffled.

Tourists in tourist boots

After San Marco the tour went to the Grand Canal and the Rialto where the Erberia was covered in a bit of water.

Kayaks at the Rialto - Erberia

Somebody managed to get interviewed by national television (again).

(screencapture from a video)

On our way back, passing San Marco again, we met this gondola.

Porcelino sulla gondola

Which carried a rather untraditional addition to the stern.

Porcelino sulla gondola

The water level was still high, and the gondola couldn’t pass the first bridge after the Bridge of Sighs, and had to turn around while we waited.

Gondola turning around because it cannot pass the bridge

Most of the fondamenta (sidewalks) had water up at the edge, which usually corresponds to a water level of between 100cm and 110cm.

Water still at street level


Photography classes II

I did a basic level photography course back in the spring, and in September and October I did the next level course.

The teacher was Marc De Tollenaere.

This course covered several themes which all build on the basics from the first course, requiring manual adjustments to ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get the required result.

  • panning,
  • using a flash in low light situations,
  • low light photography with a tripod,
  • photography of architecture,
  • street photograhy.


The first exercise was panning.

The general idea is to create a sense of movement by turning with a moving subject, while using a slower shutter speed and corresponding smaller aperture for correct exposure.

It can be a bit tricky getting the right settings and moving the right way, but the effect is quite interesting.

Most of the photos below are taken at ISO 100, shutter speeds between 1/10th and 1/20th second, and apertures between f/20-f/36.

We did the exercises at the Certosa island during a weekend, so we walked down where loads of boats move up and down a fairly narrow canal. Panning only really works if you have a background to blur.


The next time we talked about using a flash in low light situations without making it obvious that you have used a flash.

On the automatic setting the camera will chose a mid-range shutter speed (mine will do 1/50th) and expose entirely for the subject in the flash. The background will be dark and anonymous as the flash doesn’t reach there.

The technique Marc taught us was to move to manual mode, turn ISO up depending on the natural light available, set the aperture to the maximum available, and shoot with very low shutter speeds.

That way the camera will take in as much as possible of the natural light, and the flash will only be on for a small fraction of the exposure time to illuminate the closest part of the composition.

All the photos below are taken at ISO 400, f/3.5 (maximum aperture for my lens at the shortest focal length of 27mm) at progressively slower shutter speeds. The shutter speed is shown by moving the mouse over the photo.The first three photos form one series, and the last six photos another series.

The location is the medieval Corte del Milion in Venice, where Marco Polo’s family lived in the 13th century.


One evening we met at St.Mark’s to take photos of architecture and in low light situations, using tripods.

The lesson touched on a lot of subjects, such as looking for different angles at well known locations, horizontal and vertical lines and geometrical shapes in the composition, looking for hard to spot details, and naturally, focusing and exposing correctly for the light available.

At the same time the group was scattered around the square, and lots of things were happening at the same time, so I didn’t catch it all.

I did get this photo hurriedly before the group moved on to other activities.

St. Mark’s basilica and campanile – ISO 200 f/3.5 2s at 27mm

The next exercise was to take a ‘different’ photo of the Tetrachs.

I spent most of the time fighting with tripod and camera, and wasn’t very successful, but I got this photo of the others at work.

Class at work on the Statue of the Tetrachs - ISO 200 f/3.5 4s at 27mm
Class at work on the Statue of the Tetrachs – ISO 200 f/3.5 4s at 27mm

Low light photography

The final task on the evening at St.Mark’s was to take one of the classic photos of the gondolas in the water with the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the background.

The problem here is that with little light you need to use a slower shutter speed, but at the same time the gondolas move and get blurred in confusing ways.

I did loads of experiments, and these two are the better photos from that exercise.

ISO 3200 f/3,5 1/2s at 27mm
ISO 1600 f/3,5 1/2s at 27mm

Street photography

Street photograhy in black and white is Marc’s great passion, and he has shown us a gazillion amazing photos where all sorts of things are going on at the same time.

His message was that a photo with one subject can work if the subject is strong and catches the viewer’s attention completely; a photo with two subjects will quickly get boring as the possible interactions are limited, while a photo with three or more subjects can get very interesting.

At the same time you need to take care of light and composition, lines and symmetry, movement in and out of the frame, etc etc.

The examples he showed us would often have one dominant subject, and then others around that the viewer would only notice after watching for a while.

This kind of photography is very hard, as you often need to get very close to people you don’t know. It is rather intimidating.

I have tried a bit, without great success, but here are a few.

Via Garibaldi in the morning – ISO 100 f/8 1/80
Via Garibaldi in the morning – ISO 100 f/4.5 1/80s
vm10km martin
My brother finishes the 10km Venice Marathon run – ISO 100 f/9 1/320 s
Rialto markets – ISO 100 f/5.3 1/20 sec
Rialto markets – ISO 100 f/4.5 1/80 sec
sconvolti a rialto
Not used to live crabs on sale – ISO 100 f/4 1/30 sec

Self portrait

The last task we were given was to make a self portrait in any way we wanted to.

I made this where I’m reading on my tablet in the dark.

Reading in the dark – ISO 400 f/3.5 4 sec no flash


Tilley Hat - guaranteed for life

Guaranteed for Life

I’ve been using a Tilley hat ever since I started paddling and I’ve been very happy with it.

However, after some 8 years of heavy use, and at least a thousand days kayaking in all sorts of weather, my hat was severely worn. This summer it has literally been coming apart.

Tilley Hat  Tilley Hat

Since Tilly Endurables promises that their products endure, and it actually says on the label that they’re “Guaranteed for life”, I contacted them to see if they’d replace my old hat.

Well, they did.

Actually, I was a bit surprised, but there were absolutely no problems and no attempts whatsoever at wriggling out of the promise on the label.

They asked for some photos as documentation, asked me to write a large R on the label and send a photo of that too, and to send them £9 to cover the cost of sending me a new hat.

Since they don’t have the exact same model any more, we exchanged a good few emails to figure out which hat they would send me. In the end I got this one, which is the closest to what I had.

Probably the best customer service I have ever experienced.



Killing Venice Slowly

The Italian government has decided to dig a new deep canal through the Venetian lagoon to give the next generation of cruise ships, even bigger then the current ones, a passage to Venice.

Please consider signing the online petition against this next assault on Venice.

This decision

  • was taken in Rome without any kind of democratic representation of the residents of Venice as the city doesn’t currently have an elected mayor,
  • was taken during the summer holidays, in an attempt to sneak it through unnoticed,
  • will lead to the final destruction of the southern Venetian lagoon, already severely damaged by the Canale dei Petroli, dug in the 1960s,
  • will have a massive impact on the hydrology of Venice itself, with unpredictable consequences,
  • will perpetuate the industrial tourism offered by the cruise industry, which bring little if any money to the city of Venice .

The petition text translated by myself:

Stop the dredging of the Contorta canal, before it is too late.

The realisation of the new Contorta canal will bring the Canal dei petroli into the heart of the city of Venice, reducing its natural defences and subjecting it to the combined pressure of masses of water from both the Lido and the Malamocco openings, with consequences which could be irreversible. We’re against the dredging of new Cortorto canal because we consider it damaging to the city of Venice and to its lagoon. We therefore ask that the project be retracted immediately and that we return to work on all the suggested projects available.

Last but not least, we express the conviction that it should be the city of Venice that decide on a question which regards it so directly, and that its not treated as an almost undesired  spectator


The Redentore Feast

The Redentore Feast is probably the most important popular celebration in Venice. Dinner down in the calle, fondamenta or in barca, ended by huge fireworks in the bacino afterwards.

We celebrated in Riva de l’Arsenal, and enjoyed the fireworks from the nearby Ponte della Marina Veneta.

S-ciopon - Fissures sealed

Repairing the s-ciopon

Our s-ciopon (a traditional Venetian wooden boat) is currently under repair.

It started to take in a bit of water back in February, and as I was leaving for a short holiday, I had to take it out of the water. It’s been on land now for three months which is not good for a forty years old boat.

With the warmer weather the wood has dried out and cracks and fissures have appeared.

The damages were beyond my meager woodworking skills, so I called in one of the local pros: Matteo Tamassia, an experienced and much sought after shipwright.

Matteo helped sort out the issues under the waterline.  The boat has been cleaned, all the fissures caulked and sealed, after which the bottom has been primed and treated with antifouling.

Needless to say, it’s been interesting, and very instructive, to see a professional at work.

Poor Poveglia

The challenge of the association Poveglia per tutti of collecting enough money to beat the other bid for the island, failed.

The association arrived at €420,000 but that was not enough, as the unknown other bidder had offered €513,000 for the island.

Second battle lost, then. The war is not necessarily lost, though.

The next steps

After the online bidding round on last Tuesday, which saw no raised bids, a technical commission of the Demanio di Stato (the body managing state owned properties) has 30 days to examine the winning bid, to decide whether it is in conformance with the conditions set out in the offer to sell the island, and whether it is in the state’s interest to sell at that price.

If the Demanio refuses to sell at €513,000 we’re back to square one and all options are open as before.

The winning bidder

The winning bid was made anonymously, but at the end of the bidding process it was revealed that the person behind the offer was Luigi Brugnaro.

Brugnaro is a well know figure in Venice. He is the president and main sponsor of the very popular Reyer basketball team, the owner and founder of the company Umana Spa and ex-president of the Association of Industrialists in the Veneto region.

The popularity of the Reyer team hasn’t rubbed much off on him, though. He is generally disliked.

He is not Venetian, but comes from the small town Spinea on the mainland, so he is seen as an outsider, a non-Venetian.

Umana Spa which made him rich, is a jobs agency, helping people find work in return for a share of the wages earned in a period afterwards. Neither this as made him popular. The company is seen as a parasite, exploiting the desperation of the many jobless. He is perceived as having gotten wealthy on the back of common people’s misery.

He also has a concession for 40 years on the Scuola Grande della Misericordia. It is a huge building in Cannareggio, formerly used as a municipal sports facility, but very much in disrepair. To save the building, the city has given it in concession to Brugnaro, in return for restoration. Brugnaro, however, lets the building rot while renting it out to private parties and company events. The net effect of this is that a public good has been turned over to a private citizen, with no return benefits to the public.

Most people expect this to repeat if Brugnaro gets hold of poor Poveglia.

The city of Venice

On the sideline is the city of Venice. The city council has an option in these cases, of buying the island in front of the winning bidder, at the price established by the auction.

Therefore, if the Demanio decides that the island can be sold 99 years for €513,000, then the city can get the island for that price.

The city can also get the island if the Demanio decides not to sell at the price offered. In that case the island can be devolved to the city.

There is therefore a real chance that the city of Venice will be able to acquire control of the island, one way or the other.

There will be local elections next year in May, exactly one year from now.

If the city council lets Brugnaro have the island, when they had options to prevent it, they will pay at the next elections.

Considering the ability of the Poveglia per tutti association in mobilising thousands of Venetians and others for a common cause, it would be a rather stupid decision of a not very popular city council to not try to get hold of the island, and it that case, not to let the Poveglia per tutti association run it.

On the other hand, if they manage to secure the island for the Venetian public, there might be an electoral reward around the corner.

So, in spite of everything, there’s still hope.


Gondola on gondola

Most gondolas in Venice sport a little figure on the front. Normally its a human figure, or an angel, or even a Buddha or a Ganesh. You see a bit of everything.

It is, however, a first to see a gondola on a gondola.

For whatever reason, the gondola also had a plush giraffe hanging off the ferro da poppa:


Poveglia in kayak

Save Poveglia

Help the Venetians
keep the island Poveglia

Venice is slowly being taken over by tourism.

Ever more property is being bought and converted to offers for tourists, leaving less and less space for the residents of the city, who often feel that they’re being expelled from they own city.

Now the lagoon island of Poveglia is put up for sale by the state, and most expected it to be turned into yet another 5 star tourist offer.

This time, however, the Venetians have rebelled.

An association Poveglia per tutti – Poveglia for all – has been formed to bid for and buy the island, to keep it accessible to the public. This association has in a short time collected 2000 subscriptions and made a bid of €160.000 for the island, and has passed the first barrier.

There is one other offer, by an anonymous bidder, who have offered €513.000.

The association must at least match this bid to get the island.

Therefore, to all of you who love Venice, please help us keep Poveglia free for all.

Please head to the site Message in a Bottle. and make a contribution for the purchase of the island, for Venice, for us, for yourself should you come back.

You can send money by bank transfer or by Paypal. Just follow the instructions on the site.