Just a Coincidence? An Abandoned Guidebook on Venice’s Empty Streets

Have you ever experienced a coincidence…that felt like a lot more than a coincidence?

I’ve received lots of thoughtful notes from the 100 or so Rick Steves’ Europe guides who are awaiting the return of travel. This one, from one of my favorite Venice guides, fascinated me, and I thought you might also enjoy reading — and responding — to it:

Ciao Rick,

Come stai? How are you? Buon Natale e buon inizio di 2021.

This is Elena Zampiron, from Venezia. I’d love to tell you something it happened to me because it made me reflect about the time we all are experiencing.

On the 25th of December, right after Christmas lunch with my parents, I had to head out to run a virtual tour (something that helps me cope with the pandemic here in quiet and empty Venice).

I was lost in my thoughts, walking down the empty narrow streets of Venezia while locked down again: Nobody around, pouring rain, strong waves of wind, the smell of the rain mixed with the incredible silence on Christmas Day…. me thinking that I’m not designed for “virtual tours” because I miss the “touch” of real people in front of me, their visible emotions, their eyes veiled with joy and their tears of pure happiness…. and …. all of a sudden, I notice something on the pavement, far in the distance… I get closer … and closer … and here it is… “Rick Steves’ Europe, 1997.”

Open … upside down … wet … under the rain … on Christmas Day… an old, well-used, Rick Steves guidebook.

I picked it up, placed it on the window of the second-hand bookstore it belonged to, and walked on. I did my virtual tour and got back home.

But then I began thinking. I don’t believe in coincidences… at all! I believe it was a sign, not necessarily a sign to me, but sent to us all. I immediately thought of it being a metaphor for this past year. But then I had a second thought. Perhaps it is a sign from the travel spirits or whoever we believe in — a reminder that after this pandemic, we can no longer guide tours in the same ways as we have become accustomed.

I believe it is more than coincidental that in Venice I discovered a 1997 Rick Steves guidebook, abandoned… discarded, in the rain, at Christmas, in the year of the pandemic. It is a sign about how we, as guides and as travelers, will go forward. But what does it mean exactly?

I wanted to share. These are simply my thoughts, Rick. But I felt it was important to share them with you. It’s also a way to say, please be positive and don’t give up. Times can be tough, and the tourism industry can be cruel, but you are not alone. It’s tough for us guides as we have no work. But we are strong. And we guides are here to support you along the way. Together, we shall “keep on traveling,” as you like to say, after this pandemic is conquered.

Happy beginning of a brighter 2021 from Venezia and Elena!  - Elena Zampiron

So: What could the old guidebook, found on a rainy Christmas Day on the now-empty streets of Venice, be telling us? Please share your thoughts, so I can get back to Elena with an interpretation of an event that may not have been “just a coincidence.” Thanks!

Elena Zampiron

P.S. I hosted Elena on my radio show two Christmases ago. Take a listen to get to know her a little better — and be sure to read this interview to learn about her guiding.