Waterways and Bridges: Gondola

The Gondola, the traditional Venetian flat-bottomed boat, is the famous symbol of Venice with their pilots, the Gondoliers, donning the famous red or blue striped t-shirt and wide-brimmed straw hats.

At around 1pm, Millie and I walked by a few Gondoliers who were inviting tourists to have a ride with them, advertising the price of €80 (about £70 at the time). We explained we were going to buy some tickets for a concert that evening and that we would be back for our ride (we were telling the truth!) but the kind Gondolier was very keen not to lose us and offered us a ride for €50 if we went with him there and then, assuring us that the tickets would still be available after our ride. We agreed and boarded his Gondola.

The Gondola was black polished wood with red leather seats and even ornate tassels to finish it off! As it was December our Gondolier, Marco (a Venetian, named after the saint), provided us with blankets to keep us warm. He explained that we had chosen a wonderful time to experience the Gondola as most tourists were having their lunch and it was a very quiet time of year. This meant the waterways were clear with no traffic to navigate, which gave us the chance to see more on our tour.

As a curious tourist, keen to find out all about the places I visit, I had a wide variety of questions for Marco and he answered them brilliantly in competent English with lots of information between serenading us with Venetian songs. The singing wasn’t cheesy or awkward, he seemed comfortable and natural with it, seeming like he was humming songs that he loved while he enjoyed his city. It created a lovely atmosphere for my wife and I as his voice echoed through the quiet canals. There are only around 400 Gondoliers in Venice and all go through vigorous training, not just in practically handling the boats, but in the history of Venice, it’s landmarks as well as foreign language skills too!

Our Gondola gently rocked through some narrow canals where we could see some pretty unique sights from the laundry of locals being hung out above us and the water garages for local people’s boats to the very fancy hotels that only have boat access to their entrances. We passed under many bridges, some where other tourists stood above us taking photos of the Gondola, making us feel like celebrities. Some of the canals were narrow enough for Marco to be able to use the walls to help navigate the Gondola. As we floated in to the Grand Canal it opened up in all it’s majesty, the stunning buildings around us.

Venice is built on hundreds and thousands of wooden stilts and it really is a wonder how they were able to bring by boat all of the resources and materials to build such ornate buildings. We could see all of the breath-taking architecture from the comfort of our sofa-like chairs on our Gondola. These buildings display features that show us in which era they were crafted, from the ornate, lace-looking façades of the Gothic architecture, to the monstrous domes of the Baroque era.

Like so much of Venice, we had high expectations for what we were going to experience on our Gondola ride but we had no idea just how special it was going to be. We were so grateful to Marco for our ride that lasted 10 minutes longer than the scheduled 30 minutes and as he had assured us, we were able to purchase the still available tickets for the concert that evening!

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