Venice is synonymous with canals, gondolas and romantic trips gliding down said canals in said gondolas. So of course, we went for a gondola ride during our only full day in Venice.
Now, as it was a family trip, it wasn’t exactly romantic per se (I suppose I’m not the one to say- ask Mum and Dad). And really, the gondola is basically a famous, over-charged black canoe with a funny Italian with a funny striped shirt standing on the back. But I loved the gondola ride.
To understand why I liked the gondola so much, you have to understand our previous dysfunctional relationship with Venetian transport. Now, except for a small outlying area, in Venice, there are no cars, motorbikes or even pushbikes. You sail or you walk. That’s it. So when we arrived by train into Venice, we took a “water-bus” to our hotel.
The water-bus is not romantic. The water-bus is a big, ugly practical boat with the single objective in life of transporting the most number of tourists over the most amount of water in the least comfortable way possible. The operators shout rough English at you at regular intervals. The seats were basic plastic seats, but not too bad really, if you think of this particular machine as a bus in a bathtub. This particular bathtub bus had a dodgy crankshaft which gave out an almighty death rattle at regular (approximately three second) intervals. Sail along- death rattle. Sail along, death rattle. It sounded like the gears were being ripped apart or bashed along the bottom of the canal in some mechanical imitation of the Inquisition’s torture techniques. Sail along, death rattle. Sail along, death rattle. As I said, getting people from A to B was this machine’s sole objective, in life and in death.
So hopping onto the gondola was a totally different experience. Gondolas have a long, black sleek design, the seats actually had cushions and since it was open-air, you had a beautiful view of Venice floating by.
But the best thing, at least for me, was that it was entirely and completely silent. When I’ve gone canoeing in the past there was always a bit of noise as I lifted the oar out of the water or dipped it back in. But gondola oars don’t work like that. They are more like long wooden fins that the gondolier pushes back and forth in the water, without ever lifting them up. That makes it very, very quiet, except for the incessant cheery chatter between passing gondoliers. There are only three hundred of them in Venice, so I suppose they all get to know each other a bit.
There were no motorised boats roaring around in the canals that we sailed down either, which added to the quiet luxury of it all. Maybe we were in an area reserved for gondolas, but when I think about it, Venetian waterways have far less traffic than most traditional land-bound roads. Maybe the city is not as populous as we imagine, or maybe they do more walking to work.