Saturday, April 18, 2009
In a lot of ways Venice is like a theme park. Once the trading center of the eastern Mediterranean, it is now a preserved-in-amber tourist spot. The novelty of a city with canals instead of streets and the age of this slowly sinking city are its major draws. With only 60,000 full-time residents, it draws millions of tourists each year.
And if it's a theme park, it's E-ticket ride is the gondola. Gondola rides run about 120 euro for 20-30 minutes which is really steep for a couple, but justifiable if you have a group of six to split it among.
My wife and I took a gondola ride with some of our tour group but in a chivalrous gesture, I gave the other premiere seat at the back of the boat to one of the other wives with us, all the better for me to take pictures from the bench seat at the bow of the boat.
Our gondolier gave us a great tour and answered all our nosey questions about the economics of life in Venice. Apartments are small and expensive and most buildings are slowly being converted to tourist hotels. As a gondolier you have to stay close to the job.
Gondoliering is a physically challenging job and you do have to wear the funny shirt, but each gondolier has his own sense of flair.
We took our ride right after lunch on the beatuiful Campa Maria Formosa. Like most Italian cities, they take a siesta right after lunch so most of the commercial boat traffic on the canals was missing. Instead we say plenty of other tourists riding in their gondolas.
The ride took us onto the Grand Canal right near the Rialto Bridge.
And from the Rialto Bridge you can get a great view of what almost amounts to gondola gridlock.
I mean there is nothing like being on the Grand Canal in a gondola. It really is the most picturesque thing.
But in the pre-high season spring, there seem to be more gondolas than gondoliers as they are parked everywhere. And they aren't cheap. Our gondolier told us they cost about 40,000 euros each.
And the detailing on a gondola is just gorgeous.
So until the tourists show up gondoliers have a lot of time on their hands which they use to serenade other gondoliers or just relax while waiting for a fare.
So while it is a splurge, I heartily recommend taking a gondola ride in Venice. It's every bit as cheesy and cliched as a carriage ride in Central Park (or any other big touristy city for that matter) but there is only one place on Earth to get an honest to goodness Venetian-poled gondola ride. Besides gondola is such a fun word to type when you blog about the experience.
If you haven't figured it out yet, all the pictures are clickable and there are even more photos of gondolas and gondoliers in the full Flickr set.