One of my most memorable time in Venice was riding on the gondola at sunset. It is quite simply beautiful and a great experience. Riding on this traditional Venetian water boat is like going back in history. it is a major part of the transportation system of Venice. As a visitor, your visit to Venice is incomplete if you do not go on the gondola.
Now the canal runs the length of Venice, so it is important to know where you want to go and which attractions you want to see as just riding aimlessly could be costly. The gondola guide will suggest a route, but that does not mean its the best ride, but if you just want to ride and see what comes, it is great too. They will normally negotiate if you do, if you do not, they will charge what fare they will for the suggested route.
With the Euro as currency now, it will cost a little more for an hour ride, when I was there, the euro was not yet in use and we paid a minimal amount. for two rides, one at sunrise and the other at sunset.
It's 10 minutes to 6:00 PM and Kiki and I are rushing through the streets of Venice frantically looking for a gondolier. ...Any gondolier. "Where'd they all go?," I ask, "A few minutes ago they were as common as pigeons 'round here!" 7:00 is the witching hour when the price of a gondola ride magical goes up by 20 Euros. I finally spot the trademark striped shirt and straw hat one of them standing in a small cobblestoned square.
I run over, before anyone else snags him, and ask, "Are you free to give us a boat ride? Can we still get it for the 80 Euro price?" The man raises his eyebrows undecidedly and checks his wristwatch. He shrugs and answers, "Yes, okay... Follow me." Kiki and I smile at each other in triumph.
How could you go to Venice and not go on a gondola ride? Easily, apparently. Every friend I enthusiastically asked who'd previously been here, "Did you go on a gondola ride?," always gave me the same mundane head shake and disappointing answer, "Nah, it was too expensive." What?! Some of these are the same people who paid $200 for bungee jumping or parachuting because they said those were "once in a lifetime experiences". ...I know, right? What's a gondola ride, if not that? Why on earth would you come this far and then skip it?
The gondolier leads Kiki and me through a long maze of passages and I begin to worry if it's maybe some sort of scam I've gotten us into before we finally arrive at his boat. It has a plush, red and gold interior--perfect stereotype! (I didn't want one of the blue upholstered ones, that's for sure--it just doesn't look right.) He helps us get on board, unties the ropes, and we're off.
I am almost instantly hynotized by the tranquility of the canal. It's far quieter down here than I'd ever imagined and it's so calming to be away from the hoards of tourists who cram the Venetian alleyways. The soft gurgling of the water as it splashes against the side of our boat, the sound of the gondolier's oar as it pushes us around the corners of two thousand-year old buildings calms my frayed nerves. "Are you happy?"," Kiki asks. "Very," I reply having to choke back what may be tears of joy forming in my eyes. I have to add out loud for the record, "We're actually in a gondola. Can you believe that?"
However, I can tell from her deep, heaving sighs and occasional soft cooing sounds that she's having as fantastic time as I am. (Don't ask. She really has a thing for boats.)
"What's you name, sir?," I turn around and ask the gondolier. "Marco!," he states emphatically and adds, "There are lots of Marcos here in Venice--very common!" We really lucked out with our last-minute find of Marco. He's an extremely fit, slightly older gentleman with an upper-torso that is remarkably similar to Popeye the Sailor's. His forearms are massive from decades of rowing tourists through these waters. Marco gives brief factoids of Venice and tells the history of some of the buildings as we pass them. We float by other couples in gondolas, some of which are piloted by very young men who are speaking on cell phones or texting. I'm glad we didn't get one of those kids driving us! Nope, we got ourselves a professional here. Sometimes Marco even shows the youngsters up by racing by their boats as they struggle to keep up with his unspoken challenge. He always wins.
As our gondola turns a corner and we open up into the Grand Canal. Kiki and I both gasp in wonder. The sun is now setting and the warm glow it creates on the buildings reflected against the sparkling water is incredibly dramatic. Transcendental. "Wow!," is all I can mutter as I'm rendered speechless.
All too soon, our 45-minute ride comes to an end. Marco helps us out of his boat and we thank him warmly, "It was really, really great!"
I would highly recommend choosing your gondola operator very carefully. Find a seaworthy, experienced guy who looks like he knows his business. I would also advise doing a ride during the day, because at night the canals would be so pitch-dark you wouldn't see much of anything. Errr... Unless that's what you and your significant other are looking for? Romantically, I mean.
As we walk away from the boat, Chesire Cat grins plastered all over our faces, Kiki turns to me and asks, "Well, was it worth it?" I answer emphatically, "Every. Single. Cent!"
See my "Gondola Ride" video.
It's a common thing a visitor sees everywhere in Venice. A gondola is a traditional rowing boat which was designed and suited for Venice's Lagoon and canals. For a long time and over many centuries, it was the main transportation and today they're used for transporting touritst at extortionate rates and special regattas. Nowadays, the traghetti is the main transportation for transporting Venetians and visitors.
You can find out further information on the
The gondola as we know it today is the result of an evolution responding to the need for increased manoeuvrability and practicality. For instance, the original wooden cabin disappeared as tourism spread: the view of Venice from a gondola is so exceptional that it would be a pity to hide it from passengers. Today's issues are the wave motion and the motorboat traffic in the canals.
Though it is quite expensive, taking the gondola is very romantic even if you are not with the love of your life. It is also a good way to see parts of Venice that you wouldn't otherwise see. I have posted a couple of links about gondola rides.
After a day of rowing, or waiting for the customers, the gondoliers are bringing back their gondolas; here at Campo Santa Sofia on the Grand Canal facing the Mercado (photo 1 & video).
It's around 19 h and the day has been very warm with temperatures above 40°C in the sun. The Grand Canal is for them the worst part having to move between the vaporetto's, cargos, water taxis and other motoscafi. My photo 2 shows a gondola nearly pushed by a vaporetto!
They clean the seats and carefully cover the gondola with a bleu tarpaulin for the night.
In the morning the gondolas get a good wash (photo 3).
The first and last time we took a gondola, with our then young children, was nearly forty years ago. Presently we take the "traghetto", at a cost of 0,50 € per person. OK it's only for a few minutes but it is definitively a gondola.
I confess, I'm a tourist. I wanted to take a gondola ride, but I wanted it to be special, not like a ride at an amusement park. We ventured throughout the city, enjoying the many sites and then we saw him - our gondolier. He was standing near a small bridge that spanned a small canal in a residential area of the city. He seemed very pleasant as we passed by offering up a smile and a "buona sera" as he stood, hat in hand.
We asked if he was free, asked the price and off we went. Our ride lasted about 45 minutes and took us through some very scenic areas. We eventually exited out on to the Grand Canal and made our way towards the Rialto Bridge. The perspective of looking at the bridge and surrounding buildings from the gondola was very nice. We then headed back off the grand canal and ended up where we had started.
It was enjoyable, romantic and something you can't do anywhere else. The cost was 100 Euros and though it wasn't cheap, I would have never forgiven myself if we didn't partake.
A gondola ride in Venice is a quitessential Venetian experience not to be missed. Each gondola can sit 6 people. A 40-minute ride through the narrow canals of Venice during the day costs 80 euros per gondola so it works out to be roughly 18 euros per person. The gondolier may or may not sing, but sometimes, he may sing your favourite Neopolitan songs like Ol Sole Mio, Torna di Surriento etc.
If you miss riding in a gondola, you will regret it when you get home. So get ready for the plunge into your wallet.
The boatman will sing for you, but don't expect Anrea Bocelli. He will tell you jokes, and he will tell you a bit of history, too.
The ride doesn't last long, but you will be comfortable. I have put in a picture of the seating.
Your guide book will tell you about visiting the place where they make gondolas. Try to see this.
Don't be afraid to bargain with the Gondoleer. Tell him you have a budget for this kind of thing. Haggle. More than likely they will lower the price.
Ask how long the ride will be, no matter whether you haggle or not.
Be sure and ask about the history of gondoleers, the color of their clothes and the gondolas, ie. where made, how long it takes to make a gondola, how long they last, and who owns it after it is finished. Ask him about the apprenticeship time and difficulty in becoming a gondoleer. He will appreciate your interest and probably give you a longer ride.
The Gondola is probably the most famous italian boat in the world, and the simbol of Venice.
The gondola is conducted by a gondolier who stands facing the bow and rows with a forward stroke, followed by a compensating backward stroke.
It is hand made with an hard work. To make a tour on it is a fantastic experience but also quite expensive!
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