The Gondola. Undoubtedly the most romantic and recognizable symbol of Venice. The sleek, crescent shaped boats, often bejeweled with crimson velvet and gold trim, gliding atop the jade green sea.
Meandering between grand palazzi, colorful laundry dangling from clothes lines and dancing in the wind, ducking your head while floating under small foot bridges as the footsteps of other tourists echo in your ears. At the rear of the boat is your driver for hire, the gondolier.
His muscles are shaped by sculling his craft with his single oar in the forcula (a decorative piece of walnut wood carved so that the oar can maneuver in 8 different ways), his face tanned and weathered and dressed in a prison striped black and white shirt, black pants and a red scarf tied at the neck, he resembles a cast member of the Broadway play, ‘The Gondoliers’, though his singing may not have acquired him the role. Some sing, many try hard. It is a cliché that they all sing ‘O Sole Mio’ while gliding down the canals.
In true old sailor fashion, when they pass each other on the canal, a greeting of “Ahoy Matey!”, in Italian dialect is exchanged.
Please, don’t consider this a form of transportation. Instead, think of this as a one of a kind romantic event… similar to a horse and carriage ride in Central Park. Something that should be shared with your sweetheart or alone ( ‘O Solo Mio’, in this case).
Since Venice is a city built on water, boats replace cars. Taxis exist as water taxis, Vaporettos are the subway and Traghettos are ferries. Squeros are the shipyards where gondolas are made. Here they are carved from eight different kinds of wood and over 280 pieces.
Parking lots are replaced by colorful barber shop poles where moored, bobbing gondolas are lined up and secured while not in use.
The gondola used to be a high-class form of transportation, reserved for the wealthy. Even the Doge (chief magistrate) had his own private hand carved gondola.
You don’t need to spend a fortune for a ride. I like to travel on a budget, but this is something I would splurge on. Grab a bottle of inexpensive Prosseco and sip during your ride. You will pay extra for a serenade with or without an accordion accompaniment, but it will not necessarily enhance your experience, unless you are lucky enough to have an Andrea Bocceli impersonator.
Rates are regulated; however each gondolier owns his boat and his rates. Rates and routes must be negotiated in advance. I prefer the quiet, private back canals, but others may prefer more time on the Grand Canal.
Just walk up to any gondolier waiting for a fare and start negotating. If you want to pay his rate, than great. If not, move along to another, until you find ‘the one’.
In my opinion a sunset cruise is the most magical with the dimming lights dancing off the water. Rides are about 45 minutes.
Expect to pay €80 for rides before 7pm and €100 after, for up to 6 people. You can also arrange a flat bottom boat rowing lesson in advance. Whatever tour you prefer just sit back and enjoy the ride!