I’ve escaped my life at home and here I sit watching the world float by – literally watching people from around the world on what is presumably their first gondola ride in Venice. Watching their faces as they point at the buildings, others taking photos and some playing with their phones bored by it all. I remember being them twenty three years ago on my first gondola ride with the senior citizens I was traveling with. They had waited all of their lives to visit Italy and I was just so young they said and how lucky I was. We all sat there (before cell phones) marveling at this city of water. I had a film camera with me back then and took photos which can’t hardly compare with the technology of today.
I wonder if the tourists today gliding by my window feel the same way I did back then? I remember the musicians on our boat filling the air with song to serenade us. It really was a bit of magic in the canals.
Now, I hear the singers and the music outside the window of the Airbnb flat which is often by interrupted by a water taxi or delivery boat which seem to rip the dream like sequence apart. The longer I watch the boats during the day, the sadder I get as I begin to see the assembly line that this experience has become – one boat after the other sharing the canals with others rather than alone to themselves to luxuriate in the history – maybe they don’t care, maybe they can check the “Venice gondola ride” box? Maybe no one told them to get lost in the streets and find a lone gondola station?
The gondoliers are now in the routine of it all as well – a few are smoking as they go, others checking their phones (is there a no driving/texting law in Italy for gondolas?) and then there is the trash talking and funny faces they are making with each other. Funny what you see from the window looking at a scene playing out in front of you like a real life movie.
The buildings have history and the more I visit Venice, the more I get lost in the lanes, the more the movie plays in my head – the people, the lives, the water, the Doges… One of my favorite movies starring Venice is Dangerous Beauty (1998) telling the story of a courtesean in the city.
But now the world is going by and I’m sitting on the side lines curious and wanting to yell out the window “go find an empty canal with one gondolier and experience the magic of the water, of the buildings, look up and imagine another world”. Instead, I signed up for a Row Venice lesson to get myself out into the canal to row a boat (not a gondola but an older version) to connect with the city anew.
A gondola ride starts at €80 for up to six people (this is a city job so prices are set by city and posted at each gondola station). Musicians are an additional cost. There is one woman rowing and one non-Italian rowing in the city, both exceptions to the history steeped in Italian men. In my opinion, your first taste of the Venice canals should be magic so invest wisely and pick a location that will be memorable for you as you watch the world float by.