The Gondolier

Perhaps, when you think of romance, you conjure up a vision of you and your sweetie on a classic gold-trimmed gondola  slowly winding through the narrow canals of Venice, while your gondolier, in his best tenor, passionately, tearfully, renders his best “O Solo Mio”. Well, you must have seen it in a movie, because in the real Venice, things are strictly business.

There are 425 gondolas scattered throughout Venice. Did we count them? No need. Gondoliers are part of a guild (like a union) and the guild only allows 425 licenses. The guild also controls the cost of the trip, although some bargaining is possible. If you want to know the cost, you can, of course, look it up on the internet. Or, you can just ask the gondolier.

As we noted in earlier posts, there were a number of gondolas moored right outside our hotel. But, the Grand Canal is much like an interstate, with lots of cargo traffic and, of course, the vaporettos all over the place. Hardly very romantic.

Since Dianne and I had spent so much time on the Piazza San Marco and since the idea of riding under the Bridge of Sighs actually did seem romantic, we decided to ship out of there. To refresh you memory, here is the layout:


The red tent in the distance, between the columns, is the headquarters. When you go there you will see many gondoliers, in their striped shirts, standing around shooting the breeze. If you approach them, they will be sure to ignore you. Eventually you will discover that one of them is sitting on a chair. He is the next on call. When you approach him he will be friendlier and will give you the price for his services. If you want about a 20 minute spin around the block, long enough to say you did it and take some selfies, it will cost about 80 euro. If you want to actually wind through the canals for about 45 minutes, then 120 euro would be just right. If you want to go all the way across town to the Grand Canal, an hour plus trip, then figure on 200 plus. By the way, gondoliers don’t sing. If you want to hear “O Solo Mio” the guy who will sing it to you costs an extra 120 euro plus. He’ll ride in the front of the boat.

Having already been warned by Rick Steves, we had budgeted for the middle option. Soon we were on our way!

First the cover comes off…


Seats are arranged…


The passengers are seated…


And we head into the canals.


I will say one thing about the gondolas: They are absolutely beautiful and actually works of art! Some of them should be in museums.

Well, be began our journey going under the Ponte della Paglia, the main north-south tourist route. Then under the Bridge of Sighs. The gondolier told us if you kiss under the bridge it is supposed to bring good luck. So…


This is certainly not the only bridge we would find on our journey.


What we should have expected, and did not, was traffic jams.


No collisions, but not particularly romantic either.


Eventually the worst of the traffic cleared and things began to quiet down


It is truly beautiful going down these canals. It is an incredible city. Our gondolier, who pointed out a few sights along the way, was mostly quiet. All of a sudden he starts speaking in Italian. My first thought was, surely he doesn’t think we understand the language? Turns out he was talking on his cell phone! That’s him in the background.


Well, the conversation didn’t last long, but it was hardly a magical moment. Then he was back to business. Along the way we passed some beautiful boats:


This one was docked outside a church.


Some sights along the way:



You get a sense that it would not take much to flood the whole town, which does happen from time to time:


In addition to all the gondolas, we also make room for cargo boats:


Now, if these pictures didn’t quite take you there, here is a video of the last six minutes of our cruise where things got a little crazy again. There were many quieter moments as well:

Soon we were back to the piazza:


So, if you are looking for a storybook romantic experience, this is probably not it. The gondola is where the magical Venice and the tourist-trap Venice come to meet.  Is it worth it? Absolutely. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat. We might start from a different location. Maybe Tripadvisor has some suggestions. But all things considered, there is no better way to see one of the great cities of the world.

Next, we’ll go on a little shopping spree! Well, at least we’ll look in the windows.





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