Gondola ride is quintessential adventure in Venice

Grand Canal in VeniceA visit to Venice, Italy isn’t complete without a gondola ride down the Grand Canal and a couple of side canals that substitute for streets.  So after spending a couple of hours walking around St. Mark’s Square (overrun with tourists and souvenir vendors on a Sunday afternoon), strolling through a maze of narrow alleys and streets to the famous Rialta Bridge (great photo opportunity), and bypassing long lines of people waiting to enter Doges Cathedral (admiring the outside architecture sufficed), we splurged for an evening tour on the water.

My husband Larry and I shared our gondola—and a bottle of champagne—with a young couple from New York, skimming the water’s surface to a serenade of Italian love songs.  Romance filled the air as dark embers of a summer sun flickered into the shadows of night.

Gondoliers dressed in red and white striped shirts deftly maneuvered water crafts through the narrow canals with a single long-handled paddle.  Shops lining the water were mostly closed at this point, and the crowds had thinned noticeably.  Cool night breezes felt refreshing after our mid-afternoon wanderings in the August heat.  Looking at the city from less-crowded evening waterways provided a different perspective from our earlier foray among the crowds of tourists.

Venice is actually a series of 20 islands connected by bridges.  The city is built on supports placed in the ground and surrounded with mud that eventually becomes hard as concrete.  During the winter months, ample rains cause water to rise and flood the streets, so people wear hip-length rubber boots for sloshing through town.  Because the water level is so high, boats are not able to pass under many bridges.

Still, Venetians take advantage of their watery situation.  Boat races are held on the first Sunday of each month, and fireworks celebrate construction of the Doges Cathedral every third week of the month.

Doges Cathedral in Venice

Doges Cathedral in Venice

Venice looks just like all those pictures you’ve seen of the city—ancient buildings on the water’s edge, water taxis churning a constant path from one point to another, and omnipresent shops and bridges.  Only as we sailed away from Venice on our cruise ship and observed the city from a more distant vantage point, did we begin to fully appreciate its beauty and unique character.

side canal in VeniceGondola tours, which generally run about two hours, may be booked with or without music (I love those deep, smooth Italian vocals). Book through your hotel or cruise ship, or sign up directly at the boat dock.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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