We’ve all seen the movies and pictures and are aware of the romantic power of a gondola ride on the canals of Venice. The enchantment of the experience changes the girl’s mind…‘and they live happily ever after.’ Beguiling, enchanting, romantic, magical etc, are standard adjectives to describe a tour of Venice in a gondola. It is a must-do thing.
True a Venice gondola ride is maybe that or maybe more but there are some practical things you need to know before you get on one of them. Some of these pointers may be a bit of an eye opener for you.
There was a time when about 10,000 gondolas plied the canals of Venice carrying goods and passengers across and around the city. Today there are roughly 400 of them and they are primarily used to ferry tourists. Though the number of gondolas is seemingly small the routes are limited. So you could find yourself in a prow to stern gaggle of gondolas – a veritable traffic jam!
The gondolas of today are all painted black as per the city’s regulations. However, many of them have colourful, individualistic and ornate decorations with comfortable seats, cushions and blankets.
The gondoliers have to wear a uniform of sorts, which are black pants, a striped (generally black and white) shirt and closed dark shoes. They also have a special hat but very often they don’t wear it. I suppose many a hat has been whipped off the gondolier’s head by the wind.
Not all gondoliers can sing nor are they required to. Some do but you may be disappointed by the results. Also it would be pretty hard to hear them over the chatting of your co-passengers and the calling and shouting among the other gondoliers. The night rides, though could be better for the singing. Some of them will give you information on the bridges and palaces of Venice as you pass them by.
Venice gondola rides are between 20 and 40 minutes duration. They also seat six people so if you are thinking ‘exclusive’ and romantic forget it as you will be sharing the boat with others.
The Grand Canal is perpetually crowded so take a ride along the quieter back canals, away from the more touristy places. It will give you a different view of Venice and a much better experience. Actually the smaller canals (you can touch the walls of the palazzos) will give you the feel of what makes Venice – Venice.
To hire a gondola to take you on the quieter routs look for one away from the main streets and the Grand Canal. If you have a particular route or places in mind then discuss it (and the price) clearly with the gondolier before you sit down.
Getting back to the singing gondoliers, several tour companies arrange a 40-minute Gondola Ride and Serenade. The glitch is that there is not one singer for each gondola. They travel in groups. Several gondolas will be listening to the same singer/musician as you glide along. Another drawback is that you will be sharing the gondola with other people. So, maybe your Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn moment may not be the same.
The trickiest part is the fare. Gondola rides and fares are regulated. The standard day time 40 minute ride costs €80. The night ones are €100. However, you will be very lucky if you ever get one for those rates. Haven’t met or heard anyone who got a ride at the official rates.
This piece is not intended to turn you off a Venice gondola ride. You have to do it, no question. Just don’t go in starry-eyed.