Among My Souvenirs

Stories of the road

I was sailing along

There is no more iconic photo of Venice than people enjoying a ride in a gondola on the Grand Canal. The gondola is a flat bottom rowing boat that was put into use in the lagoons as many are quite shallow. The gondola has existed in Venice since the 11th Century but they were not the only means of transportation. Today they are used for the tourist industry almost exclusively. It is believed that at the height of the Venetian trade there were over 10,000 gondolas, today only about 400.

Before the great rise in tourism in the 1950’s, the gondola would have a small cabin or a “felze” to protect the passengers from the weather or onlookers. Its windows could be closed with louvered shutters – the original “Venetian blinds.” Eventually people complained because the cabin blocked the view and now only a handful of cabined boats remain; used for ceremonial events such as weddings.

The profession of gondolier is controlled by a guild, which issues a limited number of licenses (approximately 400), granted after periods of training (400 hours over six months) and apprenticeship, and a major comprehensive exam which tests knowledge of Venetian history and landmarks, foreign language skills, and practical skills in handling the gondola. Such skills are necessary in the tight spaces of Venetian canals. Gondoliers dress in a blue or red striped top, red neckerchief, wide-brimmed straw hat and dark pants. A gondolier can earn the equivalent of up to US$150,000 per year.

At last it was our turn! We lined up along the canal bank and were gently guided into the gondola. The “professional tourist” photographer wasn’t all that happy as I was taking pictures as the group got into the gondola and on occasion “politely” blocked my view as to declare, “This is my turf and money.” Last of all, we were ushered into our boat and following the lead of others off we went.

As beautiful and all as the Grand Canal was, what I loved were the small little “streets” of water that connected the city. Tight places where three and four story houses seemed to rise up out of the water. And I could not help but wonder how often they were flooded out of the first floor of the house.

It was a very short, and probably expensive ride – as it was included in the tour package. As they say, could have gone around again but one thing you learn about travel is that you must savor the moments as they come, wishing them to be different is rather pointless and robs the time you have. There is always more to see that you can absorb, or do, or take a picture of. So sit back, sail along, enjoy the journey.