Gondolas. One cannot think of the city of Venice without picturing those long, skinny, beautifully crafted boats and their perfectly uniformed gondoliers. As my S.O. and I were preparing for our escape to Italy a couple of years ago, we struggled with the question of whether or not to spend money on a gondola ride. We had watched a fantastic documentary on what it takes to become a gondolier and were enamored with the iconic nature of the endeavor. However, our budget kept giving us the side eye.
As with many things I had heard about Venice, the common wisdom online was that gondola rides were a tourist trap and not nearly as romantic as they had been made out to be. Venice itself took some major hits in the online forums, too.
A few weeks later, we arrived to find that everything we read was wrong.
Venice sucks you in immediately. While so many say that it is old, dirty and smelly, we found it to be only one of those things – beautifully old. Canals like veins, the quiet currents of water were the lifeblood of the city. The buildings were all muscle – so strong, so sturdy. It was hard to believe that this once used to be a swamp. We spent most of that first day just getting lost – intentionally so.
Our hotel was just around the corner from the place where they make the gondolas. We lingered just on the other side of the canal, watching them sand, shape and test the beautiful vessels. As we meandered around, we noticed that there was an endless parade of gondolas filled with tourists. In the back of my mind, I kept wondering: is this the experience we want to pay 100 euros for?
Well into the evening, after catching a late dinner, we realized that the weather for the next day was daunting. It was now or never (or at least now or not during this trip). We began to make our way over to the starting point for the gondola rides, all the while noticing how peaceful the city had become. With the day trippers and cruise passengers all safely on their way, it felt as if we had the city to ourselves.
A few gondoliers were milling around, finishing up their tasks for the night. We approached the little hut and asked if they were still offering rides. Yes, it turns out, they were. We hopped on within minutes and were on our way.
At that time of night, I could have sworn that we were the only ones out. We had the Grand Canal to ourselves. The rhythmic sound of the oar going into the water and out of the water and into the water and out of the water lulled me nearly to sleep. It was magical and well worth the money.
So if you’re looking for a recommendation on whether or not to do a gondola ride, heed this advice: It should not be a question of if, but when. Go with the gondola, just not during peak times in the day.