Our 20-day cruise on the MSC Lirica was scheduled from Venice to Dubai so we flew into Switzerland 10 days ahead and did some traveling around Europe by train, ending with 3 nights in Venice before boarding the ship. Although a last-minute change in the embarkation port ended up with passengers being bussed to Trieste 2 hours away, we still enjoyed having a bit of time to explore Venice before our cruise.
Venice is a city built on small marshy islands in a shallow lagoon. Construction of this unique city involved driving pilings into the ground and topping them with a stone foundation upon which to put the buildings. Between these pilings settling deeper into the ground over the centuries and sea level rising, Venice has been sinking ever since. In some places the lowest level of the buildings has been abandoned for constant flooding, but many are still in use and subject to periodic flooding with high tides and heavy rains.
Flood barriers are a common sight across doorways, but when the waters rise higher than the barrier these places still flood. In areas like Piazza San Marcos (Saint Mark’s Square) flooding occurs frequently enough that they place portable raised walkways in high water areas. Enterprising local vendors also sell raincoat-like boots that tourists can wear over their shoes to keep dry when the water rises.
Gondolas are a major icon of Venice, and these long thin paddle powered boats are everywhere. You don’t go far without seeing gondolas tied up along the edges of the canals, or paddling by. The gondoliers don’t all sing though. Some places charge extra for a serenade, others don’t offer singing gondoliers. Once we happened to be on a small bridge when a gondola passed under with the gondolier singing away.
We couldn’t go to Venice and not ride a gondola. Our first full day there was kind of rainy so we decided to wait until the next day when the weather forecast looked better. Walking around Venice we had seen quite a few places with gondola stands, though not all of them had anyone there. While crossing the Rialto Bridge we had seen a sizable one next to it, which had lots of boats and gondoliers. It wasn’t far from the bnb where we were staying so we went there.
The ride was about half an hour long. We started by walking across one gondola to get into the next one where we sat down for our ride. First we went under the Rialto Bridge. Venice has many bridges, but the Rialto Bridge is big and famous. It also crosses the grand canal. Venice is criss-crossed by many canals of various sizes having been built on a series of swampy islands in a lagoon, but the S-shaped grand canal running through the main part of Venice is the widest and most traveled, being full of boats of all sorts.
Whether powered by man or engine the canal boats all have one thing in common. They are long, low, and narrow. They have to be low to fit under the bridges, especially if they go into the smaller canals where the bridges are lower. They have to be narrow to fit into the small canals, and to get past one another even if they stay in the grand canal. Long is their only option for carrying much since they are low and narrow.
The gondolier has to have some excellent boating skills to navigate the grand canal around and between bigger and speedier boats as well as to be able to cross it through a steady stream of other boats going by.
He also needs mad skills to get around some of the tight corners without scraping building walls in the smaller canals, to pass other boats in a narrow canal where there’s barely room to squeak by, and to slide under bridges so low he has to duck and tilt the boat so the taller bits fit. Our gondolier didn’t scrape a thing, but we did see some scrape marks on the underside of a particularly low bridge where others had hit it.
We went under bridges we had walked over while wandering through Venice on foot. The route took a loop around some smaller canals and then back into the grand canal where he had to cross through an unending sea of oncoming boats to get to the other side before returning to the gondola stand where we got on. It was pretty amazing that he could make it through the neverending stream of boat traffic, but he did.
When visiting Venice a gondola ride is definitely a must-do. Besides being a major icon of the city, it’s fun to do and a great way to see the sights.
Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020