Gondolier Capital of the World awaits you !
After nearly a week of travelling on water as passengers of the MSC Fantasia, the final port of our inaugural cruising adventure was Venice; which ironically is surrounded by water.
The original itinerary would of had us docked for about six hours. I wanted adventure in this magical and famous city – six hours was not going to be anywhere near suffice so I nixed that itinerary and made a new one!
We decided to disembark (cruise lingo for checking out early) at Venice, leaving us with more than 24 hours to explore, as our flight back was the following day. Yes, this meant we lost our last day on the ship, as well as additional costs for accommodation, food and airport transfers. The question though: Was it worth it?
Read our blog to find out! (Please do not scroll to the end to see the answer: we are hoping you will read this post in its entirety and leave us some feedback!)
I slept well and woke up early, eagerly awaiting the day’s adventure in this long anticipated arrival. I leapt up and headed for the balcony (a leisurely 3.5m stroll). This is what my eyes witnessed:
The hot, humid sun was piercing through the Venetian fog. The soft pastel coloured historical buildings of Venice brushed their reflections on the water and came alive like an oil painting, as the MSC Fantasia (our ship) navigated to port.
Our adventure had begun: let’s fast forward over the boring stuff…early breakfast, fast disembarkation (you actually need pre-approval to do this), a long, healthy walk to the ‘people mover’; a short ride to the bus terminal, a vigorous trek over a bridge while avoiding aggressive ‘baggage handlers’, and finally arriving at the hotel! Stop the fast forward now 🙂
Tip: Make sure you have a good grip on ALL of your luggage, as the ‘baggage handlers’ will help themselves to your luggage and demand payment at the top of the bridge before releasing them back to you. As you guessed, they don’t ask, they just grab and demand. They were successful at grabbing one bag from the children for a brief moment, before reversing their action as I gave them the stare of terror 😉
Venice: Brief Historical Background
Venice (also known as Venezia) is a city with over 400 canals and waterways. It is a collection of mini islands connected with mini bridges, which looking from space appears like a large island off the coast of northern Italy. This formation is called an archipelago. That’s a fancy word to impress your friends J
Venice was originally built on a lagoon. To keep everyone and everything dry, especially during high tide; wooden poles were used to prop up the city! I mean thousands of poles under every building! Lucky for the Venetians, the water in the lagoon is very low in oxygen (almost nonexistent). That means the wooden poles won’t rot as quickly. However, someone had a ‘not so’ brilliant idea and drained water from the main aquifer surrounding the city to supply local industry with this valuable resource. Well guess what? The city started to sink! For real. Some of the ground floors of lower built buildings were uninhabitable. Someone was smart to discover the real reason behind the wet and flooded floors, and put a stop to this draining practice. The sinking has stopped, which is great news! A cool program called MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico) will be reaching completion in late 2014, promising to protect the city from future sinking while preserving the beauty and rich history of this great city!
Here’s your opportunity to learn about this historical place.
The one thing you will notice very quickly in Venice is the lack of automobiles and trucks. So how do people and material goods move around? That’s a great question! I’ll give you a hint…it floats…The answer: a boat or a barge-like vessel.
As explorers/adventurers/tourists, we too have a selection of water floating vessels to choose from: You can board a vaporetto (water bus), hire a water taxi, or skip the water vessel and slip on a comfortable pair of foot attire (I’m not talking about your favourite pair of stilettos ladies). However, there is one more form of transportation to mention. When someone says Venice, one of the first words that comes to mind is “gondola”. Venice is home to the world famous gondola ride. Sure you can venture to other places for a gondola ride yet the experience would certainly not be as exquisite (or romantic)!
To explore a city surrounded by water, I personally believe you need to do it by boat. The coolest way to do is also the most expensive way to do it: the Gondola Ride. Once we dropped off our luggage at the hotel, we headed straight for the canal searching for a gondolier.
First thing to remember: Gondoliers are experts in their trade; they must be certified/trained – no ‘fly by night’ operation here. We were quite open with our ideas of what we wanted to do and see. We asked for their opinion. We made a deal and off we went! Tip: The earlier in the day you ride it, the more affordable it will be. Be prepared to open your wallet if you grab a gondolier after 8pm!
Ride a gondola half way to Piazza San Marco
Avoid the main canal by staying on the quiet ‘back canals’
Walk to rest of the way to Piazza San Marco and maybe get lost along the way
Head back to the hotel by vaporetto
Once we crossed the main canal, our gondolier steered us toward a narrow canal way. As we entered the narrows, the noise volume of the city lowered to a soft murmur. It was like being transported to our own island. It was quiet as we listened to the water rippling off the oar.
Did you know a gondola can only be steered from the right side and while standing!? It’s true.
Another cool fact is the dimensions of a gondola:
- 11 metres in length
- 1.5 metres in width, with the left side 24cm wider than the right
The gondola’s shape is asymmetric and flat bottomed. It’s the perfect shape to navigate extremely narrow canals. If you want one, you’ll need to wait three months for one to be built just for you. Your wallet will feel $34,997.92 lighter because of it. I’m sure it’ll take even longer to learn how to steer one 🙂
Final cool fact: a gondola is made from eight different types of wood: oak, cherry wood, walnut, fir, mahogany, elm, larch and linden.
Our gondolier effortlessly navigated the narrow canals, passing each historic building and other gondolas within a hands width of clearance. Remember the gondola is 11 metres in length and on water with four moving tourists shifting about 😉 . He was very experienced and we were grateful. One fascinating fact: each building was built for a single family. Some of these building are quite large multi level structures. Currently, the vast majority are rented to several families each. Only a handful are actually owned and occupied by a single family.
We’d like to share some of Venice from a gondola:
TO BE CONTINUED … Part 2 where are family adventures continue on land in the historic city of Venice.