Venice: What I Learned from My Gondola Ride

I had been ambivalent about Venice. On my first trip to Italy, a little present from my great-grandmother after I’d finished graduate school, a friend and I had skipped it entirely. We were driving through Italy at our whim, staying at expensive villas one night, scarily cheap pensiones the next. Venezia was scheduled for one of our inexpensive nights, and rainy that day besides. I’d heard about rats in the canals. We’d done enough of dreary. Heading north from Firenze, we opted for the lake district. Venice would have to wait.

Years later, I brought the Youthful Adventurer on his first trip to Venice. A single mom who’d chosen freelance writing as her vocation, I was once again on a limited budget, which made me that much more willing to comparison shop before setting foot on any gondola. Here is what I learned from my gondola ride:

  • Go ahead and haggle.  No matter what number you end up at, you’ll be paying far too much for a ride on a slow-moving boat. Except you’re in Venice, and who knows when you’ll be back again? Bringing the price down by a couple dozen euros might inspire you to spring for an extra half hour, time and money spent you won’t regret.
  • Better deals seem to be offered the further from Piazza San Marco you are, especially if you’re looking during off hours when the rest of the tourists are tired and having some tea.
  • Clock the time.
  • Don’t go when there’s a threat of an imminent storm. Your gondolier may cut short your ride.
  • Making turns through narrow canals on a long, skinny boat really is an art. Marvel at the oncoming traffic and how gondoliers have managed to avoid your boat.
  • Stop thinking about whether you could ever be a gondolier, navigating the same canals day after day, wearing the same outfit year after year, acting pleased to bargain with tourists and telling them the same stories over and over and over again. Decide that gondoliers wonder whether they could ever be writers, stuck indoors and crouched over their laptops day after day.

Enjoy the ride. How often is anyone riding on a gondola with a loved one in Venice?

Most relievingly, in my entire time in Venice, I never saw a single rat.

© Lori Tripoli

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