I know taking a gondola ride in Venice is the most touristy thing a person can do. But it’s Venice! And they’re gondolas! I mean, if not here, where? I’ve reached the simple conclusion that if you find yourself in Venice, you have to take a gondola ride. Otherwise, can you say that you’ve really experienced Venice?
But here’s the thing: it’s not going to be the swoony romantic boat ride that tourism in Italy would have you believe. Maybe if you dole out a LOT of money you can get the suave debonair gondolier you imagine in your head, serenading you with sweet Italian love songs as you slowly drift through rippling water beneath the moonlight.
Here’s what’s more likely: you dole out a lot of money (gondola rides are pricey). You get into a gondola with strangers. Some of you have very uncomfortable seats in the middle. The sun beats down on you because most of the gondola rides are during daylight hours. You drift into the water with dozens of other gondolas and water taxis, and private boats. You’re on the main canal. It’s like a four-lane highway in water.
I did pay for a serenade, but it wasn’t a private serenade. Instead, about 10 gondolas from the same tour company went out together, across the busy highway of water where we stopped and were tethered together as a singer in one gondola sang. We heard snatches of his songs, but we were not, by any means, serenaded.
Then we were all rowed over to the smaller canals where we formed a chain of single-file gondolas as we floated through the alleys. Yes, this was picturesque. But it was also a little seedy. Our gondolier smoked a cigarette and talked on his cell phone while he paddled us. His friend walked across another boat to chat with him. We were just grateful that we didn’t get one of the gondoliers with body odor.
Still, if I had to do it all over again, I would. I feel like a gondola ride in Venice is a must. But only once. No one need ever do it twice. But definitely once. Just to say you did.
What do you imagine gondola rides to be like? Or have you taken one already?