Ride a Gondola Through the Canals of Venice
Excerpt from the book On a Tall Budget and Short Attention Span from the Teresa the Traveler Series.
World famous for its canals, Venice is Europe’s largest vehicle-free area. Built on 118 small islands with around 150 canals, Venice can make a person feel like the automobile was never invented. The serenity of walking amongst the canals and small bridges while listening to a gondola driver serenading his guests fills a person’s heart with the promise of romance.
Venice, also referred to as Queen of the Adriatic, City of Water and the City of Light is located in Northern Italy and is the capital of the region called Veneto. The city was built in the middle of a saltwater lagoon stretching along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po and Piave Rivers.
It is divided into the six districts of Cannaregio, San Polo, Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, San Marco and Castello. In fact, the large metal plate capping the front of every gondola in the city has six notches pointing forward representing each of the six districts and one that points backwards representing the Guidecca, an island where the city administration is located.
Any of my friends who had visited Italy always told me I must visit Venice so I took their advice. Other than romantic images of couples riding in gondolas, I had no idea what to expect. Not that I minded. I prefer having no preconceived notions about a place because expectations often have a way of decreasing joy.
After a visit to the tourist information office in the train station, I was armed with a map of the city and a list of the budget hotels. I met a lady on the train who told me that San Marco was the most popular tourist area, so I decided to look for a hotel there. I bought a day pass on the ferry and headed to my port. What an incredible ride - I was in the middle of a real life water world.
San Marco Square
I got off at the port and walked a short distance before ending up in San Marco Square – Venice’s largest square and hub of activity. A magnificent church stood at one end and a majestic palace towered over a huge courtyard buzzing with pigeons, vendors and visitors from all over of the world. I chose a budget hotel near the square and immediately set out to find it so I could drop off my luggage and start exploring.
Although I am usually quite good at reading maps, for some reason, try as I may, I could not locate the hotel. What the…? The streets were messed up. Nothing made sense. Narrow, winding and often unmarked, they defied all efforts to map them. Changing my strategy, I asked a shopkeeper to point me in the right direction.
When I hit the next intersection I asked another person and so on until I finally arrived at a discreet little hotel hidden behind a large restaurant. After some haggling, I negotiated a three-night stay in a single room with a shared bathroom for 40 Euros a night. Then I unpacked my things and headed out to San Marco Square.
In the 9th century, San Marco Square was a small area in front of St Mark’s Basilica – Venice’s most famous church and the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice. It was expanded to its current size and layout in 1777. St Marks’s Campanile, and a number of museums were later added to San Marco Square and the Doge’s Palace, the residence of the Doge of Venice, was constructed between 1309 and 1424.
The Doge or Duke of Venice was the chief magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice. He was elected for life by the city-state’s aristocracy. The last Doge was Ludovico Manin who abdicated on May 12th 1797 after the city was conquered by Napoleon of France.
Today the palace is preserved as a museum displaying paintings by famous Venetian painters such as Tintoretto and Veronese. It was toured by Mark Twain in 1867 and described in his book The Innocents Abroad.
St. Mark’s Campanile is the bell tower of St. Marks Basilica. The 98.6 meter brick tower, in its present form, was originally built in 1514 but collapsed in 1902. Amazingly no one was killed but the caretaker’s cat. That same evening, the communal council decided to rebuild it exactly as it was except this time they chose to build a tower that wouldn’t collapse. Good thinking! The new tower, which was completed in 1912, is still standing today and, amazingly enough, has not killed a single cat.
To read more about Teresa's Venice adventure buy her book On a Tall Budget and Short Attention Span.
Teresa's Top Ten Things to See and Do in Venice
1. Go for a gondola ride
2. Watch the glassblowers in Murano
3. Check out the Jewish History museum in the Venetian Ghetto
4. Attend the Venice Film Festival in Lido
5. Buy a handmade mask
6. Visit San Marco Square
7. Visit the Doge's Palace which is now a museum
8. Eat spaghetti in a sidewalk café
9. Feed the pigeons in San Marco Square
Top Ten Crazy Venice Facts
1. The buildings are constructed on wood piles which do not decay under water rather they petrify and become stone-like structures.
2. Venice hosted the world’s first International Film Festival.
3. Most men have the same jobs as their father.
4. Venice had a huge flood a few weeks after I left.
5. It is really expensive to get on the Internet.
6. Venice stretches across 18 small islands formed by 150 canals.
7. The ground floors of many Venetian homes are flooded forcing them to live on the upper floors.
8. There are lots of talented artists who paint cityscapes to sell to tourists.
9. Venice is Europe’s largest urban car free area.
10. It is insanely expensive to rent an apartment in Venice.