Learning to gondolier

What do you do when gondola rides start at $175 for 30 minutes? Take lessons!

Al and I have both been to Venice before (I have actually been twice in the same month – but that’s another story). Neither one of us had ever been in a gondola, and now we understand why!

We researched rides online and looked at prices in person, and couldn’t believe how expensive they were. We watched gondoliers scrape past each other on crowded waterways and saw looks on people’s faces that said it all. I can’t believe I spent all my wine money on getting stuck in a watery tourist jam.

We decided on another option – learning to row ourselves.

Our guide, Caroline, came to Venice from France 18 years ago. Although a champion rower, she could not get a job as a gondolier with two strikes against her: being female and not from a long line of gondoliers born in Venice.

Instead Caroline works for Row Venice, a group of female rowers who have banded together to teach the sport to others. Many are award winning rowers who participate in regattas worldwide, including Caroline. She is also a painter and sculptor.

We learned to row a batellina

We learned to row a batellina

Our lesson took place on a traditional, hand-crafted Venetian batellina. These were the typical boats used to ferry people and supplies throughout Venice until motor boats came along.

Batellinas are flat and stable, and make great boats to learn on. They are also far less gaudy than the gondolas most people find themselves on, which are fashioned after boats used by nobles and other important people.

Our 90-minute lesson took place on the functional canals that Venetians use to run supplies to their doors or get to work. As we puttered along, we saw a lumber yard, a school and a dry dock.

Two people can row together

Two people can row together

The boat itself has two positions for rowing. Solo rowers stand at the back like in a canoe. Two people can also row at the same time with one person standing towards the front.

We rowed out into the lagoon, and were surprised to find how shallow it is. In some places the lagoon is no deeper than 50 cm. We plunged our oar into the water and were able to touch the bottom.

We got to see a side of Venice most tourists don't see

We got to see a side of Venice most tourists don’t see

Rowing itself was pretty easy when in the forward position. But the back required a bit more balance, and we all needed a couple more hours to really get the hang of it!

Learning to row was not cheap, but it was certainly a lot better value than a 20 minute gondola ride. We got to understand a bit more about everyday life in Venice, and hang out on the water!

3 Comments on “Learning to gondolier

  1. What a great idea to take lessons! We’ll remember to check that out next time we’re in Venice.
    I was on a gondola once. When we still lived in Calgary and Alina was a baby.
    We went to visit my parents and went on a holiday to Italy, one stop being Venice. I remember my sister saying: “You never took us on a gondola ride when we were Kids! Now you take Alina, although she’s not even a year old!”
    She wasn’t complaining though – because that was our first (and only) gondola ride in our lives so far :O)

  2. Great pictures of you all on the gondola! It must be very difficult to maneuver!
    My sister was in Venice February for the Carnival, she said it was awesome to see all the fancy dress, masks and the magic of the city come together with its people!

    • Totally amazing places you have been visiting, not to mention what you have been doing as well. What a nice family picture of all of you on the gondola (how many people can say they have done that). Wonderful opportunity to be able to see more “behind the scenes” of Venice too!

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