What could be better than a Venice gondola ride at sunset? How about learning to row and steer the gondola yourself?
What’s the iconic thing to do in Venice? Take a gondola ride. In our heads we have visions of the striped shirt gondolier serenading us with the likes of “Amore” or another Italian love song as we glide romantically through the pristine canals of the city. Tell me this isn’t on your bucket list!
It was definitely on mine, but I had been a few years ago with my girls and some friends. We attended Carnivale, and oh was it crowded and fun. At that point, we did hire a gondola, and after I got over the sticker shock of way too many Euros, I settled back in my seat closely clutching my daughters to me, because it was so darn cold!
The Ultimate Gondola Experience in Venice Italy
We took the typical gondola tour through some of the back canals for about 30 minutes, and had a chance to marvel at the elaborate carnival costumes from the water. We really enjoyed it, but when Jim and I went back I wasn’t sure I needed to shell out the big money again for something I’d done. The problem with not always traveling together, though, is Jim had never taken a gondola ride. I did some searching online, and I found an alternate experience, something I thought we both would really enjoy. It still was not going to be cheap, but at least we were doing something new and a little different.
We came across a chance to learn how to pilot a traditional fishing boat called a batellina, not a gondola. The batellina is a sleek, wooden boat with a shrimp-shaped tail. It is piloted similar to the gondola, and used to be the traditional boat that all Venetians would own. Nowadays there are only a few left, but there is a tour company that has a couple of them and they will take you out and teach you how to row and steer.
Jim and I love to learn new things, especially things that are rooted in the local culture, so we were keen to try this. We perused the Row Venice website to choose our experience. Luckily, we were able to pick a tour that suited our quest for knowledge and learning new skills, along with our love for Italian food and wine. We booked an evening lesson, and our guide met us, gave us a quick safety lesson, and got us out on the water by 5:00 PM. Then we spent the next hour or so taking turns learning how to drive the Venetian boat.
Our instructor took us out into the Canale Grande, which was a bit intimidating because of all the big ships that go racing past. Luckily, she would take the helm if the water got a bit choppy, but other than that Jim and I had fun trying to steer and pole the boat where it needed to go.
After the lesson, our guide took us through some of the canals of Cichetto Row, where we stopped at two local pubs, called bacari. She then ran in to get us some cicchetti, or appetizers, and some local wines. Here, she took over the rowing duties completely while we munched and sipped our way through the dusky canals, watching the locals hanging out in this quiet section of the city.
The views from the batellina, down on the water, were so much different than walking alongside the canals. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was even a bit romantic as well.
So back to the question…While in Venice do you want to have a gondola ride or not?
To hire a gondola, the official gondola prices begin at 80 Euros per boat for about a 40 minute ride, and this is good for up to four people. If you want to go longer or if you want to take a sunset gondola ride, your cost will of course go up.
What we did was book our lesson for sunset, so sunset cruise, check. It was a lesson where both Jim and I got to try our hand at steering and rowing the boat, check. And, we also got to see a quieter neighborhood of Venice while trying out some local snacks and wine, check. All this cost us about 240 Euros. Doing the math, you will definitely notice that it was not cheaper than a gondola, but for us and in particular, Jim, it was okay. We loved it.
What would you do? Gondola or batellina lesson?
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