Not sure how long it took me to realize how quiet the 'city streets' are in Venice. No honking. No sirens. No tire noise or screeching of brakes . . .
The photos I took while riding in a gondola are hiding from me. I know I have them. I've looked at them, so these will just have to suffice for now.
The Grand Canal is the main street of Venice. Lined with beautiful, if aging, palazzo, you can hop aboard a gondola and imagine a time when these boats were the main means of transport (once there was 10,000 now there are 400). The impressive palazzo, homes to all the wealthy families, had highly decorated exteriors with colorful paintings and mosaics. These days they tend to have faded to one color but many still have the ornate, oriental facades influenced by the merchant trading with the East which made Venice rich.
Only a few bridges cross the Grand Canal: the Accademia Bridge, the Rialto Bridge, and the bridge near the station at Ferrovia. We stood and watched boats pass by filled with fruit and vegetables, pallets of soft drink, building materials, etc. because Venice is still a city without cars and everything the city needs has to be transported by water or handcart.
Gondolas are always painted black (six coats) — the result of a 17th-century law a Doge enacted to eliminate competition between nobles for the fanciest rig.
Each has unique upholstery, trim, and detailing, such as the squiggly-shaped, carved-wood oarlock (forcula) and metal "hood ornament" (ferro). The six horizontal lines and curved top of the ferro represent Venice's six sestieri (districts) and the doge's funny cap. You can see those lines in the photo above. It takes about two months to build a gondola.
The profession of gondolier is controlled by a guild, which issues a limited number of licenses granted after periods of training and apprenticeship. The wanna-be gonodolier must pass a major comprehensive exam which tests knowledge of Venetian history and landmarks, foreign language skills, and practical skills in handling the gondola typically necessary in tight spaces of Venetian canals as seen in the first photo.
There are about 400 licensed gondoliers. When one dies, the license passes to his widow.
And speaking of females, on August 2010, Giorgia Boscolo became Venice's first female gondolier.
Some of my favorite photos are of laundry hanging from the windows. It reminds of a time when that's how we dried our own laundry. Maybe not from a window, but I can still imagine that fresh smell in our clothes and it conjures up some wonderful memories.
There is that popular image of gondoliers singing, and ours did, but not all of them do. Here's a little story I heard: My mom asked our gondolier if he sang, and he replied: "Madame, there are the lovers and there are the singers. I do not sing."
Tips about gondolas and vaporetto and water taxis:
A standard gondola ride is 40 minutes, so if you negotiate for a lower fare, you'll end up with a shorter ride.
Gondola fares are higher at night.
Gondolas hold six people and can be shared without affecting the fee so you can save money by sharing a tariff with several people, but certainly not as romantic.
If you book a gondola ride through a hotel or agency, there's likely to be an additional fee built in to the price.
The best way to see the Grand Canal is from on the water. Catch a vaporetto (ferry) or a water taxi and sit out the front and take in the sights. Gondolas are more atmospheric but much more expensive and many of them do not stay out in the Grand Canal for very long.
Be sure to have a map telling you which palazzos you are passing. Makes it more interesting.