By Marty Martindale
Venice is sinking while the sea is rising, many say, so catch Venice while you can. There’s no other city like it!
We booked a room at the splendid, yet curious, Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal and had one day there before we boarded Holland America’s Zuiderdam, for a cruise out the Grand Canal and an overnight journey to Dubrovnik, Croatia. During our short visit, we had two goals: check out the food and photograph lots of gondolas, hopefully some gondola traffic jams.
Before we arrived, we learned Venice is made up of 100 islands, connected by more than 400 bridges over 150 canals. The Grand Canal cuts through the center of the City, the home of 268,993 people. Beyond limited land entrances at the northern edge of the city, transportation within the city remains dependent entirely upon water transport. Her small airport is the Marco Polo airport, and most visitors take a water taxi to their hotels.
With only a handful of bridges crossing the Grand Canal’s four-kilometer length, Venetians rely on gondola ferries called traghettis. Today gondolas are for tourists—locals use them for weddings and other big occasions.
We wanted a general idea of popular menu items in the gondola city. Here is a group of items:
(Fresh pasta with a simple sauce of garlic, oil and a few anchovies)
* Spaghetti co le Bibarasse
(Spaghetti with white clam sauce)
* Fegato alla Veneziana
(Veal liver sliced thin and sautéed with onions)
(Pasta with duck sauce)
* Baccalà Mantecato
(Clams, tasty baby octopus)
(Boiled veal cartilage served with oil and vinegar)
(Typical large salami, often served on a square of warm polenta)
* Pasta e Fagiole
(Thick soup made with beans and pasta)
* Zupppa di Pesce
(Fish soup with saffron)
* Radicchio alla Griglia
(Grilled red endive from nearby Treviso, on the mainland)
* Risotto alle Seppie
(Black rice colored by ink from cuttlefish)
* Caparossoli in Cassopipa
(Clams with parsley)
Once we had the food squared away, we were ready to go gondola hunting. It seems, back in the sixteenth century as many as 10,000 gondolas traveled the canals of Venice. The earliest ones had a little house-like shelter in the middle to keep passengers warm or for privacy. Later larger steam-powered boats came into service. Today gondolas do battle with the public water conveyances called vaporettos and small boats which serve as water taxis. Venice’s gondola fleet has dwindled to a low 450.
Gondaliers take a lot of pride in their craft, polishing them to a high luster believing it increases their earnings. They also carefully furnish their chariots of romance with special carvings, brocades, an elaborately upholstered love seat, decorative rugs and bright plastic flowers. Plain, black exteriors are mandatory by the city.
Gondoliers balance deftly, work swiftly and know their craft like the back of their hand. They maneuver with only one pole. This single oar pivots on a carved wooden oarlock called a forcola. With this simple equipment, these men skillfully guide their long boats through some very congested, narrow canals and under bridges each designed to clear a standing gondolier. We observed no collisions, even scraps. All gondolas measure 11 meters, weigh 600 kilos, made from 280 pieces of eight different types of wood. The boat’s bottom is flat for shallow situations and its shape asymmetrical with a larger left side. Though not mechanical, Gondolas receive regular maintenance.
The gondola’s bow has a dwarfed Viking look. This six-pronged iron ornament, called a ferro, has two functions. One is it acts as a counter-balance for the gondolier’s weight, second its shape represents the profile of the city of Venice.
When tourists arrange a ride, gondola operators must show passengers the route they will take before they ride. Charges are around 80 euros for 45 minutes. Tourists may hire gondolas for individuals, couples or groups up to six. Not all gondoliers are resounding baritones, however there are some. Just ask. (They exhibit so much talent just jockeying those gondolas, a solo-quality singing voice is almost asking too much.)
The following morning, we took a water taxi from the Hotel Monaco to Holland America’s Zuiderdam, where left late in the afternoon for many Mediterranean Ports and an Atlantic crossing into Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
For More Information
* Holland America Line
* Monaco Hotel, Venice