We wake up kinda late and have pizza and coffee for brunch. Well, I order a latte and get steamed milk.
Italy travel tip #1: Learn your coffee order. This may take a little research before you get to the country. Trust me. It’s worth the extra effort.
The pizza is only okay but on the way to the bus stop we also pass by a gelateria. I get half lemon, half some Ferreira-Roche-esque-flavor. And the gelato is on point!
We take the bus to Venizia and cross the bridge into the island. By the train station there are so many tourists I can hardly see the city and I am almost disappointed..
We buy a 24 hour public transit pass and wait in the terminal/port for Venice’s form of public transportation..Which is a boat labeled with comprehensive stops much like an actual subway but much cooler.. because it is a boat. Getting around this way is much slower than an actual subway, but so much more pleasant!
(Especially if you sit on the outside seats at the back or front)
Plus, you’re in Italy! What is punctuality anyways?
We actually do have somewhere to be but luckily we left early and the island is pretty small. Also as soon as we leave the train station there are no more crowds of people, and the city is very quiet. We get off at our stop and follow the directions to the gondola rowing class Caroline signed us up for online.
Every single building in Venice is unique. Every nook and alley is dripping with personality and romance. The windows are long and open. The buildings are colorful but not loud. The only sounds you hear are the sounds of the canal water gently rocking the parked traditional row boats or a passerby hum as they walk their dog. It is the most peaceful city environment I’ve ever witnessed.
We walk to the bridge where we are to meet our instructor and sit on some steps by the water. We talk about what it would be like to live here. We talk about going home. We decide not to talk about going home anymore, because the thought is kind of unbearable.
Our instructor arrives and she is a middle aged Italian woman. We’ll call her Marcella. Marcella says that her English is not very good, but I find it to be pretty impressive. She takes us out to a dock that is mostly full of tiny motorboats and walks up to a small flat wooden boat. She says everyone only knows the gondola, but that this boat is the batellina. The batellina is apparently a Venetian boat (unlike the gondola which is not originally Venitian and mostly just used now for tourism). It is very shallow and something about its structure is supposedly better for women rowers. The organization that Marcella works for is called Row Venice. It is operated entirely by women. It is a non-profit organization and Marcella is not getting paid for giving us this lesson. She is a middle school teacher by trade. The reason that she spends her valuable free time teaching tourists (and young locals) how to row is because Marcella loves Venice. It is her home. She wants the tradition of rowing to remain alive. As we can see on the dock many people have started to use motorboats which isn’t bad as long as the motorboats remain about the same size as the batellinas and gondolas. But many of the boats are large and make passing each other in the narrow side canals pretty impossible. Also row boats can only go so fast, while motorboats can easily surpass the 11m speed limit. These boats have the potential to (and many times do) make rowing really difficult, as we are about to learn.
Marcella hops right aboard the rocking boat and easily stands on the raised back edge.
I don’t know if I have mentioned this yet, but I’m pretty much permanently off balance. It is not uncommon for me to trip over my own feet.. Or stumble while just standing. I am hopeless at all sports, I only recently learned how to balance myself on a bike (shakily).. And… well, you get the idea.
The thought of having to stand on the flat platform atop the boat actually kind of terrifies me even though Marcella informs us that the water is only one meter deep at its deepest points.
I don’t care how shallow it is.
I still don’t want to fall in.
Luckily, not only does it take two to tango, but it also takes two rowers to propel this thing! Marcella stands on the back platform while Caroline and I take turns manning the front end which is inside the shallow curve of the boat and where I feel slightly more comfortable. Before we leave Marcella teaches us about the history of the boat itself. She also gives us some information on her organization as well. She shows us how to stand and how to maneuver the impossibly long ores. She pulls out a heavy sculpture like wooden piece and attaches it to the side of the batellina. It is basically a really fancy (really expensive) ore holder. It is apparently really important that this piece be high quality and you know a good one when the maker burns his signature into its side. After a few practice movements, she pushes the boat away from the dock and we are rowing down the canals of Venice. To effectively move the boat, you have to propel it with your whole body..without using too much strength or you will cause the boat to start steering to the right. Marcella says the person standing on the back of the boat is the captain of sorts and is in control of “steering”. The person at the front is the “crew”. These two must work together as a team and follow a set rhythm to steer the boat straight. It takes communication to slow down, speed up or turn. She sings a traditional Venetian row song to help us find our rhythm. She says there are different songs for different types of boats as the length of the strokes it takes to propel each boat varies. She points out all the different types of parked row boats that we pass and tells us each boats origin and history.
One row boat is extra long and takes eight drivers!
She tells us that she tried to get a traditional boat made for her son as he is learning how to row one now and will one day need his own. She says that the craftsmen told her that they have lost the models needed to craft these boats. They said the models have been misplaced from lack of use as these types of boats have become increasingly outdated. This makes Marcella very sad. She says she would like to have another model made for them but it would be difficult and very expensive.
We row down small deserted canals around the outskirts of Venice until we row right out of the city and onto a large body of water marked with various wooden posts. “Want to try taking this way back?” She asks us with excitement in her voice.
Caroline and I agree. This area of water has a lot more traffic and some of the boats are a lot bigger than the boats inside the city. Once we have started to row into the heart of it all, Marcella warns us that this is the “autobahn”
of Venice and that we must row quickly and follow the marked paths. A white ski boat (I don’t know much about boats but ski boat sounds about right) whizzes by the front of us. Our shallow wooden batalla rocks violently in waves the ski boat creates. Now I understand the importance of those speed limits. I lose my footing and my ore keeps getting knocked off the wooden plank. We make it to a safe shallow area of water where the motorboats cannot go. Here Marcella stabs the ore straight down to show us that the water is only about 100 centimeters deep. She asks if we want to try rowing the back and I agree. As soon as I stand up on the platform I am regretting this decision. The water is much more turbulent in the wake of all the various motorboats traveling near us and I keep almost losing my footing. With me in the back of the ship and Caroline up front, Marcella jokes that she is the tourist now.
My arms are surprisingly sore by this point. Being around all of these other boats is starting to make me nervous. Especially as Caroline and I are steer our boat in a haphazard zigzag pattern like drunk gondoliers. Luckily, Caroline and I soon switch positions and it is time to head back to down the city canals. We don’t row all the way back to the dock but “parallel park” the boat instead. She took our picture with my phone several times during the ride and thanks us for taking her class. She says a portion of the money we spent on the class will go towards a new boat for the organization. She says it is important for people to enjoy the class and to share their experience with others to keep people talking about rowing and to keep rowing alive.
Row Venice everyone!
After our lesson, which was a bit of a workout, we go for pizza on the crowded shopping street. The pizza here is much better than this morning and I have a glass of Chianti as well. (Because Chianti is made in Chianti, Italy. Duh.)
I am going to miss cheap European wine.
After this we have gelato again.
(Caroline’s chocolate addiction has turned into a gelato addiction in Italy. And Caroline’s gelato addiction has turned into my gelato addiction.)
Then we purposefully get lost and wander around the alleys of Venice. Eventually we end up back on the Main Street and as we are walking to catch a subway-boat we find a fresh pressed juice stand. Which has heat lamps, stools, bright lights, cute staff, and is playing early millennium hip-hop. Yes please. Upon further inspection of the menu we realize that it’s a juice BAR and that they serve fresh-pressed-juice-cocktails as well.
Umm.. YES PLEASE.
After two vohitos and some veggie juice, Caroline and I want to go dancing. We ask the staff where to go and they say the best places for dancing are off the island. We have to leave for Rome in the morning and we are exhausted, so we decide to stick with our original plan of heading back to the hostel. We board a subway bus and I stand on its edge letting the wind blow my hair back. We pass open apartment windows filled with brightly painted rooms, art, and couples eating together by the windows. We pass under bridges and the lights from the windows reflect on the water causing it to twinkle like a starry sky. I do not miss France in Venice. I do not want for anything in Venice. I cannot think of anything worth worrying about in Venice. In Venice, you can only be relaxed or in love. I never want to leave. We ride the subway for a long time just because it is enjoyable and then Caroline sees the basilica San Marco.
We get off the boat and figure out which one will go by the basilica. We ride to the building and walk around its border. We sit on its steps and talk. We catch our last boat back to the bridge and board the same bus.
We go back to our awkward 60 year old Finnish roommate who seems to have come to Venice only to smoke cigarettes and hangout in our hostel room. She says she has come to escape the winter. We tell her that we are going to Rome. She says she might go there as well. That night we sleep too well and wake up way past our alarm clock’s first ring. It is time to bid Venizia adieu. I again wait for tears which I am sure will come, but I still do not cry.
Not even as our train pulls out of the station. Not even for Venice.