Saturday, 16 November 2013

GONDOLAS 4 ALL! Arrive at Your Hotel by Gondola

(Venice, Italy) There are many ways to arrive at the entrance to watery city of Venice: by airplane, car, bus, boat taxi, cruise ship, train, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle and by foot. But once inside the historic center, there is only one method of transportation that still remains from ancient times: the gondola.

"The Venetian gondola is as free and graceful, in its gliding movement, as a serpent." 

That sentence was written by Mark Twain, known as "the father of American literature," in his travel book, The Innocents Abroad, published in 1869, nearly 150 years ago. Samuel Clemens used "Mark Twain" as his pen name -- the cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms -- inspired by his days piloting a steamboat on the Mississippi River. Twain arrived in Venice by rail from Milan, just as the sun was setting. From the end of Chapter XXI:

And sure enough, afloat on the placid sea a league away, lay a great city, with its towers and domes and steeples drowsing in a golden mist of sunset."

The Grand Canal of Venice by Eduord Manet (1875)
Back then, before the age of motors, the gondola was the only way visitors could move around the waters of the lagoon. After his initial disappointment upon boarding a gondola at the train station, Twain swiftly changed his mind:

"I began to feel that the old Venice of song and story had departed forever. But I was too hasty. In a few minutes we swept gracefully out into the Grand Canal, and under the mellow moonlight the Venice of poetry and romance stood revealed. Right from the water's edge rose long lines of stately palaces of marble; gondolas were gliding swiftly hither and thither and disappearing suddenly through unsuspected gates and alleys; ponderous stone bridges threw their shadows athwart the glittering waves. 

Illustration from The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
There was life and motion everywhere, and yet everywhere there was a hush, a stealthy sort of stillness, that was suggestive of secret enterprises of bravoes and of lovers; and clad half in moonbeams and half in mysterious shadows, the grim old mansions of the Republic seemed to have an expression about them of having an eye out for just such enterprises as these at that same moment. Music came floating over the waters--Venice was complete."

View from the steps of the train station
These days, when you arrive in Venice from the train station, the initial impression is even more chaotic than in Twain's time. The train stops after making the journey across the lagoon, rattling across the causeway that links Venice to the mainland. You gather your bags, and wheel them through the bustle of the station, through jostling crowds and distorted announcements blaring over the loud speaker. You walk out the door of the station, arrive at the top of the stairs and, instead of a vista of four-wheeled vehicles on paved roads, you are greeted by hordes of people sprawled across steps, or rushing to the station, the loud grind of the water buses called vaporetti banging to a stop out on the Grand Canal, the jockeying the boat taxis and the Alilaguna boat from the aiport, and, finallly a vision of... water. It can be a bit unsettling.

Venice has been compared to Disneyland, but I like to call it the Magic Kingdom. And the best way to begin your journey into this mysterious city would be to follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain, and take a gondola to your hotel: "It was a beautiful picture--very soft and dreamy and beautiful." This is a service that used to exist, but like many things in life, gradually faded from memory.

French travel ad by Hugo d'Alesi (1899)
Then, recently on Trip Advisor, someone asked if it could be done -- if they could take a gondola from the train station to the Bauer Hotel on the opposite side of town. First there was the usual chorus of nays -- one "designation expert" said he "loathed" gondolas! Another said that there was no gondola station at the train station, a statement I knew to be false. However, there were also plenty of people who were supportive, including yours truly -- I confess to being an old-fashioned romantic. I thought, what a great idea! Why not? If you are a regular reader of Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog, you will know that I have worked with the gondoliers in the past. I presented the request to them, and at first they, too, said no. I asked, "Why? Centuries ago you picked people up at their palace and dropped them off at the casino. Why not now?"

Apparently the problem is that these days gondoliers must begin and end their trip from the same point otherwise "we will fight everyday," as one gondolier told me. So, even though the gondoliers at the train station could transport people to another location, they would have to return empty so as not to intrude on another gondolier's territory. I said, "Well, I would pay extra to arrive at my hotel by gondola, and I'm sure other people would, too." So, together, we decided to try an experiment and see if there is an interest in this service.

Gondola Station at Santa Lucia, the Venice Train Station
First off, there is, indeed, a gondola station at the train station, it's just that these days there is so much chaos it gets lost in the sea of modernity. But if you look just to the right of the Scalzi Bridge, you will see it. If you begin your journey from that entrance to the Magic Kingdom, you will enter an enchanted world only visible to a certain few. From Mark Twain:

"...We sit in the cushioned carriage-body of a cabin, with the curtains drawn, and smoke, or read, or look out upon the passing boats, the houses, the bridges, the people, and enjoy ourselves much more than we could in a buggy jolting over our cobble-stone pavements at home. This is the gentlest, pleasantest locomotion we have ever known."

These days there are no curtains on the gondola (maybe we should bring that back, too:), and the horse and buggy have transformed into motorized traffic jams, but otherwise the experience remains the same. The gondola is an ancient method of transportation that still exists today, a boat created specifically to navigate the waters of the Venetian lagoon. The gondola is a transport to a world of enchantment.

"...I am afraid I study the gondolier's marvelous skill more than I do the sculptured palaces we glide among. ... His attitude is stately; he is lithe and supple; all his movements are full of grace. When his long canoe, and his fine figure, towering from its high perch on the stern, are cut against the evening sky, they make a picture that is very novel and striking to a foreign eye."

The gondoliers at the train station insisted that I take the trip before I wrote about it so I would see how enchanting their particular route was. So I took it on my way to the artist Ludovico De Luigi's opening, and arrived in Campo San Moisè just about 6:45PM after the leaving the train station a little after 6:00PM. I snuggled into a blanket and relaxed into the cushioned seat. We crossed the Grand Canal and headed down a small side canal, eavesdropping on the conversations of the passersby, and peeking into windows. It was so quiet, all you could hear was the oar dipping into the water and the church bells ring at 6:15. After about 20 minutes, we burst out onto the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge majestic in the distance, then back down a small canal past some of the most prestigious locales in Venice, including the house where Mozart once stayed. The route was as Mark Twain described: "It was a beautiful picture--very soft and dreamy and beautiful."

The gondoliers decided that the price for this service would be 140 euro during the low season to go from the train station to a hotel near San Moise, the campo where the Bauer Hotel is located, and 160 during the high season.The price to arrive at the front water door of the hotels located on the Grand Canal in that part of town -- the Monaco, the Bauer Palazzo, the Europa Regina, the Gritti Palace, etc. -- would be 180 euro during the low season and 200 euro during high season simply because the journey is longer, and the gondoliers must go back empty to the train station. For hotels like the Aman Canal Grande which are closer to the train station, the price would be less, and for hotels like the Danieli, which are very far, the price would be much more, if not exorbitant. High season is during Daylight Savings Time and low season is Standard Time. The price is per gondola for up to four -- not six -- people, since there must be room for the luggage. And all of that information is subject to change, since this is a new experiment.

The gondoliers can also take you to your hotel if you arrive in Piazzale Roma by land taxi, car or bus because there is a gondola station there, too.

Rio dei Mendicati, Venice by John Singer Sargent (1899)
If you would like to join us in this experiment, to make a reservation, email The gondoliers and their friend, Giorgia, are handling that email. Be prepared to tell them your time of arrival. You will then be given a phone number to call in case your train is late, or there is inclement weather. Gondolas travel in all types of weather, during the entire year, but in the case of acqua alta (high water) or heavy rain, other arrangements will be made. Payment is in cash, in euro, upon disembarking. If you are late without calling them, you will lose your gondola and have to wait for the next available one instead of having your watery chariot waiting to whisk you away upon arrival.

If you have questions, email, which I will check periodically since I can write and understand English better than they can:)

As I say, this is a new experiment, so there are bound to be some kinks that need to be worked out, but for those of us who believe in imagination and wonder, there is no better entrance into Venice than by gondola.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog


  1. Venice has been compared to Disneyland, but I like to call it the Magic Kingdom. And the best way to begin your journey into this mysterious city would be to follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain, and take a gondola to your hotel: "It was a beautiful picture--very soft and dreamy and beautiful." This is a service that used to exist, but like many things in life, gradually faded from memory.

  2. Venice was the first MAGIC KINGDOM!

  3. No Doubt, Venice is most beautiful and magic city of Italy. I am really so impressed by the way you explained here some interesting facts on Venice along with theses so beautiful pictures.
    Hotel In Indore