A Gondola ride…a classic thing to do in Venice and one thing that hordes of tourists schedule into their trip. I wanted a more intimate look at Venetian Rowing and a longer time on the canals in a flat-bottomed boat. So we signed up for a rowing lesson with “Venice on Board”. Above you can see a picture of our instructor, Stefano. Boats in Venice are flat-bottomed as the canals are so shallow a keeled boat could get stuck.
We met Stefano in his workplace where he explained about Venetian boat building and the history of boats in Venice. Above you can see him giving us an explanation of the forcula which is a cross between an oarlock and a gearshift. Each one is crafted to fit the physical build of the rower. They run $1,000 and up and every gondolier has his own.
Then we were off to the boat and the canals.
Stefano explained that when you row you are engaging in a dance with the boat and the sea. What a lovely way to think about it. He could row the boat with four of us on board with two fingers and the boat would just glide through the water with little effort. Rowing has a Zen quality to it. You are one with the boat and the oar and the water…how lovely!
We received a demonstration of how to fit the oar in the forcula and the motion necessary to keep it there and propel the boat forward or backward. After we all had a chance to try that, with Stefano’s expert instruction, and get a feel for the water we headed out into the canal. My Hubby was a natural and in no time he was propelling us silently through the water with only an occasional slip. Then our Friend was next and that was a bit more of a struggle. Then it was my turn and it seems I am not as Zen as I thought I was. My Friend and I are yoga people so I thought we’d have an edge. Apparently not. LOL.
It took a lot more coordination and concentration than you think after watching Stefano but it was soothing and tranquil to be on the water in one of the most beautiful cities in the world…although I think I would need a lot more practice to be able to dance with the boat.
We were on the water for about an hour and a half on quiet canals and busy ones. Fortunately, we just had to concentrate on rowing and not steering. Stefano did that so we didn’t hit anything and we didn’t have to worry. Made the experience so much more enjoyable. As we danced through the canals Stefano told us of the history of rowing and how Venetians are losing this wonderful art to the modern day motor boat.
We went under many bridges. Some are so low because of the settling of Venice that the rower has to duck to get through to prevent hitting your head. The light on the canals is beautiful at any time of day and there is always a breeze when you are rowing on the canal. Motor boats sped by us but we were in our own little world of bygone days, reliving the past and learning about a craft that is passing into history.
If you are in Venice, you can book a rowing lesson with Stefano or one of his colleagues. Stefano speaks wonderful English so there is no trouble communicating. You can contact Stefano Gallina at Veniceonboard@gmail.com or
http://www.veniceonboard.it or call +39 342 9610166
It’s a wonderful experience and you will understand a bit more about Venice and Venetians while seeing the canals from a different perspective.