Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Traffic jam with a view
Getting stuck on the Grand Canal in Venice
It's 5:45 p.m. and we're in noisy rush-hour traffic, Venice-style.
My wife and I and our 10-year-old daughter are in a gondola at the mouth of the Grand Canal -- the nexus of water transport in this Italian city of 118 islands and 448 bridges.
We're only a few boat lengths away from the rows of docks where every day thousands of tourists pay to hop in a gondola and the jostling for positioning starts.
Since these waterways are heaving with gondolas and the craft aren't equipped with horns, gondoliers standing at the back deftly working the single oar are yelling at each other in Italian.
We'd like to think our gondolier, Enrico Busetto, is screeching that his customers are the most important so please give right of way.
But the reality is he doesn't want a collision and the sooner he can get us around the corner and into the narrower and quieter Santa Maria Formsoa Canal and back he can take on more paying customers.
Don't get me wrong, we adore our half-hour gondola ride and it was surreal to be gliding over some of the world's most fabled waterways in this unique boat.
But it isn't at all what we expected.
With our daughter in tow we weren't exactly anticipating a moon-lit romantic escape with champagne and serenading Italian.
But neither did we expect the cacophony of this ancient mode of transportation put to a comedic backdrop of tourism, commerce and chaos.
The gondola itself was a surprise.
I know what they look like from a million tourist brochures, TV shows and movies, but stepping into the real thing revealed a black boat that had lost a bit of its original sheen.
The red upholstery on the bench and chair seating was slightly faded and tattered and reminiscent of a 1700s Venetian boudoir.
When we enter the smaller, narrower canal there's still lots of traffic, but there's only room for gondolas single file.
This is where our gondolier Enrico puts on a show.
With a sweep of his arms, flick of his wrists and roll of his hands he glides the vessel through the passageway.
To this poetry in motion he regularly paces up and down his little Persian-carpeted runway in the back to achieve the right torque on the oar; occasionally has to use his foot to push off a wall so gondola and building don't crash; and is forever ducking and weaving so he doesn't bonk his head as we squeeze under bridge after bridge.
Our time on the canals is part of the Doge's Palace, St.Mark's Basilica and Gondola Ride excursion we pick while in Venice on a 12-day Mediterranean cruise aboard the Disney Magic.
Seems every tourist in Venice this day is after the same trifecta of the city's greatest hits.
But being on a Disney excursion means special treatment.
We bypass the long line to tour the Doge's Palace with guide Rosanna Colombo, who tells us Doges were the king's representative in Venice while he was off partying in Constantinople.
At St. Mark's Basilica we also line cut to take in 8,000 square metres of gold and mosaics..
Similarly the excursion means we walk right up docks to waiting gondolas for our rides.
There are even front row seats on the patio at Al Todaro restaurant in ultra-busy St. Mark's Square awaiting us when we return so we can people watch and eat gelato.
Disney Magic's Mediterranean cruises stops not just in Venice, but Barcelona, the South of France, Naples, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Croatia and Malta.
It's the perfect way to take in the Med's history and beauty and get that Disney quality in excursions and everything onboard from food and entertainment to pools and spa.
(DisneyCruise.com and Venice-Tourism.com)
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 E1
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