How not to get gondoliered


It pains me to write this, but I hope that doing so will serve some useful purpose.

Gondoliers are arguably the symbol of Venice, and as such could be expected to evince a sense of the importance of same.  That’s just my opinion.

What is not opinion, but fact, is that they are independent, masters of their own boats, lords of their lives, and — yes — of their money.  I mean, of your money.

I know a good number of gondoliers and can attest that many are fine, professional people and first-rate ambassadors for their amazing city.  Among other things, they’re often the first to fish tourists out of the canals when the said tourists have misjudged the slipperiness of the algae on that stone step, or to have miscalculated other maneuvers.

You can see the required card impaled by the small flag on the prow. Seeing does not mean reading.

Then there are the others. There are some that easily inspire apprehension, who resemble inmates out on a work-release program, with boats to match.  But don’t be distracted by the externals, because how a gondolier behaves depends on many and easily shifting factors apart from his housekeeping and personal care, and you don’t want to find yourself in the middle when the shifting is going on.

I wouldn’t bring it up at all, but there has been a recent situation here, amply reported in the Gazzettino, in which a gondolier charged a Russian couple 400 euros ($496) for a spin in his gondola that took less than an hour.  You could probably justify that price if you included a bottle of the Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck champagne poured into Baccarat flutes while the gondolier rowed you to Trieste singing the “Improvviso” from Andrea Chenier.

Then again, he could skip all that and just ask for the dough.  Which he did.

As you see by the rates standardized by the Ente Gondola, the gondoliers’ sort-of governing body, he should have asked 80 euros, or 100 euros, depending on the time of day.

But no.

People tend to be intimidated by gondoliers.  People need to get past that.  The Ente Gondola has tried to help, by insisting that the gondoliers exhibit the price scale.  Most gondoliers have done so, by attaching a piece of plastificated paper 5 1/2 inches square to the prow of their boat — a place a potential passenger isn’t likely to approach, even if armed with the necessary magnifying glass to read the type.

This card measures 5 1/2 inches square.

And it’s printed on both sides, so you’d have to turn it over to get the complete information.

Let’s move on to the happy ending: The Russian couple registered a complaint and got their money back, with a promise from the Ente Gondola of a free ride next time.  To which I’m pretty sure they replied “There’s not going to be a next time.”  It doesn’t sound better in Russian.

So here’s the simplest solution.  Let’s say that you and a gondolier have begun to converse.   Whether you approached him or vice versa, you’re talking about money.

He mentions a figure that doesn’t sound like what is printed on the Ente Gondola’s site.  So you say, “Would you please show me the rates printed on the card on your gondola?”

If he doesn’t have the card on his gondola, you move on.  If he has it but can’t explain why the rate he quoted you doesn’t match what’s printed, you move on. No need for complicated discussions or heated words.  It’s a big world, and there will always be another gondolier.


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  1. Nora Young
    Twitter: daphtbat

    Very useful for a return visit to Venice ….. You may know that a gondola was one of the man-powered craft in the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant on Saturday, Details I can find are here:
    ‘Marisa Cristiano A traditional black ‘tourist’ gondola, Marisa Cristiano, was made in Venice in 1985 by Gioponi, a famous boat‐builder of the time, now sadly dead. Her gondolier used her to ply the canals of Venice for hire for 17 years until he retired in 2003. She was then sold to a man who owned an Italian restaurant adjacent to the canal in Birmingham. The waiters were taught to row by the gondolier in the famous cornetto advert of 25 years ago. After the restaurant closed, Marisa Cristiano was bought by City Barge, an interestingly different rowing club, dedicated to rowing beautiful and sometimes, historic boats…. .She is available to give rides on the River Thames and the River Cherwell ‘

  2. Nora Young
    Twitter: daphtbat

    PS I can send a picture ….. Nora

  3. Andrew @ Blogging Guide
    Twitter: andrewrondeau


    I visited Venice 25 years ago and did go on a gondola. I have no idea how much it cost but 400 euros! That gonola owner should have his license taken away (if they have to have a license!).

    I do like the fact they have a price list – that helps and as you say, if you don’t like it…move on.


    • Erla Zwingle says:

      They are discussing suspending him for a substantial period of time, though I don’t know if this decision has been made. And yes, they have licenses. I don’t know if anyone has ever had his license removed — this is a point I’ve never investigated. If I find out, I’ll pass the information along. Meanwhile, yes: Caveat emptor!

  4. Hello,

    There was at least a gondola (Marisa Cristiano), a balotina (Nicolotta) and a sort of articulated bus (disdatona) on the Thames. All of them are of venetian make, but only the latter was transported from Italy, by the Francesco Querini association. The smaller ones are british owned.

    There was much talk in the media about the 2012 pageant being modeled on a painting by the exiled venetian artist Canaletto. However the weather sided with the irish this time. Some rowboats couldn’t finish the track without tow due to the headwind and that was before much of the downpour happened. By the end of the event, probably even enemies were sorry for the old lady, considering what a shipwreck the spectacle became.

    As for the 400 euro scandal, the aquatic city has a fixed number of 445 gondolier guys and 1.5 gondolier girls. The whole system is feudal, corrupt and prone to abuses. I have no idea where their income goes, I saw a lot of cavalli greened by corrosion and poorly kept gondolas this end of May. On the other hand I heard the piece of paper pinned under the prow vase was the gondolier’s indiviual numbered licence?

    Maybe the ente could set up ticket booths, so the riders never pay directly to the gondolier. Why not integrate that with the IMOB card to end the mob problem? Considering the excessive cost of vaporetto passes, those should include one free gondola ride and unlimited traghetto!

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      The city has one female gondolier, a woman who passed all the tests and is working as a substitute. The other female who rows a gondola for pay works for a hotel. She is not, in my opinion, entitled to call herself a gondolier, or even, as you put it, half a gondolier. Or maybe anybody who ever picked up an oar could call him- or herself a gondolier. Just like if I took a flying lesson I could call myself a test pilot.