Friday, April 30, 2010

Squero San Trovaso - Even the Pusioli Get Worked On

Walking through the yard at Venice's most well-known squero,
I came upon this arm piece. These things come in pairs - one on each side of the passenger area. Often they are only held in place by the cavalli, which mount to the boat by way of a long rod that fits through each arm piece in the front.

There are many styles of pusioli.
This one looks like it may have come in on the rails of a wedding gondola, or one that's got some luxury appointments.

So while the gondola was being worked on, so was the arm piece, on little saw horses that look like they've probably got some stories of their own to tell.

As far as I can tell, pusioli are purely aesthetic.
Apart from providing a minor level of protection from crosswinds, these arm pieces seem to only be there to dress up the gondola. But they sure do that job well.
Often these and other parecio pieces will continue to dress gondola after gondola, living longer than the twenty to twenty-five years that most gondolas in Venice operate.
But like anything else made of wood, they need maintenance.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yes, it Really WAS Windy Last Night

My last post mentioned the windy conditions we experienced last night here in Newport and throughout Southern California. The morning after often produces stories of adventures on the water among gondoliers and other boaters. Last night gave us "one for the books", as it will go down in history as the night an oar snapped.
Tim at Sunset Gondola has preserved the story for posterity on his blog and it's well worth reading.
Check it out at Tales of the Gondola.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Shooting and Rowing

Tonight was one of the more technically challenging nights as far as wind is concerned - welcome fun but not so great for photography. It was gusty and coming in from different angles. I managed to row, sing, and shoot a camera full of blurry pictures. At one point I found a calm spot up one of the small canals and shot this image.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vincent Tummino Gets "Knighted" and the GSVVM Goes to Prague

While we've been talking here about Mexican food, Greek statues and wedding gondolas, Nereo Zane has put a few great posts up on his blog.

First, let me begin by congratulating Vincent Tummino on being inducted into the Cavalieri di San Marco recently in Venezia.
Anyone who wonders who Mr. Tummino is, needs only to search his name on the Gondola Blog to learn of his assistance and contributions to the 2007 Hudson River Expedition.
Now, with the legendary Vittorio Orio by his side, Vincent has a new title to add to his list: a list which includes New York City Firefighter and President and Ambassador of the International Columbia Association.

Photos of the induction ceremony are on Nereo's blog, along with...


In mid May, the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta in Mestre will be taking a contingent of boats and club members to one of Europe's most historic and popular cities.

Nereo will be going to Prague with the GSVVM as photographer (and probably rower too, I'm guessing).

Both stories are up on Nereo's blog.
Go check it out!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Golden Horse

I found a close-up of one of the gold cavalli from the wedding gondola post and thought it would make a nice follow up.
It turns out that after I shot a series of photos from the Rialto,
I encountered the same boat later on and took this picture.
This one's for Steve Roman. Hope you like it Steve!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What is a "Wedding Gondola"?

Over the years I've heard a lot of things about wedding gondolas - some true, some not quite accurate.
As the owner of one, I must confess some bias here; but despite that, one must admit - they are striking in their appearance, and prized by those who own them.

Contrary to a belief I've heard mostly in the US, they are not called wedding gondolas because weddings take place on-board.
This has been further confused because here in the US we do perform wedding ceremonies from time to time on gondolas, and yes, even on wedding gondolas. The wedding gondola (known in Venice as a "gondola da matrimonia") has traditionally been the preferred mode of transport for couples getting married in Venice. Customarily, they are carried to and from ceremonies, and in very traditional scenarios, where couples participate in a church wedding AND a civil ceremony (getting married both in the eyes of the church and the state), wedding gondolas ferry the bride and groom between the two weddings.

A wedding gondola shot from the Rialto Bridge.

So what makes a wedding gondola worthy of the name?

As with everything, there are plenty of opinions, but the most popular belief is that a wedding gondola must have a carved deck. Sure, almost every gondola has some sort of carving on her trasto da prua, but only wedding gondolas have additional carvings both on the bow and stern decks.
In fact some also have carved rails and other areas which are smooth on a standard gondola.

Most of the carvings on a gondola are performed by an artisan known as the intagiadòr, who in my opinion, has one of the coolest jobs in Venice. While most folks associated with boatbuilding work in their own shops, the intagiadòr comes to your shop. He brings his own tools, performs the job, makes the boat look incredible, and then he's done.
Conceivably, an intagiadòr could function with a bag of tools and little to no overhead.

Close-up of a wedding gondola at Squero San Trovaso in the process of having her deck carved. Notice the different colors of wood; typically a gondola is built using eight different types of wood - this means that an intagiadòr must be skilled in carving different woods and adjusting to the varying grains and densities.

Deck carvings range from scrollwork to intricately carved scenes featuring people and sea creatures. One of the most famous intagiadóri of all time went by the knickname of "Il Santo".
"Il Santo", or The Saint was known for his deck scenes featuring allegorical characters such as Neptune and mermaids.
Often the raised areas of the carved deck are painted in a high-gloss black, while the smooth background areas are painted in flat black - sometimes mixed to be a very dark gray (close enough to be considered "black", but with enough contrast to accentuate the carved areas).

Here's a rare shot of my wedding gondola just prior to a full restoration. After almost ten years in the sun, the "flat black" had degraded to wht you see here. Notice the allegorical characters - carved by "Il Santo".
Guilding and Plating
In Venice, wedding gondolas are usually owned by individual gondoliers, who treat them like the Ferrari in the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Because they are privately owned, these gondolas often have parecio of a more premium grade as well.
Cavalli are usually more robust, gold plating isn't uncommon, the pusioli tend to be unique and luxurious.
These gondolas will sometimes have impressive chairs which have also been carved to one degree or another, the decorative piece known as the "scimier" which sits atop the seat-back,
is usually present and more pronounced than on a standard gondola.
Fodra boards (those facia pieces which mount on the inside of the passenger area just below the rail), and the portela tend to be more impressively carved, and many of the gondola's removable parts will have some kind of accent in gold-leaf.

Typically, by the time a gondolier has established himself enough to commission his own gondola to be built, he has a pretty good idea of how he'd like his "ultimate gondola" to look.
If that guy has the means to pay for it, he does so, knowing that not only will he gain some respect among his peers, but he's more qualified to park that pedigreed beauty in front of one of Venice's premier hotels or restaurants, and a beautiful gondola with all the trimmings can also be an edge in the business of selling cruises.

A while back, Tamas wrote:
"Why isn't every gondola a wedding gondola? I mean rich decorations are probably a competitive advantage even in regular tourist use, which more than off-sets the higher investment and the extra maintenance."

I suppose if every gondola in Venice was privately owned by a successful gondolier, we'd see more of them, but gondolas aren't all built-to-order for a single owner; many are owned by cooperatives. I've even heard that some are treated almost like taxi cabs - with gondoliers in the traghetto rowing different boats throughout the week.
Here's a closer look at the stern of that wedding gondola shot from the Rialto - notice the carvings, not only on the stern deck, but also on the railing area known as the "nerva".
Extras like specialty carpets also show up on these boats -
the blue tapeto with yellow trim was probably custom made for the boat.

The additional weight associated with the parecio can add to the overall weight of the vessel, but nothing a skilled gondolier can't handle...especially if it means looking good. Some of those cavalli can really weigh a lot when they have to be carried by hand,
I believe most cavalli of such heft and value are secured into the boat, sometimes locked in. As for balance, they sit on either side of the boat and are situated fairly central between bow and stern.

One probable difference between the standard servizio boats and a decked-out wedding gondola would be the added work associated with dressing the boat, stowing the "good stuff" each night, and keeping it all shiny. Some of the larger cavalli not only cost a lot more, and weigh a lot more, they cost a mint to get plated. In order to plate a brass seahorse, siren, or trumpetting angel, it needs to be polished and prepped, plated in nickel, and THEN the gold plating goes on.
The plating alone can cost upwards of $800 per horse.

The care required to keep the carvings painted involves careful handsanding and two different types (or mixes) of paint.
The same holds true for areas that have gold-leaf.
Looking at the forward half of the wedding gondola shot from Rialto, we see gold-plated cavalli. We see more carvings, both on the bow deck and nerva. We can also spot gold-leaf, both on the portela and at the top of the trasto da prua.

On top of all that, the owners of these premium gondole often try to out-do each other.
All told, a wedding gondola parked in front of the Hotel Danieli or Bauer, or along the fondamenta near the Rialto, can reach ridiculous costs, but the benefits must outweigh the drawbacks, otherwise we wouldn't see any of them floating about.
Another shot of the prova of my wedding gondola here in Newport Beach. After restoration we weighed the options and decided to go with a full coating of gloss. Some time in the future I'll opt for a non-shiny "flat" finish in the background areas - maybe when I have fewer boats to maintain.
With or without the contrasting paints, carved decks attract attention (and dust).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Book was Closed in Rhodes

Last June my family and I stepped off a cruise ship and went ashore in the Greek port of Rhodes.
Located in the south-east region of the Greek Isles, Rhodes is closer to Turkey than the Greek mainland. Many people recognize the name of Rhodes, because of something that was there a long time ago - a "wonder". The "Colossus of Rhodes" was a huge statue that stood at the entry of the harbor as a tribute to the Greek diety of Helios.

The statue actually stood for less than sixty years before it tumbled; a casualty of the earthquake of 226BC. But when it stood, the Colossus of Rhodes was impressive - over 30 meters high it was the highest of all statues during ancient times.
This statue of Helios was so impresive that it was chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
I believe the reason most folks have heard of Rhodes is the Colossus.

When my family and I went ashore we hunted around until we found a cab driver who spoke english and had a good disposition, then the tour began.
As we were driving through the port we stopped at this church, which had an interesting carving on the outer wall of the campanile.

I shot this first photo from inside the taxi:

As I looked closer at the bell tower of the church, I noticed something familiar.
Anybody recognize this:

Yep! The Winged Lion is Venice's most elegant and classic way of saying "Kilroy was here" (an American graffiti which is believed to have originated in WWII).
I saw this and had to step out of the cab and change lenses.

I'm not sure exactly when this releif was put in place, but looking at it we can surmise a few things for certain:
Venice definitely ruled here once,
and when they did, they did so either by force, or without the cooperation of the people.

The Lion of St. Mark is always depicted holding a book.
In some cases the book is open, in others it's closed.
In Venice the book is always open unless you come upon something that was carved or printed during wartime - in which case the book is closed and the lion also brandishes a sword.

Outside Venice the Winged Lion can still be seen in places that were once Venetian territory.

I belive it was Bob Easton who explained to me that in places where the Venetian rule was welcomed, the book is open. But in places like Rhodes, the Winged Lion holds a closed book, signifying that while Venice came in and took control, the takeover wasn't exactly received with open arms.

Our taxi tour of the Island was great; it brought us to ancient ruins, cliff-hugging settlements of alabaster-white buildings, and the best gyros I have ever tasted. Before we left the port town I saw other Venetian iconography on the crowns of municipal buildings.

I'm pretty sure I'm only echoing the thoughts of many people now, when I say:
I can't help but wonder sometimes,
what it would be like if Venice had lived on.
If Napoleon had chosen not to bring it down,
or had failed in his attempt to defeat La Serenissima,
What would have happened?

Apart from all the speculation,
we know that Venice did once rule in Rhodes.
And when the Lion of St. Mark emblazoned the campanile of this church...the book was closed.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Venetian Rowing and Mexican Food

I spent the morning today rowing with Tim at Sunset Gondola.
The sun was shining, a breeze was blowing from the south-west, and we were hungry for Mexican food.
I shot a few photos overlooking the docks for starters.

At a semi-low tide the gondola closest casts a shadow on the floor of the marina, showing how these flat-bottomed boats are so well suited for shallow water.

One of the cool things about this gondola is the crushed walnut-shell non-skid on the poppa.

Tim and I got under way, rowing the little yellow sandolo like the "sports car" that she is. Such a fun boat!

As we rowed, Tim's cell phone rang and he looked at me with an "I gotta take this" look. I adjusted my stroke and Tim dropped down to a knee, opening his calendar book.

As the phone call progressed, I continued to row while Tim completed his booking.

Tim closed the book, dropped his phone on the floor, and got back to rowing. It was flawless - looked almost choreographed.

After that we docked at the other end of Huntington Harbour, tied up the boat, and went for lunch at Super Mex.
Two burritos later and we made our way back to the boat and rowed back to dock.

The yellow sandolo at dock during lunch.
It was a great little row, a bit short, but just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Orseolo - Cap of the Campanile

Like most folks who haven't been to Venice, before I went I assumed that the famous Campanile was "about the same size" as so many of the other belltowers in the city. It's hard to get a good perspective, unless you see it in-person.
That bell tower is huge. You can see it from islands in other parts of the lagoon, and depending on the angle, you can see it from several points within the city.
Here's a shot taken from just the right point in Bacino Orseolo.
You can just see the top of the tower.
One thing I've yet to do is take a tour up to the top of the Campanile.
Maybe next time I visit, if I can break away from all the rowing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Megan!

Birthday wishes from the Gondola Blog to Megan Sliger in Boston!

Fiberglass Controversy - Opinions Abound

If you missed it, last week we were tossing around opinions about the most recent topic of heated debate in Venice, something I'm calling the "Fiberglass Controversy".
Nereo Zane recently posted about it on his blog, and it is worthy of
After a simple posting here to direct readers to Nereo's blog, I received some feedback from friends about various facets of the subject.

Bepi Venexiano brought up the fact that sparkling wine can only be called "Champagne" if it is made in the Champagne region of France. He posited that
"Unless a gondola is made in Venice of traditional materials than it should not be called a gondola, maybe we could call them Non-dolas"

Sean threw some good questions out on the table about what makes a gondola a gondola, suggesting that the boat we row today is only the current-day edition in an evolutionary process.

Nereo informed us that
"Ente Gondola and El Félze are working on a document that will define every detail on how to build a gondola."

Tamas pointed out a sticky detail about how "Gondolas are made personalized to the rower and every venetian shipwright has slightly different taste with regards to curves, measurements and methods of wood bending".

I think one of the things that make gondolas so special is the fact that no two gondolas are exactly alike. Add to that the practice that so many gondoliers participate in: making their boat unique and/or better than the rest, and total conformity would likely raise more frustration and opinions than anything we've seen in a long time. Arguably, if every gondola in Venice was exactly the same, the attitude of the gondoliers would certainly be affected.

My guess is that if Ente Gondola and El Félze do manage to stick a big pin somewhere on the map, indicating what is and is not a gondola, it will leave room for some flexibility and, like most rules and decrees in Italy, be routinely disregarded in various ways.

The question of "what is a gondola" still lingers though.
Sean in Coronado, California wrote:

"If Roberto Tramontin built a boat in Kansas, exactly like if he was in Venice, and then shipped it to Venice, would it be a gondola?"

Let me throw out a few more "what ifs":
What if an American builds it in Venice, using the same parts and processes as they use in the squero he learned in and builds the boat in. Is it a gondola (Thom Price)

If that same American opens his own squero, using some new ideas, but still relying on Venetian training and lumber, is it a gondola? (Thom Price again)

What if a Dutch woman builds it, in Holland, but using training she received in Venice from the Tramontin family? It looks like the same boat, rows like the same boat, and could easily be used in Venice to take passengers like all the other gondolas. Is it a gondola? (Tirza Mol)

How about if an Australian buys plans from Venice, and builds himself a gondola using only woods that are native to Australia. Is that a gondola? (Martin Krauss)

A Venetian builds them, in Venice (technically Giudecca), according to the standard dimensions, but incorporates plywood? (Crea)

What if a guy in Massachussetts builds a gondola, using plans and photos from an older design, producing a dynamically beautiful black boat, which is a perfect recreation of gondolas in the 1800's, rowing it in Providence, R.I. - is it a gondola? (Alan "Marco" Days)

How about if Squero dei Rossi, builds a gondola, in perfect traditional form, using all the correct woods and processes, but while Roberto dei Rossi is out sick, a worker has a little too much to drink and incorporates a piece of carbon fiber into the mix? (I just threw that one in for fun - it didn't really happen)

From what I know and have heard about Squero dei Rossi, they would probably be the last to do something viewed as non-traditional, but like everyone else, they turn out boats with slightly varying dimensions based on the preferences of the gondoliers who order them.

I would venture to guess that throughout her history, our beloved gondola has been the subject of innumerable arguments regarding her dimensions, materials, the processes used, and the people who were involved in the manufacture. The first views we have of the gondola, which date back centuries, present something much smaller and simpler than the ones we see today.

Ah, but there are always going to be strong opinions in the air. I'm sure someone out there would be so bold as to say that a gondola built in Venice, by Venetians, using traditional methods and materials, but under the umbrella of a foreign company - was not a "true gondola".

We've all seen the gleaming stainless steel trim that is commonplace in Venice, but as I understand it, for the longest time it was brass, and only brass that adorned the rails of the gondola. Surely there were naysayers when the first stainless trim was spotted afloat.

I can only imagine the words that were spoken among gondoliers and squerarioli, when the very first asymmetric gondola rowed by. Domenico Tramontin is viewed these days as one of the "old masters", his name is like that of a saint among gondola people, but in the mid 1800's he was probably considered by many as a rebel. "What kind of crazy guy builds a crooked boat?" they probably asked. As it turned out, this was just one of the many chapters in that evolutionary process.

The use of the word "gondola" is thrown around liberaly outside Venice, and the further you get from the Veneto, the more extreme the variations become. Here in Southern California we've seen "gondolas" which were white boats, powered by electric golf cart motors, built on steel frames with plywood and fiberglass, and ranging in size all the way down to 24 feet in length. I proposed to my wife on one such boat back in '93. And while that may not sound much like the gondola that Venice is known for, when we were cruising the waters of Newport, people waved and said things like "that's a beautiful gondola".

Is a chug-chug water taxi in the harbor of Dubai beautiful? "Beauty" is a relative term. Is it a gondola just because they call it one? My guess is that that is the question the folks in Ente Gondola and El Félze are hoping to answer.

My posts are always open to comment and critique.
Today is no exception. Feel free to submit your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Loads of Fun Fighting the Wind

My manager from Irving, Texas is awesome.
His name is Matt Schenk and he has done an incredible job with the fleet and the facility since we sent him out almost a year ago to the Lone Star State. Matt came out to California this week to visit friends and we had to go out for a row.

We took turns rowing poppa and prova, yacking about whatever came to mind, and I pointed out some of the more unique homes and boats in Newport Harbor.

With the wind coming from it's usual direction in the west, our first leg of the trip was easy and seemingly effortless. Since we had no passengers and most of the day free, we rowed from the home dock in the north-west corner of the harbor all the way to the south end of Balboa Island near the mouth of the harbor. The first three miles we had the wind at our backs as we tucked in behind Harbor Island and Balboa Island. Cutting through the small canal that separates Balboa Island and Little Balboa Island was fun and relaxing, but I knew before we got a few boat lenghts away from the home dock, that the row back would be a fight.
Sure enough, once we turned the corner and faced the wind, we met the challenge head-on. Working our way along the south shore of Balboa Island, we nodded to fishermen on the docks and waved to motor boats as they passed by. Rowing in rhythm, we made our way up to the best place to cross over to the Pavillion - Newport's most recognized landmark. We enjoyed a slight break from the wind in the shadow of the peninsula. Next we squeezed between Bay Island and the peninsula, and then it was back into the wind as we crossed the mooring field to the tip of Lido Island. I had expected to find a wind-shadow on the inland side of Lido, it had been there on the way out, but Murphy's Law came into play and we fought the wind some more, completing our loop and arriving back at the home dock.
This was the first time Matt and I had rowed together since our expedition in Shreveport, Louisiana - another "windfight".
I wouldn't have enjoyed struggling against the wind on my own, but with two guys it was downright fun, rising to the challenge and beating it - both today and back in Shreveport.
Good rowing with you Matt!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


As the clouds came in tonight and the twilight was filtered down to it's base color, everything went blue.
It was only for a short time, but the color was amazing.

Here's a shot I took while heading back into the main harbor from the canals. You can just see the Newport Blvd. bridge at the top of the frame.
I made no adjustments to the image here. What you see is what we saw.

Mid-Winter Post-precipitation Activity

video by Greg and Cassandra Mohr

I was just clearing out one of our video cameras and came across this collection of clips from about two months ago.

Our weather has been great lately, and any of you who has a decent perspective on things understands that we have very little to complain about here in the rain department. Nevertheless, the sky does open up around here now and then, and my daughter and I shot these clips during one visit to the docks in between weather fronts.

Here's the video intro:

More useless babbling on the dock. Really, this here is a clip of two people procrastinating.

Getting to know the shopVac and talking more about doing:

My last words of that clip should have been "Insert your other half-baked excuse here."

Now, one of the most effective tools in boat maintenance is revealed:

ShopVac and Cassandra in action:

Sock inventory:

End of project wrap-up:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The View from Ristorante da Ivo - Just a Hunch

As tides change, postures change.
Here's another shot taken from the dining room of Ristorante da Ivo. The gondolier is hunching over a bit to make it under the Ponte dei Fuseri.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Crystal Swan on the Water Tonight

After a two week haulout for paint and maintenance,
Joe Munday's boat "the Crystal Swan" is back in the water.
I passed him tonight during one of my cruises and had to snap a shot.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tight Quarters - the "Hanging Walkway"

Here's another "tight quarters" photo, showing how narrow some of the canal-spaces can get in Venezia. In this case we see a unique concrete walkway, which impedes on the usable area as it protrudes from the side of the building.
At the right tide level, two gondolas could probably pass each other here, but at the wrong tide it would be impossible.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Late Night Lockdown

I had a nice late night cruise tonight. Setting up my boat, the winds were calm and the water was smooth. It was the perfect chance to lock the camera down on a short tripod and try some more long exposures.
The above shot was dockside before my passengers arrived.

My couple arrived, and I rowed us out of the lagoon, snapping photos along the way.
A few minutes later I stowed the camera and the rest of the cruise was business-as-usual.
Here's a series of images taken tonight:

Always Something Going On

Betweent the gondolas, the moto-topos, and the noisy-but-necessary construction barges, there's always something going on along the Grand Canal of Venice.

photo taken between Santa Maria del Giglio and San Marco Vallaresso stops.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seeing the Wind

Heading towards the canals in Newport tonight, I realized the light was fading so I threw the camera on a tripod and set it for a long exposure. The tripod just barely fit on the trastolini boards in front of me. As always, I took a whole bunch of photos and only one was worth a second look.
When I cleaned it up a bit, I saw what I'd always known was there - the wind.
You row in the wind long enough and you get a sense for where it is and the path it is taking. It leaves ripples and lines on the water but usually not enough to show clear patterns. You have to learn to "read" the water. But with a long exposure they come out, clear as day.

The Fiberglass Controversy

Recently someone in the Veneto made statements about wanting to build gondolas out of fiberglass.
This hit the paper and has brought a lot of people's opinions out.
Nereo Zane has just posted a piece on his blog about it.
Check out "Gondole de Plastica".
This reminds me a bit of something that flew around the gondola world some years ago - someone was planning to produce forcole made by a computer-aided-machine. In the end, I don't think it happened.

Here in America we have a number of gondolas made from fiberglass, but this is Venice we're talking about now. In my opinion, it's ok to have fake trolley cars in other cities, but in San Francisco we expect to see the real thing - the same should be true for the gondola.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Barbarian Cavalli

As you stand along a well-traveled canal, you can pick out the subtle differences between the different gondolas that pass by. Many have small details that point towards a theme, but in an understated way.

This was not the case with the boat in this post.

When this gondola cruised by, and I saw the cavalli, I half expected to see Conan the Barbarian rowing on the back.

The brass dragon-like creatures were bold and had a look all their own. Many other areas on the boat, such as the pusioli and fodre had carvings that matched the cavalli that seemed to hint that the gondolier would rather play heavy metal than host an accordion player on his boat.

Here's a close-up of one of the brass beasts:

And the other:

As each gondolier strives to make his boat a little different from the rest, some are more bold than others.

I'm not sure I'd like to see all the beautiful and traditional brass horses in Venice replaced by heavy-metal dragons, but I've gotta give the guy some credit for stepping out and making a statement.

And of course, if some other gondolier steals his cavalli, they won't be hard to spot when they show up on another boat.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


We spend a lot of time and attention here on one type of boat: the gondola. After all, it is the "Gondola Blog", and the boat is worthy of the attention she receives. I realize this may come as a surprise to some of you, but there are other types of boats in Venice.
Some are more "showy" than others. There are passenger vessels, cargo vessels, and work boats of many types. Today we're taking a look at a topo.

Our friend William Rich Had one such boat while he was living in Venice. He sent me a few pictures, taken on his adventures aboard the topo.

William tells me that "this topo was built around 1900 in the Giudecca Canottiere. Previous owner was a Giudecca fisherman that used it for.. fishing! and sold it to a buddy of mine years back. It has all the original oars and forcole from the former owner, I actually completely redid and repaired one of the oars with my buddy Paolo Brandolisio".

The photo above was taken in Venice.
Following are two more shots from somewhere in the Venetian Lagoon.

Every work boat needs a dog! Here's William's dog "Titi" supervising things from the bowdeck.

And while William rows from a precarious position, his wife Elsa reclines while enjoying the views of the lagoon.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The View from Ristorante da Ivo - A Quiet Moment

Ristorante da Ivo holds a special place in my heart.
They were one of our sponsors during the expedition down the Hudson River in 2007. Vittorio Orio had arranged it, and I'd never even visited the place. Naturally, when I went back to Venice last year I was determined to stop in and show my appreciation.
This was one of the many shots taken from their dining room, and I think it captures so much.
I'll post more photos from that vantage point in the future.
It's a great spot, and the food is of course, amazing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Under the Accademia

I shot these two photos while passing through on the vaporetto. Every time I make my way over the Accademia Bridge or go under on a boat, I notice a gondola there.
It's not a very big quay, and not nearly as prestigeous as some of the spots in front of the luxury hotels that line the fondamenta, but I'd be more than happy to take over for the guy who operates there.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Quay at the Giardinetti

Here's a top-of-the-cruise-ship view of the quay at Calle Ascensione by the Giardinetti, just adjacent to Piazza San Marco. The bridge is the Ponte de l'Accademia dei Pittori.

The quay with it's red and yellow striped paline was also featured in a post from November 2nd, 2009 entitled
"Cardinal and Gold Paline"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Basilica at Night

This is the Basilica.

When it comes to landmarks in Venice, this impressive piece of architecture always makes it to the top three - along with the Campanile and the Rialto Bridge.

As churches go, she's one of the most visited and photographed in Europe.

She was the home of La Serenissima's soul, and depending on how you look at things, she was also the seat of power.

I took this long exposure on the same night as the photo I posted recently, on March 20th.

I'm not entirely unhappy with either of the photos, but to see something from a true pro, check out the image taken by Nereo Zane - it was posted back on February 20th, 2008.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Rainy Day Around the Bay

Working my way down the coast of California, I contacted my friends at Gondola Servizio in Oakland. We would be there in less than a week and I was eager to see them again. It had been a long time - a long time since I'd seen Angelino and April, and an even longer time since I'd been to their Lake Merritt location, where Angelino taught me so much about the art and techniques required to row a gondola. He had explained to me that there was more than just propulsion and steering involved - the Venetians had put great thought and effort into making it look as good as possible when done right. Italians have always put great emphasis on the way things look and Venetians are certaily no exception. "Bella figura" was the term Angelino had used, explaining that in the world where gondolas come from, appearance carries an importance that sometimes rivals effective boat operation.

As it turned out, Angelino, April, and their daughter were going to be in Southern California when I was in Oakland. We had a good laugh about the situation, and I was told that one of their gondoliers would be there on Easter Sunday to take cruises, and he would be happy to meet with me then.

Somewhere around breakfast time, the rain began to fall. I threw my family and our friends we'd been traveling with into the van and we headed out towards Lake Merritt. The rain continued to fall, growing in intensity, and by the time we were a few miles from the lake, I explained to everyone in the van that we had officially reached "snotty". In the vernacular of mariners, especially those who sail, there are vocabulary terms for the different weather conditions encountered at sea. "Snotty" doesn't really require much explaining - it's name says it all.

Arriving at the lake, I found Gondola Servizio's two gondolas safely wrapped and moored under their covered boat slip. I had hoped to do some rowing, chat with a gondolier, and get out on the lake I'd learned on, but it wasn't meant to be.

I did manage to snap a few photos which I will post in the future, and enjoyed visiting the lake once again - if only to reminisce. Some day I'm sure I'll get up there again and spend some time on the water, working to display my best "bella figura" as any good gondolier would do.

All Water Taxis are not Alike

Most of us "gondola people" think of water taxis as all the same. One might look an awful lot like the others when you're attention is directed mostly at the gondolas, but there are actually, many variations of the water taxi afloat in modern day Venice.
This scene from the Grand Canal, shows two of the variations you're likely to see on any given day in La Serenissima.
As an added bonus, there's a gondola in the shot, which gives us a good idea of the size comparison.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bacino Orseolo - Gondoliers on the Wall

Leading into the Bacino Orseolo on the north end is the Rio Orseolo.
There are usually a few gondolas moored here along the wall with the Ponte Tron in the background. As it is a thoroughfare in and out of the basin and not all that wide, the gondolas here aren't often double-parked.

What you will find a lot of though are gondoliers, who seem to congregate at this place.

It is a good place to chat up potential customers, and there are plenty of other "sensible" reasons, but I know something else about this spot:

to the left, just out of the frame, is a little bar that seems to be a favorite among guys in striped shirts, and for good reason - the last time I ducked in there they had one of the best German beers on tap I've ever had.

If I worked at the Bacino, I think I'd hang out there too!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Just the Photo - the Zattere Platform

The Zattere platform - as seen from the top deck of an offensively large cruise ship.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Redwood Gondolas

No, this post isn't about gondolas built from planks of the redwood tree. Although it has been done; Jack Fesenmeyer of Florida built four or five gondolas using redwood.

This post comes to you from the Northern California region where Redwood trees grow.

I'm up here on vacation right now with my family, and when we heard there were gondolas here, we had to have a look.

Yep, It's April 1st, and that means we get to have a little fun here on the Gondola Blog.

I think the huge statues of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox fit the criteria of April Fools Day.

The "Trees of Mystery", an attraction located just north of the town of Klamath, California has some amazing trees and lots of interesting things to be discovered there.

We learned a lot about the history of the region, admired a dazzling collection of things carved out of redwood logs and stumps with a chainsaw (is there any other way for a man to carve things?), and of course we saw some ridiculously big trees.

Later on we made our way to the spot where the gondola was supposed to be:

Maybe this would be a good time to mention that there are many things in our world known by the name "gondola". And before you all send angry comments and e-mails, accusing me of "buttercowing all over the place", I should mention that technically I am writing about gondolas.

This type of gondola is often used in ski resorts but there are many other applications - getting a better look at huge trees is one of them.

Here's a clip of our boarding and departure. My daughter Isabella has some strong opinions of the way to pronounce the word "gondola".

Here's a very short clip looking forward during the ride up.

The cars (the things you ride in) came from Switzerland, while everything else was built in America. A trip to the top gives riders some nice views in many directions. I had seen several ads and brochures for this place and the photos showed clean and shiny gondola cars. I half expected the real thing to be much more beat-up and dirty, but they looked great.

Driving south on the 101, we crossed over the Klamath River and then the Mad River. Each time I did what I always do when I see water - I thought "hey, I bet I could row a gondola there". In the case of the Mad River, it would have to be downstream. They don't call it the Mad River for it's calm and easy nature.

To visit the Trees of Mystery website, go to