For centuries the people of Venice have celebrated their relationship with the sea.
From the very beginning, when the first Venetians took refuge in the shallow waters of the lagoon, to the naval success, to the great wealth acquired through maritime trade, Venice and the sea have shared a connection of historic significance.
Venice is in fact married to the sea, and that is commemorated each year in a ceremony where the leader of the city tosses a gold ring into the water, following a parade-like procession of boats.
Another city which has a great connection with the sea is Long Beach, California.
This major west coast shipping port owes a lot to the Pacific Ocean.
Among the many similarities between the two cities, there is one that might surprise people: gondolas.
And while nobody has as many gondolas as Venice, one of the largest servizios outside the Veneto floats in a picturesque corner of Long Beach known as Alamitos Bay.
Launched 35 years ago, The Gondola Getaway began as an idea. Michael O'toole had grown up in the Long Beach neighborhood of Naples on Alamitos Bay, he needed an idea for a business class, so he built the project around a gondola cruise business.
In 1982 he decided to give it a try, and The Gondola Getaway was born.
Each year a group of rowers from the company rows in the famous Vogalonga in Venice - a Gondola Getaway tradition for 32 years so far.
But this year the gondoliers of Alamitos Bay had something else to celebrate:
An official connection between Long Beach and Venice.
A new "friendship city" status was recently announced, and to commemorate it, O'toole set up a marriage to the sea ceremony, which took place on Sunday, the 21st of May in Alamitos Bay.
Invitations were extended to many other local gondola companies, and some of us even brought our own boats.
Gathering in the morning at the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club, we sorted a few things out, and rowed over to the raft of two caorlinas that would serve as the stage for the ceremony.
Music was playing, the Naples Island Contessa and her court were delivered to the caorlinas, and Deacon Miguel Torrado officiated.
Boats of all types were in attendance, the entire Gondola Getaway fleet, kayaks, stand-up-paddlers, a few dragon boats, and Tim from Sunset Gondola brought his red gondola.
Kalev and I joined in with our pupparin from Newport.
After the ceremony, I popped a bottle of prosecco, and realized that everyone was already on their way to row the course around Naples island.
This was not a race, but rather a "fun row" along the same lines as the Vogalonga.
The great thing about this kind of rowing is that you can carry on conversations with your friends in other boats, you can pull over so people can snap a photo, and in our case...you can stop for a short prosecco break now and then.
After a full loop of the route, and some of the boats headed back to the yacht club, Kalev and I took our boat through the canals.
Once everyone had made it to the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club, Mike O'toole shared some announcements, and we all feasted on various dishes from Belmont Shore icons: Angelo's Deli, Buona Gente, Domenico's, Michael's and Papalucci's restaurants
It was a heck of a lot of fun, and I look forward to next year.