Knee deep in Venice

I believe travelers can be separated into two groups:

The ones that find Venice a bit O.T.T – a place with too many tourists, too many tourist traps and too many smelly canals. Then there are the ones who see beyond all that, and have fallen hopelessly in love with the most beautiful city in the world.

A skew palace sits nicely on the Canal Grande

I belong to the latter, and suffer from chronic withdrawal symptoms. Even before I have arrived, I am wishing I could stay for longer. In a perfect world I would rent a little Venetian loft where I would write for three months. (I’ve been drooling over some of the gorgeous apartments at

The city itself is so pretty I am sure I would need neither food nor company to stimulate the creative flow… at least not in my perfect, imaginary world… (however, the occasional spritz – a typical Venetian aperitivo – would go down a treat!)

But I’m hardly alone in thinking that Venice is a place of spectacular beauty. There is no need for yet another blog post celebrating the crumbling brick walls, the emerald green canals and the cute little bridges made for romance.

Acqua Alta…

My reason for writing about Venice this time around is to convince y’all that the best time to visit is well out of the summer season, or any high season for that matter. My favourite time of year is no doubt between November and January. This is when the rain is prone to add further moisture to a place saturated with dampness. It’s when the canals are sure to spill over their edges as if to shout it out LOUD and CLEAR that this city is indeed sinking. But most of all, you get to distinguish the Venetians from the hordes of tourists. The Ventians are always the ones with the correct footwear.

Venice, just the way I like it!

Last time I went to Venice it was mid November, and the weather Gods were determined to have us all soaked in water. From above we had nothing but rain. From below we were splish sploshing in the salty, rising lagoon. I went to have supper at a favourite of mine, the totally down to earth “Il Cantinone Stoico” (adress: Fondamente Bragadin ved Rio San Vio).

Gondoliera queen - Alexandra Hai

I was there with Alexandra Hai, Venice’s first female gondoliera. We were sharing a bottle of Veneto white wine and were half way through our starters (a delicious mountain of small shrimps) when all of a sudden a sharp alarm started sounding. It silenced us all. Dinner guests put their cutlery down. Alexandra stopped conversing and was obviously waiting for another hoot. You see, this is what Venice is about in the winter months -how many times will the tidal alarm sound?

The alarm system is created in such a way that it will echo through Venice’s every nook and cranny, and here’s how to decipher it:

1.10m: a long ring on one continuous note (St. Mark’s square gets flooded at 110 cm)
1.20m: two rings on an ascending note
1.30m: three rings on an ascending note
1.40m: four rings on an ascending note

On this particular evening there were three hoots, and some of our fellow dinner guests immediately asked for the bill and hurried home. Others picked up their mobile phones and started phoning around to ensure their houses were barricaded. The restaurant owner came straight over to our table. No one knows the tide and its lunatic ways better than the gondoliers. He was after Alexandra’s verdict on when he could expect the water to come seeping over his doorstep.

I would close up by ten thirty, she told him in her calm and collected manner.

We continued our supper, and after that we braved our way across the Piazza San Marco. It was like an infinity pool where the Adriatic sea washed in over the piazzetta. It felt like a movie. Knee deep in one of Europe’s most beautiful spots, and accompanied by one of the bravest women I know. Only a few tourists were scattered around the square, most of them with soaked feet and camera in hand trying to capture the uniqueness of Venice in November.

this man was not planning on moving, he had quite literally grabbed a front row seat to the flooding.

If you like the thought of the Venice floods, check out Duncan Zuur’s wakeboarding across the square from December 2008. The Dutch man managed to carry out his stunt without the ‘guardia’ (Italian police) noticing!



7 comments on “Knee deep in Venice

  1. Great post, I share your opinion regarding travelers opinions about Venice. Also, Venice in the eyes of the artistic inspired visitor is utmost delightful.
    Surely I can comprehend your desire for a longer stay.
    One wants to endlessly stroll through its back alleys and passages, explore its historic buildings, remembering Titian, Vivaldi, Marco Poloand other great personalities that unsprung from its roots.
    Venice has much to offer, and not only is it a Gondola ride. Great personalities always have been drawn here, as was Sigmund Freud a passionate lover of Venetian culture, deriving much of his cultural inspirations from the city. His knowledge of Venetian history was superb.
    In modern days, myriads of day visitors flock to the city, and this has somehow reduced its attractiveness. However, in the days of October, November, when the weather gets chillier, one still can find the old spirit in Venice, if not hampered by the more frequent flooding s which have become a regular problem.
    The new city’s sea defense hopefully will put a stop to more serious damage to the jewel of World cultural relics.
    sharing your passion for Venice,
    Italian Intermezzo Italy

  2. Hi and thanks for sharing your passion for Venice! Personally I’ve never really understood the concept of the day trippers in Venice… How anyone can miss out on Venice by night is a total mystery to me! Nice photos, thanks for sharing!

  3. Nice post, but the first official woman gondolier is Giorgia Boscolo, she is the first one who has been accepted into the association of gondoliers. All the others are not official one and they do not ride gondolas, but smaller boats!

    • Hi Monica, and thanks for stopping by. I am envious of you being able to call such a beautiful place home!

      Yes, I agree, once Ms Boscolo gets her final license she will be the first gondoliera approved by the Ente Gondoliera.
      However, this has not yet happened and she is only working as a stand by gondoliera for when one of the official ones is off sick or on leave.

      Alexandra Hai has been working as a gondoliera OFFICIALLY for a hotel chain in Venice for several years, and her gondola is no smaller than the regular gondolas seeing that she bought it second hand from a gondolier.

      The practice of private gondoliers (which is what Alexandra Hai is) is something dating back to the times when it was customary for nobel families to have a private gondolier. It is a title no less official than the ones belonging to the Ente Gondoliera, however she is restricted to only carrying passengers staying in the hotels for which she works.

      She is fully entitled to work on the canals, her knowledge of the city is profound and her passion for what she does every day all year round is genuine. Why Venetians are having such a hard time swallowing this beats me.

  4. Interesting post. I am heading to Venice for a couple of days in April with amy family and look forward to a gondola ride (always been on my personal “things to do list”). I have two teenage daughters and, after reading about Ms Boscolo and Ms Hai, would love the opportunity to have them ride with a female gondolier. However, we already have reservations at another hotel. Do you have any recommendations on making this work?

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