Venice has fascinated me for a long time. I love to travel on water and I love hand-powered boats, and I love old cities.
So I jumped at the opportunity to visit Venice, to kayak the Vogalonga and to teach at the 1st Sea Kayaking Symposium in Italy.
The annual Vogalonga is a spectacle of hand-powered craft of all
kinds; gondolas, rowing barges, dragon boats and rowing sculls, canoes and
kayaks, all traveling together on a 30km loop from Venice, around some of the
other island groups in the Venice Lagoon and back to the "bottleneck"
of the Grand Canal running the length of city to the finish line. Crowds line
the bridges and waterfront restaurants to cheer the participants. With restrictions for that day on the flow of motorized craft in Venice adding to safety,
given there were 1,600 craft participating in the 2008 Vogalonga, and many additional paddle-powered tag-alongs taking advantage
of a "quiet day" in the city, it was still a little congested in
The symposium, with a few days of added events and classes
mid-week, took place at Capalonga. The village campground with cabins and restaurants is sited on an
island/peninsula with a sandy beachfront on the Adriatic within strolling
distance of a sheltered lagoon on the other. Signs posted above the water point the
direction to Venice and to Trieste, and there are side channels running through
the marshes to local restaurants.
Kristin kayaking through Venice to the start of the Vogalonga
Nigel close to St Marks Square
Onlookers crowded the many bridges along the route
while many of the Gondolas in daily use sat rest in the smaller canals
We looked for espresso... sipped Italian style, standing at the bar for that instant fix!
Back at the start a huge crowd of boats had gathered, waiting for the boom of the cannon to begin!
Then all the boats moved away, some racing to draw ahead, others content to warm up to the social event
Some boats stood out more than others. We accompanied this elegantly dressed couple in their immaculately finished wooden gondola for many miles. They cruised along at about our own pace, while others sprinted ahead or dawdled.
With teams from all over the world, it was evident some were fiercely proud of their heritage
...especially the locals!
Here a tired kayaker appears to hitch a ride beneath a moving roof of oars.
Giorgio suggested a small detour. Like me he loves espresso! It sounded like a good idea!
So we ducked into a narrow channel in the town of Merano, where every household had apparently painted their home a different color!
I got a sense the water wasn't as clean as it might have been... especially when I heard a toilet flush and moments later heard a gush of water from the canal wall. But at least the lagoon and canals are salty! I dip a finger for a taste.
Our channel came to an end beneath a bridge,
...but there were steps for easy egress, so we tethered our kayaks.
Of course there's always one in the group who asks "Why do it the easy way when there's a perfectly difficult alternative?" Maybe it was the thrill of a possible swim?
But we all emerged onto the street dry, hungry and thirsty!
There were plenty of places to choose from...
and we soon ate away more than an hour!
We carried our own cluster of color away with us when we left
...and passed between the islands of Burano, the Venetian glass-making center, to cruise back to Venice. We were slightly anxious that after our relaxing lunch we might have missed the action of the finish.
But there was still plenty of action!
A bottleneck caused by one of the bridges was exacerbated by a current flowing against us
...and oars and paddles tangled together while tired teams attempted to keep the longer craft controlled against the flow.
Beyond the bridge there was more space... spectators still cheered and waved...
Every paticipant got a medal and certificate at the finish! Kristin was full of smiles!
...and content to find a route through the narrower canals back to the car.
Of course, Venice does have an onshore life as well as a watery one. It's possible to tie up the kayaks and to wander.
The city is not huge, and from the narrow streets, squares and bridges we could glimpse the daily life that goes on despite the tourist scene.
Here a barrow-full of artichokes stood beside the canal,
and a barge had moored alongside the street to sell fresh vegetables. I suppose it saves a step in the delivery from field to household.
Masks watched the passers-by...
I had been curious about the shape of the hull shape of the Venetian gondolas.... finally I was to find out...
It has a flat hull with hard chines close to the sides, and a lot of rocker... rather like the shape of the bow on some of the 1970's surf kayaks I remember! But that's just the bit that sits on the water. Much of the bow and stern extend out above the water.
But such a design seems very suitable for negotiating the sharp bends in the narrow canals... and the standing pose of the gondolier with a high angle of the oar also makes sense; there's little room between the walls for a shallower angle of the oar.
And the gondolas are typically assymetrical... you can see the twist in this one. It's supposed to make it easier to manage when rowing only on one side.
Practical but elegant...
Throughout the city there are statues and carvings, figures peering from the stonework and door knockers with weight and character...
And characters with a mission...
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