From the backseat of a gondola: Clarion student takes cultural perspective

Although I resided in Bologna, Italy for little over two weeks, I was hardly there.

Almost every day after class, a small group of my study abroad class, (this small group later became known as The Family and we still refer to each other as such) packed a bag and took day trips to nearby countries. One of the four day trips that we took was to Venice, Italy.

Venice was founded in 421 AD and was built between 118 islands of a lagoon that was then linked by bridges. There were bridges of various age, size, design and structure.

Venice is known as the Floating City, it’s streets being canals, boats and gondolas, replacing cars and buses, bridges replacing crosswalks.

The buildings are built on wooden platforms driven into the ground between the canals. City-wide flooding is not an uncommon atrocity, and there are several rumors floating around the town among locals as I learned that the city is actually sinking on its wooden planks.

Venice is not only known for its gondolas and canal streets, but also for its unique and authentic glass blowing under the Murano Glass Factory.

Murano is actually an island located in Venice that has been producing hand-blown glass for over 700 years. Throughout the streets of Venice, there were small stores and knick-knack shops selling glass wine openers, glass ink fountain pens, glass beads and jewels, glass window holders and so much more. The shops were as beautifully decorated as the streets and canals were with flowers and trees.

There were familiar sights, such as a rustic stone Burger King building, and new sights like a pristine marble church built during the time that painter Canaletto or journalist Marco Polo may have set their eyes upon.

Gondolas, a Venetian traditional flat bottomed boat, were being pushed by stereotypical gondoliers wearing black and white striped shirts and black and straw, flat topped hats.

Several gondoliers floated on down the canals and sang beautiful tunes, tunes that would put any crying infant to rest. What trip to Venice would be complete without a gondola, right?

So pretending to be the little sister of another member of our group, we paid the family rate of 80 euros to take a 30-minute gondola ride throughout the canals of Venice.

A gondola ride is nothing like a boat ride, only briefly similar to a kayak or canoe. Five people were able to sit comfortably in the gondola, with the gondolier standing on a small platform behind us. The top of the boat ledge was inches away from the tip of the water, small minnows swimming tauntingly close to the gondola as we were pushed under bridges and through the streets.

The bow of the gondola was plated in gold, a woman figurine embraced the back of the single chair that sat at the front of the gondola.

Our gondolier did not sing nor talk, in fact he simply stood behind us, pushing us along one strong stride after another, chewing gum and occasionally texting on his phone.

Yeah, I was kind of upset that he didn’t sing nor even talk to us about what we floating by or looking at. Just from reading the signs, I was able to tell that we passed a small grocery store, a few tourists’ shops and the police station.

A police station in Venice is nothing like a police station in Clarion. Seeing that there are no roads in Venice and that your only mode of transportation is really either by boat, gondola, bike or your own two bare feet, that was how the police officers got around.

The police station consisted of around a dozen police boats and the fire station around the housed several fire boats as well. The next canal we went down flourished with food, shops and restaurants, some windows showcasing whole fish heads, live lobsters and fresh calamari pasta.

It was astonishing how each bridge we went under, each pair of sidewalks we nearly touched, was different in not only design, but in the material that it was built with.

Hundreds of people lined the sidewalks, peering into stores and pointing at us as we floated on by. There were several occasions where I thought the gondola was going to tip over, and several times when I peered over my shoulder into the blaring sunset I thought to myself, “I will never relive a moment like this again.”

All in all: Venice was probably one of my most favorite day trips that my study abroad group took, even though it ended with a 2 a.m. train ride that left everyone exhausted dead for our 9 a.m. class.

Walking through such a gothic city, in such a different culture and atmosphere, was like a slap to the face in the dead of winter. Never before did I ever not want to leave a place, where I was disappointed with the hundreds of pictures that I took.

No picture was able to capture the beauty of the canals, of how the city was webbed between them, how each street seemed to bend and curve with the flow of the water.

Venice would definitely be on the top of my list to visit again and hopefully never leave.

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