Venice Gondoliers Should Take Breathalyzer And Drug Tests, Their Chief Says

The president of the gondolier association of Venice says all boat operators in the watery city should be screened for alcohol and drugs, the BBC reports.

Nicola Falconi suggested this after a video was posted on YouTube showing a hazing incident of a new assistant gondolier who was ordered to strip naked and jump in a canal. This was just the latest of numerous reports of inappropriate, boozy behavior.

We can add this to the other scandals hitting Italy’s tourism industry, including a group of tourists being charged $84 for a few ice cream cones, dozens of baggage handlers arrested for stealing bags at several Italian airports, and the continuing decay of many of the nation’s underfunded ancient monuments.

On my recent trip to Venice, the gondoliers I saw were all behaving professionally. I have heard a few secondhand stories, however. Have you been to Italy? What was your experience there? Tell us on the comments section!

Video Of The Day: A Sunny Day In Venice

Venice is widely thought of as one of the ultimate romantic destinations, especially in Europe. Today’s Video of the Day, Around Venezia, captures the charm of the The Floating City’s beautiful canals and colorful architecture. Venice’s trademark gondolas are included, too, but what I like about this video is how it goes a little deeper than typical videos about Venice to show the beauty in objects that might seem mundane in other cities: a reflection in a puddle or clothes hanging out to dry. In less than two minutes, the video has me wishing I was walking around Venice on a sunny day-but who wouldn’t want to be in that situation?

Love in Venice: How a grumpy gondolier helped show me the heart of his city

It’s April and the light is pale but warm, the color of Prosecco. My sister and I have been gleefully playing in the maze all morning, meandering over bridges and around beckoning corners, rolling our eyes at the rookie tourists huddled over wrinkled maps in every campo. They haven’t yet reached our level of enlightenment. They don’t realize that to find one’s self one must lose one’s self, an epiphany the Venetians accelerate by printing their giveaway maps in imperceptible scales, illegible fonts, and miniscule point sizes. Becky and I are practically natives now, having crumpled up our map just a half hour beyond breakfast on this, our very first day in Venice.

To lose the map is the most consistent advice anyone will get about visiting Venice, but every tourist begins with one anyway, afraid they’ll miss the most important sights if they don’t plot and plan each day’s perambulations. The city, though, is like a vast, thousand-year-old castle encircled by a wide moat of seawater; it’s had no room to grow anywhere but up, and its millennium of treasures are stacked and veneered one on top of the other, Greek pediments over Gothic arches over Renaissance windows edged by Byzantine mosaics. The ages rub shoulders with each other convivially, the rough and substantial mingling comfortably with the refined and delicate. It’s all stunningly beautiful, and you can’t walk ten meters without seeing something important, whether you know it or not — there’s scarcely an alley or a rooftop that isn’t connected to some enthralling anecdote or three. Poke your head in the door of whatever edifice lures you toward it, and you’re likely to find a brochure, in English, for your on-the-spot enrichment.

Becky and I agree, in our nascent wisdom, that we’d rather serendipitously find a place and learn, than to learn and try to find the place. We’ve already descried and paid homage to the vibrant Titians and brooding Tintorettos that loom down from their ordained heights in the Scuola and the Frari, and now, skirting the massive, 600-year-old church, we emerge in its eponymous campo. On the far side, a solemn crowd sits on the broad steps of the bridge, looking past us with an air of subdued expectancy. We glance over our shoulders and see that a quartet of musicians, dazzling black-eyed men in suits, is setting up in the shadow of the ancient church behind us.

I glance at Becky, and, conscious of our unrefined American accents in this quiet tableau, ask with a tilt of my chin – Shall we stay?

She raises her eyebrows with a hint of a shrug – If you want. It’s picturesque, isn’t it.

I roll my eyes – What isn’t?

She pats her stomach and nods toward the Caffe dei Frari across the bridge, where a dozen standing patrons sip vin rosa at tiny tabletops attached to a railing along the water’s edge. Let’s eat, and listen from there.

We’re in complete agreement, as always, and begin picking our way up the steps through the seated spectators. The patrons on the other side of the canal raise their glasses to their lips, eyes fixed on the quartet across the campo. Sunlight purples the wine and sparkles off the goblets, radiating a ruby aura. The alluring aroma of fresh bread and herbs pervades the air and as we get closer to the cafe I can see cocky little sparrows scampering in for crumbs, scrambling backward at the swish of a hand, scampering back for more. Beneath us the long black beak of a gondola pokes out from under the bridge, and water gently slaps and pats the stones.

We’re just descending the far side of the bridge when a single clear, sweet note infuses the spring air with startling beauty. Pigeons flutter, coo. Becky and I halt, as does the music; it’s just one violinist, checking that his tune is true. We trade a glance that silently remarks on all the resonance we felt in that one note. Soul sisters that we are, without a word we turn, climb back across the bridge, and find a seat among the locals.

One cello and three violins gleam against the burnished stones of the Frari. The musicians move their cases to the side, unfold their stands, and take their playing stances. Meanwhile, people trickle steadily across the campo toward us. Most are elegant Venetian women with perfect skin and posture, wearing black riding boots and wool coats. In six weeks or so there will be a crowd of slouchy Americans in white Nikes and khaki shorts, but it’s only April, and when I close my eyes I hear the brisk, soft clapping of leather-soled shoes. This isn’t Rome; no stilettos stab at the stones, no fashionistas totter over the cobbles. Besides the stepping of the well-heeled walkers I can hear the chirping of the sparrows, the chortling of pigeons, the sotto voce murmurings of buon giorno and scusi and arrivederci, the ever-present gentle slosh of water. And then the quartet’s music scents the air, a sliver of Vivaldi, high and fine.

I catch my breath and my eyes fly open, but I see only sound. The Frari fades away, six centuries of stone dissolving into mist. The people on the steps beside me blur. Even Becky, though I know she must be reeling just like me, recedes from my awareness. I don’t even see the musicians, only their music, their glorious expression of the essence of the composer. With this artful application of horsehair to resinated strings, the very soul of Vivaldi rises victorious and captivates my own. This music, for this moment, is my world.

For several minutes, until the piece concludes, I am not only lost in the labyrinth but in myself. As the last quivering strain disappears like a wisp into the air, the larger world reopens with a smattering of applause and the clinking of coins in a case. Becky and I stand up and turn to go, exchanging a wide-eyed look.

Commentary, we know, would be diminishing.

* * *

For the balance of the day, and of the week, we pay discreet attention to the experiences of Venice – especially those to which the Venetians pay discreet attention. The locals, unaware, become our guides. We shadow the native crowds to purchase opera tickets, and watch Rosina charm Lindoro in a candlelit palazzo of dubitable structural integrity. We stalk an easel-toting artist through empty sestieri to catch his view of a leafless branch, glowing with spring light, dangling over glassy green water. We track the gaze of a withered woman contemplating a nondescript saint in the dim corner of a chiesa. We watch open upper windows for real life being lived and smile at an old man, chunky tufts of white hair askew, resoundingly banging the dust from his shoes. We scratch behind the ears of scruffy little dogs curled up in shady corners.

We’re reveling in romanticism. Our wanderlust has led us into the very soul of the city, its inseparable, ineffable, inimitable essence that permeates every molecule and every minute that ever was and will be Venice. It’s the essence in the geraniums cascading from a fourth-floor windowsill, in the mingled scents of sea water, salt air, and damp rock, in the dust motes dancing in a shaft of sun. It’s in the amber evening light that pours down plastered walls like melted butter, illuminating the curves and edges of ancient iron, glass, and stone. It’s in the grind of an accordion flexed by a handsome man. It’s in the grand palazzos that somehow retain their dignity while standing up to their doorsills in water, stripped of half their paint, sagging behind scaffolding like old men refusing to use their walkers. It’s in the bump of the arriving vaporetto, the iridescence of pigeons, and the way the gondolier leans backward as he strokes.

Ah, the gondolier.

We’ve been admiring these flocks of muscular, zebra-shirted young men at every stazi, but we’ve avoided their incessant invitations to board. We tell each other it’s a kitschy thing to do, not in keeping with our quest for authenticity, but the truth is that, at 80 euro, we’d rather appreciate them from afar. Then, late one languid afternoon near the end of our trip, we wander through a tiny campo off the beaten path and spy, leaning against the balustrade of the bridge in a despondent pose, a solitary gondolier.

Becky and I give each other a quick glance – This one’s different. He’s alone. He’s unhappy. He’s another magnified fragment, another drop of the essence.

He’s probably willing to bargain.

We stroll around the empty campo nonchalantly, pointing out cornices and doorknockers, pretending not to notice him or to have any interest in his service, waiting for the inevitable pitch. He ignores us, though we’re the only customers in sight, and probably will be for a while. His misery is palpable. We abandon our charade of disinterest, walk over to the bridge, and ask his price.

Eighty euro, he says glumly.

Oh! Becky and I wince. Too much for us, I tell him. The gall! In low season, and with no customers in sight! We start to walk away.

Sixty is the lowest, we hear behind us. I cannot go lower. Other gondoliers might, but this is my business, and it is very hard work.

A bitter gondolier! Herein lies a tale. All right, I say, and we step into his craft.

He helps us situate, but not with the characteristic joviality we’re used to witnessing. As he gathers his moorings we try to engage him, for his sake and ours. It’s to no avail. The journey is an exquisite immersion in honeyed light through still canals, but our adept oarsman is a woeful guide. Eventually my sister asks him what it takes to become a gondolier.

He straightens up and pauses. Well! he says. Hard training, many years!

She’s found the key to turn his lock. He begins with an earnest lecture in broken English on the art, the craft, the sport, the business of gondoliering. It’s a generational job, he tells us, passed on from family to family, or obtained by mentorship. One must study and practice for 400 hours at the Academy of Gondoliering, where one will learn not only sailing law but the detailed history and geography of Venice. His voice warms as he emphasizes that it’s very difficult to manage a gondola, to avoid striking boats, bumping sandbars, jolting tourists, and hitting canal walls or bridges. After years of practice, the student must pass an exam before the judges of the Association. One small mistake can be fateful. Most students fail the exam multiple times. And the work is exhausting.

And not just physically, Becky prompts.


Talking to tourists all day is hard, too, isn’t it?

He wipes his brow and stares at her, as if deciding just how much to say. There’s always empathy on Becky’s friendly face and apparently he decides she’s not the type to rat him out for whining. He takes a breath, stops the gondola in the middle of the canal, and begins the tale of umbrage that’s been dampening his day. Well. he says. For example. The wealthy father of a large family, he proceeds to tell us, had earlier that afternoon climbed into the gondola with his wife and three children, reclined upon the cushion, and with a peremptory wave of his hand, ordered our gondolier to sing.

To sing! he repeats indignantly.

Gondoliers don’t sing, Becky says helpfully.

No! Gondoliers do not sing! This is a global misperception, one that he is tired of refuting. This is not Disneyland! I am not an entertainer! I am a craftsman! He had politely refused; the customer had belligerently insisted; the gondolier had immediately pulled over at the next stazi and evicted his five sales. Four hundred euro for his dignity. A gondolier’s pride cannot be purchased, he says. We do not sing!

We promise him that we will spread the word throughout America. He softens, smiles, asks if we would like a picture. Of course! After his diatribe, we never would have asked. When we exit, we tip him twenty euro for his extra time, his earlier troubles, and his tale.

The gondolier’s story epitomizes another expression of Venetian essence: the essence of absence. The essential absence, not only of tacky singing gondoliers, but of all that is artificial, industrial, or commerical. It’s in the lack of plastic and neon, the omission of signs, the concealment of power lines and piping, and the absolute banishment of wheels. No wheels! No distressing interference with one’s space and serenity and senses!

Birdsong and ciaos and grazies reach the ears where horns and slamming car doors would have blustered, flags of laundry flutter where billboards would have glared, and the aromas of pasta and pizza vivify where exhaust and fumes would have poisoned. To ban wheels is to ban a lengthy list of intrusive, dirty things – sirens, oil stains, parking spaces, asphalt, road rage, garages, signposts, toll booths, signals, gas stations, curbs, repair shops, waiting, skid marks, signposts, bumper stickers, and crashes. Here, crossing the street is as simple as choosing to do so — there’s no need to look for a crosswalk, push a button, wait, look both ways, rush, dart, risk. Collisions in Venice are confined to the sticky convergence of two gelato-lapping children, or the splashing of a gondolier as a hefty tourist wobbles into his craft, or an indiscriminate splattering by airborne pigeons. These are trails, not streets: the twisting, turning entrails of the city, really, which, if laid end to end, would make this two-mile island over a hundred miles long.

Becky and I have explored this mystical labyrinth with expanding awe and joy ever since the chamber musicians spun us on our heels. We’ve roamed through the advertised grandeurs as we’ve stumbled upon them, and we’ve certainly bought our fair share of masks and handbags, but we’ve learned from its denizens to see the opulent stage of Venice in splinters, to catch the magnified beauty within its ordinary, minute fragments. Like every other captivated tourist, we’ve scribbled and clicked our way through each experience, trying to wrap the magic up in words and pictures. But we know we’ll never truly take it home. We know it can’t be evoked anywhere else, any more than it could be purchased in a bag of pasta. We know that what we’ve felt can’t be replicated or revived, and it can’t be found until you’re good and lost. This, we decide, is why a map is detrimental. A map roots you to the physical, measurable world, when it’s not the where or what that matters.

Not at all. Not if you’re looking for meaning.

What matters is the intangible, holistic essence of the city that resonates with the essence of you. In the absence of industrial evidence and the presence of so much natural beauty, there’s a sense that Venice is entirely organic, and this sense feeds the notion of its soul. Its buildings seem to grow up out of the water, slathered with morning mist and vines, held to their wavering poses by slanting golden light — a petrified Neptunian palace rising fantastically from the sea. It is, in fact, as everyone knows, sinking. One day it will be nothing more than an ingenious Atlantean ruin through which marine archaeologists will dive, probe and ponder.

But that’s a dirge for another day; on our last evening in Venice my sister and I sing the song of existence, and it echoes off a soaked but solid city.

10 unforgettable experiences in Venice, Italy

Visiting Venice is a lot like living in a painting. The colors and reflections feel ephemeral. You blink and the picture changes. The size of Venice ceases to exceed its usefulness as no corner, road, bridge, or shop seems wasted or useless. Each thing plays a part in defining her character. The peeling paint reflects glories of the past, with the new layers an homage to the upkeep of a starstung legacy. The beauty is so effervescent that even a blind man could make a career as a photographer here. While people may come and go, none forget. Hemingway hunted, Napoleon conquered, Monet painted, Leonardo invented, and millions more have gasped and gawked in the shadows of this most storied settlement. It is to be savored like some early morning dream that surreptitiously impacts the remains of the day.

In Venice, the ambiance alone is so beautiful and otherworldly that just wandering aimlessly provides fantastic results. Beyond errant exploration though, Venice provides many gorgeous sights and enchanting islands for travelers to explore. Here are 10 things to do in Venice and around the lagoon.

It was a damp Venetian evening, and I lobbed my luggage off the Vaporetto at Piazzale Roma. A massive crowd buzzed about the station, cackling and hooting. It was mid February, and I had not prepared for such crowds. During my flight in from arid Sharm el Shiekh, I had envisioned a wintry Venice where steps echoed across abandoned squares and snowflakes fell undisturbed to the ground. I was greeted with the opposite. A raucous party of some sort was in full swing. As I stood, trying to make sense of the madness at the station, a line of eight Lego men walked past, robotically one arm before the other, in slow deliberate motion. They disappeared into a menagerie of goblins, Baroque aristocrats, and tourists firing off rounds of photographs like young mujahedeen soldiers. I had unintentionally staggered upon Carnevale – a treat for the over prepared and uninformed.

Carnevale starts about two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, more commonly known stateside as Fat Tuesday. The costumes were introduced as a way for revelers to obscure identity and social class, allowing equal opportunity for debauching. The party spreads out across the heavily trafficked parts of Venice, with evening performances in Piazza San Marco and hordes posting up along the Rialto Bridge. While many European students make the trip to party, it is notably tamer than Mardi Gras, catering to a higher end demographic.

The Original Ghetto
If you have ever found yourself contemplating the etymology of the term “ghetto,” but were to lazy to do the wiki legwork, then you will at last be united with the term’s origin. The term is derived from the Venetian word for slag (gheto – a byproduct of smelting metal), and was attributed to the Jewish neighborhood in Venice that shared an island with a metal foundry. The old neighborhood still stands and is, in fact, the original ghetto. This ghetto was once the heart of the Venetian shipping empire and the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. To reach the ghetto, exit the San Marcuola station along the Grand Canal Vaporetto and head northwest.

Piazza San Marco
At the heart of Venice is one of the most ambitious and breathtaking plazas in the world. A vast open space flanked by historic sights, its gravitational pull has attracted travelers for hundreds of years. The Clock Tower, Basilica di San Marco, Campanile di San Marco, and Palazzo Ducale are some of the most popular sights in Venice and each is situated on the Plaza. While this is the undisputed tourist destination for cruise boat daytrippers, even the most jaded anti-mainstream traveler will marvel at San Marco’s splendor.

Burano is an explosion of color. A residential archipelago about 30 minutes from Venice, Burano boasts buildings in every color as if created by a kid gone mad with a box of crayons. An order exists among the technicolor chaos though, as the government controls specificity regarding color choices for each home. If one of the 2,800 residents decides to paint, then he must first have his choices approved by the government. This process has fostered an aesthetic that is more Curacao than Caravaggio. While Venice has no shortage of photogenic subjects, Burano is the most vivid and unlikely. Even the locals’ hanging laundry bursts with a myriad of colors. Be sure to bring a camera and drop by a bakery to sample some S shaped Burano cookies. To reach Burano, take the Vaporetto on the LN line from Fondamente Nuove, and depart when you hear the Italian man shout “Burano, Burano.”

Once a heavily populated island and Byzantine settlement, Torcello is now largely ruins and farms. A malaria epidemic and dead lagoon transformed a bustling trading hub with the East into a veritable no-man’s land in the Twelfth century. Today, the population hovers around 20, and is most recently noted as being a favorite hunting ground for Ernest Hemingway. Torcello is a quiet place to stroll through history undisturbed passed sheep and edifices of the past. A main draw is the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, built in the Seventh century. It is one of the few remaining structures from Torcello’s boom days. Torcello Island is located directly across from Burano and can be reached by Vaporetto or private boat taxi.

In the late Thirteenth century, after repeat fires in Venice were attributed to the foundries used by glassblowers, the craft of glassblowing was outlawed within the city walls. The blowers relocated to the island of Murano in the Venice lagoon. To keep the craft of glassblowing as secretive and local as possible, the blowers were not allowed to set up shops beyond the lagoon, and if caught doing so, would be brutally separated from their hands. This insured Murano’s continued status as the center of the glass blowing world. A visit to Murano is not complete without dropping by a glass studio and watching artisans blow some fine pieces using red hot furnaces while they carelessly drink cold Peronis. To see a glass blowing demonstration look for a “Fornace Glass” sign exiting to the left at the Colonna Vaporetto stop. To reach Murano, take the LN line from Fondamente Nuove.

Gondola Ride
Few things are as romantic and storied as a trip down the Grand Canal in a Gondola. Gondoliers are almost entirely male and wear the signature black and white striped shirts. Reportedly, there is a lone female gondolier among the ranks of nine-hundred that ply the waterways as a trade. Negotiating with a Gondolier can be difficult, but the walk-away tactic could knock five to ten Euros off of the price. Eighty Euros for forty minutes is fairly standard, though expect to pay more between 7pm and 8am. The best time to ride is near dusk, follow it with dinner at an authentic Venetian restaurant like Al Covo.

Sunset over Lagoon, Gelato in hand
Sitting on the banks of the lagoon in San Marco, with a gelato-filled cone in hand, is a beautiful way to end the day. Watching the sun disappear beyond the beauty of Venice feels like being a smudge in some dusky Monet painting.

Charting the reign of the Doge
The Doge ruled Venice for over a thousand years. They built grand palaces and ruled undisturbed until the eighteenth century. Perhaps their most impressive contribution to the Venetian landscape is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) adjacent to Piazza San Marco. The palace holds a variety of splendor that reflects the wealth of Venice’s rulers, but some of the most interesting features are those that do not glisten and shine. A damp jail that once housed Cassanova, as well as various torture chambers, speak for the darker side of Venetian politics. Entry to the Palazzo Ducale costs 13 Euros, but opt for the 16 Euros admission which includes the secret passageways tour.

Off the beaten track, Lido is a seven-mile sandbar southeast of Venice – an authentic sliver of beaches and film festivals. The annual Venice Film Festival takes place in early September, and during the summer months, travel cognoscenti from all over Europe spread out across the chic beaches. Renting a bicycle will allow the speed to explore the long narrow island, and be sure to watch the sun set behind Venice to the west. Accommodation is cheap relative to Venice, so for travelers on a budget, Lido is a great option. The island can be reached via Vaporetto from Venice or by using the Alilaguna Waterbus from the airport.

New Roosevelt Island Tram in NYC

Cities employ myriad modes of transportation for commuters and tourists. From subways to rickshaws to monorails to water taxis, there is no shortages of ingenuity when it comes to moving people around. In 1976, however, New York City became the first city in the world to operate a tram for urban transportation. The Roosevelt Island Tram transported people between Roosevelt Island and east side of midtown Manhattan up until March of 2010 when it was shut down for renovations. Today, a brand new, modern, state-of-the-art tram once again allows commuters and tourists alike to sour over the East River and enjoy views of Manhattan unavailable anywhere else.

Gadling took a ride on the new tram before it even opened to the public. Can urban transportation be exciting? Keep reading to find out.

%Gallery-108524%The new tram was fabricated by Leitner-Poma. You might not know the name but, if you ski, you very well may have enjoyed their products. They’re responsible for many of the gondolas, ski lifts and trams you find on mountains around the world. Perhaps that’s why the new Roosevelt Island Tram looks significantly sleeker and more sophisticated than the rest of the bland, utilitarian vehicles that comprise the rest of the New York City transit system.

For those of you worried about a repeat of the 2006 incident in which 47 Roosevelt Island Tram passengers were stuck 250 feet in the air for several hours, rest assured that this new tram has several backup systems and fail-safes. The two trams run on four motors but can operate on only one. There are four independent braking systems. Perhaps most importantly, the tram can run completely off the grid and keeps a hefty supply of gas to power its generators.

The ride is smooth and silent. Unlike the subway, there’s no jerky start to jostle passengers. Suddenly, seemingly effortlessly, you begin elevated above Second Avenue as traffic flows right below you. Huge windows provide 360-degree views of Roosevelt Island, the East River and the east side of Manhattan. As you gently pass the upper floors of high rise buildings, it’s certainly amusing to spot people at the desks as you’re pretending not to stare. Before you know it, you’re at the apex of the ride, high above the East River.

The trams themselves are spacious. The windows keep claustrophobia at bay. A tram operator rides with passengers and controls everything using a touchscreen interface. This is a far cry from New York’s 100-plus-year-old subway operation. Everything about the tram seems modern and sleek.

With the new tram in place, Roosevelt Island is once again accessible via public transportation beyond solely the F train. And while more people may know about the Staten Island Ferry, the Roosevelt Island Tram is another wonder of New York City transit. For just a swipe of your MetroCard ($2.25), you can take a three-minute ride above the East River. Not too shabby for a New York City attraction that actually serves a very useful purpose.