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Report 1920: Rome, Tuscany, Venice & Amalfi for Beginners

By nikkihop from USA, Summer 2011

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Page 9 of 16: June 8, 2011 Day Eight: Kayaking the Canals of Venice

photo by nikkihop

Kayaking in Venice

DB and I got up at 5:15am to pack and send the girls off. We walked them down to the San Zaccaria vaporetto stop to take the Orange Line Alilaguna boat to the airport. We waited with them for the boat, then said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel.  

DB attempted a couple more hours of sleep, while I went out exploring again on our final (and rainless) day in Venice.  I had a good two hours to kill and I used it well, walking all over the island taking photos and just soaking it in.  As early as it was, there were practically no tourists and only a few locals walking dogs and setting up shops. I walked pretty far afield, visiting the San Polo, Santa Croce and Dorsoduro neighborhoods. Venice is an amazing city for details: funny doorknobs set in the middle of doors in the shape of gargoyles, small shrines set in alcoves above and next to doors, old wooden boat moored to private landings on the canals, seagulls washing themselves in cisterns, and buckets on a rope that are let down to haul groceries and deliveries up to upper stories of the tall, narrow buildings.

DB and I had something really special planned for the day.  We booked a kayak trip with Venice Kayak, where our guide Rene would guide us through the canals of Venice at water level. I met DB back in the B&B, where we packed up the rest of our luggage and left it in storage in the lobby. We took the number 42 vaporetto from San Zaccaria to the island of Certosa, a stop that we had to request especially since the water bus only stops there upon request. We walked down the long wooden pier and into the walled enclosure on Certosa, which houses boat builders and other maritime businesses and research outfits. We walked down the main path and spotted a couple of tall Danish men relaxing outside the island's only cafe.

With our Texas Longhorn baseball caps, we were easily recognizable as the tourist paddlers for the day. Rene Seindal and his friend Piers were our guides for the day. We bought some bottled water at the cafe and then headed down a grass path to get outfitted with our kayaks, life jackets and spray skirts before hauling the lot down to the lagoon and setting out across the bay.

I cannot adequately describe the next six hours. It was magical. I won't say it's not hard work -- there were three foot swells in the lagoon and it was a lot of paddling, but I would do this again and again if given another chance. There is no better way to see Venice.

We paddled into the naval boat yard at the east end of the island first, pausing to see a submarine and the glorious architecture before being ushered out by the naval police. We then paddled along the coastline until turning into the canals just before St. Mark's square. DB and I are relatively experienced paddlers, but we have never kayaked in such close quarters before. I, in particular, was a bit of a maniac at first because I was so enthusiastic about taking photos, managing my paddle, and drinking in the waters-edge view. I found it hard to concentrate on maneuvering my 14-foot kayak in channels barely wide enough for two kayakers when there was so much to see.

Rene, our guide, is from Denmark, but moved to Venice years ago and now gives knowledgeable kayak tours of the city. He has apparently had to deal with a lot of disgruntled gondoliers, who must have a license to operate in the canals, whereas Rene does not. He and Piers were wonderful, snapping photos of DB and I all day, which they later sent to us in an online album. Rene kept a running dialogue going of Venice's history. We paddled quietly through back alley canals with Venetian laundry hanging out to dry overhead. Occasionally, gondoliers and local boats would pass us as we gripped stonework, doors, boats and each other to steady our kayaks in the wake of these larger boats, which tossed us gently around. Many of the beautiful bridges that we paddled under were barely tall enough to allow a gondolier to pass under while hunching and ducking to fit. We had no trouble and glided easily along, with the hoards of summer tourists trooping over the bridges above our heads. So many of them took my photo, I felt self-conscious and wished I looked more presentable than the two pigtails I sported under my Longhorns cap. Many Texans called out "Longhorns!" or "Go! Sooners!" (boo)as we paddled by.

We stopped for lunch at a pizzeria on the Campo San Giovanni e Paolo underneath the large equestrian statue of Colleoni in front of the stately old church. We just paddled up to the white marble steps leading from the water to the piazza and left our kayaks on the first wide step. We walked a few meters over to the cafe and sat an ate. We got a lot of stares, but it was fun.

Back in the boat after lunch, our beautiful sunny day began to turn a bit darker and Rene checked the forecast and said it would likely rain in the afternoon. In one of the most staggering moments of the day, we paddled down the tiny Rio de Santissimo canal, which is only accessible by kayak, and paddled through a tiny tunnel just tall enough for kayakers. The tunnel leads directly under the Santo Stefano church and put us out near the Campo Sant'Angelo on the other side. Loosely heading for home now, we paddled the piece de resistance (sorry for the French)and hit the Grand Canal to paddle under the Rialto Bridge. This was the action sequence of the day, since we had to dodge water taxis, fast-moving and unforgiving vaporetti, and stern-faced gondoliers on the main route through Venice. Paddling hard, we made it safely down and across the Grand Canal and back out to the bay via some smaller canals. Once in the lagoon again, the weather turned and the water rose to three foot swells. We struggled back to Certosa, tired and happy.

I would love to close this portion of the report and pretend that the day was perfect, but thus begins probably the biggest planning mistake I made on the whole trip. Not wanting to lose any more time than was necessary, we planned on renting a car after our kayak trip and driving down south to the Amalfi Coast, stopping for the night in Assisi.

Oh. My. God. My arms were so tired from paddling and I was dirty and just plain beat, but DB and I retrieved our luggage and made it to the airport to pick up the rental car by 7:30pm that night. We set out south and stopped for dinner at another Autogrill for panini before continuing the journey south. It was the most painful drive I think I have ever made in my life! We were so tired. The odometer was just crawling along. DB and I had to switch drivers several times, because once it got dark, the narrow mountainous road and florescent-lit tunnels just got hypnotically monotonous. Somehow, we made it to Assisi and the Hotel Fontebella before passing out completely.

Note to self: never drive after eight hours of kayaking!

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