In the early Middle Ages, hundreds of horses navigated the narrow bridges and alleyways of Venice. You can imagine the downside. By the 14th century, the city had had enough. The beasts were banned, and the noble class embraced watercraft as a respectable form of transportation.
The boats became the way to get around the lagoon's islands. To navigate over the countless shifting sandbars, the boats were flat (no keel or rudder) and the captains stood up to see. By 1800, there were 10,000 gondolas in Venice.
Today, there are only 500 gondolas, used only by tourists. The boats are prettier, but they work the same way they always have. Single oars are used both to propel and to steer the boats, which are built curved a bit on one side so that an oar thrusting from that side sends the gondola in a straight line.
A great guide revels in giving you the "back stories" behind the historical and cultural traits that make Europe so fascinating. A gondola, for example, is transformed from a tourist cliché to a thing of beauty, hand-crafted over centuries to excel at what it's been designed to do (and to think it all began with horse manure!). It's a vivid thread in the experiential tapestry that creates a fun, rewarding, and unforgettable trip.
For 2019, we have a thousand small-group departures within reach for weaving your own tapestry. And since bell'Italia is a natural place to start, this month's Tour News is a celebration of Italy's great cities. You'll find a lively "Heart of Italy" video montage, a day-by-day "Best of Venice, Florence and Rome" slideshow, tour member raves, an interview with guide Lisa Anderson, and a forum discussion on whether to spend extra time in Venice or Rome (a pleasant dilemma to face).
One little thread from Venice still makes me smile, 30 years later. I was in a gondola with my mom, and she asked our rather stoic gondolier, "Don't you all sing?"
He replied, "Madame, there are the lovers and there are the singers. I do not sing."