Last summer when I found myself (and my boyfriend, along with our two 1970s motorcycles) crossing over the Alps and heading toward Venice I made one request: to ride in a gondola. I did not care that riding in a gondola was the #1 most expected thing to do while in Venice, it sounded perfectly romantic, and after having spent a week camping and motorcycling, I was craving something easy and effortless, with a hint of magic.
As we drove into the city for our day of exploring, the hopeless romantic in me vanished into a dreamland of anticipation. The thought of gliding swiftly through the narrow canals, nestled next to my love, in this ageless city had me starry-eyed. Perhaps we would cool off from the heat of the afternoon with an Aperol Spritz in hand, or give our feet a break and take in the evening air, enjoying a sinking sunset with a wine grown not far from here. The timeworn brick buildings towering over us, the water gently rippling behind. Cats sunning in windowsills, while sweet grannies hung the laundry on a line above. Our noses would be tickled with the scent of fresh espresso mingled with the ever-damp slabs. It was bound to be a fairytale fantasy come true. The Disney-loving little girl in me was absolutely tickled with expectancy.
The first thing we did when we stepped foot onto the little island burrowed along the Italian coast, was to turn off the main path packed with selfie-stick yielding and roller bag tugging tourists. We set out in an aimless wander, the sort that always seems to lead exactly where you hoped it would. Letting dead-ends and alluring views be our guide we found ourselves seamlessly lost; perfection.
Coming upon a quiet, inviting stoop on the water, we sat to soak in the magic (and reapply sunscreen).
Suddenly, from around the corner, came a drifting gondola with a pair of lovers nestled in while a gondolier maneuvered toward us. I gasped. Soon that would be us, I reminded my ever-appeasing boyfriend. This was it, the anticipated charm, the romance, the antiquity; it was just as I had daydreamed. As the vessel artfully approached I abruptly noticed something… the lovers were not intertwined with romantic gazes in their eyes, they were in fact entirely bored and glued to their cell phone screens. And the gondolier, the man carrying out an age-old tradition, clad in the essential hat and stripe shirt, was also on his cell, in the middle of a call. He was speaking a very unromantic, gruff, annoyed Italian, which did not exist in my fantasy. He half-heartedly finessed the vessel back and forth, banging into the canal walls, as if he were part of a pinball machine.
My romance bubble deflated at once. Utter disappointment. With the burden of repetition and conformity, this art had lost its novel alluring magic.
Thanks to the coaxing of a couple Aperol spritzers the city quickly re-sparked the romance in me and we continued our day meandering down quiet, narrow alleys, finding magic around each corner.
As we crossed one bridge we were stopped dead in our tracks. A view you’d never happen upon in any other city in the world. As far as the eye could see, stretching down and around a corner, an entire canal packed in a dead-stop-traffic-jam of gondolas. Each boat filled with once hopeful tourists who were now looking more bored and listless than ever before.
Just as my romance bubble was beginning to deflate once more I found solace in the fact that there was magic aplenty yet to be found off the beaten path… and another Aperol spritz.