How to cross Canal Grande the Venetian way.
The 2.5 mile length of Canal Grande cuts through Venice like a lazy snake and to cross it there are only four bridges, but fear not! As busy as the bridges become, you can always count on a Venetian's preferred method of transport - the boat. Or can you?
150 years ago there was only one bridge to cross the Canal Grande so Gondola Ferries named 'Gondola Parada' were the Venetians quickest way over. With more than thirty 'traghetti' run by the same families for centuries, a quick coin would exchange hands for a nifty 3 minute crossing but now it seems one needs an insider knowledge, because somehow these crossings have been lost over time and continue as an unpredictable mystery to this day.
Where to get a Gondola Parada to cross the Gran Canal?
Well, two crossings seem reliable, but what about the other six?
We're told to look out for painted boards propped up throughout town - erm, town is pretty big.... and rather complex...
Then there's a website, the basic bones of a website, with an Italian phone number to call for clarification of opening times, which effectively don't exist.
Maybe this is the Venetians sneakily clinging to a tradition known clearly to them and traded for a mere 70c (much like the Venezia Unica Card - an exclusive, out of our visitors' hands) because we remain dazzled by the blinding grandeur and unique beauty of a city whose spell bewitches us far beyond travel cards and restaurant discounts. Anyway, who cares if we have to pay 2 euros, instead of 70c? We're smack-bang on the Gran Canal of Venice! I personally would pay 10 times the going rate for three minutes of old-time romance, being steered gracefully from bank to bank by a gondolier or two - it's authentic and glorious, go seek it out!
And yes, of course you can rent a smaller and glitzier gondola with cushions and velvet tassels for as long as you like, but then where's the true Venice in that?
How does it work?
The basic boats take up to 10 people and the two gondoliers are strict about this. You arrive at the stop and wait in a queue on a wooden pier while the gondola ventures back and forth between banks. For 2 euros (in coins), you sit (or stand if you're Venetian) while you're gently, yet swiftly, steered across. The journey is quick but not suitable for anything except people and dogs - no baby buggies, wheelchairs or heavy luggage - rather use the Vaporetto Number 1 which zig-zags across the wide Channel and has a flat surface easily accessible to all.
Gondola Parada Stations from most reliable to least:
1. Pescaria (near the Rialto fish market) - Santa Sofia (near Ca' d'Oro)
2. San Tomà - Sant'Angelo
3. Santa Maria del Giglio (from the gondola station by the Gritti Palace) - Calle Lanza in Dorsoduro (near the Salute Church)
4. Dogana, from a pier at the tip of Dorsoduro - San Marco Vallaresso
5. Riva del Carbòn - Fondamente del Vin
6. San Marcuola - Fóndaco dei Turchi (by the Natural History Museum)
7. Fondamente S. Lucia (in front of the railroad station) - Fondamenta San Simeón Piccolo
8. San Samuele - Ca' Rezzónico
Opening times will vary, in fact some don't open at all - check the Traghetto Parada web page for information and a map, but don't expect these times to be set in stone. Most Gondola Ferries run from early in the morning until 7 or 8 at night and stop for a few hours at lunchtime, if you get to your Gondola Parada stop and see no gondola, don't bother waiting, do as the Venetians do and walk on, to the the next Gran Canal Bridge - Rialto or Degli Scalzi or catch a Vaporetto (handy if you have a discounted, unlimited ACTV pass). If you're near the Train Station or Piazzale Roma, use the other two bridges to cross: Ponte della'Accademia or the slippery-when-wet Calatrava Constitution Bridge.
Gondola Parada routes are marked clearly on Venice street maps as straight lines across Canal Grande or look out for 'Traghetto' signs on your wanders around town - they'll be fixed to the corners of buildings, above or below the 'Ferrovia' signs to the train station, with a pointed arrow showing direction.
Don't expect punctuality or high-end tourism or even a receipt on the Gondola Parada, this is Venice as it is and to really live this city is to go with it, perhaps even lose yourself for an afternoon or two, follow where your heart takes you (or your taste buds), take the narrowest calli instead of the busy ones and tap into an ancient maritime culture where naughty has always met nice in a dreamy Casanova courtship. Discover the secrets of Piazza San Marco and lose your map to truly experience glorious Venice, the Venetian way.