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Venice by Boat: A Sustainable Local Experience with Row Venice

December 13th, 2019 by Prontopia

This week we had a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Venice by boat with a rowing lesson in the inner canals of Venice with the women of Row Venice, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of traditional Venetian waterways culture, particularly the traditions of voga alla veneta, which is the Venetian style of rowing while standing and facing forward (as with gondolas). Operated by mostly female rowers, a rowing lesson with Row Venice is a fantastic way to explore off-the-beaten path areas of Venice while also participating in an ancient tradition.

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Row Venice is a non-profit company dedicated to promoting the rights and accessibility (monetarily and by advocating for permissions) of women to participate on an equal level to men in rowing in the regattas of Venice, and having access to careers and sports events. It felt like a historic time for us to do the lesson on January 27, 2018, because a new race was created this year, the Regatta delle Colombine, to allow women a chance to row in the  gondolini boats, which are traditionally used soley by men in the annual Regata Storica race in September. The Row Venice organization has advocated for the past several years for the opportunity for women to race in other types of races beyond the limited options allowed to them to this date.

Our lesson began at the Row Venice meeting point at Ponte de la Sacca at the very edge of the Venetian neighborhood (sestiere) of Cannaregio (a very nice area to stay — and Prontopia Locals can gladly assist you with how to get around Venice from here). Our instructor, Elena, began with an explanation of the boat, a typical Venetian boat called a batela a coa de gambero. Only 6 boats of this type exist in Venice because the knowledge of how to make this  boat has been lost since the 1930s, yet it was historically one of the most common boats among the canals, used for transporting goods throughout Venice. Elena then demonstrated where to stand on the boat, and how to use the oars. Then, time to row! Using the oars was a bit technical at first, but once you get used to it, it’s very peaceful and rhythmic, and gives you a hands-on understanding of how boats such as this, and gondolas, are operated.

Exploring the quiet interior canals gave us a gracious glimpse of Venetian daily life. Seeing Venice by boat in this way provided a closer understanding of how living in coexistence has been historically important for the people of Venice, and gave us a deeper perspective of the need for preserving Venetian culture and the ecosystem of Venice through sustainable travel initiatives such as Row Venice. For example, we know it is a responsible travel practice for Venice to try to reduce the motorized water taxi traffic operating on the inner canals, and so when possible Prontopia Locals recommend walking or taking public ferries. But when you are rowing yourself with oars on the inner canals, it is truly evident how excessive motorized boat traffic to these areas is potentially damaging to the environment and daily life of Venice.

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Learning the story of the Row Venice women’s positive advocacy to the local associations for permission to row in the regatta on the gondolini boats was an inspiring example of proactive, collaborative action for change in Venice. It was exhilarating to learn how to row while hearing the current news stories of Row Venice’s advocacy for women’s rights in this iconic UNESCO town. The work they are doing is inspiring to young children and middle age women alike, and I hope that the achievement of women racing in this Regatta will lead to more inclusivity going forward. The non-profit proceeds of Row Venice are used to supplement women who would like to enter regatta races, and encourages inclusivity of women in all regatta races with all boat types. They also work with local high schools to teach young women how to row and inspire them by pairing them with female rowing champion mentors. One of the barriers for women to compete in regattas in Venice is the fact that the prize money for the races  designated for women is 13% of the total prize money for male races, a sum that does not cover the incidental costs of actually entering the races, or equipping themselves as athletes with boats. So Row Venice encourages women to enter races, and the organization supplements the remaining balance of their out-of-pocket costs. Through such initiatives, Row Venice is making a contemporary advancement in the continuation of this vital element of Venetian heritage.  Evviva!

As a remarkable coincidence, as we were walking back to our office in the Santa Croce quarter of Venice, standing on a small bridge, the famous sandolista Chiara Curto, one of only 2 women in Venice allowed to commercially row tourists, passed under the bridge beneath us. As the young students of Row Venice grow up, filled with pride and a desire to preserve this cherished culture, we hope to see more women rowing along these canals soon.

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Row Venice offers three options for their rowing lessons in Venice:

Venetian Rowing Lesson: The classic, 90-minute, private lesson is for up to four people in a traditional, Venetian hand-crafted all-wood batellina boat. Available from10 a.m. through 4 p.m (from 8:30 a.m. from Apr-Oct)

Total cost (per boat) is €85 for 1 or 2 people, €120 for 3 people, and €140 for 4 people. For groups of more than 8 people, cost is €40 per person.

Cichetto Row: Foodies and wine enthusiasts can have a private lesson followed by a giro d’ombra, rowing around Venice to stop at two separate bàcari wine bars, sampling food and wine of Venice (included). Maximum of 2 boats.This activity is 2.5 hours, from 5:30 p.m. Apr-Oct; from 11:30 a.m. Nov-Mar.

Cost From €220 – €280 per boat for 1-4 people, food and drinks included.

Evening Row Grand Canal: A 90-minute, private evening rowing lesson that takes place in the Canale Grande after the city begins to relax. From dusk on. Available at 8 p.m. Apr–Oct, and at 5:30 p.m. Nov – Mar

Cost €180 total for from 1-4 people

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