Postcards from Italy

Row Like a Venetian

Voga, voga, il vento tace,
pura è l'onda, il ciel sereno,
solo un alito di pace
par che allegri e cielo e mar:
voga, voga, o marinar.

Row, row, the wind has died,
the water is pure, the sky bright,
only a breath of peace
seems to cheer both sky and sea.
Row, row, sailor.

- Leopoldo Tarantini

voga-voga-row-venice-cr-ciutravel(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though its reputation has been somewhat sullied by its popularity with tourists, there is nothing more authentic and historic - not to mention picturesque - in Venice than voga rowing. This traditional style of sculling with a single, long oar to both propel and steer has been used by *gondolieri *for centuries and is uniquely suited to guide gondolas through the narrow, twisting canals of La Serenissima. Though we always urge travelers to Venice to support this local tradition by taking a gondola ride during their stay, on our most recent visit we went a step further and took a private lesson to try our hand at voga ourselves!

We contacted Row Venice, a local rowing association that was founded by English and American expats Jane Caporal and Nan McElroy in 2012. They had fallen in love with the Venetian voga tradition after moving to Venice and, once they had become expert vogatrici, decided to share their passion with visitors to their adopted city. Today, Row Venice has 15 female instructors who hail from both Venice and across the globe, all devotees of voga.

learning-the-basics-row-venice-cr-ciutravel(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We were a bit apprehensive as we were complete beginners, despite Nan's reassurances that none of her students have ever fallen overboard. We met her at the Sacca Misericordia boat marina, which was easy to find from the Strada Nuova, and climbed aboard our batela coda di gambero. These “shrimp-tailed” wooden boats are particularly stable, perfect for first-timers like us who found the standing rowing position a bit of a challenge to get used to. Though gondolas have become the iconic boat of Venice, the batela was once the most common local vessel. Today, only seven of these hand-crafted boats still exist, four of which are used by Row Venice for their voga lessons.

row-venice(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Nan started by teaching us the basic rowing stroke a prua (at the prow) with the boat still safely moored in the marina, going over the wrist twist-push forward-up and out-repeat movement until she was satisfied, then we graduated to rowing a poppa, steering the boat from the stern like an official gondolier as we set off along the wide, quiet canal leading to the open lagoon. Nan was an expert teacher and patient with us while we got the hang of the movement; one of us was always rowing or learning to row. She advised us not to look at the oars but instead straight ahead to keep our balance, and helped guide us under the lower bridges and past the few water taxis and delivery boats we met.

cicchetti-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Voga rowing is fun, but it's also work, so we were glad we had booked the cicchetti row. This combines a voga rowing lesson with two stops to sample the traditional Venetian tapas-style appetizers that are served before meals from bàcaro cafés and washed down with Prosecco or wine from the nearby Veneto hills.

ciccheti-row-venice-cr-ciutravel(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

row-venice-cicchetti-cr-ciutravel(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Voga lessons can be booked during the morning or early afternoon without the additional cicchetti tour, ideal for families with kids who would like to try their hand at rowing, or at sunset for a romantic vogata di sera for two. The sunset row takes you along the Grand Canal shimmering with the lights of Venice by night, and you can request to be dropped off in the Cannaregio neighborhood for dinner. Though voga lessons are occasionally cancelled due to rough seas, our February row was a pleasure despite the low temperatures and strong winds across the lagoon.

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though it took us a few tries to perfect our technique, we loved learning how to voga through Venice's unforgettable canals like real gondolieri!

row-venice-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Related posts:
Eating Cicchetti in Venice
Everything You Need to Know about Venice's Gondolas
Guilt-Free Tourist Fun in Italy

Contributor: Rebecca Winke

Concierge in Umbria
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