Gondola Rides in Venice: 9 Essential Tips

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Well over ten years ago in Vegas, I wanted a gondola ride at the Venetian Hotel.  Mr. P balked at the price and said that he’d pay for a real gondola ride when we made it to Italy.  I was hopping and skipping when we finally arrived in Venice last year, ready for him to make good on his promise.

Just like anything that’s mildly famous in a city, it’s worth knowing a bit before you buy.  Here are my essential tips for having a great gondola experience!

Rates are fixed.  At the time we went, it was 80€ for 30 minutes.  The price was the same for two to six people.  If you want to save, split it among a group.  If you have a group, note there are only two traditional seats in the gondola.  The others will be sitting on small footstools.  Rides at dusk cost more.

Yes, they speak English.  Gondoliers speak well-enough English to quote you the price, sell you the ride, and understand the below.  Don’t worry!

Watch the clock.  Even though rates are fixed, look at your watch to make sure you are getting the entire time you paid for.  To avoid an argument, make a big show of looking at your watch as you climb in.

Singing costs extra.  If you want a serenade by your gondolier, you will pay extra.

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Gondola vs. Sandalo.  Make sure you are riding a gondola and not a sandalo if you want a gondola ride.  A sandalo is a smaller boat that can fit into tighter canals, which can be a good thing if that’s what you’re after.  But if you’re after a ride in a gondola, make sure you know the difference in looks.  A gondola looks like this (note tall ends) and a sandalo looks like this.

Gondola traffic jams eat into your time.  Your time is fixed even if your gondola has to wait for 3 or 4 other gondolas to clear out of your path.  Do not get a gondola near San Marco or from the touristy side of the Rialto Bridge.  We got ours from Rialto Mercato on the other side of the bridge.  We told the guy we wanted quiet after seeing groups of cruise passengers stuffed up in other canals.  He listened and we had a wonderful time.

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Gondoliers will point out sites.  It’s sort of like a mini tour.  Since we asked for a quiet trip, we saw some cute cafes out of the way that we were able to find our way back to after the ride.

They will take your picture.  I think they’re pretty used to it!

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Don’t save your gondola ride for the last day.  Or save it really at all.  You never know how the weather can change.  If the weather is great, go for it!  If you really want to put off the ride, make sure to check the weather online.  If the weather is bad, no gondola rides.  We were there for 2 days: the first day was sunny and the second day was drizzly and windy.  If we waited til the second day, we would not have gotten a ride.

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Anyone else have tips to share?  We loved our experience!

Want more travel advice?  Check out an index of all my travel posts here!

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Italy: How to Handle Rome’s Crazy Train Station

Surviving Roma Termini Train Station

Roma Termini is a huge train station.  If you are planning on training around Italy at all, odds are you will be there at some point.

What We Thought of Our Experience

We were super on guard and prepared for this and it ended up being a fine experience.  If you can navigate trains or public transport in other countries, you should be fine here, but pay attention to the below tips before you go!

Roma Termini Station

Things to Know About Navigating Roma Termini

1. Get there early.  Do yourself a favor and give yourself time to sort everything out.  Even with these tips, the place is chaotic and being in a rush is no bueno.

2. It’s served well by public transport.  We took a direct bus from our AirBNB in Trastevere.

3. Ignore those who ask if you need help.  They don’t work for the station and will try to pickpocket or fleece you.  Those that actually work there will be behind a desk or counter and will not actually seek you out.

4. Buy your tickets at machines or you can wait in line for a human.  Yes, you can buy your tickets online ahead of time via RailEurope or similar sites.  Remember to have cash if you don’t have a European credit card.  Read more about using credit cards abroad here.

5. Waiting in line for a human wasn’t that bad.  Your results may vary, but the line seemed to move quickly.  We waited about 15 minutes after being confused by the machine.

6. Platforms are easy to find.  Everything was pretty well marked.

7. There are plenty of food options.  Nothing ah-mazing foodwise, but there are options and better than we’ve seen in other cities (Gare du Nord in Paris, I’m looking at you!).  If you get there early and need a bite before getting on the train, you will be fine.

8. Stamp your ticket at the machine before getting on the train.  This is not a subway/metro and there are no fare gates that prevent you from getting on the train.  However, you need to punch/validate/stamp your ticket at one of the green machines before boarding (they look like this).

9. Watch your stuff, beware of pickpockets.  Train stations generally are easy pickings for thieves.  Do not leave bags unattended.  Do not set your purse on the ground next to you.

Photo courtesy Prasad Pillai via Creative Commons license.

Italy: Taking a Food Tour in Rome

Best Rome Food Tour

Mr. P and I are all about food, especially when traveling.  A coworker recommended Eating Italy Tours to us, so I booked a Trastevere walking tour.  To be honest, I did zero research and just booked it.  I trust the foodies at my office.

Our Thoughts on the Food Tour

Come on an empty stomach.  We ate so. much. food.  Some places we had little bites.  At others, it was much more.  We sat down as a group and shared three platters of pasta and wine at one stop and sat at another restaurant for dessert at the end!

Best Rome Food Tour

We learned a lot about local food and how it’s made.  So many of the places we stopped at had been in business for decades or even generations.  The pride in their work was evident and the food was amazing.  At the porchetta shop, the owner’s 90+ year old mother still sits at the register.

Best Rome Food Tour

We learned how to tell real gelato from fake.  I consider this a necessary public service announcement so I wrote about it in its own separate post.

Best Rome Food Tour

Easy-going, good-sized group.  As you know, I don’t like tours generally.  I make exceptions for food tours and this one was great.  I didn’t feel like I was getting herded along.  It was nice, down to Earth, and with a good-sized group.

We went back to several places we visited.  Later on that same day, Mr. P had to go back and get a porchetta sandwich.  It was a real porchetta emergency.  We also had snacks and dinner at one of the other restaurants and had the best cacio e pepe of our time in Rome!

Best Rome Food Tour

You get a list of the stops at the end.  Don’t worry about writing everything down!

They helped us with restaurant reservations.  We passed by a restaurant that we’d been trying to get into for dinner.  Even though it wasn’t on the tour, the guide stepped in for us and got us dinner reservations!

In sum, I’m still dreaming about what we ate.  It was that good.

Best Rome Food Tour

Should You Go?

At 75€ per person, it’s a bit pricey but you get a huge amount of food and an English-speaking guide.  I wholeheartedly recommend it if you even remotely like food.  You don’t have to be a big foodie to enjoy it, it’s paced well, and you get to stop in places you never would have thought to check out.  It was time very well spent for us!  They cater to some food allergies/issues, so check it out!

Eating Italy Tours

Note, I am not listing our stops on the tour here as it would not be nice to the company.  I received zero compensation from the tour company for my thoughts here — they don’t even know I’m writing this review.  To the extent we visited any of the stops on our own, I will talk about those experiences in another post.

We traveled to Italy in May 2015.  Click here for all of my tips and things we wish we’d known before our trip!

Italy: 8 Key Tips for Visiting the Colosseum

Rome Colosseum by Natalie Parker

Click here for all of my Italy tips!

What We Thought of the Colosseum

I’ll be honest: I’m glad we went, it was cool, but I wasn’t in awe.  It didn’t rise to the awe-inspiring moment of the Eiffel Tower.  Your results may vary, of course!

We weren’t in the best mindset when we got there because a bunch of the roads were shut down, we had to walk a long way, and it was really hot.  Still, I think I enjoyed sitting outside and looking at it more than picking my way through the inside.

8 Tips for Visiting the Colosseum

1. Get an advance ticket. Buy advance tickets here and you can get in a special line.

2. Sometimes the advance ticket line is huge, but don’t despair. When we got there, the line for people who already had tickets was twice as long as those without.  We were pretty pissed (see above about it being hot).  Don’t despair. Our line moved quickly and we were inside within 20 minutes.

3. A Roma Pass gets you a dedicated entrance but . . . it seemed weird. Yes, their line was way shorter. But once they got inside, their line ground to a halt and we passed some of them. Did they need to use their pass to print a ticket once they got inside? Sometimes that’s the case with monuments.

4. There are restricted areas if you’re not on a tour. I’m not a tour person and I felt a tad ripped off that I couldn’t access the third level or the main platform, It seemed like a racket. Still, I don’t think the tour would have been worth it for us — we saw plenty. If seeing every last nook and cranny is important to you, book a tour. You’ll also get to skip the line.

Rome Colosseum by Natalie Parker

5. Bring a picnic, especially if it’s hot. The food options close by aren’t great. I wish we would have taken some snacks to eat inside the Colosseum or nearby in the Forum.

6. If you’re visiting the Forum after, ask for directions. We didn’t and walked the long way around in the hot sun. There was a closer entrance!

7. Bring a map of the Forum. We had a really hard time finding exits.  There was a moment when I thought “we’re trapped in here!”  Sure, we could have used this as an opportunity to explore the Forum more, wanderlust and all that jazz.  But it was hot and we were tired.

8. It’s worth the climb up Palatine Hill. There are great views of the Forum and Colosseum. We wish we’d brought a picnic here!

What would you add to this list?  Was your experience different?  Please share!

We traveled to Italy in May 2015.  Click here for all of my tips and things we wish we’d known before our trip!

Italian Paper

Italian Paper by Natalie Parker

It happened again. I tried not to, but it did anyway.

In Italy I found myself buying rolled handmade paper in Venice and having to carry it around for the rest of the time. Onto a vaporetto (public boat), into the rental car, across Italy, across Florence on foot to our new apartment, to the train station, onto a regional train, onto a bus, to the hotel, on the airport shuttle, through check-in and security, one flight, one layover with a run through the airport, one longhaul flight, through customs, on the train home.

It’s a good thing I could keep it on my wrist — just treat me like a kid with a balloon. At least I didn’t leave it on the airport check-in counter like I did in Buenos Aires.

I told myself I wouldn’t do this. In Venice, I suggested that the clerk cut the sheet into a couple smaller pieces. She looked horrified. Look lady, I’m going to cut it up anyway. Nope, I couldn’t bring myself to insist, so it got rolled and around my wrist it went for the rest of the trip.

Italian Paper by Natalie Parker

I really should stick to buying cards because they’re compact! When we got to Florence, I bought some Florentine paper that had to be rolled because why not? I was already holding a roll anyway.

Do you have a weakness when shopping abroad?  I’d love to hear it!

Italy: How to Tell Real Gelato from Fake

How to Tell Real from Fake Gelato in Italy

Did you know that most gelato you will see in Italy is fake?  Yes, fake as in made from a powder and pumped full of air.  80% of gelato in Rome is fake.

Don’t let the “artigianale” (artisinal) signs fool you.  We saw plenty of fake gelato that was labeled artigianale.

Look at the colors.  Real gelato will not have artificial colors.  Look closely at mint and banana.  Real mint gelato is white, not green.  Real banana is greyish and not yellow.  If you find green mint or yellow banana, it’s probably fake gelato.  The color of the gelato should exist in nature.

How to Tell Real from Fake Gelato in Italy

Look at how it’s displayed. Is the gelato piled up into pretty puffy mounds?  Then it’s probably fake.  The pretty mounds mean that the gelato has had air whipped into it and likely contains stabilizers.  Real gelato will be displayed very simply.  Some of the real gelato we saw was kept in covered containers!

Is it garnished? Are there piles of mint leaves on the mint or strawberries all over the strawberry gelato?  Then it might be fake.  Again, real gelato doesn’t need to advertise.

How to Tell Real from Fake Gelato in Italy

Yes, it can be challenging to avoid the fake stuff and find the real stuff.  On the plus side, if you avoid the fake gelato it will keep you from eating gelato every three seconds on your trip.

Even being careful to find the real stuff, I still averaged about 1.5 gelatos a day during our two week trip.  It can be done!

Italy: Tips for Eating Out in Rome

Eating Out in Rome by Natalie Parker

Eating out in Rome was actually stressful.  It’s something we weren’t expecting.

My thoughts below apply mostly to the Trastevere area, avoiding the tourist restaurants.  I’m sure there’s more to this and we could have spent more time in Rome to get to know it better, but I hope for the casual traveler, this will help soften the blow a bit.

Make reservations beforehand.  We called several days in advance to many places and were consistently told they had absolutely no availability at all for any of the days we were there.  Not early in the evening or late at night.  I honestly find that hard to believe but maybe I’m missing something.  Looking back, I would have tried to call a month ahead of time (which still kind of seems outrageous, we weren’t looking at five star restaurants).

Walk ups are possible, but you have to be forward or the staff will ignore you.  This was a bit of a shock to the system.  I’ve never experienced it before — in any country I’ve been in, even in famously “rude” France, someone at least acknowledges your presence when you are trying to get a table.  After having all restaurant staff ignore us, we had to physically flag someone down and ask if they had room.  We were mostly treated like a bother and that they were doing us a favor by even talking to us.  This wasn’t the case at every place we tried, and I’ll highlight those in a roundup of restaurants later.

We had some really great meals and not everyone was aloof or indifferent.  But, I think this is worth noting if you’re traveling to Rome just so you’re in the right mindset.  Again, expectations are everything when traveling, so if we’d known that eating out was going to be a contact sport, we’d have been in the right mindset for it.

Just like in Paris, not every place will do dishes justice.  While it’s easier to find a decent plate of pasta in Rome than soup a l’oignon in Paris, we still had some mediocre dishes.  For the times we had to dip into touristy restaurants, we had much better luck with the pizza (pizza is harder to mess up?).

Have you been to Rome before?  I’d love to know if our experience was unique.