Experience 6: Kayaking around Venice

by Oliver Smith
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Of all the deceptions played by all the cities in the world, Venice surely plays the sneakiest of the lot.

First impressions were pretty glum when we arrived today. We drove across the causeway to a miserable car park on the outskirts of town. There’s a nasty stink from the water – the damp smell when you accidentally leave a soggy swimming kit in a school locker over the summer holidays. And there’s a gang of angry-looking seagulls loitering around, looking like they might beat you up and steal your lunch money.

We caught a Vaporetto waterbus towards the centre of town, rounded a bend and – quite suddenly, rather miraculously – everything changed. You could shovel every superlative on to Venice and it still wouldn’t do it justice. This is a city of indescribable beauty: whose rapturous, heartbreaking loveliness no number of paintings or postcards could ever prepare us for.

And today we were lucky enough to see Venice from a different angle altogether – on a kayak tour led by Danish former IT specialist Rene Seindal. Paddling ahead, Rene taught us Venetian canal etiquette – how to limbo under low bridges; how to shout on blind corners; mostly how to cope with the manic, demolition derby school of boat driving in a town where most drivers think they’re in a James Bond chase.

Down at water level, you get a sense of the hidden life of Venice – a quieter, less twee, slightly smellier place – perhaps more poetic for its griminess. We passed through canals hidden from pedestrians and too narrow for gondolas – where laundry lines flutter overhead, and where the thrumming of motorboats is replaced by the splash of kayak paddles in the water beneath you.

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