Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Venice: What do gondoliers wear on their feet?

What do gondoliers wear on their feet?   

When you think of Venice, the first thought may be the iconic gondola ride along the grand canal or on one of the quiet canals traversing the many islands that make up this city.   .  

You can enjoy watching the approximate 400  glossy black gondolas silently passing from the top of a bridge and on occasionally hear the echo of a gondolier serenade.


Gondoliers dress in the official ‘uniform’ of navy or red striped shirts, dark pants and often the iconic straw boater, according to Venice Insider.  An official clothing store at the foot of the Rialto bridge, Emillio Ceccato,   is where you can purchase authentic items.   When a number of gondoliers are clustered together, sight site is photo worthy!

You can usually find a group of gondoliers at one of the 'gondola stations' throughout Venice, waiting for the next passenger.  

Gondola Slippers:
On an earlier visit to Venice, Elizabeth Rainer, one of the three contributors to ‘My Pretty Venice’ a guide to finding Venice artisans and experiences (ISBN-10: 8873017746), introduced me to several of the artisans/shops included in the guide.  One of our stops was near the Rialto Bridge, S. Polo, # 60, to learn about the shoes sometimes called gondolier slippers or le furlane.                                                

My guide today, Elizabeth Rainer,
 a Venice expert


S. Polo, 60   Rialto, Venice


When you enter this compact store, you are assailed by the riot of color from the floor to almost ceiling, cubicles holding furlane in linen, velvet and some novelty fabrics.  

Furlane in many colors and styles

Finding limited information about le furlane on line, some of the history is described on the web site for Piede a Terre.   The following is from parts of their web site:   

'As a result of the poverty and lack of employment just after WW II, the area of Friuli, north of Venice, began recycling old bicycle tires and jute sacks formerly used for seeds and grains.    The tire soles were waterproof and hard wearing.   The shoes evolved as other fabrics from old clothes and even rags were used for the uppers.'   

The simple slipper has expanded to wonderful fashion footwear

'Hand made by women in the area, they were perhaps the first recycled products!    The rubber soles proved long wearing, good for a sometimes wet surface and could protect the finish of a gondola, which is a very expensive boat.' 

It is not difficult to imagine women sitting in their homes homes producing slippers and using the proceeds from the sale of this simple product to supplement the family's income. 

Today you can find the slippers in several styles and many fabrics or bring your own fabric to have a pair custom made.   On this return trip to Venice I wanted to experience a pair of furlane.    I passed on a store off the main tourist route, selling a lovely selection because they were not made in Italy.     

Once I revisited Piede a Terre the problem was making a choice:  first the style, then the fabric and finally the color.    Furlane are made for men and children as well, so you might find all your gifts in one location.

A velvet slipper

Do gondoliers still use furlane?   

My search resulted in shoe-less, sneakers or trainers as you may call them and dress shoes, but I did not find any furlane.   Have you seen a gondolier wearing furlane? 

This gondolier chose to work in socks!

During my online search, I did find many things about  gondolas and gondoliers.  
Continue to read.

Gondolas have been plying the waters around Venice for centuries.   After the introduction of the faster, motorized vaporetto, the need to use a gondola to travel the canals was reduced.   There may still be some privately owned gondolas (Peggy Guggenheim enjoyed a private boat and must have had her own boatman) but you find most of the 400 + remaining gondolas offering the unique experience to visitors. 

If you are brave enough to cross the grand canal standing up in a Traghetto with several other passengers, your experience may be somewhat different.    Not on my list of travel experiences.

A traghetto crossing the grand canal.   Credit: images

To maintain and repair the working gondolas in Venice, there are a few remaining squeri (boat yards).   New gondolas are built by hand and can take approximately 2 months to construct, involving 8 different types of wood and assembling over 200 pieces! (see     

Perhaps the best know boat yard is the squero di San Trovaso, not far from St Marks square.   


You can view the squero from across the canal.   If you are there at the right time you  may see a boat returning to the water after a repair.  click here  

How to obtain a license as a gondolier,  a short overview, far more information and details are available online.

The career of gondolier is usually handed down from father to son over the years.
First, a candidate must pass tests for rowing and swimming before continuing to the formal gondoliere school, a course lasting up to 18 months.   Gondoliers must know the history and geography of Venice as well as speak sufficient English.  

Exams must be passed before a student advances to a substitute gondolier assigned up to a year as a traghetti di parada, the cross canal passenger boats.  

Gondoliers had been a male only profession until 2010 when Giorgia Boscolo, the daughter of a gondolier,  passed the exam.   Again Venice Insider was my source for this information but several other articles have been published.    Chiara Curto has also been authorized to use a sandolo:  smaller and flatter than a Venetian row boat.

When you visit Venice try to notice the unique design of the asymmetrical gondola and how the gondolier stands to one side.   With practiced strokes the boatman can maneuver the 35+ foot long gondola around corners, around other boats and close to a stairway to embark passengers.  

A close up look at other gondolas:

A boat serves as a perfect neighborhood fruit and vegetable stall.   The locals stop by daily.

Perhaps the best known book store in Venice is Liberia Acqua Alta where a gondola is the center piece.

There is so much more on the history of Venetian gondolas so be sure to do an online search to learn more.

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All photos unless otherwise credited are the property of Home to Italy

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Italy: Tivoli Villa d'Este in the rain

Traveling does not always have sunny days................

Often your schedule may not be that flexible or allow you to 'go another day'.  You may plan a museum day if the forecast is rain 
unless it is the only day you can visit the famous garden in Tivoli Italy.

My day to see Tivoli, after 5 years of saying 'I need to go there', was  during a heavy rain storm in Rome.

It is an easy train ride from either Termini train station or Triburtina and takes approximately an hour.  No other passengers clutching tour books or maps, just a few day shoppers and lots of students.
From the train station to the town center

Signage to the villa is sparse.  After you exit the train station take the bridge across the river and head uphill.    Having no map and not finding the tourist office, I used google maps and as usual was taken on a wild ride.   However, I did see some charming parts of the town that will have me returning for another visit when it is not raining!   

Trento Square, 5, Tivoli

The ticket office  hall leads you to the courtyard.  On the opposite side you will find a small room to store bags/coats etc while you hike the garden.   The friendly woman behind the counter did not ask for any fee as I took the key from the locker I had put my back pack in.

She reminded me the closing time had changed since this was the first week of daylight savings and we had a chat about reading.   Since I speak very limited Italian it was very kind of her to spend any time chatting but she enthusiastically told me how much she enjoyed the author she was reading.     The small joys of interacting with Italians.

There was limited daylight left so I opted to spend my time exploring the gardens and left the massive villa for another day.
You must go to the ground floor (basement) to access the garden.
There are several verandas and patios off the villa that offer a view of the treetops and some of the water art.   

Photos of some interior rooms are at the end of this post

With no directions on which exit to use I took the elevator to a lower floor where I found a door that led to the stone terrace and more flights of stairs to lower parts of the garden.   

There are fountains everywhere!  There is rushing water playing music whenever you near a fountain.   The gardens go on but I may have only seen a small portion after a few hours.    Navigating the slippery steps and landscaped inclines became an effort after a few hours in the downpour.    The sound of all the rushing water battled with the many fountains and waterfalls.   

The hundred fountains stretched across the front of the villa.
The Hundred Fountains

Great descriptions of the garden features and the villa's history can be found at Wikipedia.  

                   There were only a few other visitors in the gardens.

                                   Fountains and water falls competed with the downpour.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Rome: taking the Green Tube instead of the bus

Not a bus, Not a train:   the Green metal tubes that can take you around Rome without a tourist in sight....................TRAMS

You can find the older green trans outside the Termini station

   Rome:  This trip Home to Italy found me at a WWII Nazi interrogation center, Mussolini's rented home during the war and my first visit to a catacomb.   There were still many traditional as well as unique places in Rome I had not visited. 

After my great experience with Prontopia in Venice and Florence I requested a local to help me to explore the city by tram.

Porta Maggiore

Painting by expat artist Kelly Medford 

There are a number of options for traveling from one part of Rome to another: metro, the extensive bus system, taxis and walking (for me up to 5 miles).  

Available in most major cities, the Hop on Hop off bus can take you near most of the major sites.  I avoid the bus unless I know the number of stops to my destination or find a bus that terminates at my destination.   Too difficult from a crowded bus to see the street signs to prepare to exit a crowded bus calling out permesso!

But the green metal trams that you find outside the Termini, train station, have been a mystery and on this trip I planned a tram adventure.    "The history of trams in Rome dates from 1877 with horse drawn trams.  Electric trams followed and by 1905 there were 17 tram lines."1    The same Wikipedia article lists details of the numbered tram routes to identify the start and end of the route.

Bess, my Prontopia local in Rome, be sure to request Bess

Requesting to meet a local:
What a fortunate match to have Bess available for my booking.  A long time resident of Rome, Bess is an expat who can answer any of your questions and quickly understand how to best assist you with your visit to Rome.     

Since it was already dark when Bess met me at my hotel (you pre-arrange where to meet your local) we decided to walk/talk and have an apperotivo so I could spread out my well worn paper map and ask about the tram routes that would show me parts of Rome that tourists might never find.

Bess quickly gave me the web site and app (there is always an app) for the tram routes.    What the web site would not offer was information from a local on which tram would take me to a local market, a neighborhood that tourists don't explore and an alternatives for traveling around Rome.

I always bring a paper map after Google maps took 2 hrs to send me to the wrong location and then the battery died

The next day with a copy of the tram route map I started my adventure with the route from termini to Borghese Gardens and at the Vatican.    Since it was not rush hour I had a seat for the entire trip.  Tip:  sit on the right side of the tram to be able to read the tram stop signs so you can track your route.   Warning, this is a slow ride but totally enjoyable.

The metal cars clank on rails embedded in the pavement with metal antenna  tethered to the electric wires overhead.  
As pedestrians run in front of a tram trying to avoid waiting for them to disgorge passengers and take on more, the warning bell sounds reminding me of a kiddie ride at an amusement park.

A tram travels more slowly than the bus and allows you to view the street scenes you pass that are not listed in a tour book.  In the older tram I felt as if I were in perhaps the 1950's.   You have a glimpse from your window of life in Rome and if you have the inclination you can hop off and explore.   I used a multi day transportation ticket that was good for trams, buses and the metro.   Another piece of information Bess shared with me.

My second day 'traming' was not as successful.   I traveled to one of the markets Bess suggested and planned on continuing toTrastevere.   Not paying enough attention I took the tram in the wrong direction.   Not a disaster since you can disembark and take the correct tram.   I also took the tram to the biggest cemetery in Rome, Cimitera del Verano.  FYI returning to Termini required a change of trams just as the commuters started to fill the cars.  But a trip to the cemetery is well worth the effort and you can walk from the Termini as well.  The tram drivers are totally separated from the passengers so there is no opportunity to ask for assistance.  Ticket validation machines are inside each car.

Other tram options:
I saw online there may be companies offering evening tram tours that include dinner and one that offers Jazz as well! and  I do not represent either company and can not confirm tours are still available.

I must thank Prontopia for inviting me to use their services for Rome.   I shall return to explore other parts Italy with them soon.

1. Wickipedia, Trams in Rome

Although I appreciate your comments, promotional links will not be posted.    

If you need a response leave your email address.

For international visitors, please send comments translated to English.