As the Crimson Poobah glided into the glimmering water bathed in the quiet morning sun, I knew immediately that I was plunging into one of the coolest experiences of my life. I was in Venice in a kayak.
I had mailed the Poobah, my inflatable kayak, to my hotel in Venice from Orleans, France. In Orleans several weeks earlier, I had paddled a section of the castle-ridden Loire River Valley with my French brother-in-spirit Christophe (a friend of mine from my high school days in France).
The staff and some guests gave me curious looks as I inflated the Poobah on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, which luckily fronted a canal.
I had dreamed about Venice since I was a child. My visions had been a Disney-like version of gondoliers, romantic canals and historic architecture. The next morning I launched the Poobah into the waters of Venice to learn that there was much more to the city than I first imagined. For example, people actually live there! As I began exploring some of the tranquil backwaters, I could hear the city slowly coming to life: the sounds of breakfast dishes, showers and morning conversation. I wound around from alley to alley letting curiosity and the magnetism of the beauty around me be my guide.
Not part of my original sanitized version of Venice was the smell of some of the canals. Some of them reeked horrifically of sewage and other fowl substances. I spotted many unknown items drifting in the waters that the Office of Tourism is not likely to mention on a brochure.
People often ask how locals reacted to seeing me in my bright red kayak. It turns out that in a world where everyone is born, lives and dies using boats, one more boat is not a big deal. I caught the eye of more jealous tourists than locals.
Venice, while spectacularly impractical, is stunning to visit. The ancient city seems designed to be navigated by boat, but you also get a neat perspective exploring by foot the vehicle-free, cobblestone streets which are stitched together by an endless variety of charming old bridges.
In all, trying to describe the magical experience of paddling around Venice goes beyond my abilities as a writer and it is something that you should just try and experience firsthand if you can. By the way, if you ever get a chance to go to Venice with or without a kayak, GO!