Consider renting a houseboat to see a bit of Europe and to stretch your budget. We did and had a great time exploring the Venetian lagoon.
Houseboating afforded us a laid-back and long-ago sense of Venice not possible if we had stayed amid the crowds on land. For centuries, courtiers and the curious first set eyes on Venice from the water. And it’s from the water that the silhouettes of the city’s palaces and piazzas shimmered into shape.
We took lessons in navigating the vessel before heading out. The first few times we captained the craft, we whispered our dockside instructor’s advice like a mantra: “stay between the pilings, the bricola, and the land, and make sure you can read the posts’ numbers.” If not, the cabin cruiser would get stuck in the mud in the canal’s middle until the next high tide, or we would ram other craft.
As a fishing boat approached, the suave Italian at the wheel nodded a greeting, instead of, as we feared, commenting on our poor navigation with obscene hand gestures. Maneuvering the 46-foot, 4-cabin houseboat, we realized was simple.
We enjoyed living in the lagoon. Not only did we feel more like natives than tourists, but moving at 5 miles per hour, the craft’s top speed, proved perfect for savoring the details. For example, we had time to note the rows of herring gulls perched atop the crumbling clam shacks we past.
Living on a houseboat also focused our attention on the entire lagoon, and not just the well-traveled walkways of San Marco. Gliding past Pellestrina, we waved to the children bicycling along the narrow streets.
Houseboats, like their RV highway counterparts, provided us with the comforts of home. The houseboat rental cost less than booking four hotel rooms for a week. We also saved money on meals by cooking in the surprisingly functional galley and by stocking up on snacks. We celebrated the end of our skippering stint by brewing cappucino and eating fresh croissants.
One night after a spaghetti dinner onboard, (our table seated eight), we strolled Venice’s back streets, cutting through a small park, crossing arched bridges, and walking by centuries-old stone houses. In the moonlight, St. Mark’s Square bloomed with quintets serenading the crowd with Tchaikovsky and Mozart classics.
We visited other islands, but not without first making a plan. Alas, “ditching” a houseboat required forethought; something of a drawback. We could pull into a restaurant’s dock when dining at the property, but slots were not always available. That’s why we sometimes left the houseboat moored on the islet of Le Vignole and took water taxis.
Each day after a visit to Murano, Burano, Torcello or other isle, we returned to our houseboat for a favored routine: lingering over wine on the top deck and watching the stars.