The Vogalonga, Venice
The Vogalonga is a splendid, fun and thoroughly worthy event which takes place once a year in Venice and its lagoon. It's held on a Sunday morning in May or June. Like a protest, a get-together and a non-competitive race rolled into one, this is an event where rowers take over the lagoon and canals. They oust the destructive motorboats which churn up the fragile lagoon ecosystem and damage Venice's buildings, and for one morning the peace is disturbed only by the slap of oars, the shouts and songs of rowing teams and the applause of enthusiastic spectators.
Pretty much any kind of rowing craft can take part, and does, from canoes to dragon boats. In 2007, for the 33rd Vogalonga, there were a record 5,600 participants, in over 1,500 boats. Teams and individuals from the Veneto, from the rest of Italy and from many other countries join in and add to the party atmosphere. Spectators watch from any vantage point they can find, enjoying the entertainment and encouraging the tired rowers as they approach the final stretch along the Grand Canal. Some teams dress up in costumes, others, in the livery of their rowing clubs, raise their oars in salute. The atmosphere is jolly, with extra cheers for those who make a special effort, such as bringing an onboard bagpiper.
Watching the Vogalonga
The start is at about 9am in the Bacino di San Marco, the wide stretch of water in front of St. Mark's and the Ducal Palace. The 30km course extends over the northern lagoon, past the islands of Sant'Erasmo, Burano and Mazzorbo and through the centre of Murano before returning to Venice via the canale di Cannareggio and proceeding down the Grand Canal to the finish. A good place to watch from is the Cannaregio canal in late morning - unlike the Grand Canal, this has pavements right down both sides, as well as bridges to view from. There are cafes and restaurants where you can pull up a chair by the canal and applaud the rowing teams politely. Otherwise find a vantage point along the Grand Canal.
Bear in mind that public transport is largely suspended during the Vogalonga - this makes it harder to get about town, but does mean that you can use the redundant vaporetto stops as viewing platforms.
You can find a map of the course on the official Vogalonga website (see links panel on the right), along with the start time. For details of the disruption to vaporetto services, check the ACTV website a few days before.
Participants come from all over Europe. To find out more, check dates and register, visit the Vogalonga website.
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