A Girl From Russia Reveals What It’s Like to Marry a Gondolier and Move to Venice

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On September 8, 2012, my life changed forever. When I was sitting at a table at a cafe in Venice, I met a gondolier whose name is Angelo. At the moment, I couldn’t even imagine that this little moment would lead to such major changes in my life, more specifically, my wedding and my moving to Venice.

Especially for Bright Side, I will tell you what it’s like to be the Russian wife of a gondolier from Venice.

My name is Olga, and I am from Ufa, Russia. I’ve always loved traveling but I never seriously considered moving to a different country. However, fate had something different planned for me.

After I met Angelo, we had a distant relationship: we texted each other on social media and called each other through Skype. But my passionate man decided that this would not work any longer. He came to Ufa, where it was −20°C, to meet my family. It turned out that he was up for the challenge.

After that, I flew to Italy to his place. During one of these trips, he proposed to me. Of course, I said, “yes” even though I have to admit that I was really scared of how my life was going to change.

I moved to Venice

When I moved to Venice, I had 3 problems. The first was being financially dependent on my husband: it was morally hard to get used to the fact that a new person cared about me. But now I easily dispel the myths about stingy Italian men. If an Italian man loves you, he is ready to do absolutely anything for you.

In this photo, you can see me and my mother-in-law Graziella. She makes the best tiramisu ever and draws beautiful pictures. Now, I can easily communicate with her in Italian.

The second problem was the language barrier. Before I moved to Italy, I didn’t speak the language because Angelo and I communicated in English and Russian. Of course, this was not enough for a full-time life in Venice, that’s why I started studying Italian. It took me 6 months in order to begin to understand everything people would say to me and 6 months after that, I started to speak Italian fluently.

When your husband is a gondolier

There is no law that says gondoliers have to be able to sing. But for some reason, most of them are great singers. This is my husband singing.

My husband works as a gondolier. Now, this profession is very respectable among Venetians, this is why there is a list of requirements. For example, in order to become a gondolier, you have to pass a special exam to get the necessary certificate. The exam includes a theoretical part (the history of the city) and practice (controlling the gondola). After passing the exam successfully, you can start working with tourists and giving standard rides on a gondola.

This gondola was custom made for my husband’s colleague and it cost him a lot. All the woodcarving was done by a specially invited artist who worked according to the project he was given.

It is hard for a gondolier to make a stable income because it depends on many factors: the weather, the area of work, whether it is the tourist season or not (it lasts from June to August), on weekends and holidays, the appearance of the gondola, and even the appearance of the gondolier himself.

Musicians, fresh seafood appetizers, and the best prosecco — this is how people celebrate buying a new gondola in Venice.

Maintaining a gondola also costs a lot of money. In the city, there are special places for gondolas where all the servicing is done: washing seaweed off the bottom, oiling, painting, long-term drying, polishing, and so on. This is a craft that is hundreds of years old.

This is Kiara — one of 3 female gondoliers in Venice.

It is believed that gondoliers are only men. But in fact, there are no gender limitations. Now, in Venice, there are 3 female gondoliers: Georgia, Kiara, and Alexandra. They are incredibly strong, both physically and mentally.

The highlights of life in Venice

This is me and Leda, who I met at a cafe.

The lifestyle of the local people is pretty repetitive because the local canals are isolated. Every citizen has “their own” bar or supermarket. And there is a 99% chance that you will see the same Venetians in the same places at the same time. They have a strict schedule and they are always in “their own” places. This is one of the reasons why the new generation chooses to live on mainland Italy and the local population is constantly decreasing. For example, the relatives of my husband haven’t left Venice for several years and they don’t think that there is anything interesting outside of Venice.

Mashed codfish boiled in milk and an Aperol Spritz. I recommend this to everyone!

Venetians don’t have a tradition of giving toasts when they’re eating together. I remember we came to my husband’s uncle’s birthday party. We were sitting at a big table with a huge number of relatives. Everyone was eating and talking but nobody said a word about congratulations! After dessert, I asked Angelo quietly, “When will the congratulations start?” And he said, “We don’t have this kind of tradition.” I took a glass and in my bad Italian said some nice words to the uncle. Everyone who was there looked at me like I was from a different planet. But the uncle loved it so much that he kissed me and said that he would marry me right now if he weren’t married already.

This is not a disco, it’s a private event.

The discos here are completely different from what we have in Russia. Venetians here prefer closed events that often take place in luxury hotels or ancient mansions. All the guests have to be on the list. Angelo and I really loved attending a party at the Hilton Hotel that is usually arranged in the summer on the roof near the swimming pool. The view there is just amazing!

And, of course, during the Venice Film Festival, a lot of restaurants pop up on Lido Island. Parties with Hollywood stars are organized there. Just so you understand, it’s hard to even get near these parties, but if you know a guy who knows a guy, you have the ticket!

Italians have their own traditions.

Their biggest celebration, just like in many other European countries, is Christmas. The entire family gathers around a big table that even has this “Russian salad” that actually tastes almost nothing like it should.

When it comes to January 1st, while all Russian people sit at home and watch Home Alone, Venetians follow their ancient tradition: the bravest men and women jump in the sea in the morning. The water temperature is about 5°C above 0 but that doesn’t stop anyone. The entire Facebook feed is full of photos from the event. True Italians don’t keep their achievements a secret.

The favorite dishes of any Venetian

Enjoying Russian treats.

My husband thinks that there are only 2 cuisines in the world: Italian and Russian. I often cook borscht and olivier salad. But our true favorite is fried potatoes with chicken. (For me, this dish unites all nationalities).

When it comes to Italian cuisine, people here love everything that has to do with seafood: a mix of fried seafood (fritto misto), seafood salad (insalata di mare) — this is a mix of a huge number of different kinds of seafood, boiled, marinated, and baked in the oven; fish soup (zuppa di pescе) that contains mussels, shrimp, fish, and octopus.

As a true Italian wife, I just had to learn to cook some national dishes. Now, I can easily make the traditional Venetian bean soup (pasta fagioli), risotto with peas, (risi e bisi), and everyone’s favorite tiramisu dessert.

Everyone should visit this place

I think I will never stop admiring this city. As Venetians say, “Venice is not a fish, Venice is an onion.” You peel the layers one by one because the mixture of history and architecture of the city is so unique that it would take more than a lifetime to learn everything about this island.

Bonus № 1: If you are a Venetian, then…
…you believe that proposing to a girl in gondola is too trivial and you don’t think it is even romantic.
…you drink Aperol Spritz about 3 times a day and pay 2 times less for it than tourists.
…you speak in your Venetian dialect with deliberate pride and try to pronounce all the words so that even another Venetian won’t understand you.
…you watch the carnival in your city on TV.
…you make a remark to a tourist on a water bus vaporetto because he didn’t take off his backpack, even if there are just the 2 of you in the bus.
Bonus № 2

When you really liked Venice

And also, my husband and I noticed a certain pattern among tourists. Every nationality has its own favorite questions:

Russian tourists: “How does the sewage system work in this city?”
Chinese tourists: “Why is this gondola black?”
American tourists: “Is it true that houses in Venice drift on the water?”
All tourists: “Where can you eat some non-tourist food?” A gondolier would say, “At my grandma’s house.”

What amazed you about life in Venice? Would you move to a different country if you fell in love?

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.