Not a cloud in the sky, lots of sun- it was the perfect day for the Regata Storica. This is one of Venice's most spectacular festivals, the culmination of the rowing season AND a parade down Venice's main street, the Grand Canal. But this isn't just any parade, it's a fabulous water parade of 16th century style boats filled with rowers and passengers decked out in period costumes.
This is a festival for and by Venetians, and they certainly showed up for it this year. LOTS more boats lining the Grand Canal and people hanging out of the palazzo windows from St. Mark's to the train station and back this year than in previous years. This was different- in a good way. I too, was doing the Regata a bit differently this year. In years past, I've watched from canal side at San Vio and by the train station. Both were great viewing posts, but not the optimum. I have also had the pleasure of watching from in a gondola, in the water, tied up near the Rialto bridge and I thought that was as good as it could get. This year, I got the golden ticket. This year, I rowed in the historic parade- the Corteo. Yes, I was not only IN the water, I was in the parade itself.
For the last few weeks in August the anticipation had been building, and finally the day was upon me. I could barely believe it was true. I was going to row down the Grand Canal along with the Corteo in the Regata Storica. Sunday morning I was ready. My gym bag was packed by the door. I practically wore a hole in the floor pacing until it was time to leave for the boat yard.
Finally it was time to go. As the vaporetto Mike and I were on motored past The Bucintoro, I spotted our dragon boat waiting on the fondamenta and several Pink Lionesses already in their rowing outfits outside finalizing their preparations. In just a few more minutes, I'd be there too.
I think I flew off the vaporetto and raced to the boat house. As I entered, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my fellow Lionesses and enthusiastic greetings. Many of them had been away on their summer holidays for the month of August and this was the first time seeing them since they had gotten back. That's when it hit me. I wasn't just rowing in the Regata Storica this year. I was rowing with my fellow lionesses. That made all the difference.
(Me, with our beautiful dragon)
Having rowed the entire length of the Canal, we then turned the boat around, heading back towards the Accademia Bridge searching for the best spot to tie up along the banks to watch the afternoon's races. After slowing down at several possible locations, the ladies finally agreed on the spot they thought would be perfect, just before the San Toma vaporetto stop. We tied up alongside several other boats, and then the party really got started. The women in the front of the boat dug into the sacks of food, passing plastic cups and plates down the rows from front to the back. Bottles of prosecco were popped open. Amidst lots of Salute's and Cin Cin's (toasts) we had ring side seats to view the historic boats as they completed their return trip down the canal. Next, mortadella paninis (sandwiches), olives, and pizzettes (small pizzas) were passed down the line. When I thought we couldn't eat more the tortas (cakes) came out. Peach torta, apple torta and even a nutella torta. And cookies. In between it all, the prosecco and red wine circulated from the front of the dragon boat to the rear. Things were being passed from our boat to the boats along side us, and vice versa.
All along the Grand Canal Venetians just like us were celebrating, eating and drinking in their boats. This is how Venetians do it, and here I was, right smack in the middle of it all. I had a grin plastered on my face from ear to ear that lasted the entire day. This was beyond my wildest imagination.
I had the perfect perch from which to observe all the action! And "action" is not quite the appropriate word to describe the last race. It was a nail biter! The two rival boats were neck and neck as they passed me on their way up the Grand Canal, and they were within inches when they came back past me towards the finish line. The race ended in a photo finish. It was that close. The sheer muscle and athleticism required to perform at this level is indescribable.
Add to that, if you can just imagine, the setting: the Grand Canal, empty except for these boats, with the pink hues of the setting sun behind the palazzos as these racers headed for the final few feet at Ca Foscari. An amazing ending to an amazing day.
For me, it wasn't quite over yet. We had to row back to the boat house, in what suddenly seemed like rush hour at Grand Central Station. Every boat was back on the canal, rowing at the same time! Bedlam! It only took seconds for the local police to be directing traffic so we all got to where we were headed safely.
After putting the dragon boat away for the night, we headed up to the locker room to change clothes. Reflecting on the day, and not really wanting it to end, all I could think about was how different this experience was from the year prior. I've somehow, miraculously, gone from being on the sidelines to being right in the thick of it. I'll take that.