Venetians and Venetophiles often wax nostalgic about the days when central Venice had more than 150,000 residents. (Since World War II, the centro storico's population has dropped to about 58,000.) They conveniently forget how many of those old-time Venetians lived in overcrowded apartments without modern conveniences.
In the photo above, you can see the entrance to municipal showers in the city center where poorer Venetians once went to bathe. Today, the showers are gone, having been replaced by public toilets.
The toilets are expensive--1,50 euros for tourists, less for locals--so it shouldn't be surprising that some visitors and residents whiz directly into canals. (And why not, you may ask, since most of Venice's raw sewage is flushed into the canals anyway?) This is not a good idea, especially if you've been drinking, since tipsy tinklers have been known to slip, fall into canals, and drown. We once saw a body floating in a canal near our apartment in San Polo the morning after Martedi Grasso, or "Fat Tuesday," when boozing and canalside urination are rampant.
ABOVE: This video from Gondolas4all shows how the service works. (If you'd like to donate to the nonprofit project, click the "Donate Today!" ad in the video.)
Venice is a more accessible city than you might guess, despite its more than 400 footbridges--nearly all with steps. If you plan your sightseeing carefully, you can explore much of the city center by wheelchair over level pavement, using the public vaporetti (water buses) to get from one accessible area to the next. (We cover the basics in our "Accessible Venice" article at Veniceforvisitors.com.)
Still, until recently, you were out of luck if you wanted to enjoy one classic Venice sightseeing experience in a wheelchair: taking a gondola ride. Gondolas4all, a project that launched in spring of 2016, has rendered that limitation obsolete with a wheelchair-friendly pier and gondola next to the Piazzale Roma on the edge of Venice's historic center.
The Gondolas4all pier has a mechanical lift that picks up your wheelchair, slides it horizontally over the gondola, and lowers the wheelchair into the boat. And that's it: Once the wheelchair is in the boat, you and your companions enjoy a standard gondola ride.
For more about Gondolas4all, including a booking form, visit:
The Gondolas4all pier is on the Fondamenta Cossetti, just south of the wheelchair-accessible Hotel Santa Chiara on the Rio Novo next to the Piazzale Roma.
Use the Google Map below to find it, and be sure to book your ride ahead of time. (Gondolas4All is in the rectangular notch on the left side of the canal below the words "Rio Novo." If you zoom in, you'll see "Gondolas4all" on the Google Maps 3D view.)