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Tourists apprehended after taking gondola for Venice joyride

<i>Giorgio Bognolo</i><br/>The tourists threw the interiors and decorations of Bognolo's gondola into the canal.
Giorgio Bognolo
The tourists threw the interiors and decorations of Bognolo's gondola into the canal.

Julia Buckley, CNN

Another week, another spate of terrible behavior from tourists in Italy.

Hot on the heels of a woman posing naked on the steps of the cathedral in Amalfi, two tourists to Venice have been apprehended for allegedly stealing a gondola.

The pair, said to be French nationals, are accused of stealing the gondola from the Accademia station, beside the famous bridge of the same name, to go for a spin along the Grand Canal around 1.30 a.m. on Thursday.

The gondola’s owner, Giorgio Bognolo, said the contents of the boat — a cover, cushions, decorations and other items worth several hundred dollars — were thrown into the canal, before it was paddled away like a canoe.

He said the joyriders were apprehended when three locals in a passing boat noticed the gondola zigzagging back and forth across the canal, and realized something was amiss.

‘They were laughing’

As well as potentially facing criminal charges for aggravated theft, the pair are also facing a civil case for damages from Bognolo.

The gondolier told CNN that he was called at 3.10 a.m. by police, who had identified the boat as his.

“They were using it as a canoe but a gondola isn’t like a canoe — it doesn’t go straight forward,” he said. “It’s not an easy boat to manoevre, it moves here and there and stops. You row it standing up, with the forcola” — the curved piece of wood that the single oar fits into.

“Three lads saw immediately that it had been stolen, stopped them and called the police. They saved my gondola, otherwise who knows where it would have ended up by the morning.”

Bognolo said that the two tourists — both said to be male and around 30 years old — were laughing as he arrived to identify his gondola, which had ended up by the Guggenheim Museum, about 1,000 feet from its starting point.

“They seemed happy — really happy. They weren’t apologetic, they didn’t say sorry. They were cold, it was ugly, that’s what really hurt me. They were laughing as if it was all a game.

“They did a really ugly thing — if I did something like that in France, they’d lock away the key. They’re extremely lucky [to have done it in Italy]. The police kept us separated but I’d have liked to have slapped them.”

Gondolas are no cheap mass-produced boats. Bognolo says his hand-carved and inlaid vessel cost €60,000 ($59,000), and he spends €3,000 each year repainting it.

“Gondolas are really delicate and beautiful, and it takes a lot of money to maintain one,” he said. “It’s like sending your daughter to school nicely put together. I spend lots of money keeping it up. This feels like if someone touched your wife or your daughter.”

‘This isn’t Disneyland’

Bognolo’s lawyer, Augusto Palese, told CNN his client is pursuing damages for the items allegedly thrown out of the gondola, plus scratches and damage to the vessel, totaling around €10,000 – €15,000 ($9,900-$14,750). Damages will also be sought for loss of earnings for the days it is under repair, plus “moral damages.”

He expects to complete the civil claim in around a month, while the criminal case can take up to six months.

And he said pressing ahead with the charges is not just about the money.

“If people do damage they need to pay for it, but it’s for our image, too,” he told CNN. “Often people think they are coming to Disneyland here, or a theme park. In fact a gondola is something someone needs to live and work. You can’t just steal it.

“The gondola is a symbol — [damaging it] is like throwing stones at the Eiffel Tower.”

Only last week the chief commissioner of Venice’s municipal police (another police force, which was not involved in this incident), Gianfranco Zarantonello, told CNN that tourists “steal gondolas.”

“Once they fell off [a stolen gondola] at New Year and by the time we reached them, one of them was dying of hypothermia. We saved him,” he said.

CNN has reached out to the Venice polizia di stato police for comment.

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