A group of women vogatrici from the Remiera Giudecca rowing club organize a rowing vacation each year in August. Their name, Un Po di Donne (a few women), is a double entendre for the destination of their first sojourn in the park of the Po delta. Subsequent trips include second trip down the Po from Mantova and Cremona, and to Acquileia in Friuli and back. This year was their first trip abroad: starting and ending in Oxford, up and down the River Thames.
The City Barge Venetian rowing club in Oxford boasts a small fleet of Venetian rowing craft. Several members are frequent visitors to Venice (a number of them rowed the Vogalonga this year), and once they heard of Un Po di Donne’s idea to row the Thames, they graciously arranged to provide the women with three, four-person sandal for their week-long trip. As a result of their being short a rower or two, I got to tag, or rather row, along.
A few of us went up a few days early, giving private lessons as an excuse for eating the bounty of rich, creamy things one of the members served up at her home afterward (she kept the happiest chickens I have ever seen; four of them provided her with about 3 eggs a day). The next day we went to Port Meadow (open range cows, horses, sheep, etc.) and stopped at the Perch pub (it didn’t take us long to understand that pubs are the whole reason you ever get in a boat).
For maximum flexibility during the journey, we rented a 70-foot long narrowboat, a type of boat initially developed for traversing the canal waterways, but now found chugging along many rivers as well. They are quite comfortable, resembling a very long, floating camper. The plan was to row first upstream as close to Lechlade and the source as we could get, then back downstream to Abingdon and Dorcester, before returning again to Oxford. We made it as far upstream as Radcot, and indeed down to Dorcester and back.
It was a wonderful adventure, indimenticabile. Our captain and chef Cristina had hauled down the essentials via air: an 8-cup stove-top caffetiera, a liter and a half of olive oil, and a massive pressure cooker for eat-in meals. A wi-fi hot spot kept us in touch as long as their was a data signal; we indulged in a pint and welsh rarebit when the sun was shining at mealtimes. We rowed past pubs and sometimes partook, saluted wildlife & livestock, in weather consisting of endless cycles of showers, wind and sun; chatted with locks and charming lock minders, photographed a pristine countryside, discovered Pim’s and sampled ciders, soaked up extraordinary hospitality.