Maybe you’ll fall in love with me domani

Maybe tomorrow night the sun will shine

I’ll change my name from Johnny to Giovanni

If you will say domani, you’ll be mine

-Domani, Julius La Rosa

When John Kerschbaum is asked how he came to operate gondola tours out of Stillwater, the tone of his answer betrays just how often he has provided it: “Well, I took a wrong turn in Venice, and here I am!” If pressed for it, however, he’ll offer up the real story.

“One day I saw a saw a photo of a gondola in a newspaper, and everything about it captivated me,” explained John. “Its elegant sweeping lines, how high up it sits on the water, the intricate fórcola with each of its nooks and crannies designed for one specific type of oar stroke. As a true Minnesotan I’ve always loved canoeing, and it was time to give my body a rest after running a tree trimming business for so many years. The gondola was clearly the way.

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“I looked into making my own gondola, but quickly learned that would be impossible. The boat developed over the course of a millenium, finally evolving to perpetually lean to the right so it would be easier to steer and less likely to tip over. Its asymmetrical design means that no two ribs in a gondola are the same, and it’s made of eight different kinds of wood. It takes 800 hours to craft a gondola — and that’s if you’re an expert. I’m decidedly not, so I ordered mine from Italy.

“Gondola Romantica gives you the next best thing to a trip to Venice. The St. Croix River’s current isn’t altogether different from the tides that stir the sea in Venice — and it’s a whole lot less expensive than flying there, too. I give people an hour long ride, to which they can add a picnic basket or a five course meal at the dockside cafe, complete with my arrival in Renaissance attire after dessert.”

When John rows, he is not John; He is Giovanni. Giovanni informs his passengers that just like kissing under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice assures true love forever, so too does kissing under the equally romantic Stillwater Lift Bridge. Giovanni has seen many husbands begrudgingly hunker down into his gondola, obviously coaxed into it by their wives, only to have fallen in love with the experience five minutes later. Giovanni has also witnessed many a young man irreparably improve his life by popping the question on the water.

“Some of the proposals I’ve seen are very sweet. A man once pulled out a photo album and showed each page to his girlfriend. ‘Remember this? Remember this?’ he asked her. Halfway through, the book ran out of photos — instead there was a ring taped to the page with a note that read ‘Will you marry me?’ Another time I picked up a young lady who’d been instructed to get in a limo at her house and then onto my boat, wondering where her boyfriend was the whole time. ‘Where’s Bob?’ she kept asking — until I took her to Bob, who was knee-deep off the shore of Wisconsin with two dozen roses in his arms. He carried her to the beach where he proposed to her, and then we rowed off into the sunset.

“Another time I watched the guy get down on one knee and pull out a nice ring box, only to stumble and immediately drop it into the water. My heart sank — there goes at least ten thousand, I thought. Turns out the guy was a prankster, because he pulled out the real ring box right after.

“One of the strangest things I ever saw was what this one couple did. The guy was a little squirrely and visibly nervous from the start, and he lasted two minutes into the ride before he pulled out his little ring box. She said yes, they kissed, and it was all very nice until I overheard him say ‘Yes, do it tonight! Do it right now!’ I watched his new fiancée take off his gold necklace and toss it into the river. Usually I respect my riders’ privacy, but that was just too much. I had to ask why she would do such a thing. She told me that his ex-girlfriend had given him the necklace nine years ago, and that she’d been waiting for that moment to finally get it off of him. That’s a sweet gesture, like out of a movie — but I still think it would’ve been more romantic to give me the necklace instead.”

Whether you want to make the moment of your proposal beautiful or just enjoy a boat ride like you’ve never experienced before, you need only visit to plan your excursion.


By David Scheller