"Some of the older guys don't like the kayaks," said Rene. "They think they turn Venice into a theme park, like Gardaland [on the eastern shore of Lake Garda]. The younger gondoliers are more accepting, though, and will always wave as we pass."
In a city so acutely defined by history and tradition, the new boy in town doesn't always get welcomed with open arms.
Our kayak tour from the Hotel Cipriani had started with a paddle across the Giudecca Canal towards the spectacular Santa Maria della Salute church, at the mouth of the Grand Canal. Entering the labyrinth of waterways that makes up this beautiful, unique city, we paddled alongside many traditional gondolas, receiving nothing but cheery "ciaos". It seemed to us that the anti‑kayak brigade was a minority.
Sitting so low in the kayaks gave a completely different perspective: steps disappearing under the water level; lower-level accommodation now resigned to storage; former doors built up to form windows in order to combat the rising waters.
We'd checked out the Santo Stefano church (the tower of which gives Pisa a run for its money when it comes to leaning) the evening before, but it was only as we kayaked under the floor of the church that we realised it straddled the canal.
After three hours of criss-crossing the snaking Grand Canal for close-up views of the palaces, churches and galleries that reside along its banks, and paddling down smaller canals to check out local haunts, we felt privileged to have experienced Venice this way. Gardaland? A far cry from it. If only Rene had serenaded us ...
Footprint's Venice & Veneto (with pop-out map) is out now (£13.99). See www.footprinttravelguides.com