Venice, Our break-out from the UK!

Ah, the City of Love! What better place to escape to after 20 months of pandemic isolation stuck in the UK?!? Especially as post-lockdown crowds are a tiny fraction of what they used to be. Now, there are no big cruise ships (there used to be sometimes tens every day!), and minimal day-trippers. Come evening, the city seems almost deserted – And we loved it!

We arrived at the airport around 5:30pm – our flight was late, we were tired, etc. Luckily, we had arranged for private water taxi to transfer us to our hotel in Venice. The airport is on the mainland and it is usually quite a trek to get actually IN to Venice from it – you can wait for the crowded and long waterbus – that would have eventually got us in to Venice around 8pm for around €20 each (such a headache!). Or we could have taken a bus over land to the main entrance/bridge to the city for about €8 each. We did neither of these options and went full comfort and speed and pre-booked ourselves a private water taxi to take us right to the entrance of our hotel. They run at about €130. But I didn’t have to do any walking, we didn’t have to lug our bags, and we didn’t have to search a foreign city as the sun was going down (and we were told Google maps doesn’t work great in the city!) to find our hotel. It was perfect and so worth it.

Our first views as we approached Venice at sunset

As it happened, the day we travelled to Venice was also my birthday! So luckily, we got to our beautiful hotel (Splendid Venice), checked-in, and then were able to get out for a lovely dinner at a decent hour. We knew there’d be a thousand restaurants and we’d be overwhelmed by choice our first time out, so we asked our hotel concierge for a recommendation for good pasta and ambience and we were not disappointed. (Incidentally, concierge also noticed it was my birthday on check-in and left a card and gift of biscotti in my room for me while we were out at dinner! Wonderful service!)

It was a wonderful birthday evening!

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When we awoke on our first morning, we had to go to a pharmacy and get Sophie a Covid test, as she needed a ‘Green Pass’ for Italy (even though she is double-vaccinated, the UK doesn’t provide QR code passes for kids under 16, and Italy requires them for kids over 12, so she needed to have a negative test every 48 hours instead- UGH). It was €22 and a pain to go get, but only really 30 minutes out of our day once we figured it all out. Once we had her Green Pass, we decided to head to Piazza San Marco to see the biggest/main tourist sites that we wanted to see in Venice – the Basilica and the Doge’s palace.

Basilica San Marco


Before we left home, Eric almost bought ‘Skip the Line’ passes for these attractions. Once we saw the line-ups in St. Mark’s square, he regretted not buying them. But both when he was contemplating buying them and regretting not buying them, I just shook my cane in his face and reminded him that I’m handicapped and this is Europe! Here in Europe (I do NOT find the same thing in North America, which is actually awful), they respect the fact that I use a walking cane and can’t stand in a line for a long time. So we just walk to the front of the line and wave down a security guard/gate agent and ask for the handicapped entrance. Sometimes there is a different entrance, sometimes they just open the barrier and let us through ahead of any huge line there may be. We still had to go through all the Covid/temperature/Green Pass checks – I just didn’t have to wait in the long line. Maybe it makes the people at the back of the line bitter and mad but hey, I’d rather wait in line and not have MS. Anyway – point being, if you’re reading this because you, like me, have any accessibility issues, make sure you know that you do NOT have to wait in lines in Europe and just be bold, walk up to the front of the line and ask to go through! Sometimes it feels awkward, but we’ve done it everywhere and literally never been told no! (Always have your handicapped parking pass available for proof, as sometimes they require it, like most places in Spain did, but then were happy to help).

Inside the ostentatious Doge’s palace
Sophie inside the prison walls, which is attached to the palace, which we also toured.




Outside the palace and basilica in San Marco’s square, because I had to have a nice sit and rest, we decided to take the moment and splurge on a ‘snack’ at Caffè Florian, the oldest and- just about- most well-known cafe in Venice. And when I say splurge… I mean, the most expensive coffee, macarons, and gelato that we’ve ever had and ever will have. But the ambience of sitting there in that beautiful setting, being serenaded by a live piano band, and people-watching in the square, was all worth it. We really loved it!

The view of the lagoon-front in Venice from the Doge’s Palace. And where we later went to lunch.

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Our next day in Venice, we had a private tour booked to head to the islands of Murano and Burano. Venice Lagoon is full of many, many islands. Some of them derelict, some of them for cemeteries, some for agriculture, etc. They once even had sick (leper) islands. Hundreds of years ago, when the craft of glassmaking was being honed, the Venetians were afraid of the risk of fire in their close and cramped city, so they ‘banished’ all glassmakers to the island of Murano to keep their fires in one spot there. Really, this just made good sense! However, hundreds of years later, the glassmaking and blowing have passed down in the same families, each family still has their own recipe, techniques, Masters, and secrets. It’s an amazing tradition. We bought a beautiful set of hand-blown drinking tumblers to forever remember our holiday.

A Master making a drinking glass
Our new glass tumblers

We also went to Burano, which was a traditional fishing village where the men all left every morning to go fish and the women stayed behind to cook, clean, etc. The women behind started to take up a form of hand-crafting beautiful lace. This was another traditional craft passed down through generations, from mother to daughter. However, this part of the tour ended up getting somewhat pushy of a salespitch trying to sell us €1500 tablecloths (absolutely beautiful and worth no less, but totally out of my price range and just not my style). So we moved on and enjoyed the stunning colour and beauty that is the tiny island of Burano. The official websites say that all the houses of Burano are so brightly coloured so that the fishermen could find the right house in the foggy, dark mornings to steer their boat to. Our private, sassy, tour guide says local lore was that housewives were more inclined to paint their house a bright colour very different than the neighbours so that her drunk husband would stumble into the right house –and more importantly the right bed– at night. She said all the local islanders look a little too related for a reason, haha!

Here, you can really see the very crooked bell tower! It has more of a lean than the tower of Pisa!

The benefit of us taking a private tour is that the guide went at my pace. She was great and recognised when I’d been standing too long and couldn’t walk any farther, so rather than one section of the tour that she usually walks, she got the water taxi and we did it by canal so we could still see the whole area, but I could sit. Also as we came to Burano, after a couple hours at Murano, I knew that Sophie’s blood sugar would be starting to go lower as noon (normal lunchtime) was upon us. The Italians eat on a different schedule and our tour wasn’t set to end for a few more hours, and I was guessing lunch wasn’t scheduled in. However, I just mentioned to our guide that we needed to find somewhere to eat (I didn’t want to just feed Sophie Skittles the whole time) and why and she was fantastic. She recommended a great little restaurant, found out the fresh special of the day was lasagna, so both Sophie and I ordered that and it turned out to be the best meal of our whole week in Venice. Best lasagna of my life! Once lunch was done, we were back on our way and our guide just accommodated us into the tour. It was perfect.

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Our last day in Venice, we just wanted to be. I had so far enjoyed getting around and seeing Venice so much, the alleys, the views, the window shopping, the food! So we said let’s just take off and get lost, eat when and where we want, amble where we want, and let Venice be our guide.

The only thing that changed this plan slightly was our guide from the day before gave us a booking for the rooftop terrace at the T Fondaco, the posh mall right next to the Rialto Bridge and the grand canal. The terrace has to be booked weeks in advance for only 15-minute intervals, which we didn’t want to commit ourselves to weeks before we came. But to accept the booking only the day before, we thought that was great! The guide had an extra booking and gave it to us (it’s free, just very limited and hard to get) and we got to go have a fabulous view of Venice and the Grand Canal.

We decided to take yet another sit and stop in the sun at the foot of the Rialto Bridge here and have some snacks (bruschetta) and a spritz -famous in Venice, the spritz is a traditional cocktail of prosecco, digestive bitters (Aperol or Campari), and soda water, garnished with a slice of orange and an olive. We drank a lot of spritzes!



Then as we started to walk deep into the lanes of Venice to get ourselves lost, we took the opportunity of being away from the crowds to take a few great Insta-worthy shots.

I mean, we couldn’t pass up these amazing opportunities!

We also walked by and stopped in at the famous Acqua Alta Liberia (bookshop) that regularly floods when the tide is very high, so all their books are stored in gondolas and tubs, along with the higher shelves! It supposedly also usually has many cats all over, but we didn’t see a single one.




Lastly we decided to go all-tourist and do the necessary gondola ride. What’s a visit to Venice without one? Our beautiful hotel room was right over a quiet canal and there’d been gondolas going down it all week, now it was our turn. We were nowhere near our hotel – in fact we had no idea where we were – but I was ready for a sit and we saw a gondola stand so we grabbed a boat and went for a ride. It was wonderful.

It was really the perfect way to finish our time in Venice.


Overall, I loved Venice just so much. I think it’s my favourite European city yet. Maybe I say that every time but I was just in love. I was amazed that the city even existed, that it was just built on top of a lagoon and that it still exists 1600 years later! It seems like it should fall down any moment, like in a constant state of beautiful decay, but it is still a thriving city and still holds up to tens of thousands living there and tens of thousands more visiting every day.
As far as accessibility goes (albeit we had the extreme privilege of being able to afford the easiest accessible options), Venice has been one of the most accessible cities for my disability that I’ve visited in a long time. Its extremely small and compact size helped, along with how flat it was. All the bridges (many stairs up and then down) weren’t exactly easy and they wouldn’t be easy for someone dependent on a walker or wheelchair, but the roadways were all so flat. No climbing hills like here in Bristol! And no walking miles and miles just to take a metro 3 stops like in Paris or London. I personally found getting around Venice tiring at times, but perfect because I could go directly to where we wanted and be there in 5-10 minutes of walking, which is just within my limit.

We ate some amazing food, had some amazing company, and saw some amazing things. Our 3 days were just the perfect little citybreak.

Cin Cin!! Eric drinking the delicious limoncello that every nice restaurant would bring us a shot of after our meal (after dessert and everything, we wouldn’t even ask nor would they ask us, it was expected we enjoy an after-dinner digestivo.)

Our Narrowboat Adventure

Well we all know that travel in 2021 is nothing that we dreamed of back in 2019; however, we are trying to make the best of a very weird situation while we live in the UK. Back in March, we assumed that we wouldn’t easily be able to travel to the continent this summer; and if we would, we couldn’t predict which countries would be open corridors for travel. So we decided to hedge our bets and put money down on a narrowboat rental in Cheshire! We thought this would be an excellent Covid-safe, family-friendly holiday for a week in July.

England and Wales are criss-crossed with about 2600 navigable miles of interconnected canals (4700 miles total) that date back to the days of the Industrial Revolution. They were created to transport raw materials to the place of manufacture and then finished product to the consumer. Narrowboats that hauled goods and materials were originally powered by animals and towed alongside the canals on the paths that still exist beside the canals today (creatively still called ‘the tow path’).
Narrowboats have about a max speed of 4mph, or a brisk walk. You have to reduce that speed by at least half every time you’re passing a moored boat or going through a narrow area/under a narrow bridge. There were plenty of times people passed us while walking on the tow path.

It isn’t a cheap holiday, we fully admit that. We used ABC Boat Hires and started at Anderton Marina. I don’t normally comment on our holidays’ costs; but if you’re like me, you’d first think that this would be an economical vacation because it’s sort of self-catering like an AirBnB. It’s not. You can stay in a nice hotel for the week for the same price. (But then I guess you’d have to pay for 3 restaurants a day, and this way we were making our own food).

You also have to put in a LOT of sweat equity! The entire week, the boat is run only by you! When you pick up the boat, they give you a quick lesson, but you’re out on the canals on your own within the hour. Your boat party has to be the navigators, engineers, boatswains (rope handlers), and captain of the boat. You also have to be prepared to completely run the locks that you’ll have to navigate!
So what I originally imagined as a relaxing, beautiful holiday sipping vino on the boat deck in the sun as I read a book turned out very different!


Luckily, we only had to actually travel and work for a few hours (3-6) a day. The amount of work that this travel entailed each time/hour varied.
While actually sailing along, Eric did all the steering. This meant he was ‘working’ constantly and couldn’t take a break, but was sitting and often quite relaxed during this time (and often quite very stressed, when space was tight and canals were busy!). During the sailing, I did things like go out front and ‘spot’ on tight turns looking for other boats (since the bow of the boat was 50 feet ahead of the stern where Eric was steering from); get ropes, lines, and fenders in order; or catch my rest to get ready for the next set of locks.

Sometimes we would do up to 10 sets of locks a day. They’re an immense amount of work! Sophie and I did all the above-water lock work and Eric steered into the locks (this was a tricky job for Eric, but also then he got to have a mini break). If there were other boats ahead of us waiting to go up or down the locks, we would go and help them through, as it’s the ‘thing to do’ on the canals (neighbours helping neighbours). So sometimes when we say ‘we did 5 locks today’ it really meant we sent 9 boats through 5 locks, or something close. Constantly cranking the metal gears for the water paddles and moving the heavy wooden lock gates open and closed was a lot of work! But being at the locks as other boats were coming and going was a really great experience, a way to chat to people from all over, people who were new at this like us and people who have been doing this for 30+ years.

I also must mention here how much work Sophie did and how helpful she was. Not only with working all the locks, but every single time we needed to come alongside, she was the first one to jump off the moving boat on to land and grab a rope to pull us in. I could have never done that (I tried, once, and literally landed on my face) and Eric was steering. She was an integral part of our crew that we couldn’t have done without.

We also had to do one day of lift bridges, which was neat – Sophie did the hand-crank lift-bridge and I did the electric lift-bridge with a button that stopped traffic in 3 ways. Hers, like the locks, required so much muscle! And mine was cool cause it gave me a huge power trip stopping traffic.

The interior of our narrowboat was certainly a tight fit but more than comfortable for the 3 of us for a week. Imagine an RV or trailer, as it is set up very similar. The kitchen is small but full – 4 burner hob, small oven, and small grill; dual sink; microwave; and all pans, dishes, and cutlery. There is a private bedroom at the rear and forward, the dining table can drop into a comfortable bed. There is also a full bathroom with shower. The toilet/black water tank is designed to take about a weeks’ worth of waste before needing pumped and indeed, it was just indicating needing pumping the very morning we were returning the boat after a week (though we did often follow the Canadian cottage/septic tank rules of ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow’ to save flushes).

https://www.abcboathire.com/our-boats/2-5-berth/alvechurch-wren

I found little-to-no problem cooking in the tiny kitchen, it had everything I needed. In fact, I made some pretty excellent full meals for us there! However, two people definitely did NOT fit and it was even difficult to have a second person pass through the area (say, from the rear of the boat to the front) while I was cooking.

Something to note about narrowboat vacationing- you need to be prepared to ‘go with the flow’ (literally! haha) because life happens, things happen, and plans change.
On our second day, we had an entire plan to go one way and mentioned it to a pair of nice and chatty volunteers who were manning one set of locks- we were hoping to get to Chester. He immediately said ‘No you won’t’ and we learned that two days earlier, a newbie on a boat had broken one of the main lock gates on the way to Chester. There was absolutely no way for us to get there. Well, it was definitely a let-down at the moment, but we quickly regrouped and where we would have turned right, we turned left! Oh well! What can you do?!?! We decided to just be glad that we ran into those men who told us about the broken locks before we wasted two days getting there only to be turned around.

Aside from the work and toil involved, the boating lifestyle was great fun! Whenever we’d decided that we had travelled far enough, we could just pull over and moor. There are ‘public mooring’ sites indicated on the maps where there are metal rings to tie alongside with and are easier sites; but if you’re not at one of those sites, you just use the giant metal pegs (like tent pegs on steroids) that can be hammered into the ground alongside and make your own mooring site anywhere! We would moor every day for an hour or so for lunch and then again every day we’d quit for the day by 3-4pm. Eric’s favourite was when we moored alongside or near a pub. There were many pubs right next to the canal with mooring sites for boats. We could moor and go pop in for a pint! (Well, because we’re Canadian, a whole meal).

Once moored for the day, I got to live out my narrowboat dreams of sitting with a book and my wine and, quite honestly, usually having the Olympics on the BBC in the background, if we happened to get a good enough signal where we were! (I’m an Olympics addict and while it’s not Canadian coverage, I sure just love watching good sport!!!). I also adored watching all the swans and ducks visit our boat. The waterfowl simply associate boats with people with food, so they always would come by and see if we had anything. I could stay there and watch them for hours.

Overall, I think we had a really fantastic, busy, hardworking week on our narrowboat. It was such a quintessentially English holiday and one we’ll never forget. It’s may be not what we would have planned as our first choice of a summer vacation in Europe, but was an amazing way to see and discover the UK while we’re here. I’m so glad we did this trip!