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.)

A long weekend in Cornwall

Well my dad came all the way to England from Canada to visit us! He’s done almost half a dozen invasive Covid tests, he quarantined, and then we were finally able to start showing him our new and current home! We’ve been doing lots of little day trips around the area and then we planned a big longer trip down to the very southern tip of Cornwall for the bank holiday weekend for some fun in the sun and family time. I could write a whole blog post about each individual thing we did in Cornwall, but I’ll try and just touch on what we did and put it all in one as an example of what can be done as a fun multi-generational long-weekend in Cornwall!

The first stop we made on the way to our destination in Cornwall was a place I’ve been wanting to see since we got here in 2019, Tintagel Castle. Tintagel has an association with the legends of King Arthur and is believed to be where his famous Knights of the Round Table were. When the castle was originally built in the 14th century, there was a natural stone bridge linking the two sides of the castle, but it fell into the sea about 500-600 years ago. No human had crossed at that point again until 2019 when they rebuilt this beautiful cantilever (meaning a suspension bridge that does not meet at ALL in the middle!) bridge where the original bridge once was.

It. was. terrifying.

Please take 10 minutes and watch this video by English Heritage about how the bridge was made. The floor of the bridge is made out of sheets of slate from a nearby quarry but they’re put in this way, so they don’t become a skating rink when wet:

That all seems well and fine until they shift 1cm under your foot when you take a step and you feel like the entire bridge it about the fall out underneath you. OMG!

But the views, the views from every which angle, were spectacular-

After a beautiful afternoon in the sun with the sea air, we went on further south to our rental house for the evening. We specifically chose a place that could make 3 different generations happy and had a beautiful view of the sea and a hot tub too!

On day 2, we decided to head towards, and past, Penzance. We learned that the roads get incredibly narrow and tight this far south in Cornwall. Usually only room for one car at a time but yet they are considered 2-way roads, so you’re constantly watching for oncoming traffic, and needing to deek into the nonexistent shoulder, or if you’re very lucky, a small lay-by, while you pass each other. The British drivers seemed to have no trouble with this. This was normal for them. The Canadians who are more used to having large roads with large shoulders and more space in our country than we know what to do with, were a little more nervous!

Once we got to each location we found, though- it was so worth it! First off, we came to a beach in Porthcurno.

The water was cold, but the beach was sandy and the sun was warm. We didn’t have our beach clothes or anything for a beach day (not even towels), we were just there for the views!

Next, we as we were driving along the nail-biting roads, I notice a circle of stones in the field next to us. Obviously, other people knew about it because there was a very small car park there so Eric pulled over quickly and we got out to investigate. We quickly looked at Google Maps and learned that they were the Merry Maidens stone circle, circa 2500-1500BC. We were the only ones there and it was so neat to just stumble upon ancient history and walk amongst it.

After that more calm and idle stop, we needed to drive into Mousehole. Oh, Mousehole….

Mousehole was a tiny little idyllic fishing village that had about one bike lane in and one bike lane out. Really. Yet those bike lanes are being used by vehicles both large and small in both directions. Really. One vehicle can barely fit in some of those roads but they were okay with making them 2-way roads? We totally got caught – on a hill – with oncoming traffic and no where to go. Rock wall on one side, building on another. Took about 20 mins and a lot of stress, but Eric managed us out of it. No scratches on the car, either! Beer at lunch was well-deserved!


After Mousehole and the hours of intense driving, we decided to take it easy and go ‘home’ for the day.

On day 3, we had big plans and got up bright and early to head to St. Michael’s Mount.

This was only about a 10-minute drive from where we were staying so it wasn’t that hard to get to in the morning. Sometimes you can walk right to the island over an underwater causeway if the tide is way out (thus, it wouldn’t be underwater), but we very purposely looked up the tide schedule because we wanted to take a boat over. It’s about 1 km to the island and we knew we’d have to save all my legs’ energy to get UP that mountain and not waste it in the walk TO the mountain.
So luckily, the tide was in at 10am (when I have fresh ‘morning legs’ anyway) and we happily spent the £2 each to take the boat over to the mountain. The climb up to the castle was pretty steep and hard in some parts, literally scrambling over stones and boulders – not just a walk up stairs. Once we got up to the castle, they spoke of how many royals had visited, including The Queen in 2013, and my only thought was – how??? How the heck did The Queen, at about 85, get up there? Holy Heck! Queen Victoria and Charles and Camilla have also visited. How?

Anyway, we really had a grand time. It was absolutely beautiful. The views, the interior, the history. If you’re ever in Cornwall, this should not be missed!! (And it turned out to be quite fortuitous that we went early, because it was getting *SO* busy by the time we left at noon). I can’t imagine how swamped it would be by the time everyone could walk across.


On our last day, we checked out of our rental caravan early and decided to stop at Falmouth for breakfast. It was a bank holiday and the streets were quiet. Most businesses were closed but it was a pretty little town to walk through.


After breakfast in Falmouth, we were off to our booked entry slot at the Eden Project. If you’ve never heard of the Eden Project (the world’s biggest greenhouse), please click on the link and learn about it! It was really, really amazing. It’s a conservationist project in an old quarry in Cornwall where they grow and cultivate species of plants from all over, in the hopes of teaching and guiding new generations about the importance of our one earth and everything that it provides.

And it sure was beautiful.

Inside the rainforest biome

Incidentally, I will give a HUGE shout-out to Eden’s accessibility team because we’ve been to a lot of museums and castles and places where we know they have wheelchairs for use on site and we ask for them, and we have seen the entire spectrum of helpful staff from nice people to staff who almost needed a picture of a wheelchair drawn for them and then needed to call their manager and find out where they were stored… yes, really. At Eden, we were so helpfully lead to the Blue Badge (handicapped) parking by the attendants, and then surprised to find manual wheelchairs parking in dry bays right at the handicapped parking lot. Convenient! Then when we got inside, because I had read on their website that they had a few motorised wheelchairs available (which I’ve never seen at any museum before!!!), I just asked at the front desk and was lucky enough to snag the last one! They kindly showed me how to use it, it had been fully cleaned and charged and was ready to go. As far as accessible museum visits go, this one got 5+ stars!! I would have never, ever been able to walk all around the whole site, as far as we did, and this way I was fully able to enjoy our visit with some independence.



After our beautiful visit to the Eden Project, it was time to hit the road home. We had a fabulous few days in Cornwall, we couldn’t have ordered more perfect weather, nothing but blue skies and warm days. We got to see some really fantastic sights, neat history, beautiful architecture, and do things we’d never get the opportunity to do elsewhere. We also made some fantastic memories with important, much-needed family time.

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!

Travelling as a family during the Covid-19 pandemic

This past week (the last week of October) was Sophie’s half-term break; this is usually a great time to travel. This time last year, we went to Paris. This year, due to the pandemic and travel restrictions, we were limited to staying within the UK. Not just the UK, but only had only parts of England and Scotland available to visit; as Wales, Northern Ireland, and even parts of England were under lockdown.

We ended up choosing south-eastern England. Kent, specifically, but also the site of the Battle of Hastings, which is technically in Sussex. I have some photos of the trip to share, but not a tonne. It was a short trip, and very rainy (England at the end of October- what can you do). I’ve decided instead of making this a purely ‘Kent’ blog post, I’ll share some tips on how to safely travel during the pandemic. (I’ll also share some photos along the way – but you can always check out my Instagram stories with the best pictures saved).

We’re all weary of staying home and you may be looking for a safe way to get out and see something beyond your own four walls. Now in England we have no choice but to stay home; but if you’re not under a legally-imposed lockdown, here are my tips that have so-far proved successful.

We chose our destination only about a week before we left. We needed to be flexible and base our decision on the most up-to-date coronavirus data and government guidelines. We had a few locations we’d like to go to in mind, and of all the places we’d like to visit, Kent area consistently was keeping low infection numbers (compared to the rest of the country).

From the BBC updated 31 October 2020
(these numbers are ‘per 100 000 people’, not total cases)



When you want to visit any tourist attraction now, you *must* book ahead. For both free or paid attractions, you need to visit their websites and book a time slot in which you can visit. Some places take these time slots somewhat loosely (and let you in 15 minutes early or late) and some are very strict and insist you get in exactly at your allotted time. Either way, the timed entries help to control the flow of people through the location and means that we don’t feel we’re among any crowds. It really aids social distancing and we haven’t had any issues through our Scotland trip or here in Kent with these processes.

Our stack of pre-booked tickets for various attractions



As soon as we knew we where we were going and when, we booked the must-see attractions. Especially during a school break, you need to make sure to pre-book well in advance. Every single attraction we visited had a sign out front saying ‘Sold out today’. We looked into getting next-day tickets for one or two castles that were nearby and they were all sold-out.

Sophie in the rain at Battle Abbey – an English Heritage site.



So here’s my biggest tip when trying to travel safely during the pandemic: Try to be as self-sufficient as possible. That is what makes us feel safe, at least. Use your own car to get where you’re going, bring your own food, and stay in a self-catering apartment.

We invested in a very nice AirBnB and although they followed all Covid-19 cleaning protocols and social distancing/no host check-in, the first thing I did when we got in, before touching anything, was to wipe down everything with Dettol (Lysol) wipes. Everything that we touch. Eric unloads the car to the front door while Sophie and I go around and wipe every single light switch, door knob, water tap, remote control, table surface, button, etc. Any touch surface gets disinfected, and we make this house into “our bubble”, so that we can feel safe and confident here for the next three days.

Another way of being self-sufficient took a lot of planning, but we brought all of our meals and food with us. Going to restaurants 3x a day is just exposing yourself to risk 3x a day, all over the Kent countryside (even if it is the lowest virus numbers in the country). Instead, I planned out and brought enough food for breakfasts and lunches to pack (sandwiches), and I pre-made and froze casseroles for dinners (along with some easy things like frozen pizzas). I do all the food shopping at home and bring it with us because I don’t want to be searching around a new and unfamiliar grocery store in hopes of getting everything I want. Now isn’t the time to be going store to store to pick everything up; in fact, it’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid!

A big frozen tray of enchiladas ready to head into the oven. An added bonus of frozen meals like these are they act like a giant block of ice in the cooler.
A big packed lunch we ate in the car because it was raining.
This is how we travel. Two of our suitcases/bags are in the backseat too, because we only have 1 kid back there. Our trunk looked like this (but even tighter) our whole 10 days in Scotland – and the cooler stayed cool the whole time too!



I know that a lot of the enjoyment of travelling is eating out, enjoying the local food, not having to cook – and I do greatly miss that. But it’s just something that I have to give up in order to be able to travel at all and still feel safe and secure. We can’t have it all, right now.

We’re also careful about the activities we plan. We decided on booking Battle Abbey because it was all outside, that was easy. We also decided on Dover Castle and Canterbury Cathedral because they’re huge old stone buildings with very high ceilings and lots of room for air flow and social distancing. Combine the great space with the timed entries, and we always had a tonne of room to enjoy ourselves and still explore some history. Our last booking was a private river boat tour in Canterbury. These are usually 10+ people per boat, but with Covid restrictions, they were limiting all tours to one household per boat, but still charging the same amount. We thought this was a great deal for essentially a private boat tour! However, it rained so much in the week that the river was too high for the boats. Our tour was cancelled twice and we eventually decided to take their option of a walking tour. Due to my MS, I’m not at all that good on walking tours. I made it more than 2/3 of that way though, then I insisted they leave me in the town square in front of the cathedral while they finished the last 20 minutes. We still saw a lot and learned a lot about this adorable town, and felt very safe doing it outside with a tour guide who was wearing a face mask the whole time.

Canterbury
The white cliffs of Dover- this morning may have (luckily) been the best few hours of weather we had all week and I think was one of my highlights. Definitely a good social distancing activity.

Above, you see us ticking an English bucket list item off—– eating a sandwich in Sandwich. We’ve been wanting to do this since we moved to England! But now it’s a pandemic!!! We went to this adorable little village and there really were places to get some mouth-watering sandwiches, we’d really love to buy it there and support them and felt like cads that we didn’t. But we had to stick to our guns and avoid all places, and we just ate the turkey sandwich we packed that morning.

We clean our cloth masks daily. I brought my handy salad spinner with us. One full kettle of boiling water and some dish soap or hand soap and they’re clean in 30 mins (I usually let it sit for 20 minutes, then do a few rinse cycles). Then they dry overnight. We each go through a few masks a day when travelling.



Lastly, I’ll come to what I considered the biggest risk factor of the whole trip. It’s unavoidable: rest stops. I worried about them before we left but I knew there wasn’t too much we could do about avoiding it.
When we have to stop, I aim to wear masks, use a whole tonne of hand sanitiser everywhere, avoid people everywhere I can, and be quick. Get in, pee, and get out. We don’t hang about and we don’t order food or wait in line. And when I say use a tonne of sanitiser, I mean it- use it when we walk in the building, use it when we exit the bathroom (even though we also just washed our hands, sanitise too!), use it when we exit the building, and then use it again when we get into the car and take off our masks.
Most (2/3) of the service centres were pretty good but one was just so busy and no one was following the rules, it made us all anxious and stressed. When I left it, I said ‘That right there gives me no faith in people and this is why we’ll need a national lockdown….’ and the very next day the PM announced one.

So now this is all a bit moot. We (in England) are on national lockdown for the next month and there won’t be any travelling whatsoever. But maybe you’ll be trying to go somewhere at Christmastime, or maybe you just aren’t in England! Sure, none of us can do any big, elaborate, fancy international travel right now (don’t. even. get. me. started…) but if you’re in a safe location and you’re really feeling cabin fever, it can’t hurt too much to get out and go a couple hours down the road, explore something ‘nearby’ that you just have never been to, and maybe always meant to go to.
Book a nice holiday cottage/AirBnB, buy some food at your local home grocery store where you feel safe and make sure you’ve got enough with you, fuel up the car, and hit the road for a few days. Even if you hit horrendous weather like we did for 4 straight days, you’ll end up feeling refreshed just having got out of the house and around new scenery.

(Also, I’m going to point out that I know we won’t get Covid just from going to restaurants or to grocery stores in another city, etc. All I’m trying to say is that our travelling inherently means we’re going out and seeing more people and doing way more things than we usually do. Way more. Just by travelling, we are adopting some risk that we wouldn’t have if we just stayed home. So we try to mitigate that risk with the above measures. If this isn’t for you, or you protect your family another way, that’s cool. Don’t come @ me. All I’m trying to do is give a few tips to someone who is feeling a little lost and not sure where to start.)

Keep safe, everyone.
Xx

Dover Castle

Scotland

Quite a few months ago, we had to face the realisation that our summer travel wasn’t going to look the way we had originally planned (we had a great deal on a place in Croatia for a week in August). Now with Covid, even if things were opening up and travel was going to be allowed, we just weren’t yet comfortable taking the discount airlines that fly from Bristol.
So we decided that whatever travel we were doing this summer should stay in the UK. Let’s use our own car, rent AirBnB houses so that we’re not worried about hotels with elevators and people around, and distance ourselves. As we got lost in this idea, we started thinking more and more of the word ‘distance’ and eventually came up with Scotland and mostly, the highlands. What could be more socially distant than that? Yes, we battered around the idea of Edinburgh and Glasgow, both of which Eric has been to and I want to see one day, but in the end we decided to leave the cities (and crowds) for a later date.

So this was way back in May, way before the government decided to open things or knew when they would. I said to Eric, what’s the harm in booking a few places now that have full refund policies? I figured once the country opens up and people decide to staycation, properties would go fast. So we booked a few beautiful spots and sat back and waited. Since then, I reconsidered and decided we planned too long a trip and we cancelled the last 2 places— I thought 3 stops and 8 nights was enough, we might lose our minds and kill each other going any longer (as we found in Sicily, 5 stops was too much).

This trip took a lot of preplanning. We wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible for two reasons and to not need to make extra stops at stores or restaurants— 1) to limit our exposure to people, and 2) because we didn’t know how often we’d see good stores or restaurants once we got into the remote countryside!!!

I did a lot of cooking the week before we left, I made big batches of curry, mac&cheese, potato and leek soup, tetrazini, and mushroom soup– and we froze it all. I planned out every breakfast, lunch, and dinner for our 9 days (to make sure we had enough food with us, plus a planned shop in a town along the way). The bonus of the frozen meals was they acted as ice blocks for the cooler to keep everything else cold. Bonus, then we never had to do much cooking other than warming up and throwing together a bagged salad during our whole holiday! This also alleviated one of our biggest stresses when we’re travelling- where to eat. We too often head out to look for a restaurant and we’re all hungry then can’t agree on/decide on one and start fighting. This was so nice to have dinner taken care of every night. (And another bonus, because it was food we knew, we knew all the carb counts vs guesstimating at a restaurant!!!)

Well enough of me babbling, how about some pictures?!?!
Our first stop was in South-Western Scotland in a tiny town called Whithorn. I don’t know what made us choose this place other than we knew we would be able to drive to it in one day. We figured this stop will either be a diamond in the rough or a total bust.
The house we stayed in predates the 14th century! The town was tiny but very historic – apparently it’s where St. Ninian, the Saint who brought Christianity to Scotland, first made landfall. We had beautiful weather and visited the Mull of Galloway, a peninsula with a lighthouse that is the southernmost point of Scotland.

The town of Whithorn
It was about an hour’s drive along this stunning coast to the Mull of Galloway— couldn’t beat it
Scotland frequently had a lot of wind turbines all over but there were especially a lot on the Galloway Peninsula. I thought this was pretty with the sheep grazing.



We stayed in Whithorn for 2 nights and then continued north. This is where we lost the motorways and were only on A and B roads (for you North Americans- an A road is essentially a windy 2-lane road with no shoulder whatsoever where the limit would be no more than 60km/hr in Canada but is 100km/hr here, and a B road is even more narrow, with no central line, where you hold your breath every time you go around a corner hoping no car is coming the other way, and no posted speed limit- just as fast as you dare to drive, usually in the 80km/hr range). Google told us it would only be 4 or so hours until our next location but of course it was more of 6.5 hours. That’s the problem with driving in the UK, we find- you def need to add time to the Google maps plan or you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Before we got to our AirBnB in Onich, we stopped at Inveraray Castle. This castle was particularly neat because it is the seat of the Campbell Clan, and if I could claim rights to any clan, it would be them, as my great, great grandmother was a Campbell (so I’m told). Also, funny enough, I grew up in Inverary Ontario so it was doubly neat to visit this beautiful castle. The castle is still lived in by the Duke of Argyll and his family for part of the year.

 

The Campbells fought for the King at the Battle of Culloden in the Jacobite rebellion and managed to keep hundreds and hundreds of the actual weapons used. They decorated this great Hall with them. (And it was best not to mention any association with the Campbells as we went further North into the highlands!)

After we toured the castle we finished onward to our BnB. It was a cute little cottage on Loch Linnhe (not actually a Loch, as many aren’t, but an ocean inlet).

The next day we finally got hit with weather you might expect of Scotland- grey skies, fog, then dousing rain and wind. In fact, it was even too much rain for Scotland! Upwards of 100mm in a day! It’s a good thing we were already where we needed to be, too, because the road we had taken just the day before right near Inveraray Castle, got washed out in a huge landslide! We just mostly hunkered down, watched movies, and were glad we could say it was only one day of our holiday.

Taken in the morning when we went out for an hour, before it got really bad…


The next day it wasn’t exactly clear, but it wasn’t actually raining, either. It worked out well because we then had pre-booked tickets on the Jacobite steam train through the Highlands. This is also known as the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter, because it is featured in the movies. It provided us with gorgeous views of lochs and mountains, if a bit misty and foggy.

Misty views


The Jacobite train actually travelled 2 hours to the town of Mallaig, gave us about 90 minutes there, then had a 2 hour ride back. The day after our train ride, we left our current BnB in Onich and actually drove to Mallaig where we caught the ferry to the Isle of Skye. We enjoyed lunch out on our first day in Mallaig and a picnic in the sun on our second day, followed by a little shopping (where I discovered and fell in love with Harris Tweed).

Mallaig from our beautiful grassy park picnic across the bay
Views from the Isle of Skye ferry


Once we got over to the Isle of Skye, we quickly made it to our sweet cottage BnB. This one turned out to be our favourite of all. It seemed so modern in such a tranquil and private area. We loved it.

While on Skye, we did a lot of driving. We went to the main town of Portree and did a little shopping (more Harris Tweed!), as well as enjoyed lunch at the pub. We drove right to the northern tip of the island which I think is the furthest north I’ve ever been (?) at 57.6°N. We also saw amazing views of waterfalls.

Eric and Sophie also enjoyed going for a few hikes in the evenings around our BnB and got some amazing shots of ancient castle ruins.


On our second full day on Skye, we went on a tour of a local croft. A croft is a type of farm – farming systems are different in the UK with tenancies and all. Croft is also a Gaelic word. We got to meet all their sheep of different breeds, like Hebrides and Cheviot, the donkeys, and the Highland coos. Then we got to try our hand at spinning wool, too!

After the croft tour, since we were already 2-hours from our BnB, we decided to go to nearby Dunvegan Castle. We knew that the castle itself was still closed to the public but there were apparently beautiful botanical gardens, and we had brought a picnic lunch. Dunvegan Castle is the traditional seat of the MacLeod Clan and the longest continually inhabited castle in all of the UK.

The next day it was time to say goodbye to Skye and move south. We had taken the ferry to the isle but decided to take the bridge off, also there was a castle we wanted to stop at, Eilean Donan, right on the other side of the bridge. Apparently, this is the most photographed castle in all of Scotland (as told to us by our BnB host, I didn’t fact check this). It is the traditional seat of the MacRae Clan (and another place you definitely cannot mention Campbell ancestry!).

We did go in and tour around and it was awesome, but of course no photos allowed.

Then we got in the car and continued on our way. We knew we wouldn’t make it all the way home from northern Scotland to Bristol in one day, so we went as far as Carlisle (right at the England/Scotland border) and crashed at a cheap hotel for the night.

But because diabetes doesn’t take holidays, we had to find a place to do a pump change in this tiny hotel room… The end of the bed it is!!


When we woke up in Carlisle, we spent a very short time looking around downtown (such a very cute city and high street!) before we got in the car and made the quick drive on a B-road out of town to Hadrian’s Wall. This is something we’ve all really wanted to see since we moved to the UK. We went to Birdoswald, the Roman fort ruins built into the wall and there’s a museum there. It’s also the largest intact section of wall left.

We did a little walkabout then of course it was time to hit the road again. Google told us we would be home by 1610h but we didn’t arrive until 1830h (even though Google supposedly takes traffic into account…. It just never works on British roads! And half the time we’re driving above the limit… No idea why)

We’ve had a pretty great holiday. We’ve seen so many vistas and gorgeous sights. The beauty of the highlands is just breathtaking. There were times I found it ironic to think that people travel from all over the world to Canada just to see beautiful natural views and here, we’ve left Canada to now be looking at beautiful natural views….. Well, in Canada you don’t get castles every hundred miles or so to break up the monotony of the views, LOL!

It wasn’t how we pictured our summer holidays to go, but I don’t think anyone in this world really had their summer go to plan, did they?




(PS- if you want more pics, follow me on Instagram, because I posted all these photos and more as they happened! If you want more now, they’re on my profile stories under ‘Scotland’)