I’m of the opinion a good holiday has to be preceded by a number of disasters and inconveniences. You have to suffer in order to be rewarded with a trouble free, enjoyable holiday.
Preferably the suffering happens BEFORE you depart so you can fly off safe in the knowledge that the worst is behind you and the happy holiday can begin. (Crossing fingers so as not to jinx anything). God forbid your booking and initial travel goes smoothly because that probably means your luggage will disappear in transit or your hotel will get flooded.
Of course, it’s been so long since Rob and I have been on holiday we’ve got out of the habit. Like all of us, it’s been stay at home all the way for the last few years. But what struck me as half term approached was the fact that Rob and I haven’t flown anywhere without the children for eleven years. ELEVEN YEARS!
Since they were born it’s been driving to France for self-catering holidays or cheap trips to Spain where my parents had a flat (now, sadly, sold). So romantic getaways as a couple just didn’t happen.
NOT ANY MORE! I vowed. Son is 16, daughter is 14. Both were capable of being without Mum and Dad for a while and brother, sister, and mother-in-law kindly agreed to come and stay for a weekend to make sure they didn’t organise any wild parties.
In a sort of blurred craze I made the decision to surprise Rob with a romantic weekend away in VENICE, BABY!
Hang the expense! I thought. I couldn’t remember the last time we were in a hotel room with a minibar and hotels with mini bars are my absolute favourite thing in the world.
We needed to spend some proper time together, I’d been working long hours, so had Rob, and what better place to go than Venice. I’d been once when inter-railing a lifetime ago and remembered it as hot, busy, and smelly but that was August and I read that late October would be perfect as it’s not so hot and hopefully not quite so crowded.
So, the planning began. I wanted to tell Rob our destination as a surprise the week before. I bought a copy of a DK Eyewitness travel guide to Venice, the ones with loads and loads of pictures, and thought I’d give it to him wrapped up so he could plan where we would eat and where we would go before we left. I think for Rob that’s his favourite part of going on holiday.
I booked the holiday on lastminute.com. Flights booked, hotel booked. Sorted! Then I remembered Covid tests. And learned about digital passenger locater forms. Even writing these words fills me with a terrible remembered dread.
More Googling. And then even more Googling. I had to book a PCR test within 48 hours of arriving in Italy. No! Wait! Hang on – the rules changed. I only needed a nurse admitted antigen test. Phew! OK – Boots did those. Another Google. In my town? No. They did them, but only in a town which was a fifty minute drive away.
Oh, we’ll make a day of it, I thought airily. There was a good shopping centre nearby and we could take the children out for lunch, do our antigen test, get our certificates and Bob’s your uncle.
Then I learned about the day 2 Covid test you have to do on your return. I also had to fill in a passenger locater form to get into Italy and then another different one to get back into the U.K. To fill that one in you needed to put in booking codes for the day 2 PCR test the U.K. demanded you do when you return.
So at great expense and on the recommendation of a very helpful parent friend, I booked a drive through PCR test through a company called Collinson (highly recommended them, by the way*)
We would drive out of Gatwick, drive through a car park, get swabbed and Bob would be my uncle again.
But wait! The rules were changed again! After 26 October the U.K. government no longer required a day 2 PCR test, an antigen would be fine. OK, no problem. I logged onto Collinson, changed the test from PCR to antigen and got a refund.
But, no. I thought all was fine. I was smug and super organised, Rob remained in the dark ready for his lovely surprise at the start of term.
But then I got a call from Lastminute.com. The flight had been changed from Sunday night to Monday morning. Hope that’s ok? they said.
No. This was very much not OK. I’d arranged car parking, child care, dog care, Covid tests both ways, passenger locater forms both ways all on the basis of returning late Sunday night. (Remember this is for a two night trip).
What about the hotel?
Oh, it’s fine! They said. They’ll give you an extra night free.
Realising there was nothing I could do I sighed, straightened my shoulders, and rearranged everything.
I begin to get excited about the trip and couldn’t wait to tell Rob where we were going. I ignored the tiny niggle of worry I had that lastminute.com hadn’t sent through a confirmation email.
I called them and was reassured – all in hand, madam! They said. It’ll come through soon!
Days passed, weeks passed, and no confirmation of the updated flight and hotel details arrived. I phoned, emailed and chatted lastminute.com and every time I was reassured.
The week before we left two things happened. First, I gave Rob the book and he was over the moon delighted and couldn’t wait to start our romantic break. I left him happily researching restaurants and places to visit. Secondly, Lastminute.com called to say they were very sorry but actually the hotel didn’t have a room free on Sunday night so I could fly back Sunday morning?
Considering we were flying in on Friday night, leaving at 7am Sunday morning was not the dream holiday I was hoping (or paying) for. No, I said. That was very, very far from ideal.
‘I’ll call you back,’ she said.
Rob, alarmed by my shriek of despair and outrage came running into the bedroom where I was hiding with my phone.
‘What’s up?’ he said.
‘Nothing!’ I said. ‘Everything is absolutely fine.’
‘It’s just, you seem to be gritting your teeth and I heard you scream so …’
‘Don’t worry – everything is going very smoothly.’
Lastminute.com called me back. ‘They have a room for Sunday night!’ she said.
‘Hooray! I said.
‘It has to be a suite as they’re otherwise fully booked,’ she went on.
‘Oh, that sounds lovely.’
‘So if you could transfer over €600 I’ll get that confirmed.’
After a very long drawn out and protracted conversation in which I pointed out I had phoned ‘twice a week!’ to confirm the hotel was booked and the extra night would be free, and every time (‘EVERY TIME’) I had been assured all was fine. And how it was very unfair to tell me at the last minute (ho ho) ‘we’re leaving in FOUR days!’ That we had to pay the entire cost of the holiday again for ONE extra night …
Anyway, after a long conversation in which the customer service woman stayed very calm while I got increasingly hysterical, lastminute.com called me back to say they would cover the cost of the extra night in one of the best rooms the hotel could offer.
I am now completely in love with lastminute.com and will use them for all my holidays from now on.
The only remaining disaster was when we trekked over to the fifty minute away town to get our pre-flight tests I hadn’t realised we were supposed to bring our passports.
‘Can you accept photos of our passports?’
‘How long are you open for?’
‘The nurse finished her shift in an hour. How far away are your passports?’
‘Fifty minutes there, fifty minutes back.’ I said sadly.
‘Oh, well that’s that, then,’ said Rob.
But Collinson saved the day. As we drove back home I logged on and managed to book a pre-flight test for the following afternoon using the same drive through car park outside Gatwick we had booked for our Day 2 return tests. I updated the passenger locater forms and all was (finally) sorted.
Venice was everything I hoped it would be and more. The hotel was stunning, the city was more beautiful than I could possibly describe and Rob and I reminded ourselves why we liked each other enough to get married in the first place.
It was utter bliss from first to end and all because I went through the tunnels of hell first in order to make sure that happened. One must suffer to achieve bliss.
The flight was uneventful, we landed smoothly in Venice where my pre-booked water taxi was waiting. Speeding across the water towards the light of Venice was a BLAST! We felt like James Bond and the boat was gorgeous, all white leather and polished wood
There were many highlights but one still makes me giggle whenever I think about it. Queuing to enter the magnificent Doge’s palace we were asked to show our ‘green cards’ or Covid vaccine certificates. Both Rob and I had been very sensible and downloaded the QR codes to the wallet app on our phones.
I showed her mine, all fine, waved through. Rob, somehow, showed the guide the QR code for his ‘I Don’t Know How But They Found Me’ concert ticket.
Some months before Daughter had persuaded us to take her to see this band IDKHBTFM. It’s an off shoot of another band even I’ve heard of – Panic at the Disco. It was a great night but Rob and I felt very old as we queued around the block outside O2 Forum with five million thirteen year olds all wearing outrageous outfits and chewing gum whilst scanning us up and down with scathing glances.
How on Earth Rob had that on his phone wallet I don’t know, but it seemed to do the trick as he too was ushered forward ready to experience the architectural wonders of the Doge’s palace. Perhaps the guide thought that anyone who supported ‘I Don’t Know How But They Found Me’ would definitely be up to date with their Covid vaccinations.
Initially it was crowded with people but as Rob and I wandered around glued to our audio tour phones, the people began to thin out and eventually in the last few rooms Rob and I were the only ones left. Because we are TOUGH and SEE THINGS THROUGH TO THE END! Even listening to every word of an eighteen minute description of a Titan painting that I suspected was a print.
I’m glad we did stay as the final stage was over the Bridge of Sighs to the prison – a sobering experience to say the least and an interesting contrast to the pomp and self important extravagance of the palace.
We did St Mark’s Square and didn’t mind paying €25 for an orange juice and fizzy water because it was BEAUTIFUL! Pigeons circled in the blue sky above, white coated waiters brought us crisps in silver bowls, a piano played and all around us was the babel chatter of Italian, German, Chinese and French.
Oh! I had missed that so much all those years trapped in a pandemic ridden U.K.
That evening we went to a fancy restaurant which was pretty and had a lovely view over the Grand Canal but … meh. The food wasn’t great. The waiters were off hand and the main course was served on cold plates and felt like they’d been hanging around a bit. Maybe just me, but I like my food piping hot. The tiramisu was fantastic though.
The next day was a free tour of a wonderful glass making factory. It was lovely and warm next to the 1,000 degree ovens and we watched in amazement as a master glasssmith extracted a huge glowing blob of glass from an oven and just … pulled a horse out of it with his great big iron tweezers. His skill was amazing. And I quite like how grumpy he was at the group of gaping tourists standing around him.
We wandered through the gallery, I fell in love with the most exquisite tray of carafe and wine glasses but took a smart step back when I saw it was €3,800.
The gift shop was more suited to our pocket and I eventually found what I was looking for, a gorgeous chunk of blue and gold bubble filled glass to use as a paperweight.
After the glass tour we wandered through the Jewish quarter, stopping for more Aperol Spritzs accompanied by delicious cichetti, before walking all the way down towards St Mark’s Square in search of a shop I had fallen in love with the day before. It was full of the most amazing thing – FRAMED BOOKSHELVES! Look at them! Look at their gorgeousness.
The wonderful Teresa told me all about the Lebanese artist who moved to Venice 30 years ago. He studied architecture at The Università Iuav Di Venezia (I think that’s what she said). He now makes these frames full of piles of paper, postcards of cats and lions, and the spines of books. I absolutely loved them and when I put them on some Facebook Bookgroups, they loved them too! I hope lots of them go and buy them from Teresa.
Then the moment came. The moment when we were to move from our standard double to our lastminute.com-paid-for Junior Suite!
I must tell you about the hotel. It’s called the Hotel Al Ponte Antico and it’s perfectly placed in the centre of Venice right next to the Rialto Bridge and overlooks the Grand Canal.
It was built in the 1500’s (a relative newcomer, Matteo the owner told us) and is a palace that has been lovingly restored.
It has a dock and the water taxi took us right there where we were met by Tommaso, immaculately dressed in a tailored jacket with pocket square and cravat. Warm, welcoming and knowledgeable, he greeted us by name and showed us around the hotel and made us delicious Aperol Spritzs that he carried out to us on the terrace. Bliss. He reminded me of a character from Dickens.
I was expecting the service to be good, based on the trip advisor reviews, but it was exceptional. Nothing was too much trouble. Everyone knew who you were and advised on where to go and what to see as well as organising tours and trips.
I loved how there were massive piles of books everywhere. And Barbara’s baking was incredible. For weeks beforehand I had been logging on to their live webcam and it didn’t seem real when we were finally there and I was looking at the view in real life.
Click here to see the live web cam of the Hotel Al Ponte Antico
What was lovely was when I posted a picture of this on Facebook an old school friend got in touch to say her husband had proposed to her on the Rialto Bridge!
So, we were already in love with the hotel and now we were to spend our last night in the junior suite. This is what we found…
To make the most of it we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon just watching the world float by on the Grand Canal from our hotel window. We could have high-fived the gondoliers, they were so close. It was bliss.
Then, happily, we found a fantastic restaurant a few minutes from the hotel. Called Ristorante Ca’ Dolfin it was a good, basic pizzeria. Rob had prawns to start and I had a delicious Mozzarella and tomato salad. They’d strewn both dishes with flowers, something I didn’t see until I looked at the photographs! The pizza I had was perfect and more tiramisu was consumed by me while Rob had a gloriously wobbly pana cotta.
So, thank you Venice, thank you lastminute.com, and Easy Jet, and Matteo and Barbara at the Hotel Al Ponte Antico. We had the best holiday I can remember in years.
- * I have to mention here how great Collinson were. The website is easy to use and the chat function works well. The customer service was responsive and knowledgeable and were really helpful when I was trying to fill out some hideous online forms. The drive through car park was 12 minutes from Gatwick. Clearly signposted, we followed the cone lined path round and up to a booth where we checked in with our booking reference. Then we drove to the swabbing booth. Two nurses appeared on either side and double checked our details before swabbing. We could then either drive off and wait for our results to appear online/be emailed, or wait for the results. We were told if we waited they would print off the certificate to prove we had tested negative for Covid. I quite liked the idea of having a paper copy. We were warned it could take 45 minutes – that was fine as we had ages until check in. Well! TWENTY minutes later the nurse appeared with two certificates which proved we were negative and ready to go. The whole process was smooth, straightforward and professional and it was equally easy on the way back. Testing to fly is a pain, but Collinson made the whole thing a breeze. If we still have to test to fly I will definitely use Collinson again.