Journey to Venice

We flew WestJet from Toronto to London, catching a layover flight to Venice. We booked a day hotel to catch some rest between flights, which was a new experience for both of us! We arrived in Venice at night, took public transit into town by boat, and settled into our AirBnB apartment before going out for pasta.

That’s the synopsis – now for the details!

BLOC Hotel – A Disaster 

As we were taking a red eye flight with an 8-hour layover before our flight to Venice, we had booked a daylet in the Gatwick Airport to rejuvenate. We booked the BLOC Hotel back in January when we had booked our flights. It was very affordable and we felt very pleased with our decision. However, the BLOC Hotel left us in a lurch with less than 24 hours notice…

Surprise! Last Minute Cancelation

Before leaving on our babymoon, I had booked my first ever prenatal massage with my favourite masseuse. I came home from the massage in absolute bliss – all ready to board that plane! I found Matt hunched over his laptop, reading an email with a sour look on his face. We had just received a cancellation email from BLOC Hotel that read “We’re sorry to hear you won’t be staying with us…” with no explanation. We were hours away from our flight!

Matt followed up with the hotel on why our booking has been cancelled. They told us it was due to “planned maintenance”. If it was planned, we asked why they were only giving us notice of the cancellation now, less than 24 hours ahead of time. The hotel was unapologetic, and suggested we look at other airport hotels, such as YOTELAIR. We looked up YOTELAIR and it was more than double the cost of the BLOC!

Matt asked if BLOC could compensate us for this unexpected added expense. They would not help us out with alternative accommodations. They instead offered us 50% off our next booking at the BLOC Hotel. Matt rejected this offer saying he wasn’t going to risk another stay at the BLOC only to be cancelled last minute unless they covered our room 100%. They wished us a good day and that was that.

Privacy? Non-existent.

To make matters worse, BLOC had emailed the cancelation to multiple patrons directly in the “To:” line of the email instead of BCC (blind carbon copy). This meant that everyone who had been cancelled last minute by the BLOC had each others name and email address! One person from Goya reached out to us saying he was one hour from boarding his flight when he received BLOC’s cancellation. Two other people joined in the conversation, who had also been cancelled. All of us were very upset with BLOC – and not happy they had shared our private information!

Flying to London

After watering the plants, we said goodbye to our little apartment and headed out on our new adventure! We walked to Union Station, taking the UP Express to Pearson Airport in Toronto with lots of time to spare! Security was quick, although I was called aside briefly for staff to inspect the power bar and chargers in my knapsack. We checked into the airport lounge and settled into the armchairs by the window overlooking the runway until it was time to leave.

Daylet at the YOTELAIR Gatwick

Despite my best efforts, I could not get a wink of sleep on the flight. We arrived in London around 4:30am Toronto time, 8am local time. After getting through security, we easily found signs to our hotel. We took the shuttle to the South Terminal where the YOTELAIR was located. Check-in started at 7am here!

YOTEL was a series of little space-age looking pods with curtained windows that looked onto the corridor. The room was barely big enough for the bed, which went from sofa to bed with the push of a button. The room was bathed in magenta light with rounded insets for storage. It would have been hip in the 1990’s, but now it just looked haggard and worn.

We made a picnic at the foot of the bed with the sourdough bread Matt had baked the day before and slices of manchego cheese we brought from home. Once fed, we curled up in bed to catch up on our Zzz’s before the next leg of our trip.

I woke up around 1pm with a slightly bloody nose from the dry air in the pod. However, we both felt well rested and were glad of the sleep. It sure beat sleeping on a plane!

I had a quick shower while Matt got us complimentary tea and coffee from the front desk. We checked out of YOTEL before 2pm, stepping out of the hotel elevator into a chaotic mass of people. The space before us was a mass of moving bodies, bright colours and light. It was a bit of a shock after the quiet tranquility of the dimly lit sleep pods.

Photo of people lined up below an airport gate sign for British Airway to Venice

Gatwick Airport

As we had pre-checked into our flight from home the day before, we made our way directly to security. We passed BLOC Hotel on our way – it was right by the security entrance! I silently grumbled at the hotel as we passed, imagining what it would be like to shake my fist at BLOC for cancelling on us last minute. Apparently they had just sent Matt a 100% off coupon for the next year now – but when were we going to be in Europe next with a baby on the way?! We had just paid a whopping $177 for a sleep pod when we were originally booked with them for $60. Grr…

The security line moved quickly and was well organized. Both my bags were flagged this time, but for different reasons than before: my e-reader and my toiletries. They were both deemed fine to take in with me. The security personnel were super friendly and even laughed and chatted with me!

Biding Our Time at the Airport

To amuse ourselves, we perused the duty free shops. Usually I’d be going through the scotch and gin selection, but not this trip! I found my little piece of babymoon heaven in the toy section: classic Peter Rabbit, Paddington Bear, Pooh, and Westie dogs in tartans for babies and children. Not a Disney ripoff in sight – all the classic characters from my childhood! To my great surprise, they appeared to actually be cheaper at the Harrods duty free shop than the official Duty Free shop! We’ll have to make a stop on our way home to Toronto. A Peter Rabbit stuffy will go nicely with the Bunnykins baby set I have set aside for our little one.

I needed some protein. As we’d eaten all our cheese at breakfast, I was on the lookout for cheap food options. We found lunch at Boots Pharmacy where you could get a tasty sandwich for £1-2.70. European shops always seem to have amazing takeaway sandwiches for cheap! Canadian takeaway pales in comparison…

We got a gigantic ‘ploughman’s lunch’ sandwich with a Naked green smoothie and a chocolate salted caramel bar for £4 in total. The sandwich package included three different halves: BLT with mayo, egg salad with chives, and cheddar with jam and arugula. It was an extremely satisfying lunch split between the two of us (or three if you count the baby). The pharmacy had quite the array of sandwiches to choose from – even mushy peas with mint!

The airport offered free wifi for 90 minutes – quite good speed too! Matt discovered they had an extremely useful airport app with live updates on security times (it was max 5min – usually 2min when we checked), directions to your specific gate, and a great map too!

As a designer specializing in accessibility, I was impressed with the features of Gatwick airport. The TVs had multicoloured captions that changed colour with each speaker (I’d never seen that in practice before)! The wayfinding signage was strategically positioned, clear, high contrast and legible, making the airport easy to navigate. They had big accessible washrooms, family changing stations, and the friendliest airport support staff too!

The airport didn’t release our gate number until shortly before our flight. Above the elevators were travel times to the different gate numbers which we though was a great idea! Once our gate was announced, we marched downstairs to join the lineup of passengers for boarding. There was no waiting area at the gate – you were just to get on the plane. The line moved quickly and before we knew it, we were on the plane to Venice!

Photo of a plane wing, clouds, and mountain tops

British Airways flight to Venice

There was less leg room than in West Jet Economy, no complimentary beverages, or charging station – but the seats were comfortable! Our flight left a little before our scheduled department time of 4:25pm and arrived at our final destination 15 minutes ahead of time!

As we approached Venice, flight crew alerted us to the Alps outside our window as we flew over Geneva. I craned over Matt to get a closer look. Their snowy white caps mixed in perfectly with the clouds, becoming one as earth met sky. They were a beautiful sight.

The light changed to crimson with the sunset, bathing the plane wing outside our window in a pink glow against a backdrop of silky smooth blue clouds below. Soon we could see yellow clusters of lights of towns below as we made our descent into Italy.

Italy greeted with the most intense turbulence I’ve ever encountered on a flight! We were jostled this was and that, but it didn’t scare me like it would have years ago. Matt and I are pros at flight travel now!

As the plane steadied, the view outside our window went black with nightfall. When the clouds cleared, we could see more rivers of light in the darkness below. We made a smooth landing at 7:11pm local time – we were in Venice! The Black Beret and the Grey Cap have landed.

Marco Polo Airport

Border Control was incredibly quick! We easily found the Alilaguna kiosks to purchase a round ticket on the vaporetta to Venice for £27. We followed the clearly marked blue signs to Water Transport, classical music playing on the speakers all the way! I marvelled at the photos of Venice on the walls we passed, eager to see the sights tomorrow! I was so excited! Everything was so wonderful!

The Boat to Venice

We were greeted by cool night air coming off the water as we stepped off the escalator. We lined up for the Blue Line to Venice as a yellow and white boat pulled up to dock. Staff checked our ticket, telling us to get off at the second stop. I got a seat by the window and the vaporetto pulled out onto the water. We were in Venice!

The boat poked along at a leisurely pace. Much of the landscape was in darkness with city lights far off in the distance. Matt opened the window for us to get a better view. The cool air felt lovely on our face after all these hours spent indoors and on planes!

We found it curious how Venice didn’t light up their buildings at night. We could see that there were structures on the shore, but that was it. They were in darkness. All was still and silent.

Photo of a statue of a cherub lit up at night

Finding our Apartment

Lightning lit up the sky as we approached Venice. As we disembarked the boat, the rain picked up and lightning cracked across the sky. The darkness of Venice extended to its residential streets. At 9pm, the streets were barren of people and the only noise was rain falling on the cobblestone pavement.

It was quite tricky finding our AirBnB in the dark, wind, and rain. The numbering system was strange to us and streets had different names than on our map.

Eventually we found our apartment. It was behind a green door with a brass lion’s head knocker. We entered a small courtyard and went up white marble steps to a black doorway with the statue of a cherub looking over us.

The host had left keys in the door and chocolates on the table. It was a cozy little place – perfect for two wet and weary travellers! The apartment was clean and tastefully decorated. The walls were thin and we could clearly hear the neighbours, but hopefully that wouldn’t prove a problem.

Photo of espresso cups hung on string around a window

Puppa Bar

Once we unpacked, I did a Google search on the restaurants the host recommended in her visitor guide. Unfortunately, all were closed at this hour – including the grocery store! Next we turned to our old trusty: the Yelp app. There was a bistro nearby that was open: Puppa Bar.

We went back out into the rain, over two bridges and easily found Puppa down the street. It was a tiny little place with friendly staff and few patrons. They offered dinner for €15: drink, pasta, and a coffee. We split the plate of pasta, Matt had the glass of wine and I had the decaf coffee. It felt so good to eat real, hot food!

For decoration, the bar had espresso cups strung up above the window. Each time someone went in or out of the bistro, they sung like wind chimes against the glass. Art hung on the wall depicting classic Venetian scenes in pastel, ink, pencil, and paint. By the door were posters for current shows at the local theatres. It was a homey little place.

Photo of a canal at night with moored boats in yellow lamplight

Goodnight from Venice

Watered and fed, we made our way back to our apartment. It was easy to find now we knew where it was! Matt shuttered our window and now we lay in bed listening to the rain fall outside on the flagstone. Above our heads are big wooden beams and exposed brick wall above the window, accents of the old with the white plaster of the new.

It was hard falling asleep with the wind howling outside and the bang of who-knows-what in the gale. There would be the occasional song of drunkards coming home or the chatter or our neighbours through the wall.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow! Tomorrow we explore Venice dry – by daylight!