Nine places to visit in 72 hours in Venice

Venice has always been on my to do list. The canals, the culture, the food all seemed like a must see.

Life with two young children means that our last city break was some time ago. But when it came to marking our 10 year wedding anniversary, we decided Venice would be our place to go.

Our holiday

We booked our inclusive holiday through Expedia. We flew from Bristol to Marco Polo. We booked our holiday last October, a few weeks before the flights between Cardiff and Venice were announced.

After researching hotels, we decided to go for the Hotel Ai Reali, a 4 star hotel in a former Venetian palace. Close to the Rialto, and a five-minute walk from the tourist hot spot St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), it felt like a great spot.

When we arrived, the hotel was immaculate with helpful staff who gave us key information (checking first if we wanted to find out the information then or after we’d got to our room and settled in) and a map. It helped us relax quickly.

We stayed in a comfort room and were greeted with lovely little comforts including bathrobes, chocolates and bottled water (just the ticket after a long journey).

The room was sparkling clean and included nice toiletries and free WiFi. Our stay included a breakfast buffet, which offered a huge variety of delicious food from pancakes to meats to croissants.

The hotel’s Alla Corrone restaurant and bar were highly rated and we enjoyed a few drinks in the relaxing bar most evenings with entertainment from a pianist on set evenings.

The staff were knowledgeable and attentive, helping us make the most of our stay.

Getting around

We booked a transfer bus between Marco Polo Airport and Venice using ATVO via Expedia. Costing less than £30 for a return for the both of us, it’s a 20 minute coach ride from the airport and runs 24 hours a day.

The bus stops at Piazza San Roma. From there we bought a three-day ACTV water boat pass for €40 each. This 72-hour pass gave us unlimited access to Venice’s water bus system making it an affordable way to explore Venice and the surrounding islands.

View from the water bus

There are other options including water taxi, but this is expensive and the costs soon add up with additional costs for bags etc.

Tip Check which direction your water bus is travelling. It works like the Tube with buses going in opposite direction. We discovered this after accidentally getting the water bus in the wrong direction on our first journey. Oops!

Things to do

1. Murano

Murano glass is world famous for its unique craftsmanship which has been honed for centuries.

Our hotel offered a complementary water taxi to Murano, which took us direct to the Bisanzio glass workshop and gallery.

An entire wall is decorated with photographs of distinguished or celebrity visitors from Sting to Sylvester Stallone to Jennifer Garner.

While there, our guides talked us through the history and how the Murano glass is made. We also saw one of the artists create a glass black horse, which was so skilful.

The 16 rooms of the gallery featured a fantastic array of glass from mirrors to chandeliers to birds.

As you can imagine, prices for Murano glass are incredibly expensive. As we were leaving, we heard a couple ask the price of six glasses, which were around €1,100.

We then explored the streets and shops of Murano, which were picturesque. Even most of the door numbers and bells had a reference to the glass.

2. Burano

A short distance from Murano is the island of Burano, famed for its lace and houses of all colours.

We caught the number 12 water bus from Murano to the island to explore and enjoy a spot of lunch. It’s a small island filled with houses, small shops and eateries. The colours were stunning.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch of Diavalo pizzas (€10 each) at the Principe overlooking the canal. It was glorious.

Well worth a visit.

Tip You can book trips to Murano and Burano in advance of your holiday starting at around €17 per person. We enjoyed traveling by water bus as we could travel at our own pace and it was cheaper.

3. Rialto

Our hotel was close to the Rialto and its famous bridge so we enjoyed exploring the area.

It’s bustling and one of many popular spots to catch a gondola ride. We bought a private ride from an official stand for €80 for both of us.

It was so tranquil gliding through Venice’s canals, navigating narrow spaces that don’t seem possible. It gave us view of Venice that weren’t possible by water bus and was a great part of the Venetian experience.

6. St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)

When we spoke to anyone about visiting Venice, they all agreed a visit to St Mark’s Square was essential.

It is one of Venice’s most famous spots and bustles with tourists from the early hours offering spectacular architecture dating back centuries.

We enjoyed strolling around it and the surrounding areas, browsing in spectacular shops and eating delicious gelato.

We returned at night and found it magical with its columns of lights and live classical music.

7. Doge’s Palace

The Doge’s Palace is steeped in Venetian history and was the home of the Venetian government for centuries.

As it is one of the most popular places to visit, I booked our skip the line ticket to the palace and a guided tour in advance of our holiday for around £37 per person.

This worked well as we avoided the long queues and had a knowledgeable guide who ensured we learned so much about the palace’s fascinating history and artwork and the best spots for great views and photographs.

We crossed the Bridge of Sighs and explored the former prison.

Its pretty marble exterior masks what it’s like inside, a narrow dark tunnel which made escape impossible for Venetian prisoners.

The Bridge of Sighs

The palace’s artwork and decor were nothing short of stunning. With our guide’s help, we enjoyed the vivid colours of Veronase, the gold leaf foliage and the artistic illusion of 3D painting.

We climbed opulent staircases, experienced the grandeur of the 150ft hall and felt the smallness of the former prison cells.

We discovered why Napoleon removed artworks and sculptures and were shown a painting in which the artist painted the wrong leg.

A must see.

Tip Backpacks and large bags are not permitted inside the palace so you will need to leave them at the cloakroom or just leave them at the hotel.

8. St Mark’s Basilica

From inside the Doge’s palace, you can see the five domes of St Mark’s Basilica, one of the most striking buildings in St Mark’s Square.

This opulent building is a Catholic Church and you can tour it for free observing the rules of silence and no photography.

Decorated beautifully, its incredible height and colours are a sight to be seen.

We paid €5 each to enter the museum upstairs, which leads to a brilliant exhibition about the church’s history. It also leads to its balcony, which offers awesome views across the square and surrounding areas.

Unsurprisingly, queues for the Basilica are lengthy with people queuing in the early hours of the day. We visited at around 2pm and found it much quieter than it was in the morning.

You can buy skip the line tickets for just €3 per person if you wish to.

9. Museum Correr

If you’ve bought a ticket to the Doge’s Palace, you can access 11 Venice museums for free without any queues.

Tucked into a corner of St Mark’s Square, you’ll find the Museum Correr. Our ticket to the Doge’s Palace gave us free entry to the museum, which includes lavish rooms, sculptures, books and artworks telling Venice’s history.

We visited the cafe for a soft drink after our tour. At €4 each it was pretty pricy, but it gave us gorgeous views across the square to the Basilica.

Over to you

So there are my top tips for places to visit in Venice. What are yours? I’d love to know.

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Hunting for Easter Eggs at Dyffryn Gardens

There’s nothing our children love more than an Easter egg hunt. They love following clues and peeking in corners to find their chocolate treasures.

We’ve never been to an organised hunt before, but, as National Trust members, the Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt at Dyffryn Gardens seemed like a good option, especially as it’s one of our favourite places to visit.

We booked in advance when the tickets went on sale at £6 per child and a small booking fee. It’s a popular event so booking in advance is recommended.

When we got to the gardens, we were directed to Dyffryn House where the children were given instructions and we were told how it works.

Each child was given an activity leaflet and a pencil. They had to find eggs containing flowers dotted around the gardens and match the pictures inside to the colour of the ribbons on top. When they’d found all the eggs, they had to return to the house to claim their prize.

After that, we were off to explore and locate those eggs. Finding the first one was a little tricky, but the children were thrilled when they found it.

After finding that initial egg, the discoveries sped up. They loved exploring the gardens and were so pleased with each discovery.

I found it helpful that the areas where the trail ended were clearly marked, which helped us to stay in the right area and avoid going off course.

We spent around 45 minutes on the hunt and the children ran back to the house clutching their explorer sheets to claim their prize, a Cadbury’s Easter egg. They were delighted!

All in all, it was well organised and pretty good value for what it was. The children loved it and I think we’ll be back again next year!

Did you go to the Dyffryn egg hunt? If so, what did you think?

The Cadbury Easter Egg hunt cost £6 per child. Admission to the gardens was free as Trust members, but is chargeable to non-members. Visit here to find out more.

Six places to visit on a South West England staycation

Since our son started school a few years ago, I’ve found February half term a challenge. The weather can be too wet and cold for days out so it can end up being an expensive and stir crazy week.

As our daughter has now started school, I decided to book us a little break – a staycation in Devon.

We stayed in a Hornbeam Lodge in Lady’s Mile Holiday Park in Dawlish. As it’s out of season, the Monday to Friday break cost us less than £300 for a spacious two-bedroom lodge with a bath, an ensuite and a hot tub . The park has a mix of pitches, static caravans and lodges and our lodge was spotlessly clean and well-presented.

Although a little dated in places, the park has a warm indoor pool, a restaurant, a small gym, a hairdresser’s, an arcade and bowling alley. Other facilities such as the on-site shop, chip shop and outdoor pool were closed due to the time of year.

We made it our base for a range of family days out. We also broke up the journey from South Wales with a stop at around half way.

Here’s what we did and thought about our South West staycation.

1. Bristol Zoo

We broke up our travel to Dawlish with a visit to Bristol Zoo. Our daughter hasn’t been before and our son couldn’t remember his trip as a toddler so it felt like a good chance for a visit.

The children loved seeing the animals – with the monkeys, lion and gorillas selected as their favourites – and to learn more about them. Its focus on conservation helped us talk to the children about caring for animals and our environment.

They enjoyed the zoo detectives trail that was running for half term spotting the relevant items and pictures around the zoo.

I loved the underwater walkway as we could watch the seals and the penguins swim past us.

Entry prices vary, but we booked online as it’s slightly cheaper. We paid £15 per adult and took advantage of the children go free at half term offer that was running. Parking was £3.

2. Killerton House

It’s nearly six months since we joined the National Trust and I make sure we make the most of our membership by visiting new places near home or when we’re away.

So on our first full holiday day, we headed to Killerton in Broadclyst, Exeter.

We walked the spacious grounds and visited the grand house including its Votes for Women? exhibition, which tells the tale of two Killerton women who sat on opposite sides of the suffrage campaign.

It gave us the chance to talk about the centenary of some women being given the opportunity to vote and the exhibition asks visitors to vote for and against.

The children enjoyed spotting the small toy mice hidden in the rooms dressed in suffrage and anti-suffrage colours. Our daughter also enjoyed dressing up as a suffragette and trying out the different hats.

Killerton also houses a fantastic fashion collection which showed the changes in fashion over the decades.

Killerton is free for National Trust members. Entry prices for non-members can be found here.

3. Babbacombe Model Village

We visited Babbacombe Model Village near Torquay for a fun few hours out. The children enjoyed seeing miniature villages, people and models.

New additions such as The Great British Bake Off and celebrity mansion kept me entertained too. They also enjoyed the free crazy golf and its 4D cinema experience.

With off peak prices, we paid £26 to visit as a family. There is a pay and display car park outside the model village.

4. Babbacombe Cliff Railway

Just a few minutes’ walk from the model village, you’ll find Babbacombe Cliff Railway.

Open since 1926, it takes passengers down the steep cliff to Oddicombe beach with views of the English Riviera.

We enjoyed the fairly unique journey to the lovely flat beach, where we skimmed stones and had a picnic before stepping back on board.

The return journey for four cost £9.60. The service also offers 10 rides for £10 (five returns).

5. Exmouth

After wrapping up warm, we had a brisk walk and visit to Exmouth beach. It is a beautiful sandy stretch and the children enjoyed hunting for shells, pebbles and sticks.

After a short walk, we thawed out in Oceans Soft Play, a beautifully clean soft play centre with sweeping views of the beach.

The children loved tearing around and it gave us all a chance to warm up.

Finally, we stopped for a delicious lunch at the Proper Fish and Chips Co, which makes high quality fare cooked to order.

6. Tyntesfield

As we made our way home to South Wales, we decided to stop at Tyntesfield in Bristol to stretch our legs. This is a very special National Trust property and the house is a must see. You need to get tickets upon entry to visit the house, which is filled with fascinating artworks and collections that bring the house to life.The grounds are beautiful and the children loved running free and exploring.Entry is free for National Trust members. Admission prices for non-members can be found here.

2017 – the year that was

It’s New Year’s Eve 2017. A day during which many of us will reflect on the good, the bad and the in-between bits of the year gone by.

With hours to go until 2018, we may be thinking of pledges to be thinner, fitter, better versions of ourselves after the season of goodwill or, in many cases (myself included), a good fill of food, drink, late nights and sofa-lazing.

So here’s what I did and didn’t do in 2017 and my hopes for 2018.

What I did

Started mindfulness

In the spring, I was pretty unwell with a chest infection that I just couldn’t shift. I was stressed, anxious and frustrated and I realised that my feelings had a part to play in me being and staying unwell.

So, after reading Ruby Wax’s Frazzled, I put the cynicism aside and started 10 minutes of mindfulness a day with Headspace. It means I’ve clocked up more than 1,000 meditation minutes since May.

I’d love to say I manage to fit it in every day, but often I don’t. But I do use its techniques every day and they’ve helped massively, especially in paying attention to the moment and noticing things rather than letting them pass you by.

Got a tattoo

This one was a surprise. 2017 has thrown me some challenges that I’ve had to grit my teeth to get through.

So when I saw the #shepersisted campaign and resulting tattoos on Instagram, it resonated with me. So my 33rd birthday present to me was a tattoo on the inside of my wrist. And I love it.

Joined a running club

Before I had the children, I ran. Not fast, not far, but enough to have a few 5Ks and 10Ks under my belt.

Fast forward to 2017, and my New Year’s pledge was to run the Swansea Bay 10K. With training waylaid by an epic chest infection, I decided to take action and joined the Pencoed Panthers for their Couch to 5K sessions.

I could barely run for a minute at that point, but the Panthers’ training and encouragement led me to conquer the 10K.

Did my first 10K since 2010

I did it and raised more than £260 for Mind thanks to my awesome supporters.

Wrote a line a day

Last year, I was given a beautiful Christmas gift – a line a day journal. It’s been a great way to capture the ups, downs and those precious little moments with the children that could easily be forgotten over time.

Joined the National Trust

As a family, we love being outdoors for walks, exploring and finding muddy puddles.

So I took the plunge and signed us up for a National Trust family membership. It’s given us some stunning days out and encourages us to visit new places this year. And I’ve discovered a new favourite place a short drive from home – Dyffryn Gardens.

Did a Rainbow Run

I did the Ty Hafan Rainbow Run in Porthcawl, something I’ve always wanted to do. It was as fun as it looked even if I did sport a green tinge for a few days despite numerous showers.

What I didn’t do

Lose that weight

At the start of the year, I pledged to lose weight (like I usually do). It started well, but I fell off the eating less and moving more wagon at Easter and never got back on.

I refuse to diet after doing unsustainable slimming groups a few times in the past, so I know that eating less and moving more is the sustainable way to do it.

Perhaps I’ll manage it this year. Or perhaps this is just how I am now.

Break the treat myself mindset

I do like a treat. Whether it’s food or a little shopping pick me up, too often I go for the short term thrill of a treat, which is fine from time to time but not as a regular thing.

Blog enough

My blogging has been more sporadic than I would like this year. I hope to be more disciplined with it in the future.

So, what do I hope for 2018?

My main hopes for 2018 involve being kinder to others and myself as well as being more patient and grateful.

I have also signed up to do my first half marathon, which fills me with fear.

So goodbye 2017 and hello to 2018. I hope it brings you joy, good health, happiness and lots of muddy puddles.

What has 2017 been like for you? What are your hopes for 2018? I’d love to hear from you.

Cardiff Half for Cliff

Cliff was my grandad.

He was charming, funny, controversial at times, maddeningly old-fashioned but entirely committed to his family.

Generous with his time, he and my lovely Nanna Val were always there from school concerts to cherished days out to listening to my tales around the dinner table every Friday night.

Barry born and bred, he and my Nanna moved to Port Talbot in the 1960s where his charm and ability to strike up conversations with anyone made him the perfect fit as a sales rep at a local printing company.

He was just 60 when I came along as his first grandchild. He and my Nanna were the most loving grandparents I could ask for (at 91, my Nanna still is).

Some of my happiest days were spent with them. During the school holidays, I’d wake up from a sleepover at their home to have boiled eggs cooked perfectly runny for soldier-dipping.

We’d then go on outings to town, or perhaps somewhere further afield like Swansea, to do spots of shopping.

I loved searching shelves for pocket money treasures, with both my Nanna and Grandpa instilling me with a good understanding of value for money that I still use to this day.

Grandpa was an expert storyteller. He was vitally proud of his time in the RAF in World War Two and was posted to Burma. He’d regale us with tales from the time, including once finding a monkey in his accommodation.

Friday nights were dinner nights. My Nanna would cook delicious roast dinners with sides of French bread and an array of desserts that would put most restaurants to shame.

And after dinner, the record player would go on and we’d dance to La Bamba, Jive Bunny or ABBA. Grandpa was quite the dancer and spent Saturday nights on the dance floor with my Nanna at the Aberavon Hotel.

As I grew older and became an idealistic teenager with strong, liberal opinions, our relationship changed.

Friday night dinner became a time for debates, where Grandpa and I would thrash out our contradictory opinions over roast potatoes and trifle.

Politics, my future career choice, the news, nothing was out of bounds. I like to think this encouraged my love of a good debate.

As I passed exams and started college and university, he and my Nanna supported me steadfastly along with my mum and dad.

Grandpa was a huge believer in education and was proud to see me go to university and start my career in journalism (although deep down I’m sure he’d have preferred me to make the far more sensible choice of becoming a teacher like my dad).

He was also a proud wedding guest when I got married in 2008.

As Grandpa grew older, he stayed remarkably active and well. At 85, he still drove, socialised with friends and danced every Saturday night with my Nanna. He could still charm a room.

But old age did mean he needed knee operations. He’d put them off before, but by the summer of 2010 the pain was such that there could be no more delays.

A few days before his 86th birthday, he had the operation. On his birthday, we visited him on the ward with gifts and cake and he seemed in good spirits.

But not too long after, he sadly had a devastating stroke, the kind that meant he could no longer speak and lost the use of one side of his body.

At first, we had hope. But then we knew that he would not recover his speech, or his movement.

Every night was spent at the hospital, holding his hand, combing his hair and talking to our Cliff as his sky coloured eyes met ours.

My heart felt like an anvil. I felt as though I had this extra invisible weight with me everywhere I went.

We had a month of this, a month of limbo, a month of watching our Cliff, a man of fierce independence, try to communicate but not being able to.

After this month, a long month that stretched and stretched, I got the call asking us to come in as he was slipping away.

I was fortunate enough to get there to tell him how much I loved him. Because, oh, how I and we loved him.

He died later that night.

My Nanna asked for donations in lieu of flowers to the Stroke Association in his memory and raised around £2,000 in his name.

That’s why a little over eight years later I’ve decided to run my first half marathon – the Cardiff Half Marathon – for the Stroke Association in his memory to help other families affected by strokes.

I’ll be blogging about my training efforts as we get closer to the day – Sunday 7 October 2018.

This one’s for you, Grandpa.

An autumnal Bluestone break

It’s a bit of a tradition for us to spend a weekend in Bluestone in late September.

We usually go around my birthday and it’s a lovely time to mark autumn’s arrival. I love autumn and it’s a pretty time of the year to visit Bluestone and see the hundreds of trees turn gold and shed their leaves.

This year, we were pleased to discover the Pembrokeshire resort was hosting a Bwbach festival offering a range of autumnal and Hallowe’en activities including a Bwbach parade.

The festival also meant that scarecrows were hidden around the resort. The children loved spotting them from the scarecrow couple walking a poodle to the scarecrow fishing at the Bluestone lake.

In previous years, we’ve been treated with autumnal sunny weekends. This wasn’t to be this year but we packed waterproofs and wellies so we were prepared for the wet Welsh weather.

The weather meant we didn’t leave the resort during our stay. The children were content splashing in the swimming pool, tearing around the Adventure Centre and playing in the park. Our daughter spent an age splashing in muddy puddles during our break too.

As our son is learning about forests and the outdoors at school this term, he also took us on a hunt for acorns and conkers and both children were pleased with their acorn treasures.

The children also enjoyed other free activities such as making jingle sticks for the Bwbach parade and the Bwbach festival, where they could dance and sing along to live music.

Overall, a lovely family weekend away to see in the start of autumn.

Blogger note: We paid for our holiday in Bluestone and the resort was unaware we would be writing a review.

Swansea Bay 10K ✅

On the first day of January this year, I pledged to take on a new challenge and signed up for the Swansea Bay 10K.

I have never found running easy so I knew it would be hard, but I decided to run it for the awesome mental health charity Mind following my difficult experience of post-natal depression.

As today inched closer, my nerves grew. Although I’d trained for the best part of three months, a nasty cold meant I’d had to have a fortnight off earlier this month so I worried if I’d make it around the course.

I felt proud putting on my Mind running vest and taking my place among the runners. Shortly before the race started, the rain arrived to soak us through as we waited to get moving.

When it was time to set off, the atmosphere was exciting. I loved

seeing my fellow charity runners taking on the course.

The first few kilometres were okay as I found my slow pace and settled into it. So many supporters

braved the rain and lined the course to cheer us on with pom-poms, shakers and cow bells. Props to the man dressed as Donald Trump at around the 6K mark for making us smile.

From 7K onwards, I struggled. I’ve never run in such heavy rain before and found it challenging to dodge puddles and maintain momentum as the course narrowed.

But somehow I just kept going, one step at a time, and ran without stopping. Yes, I was slow but I was determined to run it all.

Seeing the 400m to go sign felt brilliant and I felt near to tears as

I finally crossed the line. I’d done what didn’t feel possible three months ago.

A huge factor in getting me around the course has been my training with the Pencoed Panthers running club, which I joined in June. Their support and ability to push me when my legs and mind want to give up has helped me achieve a 10K – something I hadn’t done since 2010 (and pre-children).

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me and sponsored me so far. At the time of writing, I’d raised almost £200 for Mind thanks to your generosity.