Never take a baby on a boat. To anyone who already has a baby, that will sound self-evident (of course, depending on the size of the boat). Still, there are those of us who ignore common sense and nagging feelings of impending disaster and book ourselves on a "holiday" that involves more than a week on a small vessel with a child who has just learned to crawl.
Angus, my son, is sleeping in the toilet. That's the only room on this modest canal boat with enough space to set up his port-a-cot. By lifting up the shower curtain we've managed to wedge the cot into the cubicle, hard up against the toilet bowl, and stuck some alfoil over the window so he'll be able to nap during the day while the engine rattles and our boat chugs along the Venetian waterways.
It still doesn't feel right to lock your kid in the dunny twice a day for a few hours, but the miracle of it is that Angus doesn't seem to mind so much, and he at least manages to get some shut-eye. I guess he doesn't know what that room is really for.
It's when he's awake that he's a problem. Kids who have just learned to crawl really, really like to crawl. They want to do it all the time. Everywhere. And the total available floor space in this boat is about three or four square metres.
Most of that is in the galley, where Angus has figured out how to open all of the cupboards and spends a large amount of his free time pulling the pots and pans and plates and bowls out and spreading them on the floor and banging them into each other.
There's open rooftop space on the boat, but you can't have a baby crawling around on the top of a vessel when the sides are low enough to climb over. So Angus either sits on laps, or he's back in the galley.
This trip, with a baby, would be a challenge at the best of times. It's a thing you would do as a parent because you really want to go on a self-drive cruise through the canal system that leads from the Friuli region all the way through lovely pastures and small Venetian villages into the floating city itself – even though you know it's not a particularly good idea.
But, friends, this is not the best of times. Rain is on the way. And there's more bad news. Ideally on day one of this trip we would get ourselves settled on the boat in the Friulian village of Precenicco and then motor down the river to the Marano Lagoon and on towards Bevazzana, but luck is already against us: the tide is too low so we'll have to wait it out until the next morning.
And the next morning that rain arrives, with wind like you've never seen before. We hunker down in a local café – actually, the only local café – where Angus has more space to crawl around and charm a few Precenicco ladies. The whole day is a write-off.
And then the next day, one of the locks is closed because there's too much water in the river and we still can't go anywhere. And then the day after we finally get going and it's cold and it's raining and we have a baby on a boat. And then a bridge is broken and we have to take a huge detour and miss most of our time in Venice. And then it keeps raining and it's still cold. And we have a baby on a boat.
A lot of times, these days back in Australia, I miss international travel – the big adventures, the amazing experiences. I miss everything about it. I miss it so much. But then as a cure for those blues I like to think back to that cruise of the canals leading in to Venice. And then I don't miss travel at all.
It was hell, that trip. Just a constant, pitched battle. It should have been sunny and warm – but it was cold and rainy. It should have been incident-free – but everything seemed to go wrong. It should have been relaxing – but it was incredibly stressful.
I would sit up in the cockpit most days we could actually go anywhere, wearing every stitch of clothing I'd brought, cold hands gripping the steering wheel, eyes squinting to keep out the rain, chugging along in morose silence. My partner Jess would be down in the galley, trying desperately to keep Angus amused while avoiding breaking her ankle on all the pots and pans.
We got eaten alive by mozzies one night. We came close to complete family breakdown while trying to dock the boat one day (during any manoeuvres – casting off, going through locks, docking – Angus would have to go in his cot in the toilet so Jess could move around the boat without worrying about him pitching himself over the side, and I can tell you something for nothing: if a baby doesn't particularly feel like being locked in a toilet, it will let you know).
Some days, I miss travel. But not when I think about that trip.
Have you had a trip that was a total disaster? Was it bad luck, or your own making? How do you deal now with missing international travel?