Kayak transportation in Italy

Thinking about driving in Italy with a kayak? Better rethink. Don’t even consider doing it in a rented vehicle.

This is the story of a very long and quite expensive journey from Venice to Civitavecchia, a distance of about 550 km of which over 400 km on highways. It shouldn’t be more than half a day, right? Wrong! We would rent the car on Thursday afternoon, pack in the evening, leave early, return the car in Civitavecchia before 16 o’clock and take the ferry at 18.30 for Cagliari.

Starting from Venice with two kayaks and a motorbike we set out to rent a car which Wendy would then drive to Civitavecchia with the two kayaks on the roof, while I followed on my motorbike. It sould be easy. Its just a car. First hurdle was finding a usable car. Of four car rental offices in Venice, only one had cars available, and the last had no cars with roof racks.

In the end we rented a Ford Focus Cmax from Hertz, and we went to Mestre to find the roof rack which we would buy ourselves. We found one shop and searched in vain for another, but no roof rack. Back at the camping the owner, Paolo, helped us find a shop with a roof rack for the Ford Focus Cmax, but we could only go there the next morning as they were closing.

The next morning we left early for Mestre, found the shop, bought the roof rack and spent some time mounting it. Then back to the camping to pack up and in the afternoon we were finally ready to leave. The kayaks were mounted and strapped down on the roof just as we have always done, both in Denmark and in Canada. We were quite confident that they would stay safely on roof for the duration of our little journey.

First obstacle was the ferry from the Lido to Venice. All the other times we just showed up, paid and borded the next ferry. This time the line was over a km long, and we only got on the third ferry to leave the Lido. It was dark when we arrived on the highway and after a few hundred km we stopped for night at Barberini di Mugello some 30 km north of Florence. We slept in the car until it was light again, but before we left we went for some breakfast at the restaurant

When we came out of the restaurant we were approached by a policeman from the Polizia Stradale from Bologna. He had a series of complaints about our car and the kayaks.

First of all, you have to carry a special cardboard sign on the end of the car if your gear on the roof extend over the end of the vehicle. We had no such sign, and that was rewarded with a fine of €74 to pay cash up front.

Second, the kayaks weren’t allowed to extend in front of the car, so we had to move them back on the roof. This meant they were no longer balanced on the racks and we had to strap them down quite hard.

Then the longer kayak, the Skim Distance which is 588cm long, extended too much on the back on the car, as was proved and documented by several measuring sessions. In Italy, we were explained, any single piece object carried on a car must not extend further over the back of the car than 30% of the cars length. Simple math will show that to transport a 588cm kayak on a car the car must be at least 454 cm long. The Ford Focus Cmax was only 437cm long. Way too short, and we were carefully explained that this transgression could carry a fine of up to €661, the loss of the driver’s license and the confiscation of the vehicle.

In short we were instructed to get a longer car. They would not let us continue in the Ford Focus Cmax, under threat of confiscation, not even to Florence airport where we could rent another car. As they explained, they were from the Bologna police and they had no authority to follow us to Florence, and Bologna was too far back on the highway. They ordered us to call Hertz to get another car, after which we should leave the Skim Distance behind, go to Florence airport to switch cars and at last come back to pick up the Skim Distance again.

That took a bit of discussion, explaining, arguing and several phone calls to Italian friends, and in the end it was agreed that we could follow them to a place where the Skim Distance could be left in safe hands while we organised a new car in Florence. They left us there once the Skim Distance was unloaded, and we were spared fine, loss of driver’s license and confiscation of the car, which certainly would not have pleased Hertz.

We weren’t exactly in the best of moods at that point. All our plans and intensions were null and void. We weren’t even better off that when we started. There at least we had a place to sleep.

After a while we decided to take the motorbike to Florence to see if it was even possible to rent something there. Our experience from Venice wasn’t exactly good.

Right we were. At the airport Hertz just told they didn’t have any cars with roof racks or even just large cars. They recommeded a company that rented full size vans, but Wendy’s licence wouldn’t cover it, so that was not an option. All the other rental offices had long lines, and it was clear it would take hours of waiting, arguing and explaining what we wanted and why it was necessary, at each of the offices with little hope of finding a useful car.

After wringing our brains a bit we started looking at the cars in the parking lot, and suddenly we spotted the parking lot for rental cars. We walked in and looked around, and in about 15 minutes we had located at least four suitable cars. At the point a guard came over because he found it suspicious that we walked around the parking lot taking pictures of rental cars but we explained the situation and were allowed to go to the rental office again.

With our new information we had a Chrysler Voyager of 480cm length rented in no time. It was way too late for the ferry the same day, and the Avis office in Civitavecchia isn’t open on sunday, so we would have to rent the car for two days, so we could return it on Monday. That is, the whole affair would cost us an additional two days delay.

It took us several round trips between Barberini and Florence airport to swap cars, and it was well into the afternoon before we were back on the road again.

Our plan had been to go the coast north of Civitavecchia to find a camping, in the area of Tarquinia, but after some time we decided to spend the extra day in Rome. I called some friends I have outside Rome and we were welcome to come by. We arrived there at nine in the evening and settled in, preparing for at day of mainstream tourism in Rome for the Sunday.

When we hopefully arrive in Civitavecchia on Monday morning, take the ferry on Monday afternoon and arrive in Cagliari on Tuesday, our journey can begin in earnest.

In the end it will have taken us from Friday afternoon to Monday morning to travel the 550 km from Venice to Civitavecchia with two kayaks, and it has cost us over €700 in car rental, gasoline and fines.


Sponsor day

Most of the stuff from our North American sponsors have been shipped to Wendy in Canada, so only now when Wendy has arrived here in Venice to save me from all my problems have I had the possibility to actually see the things we have received.

There was way too much in Wendy’s massive duffel bags to list it all, but here’s some of it.

The first thing we tried was simply too amusing to let rest. We had to try them on immediately. The Vibram Fivefingers are glove-like shoes with separate fingers for each toe. Initially they were a bit hard to get on, but once on they were very comfortable. I paddled with mine all day and had no problems.


Kokatat have sponsored Wendy earlier, and this time they sent us a huge parcel with jackets, short sleeve knappsters, storm cags and a new PFD for me. I used the PFD for yesterdays paddle and today the storm cags saved our morning, when we had to get up and out of the tent in pouring rain. I have no doubt the storm cag will be one of my favourite paddling garments in the future.


ODLO had sent us a parcel with technical underwear and other sports clothes to Palermo. I still haven’t tried it all, but I used the ODLO T-shirt for yesterdays paddle, and amazingly it feels cool in the sun, warm in the shade and it dries almost instantaneouly, so its the perfect shirt for a paddle on a sunny day in Venice.


Wendy bought a beautiful tent from Hilleberg, a Nammatj GT3. We slept in it tonight through pouring rain and thunderstorms, and it was just brilliant. It stands with just three identical poles and four pegs, so it mounts in an instant. We had it standing in a couple of minutes without looking at the instructions. I wish it were mine 🙂



Busy Busy

It’ll be a busy day in Venice today.

The day did, however, have a less auspicious start. As I was having breakfast at the camping at little thing dropped on the table just beside me. It was …


… the severed head of a bee!

There must have been some really nasty business going on up there between the leaves, but as I was busy too, I didn’t crawl up there to investigate.

I’ll have my temporary passport today if all goes well. I have the photos ready, and everything should be ready at the consulate too. I’m off to the vaporetto for the city in a moment.

The battery of my Nokia N800 Internet Tablet has died. It is not the new one sponsored by Nokia Nseries, but the one I have had for quite some time. I had it recharging all day yesterday and its still flat. Apparently its a slightly special battery, because the shops here on the Lido don’t have it. I hope I can find one, I’ve gotten so used to always having it with me.

Then I have to rent a car with a roof rack so we can transport the kayaks on the roof, book the ferry to Sardinia and pick up Wendy at the airport. Then tomorrow, we’ll be paddling together in the lagoon and in the city.

Then, lets hope the bees back at the camping have had their internal affairs sorted out before we’re back.


Just another day in the lagoon

Today I went paddling in the lagoon with my Venetian friend Marco and his friend Damien from Padova. We didn’t have any particular plans, just paddle and have fun.

Here’s Damien in his rusty old kayak


And here’s Marco in the Current Design Solstice that Wendy is going to paddle around Sardinia (Marco has a weakness for playing with lagoon mud 🙂


Here Marco is having a lot of fun throwing mud at Damiens kayak

Its some thick yucky stuff and Damien isn’t amused but cannot retaliate because Marco is paddling a borrowed kayak. Dirty tricks in the lagoon, literally.

I just got stuck in the sticky stuff

The tide in the lagoon was exceptionally low today

Marco and Damian had a romantic moment in front of Burano

Then some lagoon pirates came along, playing loud music

Marco chased them off with his paddle, but the mood was ruined anyway

At the end, just at the entrance to the lagoon, we met this really cool guy

in an incredible good looking boat

Any good day in the lagoon will end with a sunset and so did this


Change of plans

Any adventure involves coping with the unexpected and the unforeseen. Unfortunately, I have had a solid dose of unexpected and unforeseen even before the start of our journey, as I lost all my personal and vehicle documents on the way to Italy two weeks ago.

I left Denmark early to guide a group of Danish kayakers on a week long trip to Venice and the lagoon, but became stuck in Venice afterwards waiting for temporary identification documents and new credit cards without which it would be difficult to proceed. This situation should be solved by Monday September 24 when I will get a temporary passport at the consulate.

Due to these delays I haven’t been able to join up with Wendy in Palermo as planned. Instead Wendy will join me in Venice on Monday, and after a day’s paddle in the city and the lagoon, we will proceed to Civitavecchia near Rome, where we will take the ferry to Cagliari. Our journey will therefore commence with a few days delay, on the morning of Thursday September 27 when the ferry arrives in Cagliari.

Needless to say, I have thoroughly enjoyed my prolonged stay in Venice, and I hope Wendy will enjoy her short stay here too, but we are both itching to get started on a journey we’ve been planning for months.


Don’t hurry we’re already late

Maybe I’m getting more italianised that I had ever imagined, but I actually managed to write the above sentence in an email to Wendy lately. I meant it and I still do. No mistake there.

It is well known that people from Southern Europe has a different sense of time that people from Northern Europe. Or maybe its the other way around. One Italian friend described northern Europeans as “human Swiss clockworks” for whom everything revolves about the concept of time. Many northern Europeans, on the other hand, see Italians and other southerners as sloppy, imprecise and less dependable.

I’m sure most people who know me don’t exactly think of Swiss clockworks when they think of me, so maybe Italy has had a more profound influence on me than I thought. I’m not sure its always been like that, but then again, I’m quite sure many who know me will disagree there 🙂


The Giudecca

Today’s paddle me took to the Giudecca of Venice. It used to be an industrial area with housing for working class families, there’s quite a bit of run down houses and abandoned factories and shipyards.

New houses on the south side of the Giudecca.


Older, but nice looking houses in the Giudecca.


Abandonded shipyard buildings on the Guidecca.


Overgrown factory buildings just next to the posh Hilton hotel.


And today’s surprise: I happed to find the Associazione Canottieri Giudecca by chance. It is the local paddling/rowing club. They had some very old kayaks, like the ones I saw yesterday, some newer boats but must of their effort clearly went into Voga alla Veneta, the Venetian way of rowing standing up and pushing the oar. These must be their best sports gondolas for regattas and for the Vogalunga. Unfortunately there wasn’t anybody there when I passed by.



Little surprises in the lagoon

Today’s paddle became rather special, for a number of reasons.

I started in the afternoon after a morning’s hard work at the internet café. Their coffee is appallingly good, but paddling need to be done.

First thing, I encountered the first paddler ever in the lagoon, except of course Marco who always complains that nobody else paddles in Venice. Apparently he’s wrong. Somebody has been rummaging in the old shed to find grandpa’s old kayak and paddle. Nice guy, though, and he enjoyed his paddle just as much as I did.

Paddler in the lagoon

The plan was to paddle to Torcello, and on the way I got entangled in a maze of little channels in the lagoon, from where I got my first close view of Torcello.

Torcello seen from the lagoon

Lo and behold, there was another paddler! The lagoon was positively swarming with paddlers today. Another grandpa boat, obviously, but he had good fun too. Its not what you have, its what you do with it that matters.

Another paddler in the lagoon

Finally I arrived at Torcello, unfortunately too late to enter and see the church inside. That’ll be another time.

Torcello close up

The island of Torcello also has it’s little pretty corners.

Detail from Torcello

Passing Burano on my way back, it once again surprised me with its multitude of colours. Every house is different, every corner turned is a new experience.

Burano always surprises

Yet another little display of vivid colour at Burano. This corner is near the main square of the village.

More Burano colours

On my way back, as I’m starting to hurry not to be caught by darkness, I paddled into the most astonishing sunset. The low sun over the placid waters in the lagoon was spectacular.

Lagoon sunset

Another sunset shot, taken on the east coast of the island of Sant’Erasmo.

More lagoon sunset

I managed to get back to the Lido just after sunset so I didn’t have to cross the busy entrance of the lagoon in darkness.

Most embarrassingly, when I returned to the bridge in front of the camping, I slipped on the steps and fell in the water, just in front of a local fisherman. He helped me up and asked politely if it was the first time I fell in the water that day 🙂


Life at the Lido

So today I’ve spent most of the time sitting at Café Maleti on the Gran Viale of the Lido, updating blogs and doing email. Life is hard, but they do make good coffee and food, and absolutely great icecream.

Lagoon view from the Lido

Then I have to stand the pathetic view across to the lagoon to Venice each and every day on my way to the ‘office’ at Bar Maleti. I don’t know how I can stand it, but I guess when you have no choice you learn to cope.

We’ve got a few new sponsors for our journey. ODLO has sent us a package of underwear, Tec shirts and jackets. Wendy will bring it with her to Venice later. North Water has sent Wendy a large package of deck bags, tow lines and other good stuff, including a huge mesh duffel bag Wendy seems to be in love with :-). Last, Hilleberg, the Tentmaker, has given us a very good discount on a good size light weight tent for the journey.

Now, for the rest of the day, I think I will go back to the camping, and go paddling for the afternoon. A good paddle up Sant’Erasmo to Burano and Torcello wouldn’t be bad for a sunny afternoon on the Lido. In the evening I might go to the local trattoria for a pizza.