Wells and Cheddar Gorge (and Covid-19)

We decided to go on a wee adventure today; before we’re entirely stuck in the house for who-knows-how-long.

No doubt about it, Covid-19 is going to mess up our spring plans; just how much remains to be seen. We had a busy spring planned ahead of us — a weekend trip to London for the Harry Potter show, a trip to Canada for Easter, a weekend trip to Isle of Wight, grandparents visiting, diabetes camp, the Queen’s Garden Party, a trip to Ireland, and Sophie’s school residential trip the first week of June. We know some of these will be cancelled. Maybe even all of them, if the current predictions and timelines are right. That will suck, but what can you do. We are among billions of people being inconvenienced and it’s no one’s fault that this happened. All we can do is follow precautions, hope, and wait.

That being said, we’re currently in a country that has effectively kept business as usual… Just stay home if you’re sick. Kids are still in school and people still going to work. Yet the Canadian Forces has essentially been told to stand down, if you can. Go home, stay there, and stay healthy. So… There’s a lot of confusion still and a lot left to be seen. However we do know that we’re not allowed to travel/leave the country that we’re currently in (for now, for the next 3 weeks).

So with all the uncertainty and knowing there is a lot more coming (anticipating UK closures in the next few days or week) we decided to get out just one last time- choosing a place that is not crowded, open air, practice social distancing, lots of hand hygiene, and no restaurants (I personally believe restaurants to be one of the biggest vectors for airborne/droplet disease in this world and I won’t go near them right now).

So off to Wells we went. Wells is the smallest city in England.

That moniker comes about because any location with a cathedral is a city and Wells has a truly spectacular cathedral; however, the city is quite small. There are villages around that are larger than Wells, but they don’t have a cathedral so don’t get to call themselves a city. It’s all so specific!

The Wells Cathedral is a stunner. Dating back to the twelfth century, with a large choral wing, Bishop’s palace, and more.

You can see the scissor arch in the middle, that was added afterwards to help support the sinking spire.
The Wells Cathedral clock is an astronomical clock from about 1325.
Cathedral cat hanging out at the heaters. Clearly at home here.

After touring the cathedral, we took a walk around the small, historic city. There was a Saturday market going on, too.

At the Bishop’s palace
Vicar’s Close — claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings in Europe. Dating to the 14th century.
A sweet market in the Wells town square.

After a toodle around Wells, seeing the cathedral, Bishop’s palace, market, and all, we drove off again. Cheddar Gorge isn’t far so we went there next. We had packed a picnic lunch in order to not have to go to a restaurant and practice social distancing. This also turned out to be super helpful because Sophie started going very low on the drive to Cheddar. It was nice that we were able to eat right away vs. waiting in a restaurant while she is feeling miserable.

Cheddar Gorge is England’s largest gorge. It has caves deep within the rock that they’ve been making cheddar cheese and aging it in for centuries. You can buy tickets to do things like climb stairs up the edge of this gorge, absail down, or tour the caves, but we wanted to do none of those.

We walked the main street of the gorge, popped into a few stores, sampled and purchased some cheddar, and then left.

Cave-aged cheddar. Yum!

And that was our day – our morning, really. Just a little nip out to see some historic and beautiful sites and home by 2pm. No interacting with anybody in the public, kept to our personal bubbles, and hopefully didn’t inadvertently bring Covid-19 home. But if we did, we’re ready to quarantine.

I hope everyone is ready and prepared but more so I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. Please stop the thinking that ‘if you’re healthy and young, it will be okay’ because some of us aren’t healthy and might not be okay through this. Every time you say that, it feels like you invalidate the life of the sick and elderly who are most at risk.

Take care, all. Xx

Gracias, Madrid!

Well Barcelona really blew us away and we didn’t know what to expect of Madrid. We knew it wasn’t as much of a tourist hot-spot, and wondered if we would enjoy ourselves as much— but alas we liked Madrid just as much as Barcelona, maybe even a little bit more!!!

One of the first things we noticed was how nice it was just to walk around Madrid. Every single building was beautiful, an architectural delight. No building was in disrepair or past its prime. And they were all so clean- they didn’t have the pollution/soot build-up of many stone buildings in most large cities. All the stonework was white and fresh. Mind you, we only stayed in the downtown core area, but this was quite a big circumferential area and all the buildings were like this. The streets were all spotlessly clean, very few beggars or homeless people, lovely art and musicians everywhere- Madrid was just so pleasant to walk around and enjoy the city (and considering how hard it can be for me to walk, I don’t say this lightly.)

Plaza Mayor (as well as the top banner photo of this post), where we had dinner right after arriving in Madrid. A beautiful location but very touristy and expensive!

Since none of us knew much about Madrid, we decided to do a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.  This tour took us all around the city and we could see all the monuments and sites that we wouldn’t have gone out of our way to see, but enjoyed a view of. Madrid has a lot of ‘city gates’, all big stone arches built in the middle of roundabouts (think, like the Arc de Triomphe) to commemorate something or someone. Things like that are cool to see but I’m not about to go out of my way to get off the bus, dodge traffic, and take a photo.

We did get off at the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral. These two impressive spots are right beside each other, on a big hill overlooking greater Madrid.

Almudena Cathedral

The cathedral is actually quite modern, only having been finished in the last 30 years or so. Like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, it had clear glass windows at the top and coloured stained glass lower down- this gives a wonderful impression of lightness and airiness to a heavy, stone building.

The whole roof was like this, so bright in person.

After the cathedral, we headed next door to the Royal Palace. This palace is still in use by Spain’s Royal Family, but they don’t live there every day (they live in a ‘more modest’ palace in a Madrid suburb). It is here where they still do royal ceremonies and the like. Unfortunately (for you) they don’t allow photos of the interior rooms. You’ll just have to trust me that it was pretty majestic.

The outside of the Royal Palace

After these stops, we found a place for lunch. Speaking of, we’d read and since agreed that the best way to eat in Spain was a large lunch – a Menu Del Dia offered usually only until 4pm is a cheap multi-course set-menu. Spaniards fill up mid-day, then go for siesta and grab something small and cheap in the evening. A Menu Del Dia usually consists of a couple options for a first course and then a couple for a meat course. It always includes your beer, wine, or sangria, and often a dessert. I never saw one for more than €14. Eric and I did this every day, Sophie not so much, because the menus were in Spanish and she was more intimidated.


We did a quick walk-through of Mercato San Miguel- a more trendy, eatery-type market than the fresh-foods one in Barcelona. The food and drink looked great but it was so busy, not my idea of a good time!

We got back on another bus and enjoyed seeing Madrid’s sights. I could stare at the buildings as we drove past for hours. So much detail!

We hopped off at the Plaza de Cibeles for the photo op. It’s a beautiful marble building dominating the traffic circle.

Unfortunately, the large fountain out front wasn’t running. These are the concessions we make in order to tour in the off-season.

Speaking of ‘off-season’, it was this day- our fourth full day in Spain- that Eric came across an article about Covid-19 quarantines severely hurting the European tourism industry. Once we read it and realised it, we thought, of course- there are much less tourists than usual, in both Barcelona and Madrid! More than 10% of the world’s population is stuck under quarantine. One friend mentioned, this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and maybe why we’ve liked Spain so much? Less tourists!

Anyway, while we were off the bus, we walked around a bit, enjoying the Spanish sunshine. Coming across Christopher Columbus square and the world’s largest Spanish flag.

Christopher Columbus
Beautiful ornamental ‘winter’ greenery
Not much wind, but trust me, it was big. It’s a replacement of the original and cost over €400 000! (Thanks Wikipedia!)

We then wanted to catch another bus back to our hotel, but waited and waited and one never came. We ended up frustrated and just hopped in a cab. Cabs seem cheap in Spain, or maybe it’s just because we never really left the downtown cores, but our trips were usually only about €5 door-to-door, which is about what 3 metro ride tickets would cost anyway.

The rest of this day was filled with siesta, ambling around Madrid streets, and grabbing a light dinner.

Sophie at the famous bear statue at Puerto del Sol, the one of the plazas we most often frequented because it was so close to our hotel.

On our last day in Spain, we bought tickets to the Museo del Prado, the large national art museum (often compared to the Louvre). Sophie is our little artist and she brought her sketch book so she could look for inspiration.

We saw some beautiful works by the likes of Caravaggio, El Greco, Rembrandt, and many, many Rubens (Rubens was oft employed by Philip IV of Spain and a part of his court).

After the museum, we took a walk over to the large Park Retiro, a beautiful, large, inner-city green-space park not unlike Central Park or Hyde Park. Here, there are many busking musicians, a couple ponds, many fountains, a lake where you can rent row-boats, and a large ‘crystal palace’ feature which was currently housing an odd art installation that none of us understood.

The Crystal Palace
Eric and Sophie going for a little row.
A photo Eric took while in the boat with Sophie. Behind her is the Monument to Alfonso XII

I’m sure the park would have been absolutely breathtaking in only a few more weeks as spring arrives, because we could only enjoy shrubs, some daisies, and other hardy but not overly beautiful flowers. That’s ok, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this stunning location.

It was then definitely time for a siesta, as we’d been wearing ourselves out, frolicking in the warm sunshine and all. But we also had tickets for the early show at a flamenco show in the evening. This was a totally tourist thing to do, but we also just wanted to see them. The dancers were clearly very talented and we had a nice time watching them, while we drank sangria and ate some tapas.

You can find a couple videos of the dancing on my Instagram Spain story highlights (on my Instagram page, under my bio, there’s a little circle that says ‘Spain’… Just click on it then do nothing, let it play through).

That flamenco concert was just the perfect end to our wonderful Spanish holiday. We had to wake up somewhat early the next morning to get to the airport and head home to cool and windy Bristol, so we took another little walk through a few Madrid streets and said goodbye to this beautiful city.

Ola Barcelona!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but life has been both boring and hectic at the same time. I took a trip back to Canada to see my folks while Eric and Sophie stayed in Bristol. Then Eric went to Scotland for a work trip… There’s just always something!

But we’re back at it with our family adventures. And sticking with our criteria of ‘go where it’s cheap and easy to fly to’ (and warm in February), we came up with Spain as our next holiday for half-term break.

We decided to fly in to Barcelona, stay a few days, take a train to Madrid, stay a couple more days, then fly home.

So, Barcelona. Wow! First off, the weather in February is fantastic. No, we can’t go swimming or anything, but it’s 18-21°C, sunny, and comfortable. Such a nice break from the cold rain storms hammering the UK lately.

Sophie on our balconette overlooking the pedestrian street in the Gothic Quarter

We got to our hotel and while I won’t normally give hotel reviews here, I will definitely name-drop this one. The Hostel Fernando far exceeded our expectations. Yes, it says it is a hostel, but you can book family rooms. We had a room with a queen bed and two bunk beds, and a private ensuite bathroom. The beds are so comfortable and the pillows were my favourite- memory foam! It is impeccably clean, amazingly located, and such an amazing price. Sure, we’re here in the off season, but paying only CAD 125/night (taxes in) and that includes a breakfast buffet!!

So enough about that. Once we checked into our room, we went out to explore. We walked along the pedestrian street of Las Ramblas, ambled through La Boqueria (the large public market), and made it down to the waterfront (not the beach but the harbour).

La Boqueria
Spices for sale
Ham is the biggest deal in Spain. Right off the leg!
Christopher Columbus at the harbour (the infamous statue pointing in the wrong direction to the new world!)
The Barcelona Harbourfront

Also, it was Eric’s birthday the day we travelled, so we let him choose the restaurants and food. All he wanted a good authentic paella for lunch. Happy birthday honey!

Guy at the next table refused to stop photobombing! Lol!

In the evening after a long siesta, we walked through the gothic quarter, explored the Barcelona cathedral, and then stopped at a tapa bar for dinner.

Barcelona cathedral was one of the more impressive gothic cathedrals I’ve been in in a while (since Paris). However, it does charge an entry fee. Beware that in Spain they are more strict about modest clothing in their religious churches. No tank tops or shorts.

There are tapa bars were you can order off the menu and then the more touristy ones where they have it all made up and you fill your plate with what looks good. This ended up being a great choice for us because when travelling with a kid, she could choose what she wanted to/knew she would eat and then we could also get what we wanted.

Tapas, tapas, tapas!

On our second day in Spain (first full day) we had booked tickets to the big tourist locations- Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family Church) and Park Guell. Both are major Antonio Gaudi architectural gems. First up, Sagrada Familia.

While waiting out front for our tour to start

We decided to splurge the 1€/person extra that it was to get a guided tour (more than an audio tour). I know, big spenders, but sometimes we just gotta go for broke and live a little!

Well the church just blew us away. Eric had visited back in 2012, so wasn’t as surprised and stunned as Sophie and me, but they’re working so hard and fast in order to reach their goal of finishing by 2026 that they’ve even done a lot since he’s last visited. The outside is one strange oddity but then the inside and the stained glass just takes your breath away.

Gaudi loved taking his inspiration from nature, and he built all the columns of the church to look like trees… When you look up, they branch off and it looks like a treetop canopy above you. The stained glass was great, but this was my favourite part.

So we spent most of our morning here at this amazing church. We learned a lot about Gaudi from our knowledgeable and lovely guide, and why he did some things the way he did.

After appreciating his biggest work, we headed to Park Guell, an area on the hill above the city that Gaudi was architect of that was supposed to originally be a housing development and residential area. In the end, only two houses were built, but there is a large park and many beautiful architectural features. The mosaics here are so beautiful. It’s like, it was already outside so he couldn’t make stained glass windows, so he just made beautiful, colourful mosaics that shone and sparkled in the Spanish sunshine.

After Park Guell and lunch we made one more stop before siesta to see another couple Gaudis from the outside. These buildings can cost quite a bit to get into to tour and frankly, we’d had enough. We just can’t do it all in only a couple days, but enjoyed seeing them from the outside.

In the evening, we went to the Museum of Barcelona History, where you take an elevator down below the city and view the excavated ruins of a Roman city! I expected just a few ruins here or there but it was really quite extensive and large!

Also I’ll take this moment to note- a lot of tourist sites in Barcelona offer discounts for disabled people. Some are quite obvious about it and offer the option online when booking, but some you need to ask. This museum had no notation of a disabled ticket on their pricing board but I thought I’d ask. I carry my handicap pass with me in my bag if they want proof further than my cane (I’ve never been asked). They ended up giving me a discount, because I asked. He never would have offered. So don’t be afraid to speak up and ask!

On our last morning in Barcelona, we went to the Pablo Picasso museum. This was another museum that didn’t advertise disabled pricing but I put myself out there to ask and voila, my ticket was free. (Between the history museum the night before and this Picasso museum, I saved us €20!).

When entering the museum, they were rather strict about bags, and you must leave all bags in a locker. Eric and I both had small backpacks and Sophie had her diabetic bumbag. I told them that mine and Sophie’s bags were medical bags and they were fine letting us keep them. My bag carries a lot of extra rescue sugars for her and a glucagon injection kit, too.

Picasso museum was awesome

However, about 15 minutes into the museum, we hear Sophie’s low alarm go off (so loud in the middle of a quite museum!). We had had a breakfast buffet at the hostel and obviously over-guessed the carbs… She had way too much insulin on board. We had her suspend all insulin in her pump and clandestinely eat a roll of candies. But 15 minutes later, she was still low! This lasted over half an hour, giving her candies and granola bars, getting her to fingerpoke to test. Sometimes a sugar treatment just won’t work because she has so much insulin in her from her last bolus that it’s just going through the glucose as we give it to her and we can’t get her up.

Sitting in the corner of the museum eating dextrose tabs.

Fortunately, she eventually got up to 6.2 mmol/L and started feeling better and we could all breathe a lot better too. Of course, we were almost done the museum by then!

So that was our time in Barcelona! After the museum, we grabbed our bags from the hotel and headed for the train station to catch our bullet train (300km/hr) to Madrid. In fact, that’s where I’m writing this right now, on the train, with views of the Spanish countryside whizzing past me.

Spanish countryside halfway between Barcelona and Madrid

The train was actually about £30/person MORE than a flight from Barcelona to Madrid, but this way we can travel right from downtown–>downtown, no need to make the treks to and from airports, and waste half our day sitting in the airport waiting for our flight.

Now, we’re excited to see Madrid for the next two and a half days and I’ll update you afterwards! If you don’t already, go follow me on Instagram (click the photos below for links) for up-to-date photos as we take them!!!

Sicily -part 3: Siracusa and overview

My post on Sicily – part 2 ended with us leaving our beloved agriturismo on 2 January. We settled our bill (for 3 nights in a 4.5 star B&B, 3 gourmet 4-course suppers for 3, plus breakfasts, only €600!) and hit the road for one last trek to another locale.

This time our destination was Siracusa, or Syracuse in English. Now, I grew up only an hour or so from Syracuse, New York and have always had a poor opinion of the city, so even though I clearly knew this was a very different city, my expectations were not high. It also didn’t help that the last city we had visited was the scummy Palermo.

Well we arrived to Siracusa early, due to Sicily’s excellent major highway system (if you’re on a secondary or tertiary road, I don’t have many good things to say for it, but the major highways are top notch). We had an AirBnB booked and weren’t scheduled to meet the host for another 2 hours, so we parked the car and decided to walk around the neighbourhood then grab lunch.

We gravitated toward the dominating and odd church spire a block away from us that Google maps told us was the Basilica of Madonna Della Lacrime. We had no idea what this meant, just another church name to us.

The entire building is made of concrete. It’s very 1960s and such an odd aesthetic, we couldn’t understand why this would be here in an ancient town. When we entered the building it felt like a bomb shelter or bunker. We learned there’s one part of the church downstairs (they call it the crypt but it’s a full church) and then the basilica upstairs (under that weird spire). Both feel weird and you’re still very aware you’re encased in concrete the whole time.

However, we finally learned the meaning and purpose of the church. Siracusa was the location of a Vatican-confirmed miracle in 1953 of the weeping Madonna. There have been reports the world-over of weeping Madonna pictures and statues but this is the only one that was inspected by scientists and clergy and confirmed to be valid.

This church was built with the sole purpose of housing the pieces related to this miracle. There is a reliquary holding some of the tears that were collected from her along with a handkerchief used to dry the face. The statue itself is still there too, just a small bust maybe 18 inches tall. Then there is a small museum dedicated to the miracle and in it is everything that people came and left at the statue while it was happening (it cried for a few days). There was everything from silver candlesticks (families wanted to leave their most valued belongings) to the canes and crutches of the healed.

Altogether it was just the coolest find, to stumble upon this odd church and this miracle story. This sort of surprise is one of my favourite parts of travelling.

It is said she healed many people and still does, so we lit some candles; but I walked away still needing my cane and Sophie still needs insulin so…. I guess we weren’t worthy.

After we had lunch we checked into our cute AirBnB. It was great- large, 2 bedrooms, and so clean. But they clearly hadn’t had the heat on in days or even weeks and it was maybe only 5° inside so it took quite a while to warm (we never turned the heaters off in our 48 hours there- even when it was 18° outside, because the houses are built to stay cool and really didn’t retain any heat well).

We stayed in an area where we knew we could park and was close to a couple ancient ruins but it wasn’t close to the historical centre of town, the island of Ortigia. We had read that you can’t drive on to Ortigia, it is blocked to traffic, but once we got there we learned that there are plenty of cars there (you just wouldn’t want to drive the middle, narrow streets unless you were a local). We wonder if they open it up to traffic in the off season and it is more closed in summer?

Either way, we didn’t want to drive it so took a taxi in to Ortigia for dinner and a walk around the area.

Large fountain with statue of Athena in the central square in Ortigia
Narrow roads in the centre of Ortigia
In front of the Piazza del Duomo (main cathedral square)
Sicilian towns really know how to do Christmas lights well!



The next day, our full day in Siracusa, we walked from our BnB over to the Greek Theatre and ancient ruins park.

The Teatro Greco from above with the sea in the distance

Sophie at the bottom of the amphitheatre. Seeing the 2 angles (above and below) helps you realise how massive it is.
There is this pond grotto at the very top of the theatre that the ancient Greeks managed to engineer to flow down through the rocks and below the theater, rather than flooding the theater.

After walking in the hot sun around the amphitheatre, there is this beautiful shaded and oasis-like area below the limestone cliff in the archeological park. We walked around and explored the same caves and sites that the Greeks called home 2500 years ago.



The next day was our last day in Sicily. Our flight wasn’t until 7pm but we had to check out of our AirBnb by 10am. Luckily, by then we’d learned that you can, in fact, drive to Ortigia, so we did. We drove right to the tip of the island in hopes of visiting Castello Maniace. We had seen on previous days that it had short hours but we made sure to fit it into our schedule because it sounded like it had quite the history; over centuries occupied by Romans, Arabs, and Normans. It said it opened at 0830 and we arrived at 1030 to a locked gate. Eventually a man arrived and said he was the ticket agent and hadn’t started work yet, it will open at 1130. The Sicilians don’t seem to have an overwhelmingly robust work ethic.

So we ambled through Ortigia, our first time seeing it in the daylight. We wanted to make our way to the market, as our taxi driver (who we’d had 3 times and liked very much) suggested it was the best place to lunch.

The lunch we ended up getting… Wow!



After lunch we made our way back to the castle and it was finally open. However, it was a bit of a let down. We could tell they’d tried to restore it. According to them, they’d been doing various restoration phases since the 1970s, but we still felt like there wasn’t a lot of information, there was no staff (only the one ticket-man who showed up late) and not a lot of access to most parts of the castle. There sure were beautiful views of the water and town, though. And seeing as it was only 4€ to get in, I guess we got what we paid for.



When we were done at the castle we packed into the car and hit the road. We had about a 40-minute drive to the airport in Catania, had to return our rental car then brave airport security in a language we didn’t speak. We had to beg for a security agent who knew enough English for us to explain that these 2 clear bags are medical equipment and cannot go through x-ray. They still wanted to put it through! I had about 5 words written out in Italian – diabetic, insulin, medical equipment, no x-ray, and medicine. Eventually they relented and hand-inspected our diabetic gear. For this reason though, is why I always keep it in clear Ziploc bags, separate from all other luggage/gear, and have the choice words translated ahead of time– also why we always give ourselves even more extra time to get through security (though in reality, I think we’re always through faster because we don’t have to wait in the general line).


Now we’re home safe and sound. Sicily was an awesome trip but we also learned some things to take forward in future trips:

-They don’t need to be so long. In Canada where flights cost so much and are usually the biggest chunk of your travel budget, we often think we need to prolong the trip to ‘make it worth it’. We’ve realised we need to get out of this mindspace here in Europe where flights are much cheaper and we’re travelling more. Three of us together 24/7 gets exhausting and we get on each others’ nerves. Maybe a city or trip can be more enjoyed in 4 days rather than extended to multiple cities and weeks, and we won’t come home so exhausted and ‘over it’ all.

-Don’t be shy with the insulin. When travelling and unsure of the carb counts, we’re learning to be a bit more vigorous and gutsy with the insulin dosing. In Paris we were conservative with counts and dosing like we were at home and she was almost always very high. In Sicily, we gave large doses and it worked. She started out the trip sick with a cold and on very high doses just because of that, and we realised it was working. We won’t be so shy next time that we’re dealing with unknown or foreign foods.

-Unless we have to, don’t take the evening flight home. We took the 8pm flight home from Paris because we thought this would give us an extra day in Paris without having to pay for a hotel. This time the only flight to Bristol was at 7pm. We got home around 11pm, exhausted. I decided that if we can swing it, we’re taking earlier flights from now on. I just hate the feeling of coming home all groggy and falling asleep immediately. When I wake up there’s no food in the house and still so much work to do and bags to unpack, etc.



Overall, Sicily is an amazing place to visit. There is so much to see an do. It is steeped in history and culture. The food is out of this world. Things I would suggest are must-dos in any trip to Sicily:

-Go off the beaten path and enjoy an agriturismo. Eat the food!!! Live like a local (a very well-taken-care-of local).

-It’s very touristy but there’s a reason for it, go to Taormina! It’s the prettiest place in the world. It’s the only place in Sicily I saw regular street janitorial staff keeping the town clean, and the restaurants were some of the best we encountered. It’s not the cheapest in Sicily, it’s not the quietest, but it is the prettiest.

-Make sure to catch the Greek ruins at Agrigento. Especially if you’ve never been to Greece/won’t make it any time soon. Sometimes just seeing an ancient city around you reduced to bricks, the people all long gone, helps put your own life into perspective.


Most importantly, enjoy!! Safe travels!

Sicily- part 2

To pick up where I left off in part 1, we were just leaving Taormina (the world’s prettiest town).

We had a long drive from Taormina right across Sicily to our next stop in Palermo (3+ hours), so we decided to break it up with a small side trip to the Canadian War Cemetery in Agira.

While back in Catania, we had a visit to the Sicilian WWII museum. It concentrated on the Allies’ Operation Husky (the invasion and taking of Sicily) and the bombing of Sicilian towns. It was a great museum but less than one-third of the exhibits and displays had English translations. We got the gist and it was very humbling to see it from the Sicilians’ point-of-view: they appreciated the Allies helping them break their ties with Hitler, but they took heavy bombing and casualties, too. For a few weeks, we Canadians were ‘the bad guys’.




However, once the Allies won the island, the Sicilians were then glad to see the Nazis gone and didn’t mind having the Allies around for the next couple years of the war.

So now while we were driving across the island, we took the bumpy and windy 15km detour to the beautifully situated Agira War Cemetery. Agira was the Canadians’ largest battle and where they took the heaviest casualties. There are 490 men buried here, on a hill overlooking valleys, a lake, and with the mountain town of Agira on the horizon. We took our time to pay our respects.

We then continued on to Palermo but now sort of wish we hadn’t. Every trip has a low point, and Palermo was ours. Palermo is Sicily’s largest city and the one that tour guides like Rick Steves say not to miss… But there were little redeeming qualities in the city for us. It didn’t help that it was raining and cold; a Sunday, so a lot was closed or inaccessible; and we had just come from the world’s prettiest town, so our standards were set high.

Palermo was full of garbage, everywhere in the streets, litter. And shit, literally. Excuse my language, but there’s no way to delicately describe the heaps of smelly dog shit on the side of the road. I’m not talking about the little piles here and there like you encounter in Paris and most other European cities; but we passed one unpaved part of the sidewalk where a tree was growing, about 2m x 1m of no pavement (dirt, or ‘grassy’ area) and it was overflowing with dog poop. If someone tried to scoop it all, it would be 3 big black Hefty bags full, and the stench was utterly overwhelming.

We were down to our last pairs of socks and underwear but couldn’t get our clothes washed because laundromats don’t open on Sundays and our hotel didn’t accept laundry on a Sunday. We were going to do a bus tour but they barely ran on Sundays (only 2 times, not all day) and wouldn’t be worth the cost, we took cabs instead (and one cabbie ripped us off). Restaurants were hard to find that served food, not just drinks; and in the end when we got in the car to leave, our gas seemed awfully low- we think it was siphoned off!

So we didn’t love Palermo, but we got around and saw some of the bigger sites, even if just from the outside. The one place that was open and we could actually go in was the Capuchin Catacombs that Sophie read about in her kids’ Atlas Obscura (a great book for any kid interested in geography and/or seeing the world!) and wanted to see. It certainly was interesting to see but of course we couldn’t take any photos inside and we respected this rule (though again, it seems like we’re the only tourists who know how to respect things like religion and the dead).

However, please enjoy some other photos of Palermo landmarks from the outside.

The Opera House
The large cathedral. It was Sunday so there was mass. It doesn’t look anything like we’d expect inside. All white sheetrock and paint and no stained glass and stone arches like we’re used to in France and England, even older cathedrals in Canada.
The theatre near our hotel.

Those 3 photos are about the only redeeming sights and parts of Palermo I can show. We left by 9am on our check-out day and didn’t look back. The drive south-east was perilous, hilly, and full of switch-back, winding bends; but we knew we were going in the right direction to leave Palermo in our rear-view when a rainbow came out in the Sicilian countryside.

Our next stop was the tourist destination, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. These are Greek temple ruins built in 400-200BC on a high mountain ridge with expansive views of the valley below and the sea beyond.

This showed how they made wheels with the stones and moved the even larger stones.

It’s a long walk along the ridge and you spend a few hours there. When we started it was windy but the sun was warm. About 2/3 through, it clouded over and started to rain and just became miserable. I didn’t care then how ancient or special it all was, I couldn’t feel my feet, I could hardly walk, I just wanted to get to an exit and get out!!!

After our time in Agrigento we got back on the windy road and headed to Modica, where our agriturismo B&B (farm-stay) was just outside of.

We stayed at the Nacalino Agriturismo which simply blew us away. It is a beautiful little olive oil farm, they also grow their own vegetables and fruit (there’s a lemon tree in the courtyard) organically. Our host made us a 4-course Sicilian dinner every night with fresh, local produce. Things that didn’t come from their farm came from the neighbouring farms (there were a lot of cows around, and the next farm over looked to specialise in ricotta and mozzarella). Everything was so fresh, so authentic, and so tasty.

One of our 4-course meals. Always an antipasto plate, then pasta, then meat, then sweet.

The grounds were so lovely as well. There were friendly cats and an old golden labrador that Sophie and I liked to cuddle. We liked to walk around and explore. We had full use of the common rooms with fireplace, and we could finally get our laundry done (in fact, Tina, the proprietor, did it all for us, for free!!). I’m sure the place would be really stunning to use in the summer with the outdoor pool under the palm trees. However, being there when the pool is closed also means we get the off-season pricing.

Breakfast was a buffet just as impressive as our dinners. Fresh-made cappuccinos, oodles of home-made pastries, freshly squeezed juice, local meats and cheeses, and everything else one gets at breakfast buffets.

The food is delicious, however breakfast buffets are a ridiculous amount of work for a type-1 diabetic. The breakfast she has pictured above looks great, then we calculated it to be about 120g of carbs. Her first bolus was 17 units of insulin (at home on a regular day she usually doesn’t go over 35 units for her entire daily dose!). This was only her first pass of the buffet. I think she went over 200-250g of carbs by the time she was done breakfast. And why not, she’s in Italy, enjoy! (Just bring extra insulin!)

On New Year’s Eve day, we headed in to the old town of Modica, a UNESCO world heritage site. It was full of Baroque architecture built into the cliffsides of a gorge down to a valley. The churches were like the others we’ve seen in Sicily, so beautiful from the outside then white, painted, and overdone inside.

One of the smaller churches in town, the Church of St. Peter
We were finally in a Sicilian church without a mass going on, so we grabbed a photo. They are still beautiful, but not the same beauty we’re used to.
Sophie and me on the 250-stair climb up to the next cathedral. You can see the town carved into the cliffside behind us.
We finally made it up 200+ stairs, halfway up the cliff, to this church, Church of St. Giorgio

We stayed at Nacalino Agriturismo for 3 nights, our longest stay in Sicily. We knew there wouldn’t be much open on New Year’s Day and we’d been tired, so we happily took a day to rest and stay around our room and the estate. We took walks, we read, played games, watched TV, and Sophie and I did a little photo shoot. Here’s one photo but you can see a carousel of 7 in my Instagram links below this post:

We were sad to leave the agriturismo, we so enjoyed our stay, but it was time to move on east to Siracusa, which I’ll outline in Part 3.

Happy New Year 2020 to all!