Funchal, Madeira – Christmas in Paradise

Christmas 2021 loomed and was certain to be like no other. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to get back to Canada to be with family, but this would be the first Christmas since my mom had passed. As anyone who has lost a close loved-one can attest to, big holidays like this can be so hard. I really wanted to be with my dad and sister but since that couldn’t happen, I told Eric to get me out of our house and somewhere warm!

We settled on the tropical island of Madeira, part of an archipelago 700km off the coast of Africa and controlled by Portugal (~1000km from the coast of Lisbon). Here, we knew that Sophie and I could sit by the pool and relax, but Eric could also hike mountaintops and explore, as he gets antsy being still too long. First, we looked at renting beautiful whole-house airBnBs with heated pools and ocean views, but while looking, I came across the holiday packages at Jet2.com and was astounded at how comparable the prices were to a self-catering holiday. We could stay at a 5-star resort with 5 pools, 6 restaurants, spas, and wonderful service without having to grocery shop, cook, or drive ourselves! (This last point became increasingly more important as our trip went on). There was also entertainment, concierge service, and room service during the holiday!

(The view from our balcony)

There are many, many, times in our week’s vacation where we were thankful to have booked with a holiday provider and not be self-catered. The very first was during our flight to Madeira. We knew that weather on the island wasn’t supposed to be very good that day, but what can you do, eh? Unfortunately, the Funchal airport is actually one of the ten worst airport runways to land on in the world, especially during poor (windy) weather. We took off on time, but upon approaching destination, our pilot informed us that the airport was currently closed due to wind gusts in excess of 90mph and that we would circle in a hold pattern and hope it may open soon and we could land. Well, after an hour of circling, we had to abandon that plan and the pilot informed us we were being diverted to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, about an hour away.
Jet2 did a wonderful job of finding us accommodation for the night at a nice hotel – not just a crummy airport hotel but a resort hotel with pools and restaurants. They transported us and took care of us. More importantly, because we were with the holiday provider, we didn’t ever have to worry about contacting our hotel or other reservations in Madeira. If we had gone the self-catering route, we would have spent hours dealing with the airBnB host, the car rental company, any tour companies we booked, etc (and trying to do it all in Portuguese!).

Poolside in Tenerife. It was no where near as nice as the resort we had booked in Madeira, but it wasn’t an airport hotel and it was warmer than Madeira! We could relax by the pool and try to make the best of it.

After yet another day of travel and airports and planes (at least this flight was only an hour long), we finally made it to Madeira and realised how absolutely amazing our resort was. We had pre-booked a taxi to pick us up at the airport and take us to the hotel (another thing that we didn’t have to worry about rescheduling!) and with the 20-minute or so drive to the hotel I noted two main things. 1-The highways on Madeira are amazing; what a feat of infrastructure- weaving around, through, above, and below mountains. Cliffs on one side and ocean on the other, everywhere was scenic! And 2- As soon as you left the highway, the roads became about 45 degrees incline everywhere! I was immediately thankful that we (Eric) didn’t rent a car and have to get ourselves around this island. It was terrifying!

Example: In this photo taken from the cable car, you can see beautiful highway on the left, and then on the right, steep normal road that is NOT highway

I do not suggest to ANYONE to drive themselves around Madeira unless you are very, very well versed in driving manual transmission on steep hills on narrow European roads. Automatic transmissions are near unheard-of on the island because you need the manual transmission to gear-down while going down hills rather than braking or you would wear out your brakes every month. Sure, a lot of us say we know how to drive stick but if it’s been more than a few years and you weren’t doing it on steep roads, don’t bother. And throw in the tight European roads which is something else to get used to (I’ve lived here for 2.5 years and I still hate it and am not used to it, I can’t wait to get home to Canada and wide roads). Anyway, don’t be cocky about driving on this island unless it’s something you actually do daily.

Back to our resort- we stayed at the Porto Mare Hotel and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone or go back there myself. We had a small suite for the 3 of us, 2 bathrooms, comfortable beds (Eric and I essentially had 2 double beds beside each other, it was huge!), and a beautiful balcony with view. There were 5 pools at the resort but only 2 were indoors and heated. (The ones outside were pretty frigid in the December weather.) There were 4 restaurants, a buffet, and 2 bars to chose from. The food was awesome, we loved it. Service was fantastic everywhere we went, whenever we wanted anything. The resort grounds were what felt like a giant botanical garden, we could walk through these stunning gardens every day – even a special orchid garden the size of my house! Sophie particularly liked the little aviary with a few cockatiels and budgies. They were adorable and sweet to listen to (we could hear them sing from our balcony).



On our first day, we wanted to get our bearings in the town of Funchal. We took a cab into the old town and first visited the fruit market. They take their fruit and flowers very seriously, being a tropical island. It was stunning.

Then we did a touristy thing and bought tickets to go up the Funchal mountainside in a cable car. I’ve been in the Rocky Mountains and taken cable cars up mountains there as well as Sicily before but holy heck this was steep!!!! And it just kept going and going higher and higher! Apparently the cable car distance is 3200m and the mountain is 550m up.

Taken in the first 1/4 of our trip, so not that high up yet!

Then how to get back DOWN the mountain??? On the cable car again (which Sophie was afraid of)? Take a cab down the narrow switchback roads? (We watched them going up the mountain from the cable car and it did not look nice). Or should we take the traditional way down the mountain? Traditional wicker basket sledges (toboggans) have been used since the early 19th century to help people get down the mountain into town. Now, the baskets are each driven by 2 men in traditional white dress to get tourists down the mountain for fun. It looks crazy, going downhill so fast in a wicker basket, but those 2 drivers have lot of control and are frequently even pulling us along.


The next day, Eric was looking forward to the hiking he had planned while Sophie and I were looking forward to a day relaxing by the pool. He got a company to pick him up at the hotel at 0630 to take him to the top of one of the tallest mountains on the island. It is common to watch the sunrise here, as it is above the cloudline and can make for spectacular views; however, not so much in December. He didn’t get to see the sunrise, unfortunately, as they were all in the cloud, but then he had an enjoyable and beautiful 8km hike from one mountain peak to the next.

Ah, hell no!
Good for him! Not my idea of a fun morning.

Eric took a day of rest the day after his hike with lots of hot-tub time and in the evening we went into old town Funchal as there was supposed to be an annual Christmas market. We were picturing Christmas markets like other places in Europe, with booths full of homemade goodies and handicrafts, along with lots to eat and drink. Alas, this was only a single block lined with booths selling various forms of alcohol, mostly Poncha, the traditional liqueur from Madeira. It was essentially a giant block-long street party. (We needed to show both proof of vaccination AND negative tests to get in!).

We ended up walking through the streets of old Funchal and weren’t expecting it, but it turns out that we didn’t know it or expect it, but Funchal is known for and amazing at Christmas lights displays! All over the city, we were absolutely amazed. Lights were everywhere and not just tossed like usual, but meticulously placed and complete art. Every street and lane was a different theme and set-up, looking like it had been done by designers. Our breath was continuously taken away.

It wasn’t the evening of a Christmas market that we were expecting, but it was still a very Christmas-ey evening viewing all the lights and we had a lovely time.

Next morning, we woke early (not as early as Eric did for his hike!) as we were being picked up for a private day-tour of the island by Hit The Road Madeira. Choosing a private day-tour like this isn’t necessarily the cheapest option, but it is the best way to get the most for our money due to my accessibility needs. Our tour guide, Jeff, may have been used to clients who want a wild 4×4 drive to the most remote areas of the island, but he was happy to quickly adapt to our needs and wants and took us to areas I wouldn’t have to walk too far, but could still see some great lookouts and sights. He was so knowledgeable about the history and ecology of the island and we learned a lot along the way.

First up, we went to Cabo Girao, a glass-bottom platform on the edge of one of the highest cliffs in Europe. (580 metres!) Gulp.

There was no getting Sophie and me on that glass floor. Nope.

Throughout the day, our guide ended up taking us pretty much clockwise right around the island. It was absolutely stunning. He learned quickly that Sophie and I couldn’t stand the very (very, very) steep and narrow roads and to stick to the bigger roads and he was happy to oblige. He stopped at all the great lookouts along the way (the kind of little ones that had we been driving ourselves, we would have driven right past without noticing).

Taking a private tour meant I didn’t have to stress my body to keep up with a group, or go places that were inaccessible or difficult for me. Yes, this is another example of how a disabled person ends up having to pay more in life to do essentially the same things (pay more money for a private guide vs the much-cheaper group tour) but I was definitely comfortable all day- great job Hit The Road Madeira 5 stars!

Being away for Christmas in a Catholic country meant planning ahead. Well before we left, we booked dinner reservations for not only Christmas day but also Christmas Eve (as we realised it would be a bigger holiday than Christmas night). It’s lucky we did this because from what we heard, everywhere was packed and no one could find a reservation Christmas Eve! We had a fabulous dinner at the Italian restaurant at our resort where they put out Christmas crackers and poured sparkling wine.

Cheers!

On Christmas Day, we opened the few, small gifts that we had packed and went to the fab hotel breakfast buffet, and then spent the day in the pool. It was perfect!


On the day after Christmas, we headed to the mall down the road in the morning, which was beautiful, half open-air. Sophie had received some euros as a gift early in the week but hadn’t spent them and I’m pretty sure they were burning a hole in her pocket. She found a few articles of clothing and fashion to buy and we went back to the hotel for an afternoon swim.

Overall, this was the perfect Christmas adventure getaway. It was exactly what we wanted, a combination of a warm and relaxing seaside holiday while still being able to explore a beautiful new location, an old European city, and a new culture.


One of the many awesome decorations in the hotel


Beauty Brighton

Brighton! Brighton is a fun, eclectic city on the south coast that was actually my first taste of the UK. Back in 2002 my sister was an au pair for a few months for a posh family in Brighton and my parents, my best friend, and I came to visit her and spend some time in France as well.

Well I have fond memories of that time when I was 17 and I wanted to bring my family back here and show them the area, I thought Sophie would really like it. So after leaving the Isle of Wight and getting back to the ‘mainland’ we turned east.

First, we stopped in Arundel along the way. Here, there’s a large, fairytale-like castle that is still privately owned and operated by the Duke of Norfolk.

Incidentally, there had just been a big robbery at this castle last week; a heist, if you will. A few artifacts were stolen, including Mary, Queen of Scots’ rosary beads that she carried to her execution, reportedly worth over a million pounds.

The Duke who renovated the castle in the 1800s was a very devout Catholic and we could see that influence all throughout, which is rare and different to see in an English castle.

Arundel Castle was very well-maintained and reminded me of Inveraray Castle, in that it’s still so grand and privately owned, and full of photos of it being used to the present day by the current family. Sometimes it’s mind-boggling to think of families that actually still live like this in present times! (They don’t live in the very castle-y part but in the apartments attached to the castle… Still!)

After the castle we went onward to Brighton. We perfectly timed the day so that we arrived at our BnB at check-in time. We stayed at a little AirBnb right in the lanes. Normally it would be hard to find parking nearby (there’s a parking lot a few blocks away for £30/day) but I have a blue badge (handicapped parking pass) which entitles me to free street parking. I guess this is a small perk to disabled travelling! We were lucky to find a spot right in front of our place (that normally would only be max 1-hour parking without the blue badge) and just kept our car there for the 2 nights! Once we were comfortably situated in The Lanes, we didn’t need to go anywhere else!

This was my favourite memory of Brighton- just walking through The Lanes until we got lost- window shopping, people watching, and seeing all the fun things.

Unfortunately, shops all close at 6pm so we could only do this until dinnertime.

The next day we had tickets to go see the Royal Pavilion.

This ostentatious palace was built by George IV and he spared no expense. He was fascinated with the far East and everything has a decidedly Asian influence, without being specifically Chinese or Japanese or Indian or Vietnamese… He just loved Oriental art and flair. It was exotic and rare and he had to have it.

When Victoria was a young queen, she visited a few times (about 2 before she was married and about 2 or 3 after she was married and had children) and she really didn’t like the palace. She found it too over-the-top and uncomfortable and once she had children it was completely unsuitable as a family home. She and Albert decided to sell it.

However when they sold it, they assumed it would be demolished and they didn’t want the treasures in it lost, so they removed them, mostly to Buckingham House (now, Palace). We were told that many things from the Pavilion were found just sitting in a basement at Buckingham and in the last 15 years, work is being done to restore them to the Pavilion (as the Gracious Queen Elizabeth II is giving them back, we were told).

Above, you can see a beautifully restored reception room, but the fireplace is actually a photograph of the original that was once in that spot. The original now sits in Buckingham. Apparently not all the treasures are coming back from Buckingham, but the gentleman speaking to us sounded grateful for whatever our current Queen was willing to give back to the Pavilion…

Anyway, we were really impressed by the work they’ve done there at the Royal Pavilion. The palace was beautifully restored, with great stories about both the Royals and the working staff

After the Pavilion, we headed down to the waterfront. Brighton is famous for its big pier and the carnival-type fun on it, but that’s not really our scene.

We rented the classic Brighton striped beach chairs (£4/each) and sat in the sun on the pebble beach. Sophie was there too, I promise, but either refused to be in photos or doesn’t consent to me sharing them. If you’ve ever had a 12- or 13-year-old, you know.

We spent the rest of the day just simply perusing the Lanes, window shopping, and vintage clothes shopping. It was a beautiful day for it.

On our last morning, we thought we might do more of the same, a little bit of time in the Lanes before we drive home, but it was an absolute downpour so we just got in the car and left. It was okay, because we were given such beautiful weather all week long on the Isle of Wight and first two days in Brighton that one day of rain is not too bad in England!! Unfortunately, it meant what should have been a 3-hour drive home became a 4.5-hour drive (weather and traffic) but we got home safe and sound after a nice little end-term getaway that was greatly needed.

Isle of Wight

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted, because it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do any real travelling! At Christmas, Covid put half the world into lockdown and we were stuck. However, Sophie and I took that opportunity (her doing remote schooling for a term) to visit my parents in Canada. This was very important to do because my mother was not well.

Unfortunately then with Covid and cancer, it’s been a crummy spring for our family. Lockdown was long. Sophie and I came home in February and then I returned to Canada in April again and my mother passed away in May. It’s all been awful.

We really needed to get away as a family.

So, the day my 10-day post-travel quarantine (from Canada) was over, we packed the car and drove south to the Isle of Wight. We’ve been wanting to go here since last spring when the Canadian military had a subsidised family weekend planned for only £60/pp and we were so excited to go, but of course it was cancelled due to Covid and never rescheduled. So we booked an AirBnb this time and took off!

We couldn’t have got more lucky with the beautiful weather for our 3 days on the island. It was 20-25°C and sunny all day, every day.

When we arrived, we only had plans to see Osborne House one day, and The Needles the next, but the ferry had a great magazine on board detailing all the little touristy places on the island. They were all written up great and helped us plan out our days and decide on more locations to visit.

Our first stop was Quarr Abbey, because it was about 5 minutes away from our BnB in Ryde. It is a Benedictine monastery that has been in use almost 900 years (well, on that location, at least). They still are completely self sufficient and raise their own animals and gardens.

Later in the evening, we went down to the Ryde esplanade to have ice cream and walk the beach. It’s a beautiful area.

The next day, we got to go to Osborne House! I’ve been interested in Queen Victoria’s life and times for years and love reading about her, and I’ve wanted to visit this palace for a long time, so I was so excited the day had finally come!

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert custom made this palace for themselves as a holiday house and when her son, Edward, took the throne upon her death he didn’t want it and gave the palace to the public. So this was truly Victoria’s house.

I’ve just finished reading Victoria and Abdul, the book about the friendship the Queen had in her last 12 years with her Indian tutor (or munshi) and her fascination with all-things Indian. During this time, she commissioned this room, her Durbar Room by an Indian architect and entirely furnished with furniture, wood, and art from India. Every single thing was imported and authentic. I loved being able to walk through this room and see it for myself. It was jaw-dropping.

After the Durbar room, we stepped out into the rear gardens, which, aided by the gorgeous weather, made us feel like we were much further south, in the Riviera or something.

Then we took the minibus to Osborne House’s private beach. The bus doesn’t run super regularly, we had to wait up to 15 mins each time, but the walk is over 1.5 km so if you have any accessibility needs, it’s good to know they have the bus available. Most people walk it, though.

We enjoyed walking the beach for a bit and then back on the bus to go see the children’s gardens and Swiss Cottage. Here, it was essentially where Victoria and Albert’s many children were shuttled off to play. A 15-minute walk from the main house, each child had their own garden plot and Albert built them a 2-storey Swiss-inspired playhouse that apparently reminded him of his own childhood in Germany.

There was also a mini war fortress that the little princes had built, and a jungle gym that children could still play on today.

Osborne House did not disappoint. I could absolutely see why Victoria and Albert chose to build and come here for years, and Victoria continued to come even more after his death, in fact dying here herself in 1901.

Later in the evening, we decided to head to Shanklin Chine. We went in the evening because it’s supposed to be lit up with multicoloured flood lights after dusk in the summer.

What is a chine? Essentially, what we in Canada would call a ravine.

We walked through it from the top to the bottom, it was beautiful. We also got to see the PLUTO (Pipe Laid Under The Ocean) that Lord Mountbatten spearheaded after D-Day to get fuel to the troops in Normandy.

Then at the end of the chine we exited at the ocean at Shanklin and saw this beautiful sight then headed home for the night.

The next day we started early and headed across the island to see The Needles, chalk formations at the edge of the island.

Here we decided to go to the private park instead of the National Trust park. Why? Because there is a chairlift down the edge of the cliff to the beach!!! However, we didn’t know that the private park was also a classic English seaside park with boardwalk-type rides and games everywhere. It was chaos. Luckily, we were there early before lines were crazy long.

There’s a video of me going down over the edge in my Instagram stories under Isle of Wight (warning, I curse a lot) if you want to see it.

Down on the beach, we got to sit in the sun, wade in the water, search for rocks, and enjoy the seaside. It was worth the death-defying chairlift ride. There were also great views of The Needles from the beach.

Here, you can see a picture Eric took as we went back up the chairlift and it really shows the steep angle of it!

To reward ourselves for our death-defying stunt (yes, I used death-defying twice because it’s true!), we went to lunch at a beautiful waterside restaurant. Watching people enjoy the water around this place, looked like just about the best beach swimming in all of England (so warm and it went out for so far! Such a protected little inlet!)

On our way home, we took the long way so we could go by The Garlic Farm. This farm shop sells their goods in shops all over the island but we really wanted to go to their actual shop. We first encountered them at the Bath Christmas Market in 2019 and have had their products before, too. The shop was huge and it’s too bad they couldn’t have samples out, I would’ve been like a kid in a candy shop!

We also tried the black garlic ice cream, but it really just tasted like chocolate to me- I would have honestly preferred garlic ice cream!

After that, we headed home and packed up. We left the isle early the next morning to head towards Brighton! Stay tuned here in the next couple days for my post about that!!!

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

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!!!