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!

Sicily, an enchanting island (Part 1)

While living abroad in the UK, we are currently choosing our travel locales based on some pretty basic criterion: cheap and direct flights from Bristol; southern and warmer during winter months; and northern and cooler in the summer months.

So, that’s how we came up with the idea of exploring the island of Sicily over the Christmas break. There are about 2 or 3 cheap flights a week from Bristol this time or year direct to Catania and once we’re on the island, because it’s the off-season, hotels/AirBnBs are pretty cheap (but it’s still warm to our thick Canadian hides).

We planned out an 11-day tour of the island. We got an inexpensive car rental and are able to get ourselves from town to town (going anticlockwise around the island).

After celebrating an early Christmas at home, we flew out on 24 December. We got in to Catania around 7pm. Sophie was under the weather (having woke up with a fever that morning, we even contemplated cancelling altogether!), so we just decided to get to the hotel, order dinner off the snack bar menu (which included sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas) and get to bed early.

After an early night to bed, we were able to get up, medicate, and go, and start to see Catania in the daylight. We viewed all the churches from the outside but there were so many masses going on we didn’t go in them. The Sicilians are very Catholic and mass was being held hourly all day. The churches were packed. The one time we did manage to peek in, we even saw a line-up for the confession booths!

It was a beautiful 19°C out so we were walking around in T-shirts. This immediately branded us as tourists because all the locals were in winter coats and/or huge, heavy sweaters. However, we were fine with this in order to enjoy the sunshine and weather. We also figured the sun and air couldn’t hurt Sophie’s cough.

We went to a Roman amphitheatre right in the middle of the city. It was originally built by the Greeks then when the Romans took over they continued to build it up. However, as the current, modern city was built up, they built houses right over it. It was only in 2006 that they started excavating the ruins.

You can see apartment buildings built right into the edge of the ruins.

This was how we spent our Christmas Day in Catania. We ate amazing food; we walked around the city seeing the piazzas, churches, and lights; and we toured ancient ruins.

On 26 December, we checked out of our hotel in Catania to make the drive to Taormina. The car we rented is a manual transmission and though Eric knows how to drive one, it’s been 10 years or so. He’d been doing okay on the relatively flat streets of Catania the couple times he drove. But now we had to go to a cliffside mountain town. This was what Eric was dreading more than any other driving on this trip.

However, the roads are in excellent condition, and we made it in one piece! He did great and never stalled out on a hill. We got to the parking lot in Taormina and happily left the car for 2 days. (You don’t drive your car into Taormina, you park and a free shuttle takes you into town).

We had originally booked an AirBnB for Taormina but it was cancelled by the owner a week ago due to ‘family emergency’. Luckily, it’s the off season and Taormina has hundreds of places to stay so we booked another hotel. While this new hotel meant we had to all share one room, we ended up quite thrilled with the location, right in the heart of Taormina’s main pedestrian street with a balcony view of the Mediterranean.



From our balcony patio

We dropped off our things, threw the insulin in the mini fridge, and immediately went back out on the street. We couldn’t wait to explore this beautiful town.


My sunglasses broke as soon as I got to Sicily, and Sophie didn’t bring any. So we found a street vendor to buy some from in Taormina.

In the narrowest street

We didn’t do anything specific except eat good food and walk around the town enjoying the sights and people-watching.

We had the whole day to explore Taormina the next day. We woke up early and headed to the ancient amphitheatre. It was originally built by the Greeks in the 3rd century but like the last one, taken over by the Romans when they took Sicily.

It was just huge, and we could walk around and in it. It also had great views of Mt. Etna.

We also did a lot more walking around and exploring this beautiful town.

Orange trees everywhere!

We took the gondola down the mountain to the water

Eric and I dipped our toes in. Sophie didn’t want to get her feet dirty… *Eyeroll*….
The waterside part of the town was completely dead and we were so glad our AirBnB cancelled on us and we ended up in a hotel on the main strip!

Taormina was just about the prettiest town I’ve ever seen. The restaurants were all wonderful, the people were friendly, and we couldn’t get enough of the views. The prices of things like food and souvenirs were more expensive than in Catania, but we could see why, in this tourist town.

That’s all for now. Next we are heading to Palermo and then an agriturismo (farm-stay B&B) near Modica in the countryside.

Ciao, bellas!

Remembrance Day 2019 (Normandy part 2)

As I said in my last post, Normandy was amazing but our Remembrance Day was just overwhelmingly beautiful, I had to give it its own post.

We checked out of our lovely hotel and left Bayeux in mid-morning. We expected to have a bit of time on our hands and to take things slowly. The Remembrance ceremony wasn’t until 1500h at Juno Beach.

We headed to Bény-sur-Mer, where the Canadian war cemetery is. There are many Canadian war cemeteries across Europe, but this is one of the biggest and the one associated with D-Day.


Unlike the American cemetery, we could walk these rows. We spent an hour or so here, reading the names and the epitaphs on the stones.

It meant so much to be here today, and to be able to reflect. I’m sure it would also feel just as heavy on June 6. I know it is somber on any day of the year, but I’m just saying that today felt different.

One thing in particular that was sad to see, for us, was the number of graves that had no adornment- no flowers and nothing left from visitors. I suppose we can’t expect them all to, but it felt sort of empty.

As we were leaving, I saw a family come in. They had a bouquet with them and were wearing Canadian poppies. I saw them head to a specific grave. They had their quiet moment and laid the flowers. Then they were taking photos of them with it. They were clearly a Canadian family who had travelled to be here and to see this grave. So I headed over to offer to take a photo of all 4 of them together with the grave. It turns out they were from BC and it was the man’s uncle’s grave. They were planning to head to Juno Beach later on as well. We were happy to have met another Canadian family doing their remembering.

Next, we headed on to the Juno Beach Centre. We planned to tour the museum for a while and have a picnic lunch before the ceremony.

The centre is beautiful, with so much information and history included. If you have a loved one who was a part of a Canadian regiment in WWII, especially in Normandy, then I highly recommend you check it out sometime.

As I’ve mentioned (many times), my grandfather was in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1CPB) and fought in Normandy. Knowing this, I of course gravitated to learning all I could about this elite unit.

(My paternal grandfather was also in WWII, an RCAF aerial photographer. However, I never had the pleasure of meeting him and forging a bond. Also, he was never stationed in Normandy. Though there was a small section about our military in Italy, where he was, and I found it fascinating).

There was one great interactive computer exhibit that I was playing with. It was a large touch-screen wherein you could select any Canadian regiment that was in Normandy and then be lead through a slideshow of their movements through the area after landing. I selected the 1CPB and it started with them helping liberate Pegasus Bridge and fend off the Nazis for many days to keep it. With my knowledge of my grandfather’s battle history and when he entered Normandy, it was at about slide 8 or 9 of about 25. Throughout this slideshow, there are a few photos and snapshots, not many- mostly of the men in repose or relaxing. About halfway through, this large close-up photo pops up:

It looked somewhat familiar. I read the caption. And then I burst into tears. My Papa spent our whole lives telling us about Andy. Andy was his best friend. They went through training together and then entered battle together.

Andy died in Operation Varsity in the Battle of the Bulge on March 24, 1945.

Papa never forgot. He never let us forget, either. Every year when Papa attended a Remembrance Day ceremony, we knew he was thinking of Andy.

And here Andy was staring up at me at our nation’s WWII memorial museum in France.

I couldn’t help but feel Papa with me. I know how pleased he would be to know that of all the 1CPB soldiers’ photos to be had, Juno Beach Centre shows Andy’s. He will not be forgotten.

After I dried my tears from that moment, we continued on. Then I came across another 1CPB exhibit talking about who they were and what they did and there was a uniform jacket in it. I glanced to the side and saw it was the jacket of one Sid Pass, an old buddy of my Papa’s. They were in the war together then lived in the same city and were friends for many years until Sid died just a few years before Papa. His granddaughter contacted me when Papa died and expressed her condolences. I just feel it’s such a small world sometimes. It certainly was a small 1CPB!

After we toured the museum and had our picnic lunch, it was time to get ready for the ceremony. Easy enough for Sophie and me… A lot more work for Eric. He is supposed to be in full dress uniform for these ceremonies, even just as an attendee.

Before the ceremony, everyone was milling about in the lobby. This also became a bit of a meet and greet. The people present were a mix of French locals and Canadians. Of course with Eric in uniform, it opened a lot of conversations. Some other Canadians came and said hi, and a few French wanted to hi too. One little old lady (and I mean little!) came and told Eric that her father fought with the French Resistance and was awarded a Commander of the French Legion of Honour. Eric told her (as this conversation was all in French) that my grandfather was a Knight of the Legion of Honour because he was a Canadian who fought in Normandy. Oh! She got so excited! She started showing me the papers that showed who her father was and his medal (a photo of it). I showed her photos of my Papa with his medal and him in the war. She cried. She insisted on a photo together (as I had my phone out showing her photos, she told me to take a photo now!).

We hugged and kissed and she even gave me her address! Haha. I’ll send her a nice card. She was so sweet.

Then it was time to start the ceremony. There was a large turnout, including the local mayor and Senator, Chief of Police, and other important locals. They all had wreaths to lay before the ceremony could start inside. Inside there was a local band and bagpiper, too.

The ceremony was beautiful, though I only understood half of it. That’s ok, I got the jist.

Eric was asked to read the Act of Remembrance in English. He did, rather well.

During the ceremony, a woman from Ottawa had a small presentation explaining a project she’s been working on called ‘Flags2Bény’. She explained that on her first trip to Juno Beach, she was so touched by everything that she wanted to find a way to spread the word more at home in Canada. One thing she did was get a bridge near the airport in Ottawa renamed Juno Bridge. She also got schoolchildren to sign messages of thanks on over 2000 Canadian flags and brought them here to Juno today. She asked us to each take some flags and go to the Canadian war cemetery after the ceremony and put them on a few graves.

Well, we went to her after and snagged the last few flags she had! She was worried people wouldn’t participate but instead more people wanted to help than she had flags!! This was French locals and the Canadians alike all wanting to help and honour our dead.

We also then met an amazing, sweet woman who said she was a local girl in the area when the Canadians landed on D-Day and liberated the town. She said she was 11 years old and remembers being friends with the soldiers. Amazing! Eric pointed out that our daughter is 11 now, the same age this woman was on D-Day. We got a photo with her.

I love that 75 years later, she still comes to the Canadian Armistice Day ceremonies to say thanks. (And wanted to plant some flags at the cemetery, as well!).

After the ceremony, they did something so very dignified, so very French- they served delicate pastries and sparkling cider (the cider the region is known for).

Then we went outside to pay our own, private respects. We were asked if we wanted to lay a wreath but I explained that no, thank you, we had different plans.

You see, when my Papa died in March, there was a beautiful flower arrangement atop his casket with a few red poppies in it. The poppies were artificial because the florist couldn’t exactly get real poppies in March in Canada. Family kept those poppies. I have two, and plans to take them to the places I promised Papa we’d go when I last spoke to him.

Today I had one of those poppies and we were laying it at the Juno Beach memorial instead of a wreath. We didn’t want to lay it at the big wreath laying ceremony because it was too important, and people wouldn’t understand the significance of this tiny, fake poppy that looked a little worse for wear after travelling about a 13,000km trip (Brantford to Victoria to Bristol to Normandy).

But it got here, and we laid it in Papa’s memory.

Then we took a few other photos. Eric was here for Remembrance Day in 2006 so we took a photo so we could compare, haha.

Thirteen years ago, that uniform was  barely broken in!

Then because there were a few new things since 2006, including a Naval memorial, more photos:

However, do you think we managed to get a photo of the 3 of us while he was in uniform, or during this special day? I thought of it while I was waiting for him to change into his civi clothes. Sigh. And there were so many people around that we ‘knew’ by then that we could ask, too. But we just never thought of it, and forgot. Oh well, my hair was a disaster from the gale outside so I probably wouldn’t have liked any photo we got anyway.

Then we went back to the war cemetery to fulfill our promise to plant the flags on the graves. When we had gone earlier in the day, we were the only car in the parking lot. This time when we pulled up, there were a dozen cars or so! Wonderful!

When we got to the cemetery, we saw that plenty of people had already been and had and were still planting their flags. One older man in a retiree’s Legion uniform made sure to stand up and salute with every single flag he placed, it was touching.

Flags-2-Bény was a success! The cemetery looked much more loved afterwards and more importantly, the graves were each individually respected.

They were still planting a few flags by the time we left but we had to hit the road.

It’s been the most amazing day of reflection, introduction, pride, and enlightenment. We all loved our day and will never forget it.

Thank you for letting me share it with you.

À bientôt, Paris!

Well Paris, it’s been swell. Real swell. We’ve had an amazing week in the City of Lights. We’ve seen everything we wanted to get to and more. We indulged in many delicious French meals and ate our weight in baguettes. I walked more kilometres than I truly thought possible, for me. Many memories were made. But home awaits.

On Tuesday, we woke up early and caught the train out of town to go see Versailles. We had timed tickets for here at 9am. I like the attractions where we can buy time-slot tickets. It keeps the amount of tourists inside with you to a minimum, as well. (Though there were still thousands).

Versailles is huge. Bigger than huge. Immense. Gigantic. The castle itself is ornate and an incredible tour, but then you head out into the gardens that span acres and acres. We were there on 29 October and it was the last day of the year that music was playing in the garden and the fountains would be going. They were starting to cover all the outdoor statues in the garden too, to protect them for winter.

After enjoying some walking around until I could walk no more, after we’d seen some beautiful fountains and music shows, we rented a golf cart for an hour to tour the rest of the grounds. This seemed like a wise investment at 34€ for an hour because the little train/shuttle that takes you around the grounds is 6€/person each way… So unless we were willing to walk the 5+ miles (I wasn’t), we had to pay. This way we got to see all the other little areas they built (but we didn’t make it to Marie Antoinette’s peasant village, as it started to rain).

All in all, we were blown away by the grandeur at Versailles. We were so happy to have made the trek out there.

We almost had to leave Versailles early. Sophie’s blood glucose was up to 23 and her Dexcom wasn’t giving us a signal. We’d been having troubles with her insulin pod since we put it on Monday night. We weren’t sure if it was the pod, the location, or the insulin, but something wasn’t working well. However, we gave her some huge doses of insulin and she started coming down. (Eventually, we changed this pod at 1am on Wednesday night and it’s been infinitely better since then).

After our touring, we stopped in the town of Versailles at a small local crêparie for some amazing savory and sweet crêpes (they had a deal for one savory then one sweet, with a ‘bowl’ of their hard cider).

On Wednesday we let ourselves sleep in a little bit (vs waking up at 6am for Versailles) but we were still on the first river cruise tour of the day. That’s right, we went full tourist and boarded a tour on the Seine. It was really neat to see the city from that vantage point. There were way more prisons than we knew! Haha.

Then in the afternoon we had some coveted tickets to the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit at The Louvre. This exhibit was in honour of the 500th anniversary of his death, and was almost all of his known work together in one place. The things they couldn’t have there (like the Last Supper or Salvator Mundi), they had reasonable replicas done by his own students in his own studios (under his tutelage). After a lengthy court battle with a Venetian museum, they even acquired The Vitruvian Man, which was a sight to see.

What really blew me away was that they had many of his notebooks. We could see how he studied. He insisted on studying botany in order to be better able to paint trees and flowers in the backgrounds of his portraits.

He studied anatomy in order to be better able to paint the human form.

It was all just amazing. We learned so much about a genius mind well ahead of his time.

The next day we headed to Montmartre, the highest point in Paris and the home of Sacre Coeur.

We didn’t take all those stairs up. There is a fennicular there that you can take for the price of a bus ticket. Worth it! We took the fennicular up and walked down.

Once up on top, the Sacre Coeur was just beautiful.

Unfortunately it was a cloudy/slightly rainy day and the view of Paris outside of the church from this vantage point was poor.

I needed to sit and rest after the church, and then we happened upon a tourist train. It said it was a 35 minute ride and tour through Montmartre so we decided to do it. It turned out ideal. I got to rest my legs and we got the full tour of the area.

There are many of these staircases from one block to another due to how steep the whole area is.

After Montmartre, we took the métro to the Latin quarter and got off at The Sorbonne in order to go visit the Musée Curie… The museum dedicated the Marie and Pierre Curie and their discoveries in physics and science. It was just astounding. We were at her actual [decontaminated] lab and office. So many discoveries made there, so many advances made.

These statues were in the Curie garden. The actual garden right outside her laboratory where she liked to rest and take breaks. Sorry, I was seriously fangirling and science geeking out.

Finally, we had one more morning in Paris. In retrospect, I think we stayed maybe one day too many. We could have got by with a comfortable 6 days. My legs were very, very weak by our last day and I had to save some strength in them knowing how much walking an airport entails. We took our last morning easy. Our VRBO host was very fluid in allowing us to check out late, as our flight wasn’t until after 9pm. So we enjoyed a morning exploring the area around our apartment; specifically, the grand Paris Opera House. Yes, songs from The Phantom of the Opera were in my head the entire time.

The Opera House

The 2 large, gold, tractor tyres are an art installation from last December, met with much ire. I can see why.

Incidentally, all attractions in Paris are awesome at giving handicapped access and making sure that handicapped persons don’t have to wait in line, but the Opera House gives free admission to handicapped persons and one accompanying person. Plus children under 12 are free, so we had free passage for the day!

There are group tours, but we opted for a self-guided tour and were very happy with it.

Alas, that was the last thing we did in Paris. We then cleaned up our apartment and checked out, headed to the airport. Our Parisian vacation is over and we’ve had such a dream of a time.

We can’t wait for our next adventure!

Day trip to London

We had to go to Ruislip (just north of London) where the Canadian military detachment is for Eric’s in-clearance (yes, they said he had to bring the whole family!) so we decided to make a trip of it and go to London for the day!

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a record-breaking hot day (33.5°C) and we were just melting!

Taken at 7am waiting for the train to London while we were still fresh-faced!

What to do with only 1 day in London? Well Sophie’s never been, Eric has lived here for a few months, and I’ve visited for days here and there. We know we’re going to be back a lot in the next 3 years and have a lot of opportunity to see everything we want and it didn’t need to be done all at once. So we decided to give Sophie a tour so she could get her bearings and see and decide just what it was that she wanted to be doing in those future visits, help her build her bucket list.

Sophie enjoyed the view

We took one of the Hop-on, hop-off bus tours. I always find these a good value in a big, new, city where I’m looking to hit all the tourist hot spots in a day or two (you can usually buy 1- or 2-day passes for these tours). We look for a tour that has a lot of buses (that run frequently), that have more buses with live commentary rather than just recordings (it’s always more fun to hear anecdotes from someone who’s been living there their whole life), and tours that have more than one line (the one we chose had 4 lines that criss-crossed the city plus a river boat we could use that we just never had the chance to). We also picked our company based on who went close to our hotel. Then we pre-paid for our tickets online. This saved us money, but also a lot of time when we wanted to join the tour.

We spent the first little bit touring around. We had a great guide who was informative, funny, and personable. I’m not one of those people to take many photos from a moving bus, but here:

Big Ben (and its tower) are encased in scaffolding for the next few years…. It sort of ruins the skyline of London, but it’s what you gotta deal with in order to preserve these things….
Going across Tower Bridge

We took the bus to the Tower of London and hopped off. We also pre-purchased tickets to the Tower so that we could save a few pounds but also avoid the lines.

Just when we got to the Tower. A lady asked Eric to take their family’s photo and he obliged. Then she insisted she take ours because “this lighting is terrific!”. She was right.

It was starting to get hot by now. The sun was baking. We had dropped our suitcases off at the hotel and they put our main insulin supply in the fridge for us, but Sophie’s small diabetic backpack had a spare vial of insulin in it as well. We don’t have a Frio case at all or any sort of cooler, as we haven’t got around to getting one yet. If you’re soon about to use the insulin, it can stay at room temperature up to 30 days. But insulin can never be frozen and never go over 30°C or it will be denatured. Well, in the direct sunlight, it was well over 30°…. We tried a while to always hold the bag in the shade, looking a little ridiculous as we moved about, but in the end we had to admit that there’s no way we can test if that insulin is still good, apart from a few bolus injections and Sophie won’t allow that. We can’t risk filling a 3-day pump with bad insulin and then having to discard the whole pump once we realise it’s not working.

So anyway, we got to the Tower and it was hot. And then we saw the poor Yeoman Warder…

He deserved a medal for this…

He said in the beginning that he didn’t want to hear us complain about the heat, and he was right. When the weather is bad (rain, etc) they shorten the tours from 1hr to 1/2-hr and he did for us too. They just couldn’t have everyone standing around in the heat that long, guests included.

But it was a lovely tour and we learned a lot about the Tower of London. Sophie and Eric went in and up the Tower itself. We saw the jewels, we walked the ramparts, and we had lunch! As we were leaving, another family came to say hi, just because they’d seen Sophie’s Dexcom and were a fellow T1 family. They had a little boy on the Dexcom and Omnipod and they said they just had to say hi to another T1 family on holiday! I think it’s so nice when someone does that and I do it myself, but Sophie’s still shy about it. Yet, she is upset if we don’t, though. (Tweens, amiright?)

Tower bridge from the ramparts

After our time at the Tower, we hopped back on to a bus and decided to head towards King’s Cross station. This was a surprise for Sophie. Her 11th birthday is in a week and a half and well, we really didn’t know what to get her. So since she is a massive Harry Potter fan, we said we’d take her to platform 9-3/4. I, personally, am not a fan, so it was all Greek to me, but seeing her so excited made me very happy too. She got her photo taken and then we took her to the store there and we said, pick out what you want, we’ll get it for your birthday! Her face was priceless.

The professional photo we bought

Sophie bought that Ravenclaw scarf (100% Scottish lambswool made by the same company who made the original scarves worn in the movies) and a Ravenclaw hairbow. She’s a happy girl.

By then we were getting tired so we hopped on the bus yet again and just let it tour us back to our hotel. We got to see more of London and then crash in our air-conditioned room. (And I mean crash).

Me, in front of a London city-scape, looking hot, tired, and deshevelled.

We went back out again in a bit for an Italian dinner then back to our room. Sophie was due for a pump change – here is where I’m so glad for our ‘bring 3x what we need’ rule. We tried to start up the pump and it didn’t activate properly!!! So we opened a second pump and tried it and held our breath and thankfully all was well. We would have had just enough insulin and one more pod to do it a third time, but barely (with the vial of insulin we now have to throw out due to heat!).

Anyway, pump change in a hotel again but we’re old hat at it now and it eventually went well. We have already ordered a Frio wallet to be delivered later this week for all our future travels to protect our precious insulin!!!

That’s it! That’s our day in London. We had to call it a night and hit the hay so we could be up early to leave for Ruislip at 7am. We were in offices all day long there but felt thoroughly welcomed by everyone at the Canadian detachment and know they genuinely want to help us acclimate and settle in to our home here in England.

London is a beautiful city and we can’t wait to come back on many day and weekend trips over the next few years!

Taken from inside the Tower of London