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 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!

Type 1 diabetes – and travel

So a lot of the point of this blog is to talk about how we manage travelling around the UK and Europe while still managing the ever-present and domineering type 1 diabetes. I will be making many references to diabetes, what we’re doing, what we use, and why. Before we go any further, I thought some of you may appreciate a quick lesson.

Sophie is an insulin-dependent diabetic (T1D or ‘type 1 diabetic’). What does that mean? And how does it differ from type 2 diabetes?

Most people are well-versed with the idea of type 2 diabetes, as 95% of diabetics in Canada are type 2 – which is often (but not always) related to poor diet, increased body weight, and decreased physical activity – leading to the body’s insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetics are still producing their own insulin in large quantities, but their cells just can’t properly use the insulin that is there.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease wherein the body’s immune system mistakenly attacked the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. As a result, the body stops making all insulin.

Without insulin, a body cannot use any of the glucose it eats, leaving the glucose in the bloodstream to rise to dangerously high levels. The body is not meant to have so much glucose running freely in the blood so a type 1 diabetic must inject insulin in order to use and store the glucose.
Type 1 diabetes has no known cause. It is not the patient’s fault for having a poor diet or being overweight. Some type 1 diabetics are pro athletes, in peak form and perfect diet, and must still inject insulin.
There is no cure.
(Insulin is not a cure, it is simply a treatment).

Without insulin injections (or without enough insulin), a type-1 diabetic’s body will slowly die of starvation – or go into a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis that can result in coma and eventually death.


Alternatively, if a diabetic takes too much insulin, their blood sugars can go too low. If they are low or going low, it can be remedied with some sugar- a small amount of juice or candy usually.
That sounds simple and it often is, but the danger of going low is more pressing and immediate than the danger of going high. A diabetic can fall low quickly and if they’re too low, they will lose consciousness and not be able to take sugar by mouth. We always carry a special medication- glucagon– with us which is administered by a needle when the patient is unconscious, and helps blood sugars rise to a safer level. Thankfully, we have never had to use this medication.


So, how do we manage this beast? A few ways:
Sophie wears an insulin pump called an Omnipod . It is a small ‘pod’ stuck directly onto her skin with a tiny cannula injected under the skin that delivers insulin. She wears each pod for about 3 days before changing it for a new one. The pod communicates with its controller via Bluetooth. This pod is programmed to deliver a constant stream of insulin.
However, every time Sophie eats, we need to count the carbohydrates in her food. (Carbohydrates are the part of our food that convert into glucose in our blood). Some of you may be aware of counting carbs for your own diets to lose weight or train, but this must be much more precise. Sophie’s Omnipod is programmed for how much insulin she needs for each gram of carbohydrates consumed. Also, as Sophie grows and heads through puberty, her body’s insulin needs change. We are frequently reprogramming her pod to deliver different amounts/more insulin throughout the day and for each gram of carbs she eats. This keeps us on our toes. We never get too comfortable with diabetes around!

An Omnipod pod – with the formula for insulin drawn on

Along with her Omnipod, Sophie wear’s a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) called a Dexcom. This nifty little device is also worn on her skin with a sensor injected under the skin. It tests her glucose levels every 5 minutes and sends the value via Bluetooth to her mobile phone. Then, she ‘shares’ the information via the internet to our phones (her parents as well as whomever is responsible for her).

What we see on our phones, following her blood sugar (post-breakfast spike)

The Dexcom makes life as a diabetic infinitely easier, as we can set alarms to be notified if she’s been high too long or is going low. Also, it sure makes daily life easier for Sophie! Without Dexcom, she would be poking her finger 10-15 times a day to check her blood sugar on a glucometer. With our current version Dexcom, she only has to poke her finger twice a day to calibrate it.
(But also, she must deal with the insertion process of the Dexcom, which can be hard on her).

So these are the high-tech, amazing devices we use to keep our daughter alive every day. You will see me refer to them often. When we travel, we plan to make good use of both of these devices.
However, anyone who has ever had to visit Apple Support knows that even the most wonderful tech can fail. We’re not willing to gamble with our daughter’s life, so every time we leave the city, we need to pack back-ups, and back-ups to our back-ups. That means we need to pack extra pods and Dexcoms, but we also need to pack everything to go analogue- glucometers to do those 15 fingerpokes a day, and needles for insulin in case the pod fails.
If say, we were in Italy, and Sophie’s Omnipod system failed or was lost, she can’t just ‘make-do’ until we get back to Bristol in a few days or even a few hours. We would immediately need to revert to insulin injections up to 5-6 times a day.
Quite simply, she cannot live without insulin.

So we will have many back-ups packed every time we head out on a trip. The Poulins cannot pack lightly!!! Nope, not anymore!
Dexcom sensors, Omnipods, insulin, emergency sugar treatments, glucometer, ketone meter, glucagon, insulin needles, as well as paraphernalia such as alcohol wipes, needle tips, glucometer strips, adhesives, etc. – – I expect our diabetes bag to be cumbersome, but more necessary than the clothing suitcases.

All this, on top of getting to a foreign country and needing to figure out carbohydrate counts in food. Do you know how to count carbs in a plate of Italian pasta? Or in a French pastry? How many carbs in a German sausage or Hungarian goulash?
This is where the internet will be our best friend. We’ve gotten good at estimating, and will have to get better. There are apps that have good approximations and we sort of pick a number based on a wing and a prayer. Sometimes we’re wrong – she might go high and need extra insulin (if it was at dinnertime, this can make for a very late night for us!). Sometimes she might go low and need a quick juice (or 2 or 3) to get to a healthy, steady level.
We’re really hoping to get better at the guesstimating and coasting while we travel.

And did I mention that physical activity also has a serious effect on blood sugar levels? Activity speeds up our metabolic pathways and makes blood glucose drop. For example, swimming makes her levels drop like a stone. Walking makes it drop slow and steadily. When travelling, we will always need to keep in mind what we’re planning to do after eating, in order to ensure she gets a correct insulin dose.

You may think all of this sounds like a lot, but I assure you, it’s only drop in the water. We’ve had days (weeks!) of diabetes education by nurses and doctors and as well we’ve been living with this for almost a year and we still feel like we don’t know enough. I’m only trying to give you a very, very, basic idea of what living with T1D entails. As I write this blog, I hope to teach the uninitiated as well as help other T1D parents out there living with it – maybe pondering a trip abroad with their kiddos and overwhelmed with the idea.

Diabetes can definitely be overwhelming at times. It may be hard to live with. It may be scary to think of going outside our comfort zone by moving to the other side of the world and travelling a lot…. But if living with chronic disease teaches us anything it’s that life is meant to be lived! Stop waiting for tomorrow, start appreciating your todays.

We may go crazy at times, but we’ve been given this amazing opportunity, and we plan to make full use of it! Our daughter may have type 1 diabetes, but she’s also going to have a broad view of this world. She’s going to have friends in every corner of the globe.

She’s going to know that diabetes will never hold her back.