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