Gorgeous Greece

Well here we are, about six weeks away from our return to Canada. Six weeks left of our adventure here posted to Europe. It certainly hasn’t been what we thought it would be when we left Canada, but we have definitely tried to make the best of it.
And in that vein, last week was the last school break Sophie will have here. It was one week off school. The next time she’s off school, it will be summer holidays and that’s when we get packed and take off for Ottawa. So we wanted to make the best of this last break. We actually let Sophie choose where to go – she chose Greece! (I mean, it wasn’t like she had to twist our arms!). We thought it was the perfect holiday – a few days in Athens and among history and ruins and seeing all of that, and then sail off to an island and enjoy beaches, swimming, sun, and relaxing for a few days.

We flew in to Athens. It was a long day of travel, the first time in Europe that we took connecting flights – but so be it. It wasn’t made any easier by the chaos of spring/summer 2022 airport madness everywhere – staff shortages made for long lineups and waits. We woke up around 0245 local time and finally made it to Athens and our hotel around 1800h. Whew! We immediately set out to find some good dinner around our hotel and it was not a hard ask!

The most important part was to get some Greek beer and a LOT of tzatziki, ASAP!:

We had a lovely dinner and explored the immediate neighbourhood then hit the hay, after such a long day of travel.


When we woke up, we knew we wanted to get out as early as we could manage, before the heat descended on us. Unfortunately, we were somewhat bound by the breakfast hours of our hotel. Luckily, they had a wonderful breakfast to serve us that made us want to stay – in all my time in Greece, I could never get enough of the true Greek yogurt, fruit, and honey.

On day one we went off to the Agora, the second-most famous ancient site in Athens.

Agora means ‘market’ and so this large area of ruins was literally the public marketplace of ancient times. We walked along the ancient streets, and saw ruins of shrines, aquaducts, alters, and more. All while being under the imposing shadow of the Acropolis on the hill above us.

The ambient temperature was about 35°C but it was a very dry heat and if you were anywhere shaded, it felt tolerable. As soon as you stepped into the sun, it felt like Hades. The sun was literally scorching. So after only about an hour looking around at Agora- because we forgot water (rookie mistake!)- we left and headed to a cafe. We then had a grand time perusing some shops and the city flea market. Wow, there were some stunning antiques there that made me drool. But they were quoting us very high tourist prices (way more than they were worth) and we didn’t have room in our luggage anyway.

When we travel, we always like an afternoon siesta. We always have but now we need it more especially with my limited walking capabilities. I need that break to give me enough energy to go out and do more again. However on this trip, we altered it more and actually used the siesta for its original intended purpose – to stay inside during the heat of the afternoon. We came back after being out in the morning and stayed in right until 1800h. In other cities we may have been ready to leave earlier, more at 1630h, but because of the heat, we waited until the sun dropped further. Then we went out and explored more, found a place for dinner, and ended up staying out way later than we would have otherwise (til like 2200h).

We explored the Plaka neighbourhood of Athens which is just pedestrian lanes of shops and restaurants.

After dinner, while ambling, we came across something my aunt really wanted me to try, and I figured, “while in Athens”! I got a fish pedicure!

Then we figured that was enough adventure for the night, and made our way back to the hotel.

On our second day, we wanted to head to the Acropolis as early as we could before the heat got excruciating, as there isn’t much shade up there on the hill! We took a cab as far up as we could go then walked some. Then there is a spot where everyone continues on walking up the hill, but where disabled guests can veer off (you have to know what you’re looking for, as it’s actually the exit!) and it leads towards an elevator! There is a beautiful brand new glass elevator that goes up the side of the cliff to the Acropolis that is very strictly for disabled guests (you can’t use it just because you have a baby pram). You end up getting an amazing view of Athens as you go up!
I met Sophie and Eric at the top.

The top of the Acropolis was pretty impressive. However, you could definitely tell how and where the British explorers simply took whatever they wanted and left.
So when we were done up there, we went down to the (air conditioned) Acropolis museum. There, they had a lot of original relics, but also a lot of the story of what everything would look like today had the English not stolen whatever they wanted and taken it to Britain.

Here’s an example of what above the entrance to the Acropolis would have looked like originally, and mostly still today had it not be pillaged by the English:

The next day, I needed a break from the heat and excessive walking. Sophie had really wanted to go to Delphi, so we compromised and decided for me to stay behind and take it easy and for Eric and Sophie to book a bus day-tour to Delphi. The tour they were on was very inaccessible so if I had gone we would have ended up getting a much more expensive, probably private, tour. They enjoyed themselves a lot and got to see the ancient ‘centre of the world’.

While they toured Delphi, I went back to the flea market and let myself get a few little non-Greek vintage antiques. I had fun haggling with the vendors (cutting the ‘tourist price’ down by 80%) and while the pieces aren’t Greek, they’ll be able to sit in my new house and I’ll always look at them and think of my time in an Athenian flea market and how I got them. I figured they were better than any cheap tourist novelty that I could buy in any shop! I also spent my time having a nice long drink and lunch in a lane and people watching, it was great. Oh, I also went to a laundromat and made sure we had clean knickers for the week ahead!

Now we were done our Athenian adventure and ready to move on – to the Cyclades islands!!! We were going to the island of Naxos. You’ve probably heard of the more popular Greek islands Santorini, Mykokos, Corfu, Crete, and Rhodes, but we specifically chose a lesser (but just as beautiful) island because it would have less tourists and be quieter.
We took a Blue Star ferry there. It’s a 5-hour trip and when booking, Eric noticed that it was only €10 per person to upgrade from the economy seats to the business class lounge. Well, for a 5-hour trip, sure! This wasn’t first-class like on an airplane where everything is included and free, but it’s just access to a big, comfortable lounge at the front of the ship with panoramic views. There were also kind waiters willing to run around and get what we ordered, but we needed to pay for whatever we wanted.
Naxos was absolutely stunning. Not only was it physically cooler than Athens, it was just such a relief to be out of the dusty, dirty city and in this oasis, beautiful resort island.

We spent our days on Naxos relaxing. We didn’t stay right in the main town on the island, but just about 10 minutes out of it, on the more calm side of the island (less huge waves, better swimming). Eric did all this research and booking, and he did absolutely amazing. Our hotel had its own private section of beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas and it was guaranteed that every single guest would have a chair and umbrella at all times – you never had to worry about rushing down to the beach early in the morning to snag a spot. They also provided us with large, cozy beach towels.

In this paradise, it was hard to have a rough moment or take a bad picture.


People all over the island rent motor scooters (Vespa-types) and ATVs. Half a block from our hotel there was a motor-rental (they did cars and everything else). Eric had considered getting a car to explore the island if we wanted to come with him but Sophie and I just wanted to stay on the beach, we’d had enough ruins! He couldn’t let himself relax that long. So he went and rented a 4-wheeler ATV and headed out! He went all over the island with that thing and saw some ancient ruins as well as some more recent ones (a few decades ago they started to build a hotel and then abandoned it).

One evening, we went into the main town on Naxos (Chora) for dinner and went through the adorable little lanes.

And after dinner, Eric and Sophie went to climb up to the Apollo temple, which people like to get a photo of at sunset- but Sophie gave up quickly when she started getting sprayed by the huge waves on the breakwater. So she came back to meet me while Eric continued up to it. (I was drinking a glass of wine at a cafe and watching the view of the sunset and temple from ground level).

On our last full day there, we had the day booked to do a snorkeling catamaran tour, but the wind had been picking up progressively throughout the week, and by this day the waves were quite big and the tour had to be cancelled. On our side of the island though, it was still relatively calm, so since we were getting a ton of money back from the tour cancellation, we splurged €20 on some cheap tourist-shop snorkels and had fun exploring the little reef near our beach and seeing the fishies around us. The water was just so perfectly clear, it was so easy to do.

When we took the ferry back to Athens, due to the winds and waves it was a lot more choppy than our sailing over to Naxos! Two out of the three of us required some Gravol to get through the 5-hour sailing!

Then when we got back to Athens, we went to a small aparthotel Eric booked. We had originally booked flights for very early the next day and we were just going to go to an airport hotel, but KLM had since changed our flights to 12 hours later and now we had all day to waste in Athens. So we got a hotel in town with a rooftop pool.
Unfortunately, we were just vacationed-out by then. We were beat! All we wanted to do was lay in bed and watch Netflix and eat Dominoes and go home! Athens seemed too hot and too dusty after the paradise that was Naxos.
We did nothing that night and the next morning we needed to check out of our room by 11. We didn’t need to be at the airport until 3pm, so we decided to leave our bags with the front desk and go to the nearby National Archaeological Museum – because we knew it was air conditioned and I could get a wheelchair there (knowing I had to navigate 2 airports later that day, I didn’t want to wear-out by walking around all day).

Here, there was everything from ancient Greece to ancient Egypt and Rome. Sophie and I actually thought we’d be really bored at it and just went for something to do, but we were somewhat impressed! It was a cool museum.

However, the time came to leave. Off to the airport, but of course then our flight had been delayed, almost 2 hours – which was exactly the time of the layover we had in Amsterdam. We were told on check-in that we likely won’t make our next flight so we had no idea what to expect.
Turns out we DID make our flight, only because our second flight was running about half an hour late. I had Accessibility Services booked and they ran me right there in a wheelchair. No waiting anywhere! However, our bag did not make the second flight. It’s now seven days later and still no bag. I called KLM two days ago and it had been located but is still sitting in Amsterdam.
Any bets on when we’ll get it? Hopefully by the time we need to move to Ottawa!

Greece was a wonderful way to end our European adventures. We’ll definitely remember all these trips and holidays and excursions we’ve had. Thank you everyone for letting me share with you and for feigning interest in our escapades!

Cheers!

Vimy Ridge Day

Back at the end of 2019 (pre-pandemic), we got this idea to travel to the continent in the springtime during Sophie’s 2-week Easter break. We could take the Chunnel or a ferry and use our own car and roadtrip across a few countries- being able to hit Vimy Ridge on 9 April for Vimy Ridge day and the Netherlands during tulip season. Well, of course the world had other plans and in early 2020 we had to scrap this springtime roadtrip idea and instead we sat in our own garden. Then we thought of it again in 2021, but Covid was still rampant and Belgium and Netherlands had very strict entry and quarantine rules.

So here we are in 2022. We held our breath. We didn’t book anything until only a couple weeks before, when finally the entry requirements for Belgium and Netherlands loosened. We would get to do the springtime roadtrip we’ve been planning for 3 years!

This blog post will just be about the first, Hauts-de-France portion of it though. It actually would have been longer, but… You’ll see.

We took the Chunnel to France from Dover. That in itself was a cool experience, driving onto the train and travelling through the tunnel. I tried hard not to think about what was overhead and then boom, 35 minutes later we were outside and in France!

We drove pretty much straight to Arras from there to check in to our hotel. We didn’t do much that night but grab a quick bite to eat and get to bed early as we had a lot planned the following day.

The next day was 9 April. Back in 2019 when we came up with this idea, 9 April 2020 was supposed to land right in the middle of Sophie’s 2-week Easter break. This time, it was the very first day, so we applied to her school to let her skip a day (Friday) so that we could use it as a travel day and be at Vimy in time.
The ceremonies actually begin in Arras on 9 April at 0630h which is the exact time that allied soldiers left the Wellington Tunnels to begin the Battle of Arras (of which Vimy was a key part). Well- we weren’t about to get up and go to that, but when we went to breakfast at our hotel, there were quite a few military personnel in full dress also at breakfast who had obviously just come from the ceremonies at the tunnels and whom we expected to see later at the Vimy ceremony.

The Vimy ceremony was to be at 1400h. We wanted to see the Visitor’s Centre there beforehand as well as the war cemeteries, so we bought some baguette sandwiches at a local bakery and packed a picnic lunch (Vimy is out in the middle of no-where). We also read that the Visitor’s Centre would be closed for a while over the lunch hour as they prepare for the ceremony so we planned to arrive around 1130h.

We left for Vimy and it’s only about a 15-minute drive from Arras, but through some small villages and some often-winding roads. Sophie was fine until we got to the parking lot at Vimy… then the waves of carsick nausea were too much for her and she got sick there on Vimy’s soil (not unlike many of her Canadian brethren 105 years before her, I’m sure). Her blood glucose was already going low when we were arriving and then she vomited up most of her breakfast, so I was immediately worried – this could quickly become a medical emergency. When a type 1 diabetic vomits, it’s always a bit difficult. They’ve thrown-up the food that they’ve already taken insulin for – so you need to replace those carbohydrates. If they feel too sick to eat or drink sugar, you’re in trouble. Like I said, she was already low so we needed to act fast. We sat her down on a bench in some fresh air and luckily she got an appetite back pretty quick. A fingerpoke showed a blood glucose of 1.5 – one of the lowest readings I’ve ever seen on her. We just shoved her full of all the carbs we could. Pack after pack of skittles and granola bars. We stopped counting. Eric ran in to the visitor’s centre to find a vending machine and buy a full-sugar can of cola. Whatever we could. But it all worked and she felt good in the end. Phewf! (This is exactly why my purse is always loaded with a ton of candy and snacks, as well as the car and house!)

Well- by the time this was all over, we walked in to the visitor’s centre to peruse it and— they were closing! Oh well. There was still a lot we could do outside before the ceremony.

We went over to the preserved trenches. They were really amazing to see, essentially the exact trenches just like they’d been encased in a thin layer of concrete (I know there was a lot more to it than that) for eternity.

It was astounding to think that the ground is still like this, 105 years later, still pockmarked and full of craters and holes. It’s still not safe to enter the cordoned-off areas.


Here is a fascinating 11-minute video about Zone Rouge, the huge area of France that is still unusable and considered a danger from WWI. It talks about how they estimate well over a billion shells landed on French soil and there are millions left still to clean up. They still find thousands every year. Apparently the biggest threat isn’t the explosions, it’s the gas. Definitely check out the video.

After going through the trenches and seeing all that, we stopped and had our picnic lunch, then we piled into the car and drove the short distance over to the Canadian CWGC cemetaries (located between the visitor’s centre and the Vimy monument).


I have visited many CWGC WWII cemetaries but this was the first time I’d walked rows of WWI gravestones. I was really taken aback by how many unknown soldiers there were, probably at least 2/3 of the cemetary were just ‘A Soldier of the Great War’.

As I walked the rows I thought of how disfigured these boys must have been, all of them, to not have been identified. Some of them were able to be identified as Canadian or British from their uniform, or if they were lucky their regiment could even be identified. We even saw one headstone that said ‘Two soldiers of the Great War’ so you knew they were unable to disentangle them and they had to share a grave. I also had to think of the people who were tasked to build these cemeteries; exhume the hastily dug battlefield mass graves and bring the corpses to the cemetery. While it was a very important job at the time, 100+ years later, it has been lost to history and one of those thankless, dirty jobs that no one thinks about but had to be done.

After paying our respects at both cemeteries, we headed on to the Vimy monument for the ceremony. Above is the view of the monument from the Givenchy Road Cemetary (the smaller of the 2 cemeteries).

Once we got to the ceremony, we settled in and waited. We got there around 1315h and it didn’t start until around 1415h.

If you’ve ever been to a Canadian Remembrance Day ceremony or special commemorative day ceremony, you know exactly what the ceremony entailed. It wasn’t any different than any others. We didn’t take photos or video because that’s just disrespectful. But we did enjoy it and it was really nice to be there for it on Vimy Day. We could have walked up to the monument any day of the year, but there was definitely a special weight to being there exactly 105 years after thousands of our Canadian soldiers fought so hard and proved so much to win it from the Germans. It was nice to be able to remember the 3000+ dead and 7000+ wounded with a couple hundred other Canadians who found it important enough to be there, as well as some French and other allies.

After the ceremony we took a few photos of the monument:

I like the above photo because so often, people want a photo of the monument with no one else in it. This photo packed full of people just shows exactly what we’re meant to do – Lest We Forget. Every WWI veteran is long gone, but we’re all still honouring the ones who died in battle and the ones who came home. Look how many people still remember and won’t forget. To remember is an active verb and I like how this photo illustrates just that at Vimy Ridge on 9 April.

After the ceremony, we finally got to go to the Visitor’s Centre. It isn’t very big, but it is a beautiful centre with some very interesting content.

It is full of info about how the soldiers lived, the trenches, who they left behind, and why they were so willing to fight. Great little museum.

After the visitor’s centre, we went back in to Arras for a siesta and dinner.

It was Sophie’s turn to choose dinner and she stuck with our patriotic theme for the day and wanted to go to the Canadian Poutine restaurant we had seen the day before.

We had a nice quick dinner of fries covered in cheese and gravy (which Eric and Sophie totally loved because they hadn’t had poutine in like 2 years) and then back out to Vimy for 2030h.
Vimy was putting on an evening ‘video mapping’ event. We weren’t told much of it (despite asking) but it was some sort of video projection about Vimy on the side of the building and only for a few nights. They were very proud of it and we thought, well we’re here and it’s only 15 minutes away.

We sat at Vimy and watched the sun go down over the shell-pocked fields.

When the video projection came on (when it was finally dark), we were actually really impressed. They had colourised the photos and even animated some of them – some of the photos showed a soldier sort of waving, or limping, or a stretcher with a soldier swaying. It was really neat. It talked about when war broke out, the boys at home in Canada signing up to fight, thinking it will be over by Christmas. It talked about the dreariness once they learned the realities of war and trenches. It showed how nursing sisters were some of the bravest heroes of the war – willing to be near all the shelling, gas attacks, see the horrific carnage– all while never brandishing their own weapon. There also were some wonderful photos of 9 April 1917, the actual assault on Vimy Ridge and just afterwards.
When we had watched the 20 minute video, it was really dark by then and we could see the Vimy monument lit up, and she looked spectacular. So we decided to drive over and see it at nighttime.


I left Vimy feeling overwhelmed and just so grateful. Grateful for my nation’s forefathers who fought for us, grateful for their victory, overwhelmed with sadness at the immense loss of the war and all the wars since…. It’s just, a lot.

The next day we were still booked in to our hotel in Arras so we had planned to see more WWI memorials such as Beaumont-Hamel, but unfortunately fate had other plans…
Around 0200h, suddenly Eric woke up sick. He was violently sick all night and into the morning. We knew then that the day’s plans were wiped. Sophie and I took our meals together in restaurants and we walked around town a little bit in the sun while Eric laid in bed, half comatose. At this point, we had no idea if this illness was food poisoning or a noro-type virus that would then attack both Sophie and me and ruin the rest of our week. We were nervous.
Well, spoiler alert— now as I write this, it is 5 days later and we know for sure that it was just Eric. The only thing that he alone ate and Sophie and I didn’t was our picnic lunch at Vimy- – – he had a baguette with chicken and egg. Sophie and I both had ham. We have to assume that was the culprit. In my almost 18 years of knowing Eric, I have been that sick at least 10-12 times, but I have never, ever seen him get that sick. It was awful. He has an iron stomach, so I am just glad that it was him who got it because it probably would have landed me in the hospital! And a vomiting illness with Sophie’s diabetes would have likely landed her in the hospital too— so I suppose we got lucky?

So this blog post ends after telling you really just about one day, Vimy Day. But wasn’t it an amazing day?
The next day, we left Arras for Belgium— I’ll leave that for the next blog post because I’ve talked your ear off enough for one post here.

Funchal, Madeira – Christmas in Paradise

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

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

(The view from our balcony)

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

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


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

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


One of the many awesome decorations in the hotel


Venice, Our break-out from the UK!

Ah, the City of Love! What better place to escape to after 20 months of pandemic isolation stuck in the UK?!? Especially as post-lockdown crowds are a tiny fraction of what they used to be. Now, there are no big cruise ships (there used to be sometimes tens every day!), and minimal day-trippers. Come evening, the city seems almost deserted – And we loved it!

We arrived at the airport around 5:30pm – our flight was late, we were tired, etc. Luckily, we had arranged for private water taxi to transfer us to our hotel in Venice. The airport is on the mainland and it is usually quite a trek to get actually IN to Venice from it – you can wait for the crowded and long waterbus – that would have eventually got us in to Venice around 8pm for around €20 each (such a headache!). Or we could have taken a bus over land to the main entrance/bridge to the city for about €8 each. We did neither of these options and went full comfort and speed and pre-booked ourselves a private water taxi to take us right to the entrance of our hotel. They run at about €130. But I didn’t have to do any walking, we didn’t have to lug our bags, and we didn’t have to search a foreign city as the sun was going down (and we were told Google maps doesn’t work great in the city!) to find our hotel. It was perfect and so worth it.

Our first views as we approached Venice at sunset

As it happened, the day we travelled to Venice was also my birthday! So luckily, we got to our beautiful hotel (Splendid Venice), checked-in, and then were able to get out for a lovely dinner at a decent hour. We knew there’d be a thousand restaurants and we’d be overwhelmed by choice our first time out, so we asked our hotel concierge for a recommendation for good pasta and ambience and we were not disappointed. (Incidentally, concierge also noticed it was my birthday on check-in and left a card and gift of biscotti in my room for me while we were out at dinner! Wonderful service!)

It was a wonderful birthday evening!

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When we awoke on our first morning, we had to go to a pharmacy and get Sophie a Covid test, as she needed a ‘Green Pass’ for Italy (even though she is double-vaccinated, the UK doesn’t provide QR code passes for kids under 16, and Italy requires them for kids over 12, so she needed to have a negative test every 48 hours instead- UGH). It was €22 and a pain to go get, but only really 30 minutes out of our day once we figured it all out. Once we had her Green Pass, we decided to head to Piazza San Marco to see the biggest/main tourist sites that we wanted to see in Venice – the Basilica and the Doge’s palace.

Basilica San Marco


Before we left home, Eric almost bought ‘Skip the Line’ passes for these attractions. Once we saw the line-ups in St. Mark’s square, he regretted not buying them. But both when he was contemplating buying them and regretting not buying them, I just shook my cane in his face and reminded him that I’m handicapped and this is Europe! Here in Europe (I do NOT find the same thing in North America, which is actually awful), they respect the fact that I use a walking cane and can’t stand in a line for a long time. So we just walk to the front of the line and wave down a security guard/gate agent and ask for the handicapped entrance. Sometimes there is a different entrance, sometimes they just open the barrier and let us through ahead of any huge line there may be. We still had to go through all the Covid/temperature/Green Pass checks – I just didn’t have to wait in the long line. Maybe it makes the people at the back of the line bitter and mad but hey, I’d rather wait in line and not have MS. Anyway – point being, if you’re reading this because you, like me, have any accessibility issues, make sure you know that you do NOT have to wait in lines in Europe and just be bold, walk up to the front of the line and ask to go through! Sometimes it feels awkward, but we’ve done it everywhere and literally never been told no! (Always have your handicapped parking pass available for proof, as sometimes they require it, like most places in Spain did, but then were happy to help).

Inside the ostentatious Doge’s palace
Sophie inside the prison walls, which is attached to the palace, which we also toured.




Outside the palace and basilica in San Marco’s square, because I had to have a nice sit and rest, we decided to take the moment and splurge on a ‘snack’ at Caffè Florian, the oldest and- just about- most well-known cafe in Venice. And when I say splurge… I mean, the most expensive coffee, macarons, and gelato that we’ve ever had and ever will have. But the ambience of sitting there in that beautiful setting, being serenaded by a live piano band, and people-watching in the square, was all worth it. We really loved it!

The view of the lagoon-front in Venice from the Doge’s Palace. And where we later went to lunch.

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Our next day in Venice, we had a private tour booked to head to the islands of Murano and Burano. Venice Lagoon is full of many, many islands. Some of them derelict, some of them for cemeteries, some for agriculture, etc. They once even had sick (leper) islands. Hundreds of years ago, when the craft of glassmaking was being honed, the Venetians were afraid of the risk of fire in their close and cramped city, so they ‘banished’ all glassmakers to the island of Murano to keep their fires in one spot there. Really, this just made good sense! However, hundreds of years later, the glassmaking and blowing have passed down in the same families, each family still has their own recipe, techniques, Masters, and secrets. It’s an amazing tradition. We bought a beautiful set of hand-blown drinking tumblers to forever remember our holiday.

A Master making a drinking glass
Our new glass tumblers

We also went to Burano, which was a traditional fishing village where the men all left every morning to go fish and the women stayed behind to cook, clean, etc. The women behind started to take up a form of hand-crafting beautiful lace. This was another traditional craft passed down through generations, from mother to daughter. However, this part of the tour ended up getting somewhat pushy of a salespitch trying to sell us €1500 tablecloths (absolutely beautiful and worth no less, but totally out of my price range and just not my style). So we moved on and enjoyed the stunning colour and beauty that is the tiny island of Burano. The official websites say that all the houses of Burano are so brightly coloured so that the fishermen could find the right house in the foggy, dark mornings to steer their boat to. Our private, sassy, tour guide says local lore was that housewives were more inclined to paint their house a bright colour very different than the neighbours so that her drunk husband would stumble into the right house –and more importantly the right bed– at night. She said all the local islanders look a little too related for a reason, haha!

Here, you can really see the very crooked bell tower! It has more of a lean than the tower of Pisa!

The benefit of us taking a private tour is that the guide went at my pace. She was great and recognised when I’d been standing too long and couldn’t walk any farther, so rather than one section of the tour that she usually walks, she got the water taxi and we did it by canal so we could still see the whole area, but I could sit. Also as we came to Burano, after a couple hours at Murano, I knew that Sophie’s blood sugar would be starting to go lower as noon (normal lunchtime) was upon us. The Italians eat on a different schedule and our tour wasn’t set to end for a few more hours, and I was guessing lunch wasn’t scheduled in. However, I just mentioned to our guide that we needed to find somewhere to eat (I didn’t want to just feed Sophie Skittles the whole time) and why and she was fantastic. She recommended a great little restaurant, found out the fresh special of the day was lasagna, so both Sophie and I ordered that and it turned out to be the best meal of our whole week in Venice. Best lasagna of my life! Once lunch was done, we were back on our way and our guide just accommodated us into the tour. It was perfect.

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Our last day in Venice, we just wanted to be. I had so far enjoyed getting around and seeing Venice so much, the alleys, the views, the window shopping, the food! So we said let’s just take off and get lost, eat when and where we want, amble where we want, and let Venice be our guide.

The only thing that changed this plan slightly was our guide from the day before gave us a booking for the rooftop terrace at the T Fondaco, the posh mall right next to the Rialto Bridge and the grand canal. The terrace has to be booked weeks in advance for only 15-minute intervals, which we didn’t want to commit ourselves to weeks before we came. But to accept the booking only the day before, we thought that was great! The guide had an extra booking and gave it to us (it’s free, just very limited and hard to get) and we got to go have a fabulous view of Venice and the Grand Canal.

We decided to take yet another sit and stop in the sun at the foot of the Rialto Bridge here and have some snacks (bruschetta) and a spritz -famous in Venice, the spritz is a traditional cocktail of prosecco, digestive bitters (Aperol or Campari), and soda water, garnished with a slice of orange and an olive. We drank a lot of spritzes!



Then as we started to walk deep into the lanes of Venice to get ourselves lost, we took the opportunity of being away from the crowds to take a few great Insta-worthy shots.

I mean, we couldn’t pass up these amazing opportunities!

We also walked by and stopped in at the famous Acqua Alta Liberia (bookshop) that regularly floods when the tide is very high, so all their books are stored in gondolas and tubs, along with the higher shelves! It supposedly also usually has many cats all over, but we didn’t see a single one.




Lastly we decided to go all-tourist and do the necessary gondola ride. What’s a visit to Venice without one? Our beautiful hotel room was right over a quiet canal and there’d been gondolas going down it all week, now it was our turn. We were nowhere near our hotel – in fact we had no idea where we were – but I was ready for a sit and we saw a gondola stand so we grabbed a boat and went for a ride. It was wonderful.

It was really the perfect way to finish our time in Venice.


Overall, I loved Venice just so much. I think it’s my favourite European city yet. Maybe I say that every time but I was just in love. I was amazed that the city even existed, that it was just built on top of a lagoon and that it still exists 1600 years later! It seems like it should fall down any moment, like in a constant state of beautiful decay, but it is still a thriving city and still holds up to tens of thousands living there and tens of thousands more visiting every day.
As far as accessibility goes (albeit we had the extreme privilege of being able to afford the easiest accessible options), Venice has been one of the most accessible cities for my disability that I’ve visited in a long time. Its extremely small and compact size helped, along with how flat it was. All the bridges (many stairs up and then down) weren’t exactly easy and they wouldn’t be easy for someone dependent on a walker or wheelchair, but the roadways were all so flat. No climbing hills like here in Bristol! And no walking miles and miles just to take a metro 3 stops like in Paris or London. I personally found getting around Venice tiring at times, but perfect because I could go directly to where we wanted and be there in 5-10 minutes of walking, which is just within my limit.

We ate some amazing food, had some amazing company, and saw some amazing things. Our 3 days were just the perfect little citybreak.

Cin Cin!! Eric drinking the delicious limoncello that every nice restaurant would bring us a shot of after our meal (after dessert and everything, we wouldn’t even ask nor would they ask us, it was expected we enjoy an after-dinner digestivo.)

A long weekend in Cornwall

Well my dad came all the way to England from Canada to visit us! He’s done almost half a dozen invasive Covid tests, he quarantined, and then we were finally able to start showing him our new and current home! We’ve been doing lots of little day trips around the area and then we planned a big longer trip down to the very southern tip of Cornwall for the bank holiday weekend for some fun in the sun and family time. I could write a whole blog post about each individual thing we did in Cornwall, but I’ll try and just touch on what we did and put it all in one as an example of what can be done as a fun multi-generational long-weekend in Cornwall!

The first stop we made on the way to our destination in Cornwall was a place I’ve been wanting to see since we got here in 2019, Tintagel Castle. Tintagel has an association with the legends of King Arthur and is believed to be where his famous Knights of the Round Table were. When the castle was originally built in the 14th century, there was a natural stone bridge linking the two sides of the castle, but it fell into the sea about 500-600 years ago. No human had crossed at that point again until 2019 when they rebuilt this beautiful cantilever (meaning a suspension bridge that does not meet at ALL in the middle!) bridge where the original bridge once was.

It. was. terrifying.

Please take 10 minutes and watch this video by English Heritage about how the bridge was made. The floor of the bridge is made out of sheets of slate from a nearby quarry but they’re put in this way, so they don’t become a skating rink when wet:

That all seems well and fine until they shift 1cm under your foot when you take a step and you feel like the entire bridge it about the fall out underneath you. OMG!

But the views, the views from every which angle, were spectacular-

After a beautiful afternoon in the sun with the sea air, we went on further south to our rental house for the evening. We specifically chose a place that could make 3 different generations happy and had a beautiful view of the sea and a hot tub too!

On day 2, we decided to head towards, and past, Penzance. We learned that the roads get incredibly narrow and tight this far south in Cornwall. Usually only room for one car at a time but yet they are considered 2-way roads, so you’re constantly watching for oncoming traffic, and needing to deek into the nonexistent shoulder, or if you’re very lucky, a small lay-by, while you pass each other. The British drivers seemed to have no trouble with this. This was normal for them. The Canadians who are more used to having large roads with large shoulders and more space in our country than we know what to do with, were a little more nervous!

Once we got to each location we found, though- it was so worth it! First off, we came to a beach in Porthcurno.

The water was cold, but the beach was sandy and the sun was warm. We didn’t have our beach clothes or anything for a beach day (not even towels), we were just there for the views!

Next, we as we were driving along the nail-biting roads, I notice a circle of stones in the field next to us. Obviously, other people knew about it because there was a very small car park there so Eric pulled over quickly and we got out to investigate. We quickly looked at Google Maps and learned that they were the Merry Maidens stone circle, circa 2500-1500BC. We were the only ones there and it was so neat to just stumble upon ancient history and walk amongst it.

After that more calm and idle stop, we needed to drive into Mousehole. Oh, Mousehole….

Mousehole was a tiny little idyllic fishing village that had about one bike lane in and one bike lane out. Really. Yet those bike lanes are being used by vehicles both large and small in both directions. Really. One vehicle can barely fit in some of those roads but they were okay with making them 2-way roads? We totally got caught – on a hill – with oncoming traffic and no where to go. Rock wall on one side, building on another. Took about 20 mins and a lot of stress, but Eric managed us out of it. No scratches on the car, either! Beer at lunch was well-deserved!


After Mousehole and the hours of intense driving, we decided to take it easy and go ‘home’ for the day.

On day 3, we had big plans and got up bright and early to head to St. Michael’s Mount.

This was only about a 10-minute drive from where we were staying so it wasn’t that hard to get to in the morning. Sometimes you can walk right to the island over an underwater causeway if the tide is way out (thus, it wouldn’t be underwater), but we very purposely looked up the tide schedule because we wanted to take a boat over. It’s about 1 km to the island and we knew we’d have to save all my legs’ energy to get UP that mountain and not waste it in the walk TO the mountain.
So luckily, the tide was in at 10am (when I have fresh ‘morning legs’ anyway) and we happily spent the £2 each to take the boat over to the mountain. The climb up to the castle was pretty steep and hard in some parts, literally scrambling over stones and boulders – not just a walk up stairs. Once we got up to the castle, they spoke of how many royals had visited, including The Queen in 2013, and my only thought was – how??? How the heck did The Queen, at about 85, get up there? Holy Heck! Queen Victoria and Charles and Camilla have also visited. How?

Anyway, we really had a grand time. It was absolutely beautiful. The views, the interior, the history. If you’re ever in Cornwall, this should not be missed!! (And it turned out to be quite fortuitous that we went early, because it was getting *SO* busy by the time we left at noon). I can’t imagine how swamped it would be by the time everyone could walk across.


On our last day, we checked out of our rental caravan early and decided to stop at Falmouth for breakfast. It was a bank holiday and the streets were quiet. Most businesses were closed but it was a pretty little town to walk through.


After breakfast in Falmouth, we were off to our booked entry slot at the Eden Project. If you’ve never heard of the Eden Project (the world’s biggest greenhouse), please click on the link and learn about it! It was really, really amazing. It’s a conservationist project in an old quarry in Cornwall where they grow and cultivate species of plants from all over, in the hopes of teaching and guiding new generations about the importance of our one earth and everything that it provides.

And it sure was beautiful.

Inside the rainforest biome

Incidentally, I will give a HUGE shout-out to Eden’s accessibility team because we’ve been to a lot of museums and castles and places where we know they have wheelchairs for use on site and we ask for them, and we have seen the entire spectrum of helpful staff from nice people to staff who almost needed a picture of a wheelchair drawn for them and then needed to call their manager and find out where they were stored… yes, really. At Eden, we were so helpfully lead to the Blue Badge (handicapped) parking by the attendants, and then surprised to find manual wheelchairs parking in dry bays right at the handicapped parking lot. Convenient! Then when we got inside, because I had read on their website that they had a few motorised wheelchairs available (which I’ve never seen at any museum before!!!), I just asked at the front desk and was lucky enough to snag the last one! They kindly showed me how to use it, it had been fully cleaned and charged and was ready to go. As far as accessible museum visits go, this one got 5+ stars!! I would have never, ever been able to walk all around the whole site, as far as we did, and this way I was fully able to enjoy our visit with some independence.



After our beautiful visit to the Eden Project, it was time to hit the road home. We had a fabulous few days in Cornwall, we couldn’t have ordered more perfect weather, nothing but blue skies and warm days. We got to see some really fantastic sights, neat history, beautiful architecture, and do things we’d never get the opportunity to do elsewhere. We also made some fantastic memories with important, much-needed family time.