Beauty Brighton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isle of Wight

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

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

We really needed to get away as a family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

‘Meet the Poulin Family’

Here we are! On the cusp of our adventure!

Hi! We’re the Poulins. We’re a Canadian military family being posted to Bristol, England for the next 3 years! We are so looking forward to the adventure of living abroad in the UK and exploring England and all of Europe!

Poulins
This is the introduction sheet I wrote up for potential landlords ahead of our house-hunting tripIt’s heavy on the dog info because a lot of landlords are iffy about renting to pets. How could you say no to that face?

Right now though, we’re still here in Canada for a few more months. I will keep you updated as we go and then the point of this blog is to share our adventures over the next 3 years!
Moving to the other side of the world is a crazy roller coaster with so much work, so many road blocks, so many hurdles, and so many challenges – – – so many highs and lows!