The Best of Budapest

When planning a February city-break in this pandemic world, we needed to do our research on every possible location and its entry requirements. We knew we’d love to travel somewhere in Eastern Europe, but so many locations were closed off to foreigners or very difficult to get in to. One location I’ve always wanted to visit was Hungary and by January, we found out it was very easy to get into (we just had to all be vaccinated, done x3!).

So off to Budapest we went, for February half-term break!

To start, I’ll say we flew RyanAir there, our first time with them. We’d heard the horrid stories and avoided them for 2.5 years, but they were the only direct flight to Hungary from Bristol so we tried it. I just wanted to take this paragraph and say, we regretted it and they were nothing but crap service from beginning to end. It wasn’t even just about the flight or the seats, but service and kindness is free and you can tell so much about a company by how they treat their customers. We will never fly with RyanAir again.

Alas, we made it to Budapest. By the time we got in to the city and our hotel, night was falling but we soon learned that Budapest really shines at night!

The view of Buda Castle from the end of our street – the first sight we saw after checking in to our hotel


We were starving and very excited to dig in to some Hungarian food. (For some background, my mom’s family was all Hungarian and I grew up eating a lot of Hungarian food). We walked a couple blocks and found this very touristy restaurant:

And I got to have one of my favourite childhood dishes, chicken paprikas:

(It was delicious)


Once I had the paprikas, only a few hours into being in Hungary, I was satisfied and complete and ready to go home! Haha! That was really all I wanted and needed out of my trip to Hungary. Just kidding!
We then went down the street and had some classic chimney cakes for dessert (a type of warm, sweet, baked dough in a hollow cylindrical form) and walked to the large St. Stephen’s Basilica. The Basilica, like most of Budapest is more stunning lit up at night.
(note: It’s not to say these beautiful places aren’t stunning in daylight as well, but just that Budapest really knows how to light their buildings and show them off at night- they just take your breath away.)

The next day, after a good rest in our hotel (D8 Hotel Budapest, a fantastic mid-range hotel in a superb Pest location), we got out early to head over to the Great Budapest Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world. Here, we learned a lot about the history, persecution, and demise of many Hungarian Jews. Did you know that 1 in 3 of the victims at Auschwitz were Hungarian Jews? Almost 600,000 Hungarians died in the Holocaust.


The garden there had some beautiful memorials to the Hungarian Jews lost in the Holocaust. One such was a metal weeping willow that each leaf was inscribed with a name of someone who was murdered in the Holocaust. The effect was stunning and yet so somber.

It was so poignant to us to be there and listening to these horror stories of murders, mass graves, and deportations just as war was starting to break out in the country right next to us at the time, Ukraine. We promised for 80 years that we would never forget, and yet here we stood, next to it again.

After the synagogue tours, we were ready for something to fill our bellies and our backpacks! We went to the large, central market hall of Budapest.

I bought about a kilo of paprika. Every half-Hungarian girl needs multiple varieties in her kitchen for cooking, and this stuff is GOOD!


After filling our bellies with Hungarian street food and buying (what felt like) everything we saw, we went to St. Stephen’s Basilica. We saw it the night before but this time we went inside and toured. We’re used to seeing some very old cathedrals in Europe, so it was interesting to see this relatively newer one, completed in 1905.

The basilica also famously houses the “incorruptible” right hand of St. Stephen I of Hungary… to see it, you put a coin in a machine and the reliquary will light up for 2 minutes, much like a peep show- oh the irony.

Eric and I also decided to pay the little extra ticket price to take the elevator up to the top of the dome for the view. Sophie wouldn’t even consider it.
St. Stephen’s is 96m high, the exact same height as the famous parliament buildings. Wikipedia is telling me that when it was built, this was intentional as a way to symbolise that worldly and spiritual thinking have the same importance.
So, we went to the top. It’s mostly all by 2 small, consecutive elevators – I do not suggest you do this if there are many tourists because the elevators can only fit about 4-6 people at a time and would take forever if there was any kind of lineup. There are also about 45 mandatory stairs along with the elevators so beware that this is not a perfectly accessible attraction (they did kindly warn me ahead of time, though).
Once we were outside on the dome itself it was damn windy, I was incredibly scared of the height, but the view really was gorgeous. I still would not do it again – though Eric would without hesitation.

In my opinion, fear of heights is natural self preservation


Later on in the evening after our dinner (of more tasty Hungarian food), we decided to get sky-high yet again. Because Budapest is more beautiful all lit up at night, we wanted to take this touristy ferris wheel at night, not in the day.

This time, Sophie came with us even though she was nervous and not sure she wanted to. She didn’t like the idea of being so high up and just dangling in a little metal box. I’m not really sure I blame her.

However, once we got going, the views were beautiful and we had a nice time. Sophie eventually got comfortable in our little pod and maybe even enjoyed it by the last rotation. It actually was a fun ride and a lovely end to our day.

The view of St. Stephen’s and the dome we had just been on.


On day 2 we hopped into a cab and drove across the Danube for the first time to visit the Buda side of the river.

The Buda side of the river is much more residential, and much more hilly. Actually, pretty much one great big hill – almost a cliff, or small escarpment. The Buda Castle is built right on top of this cliff and the cab has to take some switch-back roads to get up to it. Once you’re up at the top though, we were quite impressed and pleased to find this pretty, quiet, little village. It almost reminded me of a type of removed little tourist village like Whistler Village or something. It felt entirely different to the streets of Pest only a few miles away. Like the rest of Budapest, there were hardly any tourists anywhere and no line-ups. We walked around the grounds of Buda Castle for a little while and took some photos. We didn’t want to go in because frankly, after a few years in Europe, we’ve seen a LOT of castles and it starts to get repetitive. We find when you’ve only got a few days for a city break, unless there’s something you specifically want to see in a castle or location, there’s just no point in touring it for the sake of touring it. They are start melting into each other in our minds and memories, isn’t that horrible!?

Sophie took a picture of Eric and me in front of Buda Castle


There were also great views of the Pest side of the city:

We then walked around into the small clifftop village area (it’s called Castle District). First, one needs to walk past the presidential palace and there, there are ceremonial armed guards out front who do a little ceremonial march between their posts every 15 minutes or so. It’s very kitschy and fun to watch, but they also look like 17- or 18-year-old boys who look super bored with the job of walking back and forth in front of the door, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them and hope they got paid decently enough. At least they wore warm coats.

In the village, I needed to rest my legs so we stopped for a coffee and cake in what we assumed would be a very over-the-top tourist joint (it was right on the biggest corner and the first place we saw, impossible to miss). However, we went in and it had the sweetest vibes and most delectable looking cakes. We got gourmet coffees and drinks, and artisanal cakes, for about the cheapest prices and best service we’d yet had in Budapest (we had been noticing in some places that they would seat us, give us menus, and then not come back for 20+ minutes…).

After a rest we walked onward to the Fisherman’s Bastion. It is so named because apparently it used to form the walls of a castle and underneath here was where the fishermen lived… I don’t know. Internet/Wikipedia history is sketchy and even when we were in Budapest, the history was sort of obscure. We were told some fishermen lived under it once and it used to be part of a castle. What really matters now is that it is a beautiful location and overlooking the Danube and Pest, it was sooooo Insta worthy.

Right there at Fisherman’s Bastion is the very beautiful Matthias Church, with the coloured mosaic tile rooftop. We were there on a very sunny day and it just shone wonderfully.

They bragged that we could buy some of the ceramic roof tiles in the church gift shop if we wanted to. Then we saw actual large (20-24″) individual tiles. It was so random! Like, why would I want to buy a single brown roofing tile here? Anyway, this was a gorgeous church, both inside and out.

While we were in Castle District, we wanted to go see Hospital In The Rock, a nuclear bunker museum in the cliff under Buda Castle built in WWII. We got there and tried to buy tickets – It was about 2:05pm and the next tickets weren’t until 3pm. We didn’t realise that they were only guided tours, no self-guided visits. We didn’t want to wait so we left and didn’t get to see this gem. Oh well.

Instead, we turned around and visited the next best thing in the Castle District – The Houdini Museum. The House of Houdini is also only guided tours, but they are like every 20 minutes and were due to start one soon. Here, we had a tour of their small museum and learned all about the life and times of one Erik Weisz, born in Budapest in 1874 (Houdini was his stage name).

Eric in a replica of Houdini’s escape safe


After the tour, where we not only learned a lot but got to see some original handcuffs and memorabilia, we got to see a small close-up magic show. The guy was pretty good and we were often left amazed, jaws agape.


Later that evening brought us some special plans. We had booked a Danube river cruise with dinner and traditional Hungarian singing and dancing. We decided specifically on an evening cruise to enjoy the sights all lit up.

Buda Castle


The food was really so-so (there was no kitchen on the boat, so it was just re-heated food) but we expected that from the reviews. The entertainment was great fun and excellent. But the views? They were 5 stars the whole way. The boat went up and down the same stretch of the river about 2 times each direction, so you had plenty of opportunity to get photos and views.

Sophie taking in the view of the Parliament building

The parliament in all its glory

(I don’t have any still photos of the entertainment, apparently I only took video clips to put on Instagram.)


Early on day 3 we went to what I was most looking forward to in the entire trip (next to the paprikas!)- the thermal baths!

Hungary is famous for its natural hot spring baths and there are about 67 in the entire country, and 5 in Budapest. We went to the Széchenyi thermal bath which is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. The bath is 109 years old, and according to its Wikipedia page, it is supplied by two hot springs that are 77°C and 74°C (the temperature in the pool the day we visited was 28°C). The components of this specific thermal water that make it medicinal are sulfate, magnesium, calcium, bicarbonate, and a significant amount of metaboric acid and floride.

Visiting the baths was important and special to me because of some family history: My great-grandfather (whom I never met) used to travel back to Hungary from Canada right into the 1960s and ’70s just to visit the baths because they were the only thing that would alleviate his arthritis pain. My mother then visited the baths in 2013 when she and my dad toured Hungary – they also visited where her father was born and my great-grandmother’s hometown, etc. So I felt that Sophie and I getting to visit Hungarian thermal baths was just two more generations of our family now getting sort of a Hungarian baptism!

We loved that the air outside was 9°C and the water was so warm, it made the experience so enjoyable. If this was July and it was 30° out, we sure wouldn’t be enjoying the water much. But just like all of our trip, we were so happy to have visited in February.
(I’ll point out here too, that most all traditional Hungarian food is very rich and hearty, warm food. Think stews and such – the kind of food that feels great to come in from the cold and eat to warm up. We loved eating this in February but wouldn’t want to be devouring it in July).

We left the baths after about an hour and a half. There were big signs saying it was advised you shouldn’t stay in them over 20 minutes and I also knew that due to my MS, I shouldn’t stay in hot water too long either. I really wanted to, as I always do in hot tubs, but I knew I’d regret it later. We had arrived just after 10am and there were some people there but no lines at all and no congestion. Leaving just before noon and we could see a small line just starting, and many more people in the changing areas – still nothing I would call a real crowd (probably a tiny fraction compared to their high capacity), but just know that morning is the best time to come.

After leaving the baths we decided to head over to the parliament area in the daytime. I did take photos of the beautiful, imposing parliament building but not very good ones. The building was so large and we were just too close to it (and couldn’t get further away due to already being right on the riverbank). Nothing could compare to the photos we took the night before on the river cruise, anyway.

However, there on the bank of the Danube, is a very sad and beautiful memorial to Hungarian Jews called ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’.

These shoes are actually statues in memorial of the Jews who were lined up on the banks of the river, told to remove their shoes and were shot in the backs, to fall into the river and let the water carry the bodies away. Shoes were valuable, you see, and the murderers wanted to keep them and not waste them.
The shoes looked incredibly real, like they had been left there yesterday and are just waiting for their owners to come back and claim them. They are all the 1940s style. You can see incredible detail in them, stitching and wrinkles or cracking leather. It is a really beautiful memorial and shouldn’t be missed, if you’re in Budapest.

After this memorial, I was really physically beat. I think the hot baths combined with the activity of the past few days was catching up with me and I really needed rest. I went back to the hotel and sent Eric to the House of Terror without me. Sophie, being a 13-year-old girl, decided to come with me and be lazy in the hotel room.

The House of Terror is a museum dedicated to chronicling the fascist and communist regimes in Hungary of the 20th century. Ironically, you can’t take any photos in it…

At last, for our final evening in Budapest, we had made reservations at a tiny restaurant, Retek Bistro, just around the corner from our hotel that we had passed on our very first walkabout in the city. It looked adorable, smelled delicious, and had like 4.8-star rating on Google! It was very small and you can only get in with reservations so luckily we were able to make a reservation online.

The little restaurant had the ambience of being in a Hungarian grandmother’s kitchen. The service was really wonderful (they brought over free appetisers before our meal and pálinka [Hungarian schnapps] to end the meal) and the food was out of this world. We knew that Hungarians liked to put sour cream on absolutely everything, which we weren’t particularly enamoured with; but at this place, it was strong garlic sour cream. This was like a whole new world for us and we now wanted garlic sour cream on everything!

Our flight home was early the next morning. This was a lovely, merry way to end our city-break in Budapest. Our bellies were stuffed full of good food and we were so happy to be in and to have experienced Budapest and Hungarian culture.

Wells and Cheddar Gorge (and Covid-19)

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.

You can see the scissor arch in the middle, that was added afterwards to help support the sinking spire.
The Wells Cathedral clock is an astronomical clock from about 1325.
Cathedral cat hanging out at the heaters. Clearly at home here.

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

At the Bishop’s palace
Vicar’s Close — claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings in Europe. Dating to the 14th century.
A sweet market in the Wells town square.

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.

Cave-aged cheddar. Yum!

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.

Take care, all. Xx

Ola Barcelona!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but life has been both boring and hectic at the same time. I took a trip back to Canada to see my folks while Eric and Sophie stayed in Bristol. Then Eric went to Scotland for a work trip… There’s just always something!

But we’re back at it with our family adventures. And sticking with our criteria of ‘go where it’s cheap and easy to fly to’ (and warm in February), we came up with Spain as our next holiday for half-term break.

We decided to fly in to Barcelona, stay a few days, take a train to Madrid, stay a couple more days, then fly home.

So, Barcelona. Wow! First off, the weather in February is fantastic. No, we can’t go swimming or anything, but it’s 18-21°C, sunny, and comfortable. Such a nice break from the cold rain storms hammering the UK lately.

Sophie on our balconette overlooking the pedestrian street in the Gothic Quarter

We got to our hotel and while I won’t normally give hotel reviews here, I will definitely name-drop this one. The Hostel Fernando far exceeded our expectations. Yes, it says it is a hostel, but you can book family rooms. We had a room with a queen bed and two bunk beds, and a private ensuite bathroom. The beds are so comfortable and the pillows were my favourite- memory foam! It is impeccably clean, amazingly located, and such an amazing price. Sure, we’re here in the off season, but paying only CAD 125/night (taxes in) and that includes a breakfast buffet!!

So enough about that. Once we checked into our room, we went out to explore. We walked along the pedestrian street of Las Ramblas, ambled through La Boqueria (the large public market), and made it down to the waterfront (not the beach but the harbour).

La Boqueria
Spices for sale
Ham is the biggest deal in Spain. Right off the leg!
Christopher Columbus at the harbour (the infamous statue pointing in the wrong direction to the new world!)
The Barcelona Harbourfront

Also, it was Eric’s birthday the day we travelled, so we let him choose the restaurants and food. All he wanted a good authentic paella for lunch. Happy birthday honey!

Guy at the next table refused to stop photobombing! Lol!

In the evening after a long siesta, we walked through the gothic quarter, explored the Barcelona cathedral, and then stopped at a tapa bar for dinner.

Barcelona cathedral was one of the more impressive gothic cathedrals I’ve been in in a while (since Paris). However, it does charge an entry fee. Beware that in Spain they are more strict about modest clothing in their religious churches. No tank tops or shorts.

There are tapa bars were you can order off the menu and then the more touristy ones where they have it all made up and you fill your plate with what looks good. This ended up being a great choice for us because when travelling with a kid, she could choose what she wanted to/knew she would eat and then we could also get what we wanted.

Tapas, tapas, tapas!

On our second day in Spain (first full day) we had booked tickets to the big tourist locations- Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family Church) and Park Guell. Both are major Antonio Gaudi architectural gems. First up, Sagrada Familia.

While waiting out front for our tour to start

We decided to splurge the 1€/person extra that it was to get a guided tour (more than an audio tour). I know, big spenders, but sometimes we just gotta go for broke and live a little!

Well the church just blew us away. Eric had visited back in 2012, so wasn’t as surprised and stunned as Sophie and me, but they’re working so hard and fast in order to reach their goal of finishing by 2026 that they’ve even done a lot since he’s last visited. The outside is one strange oddity but then the inside and the stained glass just takes your breath away.

Gaudi loved taking his inspiration from nature, and he built all the columns of the church to look like trees… When you look up, they branch off and it looks like a treetop canopy above you. The stained glass was great, but this was my favourite part.

So we spent most of our morning here at this amazing church. We learned a lot about Gaudi from our knowledgeable and lovely guide, and why he did some things the way he did.

After appreciating his biggest work, we headed to Park Guell, an area on the hill above the city that Gaudi was architect of that was supposed to originally be a housing development and residential area. In the end, only two houses were built, but there is a large park and many beautiful architectural features. The mosaics here are so beautiful. It’s like, it was already outside so he couldn’t make stained glass windows, so he just made beautiful, colourful mosaics that shone and sparkled in the Spanish sunshine.

After Park Guell and lunch we made one more stop before siesta to see another couple Gaudis from the outside. These buildings can cost quite a bit to get into to tour and frankly, we’d had enough. We just can’t do it all in only a couple days, but enjoyed seeing them from the outside.

In the evening, we went to the Museum of Barcelona History, where you take an elevator down below the city and view the excavated ruins of a Roman city! I expected just a few ruins here or there but it was really quite extensive and large!

Also I’ll take this moment to note- a lot of tourist sites in Barcelona offer discounts for disabled people. Some are quite obvious about it and offer the option online when booking, but some you need to ask. This museum had no notation of a disabled ticket on their pricing board but I thought I’d ask. I carry my handicap pass with me in my bag if they want proof further than my cane (I’ve never been asked). They ended up giving me a discount, because I asked. He never would have offered. So don’t be afraid to speak up and ask!

On our last morning in Barcelona, we went to the Pablo Picasso museum. This was another museum that didn’t advertise disabled pricing but I put myself out there to ask and voila, my ticket was free. (Between the history museum the night before and this Picasso museum, I saved us €20!).

When entering the museum, they were rather strict about bags, and you must leave all bags in a locker. Eric and I both had small backpacks and Sophie had her diabetic bumbag. I told them that mine and Sophie’s bags were medical bags and they were fine letting us keep them. My bag carries a lot of extra rescue sugars for her and a glucagon injection kit, too.

Picasso museum was awesome

However, about 15 minutes into the museum, we hear Sophie’s low alarm go off (so loud in the middle of a quite museum!). We had had a breakfast buffet at the hostel and obviously over-guessed the carbs… She had way too much insulin on board. We had her suspend all insulin in her pump and clandestinely eat a roll of candies. But 15 minutes later, she was still low! This lasted over half an hour, giving her candies and granola bars, getting her to fingerpoke to test. Sometimes a sugar treatment just won’t work because she has so much insulin in her from her last bolus that it’s just going through the glucose as we give it to her and we can’t get her up.

Sitting in the corner of the museum eating dextrose tabs.

Fortunately, she eventually got up to 6.2 mmol/L and started feeling better and we could all breathe a lot better too. Of course, we were almost done the museum by then!

So that was our time in Barcelona! After the museum, we grabbed our bags from the hotel and headed for the train station to catch our bullet train (300km/hr) to Madrid. In fact, that’s where I’m writing this right now, on the train, with views of the Spanish countryside whizzing past me.

Spanish countryside halfway between Barcelona and Madrid

The train was actually about £30/person MORE than a flight from Barcelona to Madrid, but this way we can travel right from downtown–>downtown, no need to make the treks to and from airports, and waste half our day sitting in the airport waiting for our flight.

Now, we’re excited to see Madrid for the next two and a half days and I’ll update you afterwards! If you don’t already, go follow me on Instagram (click the photos below for links) for up-to-date photos as we take them!!!

Sicily- part 2

To pick up where I left off in part 1, we were just leaving Taormina (the world’s prettiest town).

We had a long drive from Taormina right across Sicily to our next stop in Palermo (3+ hours), so we decided to break it up with a small side trip to the Canadian War Cemetery in Agira.

While back in Catania, we had a visit to the Sicilian WWII museum. It concentrated on the Allies’ Operation Husky (the invasion and taking of Sicily) and the bombing of Sicilian towns. It was a great museum but less than one-third of the exhibits and displays had English translations. We got the gist and it was very humbling to see it from the Sicilians’ point-of-view: they appreciated the Allies helping them break their ties with Hitler, but they took heavy bombing and casualties, too. For a few weeks, we Canadians were ‘the bad guys’.




However, once the Allies won the island, the Sicilians were then glad to see the Nazis gone and didn’t mind having the Allies around for the next couple years of the war.

So now while we were driving across the island, we took the bumpy and windy 15km detour to the beautifully situated Agira War Cemetery. Agira was the Canadians’ largest battle and where they took the heaviest casualties. There are 490 men buried here, on a hill overlooking valleys, a lake, and with the mountain town of Agira on the horizon. We took our time to pay our respects.

We then continued on to Palermo but now sort of wish we hadn’t. Every trip has a low point, and Palermo was ours. Palermo is Sicily’s largest city and the one that tour guides like Rick Steves say not to miss… But there were little redeeming qualities in the city for us. It didn’t help that it was raining and cold; a Sunday, so a lot was closed or inaccessible; and we had just come from the world’s prettiest town, so our standards were set high.

Palermo was full of garbage, everywhere in the streets, litter. And shit, literally. Excuse my language, but there’s no way to delicately describe the heaps of smelly dog shit on the side of the road. I’m not talking about the little piles here and there like you encounter in Paris and most other European cities; but we passed one unpaved part of the sidewalk where a tree was growing, about 2m x 1m of no pavement (dirt, or ‘grassy’ area) and it was overflowing with dog poop. If someone tried to scoop it all, it would be 3 big black Hefty bags full, and the stench was utterly overwhelming.

We were down to our last pairs of socks and underwear but couldn’t get our clothes washed because laundromats don’t open on Sundays and our hotel didn’t accept laundry on a Sunday. We were going to do a bus tour but they barely ran on Sundays (only 2 times, not all day) and wouldn’t be worth the cost, we took cabs instead (and one cabbie ripped us off). Restaurants were hard to find that served food, not just drinks; and in the end when we got in the car to leave, our gas seemed awfully low- we think it was siphoned off!

So we didn’t love Palermo, but we got around and saw some of the bigger sites, even if just from the outside. The one place that was open and we could actually go in was the Capuchin Catacombs that Sophie read about in her kids’ Atlas Obscura (a great book for any kid interested in geography and/or seeing the world!) and wanted to see. It certainly was interesting to see but of course we couldn’t take any photos inside and we respected this rule (though again, it seems like we’re the only tourists who know how to respect things like religion and the dead).

However, please enjoy some other photos of Palermo landmarks from the outside.

The Opera House

The large cathedral. It was Sunday so there was mass. It doesn’t look anything like we’d expect inside. All white sheetrock and paint and no stained glass and stone arches like we’re used to in France and England, even older cathedrals in Canada.

The theatre near our hotel.

Those 3 photos are about the only redeeming sights and parts of Palermo I can show. We left by 9am on our check-out day and didn’t look back. The drive south-east was perilous, hilly, and full of switch-back, winding bends; but we knew we were going in the right direction to leave Palermo in our rear-view when a rainbow came out in the Sicilian countryside.

Our next stop was the tourist destination, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. These are Greek temple ruins built in 400-200BC on a high mountain ridge with expansive views of the valley below and the sea beyond.

This showed how they made wheels with the stones and moved the even larger stones.

It’s a long walk along the ridge and you spend a few hours there. When we started it was windy but the sun was warm. About 2/3 through, it clouded over and started to rain and just became miserable. I didn’t care then how ancient or special it all was, I couldn’t feel my feet, I could hardly walk, I just wanted to get to an exit and get out!!!

After our time in Agrigento we got back on the windy road and headed to Modica, where our agriturismo B&B (farm-stay) was just outside of.

We stayed at the Nacalino Agriturismo which simply blew us away. It is a beautiful little olive oil farm, they also grow their own vegetables and fruit (there’s a lemon tree in the courtyard) organically. Our host made us a 4-course Sicilian dinner every night with fresh, local produce. Things that didn’t come from their farm came from the neighbouring farms (there were a lot of cows around, and the next farm over looked to specialise in ricotta and mozzarella). Everything was so fresh, so authentic, and so tasty.

One of our 4-course meals. Always an antipasto plate, then pasta, then meat, then sweet.

The grounds were so lovely as well. There were friendly cats and an old golden labrador that Sophie and I liked to cuddle. We liked to walk around and explore. We had full use of the common rooms with fireplace, and we could finally get our laundry done (in fact, Tina, the proprietor, did it all for us, for free!!). I’m sure the place would be really stunning to use in the summer with the outdoor pool under the palm trees. However, being there when the pool is closed also means we get the off-season pricing.

Breakfast was a buffet just as impressive as our dinners. Fresh-made cappuccinos, oodles of home-made pastries, freshly squeezed juice, local meats and cheeses, and everything else one gets at breakfast buffets.

The food is delicious, however breakfast buffets are a ridiculous amount of work for a type-1 diabetic. The breakfast she has pictured above looks great, then we calculated it to be about 120g of carbs. Her first bolus was 17 units of insulin (at home on a regular day she usually doesn’t go over 35 units for her entire daily dose!). This was only her first pass of the buffet. I think she went over 200-250g of carbs by the time she was done breakfast. And why not, she’s in Italy, enjoy! (Just bring extra insulin!)

On New Year’s Eve day, we headed in to the old town of Modica, a UNESCO world heritage site. It was full of Baroque architecture built into the cliffsides of a gorge down to a valley. The churches were like the others we’ve seen in Sicily, so beautiful from the outside then white, painted, and overdone inside.

One of the smaller churches in town, the Church of St. Peter

We were finally in a Sicilian church without a mass going on, so we grabbed a photo. They are still beautiful, but not the same beauty we’re used to.

Sophie and me on the 250-stair climb up to the next cathedral. You can see the town carved into the cliffside behind us.

We finally made it up 200+ stairs, halfway up the cliff, to this church, Church of St. Giorgio.

We stayed at Nacalino Agriturismo for 3 nights, our longest stay in Sicily. We knew there wouldn’t be much open on New Year’s Day and we’d been tired, so we happily took a day to rest and stay around our room and the estate. We took walks, we read, played games, watched TV, and Sophie and I did a little photo shoot. Here’s one photo but you can see a carousel of 7 in my Instagram links below this post:

We were sad to leave the agriturismo, we so enjoyed our stay, but it was time to move on east to Siracusa, which I’ll outline in Part 3.

Happy New Year 2020 to all!

Sicily, an enchanting island (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



From our balcony patio

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


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

In the narrowest street

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

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

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

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

Orange trees everywhere!

We took the gondola down the mountain to the water

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

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

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

Ciao, bellas!