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 an 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 3: Siracusa and overview

My post on Sicily – part 2 ended with us leaving our beloved agriturismo on 2 January. We settled our bill (for 3 nights in a 4.5 star B&B, 3 gourmet 4-course suppers for 3, plus breakfasts, only €600!) and hit the road for one last trek to another locale.

This time our destination was Siracusa, or Syracuse in English. Now, I grew up only an hour or so from Syracuse, New York and have always had a poor opinion of the city, so even though I clearly knew this was a very different city, my expectations were not high. It also didn’t help that the last city we had visited was the scummy Palermo.

Well we arrived to Siracusa early, due to Sicily’s excellent major highway system (if you’re on a secondary or tertiary road, I don’t have many good things to say for it, but the major highways are top notch). We had an AirBnB booked and weren’t scheduled to meet the host for another 2 hours, so we parked the car and decided to walk around the neighbourhood then grab lunch.

We gravitated toward the dominating and odd church spire a block away from us that Google maps told us was the Basilica of Madonna Della Lacrime. We had no idea what this meant, just another church name to us.

The entire building is made of concrete. It’s very 1960s and such an odd aesthetic, we couldn’t understand why this would be here in an ancient town. When we entered the building it felt like a bomb shelter or bunker. We learned there’s one part of the church downstairs (they call it the crypt but it’s a full church) and then the basilica upstairs (under that weird spire). Both feel weird and you’re still very aware you’re encased in concrete the whole time.

However, we finally learned the meaning and purpose of the church. Siracusa was the location of a Vatican-confirmed miracle in 1953 of the weeping Madonna. There have been reports the world-over of weeping Madonna pictures and statues but this is the only one that was inspected by scientists and clergy and confirmed to be valid.

This church was built with the sole purpose of housing the pieces related to this miracle. There is a reliquary holding some of the tears that were collected from her along with a handkerchief used to dry the face. The statue itself is still there too, just a small bust maybe 18 inches tall. Then there is a small museum dedicated to the miracle and in it is everything that people came and left at the statue while it was happening (it cried for a few days). There was everything from silver candlesticks (families wanted to leave their most valued belongings) to the canes and crutches of the healed.

Altogether it was just the coolest find, to stumble upon this odd church and this miracle story. This sort of surprise is one of my favourite parts of travelling.

It is said she healed many people and still does, so we lit some candles; but I walked away still needing my cane and Sophie still needs insulin so…. I guess we weren’t worthy.

After we had lunch we checked into our cute AirBnB. It was great- large, 2 bedrooms, and so clean. But they clearly hadn’t had the heat on in days or even weeks and it was maybe only 5° inside so it took quite a while to warm (we never turned the heaters off in our 48 hours there- even when it was 18° outside, because the houses are built to stay cool and really didn’t retain any heat well).

We stayed in an area where we knew we could park and was close to a couple ancient ruins but it wasn’t close to the historical centre of town, the island of Ortigia. We had read that you can’t drive on to Ortigia, it is blocked to traffic, but once we got there we learned that there are plenty of cars there (you just wouldn’t want to drive the middle, narrow streets unless you were a local). We wonder if they open it up to traffic in the off season and it is more closed in summer?

Either way, we didn’t want to drive it so took a taxi in to Ortigia for dinner and a walk around the area.

Large fountain with statue of Athena in the central square in Ortigia
Narrow roads in the centre of Ortigia
In front of the Piazza del Duomo (main cathedral square)
Sicilian towns really know how to do Christmas lights well!



The next day, our full day in Siracusa, we walked from our BnB over to the Greek Theatre and ancient ruins park.

The Teatro Greco from above with the sea in the distance

Sophie at the bottom of the amphitheatre. Seeing the 2 angles (above and below) helps you realise how massive it is.
There is this pond grotto at the very top of the theatre that the ancient Greeks managed to engineer to flow down through the rocks and below the theater, rather than flooding the theater.

After walking in the hot sun around the amphitheatre, there is this beautiful shaded and oasis-like area below the limestone cliff in the archeological park. We walked around and explored the same caves and sites that the Greeks called home 2500 years ago.



The next day was our last day in Sicily. Our flight wasn’t until 7pm but we had to check out of our AirBnb by 10am. Luckily, by then we’d learned that you can, in fact, drive to Ortigia, so we did. We drove right to the tip of the island in hopes of visiting Castello Maniace. We had seen on previous days that it had short hours but we made sure to fit it into our schedule because it sounded like it had quite the history; over centuries occupied by Romans, Arabs, and Normans. It said it opened at 0830 and we arrived at 1030 to a locked gate. Eventually a man arrived and said he was the ticket agent and hadn’t started work yet, it will open at 1130. The Sicilians don’t seem to have an overwhelmingly robust work ethic.

So we ambled through Ortigia, our first time seeing it in the daylight. We wanted to make our way to the market, as our taxi driver (who we’d had 3 times and liked very much) suggested it was the best place to lunch.

The lunch we ended up getting… Wow!



After lunch we made our way back to the castle and it was finally open. However, it was a bit of a let down. We could tell they’d tried to restore it. According to them, they’d been doing various restoration phases since the 1970s, but we still felt like there wasn’t a lot of information, there was no staff (only the one ticket-man who showed up late) and not a lot of access to most parts of the castle. There sure were beautiful views of the water and town, though. And seeing as it was only 4€ to get in, I guess we got what we paid for.



When we were done at the castle we packed into the car and hit the road. We had about a 40-minute drive to the airport in Catania, had to return our rental car then brave airport security in a language we didn’t speak. We had to beg for a security agent who knew enough English for us to explain that these 2 clear bags are medical equipment and cannot go through x-ray. They still wanted to put it through! I had about 5 words written out in Italian – diabetic, insulin, medical equipment, no x-ray, and medicine. Eventually they relented and hand-inspected our diabetic gear. For this reason though, is why I always keep it in clear Ziploc bags, separate from all other luggage/gear, and have the choice words translated ahead of time– also why we always give ourselves even more extra time to get through security (though in reality, I think we’re always through faster because we don’t have to wait in the general line).


Now we’re home safe and sound. Sicily was an awesome trip but we also learned some things to take forward in future trips:

-They don’t need to be so long. In Canada where flights cost so much and are usually the biggest chunk of your travel budget, we often think we need to prolong the trip to ‘make it worth it’. We’ve realised we need to get out of this mindspace here in Europe where flights are much cheaper and we’re travelling more. Three of us together 24/7 gets exhausting and we get on each others’ nerves. Maybe a city or trip can be more enjoyed in 4 days rather than extended to multiple cities and weeks, and we won’t come home so exhausted and ‘over it’ all.

-Don’t be shy with the insulin. When travelling and unsure of the carb counts, we’re learning to be a bit more vigorous and gutsy with the insulin dosing. In Paris we were conservative with counts and dosing like we were at home and she was almost always very high. In Sicily, we gave large doses and it worked. She started out the trip sick with a cold and on very high doses just because of that, and we realised it was working. We won’t be so shy next time that we’re dealing with unknown or foreign foods.

-Unless we have to, don’t take the evening flight home. We took the 8pm flight home from Paris because we thought this would give us an extra day in Paris without having to pay for a hotel. This time the only flight to Bristol was at 7pm. We got home around 11pm, exhausted. I decided that if we can swing it, we’re taking earlier flights from now on. I just hate the feeling of coming home all groggy and falling asleep immediately. When I wake up there’s no food in the house and still so much work to do and bags to unpack, etc.



Overall, Sicily is an amazing place to visit. There is so much to see an do. It is steeped in history and culture. The food is out of this world. Things I would suggest are must-dos in any trip to Sicily:

-Go off the beaten path and enjoy an agriturismo. Eat the food!!! Live like a local (a very well-taken-care-of local).

-It’s very touristy but there’s a reason for it, go to Taormina! It’s the prettiest place in the world. It’s the only place in Sicily I saw regular street janitorial staff keeping the town clean, and the restaurants were some of the best we encountered. It’s not the cheapest in Sicily, it’s not the quietest, but it is the prettiest.

-Make sure to catch the Greek ruins at Agrigento. Especially if you’ve never been to Greece/won’t make it any time soon. Sometimes just seeing an ancient city around you reduced to bricks, the people all long gone, helps put your own life into perspective.


Most importantly, enjoy!! Safe travels!

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!

Travelling with our diabetic child

Updated February 2020

Well November is coming to a close, so in honour of World Diabetes Month, I thought I would make a diabetes awareness post.

I know that after Sophie was diagnosed, I spent a lot of time on the internet, searching everything – including how to travel with her. I found it best to read personal accounts from people who have done it – not just generic lists or tips off websites like Diabetes UK or JDRF Canada. I mean, those were helpful, but not exactly what I needed. I needed to hear from someone who had made mistakes and figured out best practices by actually doing it.

So I’m here to share our tips and tricks, so far. We’ve only done a handful of trips; some big, some small, but we learn a little something each time.

Pack extra, and then a little extra more

You may think it’s ridiculous, especially when you’re only going away for one night, or a week-end, and you see the enormous amount of supplies in front of you, but just pack them all.
Our rule of thumb is pack 3 times what you plan on needing. If you plan on needing one pump site change and 200 units of insulin for it – you bring 3 pump sites and 600 units of insulin. See? sounds ridiculous.
There’s a few reasons for this.


One: Because you need to split up your supplies into 2 bags. Never carry all of your supplies in one bag – what if it’s lost? or compromised? Then you’ll have at least what you need and a little extra in a second bag.

Two: Life happens– duh. A pump site fails. Or heat ruins some insulin. An insulin vial breaks. A CGM sensor falls off while swimming….

Three: Your child (or you, whoever the T1D is) cannot LIVE without those supplies, why the heck would you scrimp on them? “Oh I want to bring an extra dress so I think less insulin pump supplies this time…” If these are your priorities, give yourself a shake!

And yep- most trips, you’ll find yourself bringing home 85% of the supplies you packed- cool! I just take out the insulin and keep the bags ready to go for the next trip. But every now and then, you’ll be damn glad you have it all there.

True story- when we went to London for just one night, we brought one suitcase between the 3 of us and the regular huge amount of diabetes supplies. We knew Sophie would be due for a pump change that night, so we had 3 pumps with us. I put 2 in the suitcase and 1 in Sophie’s bag that she wears on her at all times. Well, it was incredibly hot that day. So hot that the Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London had to cut their tours short (because they wear very thick, wool uniforms). The pump kits note on their packaging to remain below 30°C and we knew that the pump in her bag was probably boiling in the sun at around 40°C. I wasn’t sure that pump would be good anymore. (It has a battery inside with radio frequency receivers so that’s the part that could mess up). So we were down to 2 good pumps. Then that evening when we went to change her pump with one of the good ones in our suitcase, we filled it full of insulin and set it to prime— and it didn’t prime– Faulty pump set! We then grabbed the third and last one we had, filled it, and held our breath. It worked. In fact, we held our breath until we got home almost 24 hours later. (We kept the one that had been in her backpack but got too hot, we’d use it if we had to).
Everything worked out in the end – but only because I packed 3x what we needed.
Because of that night, when my husband sees the immense amount of kit I pack for our trips, he doesn’t bat an eye. He takes a shirt out of his suitcase to make room. Sometimes he even suggests we need more.

Security

Anyone who has travelled in the past 18 or so years knows that airport security can be a real nightmare- for all of us.
So how do we deal with so much security, a growing line-up behind us, and the huge bagfuls of needles, devices, liquids, and contraptions (above) that can’t go through the x-ray machine?
Oy.
(Tip: Early in your planning stages, contact your device(s) manufacturers and find out what can and can’t go through the x-ray machines. For example, Dexcom recommends its sensors not go through x-ray. Omnipod says their pods and PDM can, but we prefer to just keep the stuff all together and not risk it – sometimes each bag has ~$1000 worth of medical supplies in it, so lets just have those inspected by hand….)

In England, you can get these sunflower lanyards. They identify an invisible illness. How fantastic!!! These can be acquired by going to the service/help desk in any English airport and telling them why you need it.
We got one for Sophie. We also got one for me but I don’t need it as my illness isn’t invisible in an airport- they see me walking with a cane and are usually quite helpful.
However, only British airports recognise these lanyards right now. We hope that one day, this catches on worldwide.

Anyway, with this lanyard, we can take the handicap line through security (again, we would anyway because of me and my cane, but I’m assuming that most people reading this don’t also have someone in the family with MS… though that correlation is a topic for another day).

When we get to the line, we are prepared and we need to be brisk. We quickly self-identify to the nice folks running the x-rays and security lines that we have some medical devices that cannot go through the scanner and need to be hand-inspected. We always have a doctor’s note to prove this, though they hardly ask for it. (We’ve been asked for a note once when we were moving to the UK and had 6 months’ worth of supplies in our carry-on that all needed to be inspected by hand; then we were asked again at the Madrid airport where I was worried that the letter was in English, but he asked to see her passport to correlate the name on the letter, and then let us through to have hand inspection).

The diabetes bags are always packed on the TOP of our hand luggage so we can grab them quickly and pass them to the security officer. Then Eric and I split up. I realise this is easy to do as we are 2 parents with 1 child. One of us always keeps an eye on the diabetes bags (a: to not lose them, b: to make sure they don’t get sent through the x-ray machine, and c: to answer any questions to the security officers about what is in them) and one of us keeps an eye on our daughter. She’s 11, she can handle walking through the metal detector by herself, but because of the devices she wears, she often sets it off, and they have to pat her down, or swab the devices, which they’re not allowed to do without a parent present.

When we’re in a foreign country and we don’t speak the language at all, it’s a whole new ballgame. We are trying to make sure to look up the words for insulin, diabetes, medicine, ‘no x-ray’ and ‘medical device’ in the language before we go. I then make sure that these are on or in the clear diabetes bags so that they can be seen.

This has proven very important to do in the countries where we don’t speak any of the language (Italy, Spain), as the airport security agents aren’t part of the tourism industry and you can’t expect them to speak any English. In both Italy and Spain, we had to point to these notes to get our point across. (In France, Eric is bilingual in French so we were okay). Each time, it was these little words on the notes that saved our supplies.

Bottom line – be prepared. Have the diabetes bags separate, easy to grab, and a doctor’s note from the clinic (I have yet to encounter a clinic that won’t provide this). If you don’t feel at all confident in the language, have a few important words pre-translated and written out to help you through.

Lows

As you know, hypoglycaemic events (low blood sugars) will happen. Every type 1 diabetic is always on the lookout for them and if they are hypo-unaware, then hopefully they have a continuous glucose monitor or a diabetic alert dog to alert them of falling glucose levels.
However you monitor your child’s low glucose, the main thing is to then feed them glucose to get it back up to a healthier level. We all have our tried-and-true ways of doing this while at home, but when travelling it can be very different.
Something to know before you leave home is how to read nutrition labels in the location(s) you are travelling to, because they’re different everywhere. Know the word for carbohydrates in the language of the country you’re visiting. Sometimes this is obvious- and sometimes you may be visiting a country with a very different language and maybe even with a different alphabet – so knowing what their nutrition label looks like and what word is carbohydrates could be super important!

Photo of my daughter going low in the middle of touring the Pablo Picasso museum in Barcelona… Stuck in a corner downing dextrose tabs because you ‘can’t eat’ in a museum and I thought dextrose tabs were more appropriate for me to say she’s taking medicine….


Sugar can be found anywhere in the world, so it’s not an immediate worry – you will find something to treat lows. But if your child is picky, or you like to be very specific about how many grams of sugar they get for the low, it’s best to come prepared. Don’t assume you’ll find what you want, or even a close substitute in another country.
But no matter what, always, always, make sure you have some on you. If you’re travelling and walking around all day, there may be some unexpected lows, even a lot of them. Having to try and find a store in an unfamiliar area and buy candy/juice/pop in unfamiliar packaging in an unfamiliar language with unfamiliar currency is just not a stress you need at the moment of a low.


Time Zones

This is another aspect of travelling that no one likes, but I never thought of as anything more than an annoyance until we were travelling with a diabetic.
You know how you often have different insulin-to-carb ratios for different times of the day? Or different basal rates throughout the day programmed into your pump? Well, when you just jump 3, 5, or 8 hours and your body has NO idea what time it is; if it just ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner, then you have no idea how much insulin to give it!

Before we moved here and put Sophie’s body through an 8-hour time change, we researched different methods that some diabetics used. Some changed their pump an hour a day. Some stayed on origin’s time for a few days. There were a bunch of options. We went for the rip-off-the-band-aid approach and did it all at once.

When you rip off the band-aid and change the time all at once like we did, be ready for a solid 24-48 hours of wonky blood sugars. But we stuck with it, made her eat on schedule, and they started to make sense again by the second day.

Everyone will have to come up with a plan that’s right for you or your child regarding time changes – it may have to be by trial and error. Start with what you’re most comfortable with and see how it goes.

Eric changing the time in Sophie’s pump by 8 hours as we landed in England.


Those are some of our bigger talking points. Keep in mind, we’re still learning, still experimenting! Below are some more quick tips we’ve picked up along the way:

-Call your airline ahead of time, they can grant you extra hand baggage which can be invaluable when travelling on a budget airline that restricts everyone to one small bag each! If you’re travelling with a companion, you don’t have to pay to select seats together, you can just call ahead and request they are seated next to you as a medical companion. I have yet to encounter an airline that won’t do this.

-Watch the temperatures of your bags. Certainly, keep the insulin in a cooler pack like a Frio wallet, but just as I explained above with our London day-trip, certain supplies shouldn’t get too hot or cold too. These are usually labelled on the packaging. And no, you don’t have to be ridiculously strict about this, but you also don’t want to let your black suitcase sit in the hot sun on a 30°+C day while you sit on the beach and let it bake your supplies.

-If you’re on a longer flight that provides drinks and meals, don’t request the diabetic meal! They’re gross, and a type 1 doesn’t need it, you just have to guess the carb count.
As for drinks, I have yet to encounter a comfort drink trolley that offers anything other than Diet Coke (or Pepsi) as a sugar-free option. If your child wants to drink something other than water or caffeinated cola that they don’t need insulin for, plan ahead and buy some diet pop in the airport (once you’re through security).

-If your child uses a phone for their Dexcom or any diabetes management, know that you do have to put the phone into airplane mode. Airplane mode will first turn off the transmitting function of Dexcom. However, you don’t have to give in and live on fingerpokes. You can go into the phone’s settings and while in airplane mode, manually turn on Bluetooth. If Bluetooth is on, Dexcom will transmit to the phone and alarm, if needed. However, it will not send the data to any followers.

-Don’t forget to pack back-up needles/pens! (So this includes long-acting insulin!) We all know the pump can die completely. Or she could drop it in a toilet! We have to be prepared to always give insulin- always.

I know it all sounds like a lot of check-lists, warnings, and planning, and it is – but we also believe that the opportunities that travel gives our daughter are well worth it. Even though she’s diabetic? Especially because she’s diabetic. Because she needs to see that she has no boundaries in this world, she can do anything, go anywhere – it just takes a little forethought.

Please feel free to comment and leave any tips or tricks on travelling as as diabetic/with a diabetic child. We all need to share the info we learn along the way!