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

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!

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!

A somber, reflective weekend in Normandy (Part 1)

For those of you who don’t know, Remembrance Day is 11 November in Canada. It is Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of WWI and the day we remember the men and women who died in the wars to keep us free. In the UK, they commemorate this day on the second Sunday in November, and it is called Remembrance Sunday. Not in Canada, in Canada, the day is too important to be swept off to the weekend, and to work through 11 November. So, I applied to Sophie’s school for special consideration to pull her from school so we could commemorate this solemn day.

Remembrance Day was on a Monday this year. It will be on a Wednesday next year and a Thursday our last year in the UK. So if we ever wanted to pilgrimage to a Canadian war memorial like Juno Beach for Remembrance Day, we figured this would be the best year for it so as to miss the least amount of school and work.

We took the overnight ferry from Portsmouth on Friday night. We landed in Normandy at 7am on Saturday morning. It was still dark, nothing was open, it was cold, and we were hungry. We eventually found a bakery open to grab a few pains au chocolate.

Then we headed east and the first thing we encountered, as the sun was rising, was Pegasus Bridge.

Pegasus Bridge is important to me and my family because my grandfather was in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, which was a part of the British 6th Airborne Division, who liberated this bridge. (However, my papa wasn’t a part of D-Day, he came a couple weeks later as reinforcements, so he himself wasn’t a part of the liberation of this bridge, it is just emblematic of his time in the war).

There is a picture of my grandparents at this bridge in 1974 when they came to Normandy for the 30th anniversary of D-Day. I love that we have a matching photo.

My Papa died only 8 months ago, at the age of 96. So this entire trip is very moving, and I feel he is with me.

After our little stop at Pegasus Bridge, we continued on east. There is a memorial museum to the Airborne at Pegasus Bridge, but it wouldn’t be open for hours. We planned to return.

We went to Honfleur, a beautiful little port famous for its artists. It turns out, that because it was Saturday morning, there is a huge farmer’s market spanning blocks and blocks amongst the medieval buildings. We had so much fun going up and down these stalls, sampling the wares, and buying a few treats.

After an hour or two or walking around here, we hear the familiar alarm of Sophie’s Dexcom telling us she’s going low. I was about to reach into my bag for some of the candy I have there but she remembered about 2 stalls back they were selling homemade caramels. We figured why not, shouldn’t that be a perk of a travelling diabetic? Eric quickly ran back and bought a few pieces of freshly-made caramels. We had no idea how well a caramel treats a low (or not) — it is mostly sugar but it is also a high fat content, which slows the absorption of sugar. But we weren’t too worried, as we were about to head to lunch.

Me resting my legs and Sophie eating her sugar.
Sophie in Honfleur after lunch

After our beautiful morning in Honfleur we headed back to the Pegasus Memorial Museum. Here, we learned a lot about the 6th Airborne Division and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. In case you’re curious as to the exact relation:

The 1CPB fought under the 3rd Parachute Brigade
This is the original sign placed by the Airborne on 20 June 1944. This is the sign my grandparents are beside in the photo above.

After lots of learning, and crying, we left the museum. Our hotel was in Bayeux and seeing as we’d only slept a few hours on the ferry, we were ready to turn in. Of course, it was hard to find a place for supper, but eventually we got some pizzas and called it a night.

Sunday morning brought sleeping in then a visit to the Bayeux Cathedral.

The cathedral is a remarkable building, mostly spared by WWII. We went in, but it was Sunday Mass. Unlike some tourists, we actually respect other peoples’ religious ceremonies. There were tourists walking around in their hats, taking photos of Holy Communion… I mean come on people!!!! Whenever you walk into a church, even if it’s not your denomination, remove your hats out of respect. And don’t take photos of the clergy or anyone performing religious ceremony. Be respectful. I should not have to say this out loud- yet here we are…

We didn’t manage to get photos but we did manage to light one of the special votives they had for Remembrance in the cathedral. (The candle had a poppy on it).

So then we headed back north to the beaches. We decided to go see Omaha Beach and Point du Hoc, American landing beaches that Eric and I hadn’t seen before. The Americans treat their beaches much differently, but we’ve tried and can’t find a way to put this into words. Touristy? The French are certainly aware of the way the Americans are and they are trying to capitalise on it- much more roadside tourist traps (mini-museums for high entry fee and low reward, in some farmer’s barn). However, the beach itself is impressive. Point du Hoc is even more impressive- it is the cliff the commandos/rangers scaled and claimed at the beginning of the movie Saving Private Ryan.

At Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach
Point du Hoc is riddled with explosion craters from the shells the Navy sent on to the cliff to give cover for the boys about to scale the edge.
The cliff at Point du Hoc
Sophie in a Nazi bunker at Point du Hoc.
The infinity pool at the American cemetery

The American cemetery was huge and beautiful. Crosses row upon row. However, it was all roped off. We couldn’t walk up and down the aisles and read the names on the crosses. I found this upsetting, especially this weekend. To me, part of ‘Lest We Forget’ is saying the names of the dead. In Canadian war cemeteries, there is always a large monument at the front that says ‘Their Name Liveth Forevermore’. So, I suppose that is what I’ve been taught and I value, so it was disappointing to me to not be able to read and say the names of the War Dead. Though, in classic ‘American’ fashion, the grass was just perfect and that was clearly the look they were going for. I would have much preferred a muddy path up and down the aisles between the crosses showing that people have visited the graves and shown their respects.

The American cemetery near Omaha Beach.

We then decided to visit a newer looking museum we had passed called the ‘Operation Overlord’ museum. We thought it would be very American-centric and a possible tourist trap like some of the roadside museums, but we thought we’d take a chance on this bigger-looking one.

It turned out great. It was a museum about all of D-Day and spoke readily and heartedly about other Allied countries’ involvements. Then it was a large collection of things found in the area since the war by farmers and locals; everything from Jeeps and motorcycles to bomb shells and helmets, papers and uniforms. There was a lot of Nazi things too, simply from being found in the area.

Lastly, after the Overlord museum, we went to Arromanches-les-Bains, where Gold Beach is, a British landing beach and the location of the floating harbour (named Mulberry Harbour or Churchill Harbour in some places). This floating harbour was just huge, and built in mere days by the Allies after landing on D-Day so that larger Navy ships could tie up and unload supplies for the troops who were still quite busy in battle. Much of the floating harbour is still there.

That’s Sophie and Eric in the very middle. You can see floats both near are far in the distance.

I was so physically exhausted from the day, my legs would not carry me further and I could not go down on the beach. I sat on a bench near the beach while Sophie and Eric explored a bit.

Me waiting for them in front of the beach.

Well that was 2 of our 3 days in Normandy. Our last day was Remembrance Day and Canadian-centric. It turns out that this is already quite long, and I have a lot to reflect on the most amazing Remembrance Day ever, so I’m going to do-so in a second post (probably still today, as I have 3 hours still before our ferry to England leaves). I just want to keep my feelings and thoughts of this day contained all in one.

But that doesn’t make the earlier part of our weekend any less amazing. Pegasus Bridge will always be such a memory, but the towns of Normandy and American beaches have made an imprint as well.

Stay tuned for my next post…

À bientôt, Paris!

Well Paris, it’s been swell. Real swell. We’ve had an amazing week in the City of Lights. We’ve seen everything we wanted to get to and more. We indulged in many delicious French meals and ate our weight in baguettes. I walked more kilometres than I truly thought possible, for me. Many memories were made. But home awaits.

On Tuesday, we woke up early and caught the train out of town to go see Versailles. We had timed tickets for here at 9am. I like the attractions where we can buy time-slot tickets. It keeps the amount of tourists inside with you to a minimum, as well. (Though there were still thousands).

Versailles is huge. Bigger than huge. Immense. Gigantic. The castle itself is ornate and an incredible tour, but then you head out into the gardens that span acres and acres. We were there on 29 October and it was the last day of the year that music was playing in the garden and the fountains would be going. They were starting to cover all the outdoor statues in the garden too, to protect them for winter.

After enjoying some walking around until I could walk no more, after we’d seen some beautiful fountains and music shows, we rented a golf cart for an hour to tour the rest of the grounds. This seemed like a wise investment at 34€ for an hour because the little train/shuttle that takes you around the grounds is 6€/person each way… So unless we were willing to walk the 5+ miles (I wasn’t), we had to pay. This way we got to see all the other little areas they built (but we didn’t make it to Marie Antoinette’s peasant village, as it started to rain).

All in all, we were blown away by the grandeur at Versailles. We were so happy to have made the trek out there.

We almost had to leave Versailles early. Sophie’s blood glucose was up to 23 and her Dexcom wasn’t giving us a signal. We’d been having troubles with her insulin pod since we put it on Monday night. We weren’t sure if it was the pod, the location, or the insulin, but something wasn’t working well. However, we gave her some huge doses of insulin and she started coming down. (Eventually, we changed this pod at 1am on Wednesday night and it’s been infinitely better since then).

After our touring, we stopped in the town of Versailles at a small local crêparie for some amazing savory and sweet crêpes (they had a deal for one savory then one sweet, with a ‘bowl’ of their hard cider).

The only food picture you’ll get out of me this trip. I promise.

On Wednesday we let ourselves sleep in a little bit (vs waking up at 6am for Versailles) but we were still on the first river cruise tour of the day. That’s right, we went full tourist and boarded a tour on the Seine. It was really neat to see the city from that vantage point. There were way more prisons than we knew! Haha.

Then in the afternoon we had some coveted tickets to the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit at The Louvre. This exhibit was in honour of the 500th anniversary of his death, and was almost all of his known work together in one place. The things they couldn’t have there (like the Last Supper or Salvator Mundi), they had reasonable replicas done by his own students in his own studios (under his tutelage). After a lengthy court battle with a Venetian museum, they even acquired The Vitruvian Man, which was a sight to see.

My favourite

What really blew me away was that they had many of his notebooks. We could see how he studied. He insisted on studying botany in order to be better able to paint trees and flowers in the backgrounds of his portraits.

He studied anatomy in order to be better able to paint the human form.

It was all just amazing. We learned so much about a genius mind well ahead of his time.

The next day we headed to Montmartre, the highest point in Paris and the home of Sacre Coeur.

We didn’t take all those stairs up. There is a fennicular there that you can take for the price of a bus ticket. Worth it! We took the fennicular up and walked down.

Once up on top, the Sacre Coeur was just beautiful.

Unfortunately it was a cloudy/slightly rainy day and the view of Paris outside of the church from this vantage point was poor.

I needed to sit and rest after the church, and then we happened upon a tourist train. It said it was a 35 minute ride and tour through Montmartre so we decided to do it. It turned out ideal. I got to rest my legs and we got the full tour of the area.

There are many of these staircases from one block to another due to how steep the whole area is.

After Montmartre, we took the métro to the Latin quarter and got off at The Sorbonne in order to go visit the Musée Curie… The museum dedicated the Marie and Pierre Curie and their discoveries in physics and science. It was just astounding. We were at her actual [decontaminated] lab and office. So many discoveries made there, so many advances made.

These statues were in the Curie garden. The actual garden right outside her laboratory where she liked to rest and take breaks. Sorry, I was seriously fangirling and science geeking out.

Finally, we had one more morning in Paris. In retrospect, I think we stayed maybe one day too many. We could have got by with a comfortable 6 days. My legs were very, very weak by our last day and I had to save some strength in them knowing how much walking an airport entails. We took our last morning easy. Our VRBO host was very fluid in allowing us to check out late, as our flight wasn’t until after 9pm. So we enjoyed a morning exploring the area around our apartment; specifically, the grand Paris Opera House. Yes, songs from The Phantom of the Opera were in my head the entire time.

The Opera House

The 2 large, gold, tractor tyres are an art installation from last December, met with much ire. I can see why.

Incidentally, all attractions in Paris are awesome at giving handicapped access and making sure that handicapped persons don’t have to wait in line, but the Opera House gives free admission to handicapped persons and one accompanying person. Plus children under 12 are free, so we had free passage for the day!

There are group tours, but we opted for a self-guided tour and were very happy with it.

Alas, that was the last thing we did in Paris. We then cleaned up our apartment and checked out, headed to the airport. Our Parisian vacation is over and we’ve had such a dream of a time.

We can’t wait for our next adventure!