Archive of ‘Out and About’ category

Our Brittany Ferries holidays and adventures

I remember travelling on the ferry to France as a child – it was always an adventure and a mind-boggling experience for someone without a strong grasp of the laws of physics. The excitement of those journeys came back to me over half-term as we travelled with Brittany Ferries to and from France. For the kids, those crossings were a much a part of our holiday as our stay at Eurocamp itself.

We were lucky enough to be reviewing our journey on Brittany Ferries for Mumsnet, so we thought we’d try out different routes. On the way to France we travelled from Portsmouth to Cherbourg on the three-hour Normandie Express, while on the way back we took the nine-hour sailing on the Bretagne from St Malo. Both journeys were great – and while we’d pick the ease of the express journey next time, the kids loved the longer one on the way home which felt like a mini-cruise.

We didn’t tell the kids we were going on holiday til just a few a days before leaving – because who needs a daily countdown from over-excited children, huh? But when they found out we were going to be putting the car on the ferry, they were fascinated. It was too exciting for them – they just couldn’t understand how the boat would flat with a deck full of cars on it.

Once on board, the three-hour crossing passed by in a flash – and they loved every second. They hardly touched the colouring and sticker books we’d brought, because they were too busy looking out of the window. And then Trolls came on the big screen, so that took care of the rest of the journey.

As on the way back, we were treated to glorious sunny skies and calm seas. Tony and I love being by the sea – we spent so many years living by it – and these crossing were like a tonic to the weeks of work and stress that had led up to our holiday.

We had the luxury of a cabin for the daytime cruise home which meant Tony and Jasmin fitted in naps, and it was nice to have some privacy and a base for the long journey. It passed quickly – the kids watched a movie and we ate well on board between the self-service cafe and the French cafe which helped us pretend we were in the land of croissants for a little longer.

The kids danced for ages in the bar at the mini disco and then laughed til the tears came at the entertainer. Oh to be young. Luckily there was a comfy bar from which to watch them from! The sun deck on the Bretagne was amazing – and the kids loved being between the sea and sky while the sun shone. Both journeys were such an adventure, the kids are already asking when we’ll be taking the ferry again. Given how handy it was to have the car on holiday and pack it full of all the home comforts we needed (and those we didn’t,) I have a feeling it wont be long before we’re on a ferry again!

Brittany Ferries Normandie Express Brittany Ferries Normandie Express to Cherbourg Brittany Ferries Bretagne Brittany Ferries Brittany Ferries sun deck Brittany Ferries sun deck Bretagne

Our family holiday at Les Ecureuils, Eurocamp, France

We’ve done a few trips abroad with the children, ranging from taking Milin to Thailand when he was 12 months old, to a much easier trip to the Canaries last year. But now we’ve done a holiday with Eurocamp, I think we might have found the perfect getaway for us as a family with young children.

We spent May half-term at a Eurocamp in the Vendee region on France’s Atlantic coast. Les Ecureuils is a relatively small Eurocamp and I was very, very fortunate to be offered the chance to review the holiday for work. We could have chosen any Eurocamp but decided we wanted somewhere not too big, somewhere on the beach, and somewhere with great pools for little kids, but also with a kids’ club.

We got everything we wanted. We stayed in a three-bedroom Avant mobile home which was spotless and spacious and even meant we had a spare room because the kids wanted to sleep in bunks. The huge deck, barbecue and full kitchen were perfect for us (you know how fussy my kids are – and this meant no restaurant squabbles, hurrah!)

We were lucky enough to have amazing weather and so spent each day between the pools and simply stunning beach. Trips to local market towns meant we could feast on fresh coffees and croissants and bring back delicious fruit veg and local sea food for the evenings.

It really was heavenly. The kids made friends and we made friends with their friends’ parents. The kids slept well and even spent six hours over three days at the kids’ club. There was also bike riding lessons, a sandy playground and a mini disco and soft play. There really was everything. Milin watched his first sunset over the sea, I read two books and managed two yoga sessions, and Tony, of course, fitted in lots of naps.

I can’t think of a thing we’d change – and, in fact, we’re probably going to go again next year. Self-catering suits us, we love France, and this was a location that really suited us. Tony and I love the sea, I got some swims in, Milin chased waves for hours, Jasmin searched out the best shells for making new necklaces (we brought home a bucket in the car) and Tony even got out on the kayak a couple of times. We came home rested and relaxed – I couldn’t ask for any more.

St Jean de Monts beach France Eurocamp Les Ecureuils swimming poolsSaint Hilaire de Riez beach Vendee France Saint Hilaire de Riez beach Vendee France Eurocamp Eurocamp Saint Hilaire de Riez beach Vendee France

St Giles Croix de vie Vendee France market St Giles Croix de vie Vendee France Les Ecureuils Eurocamp france Vendee camping Les Ecureuils Eurocamp france Vendee camping Saint Hilaire de riez beachSt Jean de Monts France

 

Sea Life London and Shrek’s Adventure – all in a day out

With the long summer holidays looming I feel very lucky to be in London – there are so many options for things to do with the children We were invited along to Sea Life London and Shrek’s Adventure recently and it was the perfect summer holiday day out.

I took Milin to Sea Life almost exactly three years ago, when he was just 18 months old. He loved it then and both he and Jasmin had the best day this time round too. I’d forgotten just how much there is inside the attraction – but it really is amazing and provides easily at least a couple of hours’ entertainment.

You walk in over a glass floor and so see sharks and stingrays directly beneath you. It’s phenomenal, and the children thought it was great too right from the start. We admired jellyfish, octopus, seahorses, and so so many fish up close, before coming to the stingray which they both loved. Seeing them in such clear water – I was amazed at how graceful they were.

Enormous tanks holding sharks, more rays, and turtles were incredibly impressive – but Jasmin’s favourite was of course the clownfish. “Look Mummy, there’s Nemo.” She was beyond excited, and I was beyond blown away with her cuteness. There were penguins too – watching them swim around was brilliant, as was seeing one close up on the ice. A little touch tank was great fun and the children loved getting their hands wet and gently touching a starfish.

We could have spent all day at the aquarium – it really was amazing. Watching the kids completely enthralled by the fish was wonderful, and they came home wanting to read more about the creatures they’d seen. I can imagine too that if we went back next year or the year after, they’d still love it and would simply get more and more out of it as they grow up.

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It really was a big day out for us – we managed to fit in Shrek’s Adventure as well. This is just next door to Sea Life – they both have a wonderful spot on the river Thames opposite Big Ben. It is worth doing the two together. I thought it it might be a bit much but the children coped fine. We even ate out together afterwards and had a super, stress-free meal. I think they were so happy about their day that they were on their best behaviour! (Either that or they were too tired to talk or play up.)

Jasmin was a bit young for Shrek’s adventure. Things started well as we met characters from the movies and looked for a bus to take us to meet Shrek. But once on the bus, she freaked out. It was an amazing 4D experience which Milin loved but Jasmin just couldn’t understand. Milin is four and I’d say he just about coped without being too scared. Jasmin at three next week, was too young.

The adventure is a lovely idea though – after being on the bus driven by Donkey and suffering a mishap, the tour group goes in search of Shrek, meeting various characters along the way. It is so believable and fun for the little ones – Milin was transported to a magical world and totally captivated.

We got to meet Shrek at the end which Milin thought was amazing. There’s also a waxworks section and the kids were thrilled by that – Kung Fu Panda was a highlight! The older children on our tour absolutely loved the whole experience and I’d say that in a couple of years time, my two would as well.

I’m not sure how I’m going to top tis as a day out with the kids. We did so much, and they were so happy at the end of it. I’m looking forward to this summer in London – and doing things like this with Milin and Jasmin more and more. We’re pretty lucky,  I think, to be in this city! Happy summer holidays all…

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*We were given review tickets to both attractions.

Just one night

There’s something lovely about getting away for a mini break. I’m not sure if it’s the utter luxury of not having to make your own bed or cook dinner, or perhaps it’s something simpler – like watching a very large tv screen in a hotel room – but whatever it is, a short change of scene can sometimes go a long way to helping you reset and feel refreshed.

Tony and I have always been big fans of mini breaks. Before we had Milin and Jasmin we loved to head out of town at the weekend and book a rental home by the sea, indulge in a little luxury break, or even spend a night under the stars in our teeny tent. Getting away from home makes you switch off somehow, and whether we were exploring or relaxing, alone or away with friends, we always enjoyed having that time together away from the stresses of daily life.

Since having Milin and Jasmin, we’ve tended either to do full, long weekends away or short breaks further afield. This weekend though, the four of us spent a night at Novotel Paddington in London and Tony and I realised that we must be through the hardest baby years because we can suddenly go away again for just one night and it doesn’t feel like too much work. (This is very, very exciting for us!)

mini break Pink Lining black cabs holdallNovotel Paddington roof bar

We were treated to our amazing stay at Novotel and while it wasn’t a long way away from home (just a tube ride, in fact), it felt like we really were on holiday. Milin asked me this gem on the Picadilly line on the way there:

“Mummy, what language do they speak in Paddington?”

Which I guess summed up the trip for the children. To them, it was a holiday. It was an adventure. It didn’t matter that we were only an hour away from home. We packed a bag, got on the tube, and went somewhere new.

We arrived to a luxurious suite where treats awaited (the macarons were divine). Tony and I had coffees, the children ate chocolates, and we then had a dip in the pool. We had it all to ourselves, and Tony even found time for a sauna and steam. I felt so relaxed suddenly that it was hard to believe I’d only been rushing around the house sweeping up the kitchen floor only hours ago. When we went down for dinner, I turned off my phone and left it behind. Instant holiday.

Novotel paddington welcomeNovotel Paddington kids bedsNovotel Paddington swimming pol

Novotel Paddington restaurantNovotel Paddington kids restaurantNovotel Paddington Central bedNovotel Paddington central viewNovotel Paddington relax

I don’t think I’ve stayed in a Novotel before, but the little details were lovely. There were gifts for the children on arrival, the huge bath was amazing, the food in the restaurant was superb (prawn tacos were the highlight), and the view from our room on the eleventh floor was enough to keep the kids happy because they could simply watch the trains go in and out of Paddington for hours.

It’s funny how being in a part of town you wouldn’t normally be in can turn you into a tourist. We spent a morning walking along the canals of Little Venice, holding hands, being silly, and generally feeling happy.

Paddington bear statueLittle Venice Paddington canals walk

Back at the hotel, the children joined in with Novotel’s Superheroes day and loved every second. It was the perfect end to the weekend – cake-making, mask-making, general hero-stuff – they were very happy.

When we got home, Tony and I realised we’d not said a stern word over the whole duration of the break. We’d not taken Jasmin’s buggy and the children had done a fair amount of walking, but they’d been superstars. We’d not heard a grumble, they’d not played up – life certainly is getting easier as they’re getting older.

We came back rested. (Black out blinds are amazing – the kids slept in, in their own beds!) And we came back relaxed and refreshed. Life has been busy and stressful recently. It’s amazing how just one night away can help you recharge.

Novotel Paddington superheroes

 *Thank you to Novotel Paddington where we were treated to our stay.

Our week in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

The Canary Islands have never featured on my ‘places I want to visit’ list. I’d never even considered them for a holiday, in fact, until a few months ago. But when I started looking for family-friendly holidays in Europe for a one-week break in April, they seemed like an obvious choice.

With Tony away for the whole of this month, I wanted to take the children somewhere to distract them a little from missing him. I wanted somewhere warm, easy to travel to, not too far away, and somewhere we could have a relaxing, stress-free break. It needed to be relatively inexpensive too.

I could have picked any of the islands really but Fuerteventura stood out because of it’s stunning sandy beaches. There are miles and miles of golden sand dunes, and calm shallow and clear waters as well as surf spots.

The island is only a four-hour flight away and there’s no time difference – this made things really easy for the children. The flight was long enough to be exciting, but not too long for them to get fed up. And being on the same time zone meant we had no jet lag (or early mornings!) to contend with.

I picked an all-inclusive resort because I wanted a real break – and cooking their meals and tidying up after them was exactly the kind of reality I wanted to escape. As neither are great eaters, all-inclusive hotels take some of the stress of dining out away. It’s funny how an all-inclusive break in Kos two years ago changed my perspective of this as a way to holiday. It’s still not my first choice, bur for now and possible the next couple of years, it does make life easier.

I was sad to miss out on the local bars and restaurants this time – but the break was about doing things the easy way, and this meant eating at the hotel mostly. It also meant more time for the children just to have fun. (I did, however, manage a little shopping trip without them one afternoon, and a decent walk to explore the town alone one morning. I also fitted in a good few hours of book-reading as the sea air and swimming tired them out each day.)

My parents came along (there’s no way I wanted to negotiate a trip on my own with Milin and Jasmin – I would have needed a holiday to recover!), and we had a perfect week in the sun. It wasn’t too hot – the temperature on Fuerteventura in April is surely the pick of Europe – between 22-25 most days, with mornings and evenings cool enough for me to wear trousers and a cardigan and nights cool enough for comfortable sleeps. Sea breezes kept us from getting to hot in the day too.

Milin and Jasmin made the most of the children’s pool and Jasmin showed me how she could swim with just a ring around her. I never take her swimming as she goes when I’m at work, so seeing this was amazing for me. Milin spent the entire week squirting people with a water pistol and running around the pool, in and out of the water, having adventures.

A beautiful lovely sandy playground at our resort was also a hit, and Milin loved the kids club and mini disco each night. I loved his moves – and will never forget his ‘chicken dance’. I blame Tony’s genes though for that! They made friends and basically spent the week being happy. They came home knowing how to count to three in Spanish too, as well as say a sprinkling of words. I wonder how long they’ll remember them for…

The sea was perfect swimming temperature for me, although to cold for the children. But the amazingly clear waters meant they could see fish swimming near the shore as they paddled – which they thought was brilliant. Most of our beach days were spent exploring rock pools and looking for treasure. They thought this was the most exciting thing. And, actually, it was fun, hanging out with them and being adventurers.

They managed to fit in the ice cream buffet almost every day, twice a day – and I figured that since we were on holiday, why not? We stayed at Corralejo – a pretty little fishing village with beautiful sandy beaches and rocky areas as well for exploring.

I felt so lucky by the end of the week that we’d been able to have such a relaxing week. I’d never have imagined, even a few months ago, we’d go to the Canary Islands for that – but actually it was almost perfect. We just wished Tony could have been there.

Corralejo town beach photo Corralejo town main beach photo Corralejo fishing boats photo Corralejo yellow houses photo Corralejo kids pool photo Corralejo rock pools photo Corralejo fishing village photo Corralejo family holiday photo Corralejo cactus photo Corralejo beach

A weekend in Wales

Visit Wales Brecon Mountain Railway Find your Epic

We are big fans of short weekend breaks in the UK, and our recent family holiday in Wales reminded us again why it’s so good to get out of town for a few days. We spent only two nights away, but returned to London feeling recharged and relaxed. Our two days in the countryside gave us all a chance to have a break from busy city life and we enjoyed just spending some time in each others’ company. What’s more, the children loved exploring somewhere new while managing to cram in a trip on a steam train in the Brecon Beacons as well as a visit to a castle too.

It was the perfect amount of time, although it did leave us wanting to return to Wales for more adventures. Our trip was organised thanks to Visit Wales who are running the #FindYourEpic campaign. We certainly had our share of adventure, and we’re already planning what we’ll do next time we manage to get to this beautiful part of the country again!

We left London on a Friday evening and drove to Merthyr Tydfil which is at the bottom of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Leaving London on a Friday after work might sound crazy, but the drive is only about three hours and even a closed road didn’t delay us for too long. The children went straight to sleep when we arrived and Tony and I had a glass of wine, glad we’d driven out of town on Friday so we could fit in a full day of exploring on Saturday.

We stayed in a beautiful studio apartment in a stunning Victorian townhouse – Studios at Glenthorne, in Merthyr Tydfil. We could have opted for Cardiff as a base, but we really wanted to be out of the city and so this was perfect, and right next to the national park. The house was built in the 1800s and for the last three years run as a guest house by the very lovely Claire – who Milin and Jasmin adored.

I loved the little touches and details that were everywhere you looked here – the frames around notepaper explaining parking or the wifi code, a lovely grandfather clock, fresh flowers, the surprise chocolates in the afternoon and the home-made Welsh cakes on arrival. (Jasmin and Tony made short work of these!) Our continental breakfast was a feast, and we loved the set-up of a studio apartment within a home. The house has its original features in tact, but is still modern and warm and welcoming. Our huge room had a bed and sofa bed, with a separate kitchen, complete with washing machine, and the shower was brilliant too.

I really can’t recommend Glenthorne highly enough and I hope we can go back. It was beautiful, spotless, brilliantly located, and we loved the personal touch. We ordered a takeaway on Saturday night and ate it happily with a bottle of Prosecco with the tele on, while the children slept. It really felt like a home away from home.
Wales Glenthorne Studios The GroveGlenthorn Studios Merthyr Tydfil Visit Wales Find your Epic

Wales Merthyr Glenthorne Studios

Wales breakfast with JasminWales Glenthorne Hallwaywales the groveWales Glenthorn Studios apartmentsWales grandfather clock

The highlight of our weekend was definitely a ride on the Brecon Mountain Railway. The station was only a few minutes’ drive from our guesthouse and at the foot of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Milin and Jasmin might be little (they’re four and two), but they’re not too little for adventures.

We arrived half an hour before our train was leaving and we’re so glad we did. At the station, you’re able to have a look around the engineer’s yard. Milin and Jasmin were fascinated by the engines in for repair and got to have a look close up at some of those being fixed. We saw the guard and driver getting our steam train ready and the children could barely believe their eyes and ears when it tooted and backed onto the platform.

Milin said it was just like being on the Island of Sodor and Jasmin agreed that this train looked like Thomas – but was of course the wrong colour. The ride itself was about an hour and half and seeing their little faces when we started moving absolutely made my weekend. That something as simple as a ride on a steam train made them so happy was the sweetest thing.

But, what a ride it was. With a glistening lake to the side of the track for much of the ride, and the snow-capped mountains of the Brecon Beacons in the distance, this wasn’t any forest train ride. In fact, it turned into an adventure when a fallen tree just before we reached the top of the track stopped us in our paths. As Milin said, it really was like a story from Thomas-land. We watched the guard investigate, but he decided his handsaw wouldn’t be able to clear the tracks and a chainsaw was needed. It was possibly the most exciting train ride the children have ever been on – and certainly beats the tube for adventure. We reversed all the way back, but not before a stop at a little station along the way for coffee and hot chocolates (and more Welsh cakes) and a little play at the play area.

Brecon mountain railway station Wales find your epicWales find your epic brecon mountain railway steam trainWales Brecon mountain railwayVisit Wales Brecon Mountain Railway Pant StationVisit Wales Brecon Mountain Railway Find your EpicWales Brecon Mountain Railway looking out of windowWales Brecon Mountain Railway ride

After all the adventure, we relaxed in the afternoon at a beautiful country pub which looked out onto stunning views over the Brecon Beacons. We saw plenty of mountain bikers making the most of the dry and sunny spring day – and Tony and I were a teeny bit jealous. One day, when the children are a bit older, we’ll hopefully return and get some family riding done in this beautiful part of the country. What a backdrop for it.

We also saw lots of horse-riders and, again, what an amazing place to be riding. Our train ride and ramble to the pub was perfect for little legs, but one day I hope we can return and explore more on foot.

We spent Sunday morning at the incredibly impressive Cyfarthfa Park Lake – again just a couple of minutes drive or ten minutes walk from Glenthorne Studios. Cyfarthfa Castle was once a school but we busied ourselves imagining adventures of knights and dragons in its grounds. Milin and Jasmin were pretty impressed to be at a ‘real life’ castle, and its surrounding grounds, lake and playground made this the perfect spot for just hanging out. There’s a little cafe and museum here, but we were too early for them because of course the children didn’t sleep in.

Wales castle Merthyr JasminWales Merthyr CastleWales castleNo trip to Wales is complete for us without a stop at the Temple Bar Inn at Ewyas Harold. Our stop there this weekend rounded off a perfect couple of days. In front of the fire, we ate chocolate brownies and looked back at a wonderfully relaxing but adventurous trip. Getting out of London always does us good, and heading just a few hours up the road to the foot of the Brecon Beacons was amazing. It was a part of the country we’d never explored until now – and now we can’t wait to go back.

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I’m linking up with Magic Moments over at The Olivers Madhouse  because this weekend was one magic moment after the other!

*We were given train tickets and accommodation for the purpose of this post but all opinions are my own and this review is my honest opinion.

 

Half term in Cornwall

We try to get to Cornwall every summer and winter, and not just because we think it’s perfect for family holidays. I’ve been visiting relatives there for the last 20 years or so – although in the last few years I’ve really realised how amazing this part of the country is for holidays with children.

In our last few visits, Tony and I have stuck very much to familiar places. This is, in part, because these are the places we love – but it’s also because we know which places suit Milin and Jasmin. Our trips to Cornwall are usually too brief, we always want longer, and so while we are there we don’t want to spend too much time in the car or too much time trying things which the children don’t enjoy.

We spent an amazing, relaxing four days in Cornwall at the start of half term and managed to visit at least one of our two favourite beaches every day. We adore Gylly beach and Swanpool beach – They’re connected by a coastal walk and are a short distance from the centre of Falmouth. They both have beautiful sand, sea safe for swimming (in a wetsuit, in summer!), rock pools and coffee and ice cream metres from the shore. Perfect.

When I got home and looked through our photos I couldn’t believe how similar they were to our trip to Cornwall in February half term two years ago. On that trip, Jasmin wasn’t even one and Milin was only recently two. But we’d visited the same beaches, the same cafes, and had the same weather. Grey skies, driving rain, wind and big seas – although on both trips we did get a bit of a break with some sunny periods too. Both times, the storms didn’t matter.

The photos reminded me how much Milin had loved the beach, even then. He didn’t care about the rain and wind – he insisted on sitting on wet sand, building sandcastles, and standing on the shoreline watching the waves. This holiday he was the same. I watched him and Tony, hand in hand, looking out to the sea. They seem to share an incredible love and respect for the ocean, a need to be near it, and to watch it. Milin chased waves and threw stones in to make splashes, Tony longed for home, and eventually, I had to pull them away. Milin, soaked through, to his hips, learned a lesson.

Jasmin wasn’t so keen at the start of this trip. She said she didn’t like the rain or the ‘muddy’ sand – although as our last day was bright, she was quite happy sitting on a rug building sand castles with the same plastic cups Milin used two years before. (She did say after a while though that she’d like to go to the cafe…)

Milin, born in New Zealand, spent his first year by the sea. I am sure, like his dad, it will always be a love for him. Maybe, he’ll always long for it. I hope that’s a feeling I can give to Jasmin too – even if she doesn’t know it now. Born in London, growing up in London – Jasmin might come, like me, to love the sea, nature, it’s power and wonder, later.

I grew up in London, but eight years in New Zealand have left me missing the ocean. Swims after work, a walk on the beach in a storm, looking out at a big sky over an immense ocean… maybe one day that will be life again. For now, though, Cornwall is as close as we’ll get.

Our little holidays there make us all so happy and relaxed. Time slows down and the fresh air and break from the city soothes us and brings us together against the grey of everyday life. We can’t wait to go back.

Jasmin at Gylly blogMilin at Swanpool blog Tony and Jasmin Swanpool walk blog Tony and Milin throwing stones blog Jasmin at Swanpool blog Milin smiling at Swanpool cornwall blog Jasmin looking at the sea blog

Woodland walks and the happiness of being outdoors

children on forest woodland walk

This Christmas period has seen us spend so much time outdoors together. It’s made us happy, relaxed us, and shown me again how good it is for all of us to simply get outside with each other.

It’s no surprise that the children love to be outdoors. What’s not to love about having space to run, sticks to find, creatures to befriend, mud to squelch in and squirrels and birds to create make-believe stories about? Milin and Jasmin can make as much noise as they like and get as grubby as they want – and they’re never deterred by the weather.

We’re very lucky to have a big park, playing fields and playground at the end of our street and we are here often with them. But not as much as I’d like. Working four days a week and fitting school run and errands into the fifth day can squeeze the time we spend outdoors. Our weekends fill up quickly with their busy social lives and activities and so while we always make it out to the playground and at least for a short walk, it’s not always the big adventure we really would all love.

I’ve had some time off work over Christmas and we’ve made the most of it. The weather has been so mild and dry that it’s been perfect for long walks and exploring. We discovered an amazing woodland walk in the forest near our house. It’s hard to believe we’ve lived here for six months without finding it yet. We’ve previously spent our woodland walks at a forest which is a short drive away so finding one we can walk to is brilliant.

We spent Boxing Day morning doing a little loop through the forest, climbing up rickety steps, crossing mini bridges and finding fallen trees which had made archways. Milin found some great sticks, Jasmin found loads of splashy puddles, and they both loved the excursion. And so did Tony and I.

I think we’re pretty good at getting outside to explore, but our recent walks have made me realise just how important it is for us as a family. My eight years in New Zealand were spent gazing up at big skies, driving out into the country, looking out to sea and waking to native birdsong. Tony was brought up in the hills there, between the mountains and the sea, and about as far from London life as possible.

As I grew up, life got in the way of the great outdoors. It wasn’t until New Zealand that I really appreciated what a walk along a windy beach or a trek through the bush could do. I’d never really known the power of the fresh air and grass or sand underfoot, stars overhead, and leaves in the breeze, to help reset everything.

That’s what these long walks have done for us. They’ve helped us forget, for a while, the worries and stresses of everyday life. They’ve helped us ignore the noise of life and make the most of having each other. They’ve helped us be ourselves, with nothing else to do, but be together.

As the children grow, I want to make sure that these adventures are still there for them. I want them to always feel the freedom of being outdoors and to know how good it is in helping the rest of life come together. As they get older, I hope they know that these hours spent exploring are also hours in which we have fun, laugh, forget our routines and daily battles, and get to be with each other without distractions.

When we’re usually so caught up each morning in getting up with the alarm and packing lunches and remembering library books and spare clothes and getting out of the door by 7.15am, and coming straight home after mummy finishes work and getting straight in the bath and straight to bed for books and only three of them and then it’s bed time… when all of that takes over – these forest walks are what we need. To reset us, and to remind us that living a little slower is better for us all.

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Time together, time for Christmas

I’ve been feeling excited about Christmas for weeks, for but a few little family outings over the weekend ramped the level up another notch. I took the children to see a phenomenal show – Land of Lights – at the Arts Depot in Finchley, and we also paid a special visit to see Santa at Springtime nurseries Christmas Wonderland at Crews Hill, Enfield. Both were such magical visits, and the weekend was bookended with Milin’s Christmas show at nursery and a family visit on Sunday complete with Prosecco and mince pies after trips to the park and the flower market.

With only a few days to go and the presents all wrapped, what has also been really lovely is the sense that we are enjoying each other. I still have half a day to work tomorrow – but Tony and the children are off now and I will be too very soon. It’s so nice to not have to rush them out of the door at 7am while they’re hardly awake. It’s so nice not to worry about packed lunches and spare clothes. And it’s so good for them to have a little rest. We rush them around during the weeks of term time and forget, I think, sometimes that they’re only little. They need a holiday as much as we do, and they also need to spend time with us.

But to go back to our pre-Christmas weekend – it really was special. It started with my day off work. I spent the morning with Jasmin on a cafe date which was a treat for us both, and we then went to Milin’s nursery for his Christmas show. They sang four songs to the parents and he knew every word. I couldn’t believe how grown up he was, he confident he was, and how much of a little character he was. Seeing him in his nursery environment was lovely and I was so ridiculously proud.

Saturday morning was spent at the amazing Christmas Wonderland that the Springtime nurseries garden centre creates every year. It truly was phenomenal. We saw live reindeer, went on a little train through Santa’s grotto, saw life-size polar bears and penguins, and the elves making the toys in Santa’s workshop. The children met Santa too – which was so exciting for them. It made me realise how much they’d grown up in a year as I took them to the same place last year and Milin really didn’t understand as much and Jasmin slept through it! This year though they are so excited it’s so sweet to see and listen in on.

The afternoon was spent at our favourite local arts venue – the Arts Depot. The children were lucky enough to see Room on the Broom there recently, and I felt very lucky to have been given tickets to review Land of Lights as well. It was such a brilliant performance – unlike anything I’ve seen before, and such a lovely family event for this time of year. It was perfect for their age, and probably great for any kids up to five, and I’d highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful little story about stars having fallen from the sky, a balloonist in search of them, and little people living in little houses waiting for the stars to return.

The children sit around the stage and are totally involved and immersed in the action. They get their hands grubby searching for stars, are encouraged to answer questions, and are even dressed up as little explorers. Milin in particular loved it and I really thought it was some of the best children’s theatre we’ve seen. I’ll be looking for more from Oily Cart who put the show on!

Our festive weekend also saw us wander around the stunning Columbia Road flower market in Hackney and the children loved picking out flowers with me and their aunty. I collected pussy willows, Christmas berries and eucalyptus and now I can’t wait for the big day. I’m wishing for more of what we’ve had – time to enjoy each other.  Life has been so busy lately that this is all we need.

Jasmin in Christmas hatNursery christmas show santa hatChristmas wonderland crews hillSanta's Grotto Crews Hill Enfield

land of lightsJasmin Columbia Road flower market tulips

A Cruise on the Norwegian Escape

I’d never been on a cruise ship before last week when I was lucky enough to spend a night on the Norwegian Escape. It’s the newest ship in the world, having just been launched, and it was such a treat to get a good look around.

I arrived late morning and was immediately awed by its size. On board was just as impressive. I was given a tour and wished I had a week – at least – to enjoy everything properly!

norwegian escape cruise liner Norwegian Escape cruise Norwegian escape cruise ship norwegian escape pool norwegian escape upper deck

From the water slides to the luxurious spa facilities – everything was perfect. I was blown away by the kids facilities. Although I didn’t have Milin and Jasmin with me, they would have loved the creche. The staff were lovely and had a host of activities planned for the children booked in to areas which were age specific and looked like somewhere the little ones would have a lot of fun.

The Norwegian Escape happily sails with more than 4000 guests on board – which gives you an idea of how big and grand it is. I loved the sparkle!

I enjoyed an amazingly delicious sushi/dim sum meal and the a la carte Italian looked superb too. (I might have had a dessert in each…) And of course I made the most of the bars on board. All in the name of research. With 28 dining options and 21 bars and lounges – I  really didn’t have enough time.

norwegian escape diningSpending a night anywhere alone is weird for me. It was the first time I’d done it probably since getting married. I watched a movie, had a bath, star-fished in the big bed, made the most of my glorious room that was much bigger than I’d expected – and had a coffee in peace on the deck. I barely noticed that we sailed all night!norwegian escape cabin norwegian escape balcony

I’d never thought a cruise would be for me – but Norwegian Cruise Lines changed my mind for me last week. Milin and Jasmin would have loved every second on board – and the creche would have been the icing on the cake for me. Knowing they were safe, not too far away, while I had a little break, would have been amazing.

I guess I was surprised too by the variety of restaurants, bars and shops on board. There was a Comedy club, a luxury pool and spa, so many different eateries – you get the idea. A show at night, a gym, a lovely room to relax in – you’d never get board. The Norwegian Escape set sail for Miami the day after I’d been on board. I couldn’t help wishing our little family was joining the trip!

Norwegian escape restaurants norwegian escape chandelier

*I was treated to a look around the Norwegian Escape in my role as Mumsnet Bloggers Editor, and went on board with a lovely group of bloggers reviewing the ship. Thank you to Norwegian Cruise Lines for such a wonderful tour and experience.

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