Holiday Bucket List

The other day I clicked a link over to Buzzfeed, which, by the way, is my favourite procrastination site.  You can bet that when I sit down to get a few solid hour’s work done, teapot nicely filled, snacky bits within reach, Grooveshark playlist on in the background, at least some of the time will be spent taking out pointless quizzes/learning all the secrets of Disney films*/watching amusing gifs.  The buzzfeed list I clicked over to was this one** and it reminded me of a travel bucket list we wrote as a family, a few months ago.

Since the children are now at an age where travelling with them both isn’t nightmarish, we’ve become rather fond of getting away, even if just for a weekend, and I’ve spent a lot of time on Pinterest, Trip Advisor, First Choice and the like, looking for holiday inspiration and deals.   So, here is a snippet of our family bucket list:

1) Copenhagen.  Mainly for the Lego.  But also for The Little Mermaid statue, Tivoli Gardens, Christiania and the Round Tower.  For starters. 

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Mothers Day

streetfood steph

Last Sunday was Mothering Sunday, but in a break from tradition I did not spend the weekend with my children.  Instead I had a brilliant weekend in London.  

A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to score tickets to see The Cure live at the Royal Albert Hall.  By lucky, what I really mean is, really really organised.  I knew the tickets went on sale at 9am, so the night before had set up my laptop, and my debit card ready to go.  The Seetickets website was loaded and ready to go, and I legged it home from the school run that morning, leaving just enough time to make myself a swift cup of coffee and sit down, mouse poised over the refresh button at 8:58am.

Needless to say my dedication paid off, and I was one very happy camper.  I bloody LOVE The Cure.  You have no idea. 

So, Dee and I trundled off up to London on Saturday morning, had a mooch around, got my Ray Bans fixed, popped in to see my sister at work, drunk with an old friend in the sunshine, and then ate dinner at Cave à Fromage.  And before I get on to how utterly blinding The Cure are live, I am going to talk about Cave à Fromage. 

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Just behind South Kensington tube station is Cave à Fromage, the cheese shop of glory.  Inside, there are a few tables and stools and you turn up, get shown to a table, and you order either a cheese plate or a charcuterie plate, with a glass of wine.  Or if you are like me and Dee, you order both, and you have champagne instead of regular wine.  We are nothing if not decadent.  What turns up is a board with eight different types of beautiful cheese to try, a lovely pile of finely sliced meats, and a basket of delicious fresh bread.  Before you tuck in, they tell you all about the cheeses, where they come from, what they are like, etc, and then you just go to town.  The entire experience is completely delightful.  The staff are warm, friendly and really know their stuff.  The cheese is utterly delicious, and whilst it may not sound like a lot of food for two people, it really is plenty (And this is coming from someone who likes to eat.  A lot), and we left feeling satisfied and very very happy.  

A+ dinner. Would (and can’t wait to) visit again.

The next time you’re up in South Ken, do check out Cave à Fromage.  They also have branches in Hove and Notting Hill.

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This cheese had truffle honey drizzled over it. It was sublime. My shoddy photo does it no justice whatsoever.

So, on to The Cure.  I didn’t take my camera so you’ll have to make do with my shockingly bad iphone photography.  No support act, 4 hours of pure Cure bliss. They were on form.  Blinding, really.  I’ve wanted to see them for years and years, and it’s not a gig I’ll forget in a hurry.  The Royal Albert Hall is a stunning venue, with great acoustics, and it’s small enough so that wherever you are, you’ll be able to see and hear everything.  We were right up in the gallery, five floors up, at the side of the stage, and had an unobstructed view.  They saved Boys Don’t Cry (one of my very favourites) til the end, by which time it was getting on for 11:30, and I had to make my way over to Wapping to crash on my sister’s floor. 

A four hour set! Three encores! What a band! 

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Look at that! Robert Smith. With his mad hair and smudged makeup. EPIC.

The next day, Meg and I went for a run around her neighbourhood.  Before she moved there I’d never been to Wapping.  It’s lovely.  We jogged down towards St Katherine’s Dock, then back along the Thames.  Later on, we mooched on down to Brick Lane for street food feasts, pokes around vintage shops and general meandering.  Then it was time for me to come home. 

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Streetfood Brick Lane

streetfood steph

So, thats how I spent my mother’s day.  Sometimes it’s good to have time off, and by the time I got home, I was desperate to see my little lovelies again, for sticky kisses, random and precise facts from Roo, homemade cards and lots of cuddles. 

Thank you London, you were beautiful. 

Bruges with Children, in a Weekend

bruges with children belfry

We’ve just come back from a little jaunt across to the continent.  Ross starts his new job this week, so we decided a European city break with the children would be just the ticket.  And so, a couple of weeks ago, feeling enthused over a cup of coffee in bed on a Sunday morning, we found a good deal on the ferry (Dover to Dunkirk) and a nice hotel and whacked a little visit to Bruges on the credit card. 

YOLO, as the kids say.  

Basically, Ross and I like beer and we all like chocolate.  Belgium is famous for both (and more), everyone is a winner. 

bruges with children beer wall

bruges with children architecture

Here is how we did Bruges with children

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Run, Pretty Averagely Sized Girl, Run

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I’ve just started running.  

I KNOW, I KNOW.  (People who know me will know that I’ve always detested running.  The beep tests they made us to in PE were torture.  They also made us run around a huge block at the beginning of each term, and as soon as I was out of Miss O’Driscoll’s sight, I’d stop and leisurely stroll around.  Because I hate running) 

In year 11, my friend Sarah F and I used to bunk PE, so we didn’t have to do any running.  Sorry, not sorry.  I hate running. 

It makes me feel like I am dying.  And I loathe that.

It hurts my knees.  That is never a good thing. 

It makes me sweat.  Yuck. 

It’s boring.  Dull, dull, dull.  

But about a month ago, I decided that I would start going to the gym again.  And I’ve been really good at actually going.  I’ve been going three times a week and I have a little routine: treadmill, bike or rowing machine, a weight machine or two, home.  The plan was that the whole thing would take at the most 45 minutes, and I’d be home in time for a nice hot shower and a cup of coffee before having to pick up Elliot from preschool.  I figured I’d get the treadmill out of the way first, because I hate running, you see.  HATE.  IT. 

Except that I’ve found myself really quite enjoying it.  Almost loving it, in fact.  I stick my headphones on, whack up the volume, and run to nowhere.  (I prefer running to nowhere on a treadmill than running outside, as the treadmill absorbs a lot of the impact, and my knees and shins don’t hurt). 

And it’s my running playlist that has really helped me learn to enjoy running.  It’s what has really spurred me on.  The first couple of times I went I didn’t take my headphones, and so had no choice but to listen to people panting away next to me.  Or groups of muscly beefcakes cheer each other on, or the music they play at the gym, which is less than inspiring. 

But making myself a fun playlist and setting it to shuffle has been brilliant.  I don’t get bored, because I don’t know what’s coming next.  It could be “We Are The People” by Empire of the Sun:

Or it could be “Shake It” by Metro Station,

Or it could be “Brazil (Second Edit)”, by Deadmau5 (A personal favourite)

And I end up pushing myself a little further by running the length of a song, then another will come on and I’ll think, ‘OH I LOVE THIS SONG! I’ll just run to that and then I’ll stop”, and then the same thing will happen again.  I have a pretty eclectic taste in music; generally if something has a good beat, is nice and upbeat, and/or nice lyrics, I’ll like it.  My running playlist is full of songs that make me smile. 

Two weeks ago, I could barely run for fifteen minutes before beginning to worry that my legs would fail and I’d fall off the back of a treadmill going at 8kms an hour.  But last night I ran consistently for just shy of 40 minutes, at 8.8km/h and I clocked up over 5kms.  I am pretty proud of myself, and it’s safe to say I no longer hate running. 

I totally deserve the curry and beer I’m indulging in tonight.  Bring on more runs next week! 

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Every Day’s a School Day

P&O Cruises Barcelona Sagrada Familia 1

Last week I took my five year old out of school for a week to go on a cruise

The first thing a lot of people asked me when I said I was doing it was “what about school? Won’t they mind? Won’t her education suffer?”

And that got me thinking.  Would her education suffer?  Was taking her out of formal education for a week going to hold her back?  Would she come back and stress over catching up with her peers?  When you’re five, is a classroom environment more important than immersive learning?  So I approached her teacher and asked for her thoughts.  I explained the situation; how I was reviewing the cruise and that the opportunity was for a family, so it was expected that my daughter would come along and experience the children’s facilities on board.  I asked if there was anything we could take with us to keep her on track.  Perhaps some work sheets or some extra reading books.

“Just get her reading to you” the teacher had said, “maybe a bit of number work if you can, and some writing practice.  But mainly, just enjoy the experience.”

With those words in mind, off we went. 

P&O Cruises Barcelona Sagrada Familia 1Like a lot of five year olds, Ruby has a thirst for learning, and an active imagination.  And there is no denying she’s an incredibly bright spark.  She loves going to school each day, and thrives on doing well; her bedroom walls plastered with certificates for her reading, creativity and all round enthusiasm.  She often amazes me with her ability to recall little details and easily remembers things I had long forgotten.  Learning comes easily to Ruby and I am grateful she goes to a school where her teachers have nurtured that love of learning and have provided her with creative topics and projects that have piqued her interest.  When she came home one day, this little four year old, in the middle of her reception year, and informed me they were learning about the works of Antonio Gaudí, and asked me what I could tell her about his lizard statue.  Well, let’s just say my mind was blown.  

And so, almost a year later,  when I told her the cruise ship would be stopping off at Barcelona, and she would be able to see a lot of Gaudí architecture for herself, it was her turn to be astonished.  Her excitement was palpable.

BCN Metro

The day we docked at Barcelona, we ate breakfast in Plaça de Catalunya, where she heard me speaking Spanish, and learnt how to say “hello” and “goodbye” and “coffee with milk”.  We took a couple of trips on the Barcelona Metro, where she saw for herself how children are regarded on the Continent (much better than on the London Underground where they are generally considered a nuisance at best.  Both my children were offered seats and cooed over by other passengers)  We took her to look at what is probably Gaudí’s most famous work, Sagrada Família, which she stared at, wide eyed and open mouthed for minutes on end, before snapping a few photos on her camera and declaring it to be amazing.  She ate Tapas for lunch, and counted out Euros to buy herself a little souvenir before we headed back to the ship.  

Geography, art, culture, numeracy and language all in one morning.  I make that a pretty good day’s learning.  Later on, when I asked her what she thought of Barcelona, she said it was wonderful, and fantastic, and that she’d like to go back for a longer visit another day.  

BCN EurosBack on board the ship, she learnt about what its like living on a boat; what a muster station is, for instance, and how to put on a lifejacket.  She learnt how to behave in restaurants she wouldn’t usually get the chance to eat in, and how it’s really not polite to rip off a napkin a kindly, well meaning waiter had loosely tied around her neck to stop her dress getting dirty.  She’s a shy being, and tends to hide away when unfamiliar people speak to her, but by the end of the week her confidence had grown, and chatting to grown ups wasn’t such an obstacle for her. 

Ruby was back in school this week, bright eyed, bushy tailed and armed with a project she’d completed throughout our trip.  It was a scrapbook of all the places we’d visited and included postcards, attraction tickets, leaflets, maps, photos she’d taken and a daily diary she’d written.  It wasn’t something we were asked to do, but part of me wanted her to have something tangible to take back, some kind of proof that my removing her for a week had been worth it, and beneficial, and she hadn’t just had a week of lazing around on a boat at someone else’s expense with a couple of half-day jaunts on land thrown in for good measure.  I’m glad we made that effort: so keen, she was, to show it to her teacher that I barely got a glance back when I dropped her off, let alone a kiss goodbye.

I understand the need for children to be in school.  Really, I do, and I don’t condone truancy.  I don’t home school – I am the first to admit I simply don’t have the patience.  And I know she gets a far more stable, structured education at school than I could ever hope to give her at home.  But just because she spent the week out of the classroom doesn’t mean our cruise wasn’t a week of full on learning for her.  

Would she have been quite so interested in Barcelona had she not learnt about Gaudí’s salamander last year? Hard to say.  It might have just been another bustling city to her, with an underground system to get around on, an enormous, unfinished cathedral she didn’t understand the significance of, and a port to leave from in the afternoon.  

Either way, I don’t believe for a second her education has suffered from that week off.  If anything, it has enhanced it.  Every day is, indeed, a school day.  And as for whether the school minded or not, I have no idea: despite chasing, I never got her holiday form back.  

Disclosure: We got to visit Barcelona and see Gaudí’s beautiful architecture thanks to P&O Cruises, who sponsored our cruise.  All opinions are our own. 

 

Adventures on Ventura

P&O cruises Ventura

I’ve been pretty quiet recently, and there has been a pretty excellent reason for that.  I was invited on a cruise around the Mediterranean with P&O, on their family friendly ship, Ventura.  

Well, when someone invites you on a cruise around the Med, you drop everything and you say a big fat yes please.  So last Friday, I picked Roo up from school at lunch time, we jumped in a taxi, along with my mum and Elliot, and headed for Ocean Terminal in Southampton.  

P&O cruises Ventura

As a Sotonian, I am no stranger to seeing the enormous cruise liners in dock.  The children always get a bit excited when there is a ship in, and we have been known to park up at the quayside (or at the very top of the Ikea car park) and gawp for a while.  

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