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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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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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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Road Trippin’ en France

road trip france

Every summer, The Chapmen pack a suitcase, cram buckets, spades, and our kite into the boot of the car, create a (frankly, epic) holiday playlist, and embark on a driving holiday.  The road trip is not unfamiliar to us.  Mainly because we can’t afford to fly now there are 4 of us requiring seats on a plane.  So when we do fly, it’s going to be to somewhere far, far away, or to somewhere inaccessible by road (hello Greek Islands, I’ll have a lamb kleftiko, ta).

This year we ventured to Charente Maritime in South West France, and stayed at La Palmyre; a lively resort slightly north of Bordeaux and on the Atlantic coast.

road trip france

Although we drove to Portsmouth, got on a ferry, and slept overnight in a cabin, the trip really started in earnest when we disembarked at St Malo and went for a traditional French petit déjeuner in a sweet little cafe within the city walls. Croissants and baguette smeared with jam and rich hot chocolate you make up yourself in a bowl.  I don’t think you can French it up a whole lot more than that.

road trip france

Hot Choc 1

Soon after 10, we got back in the car and made our way towards Rennes, and then Nantes, before heading out of Brittany and through the Vendée towards Charente Maritime.  We drove through an epic storm: the rain was so torrential, the windscreen wipers couldn’t clear it.  We’d borrowed a sat nav for the trip, which proved invaluable for helping with directions as we couldn’t see road signs for the rain.  

road trip france

Once off the Nantes periferique, we found a supermarket and picked up vital supplies, before finding an aire to stop at for a picnic lunch.  Fresh baguette stuffed with garlic roule cheese and the ripest, tastiest tomatoes, pots of apple compote, and a religeuse, the best patisserie ever made.  All washed down with cans of Orangina.  


road trip france

The last leg of the journey was by far the prettiest.  We drove past field after field of beautiful, blousy sunflowers, all bright and cheerful.  


road trip france

There were cornfields and vineyards and wind turbines and charming little villages, the road through adorned with hanging baskets overflowing with flowers, and pretty stone houses with shutters on all the windows.  

road trip france

We drove over enormous bridges and along the coastal road towards La Palmyre, finally arriving at dinner time.  Four happy, hungry road trippers ready to relax and enjoy the rest of the holiday. 

Disclosure: This post is an entry to MoneySupermarket’s £50 Road Trip Challenge.  I was given £50 to fill up my car and hit the open road.  Although the petrol was paid for, all experiences are our own. 


A Day in Calais


A couple of weeks ago, Ross and I took a day for ourselves in France.  No children, no stress, just the two of us, a banging playlist, our motor, and our passports.  We both adore France, which probably stems from summer holidays in France as children, our mutual love of French cheese and French wine, and the fact that it’s so close. 

Once on the Continent, we drove straight to Cité Europe, which is an enormous shopping centre, complete with H&M (So you can imagine how happy I was).  We spent the most time in Carrefour, stocking up on wine that cost €1.50 per bottle, giggling over a bag of mints amusingly called Vag Fresh (are they mints or are they pessaries?), and salivating over the cheese and patisserie. 


For lunch, we dined at a typically French bistro in the centre of Calais.  We both ordered moule frites, which was a gamble for me as I do not like moule.  I ordered them because I figured if I was going to like moule, France would be the place to change my mind.  As it turns out, I still do not like moule.  In fact, I hate moule.  I’ve never really been that keen on things that reside in shells, crab and lobster aside.  I can just about deal with prawns (sea beetles), as long as they have been beheaded and I don’t have to pull off the legs myself. But moule is, frankly, revolting.  It’s the little sack of green mush that makes me want to heave.  And the fact they look like vaginas doesn’t really help either.

I do, however, LOVE the creamy wine sauce they come swimming in, and the skinny fries.  I wish I liked moule, I really do, but it’s just not in me. I think I managed about 10 of the hideous little molluscs before giving up and eating chips. 



We walked off lunch with a stroll on the beach.  It was breezy and we flew our kite and watched a couple of ferries sail into dock.  After an hour or so we drove down the coast a little way, ate our religieuse before racing back to catch the ferry home to England. Au Revoir, France!


Religieuse are magnificent.  Possibly one of the best patisserie to ever come out of France.  They are a kind of éclair, so if you like those, you’ll love these little choux bun nuns.  They are filled with crème pâtissière, smothered in ganache and glued together with piped whipped cream.  I’d always have room for a religieuse, even after something mammoth like Christmas dinner, or in this case, two portions of chips.


I am looking forward to the next time we go.  We’ll take the children, picnic on the beach, have a paddle.  Perfect day.