Cape Town – with kids! A funpacked few days in South Africa.

I’ve mentioned before that we were holidaying in Africa this summer – well, that started in the city of Cape Town.  There were 6 of us – my husband and I, and our kids – who range in age from 15 down to 6.

Here’s a random selection of things we did during our stay:

  1. Our accomodationThe Cape Grace hotel – right on the V&A Waterfront was fabulous. All of us thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.  The location was perfect, the views stunning, the service exceptional – and the wifi strong (which is a pre-requisite when travelling with children!)

    We made use of the outside pool area – although admittedly were the only people in it due to it being midwinter! And I had a couple of excellent massages in the spa as I was struggling with a dodgy back.


    The taster menu in their restaurant was stunning – but equally, room service was also excellent – and very convenient in our 3 bedroomed suite, and we even ate on the balcony being hardy Brits!

    I had a slight work crisis whilst there – and the staff were great, printing out documents for me to work on.

    The suite was stunning – and perfect for our large family. We would definitely stay there again and highly recommend it for anyone visiting whether for work, as a couple, friends or families.

  2. Random dog charitySo this is a slightly weird one – and wasn’t in our planned itinerary – but was a highlight for the kids in particular! Close to the hotel, in Nobel Square, there was a pop up dog rescue run by a charity for re-homing dogs.  Whilst adopting a dog on holiday was clearly out of the question – you could also pay to take them for a walk for 10 minutes, or to play with the puppies and we did both!


    The children loved it! You could also pay to name a dog – but there weren’t any nameless ones when we were there – however, the 8 year old has told everyone how she walked ‘Tonya Harding’ #nottheiceskater
  3. The Big Red Bus TourWe did this on our first day – and it gave us a real feel for the layout of the city and close surrounding area.  The weather was kind so we could sit on the top deck of the bus and enjoy the sunshine and commentary. We’ve done bus tours in lots of cities and it really helps you understand the geography and history (I am such a geek!!)  Sadly the cable car to the top of Table Mountain was closed for maintenance, but the bus took us to the base station which still gave amazing views across the ocean to Robben Island and beyond.

    At one point we thought we’d spotted a whale – turned out it was a rock – but we’d somehow incited the whole bus into taking photos of it………

  4. Robben IslandTalking of Robben Island (or Robin Hood Island as my husband mistakenly called it – which is only amusing if you’re familiar with Hall Green in the South of Birmingham where a traffic roundabout is called that!) We were all really looking forward to this – especially the 6 year old who had learnt about Nelson Mandela at school last year.  But we were thwarted because the weather was bad and all ferries were cancelled. So it’s the on planned thing that we missed out on during our whole trip!
  5. The Cape WheelWe’d spotted this from our balcony and thought we should give it a go.  Like the London Eye – but smaller.  You had some great views from  the top – although it did make me feel a bit motion sick!  (It doesn’t take a lot, I feel sea sick on a swing or a lilo!!)

  6. Cape TourWe had been driven from the airport to the hotel by the wonderful Nazeem from Ilios Travel – and he was our driver for our Cape Tour – assisted by the fabulous guide Rian.  It was great to be driven around by such knowledgeable people – and they were both keen to answer any questions or queries we may have had.  We visited some great locations – explained more below – but it was definitely worth investing in a private tour as it gave us such flexibility with what we wanted to see -or not see.  We would definitely recommend Ilios to anyone visiting South Africa.

    We stopped at various points on the route to admire the views.  One was the beaches in Clifton which are numbered 1 down to 4.  1 is for the beautiful (or in some cases surgically enhanced) people – the husband is convinced that would be his?!?  Then it’s beach 2 for sports activities, beach 3 for the local LGBT scene, and beach 4 for families to chill out.  I feel we are far more beach 4 than 1 but didn’t want to burst his bubble!

    We also stopped at the Farm Village in Noordhoek for a coffee where our 15 year old managed to find a tack shop.  It sold the specific fly mask she’d been after for her horse that THE WHOLE OF THE UK had sold out of – so obviously we had to buy it and bring it back!!

  7. Cape Point LighthouseThis was great – although very windy!  We caught the funicular up and down – but there is still a lot of walking up and down steps to see both lighthouses and the amazing views.  Totally worth the effort though!

  8. Cape of Good HopeI had – mistakenly (although seemingly a common mistake) – thought this was the Southern most point of Africa – but in fact, it’s the most South Westerly.  But anyway – it was beautiful to see.  The sun was shining and it was REALLY windy – but great.  We had to queue to get photos taken – but apparently it was nothing compared to the queues at the height of the season!

  9. Penguins at Boulders BeachThe penguins were fab!  You get to learn a bit about them – and see all different sizes of penguins on land – and swimming.  We’d been warned it was a bit smelly – but it wasn’t at all – perhaps because it was winter?  The kids now also know all the facts about why African penguins are different to penguins that live on snow and ice!

  10. Kirstenbosch Botanical GardensThis was our last stop on our day trip – and everyone was getting a bit tired!  But we still had a great time in the gardens.  There’s lots to see – and we probably only witnessed a fraction of it.  At least we could tick it off the list!!

  11. Two Oceans AquariumWe hadn’t planned to go to the Aquarium – but when our Robben Island trip was cancelled, we thought we’d try it (basically as we were up early and it was close to the hotel!)   We were really pleased we did as it was great.  There were lots of exhibits to look at – as well as some interactive quizzes for the kids to do.  (Oh – and free wifi – which is always a winner!)

  12. Scratch Patch – and Cave GolfWe are lucky enough to have a number of friends from – or who’ve been – to Cape Town.  A number recommended Scratch Patch – which we may not have found without the insider knowledge!  The original one was in Simon’s Town and opened in the 1970s.  This one, just behind the waterfront, was great.  Our little girls loved ‘scratching’ to find  beautiful gems to bring home from the millions of rocks covering the floor. We started off with little bags (thinking of the luggage allowance!) but ended up buying medium ones too, as there were just so many to chose from!  Whilst the girls enjoyed this – the boys played Cave Golf – an inside mini golf course (thankfully with only 2 of them playing this didn’t descend into the argumentative chaos that whole family games of crazy golf have!)

  13. The Ferryman’s TavernWe ate and drank at the Ferryman’s Tavern on the V&A waterfront 2 consecutive days – and the waiter remembered our order!  I’m not sure if this was because my husband massively over tipped him the first day due to a currency conversion issue, or because the husband was drinking gluten free beer – or just that he was a great waiter – but it made us feel like locals!!
  14. The V&A WaterfrontWe’ve already mentioned lots of places we visited on the waterfront during our stay – but it really was a great location.  Lots of places to eat and drink and watch the world go by – and great shopping.  The shopping mall was a mixture of familiar names from back home – and also familiar names from trips to the US that aren’t on the UK high street – all in all we had a great time.   Generally things in SA seem cheaper than at home – which is always a good justification to buy more!

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    Chatting to Nelson in Nobel Square

 

Having missed out on Robben Island – and the fact that as we had the kids in tow the husband and I didn’t do any wineries – we kind of feel that we have unfinished business with Cape Town – but are already looking forward to a return visit in the future.

 

 

Note:  This is not a sponsored post, we paid for everything we did.  All of it was organised by our wonderful Travel Counsellor Michelle.  We just wanted to share the amazing trip we had – and keep a record of it for us to look back on. 

 

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Zimbabwe – a once in a lifetime holiday destination

When people talk about favourite holiday destinations you expect the Caribbean, the Algarve, maybe the South of France or Italian Lakes, perhaps Florida for a Disney-fest – but I would like to add Zimbabwe to that list.

When we said we had Zimbabwe on our itinerary for our African Adventure this summer, friends vocalised their concerns with the political situation – especially with the violence after elections just days before we were due to travel. We were heading to Victoria Falls, over 900km from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe and where the majority of the troubles have been, and so were hoping that all would be well.

We flew into Vic Falls and had to wait HOURS to get through immigration – as all visitors have to purchase a visa (in US$, as Zimbabwe no longer has its own currency) and then these are hand written and stuck into individual passports. It was a time consuming process – but eventually worth it.

So here are the Price family’s top tips for a once in a lifetime trip to Zimbabwe:

1. AccommodationMatetsi River Lodge

This was our first destination and it was AMAZING! We were lucky enough to stay in their River House – which sleeps 8 and has it’s own private dining room and kitchen, so you don’t have to go to the communal areas at all.  We honestly felt like the only people there – despite there being 18 other suites. Like the whole resort it is right on the banks of the Zambezi with stunning views across to Zambia.

The rooms are well appointed – with air con, loads of storage, modern bathrooms, mosquito nets – and stunning views out across the river.

We also had our own private pool. It wasn’t heated – but all of the kids, and the husband, managed a brief dip.  It was winter when we were there – but I can imagine in summer it would be a great place to chill and escape the heat.

Some of the wildlife does venture down to the lodge – so you do have to be a bit aware.  I have to say I never thought I’d hear my daughter yell ‘Mum, Mum, a monkey has just stolen my gluten free breakfast biscuits’!!  The cheeky thing had crept through a gap in the door as the girls were chilling in their room, it had swiped a packet of biscuits, climbed up a tree, perfectly opened the packaging and sat munching the gluten free delights!  It was quite a sight.

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The gluten free monkey!

On the subject of being gluten free, Matetsi handled this dietary requirement brilliantly – and made some fabulous GF options available.  They also coped with a very fussy 8 year old who pretty much ate chicken nuggets and chips for every meal.  The rest of us were more adventurous and the food was wonderful.  As were the drinks – gin and homemade lemonade being my tipple of choice after Chris, the wonderful butler, rustled one up for me the first day.  All of the food and drink was included in the price of the stay.

Our laundry was washed every day, also included in the holiday cost, which with 6 of us was incredibly useful.  The final evening the housekeeper had run us a bath and left a bottle of sparkling wine in an ice bucket next to it, for when we got back from our game drive – now that is perfect service! (I won’t include the photo of us in the bath – do not fear!!)

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Candlelit bath with wine #perfect

I managed to have an open air full body massage whilst we were there – there is a separate spa / gym / pool / wine cellar complex  – and it was wonderfully relaxing, and needed after being thrown around on game drives!

We have been lucky enough to stay in some amazing places around the world – but Matetsi will hold a special place in all of our hearts forever.

2. Game Drives

Matetsi allocated our Guide, Clever (yes, that really was his name) and Tracker, Mongoose (I don’t think that really was his name – but it was what Clever called him the day we met and it stuck!) the afternoon we arrived.  We went straight out on our first game drive and it was fabulous.

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Our transport for drives

Within minutes of leaving our house we’d seen loads of elephants at a water container.  Then we saw impala, zebras, kudus and lots more – along with an amazing sunset.  And this was just day one.

We were up early for our game drive the next morning and it was cold.  Proper bone chilling cold – which we hadn’t prepared for at all (the other mornings we layered up in ALL OF THE CLOTHES we had!) When we got in the vehicle there were blankets and HOT WATER BOTTLES – which was incredibly welcome.  We were delighted to see lions that morning- which is not a given – and it made the bone shaking coldness worthwhile.  We were also helped by Mongoose setting up a drinks station where we could have rangers coffee (coffee with a huge shot of Amarula in it!!) to warm up.

As well as game drives, Clever and Mongoose took us fishing on the Zambezi!  I am not renowned for my love of the water – but Mongoose having set up the drinks and snacks on the boat before we arrived definitely helped.  As the 15 year old so eloquently put it – ‘Mum’s only in it for the wine’!!

On one drive Clever collected some elephant poo, reconstituted it by soaking it in some water – and then drank the water!  This is seemingly a common thing for local people to do for its health giving properties!  Mr and Master Price both partook.  I didn’t (and informed Mr Price he had to clean his teeth before he could even think about a kiss that day!)

All of the drives were amazing – and we saw different things every time.

You do get a bit blase a few days in – with ‘oh look, more impala’ as if you’re talking about sheep when driving through Wales or such like, but to then see elephants walking across the plains as the sun sets – takes your breath away.

3. Elephant Interaction

We moved on from Matetsi to The Elephant Camp – about half an hour away, and closer to Victoria Falls itself.  We were lucky enough to have the 4 suites in West Camp to ourselves (there are 12 further suites over in the main camp).

It wasn’t quite up to Matetsi accommodation wise (but I’m not sure anything would have been!) but we were staying in tents (admittedly tents with a lounge area with sofas, and a full on en suite) but I’m taking it as a camping trip!!  (I’m renowned for my love of camping about as much as my love of boats!!)

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Every tent should have a living area with sofas and a minibar!

The main attraction about staying here was the chance to interact with the elephants who live on the camp.  In the 1980s Zimbabwe culled lots of elephants – this resulted in many orphans, and the Elephant Camp took them in.  They have continued to take in orphaned and injured elephants ever since.  The elephants can roam around the park in the day – but at night are stabled.  They are used to interacting with humans and so visitors can go and see them and feed them.  Having seen lots of elephants in the wild in the preceeding few days – it was wonderful to get up so close to them.  All of us enjoyed feeding them – and when one coughed all over the 15 year old, it was very amusing for the rest of us!

 

4. Sylvester the Cheetah

The other amazing thing that The Elephant Camp had to offer was the chance to interact with their resident Cheetah – Sylvester.  He was orphaned as a cub (his mother and the rest of his litter killed by a lion) and so has been brought up by the rangers.  He therefore lacks the hunting instinct to be let back into the wild.

Older children are allowed to take Sylvester for a walk – but because our youngest kids are only 8 and 6 that wasn’t an option, but we could still do the interaction.

It was amazing to see such a majestic creature up close.  The photos were incredible (although it does look like our 13 year old is trying to be all ‘gangsta’ rather than a public schoolboy from Worcestershire…….)

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Price family cheetah selfie (although it would make a good album cover!)

5. Victoria Falls

My parents visited the Falls at a similar time of year a few years ago, from the Zambian side – and there wasn’t much water, and they could actually walk onto the river bed – so we didn’t have high hopes for water flow.  However, it was perfect!  There was enough water to be truly spectacular – but we could see quite a lot without getting completely soaked (although we did by the end!)

We started off with a walk with our guide who had collected us from the Elephant Camp.  He was really informative telling us about the geography and history.  Interestingly whilst there is a statue of Livingstone at the Zimbabwean side of the falls, he didn’t actually set foot on that side, having ‘discovered’ them from the Zambia!

We walked along going to many different view points – which got progressively wetter as we went along!  We walked all the way down to the bridge across the gorge that connects Zimbabwe and Zambia (built in England and shipped across many years ago.  It reminded me of Ironbridge in Shropshire)

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After that we went to the Lookout Cafe for lunch.  The food was fab, as was the wine, and the view over the gorge quite spectacular!

From there we were picked up and taken to do ‘The Flight of Angels‘ – a 13 minute helicopter tour over Victoria Falls.  The 15 year old and 8 year old refused to fly – but the 13 year old and 6 year old did (there is no lower age limit).  The four of us had an amazing time – bucket list stuff.  It gave a real insight into the geography seeing it from the air.  And I managed not to throw up – which is unusual for me!!  It was spectacular.

 

The whole thing  really was a once in a lifetime trip – and one we would thoroughly recommend to anyone considering a safari.  We didn’t see any political trouble at all – and aside from a slightly ear flapping elephant, and being within striking distance of a lion, didn’t feel unsafe at all.

So there you go – Zimbabwe is now high up on the Price family favourite holiday destinations list!!

 

Note:  This is not a sponsored post, we paid for everything we did.  All of it was organised by our wonderful Travel Counsellor Michelle.  We just wanted to share the amazing trip we had – and keep a record of it for us to look back on. 

I bless the rains down in Africa

Everybody loves the 80s Toto classic – and the people of Cape Town are particularly loving any rains due to a drought!

The Price family are off on an African adventure later in the summer.  And we’re all really excited.

This blog was supposed to be remembering family life – as well as book reviews (which are keeping me in free books, so we can’t complain, even if my family members CBA to read any book reviews unless they are specifically tagged!) but my documentation of real family life has fallen by the wayside a bit.  Real life gets in the way of blogging about real life –  and the hum drum of everyday life is probably a bit dull.

Anyway – we’re escaping hum drum to a bespoke trip to Africa – all planned by our amazing Travel Counsellor Michelle.

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We’re starting with a few nights in Cape Town – the 6 year old is well excited about visiting Robben Island. Then we’re up to the Victoria Falls area for a few nights at a safari lodge (the closest I get to camping!!) and then an Elephant Camp (although the soon to be 15 year old is traumatised by the thought of a helicopter trip over the falls).  And we’re finishing off with a week in the Seychelles to chillax, ready for the direct flight home to the UK (it only started in the Spring – but we’re very glad it did!)

With our wide age range of kids, there aren’t that many years that the youngest 2 are old enough to appreciate such adventures, and the older 2 still want to come on holiday with us (although as friends have pointed out, if we’re doing holidays like that – they’ll probably want to come with us forever!!)

The husband is so excited he’s bought special aftershave and retrieved his leopard print thong from the back of his pants drawer #luckyAfrica

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We will keep you posted of our exploits – I am nothing but honest with my reviews on here and social media – but for now, altogether now:

“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
(I bless the rain)
I bless the rains down in Africa
(I bless the rain)
I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
(Ah, gonna take the time)
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had”

 

 

You know you’ve been at Centerparcs Longleat for the week when…………

  • You’re not sure if the children have got mud or chocolate on their faces – and frankly you don’t care
  • Daddy has cycled the tagalong bike through every possible puddle in Longleat and covered the smallest child in yet more mud.
    Tagalong
  • The adults all have rapids related injuries from the swimming pool – where the kids are all totally fine!  Centerparcs elbow is a well known ailment in our house – and tends to have just recovered before the next visit!!Rapids
  • ‘Essentials’ from the Parcmarket on the last night are bread, milk and prosecco
  • You’ve had to stand on the top of the hot tub to get a decent phone signal to take a work call
  • You’ve hit your steps target on your Fitbit every day from marching from the outdoor activity center to the Jardin de Sports because your activity planning didn’t take geography into account
  • The number of parents growling through gritted teeth at their children ‘we’ve paid a lot of money to be here, you should be enjoying it’ has hit triple figures
  • You’ve got back ache from pushing a small child’s bike up (and down) hills because they’re only confident on the flat (of which Longleat doesn’t have much!)
  • The sauna has been used every day without fail – but only to dry towels and swimming stuff.
  • You’ve bumped into a friend from school that you haven’t seen in 25 years – but you’re both necking booze at lunchtime
  • The story about Mummy crying on the Tree Top Trek has been recounted to many staff and random strangers #thankskids
  • You’ve decided to try and ignore the fact that the pool is human soup and satisfy yourself that the chlorine levels must be fine as they’re making everyone’s hair a bit lighter too!
  • The house has had to be re-mortgaged so that the children can paint random pieces of pottery that will end up being stored in the loft within 6 months
    Pottery
  • You’ve realised by the end of the day that the changing rooms at the pool need a health warning – so you plan to go earlier in the day to avoid the strange things people leave in the cubicles…
  • You’re shocked at the number of people who don’t wear cycling helmets and don’t insist their children do – having witnessed first hand the accidents that can happen even at slow speed when coming off a bike I want to shout at them all (but have refrained!)  but for us – no helmet = no bike
  • You’ve decided that donuts are a perfectly acceptable breakfast and pancakes a perfectly acceptable lunch (apologies to the parents of the children we brought with us!)
    Pancakes
  • The highlight of the week was to be the full body massage you had booked for the last afternoon – but it drops off the Centerparcs app the night before – so you almost weep with relief when the lovely lady at guest services tell you that it’s still booked #phew (and it was WONDERFUL – thank you Molly!)
  • You’re sending your nephew home with trainers entombed in mud from where he rolled his quad bike – and potentially half of his wardrobe is in a similar state #sorrysister
  • You’ve made loads of brilliant memories that will be talked about for years – and you’ve already booked to come back again for New Year and are bringing some overseas Centerparcs virgins with you!!

 

Thank you again Centerparcs Longleat for a fab stay.  Last time we stayed in this lodge we went home pregnant with our 4th child – hoping we don’t have QUITE such a lasting memory this time!!!

The Prices do St Lucia

St Lucia flag

14.5 years ago the husband and I got married in St Lucia.  Back then digital photos were a new fangled thing – so there weren’t many to chose from – but here you go! (Can’t believe how young we all look!!)

Wedding day 2003

We got married at The Body Holiday at Le Sport.  It’s a fabulous resort – and you get beauty treatments included each day as part of the ‘all inclusive’ aspect for the resort.  Even my Dad got in on the treatment action back in 2003. I  was actually 16 weeks pregnant with our eldest daughter (I’d come off the pill when we booked the wedding expecting it to take forever to get up the duff – but it didn’t!) and so was limited with the treatments, watersports, food and drink when there for the wedding.  But thankfully made up for that when we returned for our 5th and 10th wedding anniversaries!

40th birthday

Anyway – apart from this one ‘in utero’ visit for the eldest, the kids hadn’t seen where we got married – so we thought we’d take them across the Atlantic for a summer holiday in the Caribbean. Some friends have a timeshare slightly further down the coast from where we got married – and unlike The Body Holiday, this resort permits children to stay too.  We could have a large 5 bedroom villa in  the grounds of the hotel – so having the hotel facilities (room service, restaurants, water sports, spa etc) on tap but still staying in our own space.  So we booked a villa at Windjammer Landing through James Villas.

We headed of to St Lucia with British Airways (Virgin also fly there) – with the nice lying down seats!

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The youngest signing her landing card! 

We’d been given some top tips for arriving at Hewanorra airport (UVF if you’re interested in airport codes #usefulforPointless) – basically, keep left if you’ve got young kids with you, as there’s a dedicated ‘families’ queue at immigration which is loads quicker! And it was great – straight through, bags grabbed, men trying to charge you loads of money to help avoided and out into the every sweaty concourse to await our driver.

We knew the drive from the airport was arduous!  We’ve tried a helicopter transfer before – and with all the faffing about, and the fact it only gets you to Castries, not the actual hotel – meant we stuck with road transportation.  I suffer HORRIBLY with car sickness – and the roads in St Lucia are pretty windy, bumpy and altogether vomit inducing – but I managed not to chuck for the 90 minute transfer.

It was all a bit chaotic and ‘Caribbean’ in service levels when we got to the hotel. I’m not sure I’m cut out to be laid back and all ‘irie’.  Anyway – we got up to our villa and our view was AMAZING!!!  It was just the most stunning ever.  There were a ‘few’ issues – but I’ve saved those for the Tripadvisor review 😉

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The stunning view from our villa 

Whilst the husband and I had been to St Lucia before, we hadn’t ventured out of our resort – so we decided to do a trip around the island.  I – and 2 of the 4 kids – aren’t great on boats, so we did it by road.  This was not cheap – but we plumped for it anyway.  We saw Marigot Bay, did the sulphur springs, the waterfall and the Pitons.  The weather was FOUL, it took FOREVER to get anywhere – but we all survived (just!)  We’ve only seen rave reviews of doing these sites by sea – so it must just have been doing it by road that made it really hard work – of course, not helped by the fact the rain was pretty torrential.  It also highlighted just what a high proportion of the island is living in total poverty – quite sobering to see when you’re safely ensconced in your luxury resort most of the time.

On other days we did the zip wire over the rainforest (and the youngest and I did a cable car instead as she was too young to zip wire – and I’m too scared of heights!!)

The husband and girls also did horseriding – including a ride along the beach.

We also went to the water park in Rodney Bay with our friends which was brilliant (again the 5 year old was too young, and quite put out about this!!)  – but the older kids and the husband enjoyed it (although he struggled to move the next day!!) We also had an amazing meal at Spinnakers on the beach that night.

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And, of course, we took the children to see where we got married #romantic

The airport lounge for the flight back is not the best lounge we’ve ever been in (Dubai International – DXB – is the best if you actually want to know!) but we passed the time there, and then flew back (not the best flight ever either – a 5 year old with ear ache meant I spent a large proportion of the flight sat in the footwell of her seat comforting her – and my lovely bed went unslept in!).

But lots of family memories – good, bad, amusing and disturbing – were made over the fortnight!

The eldest daughter made this fab video of what we got up to – which shows what a great time we had (thankfully it doesn’t include the torrential rain, or the times the kids just wanted to sit and watch their iPads!!)

Thank you St Lucia – you’ll always have a special place in our hearts as it’s where we said ‘I do’.  I’m not sure in January 2003 I would have expected to return 14 years later with 4 children in tow!

 

 

 

 

New York, New York – twice!

A couple of years ago the husband and I had a wonderful childfree few days in New York!

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Tourists on board a river cruise

And in a fortnight we’re heading back – but this time with a 12 and almost 14 year old in tow!!

We’re currently paying for the big 2 to go to school – which means their holidays are loads longer than the state schools (although you can practically fund the school fees in the reduced holiday costs #economics!) – so the little 2 are staying at home (with the nanny!) and we’re taking the big 2 on a city break.

Excitement levels are high (mostly due to Snapchat and Instagram ops!) and we’re hoping the children manage not to kill each other sharing a hotel room.

We’ve booked to see ‘School of Rock’ on Broadway – and to eat at The Boathouse in Central Park – but otherwise, we’re going with the toursit-y flow!

We’re staying in the same hotel as last time – and after our Billy Idol encounter last time, are hoping for a more relevant celeb spot in a lift this time!

I will, of course, report back how a city break with teens / tweens differs to an adult city break!!

Bring it on New York!!!

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Bear-y excited!!

A couple of years ago the wonderful Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH) created The Big Hoot – where lots of colourful owls descended on the West Midlands for the summer.  After the trail was finished they were auctioned off to raise much needed funds for BCH.

We had great fun doing the trail as a family.

And then I took it all far too seriously in an attempt to view all of them, and turned it into a military operation and the kids didn’t enjoy it quite so much…….

Well – the children are *delighted* to hear that in a similar vein BCH are having The Big Sleuth in and around Birmingham this summer!!

The big sleuth

Here’s what the website says about it:

“The departure of The Big Hoot owls left many of you in a feathery flap! Well, the good news is Birmingham’s second adventure is mysteriously taking shape!

Repeating The Big Hoot’s multi-award-winning formula, Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity and Wild in Art are teaming up to present The Big Sleuth.

To most people, the word ‘sleuth’ means a private detective, but it’s also the collective noun for a group of bears! Bizarre but true.

Birmingham will bring both definitions together in the summer of the 2017 and the Sun Bear, the world’s smallest species of bear (now threatened with extinction) is the inspiration for a brand-new sculpture for this event.

These incredible creatures are sure to inspire creativity and generate plenty of fun for all you sleuth spotters on the trail!  After which, the bears will be auctioned to raise valuable funds for Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity.”

 

Now I’m still a bit disappointed that we were out of the country for the owl auction 2 years ago – made worse by the fact that some people I used to work with bought one for their back garden – so this year I’m hoping we can go to the auction as well as have days of endless fun going on a bear hunt!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving the London Marathon*

Running a marathon is one of those things that appear on people’s bucket lists – along with a bungee jump, sky diving or climbing a particularly high mountain.  I can safely say that none of those are on mine.

However, my little sister Charlotte, after doing a half marathon last year, decided to capitalise on the fact she’d trained and was half way there and signed up to do the London Marathon 2017 – raising funds for Asthma UK.  She was massively dedicated to her training schedule – running come rain or shine, – and last Sunday headed off to run possibly the most famous marathon in the world through our capital city.

I should point out at this point that I’m not completely heartless – I waited for my sister to post her amazing blog about her actually RUNNING the London Marathon before posting this 😉  So please read what it was like to be an actual competitor!!!

But now – what it was like to be a spectator at the London Marathon!!!

Firstly – the preparation.  This might not have been as excessive as it was for those actually running – but still, there were things to do!!  It was even making me an insomniac. I knew there was an app that contained lots of info and maps, and the same with London Underground apps for getting about – but I’d also been told that phone reception in London on marathon day can be akin to New Year’s Eve, when everyone is trying to use the services at once – so I printed out hard copies of everything too.

There was also setting up the app to ensure you were tracking the people you were going to watch – and other randoms who you could ‘stalk’ around the course.

Then there was the fact that all of the food outlets would be RAMMED – so needing to carry supplies with you. I didn’t go quite as far as Kendal mint cake and powdered meals – but you’re getting the idea!!

The night before I did not abstain from booze like the runners – and enjoyed a pint of G&T in preparation!

Pint of G&T

I have to say I didn’t sleep well with the night before – a combo of nerves and excitement, so was up bright and early on the Sunday morning ready to face our mission. Comfy clothes and footwear were put on (I’d considered wearing a sports bra and putting Vaseline on my feet – but thought that might be a few steps too far……)

My parents arrived at 8am – and we, along with my 2 eldest kids, were ready to go! (I’d left the 2 younger kids with my husband with the instructions he was to take them summer shoe shopping – a task almost as Herculean as running a marathon!!)

Elite runners

A friend had been to spectate last year and I followed her advice for getting into London.  We drove down the M40 to Amersham and parked at the station there. My Dad very kindly offered to pay for the parking – although it was actually free! But hey, it’s the thought that counts.

We’d decided to go straight to the first Asthma UK cheering Point at mile 12. This involved an overland train to Harrow on the Hill (which has replaced ‘Castle on the Hill’ in the Ed Sheeran song to us all now. All the LOLS!!) and 2 tubes round to Bermondsey.

Tube photo

This went RIDICULOUSLY smoothly – with us literally going straight from train to train. Consequently we were at mile 12 before Charlotte had even crossed the start line!!

As we were there so early we were able to watch the Elite men go through. There is a definite body shape for these amazing athletes – and I am pretty much the antithesis of this!!

After that came the masses. And there really were masses. It was quite hard to spot individuals, and at this point I was concerned as to how I would see my sister at all.

We spotted James Cracknell (randomly we’d rented his house in Devon over Easter – but I didn’t think it was the right time to tell him that his wifi appears to be dodgy) and then a friend of mine from back in the day at Southampton Uni (whom I almost missed as he’d put a bandana on post pre race photos and before getting to us.  Thankfully his ‘City of Birmingham Striders’ top gave him away!).

The marathon app predicts what time the runners will hit certain points, and so as it was a while until Charlotte would arrive, I moved away from the railings to let other people get close to the action. I was still tracking runners on the app – and at one point told my kids that ‘Chappers off of Match of the Day 2’ was about to run past – 30 seconds before he actually did!!

We then knew my sister was getting close. At this point her husband and kids weren’t there! I knew they were close too – but from ‘Find my Friends’ with their phones they were making slow progress (this happens if you’re stopping at pubs on the way!!!) Thankfully they arrived in time (that is my brother in law and not Richard from Guess Who, just in case you were wondering!!)

The Bates

and it was VERY emotional seeing out star runner in her amazing Little Miss leggings!!

There were sweaty hugs all round – and off she set again. At this point me, my Dad and my niece were all weeping RIDICULOUSLY! I have to say I’ve got emotional and cried watching the marathon on TV at home, but to actually be there and see someone you love doing it is intense!!

My photos from mile 12 are rubbish – and I won’t embarrass my lovely niece by including the photo of her sobbing!!

We were tracking my sister’s colleague who she has tirelessly fundraised with Charlotte for Asthma UK – but she was still 6 minutes behind – and we wanted to get off to the next cheer point at mile 20, so slightly guiltily, we headed off.

Because my sister had raised so much – she’d been given 3 tickets for the grandstand finish, so my brother in law, niece and nephew headed straight there – as not only did they need to get across London – there was also, unsurprisingly, tight security to get in – and they definitely didn’t want to miss her!

We ummed and ahhed about walking or getting the Tube – but decided to give public transport a go. It was really really busy – like leaving a concert or sporting event – but kept moving and we did another cross London journey in great time and made it to Westferry.

We knew Asthma UK had a steel band at this cheer point – which meant there location was very easy to find! They were great – but very very loud!!

Samba band

We reckoned we had about an hour until my sister arrived – and we wanted to escape the noise – and I was desperate for a wee! I saw a small child going in the gutter next to a skip and did consider that (but then realised I was sober!) Mum had spotted a cinema, so we thought we’d pop there for refreshments and a wee (although sitting down in a comfy chair in a darkened room was also appearing!!)

Dad treated us (and did actually have to pay this time!) to nachos, sweets, water and coffees – and the cafe staff were lovely and amenable (even meeting Mum’s exacting coffee requirements!) We realised the loos were past where you needed to have a ticket to get to – but having just spent £20 in the cafe thought the staff member would let me through – but no, tickets only. The nice cafe man pleaded my case – but the chap stuck to his guns. (I did enquire what the cheapest ticket I could buy was to go for a wee – but decided £11.90 was extortionate for watching a film let alone just for a wee!!)

We headed outside – with me huffing and puffing about pedants. Everyone else camped out in the glorious sunshine (well done London on the weather, Dad could even sunbathe) and I went in search of a loo.

Dad

Thankfully the doorman at The Marriot was much more accommodating and so I partook of their facilities (and wifi simultaneously!).

After that it was back to the railings. At this point all of the runners looked tired. Whilst at 12 miles everyone has been bunched together and running – the crowds were much thinner and a lot of people were walking. I should add at this point, that walking is often in people’s training plan and plan for the day.  My sister had a 5 minute run, 1 minute walk plan – from  the start.  (Although kept getting overexcited and running for longer than 5 minutes!)  She’d found that overall in training this gave her a better time than just running and getting gradually slower and slower and slower.  Unfortunately lots of spectators – and some fellow competitors – don’t realise this, and often shout encouragement at walkers – who quite stroppily reply ‘IT’S MY PLAN – I’M SUPPOSED TO BE WALKING AT THE MOMENT’!!!)

We shouted encouragement to lots of people as they went past.  Interestingly my son seems to emulate his father rather a lot – and shouted encouragement mostly at attractive younger female runners!!

Then we saw her (after a false start as there was another Asthma UK runner with a similar hairstyle – but minus the funky leggings!)

She was a bit teary, and sounded a bit like when she was a small child, telling Mum  that she was really tired and it hurt and needing a hug.  Turns out that she’d found the bit between our 2 meetings the toughest of the whole race. More hugs.  More passing on of half drunk bottles to Mum (because she knew Mum doesn’t like waste and would be hating the sight of things being thrown onto the roadside!!)  And off she went again.  Sods law the Asthma UK steel band were on a break at this point, so she didn’t even get to hear them!

We then knew the next bit was going to be the riskiest – would we get to mile 25 and the final Asthma UK cheering point on Embankment before Charlotte did?  There was a minor incident getting on the DLR going in the wrong direction – but actually that probably worked out for the best, as it was much easier to change platforms at the wrong station than it would have been at Westferry!!

When we got to Embankment it was the busiest that any cheering area had been – but we battled up to where the final Asthma UK purple flags were flying.  The app said she wasn’t far (but the app sometimes wasn’t right up to the minute) but clearly it was playing the game, as it wasn’t long before she appeared!  Some of the lovely other cheerers had let us get to the front as she was coming – and so we were able to have hugs – and this time pose in a selfie with Charlotte (although I’m taking a photo of her taking the selfie)

Marathon selfie

The end was in sight (well, not literally, she had to go around a couple of corners and there were some big landmarks in the way) but Charlotte knew that it was only a mile or so to go – and that she’d see her husband and kids again before the end.

So that really felt like our marathon as spectators was over.  The atmosphere was still great – but we headed off to where we were all meeting up afterwards.  There was a slight issue with us being given incorrect instructions of how to get there by the Asthma UK team – and if I’d run 26.2 miles and then been told this I would not have been impressed – but as we’d hardly done any steps all day, it was actually quite a pleasant walk – and we managed to get some sight seeing landmarks in too!

When we eventually got to the meet and greet, we were told Charlotte was already  having a massage.  Us five, along with the rest of Charlotte’s family and friends congregated waiting to welcome our conquering hero! Before she arrived we were discussing our various ailments – blisters, tight calves, back ache, sore knee, sunburn, trauma from witnessing the use of a female urinal – honestly, it was tough work being a spectator.

And then she and her medal were there!  Clearly there was more weeping by the usual suspects.

WINNER

We then got to hear a bit about Charlotte’s day (whilst she drank prosecco and ate a plate of food!)  She was literally BUZZING with adrenalin (at least I think it was that, and not that she’d become a cheap date with a small plastic glass of fizz!) and wearing her medal with pride.

I am still slightly perturbed that there’s no medal for being a spectator, and am thinking of marketing those – along with spectator’s T-shirts (perhaps detailing what ailments they’ve suffered being a spectator) – at London 2018?!

All in all it was an amazing day.  I am pleased that it hasn’t made me want to sign up for a marathon #phew – but I am in awe of everyone who got round that course last Sunday – in fact, anyone who does a marathon at all.

As I said to Charlotte – she might not have won the marathon, but she won her marathon, and I couldn’t be prouder of my little sister.

Charlotte - marathon

 

* As a spectator!

There are good people out there!

Yesterday I got an 8am call from a crying 13 year old who had lost her purse on the way to school. She retraced her steps from Tescos to the station but couldn’t find it. She gave me details of what it looked like and the contents (Nando’s loyalty card, debit card, David Lloyd card and about £20 – in that order!) and I reported it online with both London Midland and lostproperty.org – but didn’t hold out much hope (the previous purse she lost on her school train journey didn’t ever turn up again!!)

Then, mid afternoon, I had an email from PDSA Pet Protectors. This is a club that all 4 kids belong to which is part of the PDSA charity for sick animals where they get the Animal Antics magazine every couple of months, and a free gift each year.  Anyway – they’d emailed to say the purse has been found!!

D had clearly missed her Pet Protectors membership card off the list of contents!!

So – there are lots of wonderful people out there to thank –

Firstly the person who found the purse and handed it in at the station with all of the contents intact, including the cash.

Secondly the staff at Worcester Foregate Street station who didn’t just chuck the purse in a lost property box, but went through it to try and track the owner down.

And finally the PDSA Pet Protectors staff who definitely went above and beyond their remit to track us down. They left a voicemail on the home phone – and emailed me too.

All in all there was a very happy 13 year old (although she doesn’t look that enamoured in the photo!) reunited with her purse!!

There are good people out there.

daisy

Human Soup!

Yesterday there was a Tree Top Trek – today there wasn’t – thank goodness!

There was A LOT of walking (but that’s good for the Fitbit challenge I’m in – where my little sister is in marathon training and so the usual winner!) and also quite a lot of time spent in the ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’.

longleat-rapids

To be honest I would question all of the words used in that description.

I fear ‘Human Soup’ is a better description.  At one point this afternoon the rapids were shut because someone had VOMMITED in the pool (I am seriously hoping it was a baby and not some adult who’d been on the Jagerbombs at lunchtime?!)  But – they were shut for about an hour (I am assuming to give time for the sick to dissipate?!?  I am hoping there are protocols / chlorine levels to ensure this is dealt with safely?!?)

I am pleased to report I saw no evidence of vom floating about – but plasters / hair / unidentified floating solid things were all witnessed!

The kids adore the rapids – and despite being 42 and a size 18, I threw myself down them too (thankfully not landing on too many people in the process!)  I did, however, manage to flash most of Centerparcs after my boobs escaped after a particularly vigorous descent.

You will be pleased to hear there are no photos of today’s escapades!!

I also fear a rotator cuff injury and a mid back muscle issue – and all this despite the fact I only take responsibility for myself – with the older siblings (and spare one!) doing a sterling job with the little ones.

I also thought the pool water would be kill or cure for my horrific eczema – and at the moment it seems to be cure #winning

So no doubt there will be more Subtropical Swimming Paradise – Storm Doris Flailing Nightmare – tomorrow! #livingthedream