One night in Joburg

(To the tune of ‘One Night In Bangkok’ , or ‘One Night In Heaven’ – take your pick!)

This summer the Price family went on an African adventure.  Between our stays in  Zimbabwe and The Seychelles – we had an overnight stay in Johannesburg due to flight timings.  Joburg felt very different to Cape Town.  It felt more of a sprawling city – not hemmed in by a huge mountain, so it could just spread and spread – and there were people EVERYWHERE.  It felt a bit more daunting.  We literally travelled from the airport to our hotel and back again – so didn’t see anything that the city or surrounding area had to offer.  The Saxon hotel, however, was incredible.

We were lucky enough to stay in one of their villas – which are generally used by visiting dignitaries, celebrities and royalty to avoid the paparazzi in the main hotel!  We’d missed Katy Perry by a week, and Nelson Mandela by a few years (he finished his autobiography ‘Long Walk To Freedom’ in the hotel).  It’s joined to the main hotel by a skywalk (and as our son is Luke, cue lots of jokes about Luke Skywalker!)

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We had 3 of the 7 luxury suites in Villa One and it was wonderful.  Partly – it was nice to be back in proper civilisation after a week in the Zimbabewean bush – and to have Molton Brown toiletries (even if the husband did call them Melton Mowbray – a small village in Leicestershire, UK famous for pork pies?!?)

The kids loved the (heated) pool – and us adults loved the complimentary bottle of champagne in each suite.  I have to confess we didn’t quite manage all 3!

We all enjoyed the super quick wifi (the one thing Zimbabwe lacked!) and the most amazing steak we’ve ever eaten.  The food was great for dinner and breakfast – although slightly slow (I guess it has to come across from the main hotel) and that was the only minor negative of the whole stay.

 

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The stay was brief – but fabulous.  We managed to leave ‘liony’ behind – he was camouflaged by the white bed sheets, being a white lion himself.  However, a call from the airport saw him being chauffeur driven to be reunited with a distraught 8 year old before we got on our flight to Mahe!

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If you find yourself in Joburg – we would thoroughly recommend the Saxon – just a shame our stay was so brief.

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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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. 

 

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”

 

 

Time capsule briefcase

Last night I sorted out a briefcase to take to fancy London today. These days it’s pretty rare for me to use such a bag – and that was clearly evident when I sorted out the contents of the interior pockets:

  1. Business cards from an office we moved out of over 5 years ago.
  2. Ibuprofen with a use by date of 2011! I’d forgotten just how many I use to pop – before pilates sorted my back out.
  3. Medium sized tampons – this was definitely pre children 3 and 4, super plus all the way since then!!

 

Because of all of the above, I didn’t risk eating the chocolate coins that I also found……………..

 

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Skiing funtimes

I am renowned for many things – but my love of skiing is not one of them.

I blame this on not learning until I was nearly 26 – and I came to the French Alps for the Ski-llenium New Year (1999-2000, when everyone expected computers around the world to fail, and NOTHING HAPPENED……..)  Well – that holiday could generate a couple of blog post topics for sure  – but we’ll gloss over that for now – and just say, I’ve never really been bitten by the skiing bug!

However, my best friend from school has lived in the French Alps for almost 15 years – and we’ve visited regularly – so I have done the skiing thing a few times (although being pregnant and having a small baby were damn good excuses four times.  This is not the reason I had 4 kids though (that was because the oldest 2 got old enough to realise I was nicking their Easter eggs, so I needed to have some more!!))

This year, when arranging ski lessons, I shocked aforementioned BFF by saying I would have lessons.  There was an incredulous WhatsApp response – as if she didn’t believe me!!  Anyway – 4 weeks before the holiday I had to have surgery, and was advised not to do anything strenuous for 6 weeks – so skiing, for me at least, had to be cancelled!!! Obviously I was gutted (not!) and planned lazing in a deckchair with my Kindle and a vin chaud…………

Now it should be said that skiing holidays are not for the faint hearted!  A bit like Disney or Centerparcs you arrive home feeling like you really deserve a rest.

At this time of year EasyJet do a direct flight from BHX to GVA – so that makes life simpler.  The flight was straightforward, quick and arrived early!  Baggage reclaim was straightforward, and as it’s an airport we know quite well, we were quickly on our way to get our vehicle.  To house the 6 of us and our fabulous nanny who came too – we needed a large vehicle – and a Citroen Jumpy it was.  When we picked it up we saw it had German plates – but didn’t think much of that at the time.  Until we started driving through Geneva and the Haute Savoie in France.  People kept pulling out in front of us – and generally driving aggressively near us. Seems the Germans are not particularly well liked in this area.  I’m not sure if putting a Union Jack in the window would have made this better or worse?!?

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Mini bus selfie in Geneva traffic

We stopped at a huge Carrefour to stock up on essentials – milk, bread, yoghurt, tonic (had brought our own gin from home!) and prosecco!

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Essential shopping

We made it up the mountain in one piece (this is not always a given, 9 years ago we managed to drive an Avis rental into a ditch and write it off  on this same route – hence we always take out the additional insurance when hiring from Geneva airport!!) and to our fabulous apartment in St Jean d’Aulps.  We’d booked through Chalet des Fleurs – who had been great throughout the whole booking process – but randomly the apartment used to be a restaurant my BFF’s parents owned, so it was slightly surreal going back to it as an apartment!

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A sign in our chalet – it would appear they’ve met my husband before….

The apartment was walking distance to the telecabine (and on the first day to the ski shop to get kitted out).  We’d booked private lessons through the local ESF office – who were brilliant. The little 2 had an instructor called Fanny, which caused much amusement for my husband, asking if anyone had seen Fanny (honestly, you wouldn’t believe he was 46!!).  The big 2 had the instructor that I’d had back in 1999 – and they were much better behaved students than their mother, I don’t think at any point they cried, took their skis off and tried to walk back down the mountain……..

We had 3 days of skiing and lessons – the first day was GLORIOUS sunshine, with the other days not so great – but still a good time had by all.  We even got to ski with our friends kids – who are AWESOME – we are very proud of them (and my husband does try to pass them off as his kids when people are impressed by their skiing / bilingual-ness!!)

 

 

 

A local lady had stocked our chalet with food – a tartiflette (local potato / bacon / reblochon cheese deliciousness), a Thai green chicken curry and a spag bol for the kids – along with a selection of fantastic cakes.  This really helped in the evenings being able to feed everyone with minimal stress.  We also managed take away pizzas from a place in the village – and ate up the slopes at a couple of different places – La Licorne being the best by far!

We were only away Monday – Friday, and this worked perfectly!  3 days of skiing for everyone, so no one was completely broken and exhausted – which seems to be the order of the day when away for a week.  I would suggest that all 4 kids are probably better skiers than me now – but I’m pleased they all have this skill at a young age – before being lumbered with ‘the fear’!!

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All 4 kids and our fab nanny. All of them can now ski better than me………

 

This is in no way a sponsored post – we paid for the whole trip ourselves – just wanting to share the love!!

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Abu Dhabi – do!

We have been frequent visitors to Dubai – maybe a dozen times in the last decade – and when our 15th wedding anniversary was on the horizon we managed to cash in some BA Miles for free flights back to DXB.  However – we felt we needed a change, so we asked our lovely Travel Counsellor Michelle for some options hotel-wise- and she came up with 3, one of which was the Emirates Palace just down the road in the different Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  So we decided to go for it!

This meant I was able to tell my favourite joke for weeks leading up to our trip:

“Do you know they don’t show the Flintstones in Dubai?
But Abu Dhabi do!!!”

Whilst everyone *may* have mocked my joke, it did get us a mention and anniversary best wishes from Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2 when my sister emailed in to tell him where we were celebrating when he told the same *fabulous* joke on air!!!

Anyway – back to the trip.

As I said, we cashed in the BA Miles and turned left onto the plane to fly to Dubai.  However, as we were due to begin our descent we were told it was incredibly foggy – less than 100m visibility – and so planes were being held in a holding pattern above the city as they were having to leave much bigger gaps between planes landing.  We had enough fuel for 2 hours – otherwise we’d have to divert to Muscat to refuel!!  Having slept for most of the actual flight time, this did give me time to watch a film!  And if you’re going to have a delay in landing – then lying on a flat bed is the way to do it.  Thankfully we didn’t have to divert to Oman – and landed JUST within the 2 additional hours.

Michelle had arranged for a driver to collect us from DXB to take us to our hotel.  Mr P was asleep before we were out of central Dubai.  I managed to stay awake a little longer – but there is only so much sand / scrub land / building work you can look at – and I nodded off too.   We’d both woken up once we were off the highway and the arrival at our hotel was impressive!  It stars in the film Fast and Furious 7 – but was even more impressive in real life.

As it was our 15th wedding anniversary – we’d pushed the boat out and booked a suite – and it was ENORMOUS!  We were really impressed.  We’ve stayed in some lovely hotels around the world – including the Burj Al Arab up the coast in Dubai – but this is definitely the best suite ever.

The whole hotel is huge – and feels really empty in the guest areas.  (The lobby area is always busy because it’s a feature on all of the tours of the city!  Although the dress code is strictly enforced so don’t try and get it wearing shorts and flip flops.)  My husband tried to claim he’d booked the hotel for our exclusive use – but I’m not that gullible!  But it has been nice not to have to worry about racing to get sunbeds in prime position on the beach or by the pool!!

On our first full day we did a tour of the city and it was BRILLIANT.  Our guide, Vera, was from Mexico (one of the 84% of the population of the UAE who aren’t Emirati) but has lived here for 7 years and so was very knowledgeable.

We did a couple of museums covering the history of Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a whole.

We then did a drive by of recently opened Louvre.  Having been into the original Paris gallery recently, we didn’t feel compelled to go inside this one.

Then we went to Ferrari World – again, we only went as far as the shop – but when we return with our kids we can see this being top of the places to visit.

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We then popped round the corner to the Yas Marina circuit – where the final race of the Formula One season is held each November.  You can access loads of areas (way more than you could at Silverstone) and you can drive the circuit in a selection of very fancy pants cars.  Again – this is on the list for when we come here again with the whole clan.

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After that we drove to see the Sheik Zayed Mosque – started by the eponymous founder of the UAE but not completed until after his death.  I knew the basic rules of clothing in the UAE from going to Dubai – and covering knees and shoulders – but the dress code here in Abu Dhabi seems to be far more strict, and at the mosque stricter still.  The lovely Vera had bought an abaya I could borrow – and I’d thought to pack a headscarf – but less organised people can hire suitable attire at the entrance to the mosque.  The husband’s shorts had to be pulled down so his knees were covered at all times.

Once inside it was truly stunning.

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Everything is intricately carved with different coloured stones and metals to ensure it doesn’t weather or fade and it looks out of this world.  The husband did notice that the tiles weren’t grouted (you can take the builder out of Birmingham and all that…..) but it turns out that’s because there’s a below floor cooling system so that the marble doesn’t get too hot when the weather is 40 degrees plus in the summer. The cold water under there keeps the marble cool to the touch so that the worshippers can still kneel on it to pray.  The outside courtyard can have 30,000 people praying at any one time – whilst inside can house 20,000.  During Ramadan there would not be a single spare space.

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Inside was just as impressive – with chandeliers with ladders inside so that they can be cleaned and the lamps changed (I’m not allowed to say bulbs – although that is what I would normally put – but I get ranted at by my husband that bulbs are what are planted in the ground and lamps are what emit light).  The carpet holds the Guinness World Record for the largest single piece of carpet.  It was made in situ and weighs over 65 tonnes.  It has clever ridges in it so that people praying can line up exactly.

It was an amazing place to visit – and definitely feels like one of the wonders of the modern world.

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As the afternoon tea in our hotel is legendary – it had to be done!  My only regret is that I hadn’t starved myself for the day beforehand, and consequently couldn’t finish it – and felt ridiculously full for HOURS afterwards!

We managed the cappuccinos with gold on them – but didn’t go as far as the camelccino (cappuccino with camels’ milk!!!)

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All in all, we love Abu Dhabi – and will definitely be back with the children in tow.  Someone had described it to me as ‘Dubai’s older more sophisticated sister’ and I think they’re spot on.  It has the great service you expect of Dubai – but feels a bit calmer and slightly less ‘crazy fake bubble’ – although particularly in the Emirates Palace, if something sits still long enough it will be coated with gold leaf!!

But definitely consider it as a holiday option.

Whilst we were away my Auntie told my (slightly deaf) Nan that we were in Abu Dhabi – to which she replied ‘Oh, I love Aberdovey’.  Maybe we’ll save that destination for our next big anniversary …….

 

 

 

 

Don’t Stop All the Clocks

A few weeks ago there was UPROAR because Big Ben isn’t going to bong for many years whilst the Houses of Parliament are undergoing renovations!  People were quoted as saying it may harm tourism?!?!  (To be honest most tourists want a photo with Big Ben in the background not a sound recording of the bongs?!?)

Big-Ben (1)

In the mid 90s I lived on St Paul’s Square in the centre of Birmingham.  There was a church in the middle of the square (cue reminiscing about my brother in law doing a comedy dive over one of the benches in the churchyard the day they helped me move in!)  Anyway – I digress.

St_Paul_Birmingham

 

When I first became resident I was really concerned that the clock would keep me awake – but it didn’t at all.  In fact the only time it was an issue was when the clock was broken and stopped chiming every 15 minutes, and bonging on the hour!  I think my subconscious would wait to hear it – and when it didn’t happen I’d wake up – weird!

We now live within striking distance of one of the churches in our village.  Bell ringing practice on a Tuesday can be a wonderful sound (or it can be quite annoying when children use it as an excuse as to why they can’t possibly get to sleep!)  Again the clock at this church chimes every 15 minutes and bongs the hours. This was very useful before I wore a Fitbit 24/7 – as if I was up in the night with small children I could work out what time it was even if I wasn’t near a clock.

St Laurence Church

The other day the 5 year old announced that as the clock had just struck she was coming in for some lunch – given it goes every 15 minutes, I’m not sure why this particular ringing meant food time?!

Although award for the craziest bell has to go to the church in the centre of Le Biot in the French Alps where my BFF from school and her family live.  There is seemingly no rhyme or reason to when or how many time that bongs!!  But at least I’m not moaning about the cow bells – which apparently most English residents living there don’t like (well, according to the Daily Mail anyway – so it must be true!!)

Le Biot France

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!