Our Break in Brussels

Our Break in BrusselsI love looking at old photos, though I mostly concentrate on the ones when my children were quite young. Isn’t it amazing how one day they’re a little baby, and the next thing you know they’re at school multiplying their tables. Today I found the photos from our family mini-break to Brussels back in 2010. Oh, the ease of travelling with just one child. Moozles was two but we had a painless journey on the Eurostar to Belgium’s capital city. We even forgot the buggy, and it was still fine.

Then again, Brussels is a good city to visit with little ones. We strolled through the Grand-Place, visited parks and statues. And we had lots of lovely meals. And all those chips. It’s a child’s dream. My only issue is the terrible photos. What on earth was I using as a camera back then? Ugh. Thank goodness for today’s smart phones and their fancy cameras.

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Camping in Low Wray, The Lake District

Camping in Low Wray

When Husband first proposed that we go camping this year, I scoffed at the idea. I am not a natural camper. I don’t like being dirty or uncomfortable, and in my mind that is what camping is all about. But I am always up for trying new things (okay, sometimes), so we booked a lakeside pitch at Low Wray campsite. We then spent months not thinking about camping. Then in June, three weeks before our trip, we feverishly started visiting camping shops, ordering a tent and everything else we thought we might need.

We were not prepared for the busiest travel day of the year, and the 10-hour drive from South West London to Low Wray. But at 8.15pm we arrived at the campsite. Husband put up the tent while I made a few trips from the car to our pitch. I even managed to get the kids to help. But as we were camping with some other friends, the kids were more interested in playing than helping.

Low Wray is a fabulous spot. It is right by Lake Windermere, and some pitches (like ours) are right by the lake. For the four of us, it cost £45 per night. But you are paying for the location. And I can see why. Not only was it pretty, but the kids spent hours playing by, and in, the lake. There was also a good playground located by our nearest car park, which was a three or four-minute walk.

Local attractions include Wray Castle (which is a 15-minute walk from the campsite), the lakeside town of Ambleside and the pretty village of Grasmere. Husband has a lot of fond memories visiting The Lake District as a child. This was the second time he has taken me to Grasmere. It is the home of William Wordsworth and Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread, which is a teeny tiny shop selling yummy gingerbread.

Camping in Low Wray, The Lake DistrictCamping in Low Wray, The Lake District

I will not say it was easy. In fact, you might have read my post about the realities of camping. But, we had a great time. I think two nights was a good taste of camping life. And we are even thinking about our next trip. This time, though, we’ll try to keep it to a maximum four-hour drive. Here are some tips in case you are thinking about going away on your first camping trip (and good luck!).

Top Camping Tips for Newbies:

  1. Practice putting up your tent, if it’s new. We didn’t have enough room in our garden, but Husband got to grips with it as much as possible.
  2. Bring waterproof shoes for kids if you’ll be by water. We brought trainers and wellies and both got soaked. I should have also packed the Crocs.
  3. Extra duvets will not go to waste. The temperature in the UK can really dip down at night.
  4. Bring scarves, hats or gloves. Even in the summer. You may imagine sitting at a campfire with friends, drinking and chatting. There is a good chance you will be cold and shivering.
  5. We bought 5cm SIMS (that’s self-inflating mats) to sleep on, but I did not sleep well on mine. I will get an airbed in time for our next camping trip.
  6. You don’t have to cook every meal. We went out for lunch once. And on the morning we left, we had brioche and strawberries so that we wouldn’t have to deal with cooking and cleaning while packing up.
  7. Freeze bottles of water ahead of your trip. Not only will they keep your cooler cool, but you can drink them once they’ve defrosted.
  8. Yes, pack enough clothes for each day. But it’s not the end of the world if your kids get a bit grubby.
  9. I do not like public showers, which is why a two-night trip is fine for us. But bring a couple of facecloths to wipe your face and hands, though I guess you could use baby wipes.
  10. If you have an iPad or tablet, yes, bring it. But also bring the kids some little toys and new books in case of rainy days.

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Our Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales

Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales

A few weeks ago my family and I drove 4 1/2 hours from South West London to South Wales. And to Bluestone Wales for our family holiday. This is the third year in a row that we have had our main holiday in the UK, but this was the best holiday by far. If you have never been to Bluestone Wales, then book your holiday now (after reading this post, of course). If you are planning a trip to Bluestone, then read on for tips.

We arrived at Bluestone at 3pm and we only had to wait a few minutes to check in (which we did at a gate, whilst in our car). I have heard that there can be long queues if you arrive at 4.30pm (the time when you are able to drive straight to your lodge). We then parked the car and went to the soft play until 4.30pm. The soft play was a good size, with several slides, mini-golf, indoor rock climbing and even a bouncy castle. We had such great weather during our week at Bluestone that we only visited the soft play twice. But I can see how great it would be if the weather was particularly cold or rainy.

We were so pleased to arrive at our holiday home – a Grassholm lodge, on Preseli View.  I was a bit worried at first, as there was a huge construction site on the side of our lodge, but we could not hear them at all when we were inside the house. Our two-story lodge was detached, but there are some semis (if you have a smaller family or if you want to be next to friends or family). Inside, everything was comfortable and modern. Everything looked quite new, and the kitchen had all the necessary amenities (including a cafetiere, as Husband will not drink instant coffee). The beds were comfortable and the shower had terrific pressure.

I don’t know if it is because I am American, but finding modern family accommodation in the UK can be a bit tricky. Some people will rent out their homes, with all the furniture and amenities fresh from the 1960s. I do not enjoy sitting on old, dusty sofas. I do not like beds that have frilly, polyester bedspreads.  I don’t like to find the fur of 83 different dogs ground into the carpet and rugs. And I certainly do not want to drink tea from your 20-year old kettle that is covered in limescale. But our lodge at Bluestone was comfortable and clean. And the grounds of Bluestone were maintained very well and all the buildings and playground equipment looked nice and new.

Each lodge comes with a highchair and a travel cot, so you don’t even have to ask for one beforehand. And there were stairgates already at the bottom and the top of the stairs that you could use (my youngest is three so we didn’t need them). Another nice touch was that each lodge has a picnic table outside, so that you can enjoy your meals and drinks outside if you are that way inclined. My kids love eating outside, so they were very excited about this. Husband, also known as the ‘whitest man alive’, cannot handle too much sun exposure so we sometimes ate dinner inside.

We did not eat all our meals at our holiday house. We ate most of our lunches out during our day trips, and one night we ventured in the heart of Bluestone Village for dinner at one of their many restaurants. We chose the new Oak Tree restaurant as we loved the idea of Welsh and Italian fusion. And we were not disappointed. The food was delicious and I even had my daughter trying to steal my crab risotto with pan fried cod (picture below – you must try this!). I was a bit surprised that the total came to £90 as we expected everything in Wales to be much cheaper than London. But we thoroughly enjoyed our meal, so cannot complain.

On our last night at Bluestone, we ordered in from their takeaway service. We arrived back at our lodge, after a particularly busy day, at 5pm. Ordered food (paid with a card). Everyone bathed and showered, and then our food arrived 35 minutes later. It was so easy and the food was plentiful and good.

Moozles and Dubz, age seven and three respectively, loved the outside part of our lodge. They were constantly playing in the flowers and looking for rabbits. They would often play with our neighbours’ little girls, which I found quite sweet. And sometimes other children would be walking home with their parents and they would stop to play. On our penultimate day at the lodge, we returned from Tenby to find that the grass has been mowed. My poor daughter was so upset. She had loved the long grass and wildflowers, and dramatically asked ‘why would they do that? Don’t they like nature?’ Awww.

Another impressive aspect of Bluestone is the Blue Lagoon Waterpark. We went swimming most days, and loved it. In fact, Dubz had never been in a swimming pool before (blame that second-child syndrome), and he loved it. Moozles was obsessed with the slides and the lazy river. Dubz loved the wave machine and the pirate area (great for little ones though it was colder than the other water areas). The waterpark is open to the public but only Bluestone guests are allowed in between 9am-11am. Apart from going in the morning, during this quieter time, we also went swimming in the afternoon and neither times were too hectic.

One afternoon, while Husband took the kids to the playground, I escaped to the Well Spa. About two weeks before our holiday, Bluestone emailed me with an offer for a two-hour spa break for just £10. How could I refuse?! I enjoyed the various saunas and steam rooms, but I did find it confusing as to whether there was an order in which to enjoy the thermal rooms. I tried them all, though a couple were so hot I had to leave immediately. But I loved the herbal steam room and the hot slate sauna. Sweating feels so good when you’re not pushing a buggy up a hill in 35C heat (sorry, I’m still have heatwave flashbacks). There was also an outdoor pool/hot tub. And there were some ‘experience showers’ but I could not figure out how to turn them on. In the end I only spent an hour at the spa as it was quite small.

Bluestone is located near some fab family-friendly attractions. We went to The Dinosaur Park and Tenby beach one day and Folly Farm on another day. But part of me wished that we had stayed and explored Bluestone some more. I am still sad that we didn’t get the chance to have lunch at Camp Smokey. And our kids would have loved to go to the waterpark twice a day instead of just once. And there are loads of activities that the kids can take part in (while mum and dad can have a break). I can definitely see us returning to Bluestone in the autumn or winter and enjoying their indoor activities more.

Top Tips:

  • We ordered groceries through Tesco and picked them up in Carmarthen (SA31 3AX) through their free click and collect service. It is on the way to Bluestone and it did not take much time to do. Please be aware that the fridges are small so do not overbuy fresh food. We did also stock up on a few items at the shop in Bluestone Village (the prices were reasonable).
  • For the kitchen, bring handwash, bin bags, paper towels, salt and pepper, condiments and dishwasher tablets. Our dishwasher was in need of rinse aid and salt. Also, bring foil for cooking and covering leftovers, and cutlery and sippy cups for your little ones, if needed.
  • I bought extra loo roll, but we were fine with what Bluestone provided us.
  • If you want to see one of the dinner shows at the Wildwood Cafe, book ahead. We tried to book when we were there, but they were sold out.
  • We were thankful that we had brought out gro-anywhere blackout blinds as the kids’ bedrooms were quite bright.
  • If you want to rent a golf buggy (you’re not allowed to drive your car around Bluestone except for when you arrive and depart), bring your drivers license. Both Husband and I forgot ours, and had to walk everywhere (did I mention that Husband had convinced me not to bring the stroller??!!). Luckily it only took about 15 minutes to reach the waterpark, soft play and the main village. And there is a shuttle that stops throughout Bluestone if you do need a lift.
  • On the morning of check-out, Husband went and bought pastries from Millers Bakery for our goodbye breakfast. The pastries were so yummy. And we also got some French bread for a picnic on our way home.
  • Halfway between South West London and Bluestone is Caldicot Castle. I recommend stopping there on your way home for a visit and a picnic in the courtyard. But there are some other nice castles in Wales you can visit.

Family Holiday at Bluestone WalesFamily Holiday at Bluestone WalesFamily Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone WalesFamily Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone WalesFamily Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales

Check out Bluestone’s Twitter and Facebook pages if you want to find out about any deals they are offering.

 

We were given a complimentary stay at Bluestone Wales for the purpose of this review (though we paid for all the extras). All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

 

 

Our Holiday in Dorset

I love a good research project. Now that there are four of us, we have decided to go on UK holidays until our toddler is not such a terror older. So I spent 2-3 hours a day for two weeks, a bit obsessively some may say, trying to find somewhere not too far from London (less than three hours driving) but that had lots to do regardless of the weather. And I came up with West Dorset. Ta-daaa.
 
I found a lovely little cottage in Burton Bradstock that looked modern and comfy (even by American standards), so we booked it. And last Friday afternoon we drove there in light traffic. It only took 2 hours and 40 minutes. Result. We had such a lovely time, that we’ve decided to have another holiday in Dorset before exploring Devon and Cornwall.
 
For those not familiar with West Dorset, I thought I would break it down into some of the areas/sites we visited (we tried to keep outings within a 30-minute drive). We had a brilliant break, and it was especially nice to have lots of family time, away from the telly, and I even kept my Twitter and blog usage down to nap times.
 
Burton Bradstock
A lovely and quiet village near the sea. We were near to Hive Beach (National Trust car park), which is a shingley beach. It has a lovely cafe, the Hive Beach Cafe. Amazing cakes and the crab salad–oh my. Chesil Beach is nearby (NT car park) and is great for fossil hunting. There’s also a fab playground in the village which was perfect for a before-dinner run about.
Lyme Regis
About half an hour along the coast from Burton Bradstock is the lovely Lyme Regis. Part of the beach is pebbly, the other part sandy. The carpark is quite close to the sandy bit which is handy if, like us, you have much to carry. There are some cafes, beach shops and an amusement centre on the promenade but we only played in the sand.
Abbotsbury
Abbotsbury is a lovely ten-minute drive, along a hill, from Burton Bradstock. Abbotsbury itself, has several tea-rooms, a children’s farm/petting zoo, a swannery and gardens. We did not have time to visit the farm (which also boasts a soft play) but there’s always next time.

Dorchester
It only took half an hour to get to Dorchester. Dorchester has several museums, which is handy on a rainy day. We went to the Dinosaur Museum and spent an enjoyable hour. My daughter got a clipboard and had to discover various facts located throughout the museum. She was thrilled. I was not too impressed that it cost £20 for three of us (my son is under three so his entry was free).
 
On another day, we went to the Kingston Maurward Gardens and Animal Park. We briefly got to walk around the landscaped gardens (top picture), as the kids loved the playground. They spent an hour on that damn combine harvester. But we did enjoy feeding the animals, especially the goats who had a mutual love with my 23-month old Dubz

Weymouth

We didn’t get up to very much in Weymouth, though it has several attractions including the Sealife centre. It has a bit of shopping. We went to Matalan as I forgot to pack myself socks and panties (der-brain). The Guardian online had a feature on the Top 10 Dorset Seafood Fish Restaurants and included Marlboro Fish & Chips in Weymouth. We all loved the fish, sausage in batter and chips.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Going On Holiday with a Toddler

I booked this week’s holiday to Dorset about two months ago. We didn’t have a holiday last year so this break was much-needed. The trouble is, when you haven’t been away in a while, is that you forget the difficulties of a holiday. Gone are the non-children-having holidays. I used to pack for my husband and myself before jetting off to somewhere cool and hip. Then we’d eat all our meals out, drink lots of booze, have lots of sex and sleep-in. 

Oh, how times have changed. These days my poor old Husband must pack for himself because I have to pack for myself and both kids. I also have to pack snacks and various essential items. I almost never forget anything for the kids. But I often forget things that I need. This trip, I forgot to pack socks and panties for myself. Ugh.

So if you are pregnant, or have a baby, and want to know what to really expect from your holiday with a toddler, here it goes:

1. Most likely, you will stay in the country as you can’t face to take your toddler on an airplane. Not all toddlers are terrors when flying. By the time my daughter was four, we had taken her to the USA twice, The Seychelles, Spain, Malta and Guam. My son, who is 23 months old, doesn’t even have a passport. The thought of taking him on an airplane sends shivers down my spine.
2. Rather than going to a cool, boutique hotel, you will be staying in a self-catering cottage/apartment/caravan.

3. There is NO sleeping in. You will wake up at your usual time of 6.00am because that is when your children will wake up. You could try alternating sleeping-in with your partner, but the shrieks will keep you from falling back to sleep. However, your partner will be able to sleep through the cries, as always. My husband actually sleeps better as he can then sleep diagonally across the bed.
4. Rather than wandering around the area aimlessly or going shopping or looking at art galleries, you are exploring all the nearest farms and playgrounds.

Who has time to sightsee, we have playgrounds to discover?!

 
5. You will then rush back to your ‘home’ so that the toddler can nap in their travel cot in the afternoon. If you have just the one child, this is when you can relax. If you have another/more children, then it’s time for more ‘fun’. 
I don’t want to nap, I want to play all day long.
6. You will eat most of your meals at your holiday home. Not to save money, but to save the embarrassment.
Yes, I’m normally quite a greedy toddler but I’ll just play with Daddy’s wallet on the restaurant floor then demand food when we get into the car.
7. You won’t be packing lingerie for this trip – but you will need plenty of nappies, wet wipes, games and books.

8. There are no boozy late nights. No lie-ins. No sex. But there is ice-cream. *sobs into ice-cream* 
9. You are having fun and making lovely family memories. There’ll be time for the ‘other stuff’ when the kids are teenagers and no longer want to go on holiday with us. And by then, I should be well into menopause so no worrying about birth control. Silver linings, people. Silver linings!

 

My 12 Most Favourite Things About Christmas

Center Parcs have issued another challenge. This time it is to blog about 12 things we love about the festive season. Center Parcs’ Winter Wonderland expert, Nick Oot, inspired me with his description of the amazing decorations used at Center Parcs. I mean, 27,000 kg of artificial snow, 1,500 metres of fairy lights–amazing! I’m American, so you know I love a good decoration.

I also love a good countdown, so these are my 12 most favourite things about Christmas, working its way to the top dog, number one, most favourite thing about the holidays.

12. Elf on the Shelf. This year we had Elfy visit and it was fun as my daughter looked for the elf every morning then giggle when she found him.


11. Parties. The holidays are a great time to meet up with friends and have a night out, especially when you are a Stay-at-Home Mum and you don’t get out very often.

10. Family time. It’s lovely catching up with our extended families, who we don’t see that often.

9. Chocolates, biscuits and cakes. There is no better excuse for eating yummy, naughty things than during the holidays.


8. No school run for two weeks. My daughter needs the rest, and we get to mooch about a bit in the mornings. Plus I don’t have to wake my son up from his afternoon nap to go pick up his big sister.

7. Christmas films. I get to watch new ones, plus share beloved films with my children. 


6. Visiting Father Christmas. My five-year old was more thrilled than before to meet Santa this year.


5. Christmas crackers. We don’t do them in the U.S.A. and I don’t know why because it is so much fun. This year, since we had Christmas in our own house and we pulled crackers at every meal.


4. Twinkly lights. ‘Nuff said.

3. Decorating the house and Christmas tree.

2. Christmas Songs. I love listening and singing along to Christmas songs and now singing the songs with my children.


And drumroll…

1. Watching my children open up their gifts on Christmas morning. Oh, the joy!


This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 December challenge. If I’m chosen, I would like to visit Woburn Forest (opens in Spring 2014).


Oh Christmas Tree

Before

It was my daughter’s Christmas concert today, so Husband took a day off. We really needed this extra time to do a few Christmas-related things. Husband bought the Christmas tree, then got all the decorations and lights from the outbuilding. After the concert and after school, we all decorated the tree. I say all, but my 19-month old’s contribution was poking the tree then licking his hand. I let my daughter decorate most of the tree despite my obsessive compulsive tendencies. If it was up to me, there would be colour coordination and even spacing between ornaments. But, I am a mother. And I have a five-year old who could spend all day decorating, so I must chill out.  

For those of you who don’t know much about Americans and Christmas. Americans are not big into tinsel. For those of you not familiar with British people, they seem to love tinsel. Both statements are a bit sweeping, so please be aware that there are exceptions. Anyway, Husband loves tinsel as does all his family. I do not. I think it looks tacky. But I am such a sweet, wonderful wife (what? I am!), that I allow tinsel in my home. And. On. My. Tree.

But even though the house and tree aren’t decorated exactly to my taste, the house feels Christmassy and I wouldn’t change a thing. Okay, fine, I took some of the tinsel off the tree after the kids went to bed. Sue me.

After