Have you been on a flight lately with one of the budget airlines? They’ve started doing this thing where they insist that you put your specially purchased cabin bag sized suitcase into the hold, meaning despite having made every effort to pack light, you still have to wait for your luggage to come out on the belt, thus negating the ENTIRE POINT OF THE WHOLE THING.

It really annoys me because I pride myself on travelling light and don’t want to add an extra twenty minutes to my journey thank you very much. If I’m going to have to wait like a pleb for my suitcase then I also miss out on all the smugness of being able to walk briskly past all the people who apparently can’t go away for a few days without taking six different pairs of shoes and a hairdryer.

Fortunately I have discovered a solution in the form of the Ruitertassen traveler cabin bag

Ruitertassen traveler cabin bag

It’s beautiful isn’t it? And the SMELL. Honestly, I could just shove my face in it like it was a fluffy cat tummy and take big whiffs. (Everyone likes the smell of leather right? That’s not just me being weird?)

The leather is soft but strong, pliable and warm. It’s bliss.

The big selling point though is that although you can fit an awful lot inside thanks to the concertina thing it has going on, it LOOKS like an ordinary bag. View Post

In association with Aviva

At 15 years old, Belle is much easier to keep entertained on road trips than she used to be.

When she was little, she did NOT like cars. I’d read all these articles with top tips to get your baby to sleep – ‘take them for a drive in the car!’ – they’d say – ‘they’ll love watching the world go by!’

Nope.

Belle was not ‘lulled by the gentle driving motion’ and she really did not enjoy ‘looking out of the window at passing scenery.’ In fact she screamed constantly unless you sang Agadoo by Black Lace over and over again in a loud voice.

travelling with kids

She looks like butter wouldn’t melt doesn’t she? Casually sat up on the kitchen counter, playing her favourite game of ‘put things in the toaster’, but don’t be fooled. She’d scream in your face soon as look at you. (Please note toaster is switched off.) View Post

A few weeks ago I went to spend a couple of nights in Boulogne-sur-Mer. It’s not a part of France I’ve ever visited – to be honest I had always seen it as one of those places that you sort of passed through on the way to somewhere more interesting.

Well, that’s exactly the sort of perception that Boulogne is trying to challenge. Hence my visit.

First things first, Boulogne has a lot going for it in terms of accessibility. We went by Eurostar and the trip from St Pancras to Calais only takes an hour. It’s then only about a half hour drive to Boulogne so extremely doable for a weekend away or even a day trip if you live a reasonable distance from London.

It also has some decent places to stay. We spent one night at the Opal Hotel on the seafront, which has lovely sea views, and another night at the Metropole in the centre. The Metropole has recently been completely refurbished and the room we stayed in was gorgeous. (Don’t be put off by the front of the building – it’s lush inside!)

So what is there to do in Boulogne to keep you busy on a mini-break? Here are some of my recommendations for things to do in Boulogne:

Check out NAUSICAA

This is an absolute must. If you go to Boulogne and don’t go to see the biggest aquarium in Europe then quite frankly you should be ashamed of yourself.

We visited NAUSICAA and I wrote all about it here.

nausicaa new aquarium View Post

At the end of April, just before my 40th birthday, I went to Lisbon.

Pena Palace had been on my list of ’40 things to do before 40′ for nearly five years and it was the last item I managed to squeeze in before the big day. (I did do pretty much all of them in the end, or some became less important to me at least. You can see the full list here.)

Pena Palace was as colourful as it was in the pictures I was travelling alone, I stayed in an AirBnB with pretty shutters, I ate a custard tart* and rode the trams. It was all good. I was going to write a whole post about it but to be honest I just had such a lovely time wandering around that I don’t want to.

(*Three custard tarts.)

I’ll drop in a few pictures, that’ll do.

travelling alone pena palace sintra portugal

I had dates with a couple of different people in the run up to the trip and when I told them about going to Lisbon the first question they both asked was ‘who are you going with?’

‘No one,’ I told them, ‘I’m going on my own.’

Both men had a similar look of pity in their eyes.

‘Aw, that’s a shame,’ said one.

‘No it isn’t,’ I said. ‘I want to go on my own, I like travelling alone.’ View Post

We were invited to visit NAUSICAA as guests for the purposes of this review. All opinions my own.

As a single parent of two kids with a seven year age gap I have spent my fair share of times in aquariums. There aren’t a great deal of activities that both a 13 year old and a 6 year old will enjoy, but looking for fish that look like Dory and then saying ‘I found Dory!’ is one of them.

That said, my aquarium experiences to date have always been disappointing. You pay about £40 for three of you to enter what promises to be an ‘under sea adventure’, to spend around 25 minutes, if you’re lucky, wandering around a dank basement that feels like it could do with a bit of a scrub down. You see some jellyfish – check, you spot the clown fish – check, and then suddenly you’re in the gift shop and both children want you to spend another £40 on a plush starfish.

NAUSICAA is NOT like that.

Imagine an awesomeness scale of all the aquariums I’ve ever been to. At one end of the scale is a sad looking goldfish and at the other end is a hammerhead shark. Most aquariums hover around the small, solitary octopus level. NAUSICAA is basically a mermaid, sat on a rock brushing her long hair while dolphins leap out of the water and a group of sardines performs a barbershop quartet style rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Do you get what I’m trying to say?

It’s really good.

Visiting Nausicaa

Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s in France as it’s really easy to get to. We took the Eurostar from St Pancras to Calais, which is only an hour, and then it’s around a half hour drive to NAUSICAA.

If you’re within a reasonable distance of London then it’s totally doable as a day trip, or as an excuse for an easy family weekend away. If you’re heading to a different part of France for a holiday it would make a great stop on the way – maybe spend a night or two and explore the area? (I’ll be doing a follow up post about other things to do nearby.)

So then, the fishies.

Even from the outside NAUSICAA scores points – the addition of the new extension was designed especially to make the whole building look like a manta ray. It’s tricky obviously to see this unless you’re in a helicopter or something, but keep it in mind.

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This was a review trip. All opinions my own.

You know I love a mini break.

They’re slightly more complicated now we have the kitties, as I have to arrange for someone to be in charge of meaty chunks, (theirs), and then deal with the separation anxiety, (mine), but I have about 1,329 pictures of them on my phone, so I do my best to be brave.

*sigh*

I was really looking forward to our weekend at Oakdown in Devon though, as knew it was a couple of weeks into GCSE exams and that I was definitely going to need to lie in a deckchair drinking cider out of a camping mug for a while. And yes, Belle is stressed too, but this is MY blog, so I get to complain about ME.

Oakdown camping review

One of the things I’ve found about parenting is that there is a definite trade off as they grow up between responsibility and control. When they are small you long for the days when they are able to take themselves to the toilet and you’re not required to watch a dance every ten minutes, because you imagine that this passing on of responsibility will take the pressure off you.

It does not. View Post