There are a lot of things Belle doesn’t like – courgettes, food that’s been near courgettes, balloons, fireworks, other people – but when she likes something, she really likes it. Two things she likes happened on the same day last week when we went for a night away at Solent Hotel and Spa in Fareham, near Southampton.

Solent hotel review

The first was a back massage. You might be surprised that Belle likes a back massage given that being touched or too close to people is one of the issues that comes with her sensory processing disorder, but actually having that kind of firm pressure contact can have a very positive effect on her. She likes tight hugs (from me) and she sleeps every night with a weighted blanket, so I guess it’s a similar sensation.

A back massage where you only have to wander down from your hotel room in what might well be the comfiest robe known to mankind, (she begged me to buy it to take it home), is even better as there’s no need to even go outside. (‘Outside’ is on Belle’s ‘do not like’ list.)

The Solent Hotel and Spa has the classic pool, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi set up, as well as a separate area for treatment rooms, plus a gym. I’ve never really understood people who go on holiday and go to the gym, but each to their own I guess. Everything was very clean and although the hotel seemed busy, I never saw more than about half a dozen people in the pool area at any one time, so you had that lovely relaxed, exclusive feel.

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Advertisement feature in association with Yelloh! Village

Planning a holiday that appeals to a whole family is tough. There’s always some chump who thinks that back to basics camping would be ‘fun’*, the younger kids want ‘things to do’, (gross), and the older ones are just annoyed that they have to been seen with you in public and are already on the verge of breakdown in case there isn’t WiFi.

And you? Probably all you want is to lie in a darkened spa with a glass of wine and the latest issue of Good Housekeeping. (Me.)

How do you choose a family holiday then that ticks everyone’s boxes and is still affordable? I think Yelloh! Village might just be the answer.

Yelloh Village yurts

Yelloh! Village got in touch recently to enlist my help to let more people know who they are and what they do, (I’d never heard of them so don’t feel bad), and after having a good look through their website and reading lots of reviews, (they have an excellent Trustpilot rating), I was sold. I definitely want to take baby Joey on a Yelloh! Village holiday next summer when he’s good and chubby and toddling about.

Yelloh! Village is part of the European ‘glamping’ scene – pre-pitched tents and holiday homes on complexes offering a whole wealth of hotel style facilities like indoor and outdoor pools, spa and wellness and loads of outdoor activities for kids and adults. There’s so much choice, you’ll be hard pressed not to find something to suit. View Post

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Back when I was 35, which feels like ages ago now to be honest, I made a list of 40 things I wanted to do before I was 40. It was a pretty eclectic list, with everything from making homemade lemon curd to visiting Auschwitz, but it was a lovely way to check in with myself and it gave me plenty of options for weekends away or stuff to do when I had time to fill and no ideas to fill it with.

One of the things on my list was inspired by something I cut out of the travel section of the paper one weekend.

Things to do in Istanbul

I loved the idea of being able to casually say ‘Oh this weekend? I just hung out in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion, then took a cruise up the Bosphorus.’ It’s so much better than ‘I went to Tesco and gave the cats their monthly flea treatment’ isn’t it?

‘Hang out in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion and take a cruise up the Bosphorus’ went on the list.

It was actually one of only a few things that I didn’t manage to complete and so I carried it over to my list of 50 things before 50 and recently I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve started looking at pictures of Istanbul on Pinterest and honestly, it’s even more beautiful than I realised – so much colour and amazing architecture.

I decided I’m going to make this one happen.

For my 40th birthday I went on a trip by myself to Lisbon, also something on my list, and I’ve decided that Istanbul is going to be my birthday gift to myself for my 42nd birthday, next April. If you’ve been inspired by my Pinterest board, (and how could you not be unless you have a heart of stone), then here are some things to think about. With your bum bag neatly packed with your passport, list of Instagrammable destinations and e-visa Turkey is ready and waiting for you!

The weather in Turkey

This is actually the first thing I think about when I’m planning a trip. It seems like a small thing, but you don’t want to accidentally turn up somewhere in hurricane season or when it’s too hot to leave your 19th-century Ottoman mansion do you?

I’d pictured Istanbul as being pretty warm given it’s on a similar line to Greece and Spain, and although it enjoys the typical mediterranean summers it does get cold and snowy in the winter apparently, and April can still be chilly. My birthday is at the end of April, but looking at the average temperatures, having it as a post-birthday trip at the beginning of May could make it significantly warmer.

Flights to Turkey

I tend to use Skyscanner when I’m looking for flights. I will always fly from Bristol unless I absolutely can’t, as it’s nice and easy for me to get to – flying from a London airport add an extra layer of faff and expense that I really don’t want before and after a holiday, especially a short break. Unfortunately there aren’t any direct flights from Bristol to Istanbul, but you can go direct from Birmingham, which is doable for me. Turkey is two hours ahead of the UK and the flight time is about four hours.

Istanbul has two international airports – Sabiha Gokcen International Airport on the Asian side, and a brand new airport that this year replaced Ataturk International Airport on the European side. Istanbul’s new airport is one of the biggest in the world, covering an area six times the size of Heathrow, so I couldn’t not go to that one could I?

I find flights with Turkish Airlines for three nights at the beginning of May at reasonable times of the day for £235. They give me a little bit of time on the arrival and departure days, plus two full days, which should be plenty for me as when I travel on my own I am VERY efficient. Tower seen? Check. Photo taken in colourful street? Check. I get the job done for sure.

I book the flights and start to feel butterflies in my tummy.

Istanbul Turkey

Photo by Nodis Ionut on Unsplash

The 19th-century Ottoman mansion 

I am really tempted at this point to abandon the hotel bit and go for AirBnB, as this is what I’d normally do on a city break. I’ve stayed in AirBnBs in London, Lisbon, Krakow and Geneva, as well as lots of places in the UK, and I’ve always been pleased with them. They’re normally a lot cheaper than a hotel, you can opt for a whole apartment, it feels more personal, and you can save money by self-catering.

However, it’s hard to casually say ‘oh I just stayed in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion’ if you’ve actually stayed in some random person’s modern apartment block isn’t it? It’s a dilemma.

The House Hotel seems to have opened a second hotel in Istanbul since I cut my little bit out of the paper, but it was easy to pick out which one was the original because of the beautiful parquet floors in the rooms. It’s not cheap though. Over 400 EURO for three nights. Gawd.

I look at AirBnB. I could get an entire flat in a similar location for just over £100. I flick between the two. On a short trip how much time do you really spend in your hotel room? I could go for the AirBnB and the difference would pay for my flight and more. It’s a tough one, because while I want to stay true to the 50 things before 50 list, I did write the list, and so who am I really answerable to apart from myself?

I book the AirBnB.

‘Your reservation is confirmed. You’re going to Beyoğlu!’

Cripes. Looks like I’m really going to Istanbul on my own.

Things to do in Istanbul

Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

Local laws, getting a Turkey visa and travel insurance

Travel insurance is a must obviously. The EHIC isn’t valid in Turkey, even if we weren’t potentially crashing out of the EU any day now, so make sure you have cover in place. I have travel insurance as part of my bank account, but generally it’s not expensive and is an essential. You will also need a visa to travel to Turkey, so factor the Turkey visa fee into your budgeting. Make sure to keep your passport and a printed copy of your visa with you at all times as spot checks are often carried out. It’s actually illegal not to carry some form of photo ID in Turkey and as well as needing a visa, the Turkish government recommend you have at least six months left on your passport from your date of entry into the country.

TOP TIP: The possession, sale and export of antiquities is also against the law in Turkey and could result in a substantial fine and up to 12 years in prison, so be very careful and check the legal requirements if you’re thinking about buying antiques or historical items to bring home. Probably best to just stick with a fridge magnet.

The currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira. You can buy currency in advance but there are plenty of ATMs in major cities and tourist areas. Dress modestly obviously if you’re visiting a mosque or a religious shrine.

Things to do in Istanbul

My Pinterest board has dozens and dozens of ideas for things to do in Istanbul, with lots of tip too for Istanbul’s most Instagrammable locations, should you wish to use your trip as an opportunity to show off on the Gram. (Which I do.)

I’m going to do a bit more research though and put together an itinerary of the key things I want to do during my three nights in Istanbul. As well as factoring in plenty of time for general wandering about, I love the idea of doing a few more structured things, perhaps a cookery class or a food tour? I’ll have to do the ‘take a cruise down the Bosphorous’ part at least, to warrant ticking it off my list, and the Museum of Innocence is not far from my AirBnB. You know I love a weird museum.

In the meantime, while you inevitably scrabble for your passport and Turkey visa, I will leave you with this picture because it is GLORIOUS. Happy holidays!

Istanbul Turkey

Photo by Fatih Yürür on Unsplash

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Advertisement feature in association with Southampton International Boat Show

On Sunday I took myself off to Southampton for a day at the International Boat Show – the biggest on-the water-boat show in Europe, (fun fact), which runs this year until September 22nd. When my mum saw the pictures on Instagram she was surprised.

‘I didn’t know you were interested in boats!’ she messaged me.

‘I’m not!’ I replied.

I’m really not. In fact, I can’t even really swim*, but it turns out you don’t have to know your jib from your mainsail to enjoy a day at the Southampton Boat Show, especially on a gloriously sunny day.

(I Googled ‘sailing terms’ for that sentence.)

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I was offered the chance to review the new Aparthotels Adagio Brentford, so I sent my daughter Bee for a cheeky babymoon. The night’s stay was a gift – all opinions are Bee’s.

Adagio London Brentford A697

The one baby magazine that I read about 4 months ago told me to go on a babymoon with my ‘partner’, (he’s my boyfriend because I’m 23 years old), before the baby comes so we could appreciate having some nice quiet alone time together before our lives are filled with eternal screaming and we lose all feelings we ever had for one another. Or something like that.

Now I don’t really have a job, and the spare time my boyfriend has I basically force him to spend with me anyway, so I didn’t really feel like a romance needed to be rekindled, but it is always nice to have a change of scenery. The place I mainly always wish I was rather than here in dreary old Bath is London, so we decided to go there for the night.

It was actually sheer coincidence that we were then invited to stay in Aparthotels Adagio Brentford for the night to test out their accommodation! View Post

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You know how sometimes life is feeling a bit like too much hard work, and you really just need a couple of days to take some deep breaths and have a break from home? I’ve felt like this for the last few months, and so our weekend at Bruern Cottages in the Cotswolds could not come soon enough.

Sometimes with a mini-break you go away and it’s nice but also you feel like you could have had the same experience just having a bit of a tidy up at home and watching a film.

Bruern Cottages was NOT like this.

Bruern Cottages review

Bruern cottages reviews

There are a few standalone cottages in the grounds I think, but the main area is this sweeping courtyard, with joined cottages forming three sides of a square around the edges.

I find the term ‘cottage’ a bit misleading really. I think of a cottage as generally being small, maybe a bit gloomy, but the cottage we stayed in, which you can see in the second picture above and was called Wychwood, was bright and spacious and basically bigger than my house. View Post

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Post in association with On the Beach

I’ve got this thing with my nose.

When it gets cold, it goes red – a shiny, bright red, Rudolph style. I would like to say it’s kind of sexy and adorable, but it’s not, it’s just RED. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time, now Grannyhood is looming, before I start walking around with drips on the end of it. I may also grow warts on my chin.

What I really need is to be out of this cold, miserable weather and lying on a warm beach somewhere, living my best body-confident bikini life. Any nose redness then can be passed off as me being ‘sun-kissed’, which is a much better look.

family beach holidays

Perfect timing then for a 2019 Family Beach Index from holiday experts On the Beach.
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I’ve always wanted the chance to stay in a vintage VW camper. In fact, it’s on my list of 50 things to do before 50 – the new, vaguely anxiety-inducing list I’ve created since turning 40. (50? I will surely never be 50 years old?)

I’ve done a couple of longer road trips in big, modern motorhomes and absolutely loved them – the simplification of life, minimal stuff, and that feeling of being away from the real world is magical. There’s something very relaxing about it taking half an hour and a trip to an outdoors tap to make a cup of tea.

I’ve always wondered though how I’d get on in something a little less luxurious. It hardly counts as roughing it in a van if your double bed comes down from the ceiling at the press of a button does it?

Cue Happy Days Campervan Hire.

Happy Days is a family run business near Falmouth. They’ve been doing campervan hire in Cornwall for less than a year, but their two 1970s Volkswagen Westfalia Campervans are already proving very popular for weekend breaks and longer holidays. Both vans feature beautiful vintage interiors and are small but perfectly formed. They have full width double beds, space in the roof for a small one, and in good weather you could sleep another couple of people in a drive-away awning.

Now what I probably should have said when Happy Days got in touch, asking if I wanted to have a play with one of their vans for the weekend, is ‘that sounds amazing! How about doing something in the spring?’

What actually happened was that I was so over-excited that I looked at the calendar to find the nearest possible date I could feasibly do and said ‘Yes please! How about December 15th?’

I don’t know if you remember, but the weekend of December 15th was the one with the incredibly high winds and torrential rain. Couple this with a remote campsite on the most southerly coastline in the UK and it would be fair to say that it wasn’t exactly what you’d call optimal camping conditions.

Pah!

The sound of rain on a camper van while you’re tucked up inside is ace isn’t it? We packed our blankets, downloaded some films onto the laptop, filled a bag with ginger biscuits, hot chocolate and jumbo salted peanuts, and off we went.

We picked up Olive, the aptly named green VW campervan of the pair at Happy Days, at teatime on Friday. At a sensible time of the year it would have been still light of course, but we managed a pretty smooth handover by torchlight, and I took the wheel confidently, putting Belle in charge of directions to our campsite, half an hour away.

VW campervan hire UK

The ‘taking the wheel confidently’ bit is important. I’ve found over the years in these sort of situations that with Belle, the best thing to do is not let any nerves show at all, but to just assume the role of ‘person in charge who absolutely knows what they’re doing and definitely doesn’t have any doubts at all about how to change gear.’ View Post

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PROMOTION

With the daylight barely lasting until 5pm these days, it can be difficult to imagine that just a few months ago we were sat outside in the balmy summer air at 10pm with a light jacket. The cold weather and long nights can be really depressing, even with the Christmas spirit pouring in thick and fast as we make our way through December.

It’s never too early to start thinking about a summer holiday, and even though Christmas is expensive, with teletext cheap holidays starting deposits from just £49 what’s stopping you spending your cosy evenings indoors planning the perfect affordable summer holiday?

I’ve been having a look online for some inspiration of places to visit. If you fancy it, start a little Pinterest board of cool and fun places you’d like to go so you definitely remember them for the summer. Here are some of my favourite destinations at the moment.

Barcelona

I’ve been to Barcelona before, but there’s so much to see and do there that you always need more time than you think you will. A lot of people travelling go to Barcelona for a day trip while visiting other parts of Spain, but I’d fancy turning it into a holiday in itself. If you love the beaches more than anything you could go for an all inclusive resort and spend most of your time relaxing, or if soaking up culture is more your thing then you could head into the city and try loads of local restaurants. Maybe I could put into practice those weeks I spent learning Spanish to go on a date?

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In association with National Express

Picture the scene…

It’s November 1st, I’m wearing my Christmas pyjamas, and I’ve cracked open a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream. There might be a mince pie warming in the oven and it’s all I can do not to watch the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special. Even better, I don’t care a jot about all those people who are HUMBUGGING all over the place, telling me November is too early for Christmas.

IT’S NOT.

If it was, then how do you explain the fact that there are currently over 50 wood cabins in Bristol city centre selling Christmas gifts, mulled wine and oversized sausages?

(Seriously, what is it with the bratwurst? Why do they not design them to fit in the buns, or buy buns big enough to hold them?)

Bristol Christmas market

Bristol Christmas market even has CURLING, which feels pretty festive to me, and a Jäger Barn Bar, which feels slightly less so, but I guess it’s drinking, so that counts. Of course the downside to visiting a Christmas market is that often you’ve driven there, which means you can’t really do the mulled drinks offering justice. Ironically, the stress of finding somewhere to park, and then realising it is going to cost you £2 PER HOUR, means you really need a mulled wine more than ever.

Fortunately I have a solution: National Express.

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In partnership with On the Beach

A few years ago I was chatting to Bee about something or other, I can’t remember what. I think perhaps I was feeling a bit overworked at the time because I started going into this daydream.

‘Wouldn’t it be lovely,’ I said to Bee, gazing into the distance, ‘to be somewhere really warm right not, where you didn’t have to do anything?’

She looked at me.

‘There would probably be relaxing noises in the background,’ I continued, ‘maybe the noise of the sea? And someone would bring me a cocktail.’

She looked at me again, like I was actually quite stupid.

‘That’s a beach holiday mum,’ she said.

‘A beach holiday?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it’s what everyone in the world wants. You’ve not just invented it.’

‘Oh,’ I said, disappointed. I imagined I’d just created a personal paradise that no one had thought of before. Since then ‘beach holidays’ has become a bit of a family saying that we use if someone is stating the obvious. Like if Bee is complaining about work, telling me how what she’d really like is a flexible job that’s well paid, but also creative and worthwhile and good for the environment and what not.

‘Dur,’ I’ll say, ‘beach holidays.’

When On the Beach got in touch then, to ask me if I wanted to write something about our family beach holidays, this was the first thing I thought about. THEN I started picturing all of those happy times we’ve spent on the beach together, enjoying the sand and the sea, relaxing in each other’s company.

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I’ve only been to visit Edinburgh once, to stay with friends, but I really loved my trip there and I’d definitely want to go back. Edinburgh is supposed to be amazing at Christmas but any kind of trip around that time is usually overshadowed by visiting my sister’s family for actual Christmas, in Dublin. We did talk this year about going somewhere in the UK but decided against it so maybe Edinburgh Christmas 2019 will be a thing. And then Cardiff 2020. Etc etc.

If I WAS planning a cool trip to Edinburgh, I’d definitely fill it with loads of unusual stuff to do. I’ve never really thought of Scotland as being the most hipster of locations but in the capital, there are lots of unusual, cool and Instagrammable things to do. If you’re looking for somewhere lovely to stay while you’re there, why not give serviced apartments a go? Staying in serviced apartments in Edinburgh gives you lots of flexibility, plus everything you need to make you feel right at home after a fun day of exploring the city.

So, as the kids say on YouTube, let’s dive right into it.

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