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

How are you meant to feel when you stand in a gas chamber?

You look around the damp underground room and you try to imagine 700 people all crammed in, half starved, clinging to the promise of hot soup after having been made to strip naked and leave their clothes outside on the stones.

You walk through to the next room and see where the corpses of murdered, innocent people were then burned, one after another, sending foul smelling smoke up through the chimneys for the other prisoners in the camp to see.

How are you meant to feel?

When I told people I wanted to visit Auschwitz as one of my 40 things to do before I turn 40 I got a mixed reaction. Some people, you could tell, could think of nothing worse. Either they just didn’t want to be made to think about it, or perhaps they felt it was disrespectful to pay for the privilege of being led around a site where hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

Others wished me luck.

‘It was the most harrowing experience of my life,’ they told me.

‘So traumatic,’ they said.

It has been something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, as I’ve read quite a bit about life (and death) in concentration camps, and there is something that just feels so IMPORTANT about it. It’s such a massive part of our recent history as human beings, and it’s so horrific.

I imagined that it would be just as harrowing and traumatic as everyone was telling me, that perhaps I would feel overwhelmed, unable to deal with coming face to face with it.

We arrived and walked through those infamous gates at Auschwitz One – ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ – and I waited for the feelings to come. I stood still and quiet and waited to feel the horror of what had happened. I tried to picture the prisoners, walking through these gates, feeling scared but potentially optimistic, oblivious to what lay ahead.

Nothing came. View Post

Post in association with Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

When Belle was small it was relatively simple to come up with things she would enjoy doing. They weren’t always things that I wanted to do, but soft play isn’t THAT bad if you take a book and pretend you can’t hear any of the shouts of ‘Mummy! Watch me on the slide! Watch me! Mummy!’

(They give up after a bit if you don’t respond.)

Nowadays though it’s trickier to come up with something that isn’t met with a groan or an eye roll, unless it’s ‘shall we go to Bristol and buy you bubble tea and spend ludicrous amounts of money in a ‘vintage’ store on stuff that looks like something Gran threw away in 1983?’

IMAGINE MY DELIGHT then, when Belle agreed on an outing to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was created as a legacy of the 2012 London Olympics and sport, in many forms, from basketball to cycling, is still the main pull.

We were keen to visit though to ride the slide at ArcelorMittal Orbit.

I say ‘slide’ casually, like it could be one of those old metal ones that always used to terrify me in parks when Bee was a toddler. You know the ones? They were really tall and normally in the 90s they just had concrete around the bottom.

Anyway.

It is NOT that, although it is no less terrifying.

ArcelorMittal Orbit is actually the largest sculpture in the U.K. which I did not know. It was designed by Sir Anish Kapoor and has two viewing platforms with amazing views our over London. It is also home to the world’s longest, fastest and tallest tunnel slide.

Let’s get an idea of the scale shall we?

ArcelorMittal Orbit slide

Seen from the far side of the park, it doesn’t look too bad. Belle can basically fit it in her hand so how tall can it really be? View Post