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.

Ta-dah! View Post

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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. Accommodation in Edinburgh is plentiful, from hotels to AirBnBs, or 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.

fun things to do in Edinburgh View Post

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In association with Attraction Tickets Direct

Last month Belle and I went to Orlando. It was Belle’s first time in the States and my first time taking Belle on a flight longer than four hours. She was very well-behaved and didn’t cry or ask to go to the toilet all the time, which is what I was worried about, what with all the ‘travelling with kids’ posts I read beforehand. I actually didn’t have to get out a single colouring sheet.

We’d been sent there by Attraction Tickets Direct, which makes it sound like a punishment, which it really wasn’t as it turns out there are quite a lot of things to do in Orlando.

WHO KNEW??

The first thing to spring to mind when you think of Orlando is ROLLER COASTERS, and justifiably so. I’ve been on a lot of roller coasters in the UK and every single one I went on in Orlando was WAY better. In the UK I normally just spend the time trying not to get my head bashed about, but in Florida the roller coasters just seemed so much more comfortable, so much smoother. Probably a weird thing to say about a roller coaster, but it means you can enjoy the ride rather than just concentrating on keeping your head still. They are much longer too, so you can really get into the twists and turns.

It isn’t all about roller coasters in Orlando though.

Here are some of the other things WE did, in case you want to copy us, because we are very cool. Regular readers will know this already – visitors who just happened to have Googled ‘things to do in Orlando’ will have to take my word for it.

(Don’t forget you can buy tickets to all of the parks mentioned in this post from Attraction Tickets Direct. I wrote more about buying tickets with Attraction Tickets Direct recently, so you can always check out that post to find out more about exactly why it’s worth doing.)

Ride the rapids at Aquatica

The river rapids were one of our absolute favourite things. If ever Belle seemed to be getting a bit hot and tired I just dunked her back in and she was back on track.

Aquatica has two rivers – Loggerhead Lane, the lazy river, and Roa’s Rapids, which are a little more adventurous. Roa’s Rapids were out favourites. Belle’s top thing to do in Roa’s Rapids was to try to shove me against the jets in the walls so I’d get my thighs pummelled, or to ride on my back while I tried to throw her off, rodeo style. (You may notice that her best bits tend to be at my expense.)

rapids aquatica Orlando

If you’re a fan of watery thrills, (ooer), do NOT leave Aquatica without a go on their brand new family raft ride, Ray Rush, which involves you swooping up and down a giant manta ray half-pipe. Worth noting here that Attraction Tickets Direct do a 3 for 2 SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens ticket, including free parking.

(Also I seem to have developed a new hobby – watching rollercoaster and water slide videos on YouTube. I really need a boyfriend.) View Post

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In association with Attraction Tickets Direct

A few weeks ago on social media I teased you with a picture and news of an upcoming trip with Attraction Tickets Direct.

Cheap attraction tickets Orlando Attraction Tickets Direct

Somewhere abroad, where I would need sunglasses and would possibly be required to dress up as a giraffe?

If you saw any of my tweets or Instagram posts the following week you will have seen that Belle and I were actually in Orlando, riding rollercoasters, visiting penguins in the coolest place in the whole of Florida, (quite literally, which was a welcome relief from the sweating), and hand feeding giraffes.

Busch gardens save money booking orlando attraction tickets Attraction Tickets Direct

Aha!

So THAT was the clue. No dressing up required. View Post

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Camp Bestival was a bit of an odd one for me this year.

It’s been one of our favourite festivals since we went the very first year it opened and it was pretty much contained in two fields, but this year was the first time we’ve been where Belle has been old enough to hang out on her own. We took her friend Ella with us and basically I got to see them first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and the rest of the time I was forbidden for looking like I knew them outside the tent.

We kept in touch by phone and at intervals during the day I was allowed to meet up with them briefly to do things like bring them jumpers, but the rest of the time I was on my own. I did have ‘go to a festival on my own’ on my list of 40 things I wanted to do before I was 40, but given the amount of time I spent at Camp Bestival trying not to cry when I looked at babies, it’s probably not something I’d be in a rush to repeat.

That said, I did have a good time overall. It was nice being able to do things like have a gong bath without someone complaining about being bored, and I was grateful for not having to watch Mr Tumble. I got to listen to quite a few talks in the literary tent, which I wouldn’t be allowed near with Belle in tow, and it was there that I watched Rick Astley doing some impromptu karaoke.

I also spotted Mary Berry eating some chops.

I know Belle and Ella had a brilliant time too, even though they DID watch Mr Tumble. Fortunately all of the acts they really wanted to see were on the Saturday evening, so it didn’t even matter that Sunday was cancelled due to the bad weather. They were proper fans, standing at the barrier of the main stage from about 5pm through until the end – around 11pm. By this point I think their bladders were teetering on the brink and Ella was shivering quite hard, but they stuck it out.

I on the other hand made myself a little camp on a blanket slightly further back, alone with my thoughts and a plastic bottle of wine. It was pretty classy.

Declan McKenna was really the guy that Belle went to see, and he was really very good live indeed. Clean Bandit were ace too and I really enjoyed Dodie, although she made me feel old as I kept getting muddled up and referring to her in my head as Dido who, according to Wikipedia, is now 46 and had her debut album in the previous century. God.

I even surprised myself by enjoying Max and Harvey, who are probably a little young for my musical tastes, but this is what happens when you let your 15 year old be in charge of in car music choices. They were such sweethearts – full of positive energy and enthusiasm. The highlight there though may have been Belle’s face a couple of days ago when I showed her that they had followed me on Twitter.

You see Belle? You see how COOL I AM??

Camp Bestival may have been a slightly different experience for me this year but I still rate it massively as a family festival. If you’ve never been to a festival before and want to try something kid friendly then Camp Bestival would be a great place to start.

Camp Bestival review View Post

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Over the last few years I’ve started doing this thing whenever I travel anywhere of bringing Bee back some local currency as a present. (I buy myself tasteless fridge magnets, but that’s probably a whole post in of itself – a treat for another day.) Not only does this tradition mean I have a useful thing to do with leftover holiday money, but it also means that I am technically giving her cash, which she always likes.

(She has from time to time, when things have got desperate, thought about exchanging it all for pounds, but I think she’s been disappointed by the value of her Vietnamese Dong.)

compare foreign exchange rates

Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash

Although this is a very lovely and thoughtful gift, it’s undermined by the fact that my approach to travel money generally is a bit backwards. In my head, people who order foreign currency in advance for trips are OLD PEOPLE who are just overthinking things. ‘Look at me,’ I think to myself, ‘getting cash out at an ATM and casually paying for things like souvenirs or fun times abroad on my card like a pro-traveller.’ Then I get home and realise that my bank charges me a fee AND a percentage on all non-sterling transactions and I realise what a doofus I am.

And then I forget about it until the next time I go abroad and the VERY SAME THING happens all over again.  If I ever do think to buy foreign currency in advance then I just go into the post office because I really don’t know how it works otherwise. Thinking about it I really don’t know where the cocky attitude has come from as I am clearly RUBBISH at the whole thing. View Post

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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