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

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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

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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

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As your children get older there are certain things that you come to realise may never happen again.

Some of them you positively look forward to ending – soft play for instance, and 6am wake ups on Sundays when you accidentally drank too much sambuca the night before – others you don’t realise you’re going to miss until it’s too late.

Dance shows fall into this category for me.

I don’t mean proper SHOWS, at school or in a church hall or whatever, I mean the kind of dance show where a chubby hand gives you a handmade ticket saying ‘Show starting NOW in the lounge!’ and you have to go and sit quietly on a box while your child improvises routines to their favourite songs.

Every time you clap and say ‘that was a fabulous show!’ they say ‘but it’s not done yet!’ and immediately think up a new dance.

At 15, Belle no longer dishes out those handmade tickets.

Sometimes though you’re allowed a little peek back at when they were younger, which is exactly what happened last night when we stayed at the Apex City of London Hotel near the Tower of London.

We’d had a bit of a stressful afternoon as we’d found ourselves walking TOWARDS a stadium just as a rugby match was finishing and everyone wanted to walk AWAY from it. It’s not Belle’s best thing. By the time we arrived at the hotel then we were feeling a bit frazzled. Fortunately the Apex Hotel is only a few minutes walk from Tower Hill station. (Its right by the Tower of London so if you fancy a family sight seeing trip over Easter then it’s ideal.) View Post

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We put a lot of emphasis on relationships with that ‘special someone’, while friendships can often get neglected. We take them more for granted perhaps, or we gather some good friends when we are young and then we stick with them, knowing we don’t have to make too much effort.

A friendship is just like a romantic relationship though, especially as you get older. In school it’s easy – you just HAVE to hang out with people every day – and if you work somewhere with lots of people you like then that’s great, but if you work for yourself and don’t have any babies to take to groups any more, then making new friends can be hard. It takes some work, some investment.

Fortunately I have no shame, so the initial stages are not too tricky for me. I went to a party before Christmas for instance and got chatting to a woman at the bar and really liked her, so I invited her for brunch and now we go out every month. BOOM.

It was similar with my friend Rin.

Rin and I met in an online forum for journalists and decided, as we lived only about an hour from each other, that we’d have brunch. (Brunch is the key to most of my friendships.) Within about half an hour of meeting in person we realised that we both liked Nancy Drew mysteries and that was that. We even ended up running a business together for while, mainly I think as an excuse to hang out with each other for a day a week.

There is a step though in a friendship, just like in a relationship, that feels like taking something to the next level.

The MINI BREAK.

Rin has two year old twins now, (#RinsTwins – couldn’t have planned that better if you’d tried), and so when The Olde House in North Cornwall asked if I fancied coming to stay for a lambing weekend, how could I not think of Rin? I did try to get Belle excited about it, but it’s pretty hard to get her exciting about ANYTHING right now, especially farmyard animals. I knew though that Summer and Harmony (how cute?) would be well up for it. I packed some wine and hot cross buns, Rin packed some pretzels and two enthusiastic toddlers and we were set. All the mini break bases covered.

The Olde House is a development of holiday cottages set on a 550 acre working farm in North Cornwall. If the phrase ‘working farm’ makes you nervous and you feel like that sounds a bit ‘rural’ for your tastes then don’t worry, it really isn’t. The cottages are proper big houses – the one we stayed in was bigger than my actual house – and they have everything you need for a proper home away from home. There are over 30 cottages on the farm, ranging in size to suit families of all sizes.

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Despite the title of this blog post, it’s actually freezing outside at the moment – a thick layer of snow and ice. Yuk.

I’ve got the heating up on full but even with all three cats on my lap I’m still far from warm. Just the thought of a sunny holiday in the Caribbean is making me feel a little bit cosier, but seriously, isn’t it supposed to be spring now? I’ve seen lambs being born and everything. Wearing a scarf and gloves everywhere just isn’t fun when you’re not wandering a Christmas Market with a hot mulled wine in hand.

Sunny holidays are, inevitably, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve been on work trips as far as USA and Vietnam, but I’ve never been on a really luxurious summer holiday in the sunshine. I’ve always kind of liked the thought of going on a really luxurious resort holiday, either on my own or with Bee and Belle somewhere really exotic that I would probably never go to again. The Caribbean seems like somewhere only people on fancy cruises go to, but I guess there’s nothing to stop me browsing a few Jamaican retreats as options is there?

Cool things to do in Jamaica

Jamaica is a world so far from our own in terms of the culture, the scenery, the weather, the food, everything. I think I’d have a really good time there. It’s a really interesting place. Did you know that Jamaica is home to over 200 species of exotic orchid, or that it was the first Caribbean country to launch its own website? Thanks Google. View Post

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I saw something on Twitter a week or so ago.

‘We are now entering the third month of January,’ it said.

It took me a minute, but God, that’s how it felt this year didn’t it? It became a thing for us to all talk about, as a nice distarction from the weather.

‘January’s dragging isn’t it?’

‘When is January going to be over?’

‘How long even IS January this year?’

Needless to say that Belle and I were very much looking forward to a night away at The Belfry Hotel and Resort over the last weekend in January. It came a couple of days after a slightly stressful parents’ evening, and was generally much needed.

The Belfry Hotel and Resort was incredibly easy to get to, which is always a nice start to a mini break. We whizzed (sensibly) up the M5 and the M42 and there it was, just a few minutes off the motorway.

First impressions were ‘blimey, this is a massive place isn’t it?’ And it is. The Belfry resort is huge, with over 300 rooms, a large restaurant, separate bars, a huge golf shop, indoor pool, spa and of course, a golf course. I was expecting January to be quiet, but the place was buzzing with people. (Hence some of the images in this post being provided by the hotel, as I couldn’t find anywhere to take pictures without people in them!)

Belfry Hotel Lobby

This is just the lobby!

First things first, we checked in and dropped off our stuff in our room. This was a little bit of a mission as the place is so big that our room was a good walk from the reception, through some corridors, the golf bar, and then up in the lifts. We found it in the end though and only had to stop for directions once. View Post

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It’s been a while since Belle and I have been on a mini-break.

After we got the kittens, I think we were a bit reluctant to go away and leave them on their own, and so the weeks and months passed and suddenly we realised we’d not been away anywhere for ages. With the evenings being a bit dark and gloomy, it was obvious that Belle was beginning to get a bit twitchy at home. She seemed more anxious than usual, and I was definitely feeling like we’d got stuck in a rut.

It was time to blow away some cobwebs, and what better place to do that than at the seaside?

We’ve got some good friends down in Bournemouth, so we headed down to the south coast. Our accommodation was The Beach House in Milford-on-Sea, which is part of the Hall & Woodhouse group. I was a little bit unsure of what to expect, as sometimes bed and breakfasts that are part of chains can be a little on the naff side, but The Beach House was anything but.

It was dark when we arrived, as we’d not set off hugely early. Partly because Belle likes to sleep until about 1pm, partly because I had a massive hangover. I’d had a couple of friends over the night before for ‘a couple of drinks’, which had degenerated rather unexpectedly into about 14 drinks and a poorly thought out live Instagram broadcast. It’s a long time since I have felt that bad and so I needed to leave it as long as possible before driving for two and a half hours.

The front of The Beach House looked beautiful as we pulled into the car park, as it has some really lovely stained glass windows. I love a bit of stained glass. Inside it positively oozed character. The reception area is also a bar, and there was a real fire roaring, and loads of unique details – books, paintings – and plenty of wood, which is exactly what you want in a winter weekend away. Lush.

The Beach House View Post

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Berridon Farm Devon Superdrug

I have very fond memories of Superdrug in the 1990s. When I was a teenager, with nothing to spend my pocket money on other than hair dye and lip glosses, I would spend a lot of time hanging out in Superdrug. We lived in a small town with not a lot of decent shops, but for some reason we had TWO Superdrugs – one on the High Street and one inside the Angel Place shopping centre.

Trips into town would generally be for a couple of hours after school, and more often than not we’d start in one Superdrug, head to the second to see what different stuff they had, and then end up back at the first one to buy whatever it was that we’d seen in the first place. Belle is a big Superdrug fan now. It’s a Superdrug legacy.

When Superdrug asked if we fancied a weekend of glamping at Berridon Farm in Devon, at the same time as trying out some Superdrug products… Well, what’s not to love about that? A wood burning stove, beautiful views, AND a big stash of make up??

Hell to the yes. View Post

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Every since I got back from my trip to Croatia with James Villas a few weeks ago, (read about it here), I’ve not been able to stop thinking about our trip to Brijuni National Park.

Brijuni National Park

Can you see why??

Brijuni National Park is a cluster of 14 islands, just off the Istrian coast. If you’re flying into Pula and staying in that part of Croatia then you really MUST visit, even if it’s just for the day. There are hotels on the main island too – Veliki Brijuni – and it would be a very quick and easy transfer if you wanted to stay in the national park itself.

Brijuni National Park

Easy peasy lemon squeezy

We were staying in a James Villa right up in the northern part of Istria, but even then it was still totally doable as a day trip. They have plenty of properties nearer to Pula too though, so worth checking out. View Post

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When my taxi driver arrived at my Croatian villa to pick me up to take me back to the airport he looked perplexed.

‘Just you?’ he asked, in his best English.

‘Yep, just me,’ I said. (I was getting an earlier flight to Bristol, so everyone else in the group had gone truffle hunting.)

He looked at me:

Croatian villa holiday James Villas

Very important to wear a hat in hot weather you know.

He looked at the villa:

Croatian villa holiday James Villas

‘How you pay for this place?’ he asked me.

Rude.

I wanted to say ‘because I am a successful woman of independent means’, but I wasn’t sure how that would translate. Also, I was staying as a guest of James Villas, so actually I didn’t pay, although I could have if I had wanted to.

‘I didn’t,’ I said, ‘I write about it.’ I mimed using a pen. I don’t think it helped.

Anyway, my point is that a villa holiday in Croatia is NOT AS EXPENSIVE AS YOU THINK. Read on… View Post

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You might think that the weekend just before a big house move would be a BAD weekend to go away, but a couple of days at Bluestone in Wales, away from boxes and bubble wrap, turned out to be just what we needed to recharge our batteries.

I mean come on, who could fail to feel reenergised looking out at this beautiful view?

Bluestone Wales review

Bluestone Wales review

I’ve not done any editing at all to those photos – I wanted you to see how lovely the light was in the evening as the sun started to go down.

It helped that we were staying in one of the upside down lodges, so the bedrooms were on the ground floor and the open plan kitchen and living room space was on the first floor, taking advantage of the view of the lake.

It wasn’t our first trip to Bluestone – we visited a couple of years ago around Christmas time when I made Belle dress up as an elf – but we were keen to come back again in warmer weather to try some of the outdoor activities. Bluestone is set up in a similar way to a CentreParcs style resort, but I actually prefer it to CentreParcs as it’s a lot smaller and easier to get about. The resort centres around a ‘village’, which includes pubs, restaurants, a cafe, shop and spa, plus there are outlying areas for activities. Everything is within easy walking distance although you can hire golf buggies for the duration of your stay if you want to. (Belle was DESPERATE to do this, but they were a bit on the pricey side I felt.) View Post

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