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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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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