Tag Archives: travel

Putting The Great Into Greatstone

As I sit here and swelter in our (bit late really) humid summer, amongst the unpacked bags and mountain of sand sodden holiday clothes, I actually feel relaxed following a fab holiday away with my family.

Over the last few weeks, hubby has been stuck in his never-ending Olympic shifts and the rain has ensured that days out with the kids have needed inventive planning to save on costs, deter whingeing and conquer boredom. I have managed to cover my quota of soggy country park picnics, messy and bizarre make-a-craft events, swimming with the masses, overdraft busting cinema trips and the time consuming (but will be good for them) summer library reading challenge.

Early August culminated in the twins 5th Birthday party, 30 children, 3 bouncy castles, thankfully taking place at a playcentre and not in my house! We came to this decision following the twins 4th Birthday party, when we removed a fence panel between ours and our neighbours gardens to create a bigger space for our bouncy castle party with special guest Roger the Magician. Until it rained that is and we all ended up crammed under a gazebo with Roger the Magician and a few hardcore kids braving a dangerously slippery bouncy castle.

While organising this party of the century (according to my kids), my parents mentioned they were looking to book a week away and would I and the kids like to join them to alleviate my 6 weeks with lack of hubby? After I shouted Yes a bit too loudly in response to their kind offer we set about finding somewhere suitable. We quite often holiday on the Kent coast as it is only an hour’s drive, has some gorgeous sandy beaches and now in light of our new family member, a long stretch of dog friendly beach to use during the summer months.  Me and Mum trawled through numerous holiday websites looking for dog friendly/child friendly cottages, feeling like J.R. Hartley after constantly being turned down once they knew we were bringing our beloved Lab.

Finally, we happened upon a place called Dune House, slap bang on the Greatstone seafront, dog friendly, spacious and available! We motored down last Sunday with hubby planning to join us on the Tuesday once he had begged some leave to tag onto his allocated days off.  When we arrived, we were not disappointed. I reckon Terence Conran would even be up for a week away at this place with its white washed walls, wooden flooring and decked garden backing onto the sand dunes of Greatstone beach. And with 6 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms it was a far cry from our pig chalet experience in March! The backing onto the beach bit was a massive highlight for all of us, especially Chester our dog who was being treated to a pre and post breakfast walk, a day on the beach followed by a pre and post dinner walk. By the end of the week we managed to make our 8 month old Lab look like an arthritic old dog with his stiffened legs! The beach was thankfully sandy and the sea was clean, however, the tide was often out and in its place was a deep clay type sand. Pretty much every day, the children wanted to ‘walk to the sea’ when the tide was out, which meant wading through sludgy sand praying not to find some crab claw or washed up jelly fish or worse! And this isn’t for the faint-hearted walking, as you couldn’t stop and stand still, for as soon as you did and the sand took hold and were left looking like a weeble with arms flailing around trying to pull your foot back out as the rest of us went into fits of giggles and ended up stuck as well. One particular evening it was such a trek on our ‘walk to the sea’ that my Dad said he could hear the faint sounds of accordion playing drifting over the Channel from France! Then after reaching the water and the kids agreeing that we had ‘reached the sea’ we had to trek back through the sludge and one of us had to tiptoe to the sink, fill up the bucket with soapy water to wash our ‘mud socks’ off before entering the cottage.

Throughout the week, we didn’t venture far from the cottage and our back garden beach, as the kids and dog were happy with our lazy beach days. However, one day we made the short trip to Dungeness to visit the Lighthouse and miniature steam train ride. And for those of you that haven’t been to Dungeness, the word barren would be an understatement. It is a bizarre area, a nature reserve full of wild flowers, but mainly covered in shingle with every house resembling a shack from the 19th Century. It has a desolate quality with its provinicial shed type houses and sparse distances between each property. I fully expected to see a blue boiler suit and mask hanging from one of the washing lines with a chainsaw  propped up against one of the shacks. However, it does house a lot of artists and is a fascinating place to visit, though wouldn’t fancy it at night, not for fear of safety but more for feeling like an extra from The Woman In Black!

We cooked most nights, but on our last night we decided to look for a nice place to eat. I fired up my laptop to look for our usual criteria of ‘dog friendly/child friendly’ venues and stumbled upon an old pub called The Shepherd and Crook in the neighbouring village of Burmarsh. We deliberated whether we would be welcome as it would probably be a locals pub and they might not appreciate our over-excited Lab and twins incessantly asking questions about everything, ‘Mum, what is a pub? will I like the pub? will the pub like me? can we live in pub?’. However, we were very much welcomed by the staff and found a corner we could stow Chester and could steer the kids questioning to the random wall hangings, ‘Mum, is that a real gun on the pub wall? can I hold the gun in the pub? why is there a gun in a pub? does the farmer come to the pub? will he shoot me in the pub?’. After getting a word in edgeways we were pleasantly surprised by the menu, a rare sighting of vegetables on the kids menu and a choice of vegetarian dishes other than pasta bake.

We arrived home today majorly feeling the holiday blues. Chester keeps heading to our back gate looking for the sea, the kids keep asking when we can go back and if we can buy Dune House as they have £47 between them – bless. Hubby is heading back to work in a few days and I am back on the circuit of local kids events for the last 2 weeks of the school holidays. But we have happy memories of simple holiday pleasures and with Britain finally getting a bit of sunshine, Kent definitely delivered.


Surviving Disney!

“It’s a small small world after all….”

Anyone who has visited Disneyland Paris will have this song stuck in their brain on repeat. We’ve just returned from a 4 day break from the Mickey Mouse inspired theme park and repetition is something Disney are good at.

With hubby’s job banning all summer leave, we were given the Willy Wonka style letter from the powers be at Police HQ, allowing the kids a few days off school during term time. So last Wednesday we bunked off and took the kids and grandparents to Ebbsfleet International to board our Eurostar train to Paris. The children were beside themselves with excitement as we hurtled through the Kent countryside towards the tunnel. The train was packed with other families having used every excuse in the book to get their kids out of school too and with the constant sounds of “are we there yet?” echoing around the carriage, my youngest son had his face pressed against the window looking for sharks in the tunnel as he informed us that “we were under the sea!”.

We are almost there after 3 hours of sticker books and a very limited game of I-Spy – “is it a tree? track? chair?” and with my twins still learning to read, their something beginning with T could be a seagull or a sandwich, making you feel like you’re playing word games in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest!

After disembarking the train and using the pointless Disneyland Express Luggage service, pointless because we had to drag all our bags away from the station exit and instead upstairs to the luggage desk, queue up to hand the bags over, then take the 2 minute empty bus to our hotel, wait 2 hours for our bags to arrive, then had to walk past the hotel entrance to collect them from the hotel luggage hold, then take them back to our rooms, still not sure how this allows itself to be named the “Express” Luggage Service.

The hotel was perfect for our needs and each morning one of the Disney characters arrived to see the children in the lobby. This can induce a bit of a mad frenzy, with pushing, shoving, elbowing, all to get an autograph and a photo with the character and that’s just how the parents behave! The crowd practically went into a meltdown when Mickey and Minnie turned up one day, we did the typical British thing and pointlessly queued to meet them. As we patiently waited, the families in front took advantage of the situation by arranging different group situations with the plastic headed mice, I’m still at a loss why the grown ups feel the need to have their picture taken? The Mum in front of me  put on her Minnie Mouse headband in readiness for her photo shoot with her daughter, when their turn arrived the Mum sent her daughter forward then swiftly pulled her out of the shot so that she could put her vice like grip round the masked Mouse, I would have loved to have seen the look of panic on the ‘actor’ inside Mickey!

The best character meeting has to be meeting a Disney Princess from 1pm each day in the “Princess Pavillion”. My daughter like most 4-year-old girls are princess obsessed, so having put on her favourite dress up outfit we headed to the queue forming to meet one. We saw ‘Sleeping Beauty’ approach doing a bit of method acting, walking on tiptoes, fingers pinched together, manically smiling, led by 2 bouncers so no-one could touch her, as she was whisked in the back door of the pavilion with all the little girls beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of meeting her. As the bouncers walked back we asked how long the wait was to see her, as the queue was getting longer by the minute, he informed us the wait would be 2 hours. Two hours! I wouldn’t wait 2 hours to meet the real Queen, I glanced down at my daughter clutching her princess book and pen and realised I was there for the long haul!

As hotel residents you are given a privilege pass this allows you 2 extra hours in the parks from 8am till 10am, before the  general public are allowed in. This is definitley a perk to avoid queueing for rides, however, it also means you need to get up and out of the hotel by 7.30am! On our first day, with my parents taking the children on a Toy Story ride, me and hubby were walking up to the legendary Space Mountain rollercoaster, just 30 minutes after breakfast. As a teenager and into my 20s I used to go any theme park ride, the scarier the better, but now in my 30s I find myself questioning the safety of any ride, analysing the seatbelt situation before alighting and then worrying about whether there will be an impact on my blood pressure afterwards. As we were shown to our seats on Space Mountain, the seat belt came down over our heads complete with grip bars to hold, this is not a good sign, grip bars means we’re going to go very fast and probably upside down at some point. What am I doing? It’s 8.30 am, I have just had a leisurely breakfast of coffee and croissants and now I’m wedging myself into this situation. A loud trumpet noise echoed  in our ears as we were thrust into a dark tunnel at god knows what speed, the next 7 minutes consisted of being catapulted upside down, spinning around a tunnel, being rocketed up in the air then back down again, on the few occasions I opened my eyes, I could see hubby’s face pinned to the seat with a manic g-forced inspired look on his face. As my head was flung about my head rest, I  pretty much screamed until I was  hoarse and we were flung to a sudden stop. We peeled ourselves out of our seats and I tried to bring some feeling back into my hands as I  had been gripping so hard. My hubby looked at me and suggested we “did it again”, I hadn’t regained the ability to speak at the point but I think my face said it all!

There are some excellent rides for the kids and they particularly loved the Peter Pan ride which involved sitting in individual pirate boats and ‘flying’ above the streets of London and Neverland. It was magical the first time, even the second and third time, by the sixteenth time the magic was wearing a bit thin. There is so much variety in the parks and over 4 days we did our best to cram it all in, from early in the morning till dinner time we covered all areas, parades and character meetings. Each evening we dragged our exhausted legs back to the hotel and with rooms consisting of a double bed, a bunk bed with adjoining rooms, once the kids were in bed, we had to talk in sign language and watch the TV on mute, taking it in turns for each couple to spend an hour in the hotel bar.

The parades are excellent though, the first night we lined the streets waiting for the floats to arrive, my daughter had prime position on my shoulders, youngest son was on hubby’s shoulders and eldest son was firmly placed in front of my parents. As the first princess float made it’s way past us I looked over at my Mum’s face to gauge how my daughter was reacting, my Mum had tears streaking down her cheeks so I craned my neck to look up at my open-mouthed, wide-eyed daughter as the likes of Cinderella and Rapunzel went past on their colourful coaches. Youngest son was manically waving at Buzz Lightyear, jumping up and down with excitiment on hubby’s weary shoulders, even eldest son was grinning as Lion King and Jungle Book waved in his direction, to see their faces makes the whole experience worth the money and energy.



Escape to Ibiza

So here I am back in jumpers, wearing waders on the school run, washing stacked up on the radiators. To think only 3 days ago I was laying on a sun lounger in a very posh villa in Ibiza!

It all began last December, a very dear friend of mine is involved in the hiring of luxury villas in the islands of Ibiza and Majorca. And by luxury, I mean the type of place Kylie and the cast of Made In Chelsea hire for a few days in the sun, at the cost of £10K a week. Huge palatial homes set in the mountains with infinity pools, countless bedrooms and bathrooms, places familiar from the pages of OK! magazine shoots! My friend and his partner are very old (as in length of friendship not age group) and very best friends of mine and as a treat from the villa owners thanking him for the wealthy year he provided from hiring out their villas, he was able to make use of a villa for free! So me and my best friend gladly offered to accompany them on a long weekend to Ibiza, I’m supportive of my friends jobs like that!

So last Friday, the two fellas were already at the villa and me and my bestie were headed to Stansted to commence our journey to the sun. Now, flying is not my favourite type of transport to say the least! From the night before a journey, I am already imagining all sorts of disaster situations. Once at the airport, fully dosed up on Kalms and St John’s Wort, I am dreading the moment I have to set foot on that plane. I don’t think it helps nervous passengers like myself, that at your gate you have to walk up a long corridor which seems to get narrower the nearer you get to the plane like something out of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.  Once on board the stewardess helpfully points me in the direction of “straight down” towards the seats, I may  have the manic look of a scared rabbit but wasn’t planning on sitting on the pilot’s lap! My bestie is very supportive, plying me with trash magazines and the promise of a chick flick DVD and wine once airborne, distracting me from the hoover type noise coming from the engine as it starts to trundle towards the runway. I am pleased to hear the Captain’s voice on the speaker introducing himself and his staff. And bizarrely am always comforted if he has a double barreled surname and sounds like a posh RAF pilot as I can imagine him to be extremely capable in the event of a crash situation, paranoid I know!  Take off is the worst bit for me as I look around at the passengers casually reading their newspapers, I fight off the urge to shout at them “Do you know where your emergency exit is? Are you watching how to tie up your life jacket cos I won’t help you!”. And after a few bumps and a suspected dislocation to my bestie’s hand courtesy of my nervous clenching of it, we are airborne, only 2 hours and 37 minutes until I can uncurl my toes, but at least Matthew McConaughey on my bestie’s laptop and a plastic cup of Chardonnay will assist me.

But the ordeal of flying is worth it as we leave the torrential rain back in Blighty and step off the plane at Ibiza greeted by blue skies and warm sun. I instantly feel my shoulders start to drop in preparation for the next 3 days of kid free relaxation.

Our GBF’s (gay best friends) are regulars on the island as they used to live there when they owned a bar and now with the villa business they are part-time residents. They meet us at the airport and whisk us off, via the wholesale drinks supermarket, to our luxury villa in the mountains. And Wow, the villa is out of this world! From the minute we unpack the car and open the front door I already feel like a Hilton offspring embracing the luxurious surroundings as if I’m used to such expense. We check out the rooms like excited kids, squealing at “amazing sofas” and “gorgeous rugs”. With 12 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 3 living rooms and 2 kitchens, I may just move every night because I can!

With our GBF’s having stocked up before our arrival we get down to the important stuff of opening the wine, changing into something more suited to the pool and feasting on Alioli (garlic mayonnaise) until the lizards outside are squinting at the garlic odour emitting from our group of 4.

The next morning, typically of our luck, we are greeted with heavy cloud but still warm in temperature. Most of the morning is spent with us discussing cloud formations, sounding more knowledgable then Michael Fish, reassuring each other that “the sun will burn through the cloud, that breeze will blow the clouds away.” And my particular favourite, the very English “you can still get a tan with heavy cloud” as I lay on the lounger, arms rigid by my side waiting for the glare of my white skin to fade just a bit in order to wear my new dress later with bare legs. But it did warm up and the clouds parted just enough to cast a tan mark and after a few Iclenadic dips in the non-heated swimming pool we got ready for our “big night out” in Ibiza town.

My GBF’s have a lovely group of friends who are all very friendly and welcoming and have very interesting backgrounds. Mostly English, they are all well-travelled and seem to live idyllic lives on the sun-drenched island. One of the party doesn’t speak very good English and I don’t speak very good Spanish, so occasionally when we were left alone, we both had to endure limited conversation of “nice bar”, “si bueno” and “warm weather”, “si bueno” until someone bi-lingual rescued us.

We had a lovely dinner at the harbour and once filled up on complex carbs and plentiful wine, we head off to a bar called Rock. I have been to Ibiza quite a few times and with the summer season kicking in around May/June, choice of bars are quite limited in April. However, this isn’t such a bad thing as the bars that are opened are very lively and atmospheric. And the Rock certainly delivered on both counts and although the cost of drinks are not dissimilar to London prices, the measures certainly are! After ordering a vodka cranberry, it was presented to me in a long glass with 3/4 vodka which the bar man ‘topped up’ with cranberry and ice. After a couple of sips, a few winces and one or two stamps of my feet I was able to climatise to the vodka/mixer ratio but could see my lightweight status making an appearance earlier than planned. After we had bar crawled a few places, literally as the vodka kicked in and my heels became increasingly difficult to lift in front of each other, we thought we’d try our chances at the uber trendy Pacha nightclub. I’ve been to Pacha a number of times in the past, my GBF’s and their resident friends have no problem getting in for free as they are known faces so I was quite surprised when we rocked up to the entrance and everyone was allowed in except me and my bestie. They said we would have to pay the not so cheap entry price of 30 euros but was reassured we would get a free drink (bargain)! We politely declined and asked why we had been singled out and was informed that we were too overdressed and looked like obvious tourists! Now, me and bestie had put on nice dresses and heels but we were hardly wrapped in mink fur and dripping with diamonds. We could take it as a compliment but instead we both felt like 18 year olds on our first holiday abroad. Our group of friends were not that casually dressed but I suppose we were a little more glammed up. After sulking for about 5 minutes we weighed up the fact that it was 4am and “we’d done really well to stay out this long”. So with a bit of self-esteem soothing we removed our heels and hailed a cab back to our heavenly hideaway.

Our last day was a very relaxing affair, “feeding” our hangovers and risking hair of the dog remedies. The sun was definitely out and we made the most of our beautiful surroundings by just lying about in different parts of the house and gardens. Before we knew it, we were packing our bags for the flight home. I was sad to say goodbye to an amazing home and absolutely loved spending time quality time with such important friends of mine, but I missed my hubby and kids more than expected and was gagging to see them all again. We were all booked on the same flight home and after we exhausted the end of Muriel’s Wedding by shouting goodbye to everything in an Australian accent we were homeward bound.