Why we do what we do?

travel-around-world

There’s a big wide world out there, just waiting to be explored and we’re determined to see and experience as much of it as we possibly can.

As students, my wife and I did the whole backpacking round Asia thing and we were both keen to share our love of the world with our children.  The idea of taking children traveling may seem quite a daunting prospect, but believe me going whilst they’re young is one of the best times.  Neither of them have yet started school so there are no issues about only being able to go during the school holidays, which not only keeps the cost down but also gives us more choice. It’s a perfect opportunity to expose your children to different languages and to also widen their palate by trying different foods. As a family, we have traveled around most of Europe and are set to embark on a road trip around America this year.

The purpose of this website is to not only act as a memento to us, as a log of our travels, which the children can look back at when they’re older, but also to help other families who have been caught by the travel bug.

Welcome to the World 🙂

Welcome to Amsterdam.

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I know what most of you will be thinking, that Amsterdam is a city full of sex, drugs and debauchery that should be kept strictly for adults. Yes, if you want all of that, then it does indeed cater for your needs, but Amsterdam is more than all those things and surprisingly has a lot to offer for families looking to entertain their children.

As you may have worked out by now, we’re a huge fan of parks.  They’re usually free, they’re fantastic for entertaining and subsequently tiring out the children and you really do get to see some sights.  So first up on our whistle stop tour of Amsterdam was the glorious Vondelpark. This 116 acre park is pure paradise for little ones as there is an outdoor theatre with free (love the free stuff!) children’s shows, numerous duck ponds and six, count them, six playgrounds!  bakfietsRiverBoth my kids have got used to us dragging them round and have built up quite a stamina, but there are still times when for poor little Maisy it is all just a bit too much.  Having learnt our lesson the hard way, we decided we should take advantage of the Dutch’s love of bikes and rent a couple of bakfiets, a traditional Dutch cargo tricycle, which basically allows you to do all the leg work whilst your child sits in a big box at the front. The kids loved them and we loved them because it stopped the kids from moaning – everyone’s a winner! That trike got us round all 6 playgrounds in 2 hours flat and that’s even allowing for toilet stops, pretty impressive stuff I’m sure you’ll agree. Our verdict on winner of top playground? 41amsterdam-vondelpark-011Easily, the Groot Melkhuis.  Situated on the edge of the park and next to a swiss chalet-style wooden timber house (the old milkhouse) this playground had the great combination of sandpits for Maisy and swings and a zip line for the more adventurous Daniel. Mummy and Daddy meanwhile, loved the fact that the outdoor cafe was smack bang in the middle of it all, meaning we could enjoy a koffie verkeerd, similar to a café au lait and rather amusingly translates as “wrong coffee”, with a cheeky stroopwafel or two.

Entertained, fed and watered we decided to hop back on our trikes and head out onto the numerous canal paths that form the maze that is central Amsterdam. the-red-light-districtBecause pretty much everyone rides a bike in Amsterdam, there are not only bike lanes everywhere but there are also plenty of places to leave and lock up your bike safely. The one thing I will say is that the streets of Amsterdam do start to all look the same after a while, so unless you’re happy to get lost in the wrong part of town then please, please remember to have a map with you.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t had this nugget of wisdom shared with us and when Daniel suddenly piped up, “Daddy look, that lady’s waving at me and she’s only got her pants on”, I knew we’d taken a wrong turn!

Forget any preconceptions you may have, or about what you’ve heard happened on your neighbour’s son’s stag do, just give it a chance. With it’s quirky, toy town esque buildings, lack of car traffic and the countless canals, Amsterdam is a wonderous place for children and adults alike.

Welcome to Rome

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This ancient city is steeped in history, but with a 3 year old and an 18 month in tow there was no way we would be ambling round ruins without some kind of toddler breakdown so a different kind of plan of action was needed. Rome is big and bustling, with towering stone buildings, which to a toddler will seem overwhelming, but if you go prepared you will discover a more child friendly side to this charming city.

My wife and I always check out the local parks before we visit a place, as from past experience we are all too aware of the fact that young children need space to run around and let off steam. The Villa Borghese is a gigantic park offering 226 acres of green space and, to the delight of my children, the Bioparco zoo. There is also a small train, which circumnavigates the zoo and offers the chance of some much needed rest when you have spent the morning chasing children around.

tropical-gelatoAnswer me this, what child doesn’t like ice cream? On a hot and humid day in Rome, when tempers are starting to fray and tiredness is kicking in, there is nothing better than some Italian gelato.  Rome is literally riddled with gelaterias and we made it our mission to try and taste as many different flavours as we could in our three day visit.

At the Gelateria del Teatro, not far from Piazza Navona, we enjoyed the surprisingly refreshing herbal concoctions of white chocolate and basil and sage and raspberry, whilst the kids enjoyed a rehydrating watermelon granita, Italy’s answer to a slushie. At Giolotti we all chose a different scoop so that we could mix and match, combining the heavenly nutella, the sicilian pistachio, the opulent champagne and Maisy’s simple choice of strawberry (Fragola). I totted up the number of different flavours we tried in those three days and it came to 20!  I’m not sure how we managed it, but I’m thoroughly impressed with our capacity to eat frozen dessert.

trevi_2456115bNext up was a visit to the famous Trevi Fountain, the largest fountain in the city and arguably the most beautiful in the world. Tucked away in an unassuming side street, you kind of just stumble across it in all it’s glory.  Legend states that if you throw a coin into the fountain you are guaranteed to return to Rome, so in keeping with this tradition I fumbled around in my pockets for the odd spare euro, only to find that Daniel had already beaten me to it.  The light fingered little blighter had managed to deftly pick pocket my wallet from my back pocket and was chuckling hysterically as he threw handfuls of euro notes into the water. Picture the scene if you will, because looking back I can now see the funny side of it, tourists hiding sniggers behind their wide angled lenses, some scruffy old tramp fishing soggy notes out of the fountain looking as though all his Christmases had come at once and me charging in red faced like an enraged bull trying to wrestle my hard earned cash off of the aforementioned tramp. My wife, Mandy, found it oh so hilarious and spent the whole time filming the episode on her smartphone. With the threat of posting the video on YouTube, I managed to bribe her out of it with the promise of more gelato so off we traipsed, Mandy licking her lips and sniggering, Maisy looking bemused, Daniel looking suitably sheepish and me sopping wet, highly embarrassed and muttering profanities under my breath. Thankfully the hazelnut and dark chocolate gelato managed to make the whole even pale into insignificance.

Rome isn’t the obvious choice for families and prior planning is essential when visiting this city, but don’t let that put you off.  older children will love the rich history that surrounds this city and younger children will love the gelato!

Wecome to Madrid.

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The energetic, cultural, vibrant capital city of Madrid was next on our tour. November back in the UK means it was getting pretty cold, dark and dismal so a trip to Spain, where it would be somewhat warmer was just the thing we all needed.

We opted to rent an apartment in the centre of Madrid, in order to be close to everything and live life like the locals. Like any city, Madrid is loud, bustling and active 24/7, but that to us was all part of the experience.  Yes, we have two young children, but we didn’t feel concerned as the Spanish absolutely LOVE children and would bend over backwards to make sure that they a) talk to them and include them in conversations and b) make them and you feel welcome wherever you go. tapas-barcelona-dresden-1Myself and Mandy had been to Madrid before, back in our child and carefree days, and had visited art galleries, strolled hand in hand through the cities streets, stopping at tapas bars for sangria and albóndigas. Something told me that this trip wouldn’t be quite the same, but I was determined to ensure that the kids got a real taste of what Spanish life in the capital was really like. So, whilst on the subject of food, lets talk about my kids experience with the Spanish taste sensation that is Churros y Chocolate.

Serving Churros y Chocolate, hot chocolate and essentially strips of sugared doughnut to us non Spanish speaking Brits, since 1894, the Chocolatería San Ginés is set in a passageway close to San Ginés Church, on the Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5, in central Madrid. This famous establishment often stays open through the night until 6 or 7am and is frequented by youths in the early hours in much the same way that Brit teens would stagger into a Kebab house after a night out.Churros-and-Chocolate Obviously we weren’t going to take Daniel and Maisy clubbing. As much as me and Mandy would have enjoyed ourselves and as welcoming as the Spanish are of kids, I’m not entirely sure they would have got past the bouncers on the door.  Instead, we chose to go for a mid morning brunch before hitting the parks. The churros are served as a dipping implement for the thick, hot cup of chocolate that quite frankly is the show stealer of this mouthwatering treat. We initially ordered a batch of 6 churros and two cups of chocolate, but within the space of 5 minutes we had demolished the lot and the only evidence there had been any food on the table was the tell tale chocolate moustache on Maisy. Another round ordered and some porras on the side (a churros thicker, larger brother) and we literally had to roll ourselves out of the cafe door. Time for some exercise!

Next stop, the Casa de Campo Park, which translates into English as Country House Park. Formerly a royal hunting estate, the park covers an impressive 1,722 hectares with features including a lake, amusement park, zoo, aerial cable car and the Madrid arena. We decided to give the cable car, the Teleférico, a go first, figuring the kids would love being able to see so much of Madrid whilst also feeling as though they were on a tame fairground ride.teleferico Well, yes the kids did love it. Maisy spent the entire 15 minute journey, nose pressed to the glass absolutely transfixed, whilst Daniel discovered that the gentle rocking motion of the cabin could be somewhat improved by him stamping his feet on the floor.  I on the other hand discovered something very important about myself – I am a big girls blouse.  Let me explain myself. I don’t usually have a problem with heights, obviously I wouldn’t have got on the thing if I knew that vertigo was going to be a problem. No, my issue wasn’t really the height aspect of it, it was more a case of me thinking way too much about the construction of the cabin and the rate at which it was swinging madly about in the wind. So my 15 minute journey was spent nose pressed to the floor, whispering little prayers of hope that we would all make it safely back down to the ground in one piece – truly pathetic!

We did, of course, make it one piece, and having all disembarked, some of us with more dignity than others, of whom I shall name no names, we decided to go for a stroll about to get some much needed fresh air. There are a myriad of different pathways that wind in and amongst the trees and grass and lead to play areas.  Mandy had also had the foresight to wrap up a couple of churros without us noticing, which the kids enjoyed tearing up and feeding to the very grateful ducks at the massive pond.  It was the end to a perfect day. Just to mention, as an added bonus, the return trip on the cable car is free for children under 3.  Needless to say we didn’t take advantage of that incredibly tempting offer, instead we walked back to our apartment via the local supermercado, to pick up some bocadillos and sangria.

Welcome to Dorset.

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Dorset, famous for it’s Jurassic Coast, traditional apple cake and the setting for many of Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five‘ childrens adventure stories, has been one of my favourite locations in the UK since I was a young lad.  I enjoyed many family holidays here as a child and have very fond memories of fossil hunting around Lulworth Cove, convinced I would find an undiscovered dinosaur relic that would earn me my millions. This nostalgia has driven me to take my own family there and relive some of those experiences and I have never been disappointed by what Dorset has to offer.

Sand Castle on Sandy Beach. Bournemouth UKThere is nothing my two children love more than building sandcastles and although Dorset has many rocky, limestone beaches which are perfect for rock pooling and fossil hunting, there are also numerous golden sandy beaches just waiting for sandcastles to be built upon. With it’s Georgian architecture, Punch and Judy shows and donkey rides, Weymouth is every tourists dream. Likewise, Swanage offers a traditional seaside resort which has been enjoyed by families since Victorian times and has many games arcades and children’s rides to keep them entertained all day. But for me, there is only one beach worthy of a sandcastle and that is Cobb Gate Beach in Lyme Regis. Famously used in the opening shot of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman‘, this glorious sandy beach is sheltered by a gentle shelving harbour wall, safe waters for little ones to swim in and, in my opinion, the best sand for sandcastle building. We last visited Lyme Regis in October so as you can imagine the temperature was far from boiling, but that didn’t stop my eldest, Daniel, from stripping off and hurtling himself into the sea. Half an hour later and yes it did all end in tears, but boy did he enioy that thirty minutes of pure abandonment!

moulesTo put an end to the tears and to warm the poor boy up we decided that some fish and chips would be in order;  no trip to a British seaside would be complete without it. I would normally insist upon eating our slightly soggy, vinegary, paper wrapped lunch on the beach, but in this instance I felt it would be a step too far, especially for Daniel who was still shivering and whimpering like a lost puppy. So, my second choice, and a firm favourite with my family is the fish restaurant Lyme By The Bay. Right by the beach, this restaurant prides itself on using only fresh, seasonal, locally sourced products and best of all they don’t have a kids menu.  To many, that may seem a daunting prospect and may even be a deal breaker, but for us it is perfect.  We have a strong belief that our children should be eating the same things as us and it is an ethos that is shared by the restaurant owners who shy away from the obvious choice of chicken nuggets, turkey dinosaurs and fishfingers and instead serve up half sized portions from the main menu. Maisy ate fish pie, which was packed with prawns, cod and boiled eggs and Daniel virtually licked his plate clean, having thoroughly enjoyed his Moules Frites – that’s my boy!

fossil huntThe following day, we decided to split up, with my wife taking Maisy to a soft play centre and myself and Daniel heading off on a fossil finding mission.  Armed with lashings of ginger beer, well actually it was a thermos of coffee and some water, we headed to the Charmouth Heritage Coast centre. Set up to encourage safe and sustainable collecting of Jurassic Fossils, the centre runs guided fossil hunting walks and offers hands on displays, interactive computers and information about fossils and fossil hunting. Daniel seemed to enjoy it for the first twenty minutes, but I have to confess that it was more up my street than his and I probably should have thought more about the fact that the boy is still only 3.  Looking back, I think Daniel would have enjoyed the soft play a bit more, I’ll perhaps wait a couple more years before taking him fossil hunting again. None the less, we enjoyed some father son bonding time, got some fresh air and came away with a small ammonite fossil.

Dorset will always have a special place in my heart and although, as I’m sure you have gathered, I am incredibly biased, I truly believe there is something for everyone in this beautiful part of England.

Welcome to Paris.

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If you ask a child what they know about Paris chances are they are either going to reply ‘Disneyland‘ or, if you are really lucky, they might say the Eiffel Tower. They’re the obvious answers, but for us it was the tourist traps we were keen to avoid taking our children to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Disneyland is lots of fun, but for our 3 year old and 18 month year old we kind of felt it would all be a bit too much and not worth the sackloads of money we would end up spending on it.  So what to do instead?

Keen to immerse ourselves into the Parisian lifestyle we opted to rent a charming two bed apartment on the Rue des Beaux-Arts in the St Germain district. It was perfectly located by the river, along from the gothic Notre Dame cathedral as well as being surrounded by numerous parks and green spaces.  One such park is the Jardin du Luxembourg, which offers traditional metal swingboats, merry-go-round, pedal karts, pony rides and best of all live puppet shows. Called guignols, the shows are aimed at 2-8 year olds and feature familiar stories and fairy tales that little ones love so much. The shows are all in French, but children are very good at understanding what’s going on when they know the stories so well and they may even come away knowing a few of the simpler French words.1852-5320.main_f

As a treat, we decided to visit one of Paris’ famous confectioners, Le Bonbon au Palais. Set up like a school classroom the shop is every child’s dream and our two literally went mad in there.  With vintage inspired school charts, a large map of France and a blackboard bearing a message from the shopkeeper, Georges Marques, this delightful sweetshop tempted us with green apple marshmallows, crystallised flowers, jelly buttons and my personal favourite Jacqueline, a lilac coloured almond paste stuffed meringue from Dijon.

Ile-de-la-Cite-marketNext on the agenda and much to the delight of my wife (boy does she love to shop), the Ile de la Cité flower and pet market. Held every Sunday, this vibrant flower market is abloom with every colour, and scent you can imagine. Whilst, looking at flowers is not going to hold the attention of your children for long, the market also sells parrots, chickens, canaries, ferrets, mice and dwarf rabbits. if your children can charm the stallholders you can be certain of plenty of stroking and petting of the animals.  Just be prepared to put your foot down when the inevitable “Can we buy a bunny, daddy?” question  is asked!

Question avoided and hands washed, our tummies were all now rumbling so we headed to the Marché Mouffetard, a bright and bustling food market where we were sure to sample some French delicacies. Set on a narrow, cobbled street, Hemingway once described this market as a ‘moveable feast’ and he sure got that right. With plump fruit, shiny vegetables, a range of charcuterie, patés, seafood, cheeses not to mention the sticky sweet patisseries, we were soon laden with goods and our stomachs filled to the brim.  The stallholders were friendly and keen for the children to try their goods, which delighted our two, who are always happy when they have food in their mouths.

2010-paris-canal-st-martinWe ended our stay in Paris by asking the children what they would like to do and because we were staying so close to the river and they had seen various boats chugging back and forth, their answer was unanimous “boat trip please daddy!”. Instead of choosing to go on the standard, tourist aimed boat rides which were touted at us along the banks of the Seine, we opted for the lesser known canal barge trip. Climbing and descending the old locks of Paris, the children were captivated by the water rushing in and out of each lock and the canal even goes underground at one point, which on reflection was just a tad bit too scary for our youngest, Maisy, who sent screaming echoes around the tunnel until daylight appeared. To say we got a few dirty looks when we emerged is an understatement, but we simply gave Maisy a croissant and played the oblivion card.

Paris is a chic and beautiful city that is just perfect for children and adults alike. We have let you in on our favourite things to do and see there, but there are many, many more sights, markets and activities to enjoy, experience and explore.