My Sunday Photo

Look what the cat brought in this week!

This is a feral ring-necked parakeet; we have flocks of them flying around this area but I’ve never seen one caught by a cat before.

Our neighbour saw one of our stupid, fluffy-tailed moggies with this one on Thursday and brought it over to us to deal with, rather than watch it be tortured to death.

Luckily we have a wildlife rescue about an hour from us that is open 24/7 so we drove it there. It seemed very lively despite a wound on its wing, and at last report is doing okay.

If you ever need to handle one of these, drop a tea towel over it first before you open the box it’s presented to you in. And mind your fingers, they can bite hard!

Green Parrot

My Sunday Photo

Four Nights In Sitges

After three days wandering the streets of Barcelona, we took a train to the town of Sitges. It’s only a 30 minute trip and we bought tickets on the day without a problem. The kids were happy as it was a two-storied train and we got seats upstairs. There didn’t seem to be any designated luggage racks though, so we dragged the bags upstairs and piled them in a nearby corner.

Our accommodation was a ten minute walk from the train station. The paths were cobbled and the paths were a  bit uneven, luckily it was mostly downhill.

We were staying in a 3 bedroom apartment right on the beach front of Platja Sant Sebastiá so the plan was that this was going to be the ‘beach’ part of our holiday.

Insitges apartment Platja Sant Sebastiá

This is the bench I sat on most days, reading my kindle and watching the kids enjoy the surf.  Our apartment was at the top, behind the palm tree. It wasn’t noisy at night as the bedrooms were towards the back of the accommodation and we ate in the Mexican restaurant below a couple of times.

Sitges beach Platja Sant Sebastiá
The beach wasn’t crowded so I could usually just look up and count the kids, and the lifeguards were vigilant and moved people to safety if they swam too far out out or got too close to the rocks. The photo above was taken from the apartment balcony, so other times I just sat up there and supervised.

Sitges is known for its beaches; it has 17 of them. Some are more family orientated, some are supposed to be gay beaches and there are a couple of nudist beaches  to the East. We didn’t go looking for these but there was a lot of topless sunbathing going on. The whole town has a reputation for being gay-friendly but not to the exclusion of other groups. There is plenty to do as a family and we enjoyed the nice mix of all different types of holiday makers and locals, all just enjoying themselves.

We actually didn’t do much other than go to the beach and enjoy the variety of restaurants nearby. DH loved the Spanish Tapas-type food but the kids were more comfortable with burgers, pizza and pasta. We had no problem finding places to eat where everyone was happy with the food, and one night DH and I left the kids in the apartment ( DD1 is almost 14 and want to start babysitting for extra money) and ate at a lovely seafood restaurant 2 minutes around the corner.

Most evenings we wandered up the hill , through the town searching for somewhere that caught our eye,ate our meal then walked back along the beachfront and climbed the steps up to the whitewashed Church of San Bartolome and Santa Tecla on the way home.

church of San Bartolome and Santa Tecla
On our last day I took the kids over to Platja de la Fragata, the ‘family’ beach that had mini golf, volleyball nets, bungee trampolines and little paddle boats. DD3 was thrilled because she mastered backward flips on the trampolines. The others just had fun that didn’t involve being in the water.

bungee trampoline flip
We really enjoyed our lazy days at Sitges even though we are not ‘beach people’ and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for some laid back fun in the sun.

KidZania London: A Short Review And Some Tips

I hate Westfield shopping centre. Seriously, who needs that many clothes shops? And  all the people. Arghhh!

That’s why we only go there as a family once a year or so, usually around Xmas, to check out the decorations and ice skating. During last year’s visit, I noticed a HUGE sign for something called ‘KidZania’. We googled it when we got home, and the kids were enchanted by the idea of a city run by children. They have been desperate to check it out since it opened. But it’s taken me until halfway through the summer holidays to feel recovered enough from the last Westfield outing to feel I was capable of returning only 8 months after our last visit.

So it was, that on Tuesday I drove us all into London. We are not completely insane but we are only 20-30 minutes away, and at least you can always find a parking space at Westfield. My youngest three, aged 7,9 and 12, were all keen to check out KidZania. The eldest is 13, and was not interested at all.  Despite the 4-14 year age range, she felt it was way beneath her so we planned a shopping trip instead. I had my doubts about how engaged the 12 year old would be, but she really wanted to give it a go so I coughed up for a ticket for her.

Our four-hour session at KidZania started at 11am. We had been told to book a slot for as early as possible, as it gets a lot busier after lunchtime. We arrived around half ten and the ‘check-in’ area was so quiet we were able to go straight up to the desk.

KidZania check in

After presenting our tickets, filling in some paperwork so I could be contacted and  all of us getting tagged so my children couldn’t leave with anyone but me, the kids were given 50 KidZos ( the currency of KidZania) each before they entered the especially built Kids’ city. They were very excited at the prospect of going off to explore on their own and I didn’t even get a backward glance as they entered the city.

Entering KidZania
Some parents do go into KidZania with their children but mine didn’t want me to shadow them and to be honest, I was quite happy to not pay the £16.50 for an online adult’s ticket.

DS is 7, and on the website FAQ  it says ‘Children from the age of 7 years can be left on their own at KidZania. The reasoning behind this is that 7 years is the start of Key Stage 2 and therefore seen by many as the next stage of a child’s development. This is provided on the basis that the accompanying adult/s are confident that their child will conduct her/himself in a responsible, courteous and pleasant manner. If your child is under 7 years they must be accompanied by a full paying adult.’ So I was reasonably confident he would have no problems going in without me. But then I printed out the tickets and found a line that said ‘ Children under 8 must be accompanied by an adult’.

KidZania ticket

I tweeted KidZania about this discrepancy in a bit of a panic and their reply was ‘ Hi, we are in the process of changing our e-ticket. The age is 7 years where you can leave your child unaccompanied in KidZania.’ Phew!

And even if you don’t pay for an adult ticket, you can go and collect your child about 15 minutes before their time is up. There is a machine where you can scan your wrist band to see where in the city your children are, and find out what they have been up to that way.

DD1 and I had 90 minutes of looking at phones as she’s due an upgrade, and were just starting to think about lunch when I noticed that DD2 had texted me. She was tired and hungry apparently, aka ‘bored’. After a few more texts it transpired that the KidZos could only be used to by certain things in KidZania and one of those things wasn’t food.

If your children go into KidZania on their own, they will need to take some real money as well so they can buy something to eat. Apparently the check-in staff should have told us this, but nobody could recall being given this information.

DD1 and I went back past the check in to ‘customs’ where we found DD2 ready to call it a day. The younger two were keen to stay, so I gave them some ‘real’ money to buy food and took the older two to lunch. DD2 had enjoyed some parts of KidZania, but as I suspected a lot of it was too young for her. She didn’t like the queuing to get into activities and felt the questions the staff asked too easy. She’s going into Y8 at school but is summer born and has ASD, so I can see why she thought she might like it, but it wasn’t involved enough to keep her interested. She’s glad she tried it but doesn’t want to go back again.

On the other hand, the two younger ones loved it. When we went to collect them we found them scoffing pancakes outside a cafe, chatting happily and counting the KidZos they had earned. They were surprised their four hours was up and while they could only remember having done about five activities, they had spent their time exploring in a safe environment without close parental supervision.

One of my friends asked me if I didn’t feel it was a waste of money that my children hadn’t taken part in more activities and I can see their point, but I do think one of the best things about KidZania is that it offers children the chance to make independent decisions about how they will spend their time and money while they are there. You can go into the city with your children if you want ( and if they are under 7, you are required to), but you can’t do the activities with them; you just have to wait outside for them to finish.

All in all, I would recommend KidZania if you have the budget for it. It’s pricey, full of advertising and the activities seem quite superficial, but kids between the ages of 7-10 will probably get the most out of it. I wouldn’t bankrupt myself to take my child though, there are more cost effect childcare options out there.

If my two have their way, we’ll be back. But next time, I will make sure I take a good book.

KidZos at KidZania

 

Barcelona With Kids

This year our summer holiday took us to Spain, by train.

The first leg of the journey from London took us to Paris for one night, and the next day we found ourselves on a rather crowded train that arrived in Barcelona around 7 hours later. There was a airplane-style video graphic near our seat that showed us how fast we were going, where the next stop was and how far we had to go. It was a long, hot journey but the train gave the kids the opportunity to walk up and down the aisles and stretch their legs more readily than they could on a plane.

It was a relief when we arrived at our destination.

Barcelona was big, hot and busy. We caught a couple of cabs easily enough from the station taxi rank to our Air BnB apartment; home for the next 4 days. The apartment was excellent. There was enough room for us all, the kitchen was up to date, there was WiFi, A/C, a washer and dryer and it was in a nice neighbourhood. The only slight downside was that the bathrooms were small, and the shower bath wasn’t terribly accessible.

Barcelona Air BnB apartment

Unfortunately the excitement of the pleasant accommodation and the proper start of our holiday was clouded by DD1 leaving her backpack, including her kindle, camera, phone and some clothes on the floor of the cab. We never saw them again.

The first night we went out looking for somewhere to eat and found a tapas bar that everyone managed to eat something from. Anyone who knows how fussy our kids are will realise this was a minor miracle. It turned out to be the gastronomic highlight of our holiday.

We had 4 nights in Barcelona, so 3 whole days, but feel we barely scratched the surface.

The first day we walked to the Sagrada Familia , and admired Gaudi’s incomplete masterpiece. It is just crazy on the outside and is an absolute must see if you visit Barcelona, even with the cranes perched on top of and around us. We didn’t get around to seeing it on the inside, but I would have liked to- maybe next time. My main tip would be read up on it a bit  before you visit, just so you can make sense of what you are seeing.

Sagrada Familia

From the Sagrada we caught a cab down to the harbour and ate lunch at a very poor tourist trap of a cafe. We were reminded how important it is to consult Trip Advisor before ordering!

By now it was over 30C and we were gagging for AC, so home we went for a siesta. This set the pattern for the rest of the holiday.

Day 2, we got on the tourist bus with the intention of visiting Park Guell. By the time we arrived at the relevant stop, we’d finally got seats upstairs on the bus and we were enjoying the refreshing breeze and a pigeon’s eye view of the city. We didn’t want to get off as we didn’t have tickets for the Monumental part of the garden, so we carried on and visited Tibadabo instead.

Tibadabo is an amusement park on a mountain,on the top of which you get great views across Barcelona. You can walk up the mountain if you are really keen, but we weren’t so caught the old tram ( runs every 15 minutes, buy the tickets from the driver), then the funicular. DS was in heaven.

Tibadabo tram

The rides at the very top of the amusement park are all very old and dedicated to giving you a good view across the city, rather than a thrilling experience. There are some more up-to-date rides  for all ages further down the levels, but it was very hot and no one felt like exerting themselves. We spent all day in the park, stopping to identify various landmarks far below now and again, and even ate lunch there. Trip Advisor had warned us that the hotdogs were vile, so we ordered rolls instead from a little shed by the pirate ship. They were really very nice so we were pleasantly surprised.

View from Tibadabo

We had a big day out in Tibadabo and it took us ages to get home as we had most of the city tour bus loop to complete. We did see a football stadium, Casa Batllo and loads of earphones on top of a bus shelter but were completely shattered by the time we got back to the apartment.

Day three, our final day in Barcelona, was spent doing part of another loop with Barcelona Bus Turistic. We saw museums, fountains and the 1992 Olympic Arena that I remember so well over 20 years ago. We got off the at Mirador de l’Alcalde and took the Port Cable Car across the port to the beach. The two older girls weren’t too happy as it was a LONG way down but we got to the other side safely and got a fantastic view of the boats and activities in the harbour.

View from port cable car Barcelona

We had a very nice lunch at an American themed Burger Bar by the beach, then walked up to Las Ramblas to check out the stands and street performers, and slipped through the narrow old town streets to get back to our bus route. There was a lot of walking involved, and some very silly photos.

Barcelona shrimp/lobster

The next morning we were up early and heading off to Sitges, about 30 mins south of Barcelona on the train.

We all felt we had not done Barcelona justice, so have plans to go back at some point. I think we could have spent a week there but the beach was calling and the kids wanted to swim in the sea.

Taking the Train to Spain

For the last couple of summer holidays we have taken our car through the Euro tunnel and driven around Europe. Two years ago we drove as far as Montenegro, and last year we went to Sweden, but this year we didn’t dare leave the UK in our ageing people carrier.

We thought taking a plane for about 30 seconds, but none of us like to fly and only do it if there is no other option.

So that left the train, now a viable option as the kids are old enough to carry their own bags, and so our holiday plans were centred around where we could get by rail.

In the end we decided on Spain, with a stopover in Paris in both directions.

It’s been a fairly straightforward holiday so far.

First we took the Eurostar from London to Paris and stopped over for a night there. This part of the journey was almost scuppered by the cab company sending a too small vehicle for us and our bags, then having our cab break down on the hard shoulder of the A40, but happily we made it in time. Eurostar were very understanding and let us slip in well after check in.

The look on DS’s face when he realised the train was moving was priceless.

jtrain

From Paris we took a high speed train to Barcelona. This took almost 7 hours, so most of the day but as we were travelling close to 300 km per hour for much of the trip, it would have taken a lot longer in our car.

jtrainspeed

The train was full, so we were glad we had booked seats but we should have got on board earlier as there was no room for our bags close to us, and we had to leave them upstairs, one carriage away. We locked them all and used bike locks to secure them to the shelves as we’ve heard too many stories of stolen bags on these trains.

Food was avaliable on this train but it was pretty mediocre, so we will bring our own next time.

Once we reached Barcelona, disaster struck again when DD1 promptly left her backpack on the floor of the cab from the train station to our apartment. She lost her phone, her kindle, her magazines and books and we decided to avoid cabs for the rest of our holiday.

After 4 nights in Barcelona, we caught another train to Sitges, half an hour from Barcelona. This train was more like a tube train, there was one along every 20 minutes or so and there was plenty of room but nowhere obvious to put our bags. It was another two story train though and the kids were happy when we found seats upstairs.

And that’s as far as we’ve got so far. I’m writing this from a bench beside the beach in Sitges. I’m supervising the kids who are in the water, but there is also a vigilant life guard who is going to be much more effective than I would be in an emergency. I content myself with counting heads every few minutes, while reading and watching the world go past.

We are only here for 4 nights but are getting some seriously needed R & R while we enjoy the beach. Barcelona was very busy and some sea side air is a welcome change.

Our next train is in 2 days time, back to Barcelona, then we are off to San Sebastian for some more sight seeing.

So far, taking the train is working out okay for us.

jtrainbeach

Happy Birthday To Me

Today I am 45.

In my head I still feel twenty-something and it’s hard  to believe that it’s very likely that I’ve already lived more than half my life already. How can this be? It’s all gone past so quickly and although I don’t regret a thing, I sometimes wish I’d been in less of a rush to get to the next stage of life. Of course now the crest of the hill is behind me, I find that I’m no longer in a hurry.

I don’t want to seem greedy when there are so many people out there who will not even make it to their 40s, but I don’t feel like I’m nearly done yet. I want as much time as I can get.

I still have places to visit , things to do and adventures that I intend to have. I want to work more, bring some more money into the house, grow old with my husband and see my children find a place in the world. I worry a lot about will happen to my kids as they grow up. All we can ever do as parents is our best but as your children grow , you start to realise how little control you have over them. Your best may be all you have, but what if it’s not enough?

Kids on the beach at sunset

I decided a long time ago that I would never apologise for my age or try and disguise it. Growing old is a privilege, never a burden, when you think about the alternative. I think our society has things around the wrong way sometimes.

But is 45 old? I suspect the answer to that depends on the age of the person answering the question.

So I’m going to sign off now and enjoy what’s left of the day. I’ve already cheated slightly as I was born in NZ, so got an extra few hours of Birthday Wishes on social media before midnight arrived on the UK, but when you get to my age you take your thrills where you find them.

Happy Birthday to anyone else celebrating today.