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.

What To Do If You Find A Baby Hedgehog

I had lots of questions about my last Sunday Photo post, asking why I was holding a very cute baby hedgehog.

That little urchin ( Did you know that baby hedgehogs are called urchins? I didn’t!) was one of three we found in our garden last week. The dogs were going crazy  at something at the back of the garden and when DH went down to have a look, he came back to say there was a baby hedgehog down there. I took garden gloves and the cat carrier down, ready to rescue and found not one but THREE babies, all curled up and very spiky.

Once they were safely in the cat cage, the dogs were still going nuts and we realised there was another, much larger, hedgehog behind a creeper on our boundary fence. This was most likely the mum. Apparently hedgehogs are terrible mothers and eat or abandon their young if disturbed. This one was too far away from her babies to be undisturbed so we made the decision to take her babies up to St Tiggywinkles Animal Hospital in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire. It’s easily a 2 hour round trip for us, but we’ve taken wildlife there before and I trust their ethos and set up.

They also have a series of useful Wildlife Fact Sheets on their website, including one on hedgehogs.

Here are the three babies waiting to be transported to the Animal Hospital. You can see one of them has a large wound; this was not a typical dog bite wound, but maybe from a strimmer ? This baby died before I could get them to the hospital, another had less severe injuries and the third was snuffling around the cat cage so I had high hopes of at least one urchin surviving.

Unfortunately it was not good news when I rang to check up on their progress. Both the remaining babies had died along with their injured sibling :(

We’ve not had hedgehogs in our garden since moving here, and I’m not sure why we were graced with their presence this year. It is a bit untidy, with lots of hedgehog friendly places but surely the dogs are a deterrent? Mum is still out there somewhere, and if she stays we’ll feed her and set up somewhere for her to hibernate over winter.

But I can’t help feel that we’ve had our shot at being a hedgehog nursery and if OFSTED had graded us we would have been ‘Inadequate’. Hedgehogs should probably look elsewhere for lodgings if the species is to survive.

Wisdom Panel Review: Doggy DNA

We have two mixed breed dogs, both of them from a rescue that plucks dogs out of dog pounds in Ireland and transports them to the UK for a second, or sometimes third or fourth, chance.

The name of this rescue is Heathlands Animal Sanctuary and if you live anywhere near Hertfordshire and are looking for a rescue dog, I’d recommend you check out their dogs that need a home.

I like Heathlands because they don’t have a blanket policy about children’s ages, their dogs go into foster homes, not kennels and they seem to be very good at matching dogs with owners.  Neither of the dogs we have at the moment were dogs that I rang Heathlands about; they were both suggested as possibilities once I spoke to the rehomers about our family situation.

I like that we have rescue dogs. It makes me feel good that we are willing to take a dog that no one else wants and give it a home. I have paid for privately breed pups in the past and I have owned purebreds, but I don’t think I will ever own another pedigree or non-rescue dog again. Never say never, of course but I feel like I was given a second chance at a particular point in my life and owning rescue dogs is my way of passing it on. I like the fact that I can save a life or two in this way and it’s great to have a story to share with people so they can see that not all rescue dogs have problems.

I also like having mixed breed , or mongrel, dogs. It’s like a canine lucky dip as you never quite know what you are getting. Your dog is unique.

It’s a great talking point when you are out walking and it seems everyone wants to know what kind of dog you have. Even if you’ve never wondered about the parentage of your mixed-breed dog, after a few months of every  Tom, Dick and Sally playing ‘Spot the Breed’ with your beloved pooch, you’ll find yourself curious too. That’s when a DNA test can come in useful.

We used Wisdom Panel DNA test because their data base includes information on over 180 different breeds from America  and the UK. If your dog comes from Europe or a country with non KC registered breeds, then your dog’s ancestry is less likely to be accurate. The test costs between £50-60 and you get sent a form to fill out that asks for your dog’s name, sex and weight. Along with the form are two swabs, and you try to rub these along the inside of your dog’s cheeks in order to collect some cheek cells (DNA). I found this was easier for our older dog, he was pretty calm about it but our younger dog tried to chew on the swab so we had a bit of a tussle. Still, I did manage to get usable samples.

Once I’d posted the swabs, I activated the test online and waited for a couple of weeks until I got an email saying that our dogs’ results were in.

The Results

Bruno mounds

This is our eldest dog. He’ll be 3 next month. He came to us from Heathlands as a puppy, as his German Shepherd mum came out of an Irish pound with two older puppies at foot. She had been handed into the pound by her owner ‘because she keeps having puppies’ and when the vet went to spay her, he discovered she was heavily pregnant again.

B and his 4 brothers and sisters were born in a foster home, so he came to us after having a great start in life. Even without knowing his mum was a German Shepherd, you would probably be able to make a good guess at that part of his ancestry but what else can you see in him?

According to Wisdom Panel B has a German Shepherd parent and a parent that is 1/2 rough Collie and a little less than 1/2 St Bernard. You can see the Collie in his face, but while he’s tall he’s nowhere as big as a St Bernard. He does have strangely waterproof coat though, mud and water just wipe off him and we call him our Teflon dog.

Farley woods

This is our younger dog.

He was picked up on the Irish streets as a stray, brought to England and lived in a foster home for 3 months before he came to us in March. He acts like a teenage dog but has not grown at all since coming to England so he’s probably about 18 months old.

He’s not an obvious combination but most of the guesses made involved Collies, Huskies and Beagles. His DNA test proved he is a real mix of breeds. Neither of his parents were purebred. One was a Labrador/ something cross and the other was a Siberian Husky/ something cross. The ‘somethings’ seem to be mostly Collie and Kerry Blue, but there are a number of other breeds mentioned in smaller proportions.

F is energetic, but bright and very trainable. He also has a annoyingly piercing loud bark.

For us DNA tests have satisfied our curiosity about what breeds make up the canine members of our family.  Knowing what we are dealing with has helped us think about the training, handling and health issues of our boys, and as a bonus we can finally answer correctly when people ask us ‘What kind of dog is that?’

My Daughter Wears Glasses Too.

DD2 is almost 12 and has just about finished her first year of secondary school.

It’s been a bit of a rough year for her. DD was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder at the beginning of the academic year, when we were told she ‘probably’ had dyspraxia, hypermobility, hypotonia and some sensory processing difficulties as well.  We are still waiting on a report from the Occupational Therapist regarding her physical profile, but we have no reason to believe that these suspicions won’t be confirmed.

None of these diagnoses have come as a surprise to DH or I, although DD hasn’t enjoyed being labelled as ‘different’. When you are approaching your teenage years, you basically just want to be the same as everyone else.

And now, she needs glasses too.

For the last couple of months DD has occasionally mentioned that she hasn’t been able to see things properly. When I have gone to question her more closely, she has been characteristically vague. I always get the kids’ sight checked every year, so I wasn’t too worried as she’d had 20:20 vision last August. Then in the week before half term she mentioned she had a headache from squinting at the board at school, and muttered something about double vision.

I know you don’t muck around with eyes, so rang the optician and made an appointment for half term. I watched DD very closely for the next few days, but didn’t see anything that made me think that she was having trouble with her sight.

However, DD has form for not sending out clear signs that something is wrong with her senses. When she was in year 1 we discovered she had significant hearing loss in both ears as a result of severe glue ear. She’d never had an ear infection in her life , as far as we knew, and I do have some medical knowledge. Although I can remember being convinced she was deaf at about 9 months of age as loud noises just didn’t bother her. But she started to talk at the usual sort of age, and grommets and an adenoidectomy sorted out her later problems. The only thing that made me take her to get her hearing checked was her insistence on turning the TV volume up all the time.

By the time we got to the optician’s last week, I had convinced myself that there was nothing wrong with DD’s sight. So I was horrified when she couldn’t read any of the the lines in the first chart the optician put up, and got most of the bigger letters on the second chart wrong too. It was only when he put up a third, even larger-lettered chart that she could read the letters accurately.

It turns out DD is moderately short-sighted and even though she sits at the front of the class, she’s probably been having to work really hard to read what’s on the board. That won’t be helping her already limited powers of concentration and organisation.

She is so happy to be able to see again that she doesn’t mind wearing her glasses at all. She’s constantly amazed at the difference they have made and went  into school happily today, wanting to show them off. DD is a Dr Who fan and she thinks her glasses make her look like a proper Whovian.

New glasses
I hope she continues to be enthusiastic about wearing them and I do think they really suit her. But I know that at some point she will probably want to try contacts, so we are looking at night time lenses. This means she could take them out in the morning and would not need to wear anything during the day. Or she could opt for normal day time lenses. There are lots of options for the short-sighted these days!

So if you have a child that is doing or saying anything that makes you wonder if their sight is okay, even if it was checked quite recently, then please take them to get their vision tested sooner rather than later.

Part of me was very tempted to leave her until her annual eye test, as what she was describing was so vague, but now she has her glasses she talks about the difference in her sight all the time. She tells me she thought the blurriness was normal and was just part of growing up.