The City Of Light With Kids

For our summer holiday this year we took the train to Spain, after stopping over one night in Paris. We stayed in a little 3 star hotel near the Bonne Nouvelle Metro Station, just 0.6 miles from Gare du Nord. We did take a taxi from the Eurostar terminal to the hotel, in fact we had to take two. When we first arrived we were besieged by drivers offering us vehicles so we didn’t have to join the official taxi rank. The queue was very long, so this did seem an attractive option but the cost was going to be 90 Euros! This did seem a bit steep, and they eventually went down to 70 Euros. In the end we decided to stand in line for an official taxi after all, but there wasn’t a car big enough for us and our luggage. So we took two, each of which cost us 12 Euros.   And so we avoided making a rather expensive mistake on our first evening.

Our hotel was fine for one night, but we wouldn’t have wanted to stay longer. The single beds were very narrow, but it was clean and tidy and had WiFi.  The kids were happy because we had McDonald’s for dinner.

Then, after we had spent a couple of weeks exploring Spain (Barcelona, Sitges and San Sebastian), we caught the train back to Paris for a couple of nights.

Paris sunset

The two oldest girls have actually been to Paris a couple of times before, but they were too young to remember anything. And we have taken the girls to Disneyland Paris about 8 years ago, when they were 1, 3 and 5 . Again, their memories of this are non-existant/fuzzy. I’m glad we took them when they were little, even if they have little or no recollection of the trip, because I have photos that PROVE we all had a fantastic  time.  Travelling with older children, especially tweens and teens, can be tricky. We found it much harder to balance our desire to stop and look at things with their desire to only do what they thought was going to be fun. When they were little, they had been happy to run around in circles and explore where ever we happened to take them. Now there has to be a whole lot of compromise going on.

For the last three nights of our summer holiday we stayed at an Air Bnb apartment near the Pantheon; there was more than enough room for all of us and it had a piano for DD2 to practice her exam pieces on. The location was fantastic and the lure of all those famous French places just outside our door made it relatively easy for the kids to put down the internet and explore.

Paris is full of great buildings and things to see and do, but we only had two full days there so had to be careful not to overload our schedules. The only thing worse than dragging a reluctant toddler from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, is trying to do the same thing with teens and tweens!

kids outside Notre Dame

We walked down to Notre Dame and joined the ridiculously long queue that folded around on itself many times so we could take a look inside. Some of the kids were more tolerant of the queuing than others, but it moved pretty quickly and we were inside within 20 minutes. DH and I would have liked to look around a bit longer but the kids were impatient, and wanted to go and feed the pigeons instead.

feeding pigeons Notre Dame

These birds weren’t the filthy, disheveled London-variety pigeon. They were fat and glossy and still had all their toes. There was a man hanging around doling out hand fulls of birdseed if you gave him a few coins. The kids loved the birds using them as a dinner table and no one got pooed on.

By this time people started getting hungry so we wandered across some seriously lock-heavy bridges in search of lunch.

Locks on Parisian bridges

Lunch was very French, which meant only half the family ate anything, and then we got cabs to the Eiffel Tower where we had a tour booked. This enabled us to skip the line for tickets at the bottom of the Tower and we  went up to the 2nd and 3rd floors as a small group.

Blue skies and the Eiffel tower

We all wore headphones which made it possible to hear what our guide was saying at all times no matter how far away from him we were, so we all learnt a lot about the history of the tower. Even the kids paid attention, although DS spent most of the tour pretending he was a spy.

A spy on the Eiffel Tower

I’ve seen, and been up, the Eiffel Tower a handful of times now, but I always love it. And the look of the kid’s faces when they first saw it, was worth every tantrum and argument. DD1 really wasn’t keen on using the elevators to go up, but she coped and managed to recover enough to pose for cheesy group photo at the top. I know, but it’s got to be done!

kids up the eiffel tower

We spent about 3 hours at the Tower until everyone started complaining of tiredness/hunger/boredom, then we grabbed taxis and headed home for dinner.

During our second day in Paris, we visited le Jardin du Luxembourg and paid out some money so the little kids could sail boats on the boating pond.  There was no technology involved, just sails, wind and sticks. Looking back we should have probably hired them a boat each. Either that or made them share a stick.

Sailing boats in Jardin du Luxembourg

Once our time was up and we’d retrieved the boat, we headed off to the Musée d’Orsay for some Art.

Musée d'Orsay from the back balcony
I love Musée d’Orsay. I think it might be my favourite gallery in the world. It’s fairly compact but it has space for kids to explore, and a lot of the art exhibited is really interesting. It’s also got a cafe and plenty of loos and places to sit. We spent a good three hours meandering from room to room and recognising works of art here and there. Even DD2, who had made the most fuss about having to put the internet down and leave the apartment, was impressed when she saw this hanging on one of the Gallery walls.

Vincent Van Gogh 'Dr Who' Painting

Being a Dr Who fan, she wanted to inspect it closely for a concealed Krafayis; luckily she managed to do so without setting any alarms off.

I could have spent another couple of hours in this Gallery, but again the kids were getting hungry and tired so we decided to quite while we were ahead.

That was pretty much all we did in our two days in Paris. Kids slow you down quite a bit, but the good thing about Paris is that it’s only a couple of hours from London by train, so we almost definitely will be back to visit some bits we didn’t get to see this time.


San Sebastian: From Tapas to Pintxos

After a lovely relaxing break in Sitges, we once again packed our bags, trundled up to the train station and caught a train cross country to San Sebastian.  This was another six hour train ride zigzagging across the plains and mountains of the country. The scenery was ever changing and we even got to stop at Pamplona. We didn’t see any bulls, though.

Finally we arrived at San Sebastian, where we waited and waited for a taxi to take us to our Air BNB apartment. In the end we gave up and walked. It only took us 20 minutes, even dragging our bags and it was nice to stretch our legs.

Our apartment was a huge, top floor apartment with a tiny lift and an amazing view of the Urumea river and Zurriola beach. I spent hours reading beside the window, while listening to the waves roll up the river.

Urumea river and Zurriola beach
As you can see, the beach was a popular one. We had obviously been spoilt during our time in Sitges as I found it impossible to keep an eye on four kids while they were swimming at this beach.

Zurriola has some good surf and the waves were quite large with the ‘right’ wind.  There are separate areas for surfers and swimmers so it’s probably safe enough, but I didn’t find it very enjoyable. The kids loved it though and went out with buckets trying to catch fish and crabs. They did come back with one small amputee crab that I then freaked them out with by showing them how to pick it up. Who knew that such a skill would one day be used to terrify my offspring?

There are calmer beaches in Concha bay, to the south, but these were also very busy. They did have some rock pools at the end near the Aquarium, where there were crabs and small fish waiting to be caught.

And further along the beach we found a lovely playground, Alderdi Eder, complete with shady seats and a gorgeous carousel. The older two were a bit meh about this, but it was a ‘must do’ for DD3 and DS. They spent ages deciding what they were going to ride on. DS chose an airplane and DD went for a cat.

Carousel in San Sebastian

We spent quite a lot of time wandering around San Sebastian, exploring and looking for places to eat. Again DH had visions of us roaming from bar to bar, eating a pintxos from this bar and that as we moved happily between establishments. Sadly for him, this was not to be.

Our children are varied in their fussiness, so catering for all of them with pintxos proved to be impossible. We ate at a place like the one pictured below just once. It involved hysteria from DD3 ( she didn’t like the hams hung behind the counter and won’t eat chicken), disgust from the other two DDs ( they won’t eat seafood or tomatoes), flat out refusal from DS ( if it’s not a burger or a pizza he won’t eat it), but we had lunch there anyhow.

Pintxos bar San Sebastian

It was all very tasty but it was hard to enjoy the food with the kids looking so disgruntled next to us. From then on we stuck to Italian restaurants. We may have to wait until the kids leave home before we can experiment gastronomically on holiday.

The weather was pretty good when we were in San Sebastian, but we had one wet day and used it to visit the aquarium. It was very busy but the line moved quickly and we were soon inside. We’ve seen a lot of aquariums as a family but this one was quite interesting as half of it is in the form of a museum of local fishing and naval history.

The aquarium itself was compact but informative and the kids especially liked the touch pool and the shark tunnel. ( NB These are NOT linked)

touch pool San Sebastian aquarium

All in all, we had a fairly relaxed time in San Sebastian. There is plenty to do with kids, and we had no trouble finding food for them. We loved the accommodation and would like to have stayed longer. But by now we were on the homeward stretch and were heading back to France, to stay in Paris for three nights.

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.

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.

The Gallery: Buildings

Treasury at Petra

We’ve seen a lot of buildings during our travels but my favourite one is also probably one of the oldest. This is Al Khazneh, otherwise known as The Treasury, in Petra, Jordan.

It was built in the first century AD and you can see it wasn’t so much as built, as carved out of the beautiful rose-red sandstone that comprise the rock faces and canyons of this area. It was originally built as a mausoleum and the inside is basically a series of doors and very plain hollowed out rooms, in contrast to the beautifully detailed exterior.

The building was named ‘The Treasury’ by  local people after legends told of treasure kept in the urn right at the top of the facade. The mythical treasure has been said to belong to the Pharaoh at the time of Moses, or a group of bandits and pirates. The urn has been shot at many times in the hope that the valuables may tumble out, but it has been proved that the carved urn is in fact solid sandstone and it is unlikely the treasure ever existed.

Many of the smaller details of the exterior carving has been eroded over time but the figures are fittingly supposed to be various figures from mythology associated with the afterlife.

We visited Petra as a family four years ago along with other places in Jorden, and it was one of our best family holidays ever. There are many other buildings to explore in the ancient city of Petra, but a lot of tour groups just come down the the Siq, look at the Treasury, and leave again. That’s why there are so many people in this photo. The rest of the ancient city is much less crowded and if you go all that way it seems a pity not to explore just that little bit further, so we spent the best part of a day there.

Deserted Petra

This post was written for this week’s Gallery theme of Buildings. Check out this week’s post over at Sticky Fingers


Feel At Home in Spain With Three

Some people are good with languages and some are not. I have always believed that I fall into the latter category.

The basis of this belief is a mostly forgotten memory of the three years I spent in secondary school in NZ trying to learn German. I’m not sure who was most frustrated by this exercise, me or my poor teacher. Let’s just say nothing came naturally to me in that subject and I was relieved to give it up. Good riddance, I thought, and when am I ever going to use a foreign language?

Now, of course, I live in England and our holiday travel plans can depend on who speaks what. Luckily DH gets by with French, and so far I’ve managed to stumble my way through the German speaking countries. But this summer, we are probably heading down through France to Spain, which means that someone has to learn Spanish.

So when I was offered a chance to try out some ‘Learn To Speak  Spanish’ Apps, available on both iPhones and iPads, I decided to give it  a go. There were a lot of Apps to choose from, so I chose the first three that popped up. Mainly I concentrated on Duolingo as I have used it before. But I also used the Busuu Spanish Course, which is designed to help you learn the language while you are actually in the country. I can see this might be useful during our travels but in the meantime, I’ll keep on plodding along at home too. I’m not sure I’m making any progress but it’s only been 2 weeks since I started learning.

Something that will be very useful in our travels through Europe is Three’s Feel At Home offer, where you can use a Three network phone in Spain (and other countries) at no extra cost. This page gives you a list if the countries included and shows you how much money you can save by taking advantage of this offer.

I’m not that hopeful about being able to make myself understood while travelling around Spain any time soon but I have a secret weapon in DD1, who is luckily learning Spanish at school. She has found the Apps very useful in revising for her school exams so they won’t be wasted.

And with Three’s data roaming package, then at least I’ll be able to access a translation App on my phone without bankrupting myself.

Three sent us a ‘Learn Spanish Like A Boss’ pack  in return for this post, but all thoughts above are my own.


The Gallery: Black and White


Point Helbronner

I am always a bit stumped when I’m asked to submit black and white photos for anything. and I suspect I’m not alone in resorting to a little photo editing. Luckily I have plenty of photos to play around with, but these ones, taken over a huge glacier in the Alps between France and Italy are some of my favourite. They probably work well because there isn’t much colour in the originals- just a blue sky and a a bit of red for the cable cars.

Six years ago we spent a week in the summer holidays in Chamonix, which is a popular ski resort in the winter. In the summer it’s a fantastic place to stay with families, and we were with a company who took the children for the day 4/7 days, so the parents could get out and explore on their own.

DH and I got out and about on our own, and had a few adventures, but the most thrilling thing we did was take a series of cable cars up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, then rode the Panoramic Mont Blanc Cable Car across to Point Helbronner, in Italy.

It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I’m not a fan of heights and we were a long way up. The cables seemed very loose and blew around in the wind as they traveled above the ice and snow. And when you looked straight down you could see how deep the ravines in the ice were.

I couldn’t help thinking about what would happen if we fell.

And once we’d crossed from France to Italy safely, we had to go back again. This time, I tried not to look down as often.

View from Panoramic Mont Blanc Cable Car

The scenery was fantastic. We had this car to ourselves and felt like we were the only people on earth until the carriages going in the opposite direction whirred past and we all waved to each other.

See those little dots? They are people who chose to climb up the mountains and risk life and limb while doing so. We saw plenty of them staggering through the snow, perched on ledges and climbing the jagged rocks. They did not look like they were having fun.

It looked far too much like hard work to me and I was relieved to be able to look down on them, even though we were bouncing around in a metal bauble on a bit of  steel rope. To be fair, I’d not describe our experience as fun either. But it was a ‘Once in a lifetime’ experience and I’m glad we did it.

Though I admit to breathing a sigh of relief when we made it back to Chamonix safely and I had solid ground under my feet once again.

For more black and white photos, check out this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.


The Gallery: Colour

Last summer we drove around Denmark and Sweden for our summer holidays. We spent four days strolling around Copenhagen and just enjoying the sights.

It’s a great city to visit with kids and full of all sorts of hidden gems. This colourful Happy Wall was one of those things.


We fought our way through some road works , came around the corner and there it was.

2000 hinged rectangles of colour, all ready for the general public to graffiti in any way they wished.

Happy Wall 1

You can see a library-style ladder at the far end , so people can reach the higher boards without having to climb on someone’s shoulders.

The kids had a fantastic time making patterns on the Wall by opening and closing the doors , reading other people’s contributions ( not all of which were  in English or suitable for their eyes) and then scrabbling around in their backpacks for pens and crayons so they could contribute too.

Z writing on the happywall

H happywall

L Happywall

J Happywall

Adding their own bit of graffiti was definitely the highlight of the morning and they often wonder if the Happy Wall is still up and on display in the middle of Copenhagen.

This week’s Gallery Theme is Colour, so if you feel in need of brightening up over half term, then click through here onto Sticky Fingers.



The Gallery: Cold

As a family, we are quite partial to a cold holiday.

Plane to lapland
Yes, we get a little snow here in the UK, but there is nothing like posing for a family photo while ankle (or higher) deep in the white stuff.

Family in snow
Of course, you have to  make sure everyone wraps up warm.

children dressed for snow

As long as everyone is dressed appropriately, the temperature doesn’t matter. It might be -10 but you can have lots of fun when it’s cold and snowy outside.

You can build a decent sized  snowman.

Big snowman

You can go on a reindeer trek.

Reindeer sled ride in lapland

And of course there is always sledding.

Sledding Lapland


Even the adults can enjoy themselves. Taking control of a husky team is surprisingly satisfying.

Husky team in Lapland

If you aren’t that keen on snowy activities, then how about renting a cottage somewhere cold and just chilling? (See what I did there?)

You could rent a fisherman’s hut, like this.

Lauklines Kystferie

And enjoy a view like this.

Lake view Norway


Rent a car and drive around in the snow. With snow tyres, it’s easy and fun to go exploring.

We found a beach.

beach winter Norway


Even the rock pools were frozen.

Frozen rock pools
The roads were a bit frightening.

Scary roads Norway


But the scenery was truly spectacular.

mountains and lake norway
frozen waterfall norway

We’d recommend a cold family holiday. As you can see, you don’t have to go skiing to have a good time in the snow!

kick sled


ETA that these photos were taken during 2 separate holidays. The first seven were taken in Finnish Lapland in December 2011 when we visited Father Christmas with Esprit.
The second eight were taken when we rented this fisherman’s cottage 30 miles from Tromsø in Norway during February halfterm in 2013 and spent a week just driving around playing in the snow and looking at scenery.

This post was written for this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.


The Gallery: Trees

Namibean desert treesThis is DS, aged 4, at Dead Vlei on the edge of the Namibean Desert in 2012.

Dead Vlei means ‘Dead Marsh’; hundreds of years ago this salt pan was flooded by water from the Tsauchab, which is an stream that only flows during and after rain in the nearby mountains. These days it exists mainly as an empty river bed, but rain in this area was more common back then.

The dead Camel Thorn tree that DS  is leaning on died over 900 years ago, from lack of water once the climate changed. When drought hit the area, huge sand dunes surrounded the pan, cutting it off from the river and the possibility of ever being flooded again.

There is a nearby pan called Sossuslvlei that is not surrounded by sand, and had been flooded when we visited. There were birds all around the vlei and green plants were growing beside it.

But Deadvlei appeared completely devoid of life, apart from the few dozen tourists who had trekked across the desert with us to visit this strange place. At one point the kids found a lizard to chase; later on we learnt that it probably survives by burying itself in the sand during the hottest part of the day and takes water from the morning mist that rolls in from the nearby sea.

The skeletons of these long dead trees are not petrified, they are still wooden, but they do not decompose because there is not enough water for them to do so. They are black from being burnt  from the fierce desert sun.

Despite their stark appearance, and lack of leaves, they are still majestic and make Deadvlei a truly beautiful place to visit.

The Gallery theme this week is trees. If you’d like to see what trees other bloggers have been taking pictures of, then please check out this week’s post at Sticky Fingers.