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

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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.

spain

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.

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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.

IMG_0333

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Gallery: Creative

Okay, it’s not really that clever but this shot did take patience.

While we were in Denmark, we visited Tivoli gardens and they have a small aquarium there. It’s got one HUGE tank and a number of smaller ones, and in the big tank were this school of fish, swimming  up and down the tank.
My kids followed them around a bit, then lost interest when they found an eel hiding in a crevice.

Later on, DS was standing up against the tank and and the school swam past; I thought it would make a good photo.

So I told him to stay put and watch the fish coming towards him then took a few different shots. This was my favourite.

Boy and fish ; Tivoli aquarium, Copenhagen

It looks like the fish have come over to take a look at DS, but of course they just kept swimming past.

Sometimes, with photography, timing is the thing.

This post was  written for this week’s Gallery, over at Sticky Fingers. Check it out for a burst of photographic creativity.

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Fun In Stockholm

We loved Stockholm; it’s the place to go with kids. Built across 14 islands, the smallest only big enough for a single building, even the transport is interesting.  You can take a train, a tram, a bus or boat; often all on the same day!

We rented a small, Ikea-furnished apartment through Air BNB, about 5 minutes walk from Fruängen metro station, so every day started with a ride on the underground to Gamla Stan or T-Centralen . The metro is clean, efficient and easy to navigate and all the carriages seem to be named, but the Swedish don’t have the English reserve of standing, rather than squeezing into the only empty seat in the carriage that happens to be beside your kids. We got sat next to by some extremely colourful characters, but no one was rude or horrible.

We were in Stockholm for 4 nights, so spent 3 whole days looking around the city; mostly visiting museums. It wasn’t really enough and we could have easily have spent a whole week there, but we made the most of the time we had and visited some amazing places.

Stockholm from the water

1/ Gamla Stan is the ‘Old Town’ and we spent a couple of hours wandering through its narrow, cobbled streets, looking at shops and restaurants and inspecting statues and fountains.

IMG_0608
We also saw the Nobel museum and the Royal Palace. Around 11, a crowd started forming to wait for the Changing of the Guard, but the kids got impatient and hungry so we wandered down to the harbour instead.

2/ Our plan was to take a standard tourist boat tour around the harbour and get an overview of the city, but as we rounded the corner, this boat sailed into sight.

viking boat stockholm

DH held out longer than I did, but eventually we both caved in to the children’s pleas for a trip on this vessel. And who can blame them? The busy season was winding down so we pretty much had the whole boat to ourselves. There was no commentary, which was a little disappointing, but the kids enjoyed waving at everyone on the shore and trying on viking helmets.

Viking helmets in Stockholm

It rained while we were on the boat but we stayed dry and the horses for the Changing of the Guard that we had abandoned, went right past us as we prepared to set sail, so the Viking Ship seemed like a good choice all round.

3/ We then took a ferry across to Djurgården, a larger island in Stockholm that contains many museums, theatres, gardens, historic buildings, a funfair, a zoo and an aquarium. We spent at least part of each of our three days here and still didn’t see everything. Another day we took the No7 tram on the Djurgården line ; part of the fun of the visit is getting there!

4/We weren’t sure about taking the kids to the Abba Museum as we thought they’d be bored, but we were wrong!

The fun started with a squabble about who would be who in the ‘Your Face Here’ cutout outside the museum, and finished when we refused them to buy all the things in the gift shop, but in-between they sung and danced their little hearts out. DH and I may have joined in a little.

This is a really fun, interactive museum and everything is in English as well as Swedish. It makes you feel like you have fallen into the stage show Mamma Mia. If you only see one museum in Stockholm, it’s probably got to be this one!

Abba museum, Stockholm

5/ About 15 minutes walk from the ABBA museum is the Vasa Museum. This building houses a 95%-intact salvaged 17th century warship that spent almost 300 years under water in Stockholm’s harbour. The Vasa was fished out of the water in 1961 and is now housed in a specially built Museum that allows you to inspect her from different levels and angles.

She is an amazing sight and there are plenty of interesting displays, many of them interactive, scattered around the museum about the ship. the sinking, life in Sweden in the 1600s, items found on the ship and how they found and raised her out of the water. This is an amazing museum but it was the end of a long, hard day and I suspect the kids weren’t quite as interested as they could have been.  There is plenty of room to run around here though and I suspect this would be a great place to visit on a rainy day.

Vasa museum, Stockholm

6/ The next day we returned to the Northern side of the Royal Palace, on Gamla Stan, and went for a horse and carriage ride around the old town. These horses were obviously well loved and cared for, and curled up at the front of the carriage were two snoring dalmatians. No running behind for these dogs!

Horse and carriage ride, Stockholm

It was a pleasant tour. One lady drove and the other told us about the places we were passing and the islands we were on. Most of the history was completely new to me, but then, most European history is!. There were Swedish and French people on the tour with us and the commentator switched seamlessly between three languages. Amazing. It was a bit cold as we only had fleeces with us, but there were blankets tied to the roof of the carriage for people to untie and keep warm under.

Unfortunately these tours only run in the summer, during July and August, but if you are in Stockholm during these months at least swing by and say hello to the lovely horses.

Horse and carriage ride stockholm

7/ After our horse and carriage ride, we caught the tram to Djurgården to visit a children’s museum called Junibacken. It’s a kind of fantasy playground filled with characters and scenes from children’s books by Swedish authors. We knew of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking of course, and the Moomin trolls, but probably 80% of the exhibitions were completely unknown to us.

It didn’t matter; the kids climbed, played and slid with everyone else until we discovered The Story Train. This is a kind of  gentle ride with a commentary that takes you into the stories of various Swedish books, again we didn’t recognise any, but it was so well done that we all enjoyed it anyhow. Then we found ourselves in Pippi Longstocking’s house and DH and I  had to sit for a bit while the kids explored, slid down the slide umpteen millionty times, played hopscotch and rode hobby horses.

outside Pippis house Junibacken

This museum was probably a bit young for our eldest two but they are very used to ‘supervising’ their younger siblings and so joining in activities that way, so they had fun too. And there were several groups of adults with no children at all going through the door; I’m not sure what they would have made of it all!

8/ Our last full day in Stockholm was again spent on Djurgården, wandering around Skansen; a huge open air museum full of historical buildings from as far back as five centuries ago. There are also people in period dress doing various crafts and demonstrating different trades, as well as a farmyard, a zoo and a fairground. It’s an absorbing experience and we happily spent the whole day here.

Our favourite bits were the outdoor skittle alley, the farmyard ( we saw a sheep being shorn the old-fashioned  way) and the zoo. We got see bears, lynxes and wolves at the ‘free’ zoo, then paid for the extra bit and got to walk among lemurs and monkeys and look at some very big snakes and colourful frogs.The museum is partly on top of a hill , so the views were pretty fantastic too. And they have red squirrels running wild in the trees, which were amazing to watch in the wild.

The only real disappointment was that the little funfair wasn’t open on the day we went ( last two weeks of August), so it would be worth checking opening days/ hours if this was important to you.

Skansen is mainly outside, so you really need decent weather or a good coat to visit, but it’s a great place and pretty much a must-see in our opinion.

skittle alley, Skansen, Stockholm
I can’t rave enough about Stockhom and how child friendly and engaging it is. We’d like to go again sometime and perhaps stay closer to the centre of the city, maybe during winter? It’s not cheap, but if you are used to London prices you’ll probably not wince too much, and there are more discounts for children than you get in the UK.

If you are looking for somewhere enchanting to take your family, consider Stockholm. You won’t regret it!