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.

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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!

Kids In Rural Southern Sweden

After we left our houseboat in Copenhagen, we headed south for an afternoon at the beach.

We ended up somewhere near Ishøj and parked near the art museum. We found toilets/ changing rooms, sandy beaches, lifeguards and a pier to trip-trap along and climb down into.

Ishøj beach

There was a bit of seaweed around, but plenty of sand and the kids decided it was too cold to swim ( others did though) but they paddled and made sand castles for an hour or two.

Finally, hunger drove us off the beach. We expected to find somewhere nearby selling food but there was nothing, so we got on the motorway east and before we knew it, we were driving across the Øresund Bridge (The Bridge!) into Sweden. Another new country for us!

 Driving across Øresund Bridge

By now the kids were ravenous and we pulled in at the next Burger King.  Luckily our car fitted under the drive thru height restriction AND they understood our order and we just sat in the car and wolfed down our lunch.

Our accommodation for the next four nights was a rural farmhouse near Visseltofta, in southern Sweden. We found the house on Airbnb and rented it as it was available on the dates we needed and was en route to Stockholm. We had quite an adventure trying to find it and once we did, we realised how very rural it was; despite being only 11 minutes drive to the nearest supermarket, it took us an hour to find the place!

But this wasn’t a problem, we had our car with us, and we used Google maps and Trip Advisor to investigate any places of interest nearby. Sweden was a bit end-of-seasonish, especially in the rural areas, but we managed to find stuff to do for the 4 nights we were there.

So in case you find yourself looking for things to do in Northern Skane county in Sweden, these are our recommendations.

DDs 1 and 3 wanted to go horse riding, so we rang the closest stables we could find, Stall Stingson. They spoke English and offered the girls a supervised hack through mossy woodland while the rest of us drove to Osby in search of a supermarket. Both the girls had a super exciting time as they’ve only every ridden in arenas before and they got to tack their ponies up and groom them afterwards. The owners were happy to talk to us about their stables and had a yard full of friendly cats and dogs. They also recommended we check out the next place, when we asked if they knew of anywhere to eat.

Ponies at Stall Stingson
We ended up at Denningarums gård ( farm) for lunch. They did a fantastic, and reasonably priced, smorgasbord and even super-fussy DS found something to eat. But the best bit about this place is that just across the very quiet lane, they have a kids play area with adventure playgrounds, a sandpit, trampolines and animals to feed. So we sat and ate lingonberry waffles in peace, while the kids squabbled cheerfully far enough away not to bother us.

Denningarums gard

Discovering new places like this are the reason we take road trips, and we came back here for lunch every day for three days as it was so relaxing.

According to TripAdvisor just 15 minutes away from our accommodation was an Elk Safari, so we had to see that. You can drive through the enclosure yourself, but we took the ‘train’ ( wagons pulled by a tractor) . Our children seemed to be the only ones who weren’t blond!

Elk Safari Train
We were handed branches of a tree to feed the Elk (or Moose) when we came across them, so the whole thing looked like some sort of jungle camouflage vehicle.

Elk food
Elk are big and keen on their food and basically come sprinting out of the woods to yank the offered branches out of your hands. I was surprised about how enthusiastic they were about it but most people had a stroke of them while they were eating and no one got hurt.

feeding elk in sweden
We also saw some bison, who were much less enthusiastic about being hand fed than the elk, and there was also a separate, smaller goat pen where two-legged kids can mix with the four-legged variety.

Mostly, the weather was kind to us but we had one rainy day while staying near Visseltofta. On that day we visited the nearby Brio museum. This place was a bit like the Tardis; bigger on the inside!

DH and I enjoyed looking at the display of toys from over the years and the kids appreciated the toys put out for playing. DS especially loved the enormous train track. It was glued down and he had stiff competition from several other boys of around the same age.

Brio Museum train track
The museum also had a Christmas-themed ‘elves’ workshop’ basement with a huge Brio Builder table and a couple of railway carriages next door containing a model railway, a few old sega games, some board games and a display of Barbies and Kens. There was enough there to keep us out of the rain for a couple of hours at least.

Toy horses brio museum
We found 4 nights/ 3 days was the perfect amount of time to spend in the area at this time of the year. We visited in the last couple of weeks of August which is no longer high season, so things were starting to wind down and some attractions were no longer open.

Despite our stay in Visseltofta acting as a stopover on our way to Stockholm, we enjoyed our time here and would recommend it as an area full of things for families to do, if you just happen to be driving around southern Sweden.

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I’m a few days late to The Gallery this week; my excuse is we are still on holiday.

We have been staying in Stockholm for the last few days and we loved it.

Stockholm is a fantastic city to visit with children. The public transport is clean, varied and efficient, and the kids especially like the trams. The museums are plentiful and are all pretty child friendly and there is ice cream every where.

We tried to do as much as possible in the three days we were in Stockholm as our next 4 days will be spent in rural Sweden, 20 minutes from the nearest shop, apparently. We should be able to find something to do but it’s much easier to tire kids out when activities are close at hand.

The photo above is a tour boat we spotted sailing into the harbour at Stockholm. We were actually in the market for a boat tour, but had been eyeing up more conventional vessels. Of course, once the kids saw this boat, that was it.

Our first boat ride around the harbour was spent wearing horned helmets and trying to get ‘landlubbers’ to wave at us!

This has been a real adventure of a holiday, with discoveries at every turn. Holidays should be about exploring new places and trying new things, and none of us have ever sailed around Stockholm in a viking ship before!

This post is part of this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.

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Copenhagen With Kids

So; here we are 11 days into this summer’s road trip. We’ve enjoyed 4 nights in Copenhagen, followed by 4 in Osby (aka middle of nowhere #1). Today we are moving on to Stockholm for 4 nights.

Getting to Copenhagen

We took our own car through the Euro tunnel into France, then drove to Belgium and stayed in Bruges for a night. Once we’d found somewhere to park a people carrier with a roof box, we managed to get out of the hotel and explore the cobbled streets and eat dinner in a tourist trap in the main square.

The next day was spent driving through Holland where we looked out for ‘real’ windmills. We don’t even notice the modern ones any more. After the Netherlands, we drove along German motorways and sat in German traffic jams while admiring the road works. That night we stayed in Hamburg, and had a German Hamburger for dinner.

That’s how we got to Copenhagen, where the plan was to spend 4 nights on a house boat.

We booked the boat through AirBnB and waited around on the road beside it for a good half an hour before trying the front door, which proved to be open. The owner turned up to explain things the next morning. So, it’s worth checking that you are actually going to be shown around/ let in or will just be allowed to work things out yourself.

Access to the boat was via a rather wobbly gangway over an algae infested stretch of water. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t imagine falling in every time I used this entrance, and insisted that only one person at a time go over. Once inside, there were 4 bedrooms (7 beds), wifi, a good sized kitchen/dinner but only one bathroom/toilet. We mainly ate out, but it is always useful to be able to cook pasta at the very least.

Our accommodation was a short water-taxi ride to the city centre and the first day, we almost missed the boat, literally. The Danes like to be punctual!

Things We Did

1/ Boat Cruise.
We went on an hour long, very touristy, boat cruise along the canals and around the harbour. Some are more expensive than others, so shop around. Ours left from Nyhaven ; it’s also worth visiting the public toilets there!

The boat cruise had an English part to the commentary and took us out to the infamous Little Mermaid statue, which saved us a trip later because there really isn’t much to see.

We got a good close up view of a big ship, saw a few places we wanted to visit later, went under loads of bridges, waved to loads of strangers and learned a very little bit about the history of Copenhagen.

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2/ Tivoli Gardens
This has to be done if you are in Copenhagen and we all had a good time. There were enough different rides here for everyone in our family, even DD2 who is our thrill seeker. We spent 9 hours wandering around, going on rides, eating, looking at various stalls and just chilling out. It’s not that expensive if you are used to London theme parks!

People were friendly, the queues weren’t long and ice cream was good. The kids enjoyed the chance to stretch their legs, liked the live performances and enjoyed having dinner on the pirate ship.

Stay until dark if you can, as the gardens are beautiful all lit up. Also buy a multi ride ticket if possible and agree on an allowance that the kids can spend on games before entering the park!

3/ Experimentarium City
This exhibition is situated on the waterfront opposite Newhaven, and is basically a huge science museum. There are hundreds of experiments set up for you and your children to enjoy playing with and you are all virtually guaranteed to come away having learnt something.

Our kids enjoyed trying their hands at the different winter sports, playing with bubbles, racing each other on the stationary bikes and ergonometers, trying their voices at commentating and enjoying various optical illusions.

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You can buy snacks and drinks here but they also have a picnic area, so you are welcome to bring your own.

There was a street vendor market right next door, so we ate there.

4/ Go For A Walk
We walked from Nyhaven to Tivoli and stopped to look at various buildings, bridges, statues and other temporary works of art.

We especially liked the Happy Wall, where all the kids got to add their very own bit of graffiti.

The only shopping we did was for our traditional fridge magnet but we saw a lot of familiar London high street shop names while wandering around, so it’s safe to assume that you’ll be able to buy pretty much anything you leave behind.

5/ Copenhagen Zoo.
Despite all the bad publicity over the killing of Marius the Giraffe, earlier this year, we decided to visit this zoo anyhow. The kids wanted to see the polar bear as they hadn’t seen one before and although I’m not that keen on zoos in general, I thought it would be okay.

And it was, mainly. But the enclosures didn’t seem very big, or very clean, and the polar bear and big cats were exhibiting that awful stereotypical pacing seen in so many captive animals. I couldn’t help feeling a bit miserable for them.

I’m not sure I’d really recommend it.

6/ Go To The Beach.
If you have the time and your swimming gear, go and visit the beaches south of Copenhagen.
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There are miles to choose from, with flagged areas, swimming piers and showers and toilet facilities spaced along the dunes.

Places to buy food seemed lacking, so it’s probably worth taking a picnic. The sand was quite fine, but there were a few wasps around as well as lots of seaweed.

7/ Eating And Drinking
As we were self catering, we made a few supermarket trips and maintained a well stocked fridge. But at night we went out to eat. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, but if you have fussy kids and want to make sure they eat *something *, then visit Jensens Bøfhus. The steak is good, they do chicken nuggets and offer an all the software icecream you can eat option for dessert.
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A couple more tips; they are digging up the city atm and creating an underground railway, so there are roadworks every where. If you are driving, a satnav will be very helpful but don’t expect to be able to park anywhere. Car parking is almost impossible, especially if you drive a bigger than normal car.

After getting one ticket while unloading our stuff onto the boat, then failing to find anywhere to park the first time we tried to visit the zoo, we gave up driving and took cabs instead.

We loved Copenhagen and would like to come back, maybe during winter next time?
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Sleeping Arrangements

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The first night of our holidays is always the worst.

Apparently expecting kids to actually sleep in unfamiliar rooms, in strange beds and with siblings, who usually sleep in different rooms, is completely unreasonable and unrealistic.

The first night of one of our holidays usually involves tantrums, arguments,  tears and protests against unfair bedtimes and lack of screen time.

Friday night was no exception. On Friday morning, we headed off on our summer holidays and spent the evening in a very nice hotel in Bruges. We weren’t exactly slumming it,  but we had two rooms; and herein lies one of the problems of holidaying with a ‘larger’  family.

When you are a family of 6, it is very rare to be able to find a hotel room that can sleep everyone together. Even interconnecting rooms are quite hard to guarantee. So mostly we end up with 1 room with 2 beds and one with 4, or two bedrooms of 3.

Of course the big question becomes ‘Who is going to sleep with who?’

Someone much cleverer than me must be able to come up with an equation that can answer this question,  taking into account who last fell out with who,  and how long ago, who shared a room/bed ‘last time’ and what is ‘fair’ .

Btw ‘last time’ appears to be one of those things that kids remember
effortlessly even though your last family holiday was 12 months ago and you can barely remember where you went.

On Friday we decided on a girls’ room and a boys’ room. Simples. The 4 beds came in the form of two doubles,  which  proved to be only mildly traumatic for everyone and ended up with 3 of us in one bed for part of the night.

Then on Saturday night we had two rooms of 3; a state of affairs requiring negotiation skills and patience far beyond what I could muster after an 8 hour tour of German motorway roadworks.

So it was with great relief that on Sunday, we arrived in Copenhagen for a 4 night stay on a house boat. Here we have 4 bedrooms,  so two of the kids have to share, but the other two can have some space. Surely this is a good thing?

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But no, apparently not. The two little ones were happy to sleep in a double room as the beds are built into little houses.

This meant the older two could have their own rooms if they wanted. Of course, they didn’t. They have spent the entire time here sharing a double bed and fighting bitterly about who is on whose side.

And tomorrow, we move somewhere else and the whole thing starts again.

Wish me patience. I’m going to need it.