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.

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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.

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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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