We Need A New Car. Maybe.

Say hello to our present car.

Toyota Previa
It’s a 55 Reg Toyota Previa and we love it. It’s got everything we need, whether we are taxiing kids around town or road tripping around Europe, and up until now the ‘Bus’, as we call it, has been pretty reliable.

It’s usually filthy of course; we have two dogs and four kids, and it’s not cleaned or hoovered nearly often enough. But it’s been a great family car.

However, it’s now 9 years old and it’s getting a bit old. Parts are started to need replacing, there has been the odd weird rattle  and we can tell it’s getting a bit tired. Neither DH or I are mechanically minded, and we only have one car, so it’s important that we have a vehicle that isn’t at the mechanics every couple of weeks.

We like to take road trips for our summer holidays and this year plan to drive  to Denmark and Sweden. Last year the Bus got us to Montenegro but we did have a couple of minor incidents where it wouldn’t start or refused to unlock. Being stranded in a foreign country with a misbehaving vehicle is not fun. We did have RAC European cover but you don’t want to have to  be calling them all the time.

So we have been wondering if our Previa is going to behave itself this summer and are now discussing the possibility of a new car.

We know our car is just a machine, but it’s surprisingly easy to get sentimental about them, isn’t it? I actually feel a bit guilty even thinking about looking at new vehicles; like the Bus is an aged relative that we should be caring for in its dotage, rather than selling off because it ‘might’ break down on us.

Ideally, we’d just buy a new Previa. We know they tick all our boxes; but alas, they don’t make Previas in the UK any more, so we need to look at other makes and models.

We have just over a month before we leave on holiday, so I’m all geared up to go out and drive cars.  Our wish list is enough room for at least 6 adults, a decent amount of boot space when all seats are occupied, sliding rear doors, some parking assistance ( rear backing camera preferred) and an in-car SatNav ( negotiable). We are not looking for a new car, but something that is 1-2 years old.

We need some help, otherwise I’m going to throw my hands in the air and put this task in the ‘too hard’ pile and we’ll just take the Bus on holiday with us instead. It’s no drama, unless it all goes wrong, of course.

Does anyone out there drive an MPV that they would recommend I test drive? Any helpful comments below would be very much appreciated.

The Gallery: Detail

About 6 years ago, when our youngest was only 12 weeks old, we flew everyone ( DH and I, The Nanny plus four kids, 6 and under) half way around the world to introduce our younger two to my NZ family.

What were we thinking? It was fun, but chaotic, and is not a trip we are likely to make again.

I was going through the photos the other day, and found this one of a 2 year DD3.

2 year old blonde hair
She was just so cute, with big green eyes and blonde curls. We stopped over in Hong Kong for a couple of days and we were mobbed by the locals. People took photos of her and DS all the time; it was travelling with a celebrity!

As she’s got older, her eyes have stayed the same colour but her hair is now brown and straight. She’s still pretty cute for a smart-mouthed eight year old, but there is only a slight resemblance to that chubby cheeked toddler.

 

girl and cat

I am face blind, so facial details mean nothing to me. Can you tell these two photos are of the same child?

If so, what details look the same?

For more detailed posts, check out this weeks Gallery over on Sticky Fingers.

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The Gallery: A Photo I’m Proud Of

Sunset at Swakopmund
In August 2012 our summer holiday took us to Namibia and South Africa, where we  hired a car and drove around on deserted gravel roads for 3 weeks.

It was quite an adventure and I had many great photo opportunities, but I think this is my favourite photo. I’ve posted it before but I still get a kick out of looking at it.

We were staying Swakopmund, a small city on the East Coast of the African Continent, for a few days.  It was a winter there, and because it’s surrounded by desert on three sides, you get this sea mist that rolls in off the Atlantic ocean most mornings but usually clears up later in the day. The temperature often started off in the mornings at around 10C, which was quite chilly after the warmer days we’d gotten used to. We were pleased we’d  bothered to pack our fleeces after all.

In the evening we wandered down to the beach front and watched the sun go down. It always looked enormous  and there was a concrete viewing platform that allowed a good view. One night the kids were in the playground, and I was on the beach watching the sunset, when a lone figure wandered out onto the platform. I quickly moved along the sand a little, so the figure looked like they were standing right in the middle of the sun and took a few different shots.

I liked this one especially, because of the mural/graffiti on the wall by the platform and newly lit streetlamp to the left of the picture.

After I took the photo, the figure walked down past the playground and proved to be a teenage girl. I approached her and gave her my email, and said I would send her a copy of the photos if she contacted me, but she never has.

To see more photos that make people proud, check out this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.

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The Gallery: Adventure

I don’t feel very adventurous at the moment.

I suppose I could post a photo of my kids and write something trite about parenting being the biggest adventure ever, but I’ve just gone a couple of rounds with a 12 year old and feel parenting is more a misadventure right now.

So I’m going to go back a couple of years and blog about our summer holiday in 2012, which was a real adventure. As a family it gave us a taste for independent travel and road trips; this is something I hope our children will take with them as they become adults.

We went to Namibia and South Africa for three weeks and it was amazing.

We flew to Johannesburg, then jumped on a smaller plane to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Despite being in the Southern Hemisphere, Namibia is only an hour ahead of the UK in winter. This is great when travelling with children as it really does minimise jetlag.

We stayed a night in Windhoek, collected our vehicle and the next morning we hit the road.

We generally drove for most of a day from place to place and then stayed in one place for 2-3 nights. The driving was an adventure in itself. There are very few shops and petrol stations, so you stop and fill up whenever you see one.

There was plenty to see while driving. The scenery was incredible and changed constantly. We often saw wild animals and were able to stop off whenever we saw something interesting.

kids on the tropic of capricorn
The roads in Namibia are not like the roads in the UK. They are generally in good condition but are  surfaced with gravel and are mainly empty. We sometimes drove for hours without seeing another vehicle. You don’t want to go too fast as there are unexpected potholes and rocks dotted here and there. At one point we saw a car ahead of us burst a tyre and go hurtling off the road into a fence; thankfully no one was hurt.

On the road Namibia

During our holiday we climbed huge sand dunes,

kids climbing dune 45
wandered across deserts in search of long-dead forests,

Dead Vlei Namibia
watched the sun set on deserted beaches,

Swakopmund sunset

 

And had many close encounters with wildlife, some big

Shade for the baby

And some small.

biting lizard

It was mad, wild, exhausting three weeks of driving and sight seeing and we literally never knew what would be around the next corner.

And that’s what a real adventure is all about, isn’t it?

warning sign for penguins

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

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The Gallery: A Younger Me

It’s July 2000.  We are on our honeymoon and are travelling by train to Italy. Look at me, I’m so excited!

Baguette on a train
We took the Eurostar to Paris, then took a sleeper to Sienna to start our Italian adventure.

My French is pitiful, but luckily DH’s is better so he noticed a sign at the train station saying that the cleaning and catering staff were on strike. We stocked up on baguettes, water and chocolate. An American family in the compartment next to us weren’t so observant and spent the entire trip hungry and complaining about the state of the loos.

Sienna
During the two weeks we were away, we travelled from Sienna, to Florence, to Rome and finally to Venice. DH took most of the photos  in those days so there are a lot of me and not so many of him. I am pulling some really stupid tourist faces. It didn’t matter because in the summer, Italy is full of tourists.

I look so young because I was. In some of these photos I’m only 29 as I turned 30 while we were in Venice. We went out for a gondolier ride for my birthday and there was a photo taken but I don’t seem to have it on my computer. Here’s one of me with a gondolier in the background instead.

Venice

I’m glad I have these photos of me.  I don’t look at them often but it’s nice to remember DH and I had a life before we had children.

My only regret is that we didn’t make more of the the time we had before kids. We  should have travelled more.

Cheers!

This week The Gallery is full of photos of younger bloggers. To take a look at what we got up to, check out  This week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.

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Morocco With Kids

Madrassa Ben Youssef

When I told people we were going to Marrakech for half term, many of them asked if we were taking the kids.

I’m not quite sure what they thought we’d do with them otherwise, but the answer was of course, yes.

Some people seemed surprised by this and quite a few expressed the opinion that perhaps it was better not to take children to Morocco. Reasons given included the dirt, the crowds, the hassling, the food and the threat of terrorism.

Well, I can now report that taking children to Marrakech is a breeze. It’s actually very, very child friendly.

View from the riad

We decided to stay in a inner-Medina riad; a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard. Ours also has a little plunge pool on the ground floor with palms and banana trees around it and a large roof terrace on the top with a couple of tortoises wandering free.

The pool isn’t heated and at this time of the year it’s too cold for DH and I, but the kids jump in for a quick dip before bath time. Nutters!

The reason we chose to stay in a riad, rather than a tourist hotel is that we get the whole building to ourselves, apart from the staff. So we don’t have to worry too much about the noise our offspring like to make, or the tantrums caused by half term homework.

Also our accommodation is at the end of a maze of ever narrowing alleyways, about 10 minutes slow walk from Djemma el Fna and the souks. We been able to wander up there 2-3 times a day if we want to check out what’s going on a different times.

Opening the riad door

Marrakech has probably been the most foreign place we have ever visited as a family. At least half the people we have interacted with don’t speak English, and another quarter only have a few words or phrases (‘Asda prices here’ and ‘ Marks and Spencer quality’ feature commonly in the souks). Luckily DH has enough French to get by, and DD1 has enjoyed practicing what she is learning at school.

The people are very child friendly;  the little two in particular get lots of attention and we have had to explain to them why it’s suddenly okay for complete strangers to touch them.

Of course we’ve had to keep them close to us, DS in particular is a bit of a runner, and when walking through the souks everyone needs to keep to the side as the bicycles and motorbikes just come zipping though. But despite the crowds and traffic, we’ve managed not to lose anyone or get anyone run over so far.

Motorbikes in Marrakech

We’ve had to do lots of walking over quite uneven ground, and through some fairly dense crowds. There is lots for kids to look at but the people who have babies in pushchairs look like they are working really hard. I am pleased we are past that stage.

And while we are on the subject of kids looking at things, make sure you tell them never to accept anything from hawkers or stall owners. Once your child has something in their hands, or around their shoulders, you will be asked to pay for it.

This rule also applies to the snake and monkey men that dot the square; unless you want to be parted from your dirham, keep your distance. The man who owned the snake in the below photo wanted 100dh ( around £8) to drape it around each of our necks while photos were taken; we gave him 10dh.

Snake handling

 

A firm’no thanks’, while walking swiftly past will put off all but the most persistent stall owners. And anyone who follows you will eventually give up, as long as you keep saying no.  Just don’t slow down for or make eye contact with anyone trying to sell you anything.

And if you do want to buy anything, expect to haggle. Start by offering about 1/4 of what they ask for, and expect to meet somewhere in the middle. If you aren’t getting anywhere, walk away, 3/4s of the time the seller will call you back and accept your highest offer. We’ve only had one episode of stroppiness when we wouldn’t meet the price asked, and we got a better deal elsewhere.

Our major problem in Marrakech was feeding the kids, as DS  and DD2 are very fussy. They’ve basically lived on pizza,pasta and fries this week, and only a couple of the cafes around the main square offer these choices. Luckily these restaurants also offer a variety of traditional Moroccan dishes as well, so no one has really missed out. But our kids’ fussiness has meant that we haven’t been able to eat at the food stalls that are set up in Djemma el Fna from 4-5pm. If your children are game to try new foods, then eating at these stalls at least once during your visit is a must.

Food stalls in Djemma el Fna

We have eaten plenty of snacks from stalls though-dried fruits, nougat, olives and figgy paste- and none of us have come down with an upset tummy yet. DH and DD1 have eaten salad and we’ve all brushed our teeth with water from the taps. Marrakech really isn’t as dirty as you might imagine. The alleyways we’ve walked through have been fairly clear of rubbish  too, I’ve definitely seen worse in London.

The kids have been most affected by the plight of  the animals in Marrakech. Everywhere you look there are stray cats and kittens, often with obvious signs of injury or disease. On the plus side we have not seen any rats or mice and we have seen plenty of tourists feeding the cats hanging around restaurants.

Morrocan restaurant kitten

There are also plenty of stray dogs as well, and while the carriage horses look well cared for, some of the mules and donkeys are in very poor condition.

Most upsetting is the plight of of the captive reptiles. Chameleons, other lizards and tiny tortoises are kept in tiny, filthy cages in the souks and squares and appear to be for sale. Our children begged us to buy some so they could set them free but I’m not sure the ones we saw were in any fit state to survive in the wild and of course, buying these animals only encourages the sellers to capture and cage more.

Is it strange that our children feel much less empathy for the children they have seen living here? Having said that, the girls did decide that they were probably ‘quite spoiled’ after taking a horse and cart ride through the residential areas and seeing where people in Marrakech actually live. I think they thought everyone lived in riads similar to the one we are staying in.

Morrocan residences near the tanneries

We have spent a week in Marrakech and I think that has been enough. We’ve enjoyed our time here and are glad we brought the kids despite the food issue.

We’ve felt very safe as a family, despite the random traffic, have enjoyed the haggling and the sight seeing, and found the souks to be easy to navigate with children. Our advice would be to visit Marrakech and bring your children.

It’s interesting, different and family-friendly.

Kids in the ruins of El Badi Palace

 

 

 

The Gallery: Our Halloween

We love Halloween. It’s one of the highlights of the kids’ year and I have no problem with them dressing up and trick-or-treating their way around our neighborhood.

Some houses  display ‘No Knocking’ signs but there is really no need; most people only approach a decorated house on our block and the kids always come away with a bag full of tooth rotting sweets.

This year the discussions about costumes started when school went back at the beginning of September. And it was about them that I realised we had made a really huge mistake.

We were going to be away for October 31st, in a country where they just don’t do Halloween. The kids were devastated and we had tears and tantrums.

So here we are in Marrakech for Halloween week.
Djemaa El Fna at sunset

This is our neighbourhood.

The road to the riad

These are the closest things we could find to pumpkins.

Moroccan pumpkins

You can’t fit a tea light in them, so we’ll have to make do with lanterns.

Lanterns at dusk

We’ve bought a few Western treats with up to hide around the riad on the night itself, but we’ve also been sampling the local sweets.

IMG_4835

They are mainly fruit based; figs, dates and other dried fruits but nougat also features highly.

And there are plenty of Halloween creatures around. The stray cats are everywhere and are especially attentive when you are waiting for lunch.

Waiting for lunch

 

And then there are the snakes…

Snakes alive

 

We may not be having a conventional Halloween this year, but we think the kids will forgive us eventually.

Even if they don’t get to dress up and go door knocking, they are having new experiences and getting close up and personal with the locals.

Boy and snake

 

We’ve assured them that next year it’ll be all carved pumpkins and trick and treating again.

For more Halloween happenings, check out this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.

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