A Week in Yorkshire: Part One – A Day in Whitby

We recently spent a week staying in the beautiful North York Moors area. Thomas’s school broke up about 10 days before the main school holidays for most English schools, so we took advantage of going away during the week before most schools had broken up for the summer. We stayed in a lovely self catering cottage about 4 miles outside of Pickering.

Our first full day in Yorkshire was one of bright sunshine and we decided to drive across the moors to Whitby. It’s a town that has somehow captured a special place in my heart. I grew up with a beautiful watercolour painting of the Abbey on the wall in our hall. In my mind’s eye it’s always frozen in time, a combination of memories of childhood visits 30 years ago, plus – I’m sure – the influence of Heartbeat having been standard Sunday night television viewing in my house back in the nineties!

Of course, Whitby has moved on, but I was pleased to rediscover all of it’s beauty and charm that persists even if it isn’t quite in the time warp I like to imagine!

We parked on the harbour-side by the station, which is the terminus for the North Yorkshire Moors Railway – an adventure which was not to be missed with our train obsessed boy and will be coming up on another day.




Our first target was the Abbey itself, perched atop the East Cliff. We wandered up through the town and rather than climb the 199 steps at the front, we took the slightly longer but more sloping route which seemed a little easier for the ascent, plus it gives lovely views back over the town.


Whitby Abbey is owned by English Heritage. Along with the National Trust, this is an organisation that I’m quite happy to belong to not just for the benefit of free entry to such beautiful properties, but also because I value the work that they to do and am happy to support them in preserving England’s rich history. That said, it is good value too, especially as kids are free with adult membership!















We spent a good chunk of time exploring the ruins of the Abbey before descending the 199 steps back in to the town for Fish and Chips, swiftly followed by ice cream on the small beach by the harbour. Of course there was time for skimming stones and climbing the rocks too.










We then climbed up the West Cliff to take in the classic view of the Abbey that I remember from that painting in my childhood home and which also inspired Bram Stoker in the creation of Dracula more than 125 years ago!



We had a very chilled out few hours and of course there is plenty to do that we simply didn’t have the time for, including the Whitby Museum, the Whitby Brewery, coastal cruises and whale watching. Whitby is definitely on our list for a return visit though, perhaps spending a couple of nights in the town itself.

For more information see Whitby Online, Visit Whitby and Discover Yorkshire Coast

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The Disney Dream

I was a little under three and a half when I first went to Walt Disney World in Florida.

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And what a very different “World” it was then. The Magic Kingdom was there, of course and EPCOT (then EPCOT Center) was newly opened. But there were no other Disney parks. No Studios or Animal Kingdom. The water parks were Wet’n’Wild and Water Mania rather than the themed Disney extravaganzas that now exist. SeaWorld was there, as was Gatorland Zoo and of course the Kennedy Space Center, but there was no Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. We visited CircusWorld instead. The scale of things was big, of course it was, but it was nothing on how big it all is now.

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It still made an absolutely massive impact on me though, despite that fact that I was younger than Thomas is now.

In fact, I count a number of specific moments as amongst my very earliest conscious memories. Waking up in our hire car en route from the airport, but stopped by the side of the road, by the noise of rain hammering on the roof as a terrific Florida storm unfurled above us. Staring out in to the darkness in our beach-front Gulf Coast hotel, unable to comprehend jet-lag or why it was dark when my body was telling me the day was already many hours old. Riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with my Dad as my Mum and my brother, too chicken to try it, waved from the bridge. I still remember exactly how that very first roller coaster ride felt, with my Dad’s arm wrapped around me. I feel the grin on my face.

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I’m on there somewhere!

I may not remember every detail. And some of my memories are possibly fabricated a little from the photographs – comparatively few though they were in the pre-digital era – and family stories. But I know it was absolute magic from the moment we arrived. It was completely detached from reality, brimming with the incredible, the improbable and the impossible. It’s absolutely fair to say that no other place on earth has ever had quite the same effect on me again. Different – wonderful, awe-inspiring – yes, but pure immersive magic, not even close.

It’s for that reason that I so often tell people that you can’t really be “too young” to go to Disney, and that anytime from the age three onwards even the “they won’t remember a thing” excuse doesn’t necessarily hold true. I’ve always maintained that kids need something big to hang the first memory they’ll retain to adulthood on. And it doesn’t come much bigger than Walt Disney World.

It’s also the reason that I’ve been dreaming of Thomas’s first trip since the moment I knew we were expecting him.

I remember looking forward, during my pregnancy, to being a family and doing things as a family. Introducing our child to the world and to all the fun things it holds and taking part in activities where a child is a necessary pre-requisite to participation. And whilst the latter isn’t true for Disney, recreating those moments of magic with my own child, being the one to make them happen was always something I just couldn’t wait to do.

This is a dream that I’ve always known I would eventually realise for my child. Quite possibly the very first dream I ever had for him, long before he was conceived.

And next year, it’s happening.

The intention was always next year, before he starts school and whilst we have more flexibility on dates. It was always meant to be next year, rather than this, because I’d hoped that baby number two would be approaching the age of three, and there would even have been time for baby number three to join us (sometime about now) and tag-along as a bit more than a newborn.

Yeah. None of that worked out, of course.

But we’ve stuck to the plan for next year anyway, despite my heart screaming to take Thomas this year instead. I hope the extra time will give him the crucial few centimetres of growth he needs to meet the height restrictions for some iconic rides (I was obviously taller than my son, or the height restrictions were lower in 1983, as he currently wouldn’t make it on to Big Thunder Mountain).

And in the mean time my dreams keep on growing. The more I read and the more I research, the more I can’t wait. For the moment that he sees the Cinderella Castle for the first time and recognises it as “The Dis-in-nee castle” from the introduction to every Disney film we’ve watched. For the moment he gets to meet his favourite characters and have their enormous character hands envelope his tiny one. For his excitement at the simplest things like the Magic Kingdom Railroad and the monorail system.

It’s hard to put Disney magic in to words, and I guess that if you haven’t felt it yourself, you’re quite possibly rolling your eyes at what I’ve built this up to be. And of course, by setting the bar of my expectations so high, I’m setting myself up for crushing disappointment if the reality doesn’t live up to the dream.

I know that it won’t exactly, because nothing ever does go quite how we imagine it. But I’m still confident that the realisation of such a long held dream will be magical, in new ways that I haven’t even dreamed.

And perhaps in 32 years time Thomas will still be reflecting on it, as he prepares to take his own child or children for the very first time too.

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A Christmas Trip to Brussels by Eurostar

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I’ve loved Christmas markets for many years. Since the first time I experienced a “proper” European extravaganza of wooden huts, mulled wine and kitsch wares for sale. I can’t even put my finger on why wandering around in the freezing cold, browsing items from Christmas decorations and candles to chocolate and bakeware, is so exciting. Perhaps it’s the inherent festiveness in all the twinkly lights, sparkling decorations and Christmas music. Or maybe it’s just the lovely mulled wine after all!

We haven’t “done” a Christmas market since Thomas was born though. The thought of schlepping a small baby around in sub-zero temperatures suddenly made it lose its appeal. And then he got bigger, but I just didn’t think he would enjoy it. After all, he’d not be allowed any mulled wine!

But this year was different. And as with many things in our lives right now, it all came down to trains. Earlier this year, the Eurostar became Thomas’s overnight favourite train. He was obsessed with watching YouTube videos of them, and spotted pictures of them in the newspaper, the Hornby catalogue and the travel agents’ windows. Then, he started asking to go on the Eurostar. He understood completely that they go through a tunnel and he referred to them as “the trains that go under the sea.” So, call it my first defeat at the hands of pester power, but we began to consider a quick European trip. Ian immediately suggested Bruges, a beautiful city I’ve travelled to many times. The only problem with getting the Eurostar to Bruges is that means changing trains in Brussels. I suggested that we just do Brussels instead. And since we’ve been to the Christmas market there before and thoroughly enjoyed it, I also suggested we make it a Christmas market trip. It was easy not to think about the cold back in August!

So last Tuesday we got up bright and early for the short drive to Ebbsfleet. And it’s fair to say that Thomas absolutely loved the Eurostar. We opted not to get a separate ticket for Thomas. Children under four can travel free if sitting on an adult’s lap and we knew he’d want to be on us in order to get a better view out of the window. The tunnel portion is less than thirty minutes of the whole journey, so there is plenty to see! It turned out to be a good decision as I really doubt he’s have sat in his own seat for long. Once we arrived, he also loved catching a tram (“Tram! Tram! Tram! Tram!) from the station to our hotel.

The rest of the trip, however, his enjoyment was less clear cut and we suffered more than a good day’s quota of threenager meltdowns. We’d booked in to the Hotel Meininger via Expedia. As is usual, we weren’t able to check in until the afternoon, but we dropped our bags in to the left luggage room and then headed out for a wander around and to get some lunch. It turns out, though, that we perhaps hadn’t adequately managed Thomas’s expectations of the trip. Although we’d told him we would be staying in a hotel overnight, and had him help pack his bag Gruffalo Trunki, he was incredibly cross that we weren’t getting a tram straight back to the station to get the Eurostar home. In hindsight, getting up so early whilst also still recovering from a cold and a week of extra-poor sleep added to his grumpiness. Despite rarely using one at home, we’d taken the pushchair as we anticipated a lot of walking, and I was pleased that Thomas elected to take a nap, as I thought that was ease the strops. But here was my second mistake. I’d known it would be cold. Brussels is so near, yet slipping outside the jet stream, surprisingly much colder than home. I’d dressed Thomas in a vest, long sleeved T-shirt, wooly jumper, thick coat, scarf, hat and mittens. But the one thing I’d not taken was a blanket. And it turns out sleeping in a pushchair in freezing temperatures can make you really cold. So when Thomas awoke, far from being refreshed, he was a bundle of renewed grumpiness.

Fortunately an indoor fondue lunch and a spin around the big wheel cheered him up a bit, but after that we were subjected with renewed requests to get back on the Eurostar. We decided to head back to the hotel to see if our room was ready but the screaming reached such heights on the walk back, accompanied by vociferous complaining about a “hurty head” that we found ourselves in a Belgian pharmacy purchasing the equivalent of Calpol. (Yes, the pharmacist did ask if I was sure I didn’t want suppositories! And interesting they dose exactly by weight, meaning the syringes are marked not only with mls, but with weight markings. I don’t have a clue how much Thomas weighs – the pharmacist must have been performing internal eye rolls by now – but fortunately it clearly stated that it contained 32mg/ml allowing me to calculate the correct dose by UK dose standards. It turns out to be slightly more concentrated than its UK counterpart, and, according to Thomas, significantly LESS tasty!)

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The return to the hotel helped. Not only did it allow us all to get really warm, Thomas clearly felt much more settled and finally said he didn’t want to go home yet! The hotel was certainly comfortable, if basic. It seemed very new, modern and clean. There was no bath, only a shower, in our room, and no fancy additions such as a kettle. It was a very large space though, with a large double bed plus a sofa doubling as a single bed for Thomas. The hotel had a bit of a hostel feel, and there were certainly several large groups of teenagers staying. Accordingly there was a “Guest Kitchen” and a 24 hour bar. It was a good price, and easily navigable from the Eurostar terminal and, with Brussels being pretty compact, all the main central areas. Perhaps best of all though, we had a view of the canal and a busy tramline and road, so Thomas could spot barges, trams and bendy buses from the window!

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In the late afternoon we headed back out and Thomas had a lot of fun looking at all the Christmas lights as we explored the Grand Place and surrounding areas before promptly falling asleep in his pushchair again. Two naps in one day is unheard of, so I knew he must really be feeling under the weather. We took the opportunity to have some dinner while he slept. When he eventually woke up we headed over to the main Christmas Market in Place St-Catherine. Since Thomas had missed dinner and was clamouring for food, we let him pick what he’d like to try. The choice was a fresh crepe filled with Nutella, which he polished off!

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Ian and I were both pleased to see that the carousel we’d loved on our last trip here in 2008 was still there. It is an amazing work of art. In the place of traditional horses are all sorts of whimsical things to sit on, including an octopus and a snail, a dinosaur, a submarine and a hot air balloon. There is an aeroplane suspended high up with its own little staircase to board it. And perhaps best of all, a rocket ship which “launches” as the ride spins, rising high enough to pass through the canopy atop the carousel. Last time we were here we were childless, and could not participate, so coming back with our won child to ride felt just a little bit magical. We opted not to suggest the rocket, however. On that last trip a little girl was sealed in (they secure the door to stop children falling out) and promptly began to scream as the rocket took off! Thomas chose the steam ship to ride in, and totally adored it. As seam poured from the funnels halfway through the ride he shouted “Wow. Look! Steam. Steam from the funnels!”

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We didn’t want to push our luck whilst Thomas was in a good mood, so we clued it a night not long afterwards.

Our previous experiences of all sleeping in one hotel room have not gone exactly smoothly (walking up and down the corridor more than 100 times pushing an over tired and excited child in a pushchair to get them to sleep, anyone?) But tiredness was definitely the theme of the day, and Thomas actually settled really well, leaving me with the opportunity to catch up on a few chapters of my book before we turned in ourselves.

The following morning we headed out to cafe we remembered from previous visits for a breakfast of waffles and hot chocolate. I was anxious to avoid a repeat of the previous day’s melt downs and avoid too much market browsing or shopping. The only trouble was that we hadn’t really done an awful lot of planning for this trip beyond getting the Eurostar and visiting the markets. Thomas suggested the solution by begging to be allowed to “go on the Brussels underground pleeeeeease.” So we caught the Metro out to the Atomium, which none of us have visited before.

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The Atomium is one of those slightly fascinating buildings, a giant molecular structure rising out the surrounding parkland. Several of the spheres are open as part of a tour of the building, which starts with the observation deck at the very top. It also includes a couple of spectacularly long escalators, and plenty of room for Thomas to run around. As you can see from the pictures, the weather was exceedingly grey and damp!

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We then caught the Metro back to Place St-Catherine for more Christmas market browsing. We managed an impressive haul of chocolate, new Christmas decorations and a tin wind-up train for Thomas.

There was also plenty of Vin chaud drunk, and a family sized portion of Churros consumed, an absolute must before getting the Eurostar home again!

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Overall we did have a good time, despite some moments of frustration from Thomas . The Eurostar worked very well. We won’t hesitate to take another trip on it and would recommend it as a means of transport to parents of young children, especially if they happen to be train obsessed. But I think our next trip needs to be either a little warmer or involve less long periods outside! Of course, you can’t control getting ill around the time you go away, but I would certainly change Thomas being under the weather and us all fighting off colds if it were in my control! I suppose I’d also be a little less busy and stressed in the run up to going away, and do a little more planning, even if the trip is for less than 48 hours! But I still love Brussels as a destination, and have no doubt that we’ll be back!

Lego: In Berlin and at Home (feat. Lego Juniors)

Thomas loves Lego. This is definitely to his Lego-mad father’s delight, and he is already envisaging taking over half the house with epic lands of make believe as Thomas gets older. I am practicing by wearing footwear in the house at all times!

In all seriousness though, Thomas has the bug. His vast collection of Duplo is up there as his most played with toy alongside the wooden train set. In fact, he often uses the two together, constructing Duplo tunnels and engine sheds to accessorise his track layouts. He also requests often to be allowed to “go and be careful with Daddy’s Lego” referring to the collection of Star Wars Lego Ian keeps on our top floor, including his prized Death Star (which was his thirtieth birthday present from me). From a young age he has been instructed to “be careful” when looking at it, and he clearly has the message!

Given his Lego love, the Lego Discovery Centre was high up on our list of things to do whilst in Berlin last month. In theory, Thomas is below the target age which begins at 4. However, since Ian (and myself, if I’m honest) also like Lego so much, and Thomas got free admission, it still seemed more than worth doing. And it was.

The Discovery Centre is a little bit like a very, very miniature, indoor Legoland. It included areas to build, and then race model vehicles, Places to build Duplo towers and then test their earthquake resistance. Multiple themed areas with soft play features as well as building stations and large scale lego models to examine, and even a very miniature Miniland.

Thomas got stuck straight in, starting with an examination of the large Lego giraffe which marks the entrance to the Discovery Centre inside the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz. It is made from a combination of Duplo and regular Lego.

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As soon as we were inside he was drawn straight in to building, both by himself and with a little help from Daddy. He gets the tendency to stick his tongue out when he is concentrating from me! It’s something I still do now (which is why it is handy that I wear a mask at work!)

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We then spent a lot of time racing various vehicles down the ramps, and I was enormously proud of my little man waiting for his turn amongst mostly much bigger children, without any tears or tantrums at all!

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We also had a good look at many of the life size models dotted around the place.

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I found myself a new squeeze!

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These monkeys were hanging out near to the toilets. We didn’t ask Thomas to pose for this picture (as if he’d have done that if we wanted him too!) This was a completely spontaneous “monkey” moment!

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This was another moment of monkeying! I’m pretty sure that Thomas wasn’t supposed to be doing this, but obviously I had to get a picture before I removed him! (Ssssh!)

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One of the things about Lego which does irritate me is some of their more recent branding specifically “for girls”. They have an entire “Lego Friends” range complete with pink and purple packaging, pink and purple bricks and a predominantly female cast of mini figures. it’s not that I have a problem with this per se, but I don’t get why the pink bricks are solely for girls, and the implication that the vast array of other Lego themes are somehow only “for boys”. It’s gender stereotyping for one of the world’s historically most gender neutral toys. I was very heartened therefore to see that the “Lego Friends” area (a miniature house, complete with a Lego cupcake building station and Lego oven) was at one point occupied entirely by boys (including Thomas). And the other areas of the Discovery Centre were occupied equally by both genders. To kids, at least, building is building and fun is fun. Lego take note!!

We finished our visit in the Miniland area which included some fantastic Star Wars models, as well as a mini version of Berlin, complete with the wall coming down at the Bradenburg Gate, and a miniature Reichstag.IMG_4133

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Thomas was most taken with the giant minifigures… I think these photos are ones to be kept to show any future girlfriends the moment of his first snog!

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I understand that there is now a Discovery Centre in Manchester, and based on our Berlin visit I’d highly recommend it if you are close enough. It is particularly good for younger children like Thomas, who enjoy Lego but are a bit small for full Legoland. Thomas would currently be too small for many of the rides at Legoland, and it’s hard for me to justify the high admission costs just for him to get absorbed in Miniland for a couple of hours. The Discovery Centre helps bridge the gap.

There are a couple of little rides at the Berlin Centre, and we did take Thomas on one which was an awesome ride in a dragon shaped car. Sadly Thomas was not impressed by the Lego dragon and the “ride photo” taken as it appears shows Thomas frantivally clutching in to me. We did have a few days of “Don’t like the dragon” after that, so perhpas we should have heeded the Age 3+ guideline on that one!

Of course, no visit to a Lego attraction is complete without a visit to the shop. Whilst there we discovered for the first time “Lego Juniors”. This appears to be the new replacement for the previous range “Young Builders”. It is supposed to be easier to build with fewer pieces that regular Lego sets, but using the same bricks and fully compatible with all other Lego sets. The age guide is 4-7/8, which Thomas, at two and three-quarters, falls short of. However, he’s well past the stage of putting small objects in to his mouth (or ears, nose etc) and has already demonstrated his skill with regular Lego bricks on Ian’s sets. A quick check of prices online revealed one set to be a good deal, so we bought Thomas a Digger.

I was impressed with the set, which isn’t overly simple. I was concerned it may be full of large custom pieces with few “real” bricks – but this isn’t the case. Thomas definitely can’t follow the instructions on his own, and needed help to be told which piece to put where (which is where the age guide comes in) but he was more than capable of the actual assembly with this assistance. And he seemed to love the fact that we were actually following directions with a specific goal at the end. Our Duplo building adventures tend to be very free form, so Thomas enjoyed relating what was in his hands to the pictures in the instructions, and was happy to wait for the finished vehicle to emerge.

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We’ve since acquired a further “Lego Juniors Construction” set (courtesy of grandparents) which has been met with the same enthusiasm. If you’ve got a child who is in to building then I can wholeheartedly recommend these sets as a great introduction to the world of Lego sets and also great value for money. I’ve absolutely no doubt that he’ll still be playing with these in many years from now.

I’m excited to see where Thomas’s creativity and a Lego collection take him in the years to come.

Our Berlin City Break

Ian and I have always loved to travel. We’re not really “holiday” lovers in a traditional sense. There is limited appeal for either of us in lying on a beach getting hot, sandy and sunburned. Rather we love to see new places, experience different cultures and try alternative foods. That said, it should come as no surprise that our preferred travel trip has often been the city break. Short trips to new places, packing as much as possible in to a long weekend in a foreign land. In the years immediately before we got married we’d travelled to a diverse range of places from Marrakech to Kiruna, New York to Brussels. But our last “city break” was a trip to Paris to celebrate our first wedding anniversary when I was around 18 weeks pregnant with Thomas. That was more than three years ago.

We never consciously decided that we couldn’t do city breaks with a child in tow. But I had some pretty strong reservations. I couldn’t get my head around the accommodation. I didn’t (and still don’t, if I’m honest) understand how people could go away and stay in a single hotel room with their small children. What do you do once they reach their bedtime? Sit in silence in the dark with them? Granted we have an exceptionally poor sleeper, but I couldn’t imagine it working. I also had big concerns about managing a pushchair on a lot of public transit systems, as many I’ve experienced are anything but pushchair friendly. And even airport transfers became a conundrum. It’s a long time since we were “budget” travellers and whilst I have no objection to buses or trains, I’ll be honest and say that the option to jump in a taxi is a nice one to have when you are hot, tired and face an hour’s wait until your next train. With a child in tow – and no car seat – that instantly became a non-option.

Probably as a result of these niggling concerns, since Thomas was born we’ve stuck to pretty family-friendly holidays. Self-catering, farm stays and Center Parcs. Of course we’ve enjoyed those trips enormously, but I did still miss our old spontaneous weekends away.

This July we both had some time booked off. I’d booked the week a long time ago, as it coincided with Ian’s birthday and is a week we’ve traditionally gone away for. This year we hadn’t got around to booking anything and I’d begun to plan for having it as a week off at home, with Thomas still in nursery (judge me all you like!) to get some stuff done. Then our second IVF cycle failed. We decided that we needed a break from the norm. A chance to get away. And something to look forward to. So we began considering a city break.

In choosing a location, we looked at the long list of cities we have that we want to visit. We ruled several out easily as a bit too far away, to expensive or not very family friendly. The one that kept coming up over and over was Berlin.

Everyone kept telling me how family friendly it is, and how much there is for kids to do. It was a different way to consider a city, as our previous criteria in choosing a destination did not, for obvious reasons, include child-friendliness at all. I re-read, and re-read again, the excellent posts by Jennifer about her family’s trip to that city last year. We knew that all of the trains and other transport, plus the Loxx Miniatur model railway would, between them, ensure that Thomas was in heaven. We discovered an easy train connection between the airport and the city, which erased my transport concerns. The we found an apart-hotel complex. A hotel that also offered two bedroom apartments, complete with kitchenette. Better still, the price for when we wanted to go was comparable to a “normal” hotel room. My concerns about accommodation were wiped out too.

So we booked it. Four nights in Berlin with a two year old.

It’s taken me a while to get around to starting this write-up. That is in part because I’ve been having a bit of an internet and blogging break, but also because I’ve struggled a bit to know where to begin. We had such a fantastic time. Although our pace was necessarily different to how it might have been had we been without Thomas, we still packed an enormous amount in, including plenty of train and tram trips, some history in the form of the Berlin Wall memorial garden and Brandenburg Gate, trips up tall buildings (the Fernsehturm and the Reichstag Dome), plus lots of family activities such as the Loxx model railway, the Zoo and Aquarium, and the Lego Discovery Centre. We took hundreds of photos which I’m still trying to edit down now.

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Thomas, true to form, loved the trains and trams. He loved repeating back the words he picked up from German announcements. And he enjoyed each of the places we visited, throwing himself in to looking at and exploring everything.

We all enjoyed the food, and Ian and I enjoyed the beer. No matter how many times I travel to mainland Europe, I still cannot really get over the fact that you can purchase half a litre of good quality beer for less than 1 euro! Well, we needed something to keep us going when Thomas was still refusing to sleep at midnight!

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Of course it wasn’t all absolute plain sailing, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t hard work. Thomas refused to sleep pretty much at all, and was definitely even worse than at home in that respect! I can’t say the week was relaxing at all. But most importantly it was a lot of fun, and we definitely plan to do more city breaks again in future, so it definitely counts as a success!

Our Week at Center Parcs, Elveden Forest

We spent the middle week of March on a mid-week break at Center Parcs in Elveden Forest, Suffolk. We booked this trip more than six months ago, and at the time I commented that I could be as much as six months pregnant by the time it came around. How little I knew! As it turned out, the timing was perfect for giving us some space as a family to move past our loss. It was a much needed break, offering us some quality family time and a chance to reconnect with what’s really important in life – each other, health, happiness and fun!

Center Parcs featured quite heavily in my later childhood. I was lucky enough to spend a week at Sherwood Forest the year it opened – and it’s hard to believe that was more than 25 years ago now! We also stayed at several different Parcs across Europe. Not all of these trips were entirely successful, with a broken arm, a broken finger and a broken tooth amongst our tally of Center Parcs injuries. Nonetheless, it somehow never completely lost its appeal. My last visit was actually for a conference (although we stayed for the full mid-week session) almost ten years ago. This time, therefore, was my first trip as a parent. It struck me almost immediately how little has really changed in 25 years, but I also saw it in a whole different light by virtue of having a small person to supervise and entertain as well.

Elveden is ideal for us to visit, since it’s just under two hours from home, which is a good journey time for a toddler. We timed our arrival for just before lunchtime and took advantage of the sunny weather for a spot of exploring and duck chasing on the beach.

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This may well have been Thomas’s favourite part of the whole holiday. Certainly if you ask him now about what he did on holiday he will say that he went to the beach, and talk endlessly about the ducks, and in particular the white duck!

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One of the most loved features of Center Parcs is staying right ion the heart of the forest, often with views over water. Our villa this time did not disappoint, and we had plenty of visits from the resident wildlife including rabbits, ducks, geese and even a young deer on our first night. Thomas absolutely adored feeding the ducks on our patio, and it was a race each morning to see who would be waiting by the door first – him or the birds!

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We hired bikes, as to my mind no trip to Center Parcs is complete without them. We’ve not had a lot of success in getting Thomas to wear a helmet previously (and helmets, for this family, are a non-negotiable part of getting on a bike). Surprisingly he loved his “hel-met”. He also loved being in his seat – and was comfortable enough that he even fell asleep in there after one exhausting afternoon!

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We also spent a lot of outdoor time in the play areas. After the beach, this was Thomas’s top destination. We couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without plaintive requests for both the beach and “the park”.

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If you read online reviews of Center Parcs, the “tip” that comes up time and time again is not to book too many activities. No one ever seem to define what “too many” actually is, and although we scheduled quite a lot for our stay, I think it was about right. Activities we attended included a toddler music session and a children’s magic show on the Tuesday, a multi-activity stay-and-play type session on the Wednesday, and a messy play session and teddy bear’s picnic on the Thursday.

PicMonkey Collage

MessyPlay

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This still left plenty of time for our outdoor exploring and some time in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. The toddler area here is absolutely awesome, with multiple water slides, and even kiddy-sized flumes, and lots of water jets and squirters, all themed around a pirate cove. Thomas is still going through a phase of not really enjoying swimming (not helped by the fact that our local pool has unfortunately been closed for three months) and he was quite clingy in the main pool, but kept requesting to go back to “Pi-wate cove” and could have stayed playing with a series of pouring spouts for hours! It also worked out well for me because Ian is a bit of a water phobic and won’t go in water deeper than mid calf. Since there is no water deeper than mid-calf anywhere in the toddler area, he was able to supervise Thomas there whilst I went off to try out all the slides and rapids, and Elveden’s newest attraction: The Cyclone water ride, which was fantastic, but can basically be summed up as like being flushed down the toilet! (And of course, none of these things would have been possible had I still been pregnant!)

On the Wednesday afternoon, I took myself of to the on-site spa for a bit of much needed relaxation. I had a full body exfoliation and massage, which was heavenly.Meanwhile, Ian took Thomas pottery painting, which resulted in my Mother’s Day gift. I just love the thought of them enjoying this activity together, and the fact that they did it behind my back still makes me feel all gooey and sentimental (but I’m blaming hormones of some description!)

On Wednesday evening, we took advantage of the babysitting service. This was actually the first time that we’d left Thomas with someone he and we don’t know. This is partly because my parents usually fulfill any need for babysitting, but also because I’m a little bit funny about having people in my house without me there. I don’t really know why, but it makes me uncomfortable. Since we weren’t in our own home though, this concern didn’t hold me back. Thomas was exhausted from such a busy day (including play session, swimming and pottery painting) that he had his earliest EVER night. He was fast asleep by 7pm, leaving us time to get ready before our sitter arrived at 7.30pm

We enjoyed a drink, followed by dinner at Cafe Rouge, and a bit of drunk cycling home! It was lovely to have a bit of couple time, and apparently Thomas did not even stir, other than to mumble some things about trains and ducks which were audible over the monitor!

Other highlights included a meal at “Huck’s” restaurant (complete with a soft play area in the centre, and Macs for older children) and shopping in the Parc Market with the child-sized trollies. Thomas is obsessed with buying milk, so each time we passed near to he shop he would rush in, grab a trolley and try to stock up with milk (that we didn’t need!)

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Trolley

Our relatively short journey home meant that we were able to make the Friday part of our holiday, with a final trip to the Swimming Paradise, and a picnic lunch.

Overall we had a fantastic week. There is so much to keep children occupied, even without booking the extra activities, and plenty for adults too. Although supervising a toddler is always hard work, it’s easier when there are so many great distractions for them. We will definitely book another trip at some point, although I think we may try leaving Thomas in the creche next time and trying out a joint activity. Or I may just spend twice as long in the spa…

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