Last year I did something we don’t normally do, it’s well away from the realms of my ‘normal’ life; I took a trip away with my husband to Madrid, and while it was awesome in every way I still felt a twang of guilt. I’ve been a Stay at Home Mum for the last ten years of my life, my job by it’s definition is caring for other people, full time, with no pay, no days off, no annual leave.
And while I know on every level how lucky and fortunate I am to be able to do this for my family it’s not always easy. Like all parenting whilst being amazing, incredible and rewarding, it is also relentless and exhausting, everyday.
‘Yes, we are leaving the children behind’
Harrogate Papa and I have always tried to get away just once a year on our own. It’s usually just one night away at a nice hotel somewhere not too far away. When it was our ten year wedding anniversary we ventured abroad together, alone, for the first time for five days- which was beyond awesome.
Last year we were lucky enough to get away for three nights in Madrid. Each time we go away I have the same nagging doubt, the slightly embarrassed reveal with friends, that yes we are going away, yes, just the two of us and yes, we are leaving the children behind. And while I know none of them judge us for our choices, I can’t help but judge ourselves.
Feeling Selfish and Irresponsible
Is it irresponsible to leave our kids behind, jet off on an aeroplane to a foreign country, miles and hours and days away travel -wise from returning if they should need us. Is it selfish to spend the family income on something that doesn’t benefit the whole family, are the kids jealous we’re jetting off and leaving them behind. Will they miss us and wonder why we’ve abandoned them. Is it fair on the grandparents we leave ‘holding the baby’.
There are 365 days in a year
So while all these thoughts run around in my head, I have to hold on to the reasons we do this. That there are 52 weekends in a year that for 51 of them we are always there, running them around to weekend activities, dropping them at their friends birthday parties, making lunch and dinner, watching DVDs together, going to the park. That for just three days out of the 365 in a year they will actually okay without us. That actually to spend some time away from them is good for everyone.
The Importance of Your Other Half
The importance of spending time with your husband is huge. Your partner is the biggest influence in your children’s life and in your life. They are the central part of your existence, the person you chose to spend the rest of your life with. And while you are busy vacuuming the Rice Krispies off the floor, going to parents evening and making sure you’ve got something in for tea ultimately you need something to hold you two together. You need your other half, that’s why it’s called that.
Especially when you’re a parent who is so busy giving your time, love and attention to the humans you have created it’s really important to ensure you put some of that energy in to each other.
And while those girlie breaks away and nights out with like minded mamas are essential too – there is no trip more essential for you as a Mama than they one you spend with your partner.
Hanging Out with the Grown-Ups
While we were away in Madrid we explored, we adventured, we did what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it without the time constraints that young children bring to travel and trips. We hung out with the grown ups, drank in bars, ate late, walked km after km, saw things that the kids wouldn’t have been remotely interested and ran around the city like a couple of carefree teenagers.
But the single most important part of that is that we did it together, creating memories for just us that the two of us will go on to shrare for a lifetime. I know it’s an indulgence, I know it’s a luxury, I know it appeared selfish – but what could be more important than investing in your long term relationship, in your happily ever after, in making more glue that holds your family together than a trip away.
Getting Off ‘Real Life’ for a bit matters
What’s more is that as parents we returned refreshed, revitalised with life, glad to see our family, even more of a family unit than previously. The kids have missed us, they liked us again for a little bit (and we liked them). The day to day ness of parenting will always be there. For a couple of nights, the money, the time away from the kids, the getting-off real life for a bit has made us better people, better parents and a better family unit.
We had the most amazing holiday this summer. We were away for three whole weeks which is such a luxury and something we’d never done before. I absolutely adored spending all that time with the four most important people in my life without distraction or interruption. We all really had time to come together as a family and re-group which is so lacking in today’s busy life.
Our first week was with the brilliant Votre Vacances, a gorgeous holiday business based right here in Harrogate but with their holidays over in the Vendee in France. They have eight pitches for their chalets at a beautiful small and authentic four-star campsite set against the backdrop of a chateau complete with its own lake! How amazing does that sound!
Sarah who owns and operates the company has such a lovely story to share too. After working for Eurocamp for five years over summer holidays she decided she wanted to set up her own business. In her early twenties, sadly her grandparents passed away and generously left her some inheritance which she chose to put towards creating this amazing new business.
Votre Vacances has been up and running for two years which means all the chalets are brand new and in amazing condition. The campsite is in a fabulous location on the west coast of France, just South of Nantes and North of La Rochelle.
Perfect Campsite in the Vendee
It’s a fifteen minute car ride to some of the most gorgeous beaches the Vendee has to offer too! And because Sarah is so hands on at the site, living there from May to September, she gives a lovely personal touch that you don’t get with other holiday brands.
Small and Authentic
We had such a lovely holiday with Votre Vacances, it was a really gorgeous place. The site was small enough for the Big Girls to do some exploring on their own but big enough to give us plenty of adventures we’re going to remember for a long time!
Swimming Pool Craziness
There are two swimming pools at the campsite, one right in front of the Chateau and the other right behind it – making for great sun-bed views!
The second pool is also under cover which means you can use it whatever the weather and there are two all important water-slides for the Small people to while away hours on! The Big Girls couldn’t get enough of them!
The bar and restaurant areas are all set in the outbuildings of the chateau which makes it look picture postcard pretty and remind you that you could be nowhere other than France.
Free Children’s play area, trampoline and bouncy castles
The Smalls loved the trampoline and two bouncy castles, that to their amazement, they could go on any time of the day or evening, for FREE! The campsite also has a mini play-area, tennis courts, a football pitch and fully equipped games room.
Le Grand Defi
One of the things we loved most about the campsite was the area down by the Lake, which hosts an area called Le Grand Defi, which is the most impressive series of high ropes course I have ever seen.
The courses are really outstanding, with over a dozen zip wires that go over a lake, yes zip wires over a lake, it’s something to behold and even more incredible to experience, as we found out!
Le Grand Defi is laid out with courses suitable for all ages; from two to five year olds, to family, to serious sporting professional level.
Family Tree Top Fun
The Small Boy loved it and he got quite adept at clipping and un-clipping himself. The Big Girls loved the independence it gave them and the self satisfaction of being able to achieve the climbing all by themselves.
We loved the fact we could join in with them and be part of an experience all together, rather than just watching them do it on their own which is so often the case with their activities.
One of the Big Girls and I had an amazing time on one of the higher courses, she loved challenging herself and we had some zip wire rides I will never forget. They were so high over the lake and the trees that they actually ended not on the ground but in other trees! It was crazy brilliant!
There was also pony trecking and paint balling available at Le Grand Defi too – the Small Boy adored his pony, he loves animals so to ride a pony was the ultimate experience for him, bless him!
Chilled Campsite Life
Along with living campsite-life; hanging by the pool, playing boules and table tennis and chilling playing cards back at the holiday chalet, we also had a few day trips out to explore the gorgeous Vendee has to offer.
Firstly the beaches are incredible. They’re long with beautifully soft golden sand and a mixture of shallow shelves for paddling Smalls depending on the tides.
Les Sables d’Olonne
We headed out to both Les Sables d’Olonne and St Gilles Croix de Vie. Both of which were only about a 20 minute drive away. There was plenty of parking but it was very busy. We visited Les Sables d’Olonne one early evening and, as recommended by Sarah, we parked across the bay from the main beach and caught the water bus across the crossing to the main beach area.
The Smalls loved the five minute boat ride from side to side which added to the adventure. There was an evening market on, which the Big Girls loved, buying trinkets to take home and we’ll all remember the amazing hot, sugary, ChiChi’s (Churros) for a long time to come!
The beach looked beautiful and we ventured to the shore for a little late night paddling! I had some of the best Mussles I’ve ever tasted back across the bay before picking up the car for the ride home! A meal to remember!
St Gilles Croix de Vie
St Gilles was a simple stunning beach, it was a gorgeously sunny day, so packed a picnic, bought a parasol and set up camp for the day!
The Smalls were as happy as could be in and out of the breaking waves, building sandcastles and were so content all day I read numerous chapters of my book – amazing!
Les Chateau des Adventures
The other brilliant day out we had was at Les Chateau des Adventures which was perfect for the slightly overcast day we chose to go.
There are trails and treasure hunts to follow, with some quite testing clues. The adventure in the Chateau saw the Smalls running around with an iPad (provided by the Chateau) which interactively helped them find out about the history of the grand house while solving their mystery!
They loved it! There was plenty of outdoor fun too with both a Pirate trail and Dinosaur one.
The campsite also offers a whole host of other delights including fishing in the lake, a brilliant take-a-way pizza bar for the nights you don’t fancy cooking or eating out, bike hire if you fancy more active exploring and indoor children play area for younger Smalls.
There’s also a well run English speaking kids club every day with so many activities to choose from including Crepe parties, hair braiding, crafts and games.
Grown Up Entertainment
There was also evening entertainment with brilliant live bands, wine tasting or quiz nights for the grown ups too every night!
The bakery in the village of Saint Julien des Landes, which is a two minute walk from the campsite, was perfect. The croissants and pain were a daily breakfast staple and the village itself is quintessentially French complete with a gorgeous church, mini-supermarket (with really friendly staff) and the obligatory hairdressers!
The Loveliest of Holidays
We simply had the loveliest holiday, which was made all the better by the brilliant Sarah, who made us feel welcome and relaxed.
The chalets are beautifully new, we had a three bed chalet, which was perfect for the five of us. It has its own decking area outside too set in a really nice sized pitch.
All the equipment has been really well looked after too and all the little things were already there like tea-towels, soap, washing up liquid, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and our beds were made too – which was such a lovely touch!
Sarah has such a personal touch and all the new crockery, linen and supplies are all included in the really reasonable prices too!
We loved the fact that Votre Vacances is a Harrogate business. Which means you can even support local companies all the way from the comfort of an amazing holiday!
Le Tour de France 2018
Votre Vacances has some great holiday deals available for booking next year. You can check out their website for more details. Rather excitingly Le Tour de France starts in the Vendee next summer from 7th July – which means Votre Vacances is a perfect spot to stay if you want to catch the cycling action too!
Summer 2018 Offers
Votre Vacances has an Early Booking Offer on, which is running until the 31st January 2018 – with prices starting at £450 for seven nights in a 2 bed, and £550 in a 3 bed, and with the code: VIP10 you’ll get an extra 10% off!
Win a Holiday!
Sarah’s grandparents used to regularly volunteer at the Harrogate Homeless Project which is the chosen charity for the Harrogate Tribe Christmas event, taking place on Friday 24th November.
Sarah has very generously offered a week’s holiday with Votre Vacances as a raffle prize on the night of the event to support the charity. Details of how to get tickets to the event will be on the blog and social media soon, so keep your eyes peeled and you could win this fabulous holiday for your family!
The raffle prize will be for a 3 bed chalet, anytime from May half term, until 2nd September, for seven nights, with the option of adding on more nights at a discounted price of £80 per extra night.
We had a gorgeous holiday and would recommend Votre Vacances as a lovely family place to stay and enjoy.
Disclaimer: Sarah kindly invited us to review staying with Votre Vacances and is donating the raffle prize.
How would you like to win a week’s holiday at a 4-star campsite set in the grounds of an incredible 18th century chateau in the heart of the Vendee, France for you and your family?!
Harrogate Tribe Christmas Night Out
If you come along to our Harrogate Tribe Christmas Night Out (Friday 24th November – save the date – ticket details to follow) you could be in with a chance of just that! The lovely Sarah at Votre Vacances got in touch after hearing about our last Harrogate Tribe event and said she would like to offer a week in one of her gorgeous chalets on the campsite as a raffle prize!
The prize is to be taken in 2018 – which is simply perfect for any cycling enthusiasts as the Tour de France is actually starting from the Vendee next year, making Votre Vacances a prime holiday location. But if you can’t wait that long, scroll down to the end of this post for details of an amazing last minute offer available this year too!
Support the Harrogate Homeless Project
Sarah is a big supporter of the Harrogate Homeless Project (the chosen charity for the Harrogate Tribe Christmas event) and wanted to offer the week’s holiday as a prize after sharing her story of her own elderly grandparents, who often volunteered at the Harrogate Homeless Project, right into their seventies with overnight stays too.
Votre Vacances is a family business from Harrogate, with eight chalets at the historic, 4-star Château la Forêt campsite in western France. Everyone knows I love to support local independent businesses on the blog so when I found out I could do that all the way in France too I was over the moon!
About the Campsite
The campsite is set in a 50 hectare area, set against the backdrop of a stunning chateau. There are two outdoor swimming pools (one can be covered over) and a lake. There’s also an adventure course (zip wire- type activities), a bar, a shop, a takeaway and a restaurant which is set in the courtyard of the chateau. Sounds picture perfect n’est pas?!
As part of our holiday this year to France we’re heading to check out Votre Vacances for ourselves and will be reporting back with a full low down all about it! We can’t wait to discover and enjoy all it has to offer! There sounds like there’s so much to see and do in the surrounding area too! Can’t wait
Packed and ready to go
We just have the packing to survive before we head off on our mammoth road trip – so if anyone has any top-tips to share for journeying to France by car with four other humans please let me know!
Road Trip Essentials
The lovely folks at safe.co.uk sent us a little care package to help with the trip, including this fab travel safe (which I would have never thought to take but such a top idea – esp. when camping), an on-the-go mobile charger (bloggers essential) and the Small Boy is thrilled with his neck pillow too! No gin for Mama though 😆, which I feel is the real secret to travelling long distances in confined spaces with the Smalls!😜
They have some proper travelling tips, which surprisingly don’t include gin, over on their #SafeTravels website.
I hope if you’re heading away on your hols your packing is coming along nicely! I still have SO MUCH TO DO and do let me know your top survival tips for the road trip please!!
Last Minute Holiday Deal
If you’re looking for a last minute holiday, Votre Vacances has a Last Minute Deal at the end of the Summer Holidays, where you can stay from Sunday 27th August, for 5 nights- for just £465, or 7 nights for £650 and still be home in time for the start of the school year! Email the lovely Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or to get booked in!
Last June I was lucky enough to get to spend some time away, with my husband – on our own! One of the most exciting things that had happened to me all year! This was a trip so far removed from my day to day life it was almost impossible coming back to reality!
I never posted this at the time, as it somehow didn’t seem quite right, but now in February I think looking back at Summer sun is a nice fit as we dream about the summer to come and start planning new adventures!
Here’s what we got up to in case you’re thinking of booking a little break with your nearest and dearest and are looking for some inspiration!
Firstly I packed like a boss! Only me to pack for! That was exciting in itself!
We got to stay a night at the airport, in a hotel, not normally eventful, but when you’re on your own who cares if you have to get up at 4am – you’re in a bed you didn’t make without any children in it! Whoop!
We even ate a meal out, together, with zero children and zero interruptions from toilet trips, drink spillage or the need to shout ‘sit on your bottom’ to anyone! Oh the heady heights and we hadn’t even taken off yet!
We had a beautiful morning for a flight, and although it looks like we traveled British Airways, we flew with Ryan Air (cos obvs, it’s SO MUCH CHEAPER!)
The beauty of such an early flight is that you arrive at your destination with the whole day ahead of you! You feel like you’ve lost no time to travelling and when you’re a parent to young children you can laugh in the face of a 4am start – that’s pretty average!
We got lucky at our hotel as they let us check in really early! Bonus
The hotel was less rustic than this and more modern. One ‘interesting’ feature was the shower, that was part of the room, it left little to the imagination! We picked it as it was near the main train station and thought it would be very central, however Madrid (unsurprisingly) is huge so we were a little way out really. It was the Marriot AC Atocha , I would recommend it from a style and comfort point of view, but you’d need to like walking if you stayed there!
We were super unprepared for the trip before we set off, so took our time on the hotel wifi after unpacking to do a bit of Googling of the best sights to see in Madrid. Then we set off for our first day of adventure!
One place we were recommended by the good people of the world wide web was the hot chocolate and Churros at the Chocolateria San Gines. It is a bit of an institution in Madrid (a little like our Bettys) but it’s open 24hrs, it’s a cafe and it mainly only sells hot chocolate and Churros (oh, and orange juice).
We walked the 40 minutes from our hotel into the main heart of the city’s old quarter. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we were taking in all the sights of the city, as well as dancing around like loons as we were child free!!
It’s a brilliant place for people watching, you sometimes have to wait a few moments for a table to come free (which in itself is entertaining to witness!). You go into the cafe, order what you like and are given a ticket. You then take your seat and pass your ticket to a waiter who brings you your order. Be warned the chocolate is extremely thick, and chocolatey it’d be too rich for kids I would say – but who cares, have I mentioned, they weren’t with us!
We wandered around the old quarter of the city a little more and came across the Plaza Mayor, another one of the top guide book destinations.
And when people talk about the architecture in Madrid, I was all like, yeah, yeah! And then when I saw it I was all like; wow! That’s pretty amazing!
So after our breakfast of chocolate and donuts we were ready for a little more substance, luckily, we stumbled across the Mercado de San Miguel, which had been recommended to us by a friend, over the medium of Facebook! Whoop!
Mercado de San Miguel can only be described as a market for grown-ups, it seems much less about the shopping and much more about the eating! I felt like I was at a cocktail party with the added bonus of not knowing anyone, so there was no need to make small talk! Perfect!
If I was making recommendations about Madrid, this would be the one place I would say is a ‘don’t miss’. The bustling atmosphere, the busy-ness in a nice way and the range of food and drink on offer were all perfect!
It was proper Spanish tapas, with lots of little bits of tasty dishes and of course Jerez (sherry) and Sangria! Ideal for when you’ve been up since 4am. This buffalo mozzarella stall was one of our favourites!
Most of the stall holders were doing deals, so this was two cheeses of your choice with a glass of white wine for five euros.
One of the really cool things about the market is that you just wander around from stall to stall, drink in one hand, tapas in the other and then pick up other drinks, food as you require them. It’s as casual as dining gets and I loved it! There’s no staying in one spot till you’ve finished, it was really relaxed and had such a chilled vibe about it while still being a bustling market!
Suitable fuelled with alcohol and delicious food, we headed towards the main shopping area of Madrid, the Gran Via. The Gran Via is a long wide shopping street, it reminded me a little of London’s Oxford Street, only a little wider, more chic and slighter fewer shops.
I had a wardrobe malfunction which involved olives (possibly due to the wine intake) so naturally we had to visit Zara to redress the issue, when in Rome…
A few shopping bags heavier we decided it must be time for another drink and where best to enjoy it than another tour guide spot. The Hotel De Las Letras is famous in Madrid for it’s roof top garden with panoramic views over the city scape.
The roof top gardens were beautiful and the view did not disappoint either! There was gin, so all was well!
When you’ve been up since 4am and travelled to a different time zone, gin at 2pm is practically an aperitif! Or something like that anyway…!
Post drink we decided a stroll through a park might be nice so we headed towards Parque de El Retiro, stopping to check out some more beautiful architecture on the way.
By now it was starting to get super hot, so we stopped for a chilled (non-alcoholic 😆) beverage while we considered our next move!
We decided that walking back to our hotel would take us some time so, since we were carefree and fanciful we thought we’d look into taking the Metro!
We boarded the Metro, after a quick consultation of the equivalent of the tube map and tickets bought through a machine (with English translation) and headed back to our hotel for a tiny, much needed, snooze before heading back out in to town!
Having had such a successful tapas experience at lunch we were keen to go somewhere to repeat it for dinner. So we set off back on the Metro to the heart of the city at the central train station Sol (which seems to be the equivalent of Piccadilly Circus).
From here we stumbled across an authentic looking tapas bar, which you could discern given that there were only Spaniards inside! Always a good sign! The only downside of Cerveceria Restaurante Naviego was that they spoke no English, we didn’t really know what we were doing so, like most Brits in that situation we did all we could do, which was to order ‘two beers please!’
Luckily our beers arrived with two sides, that we hadn’t ordered! Some olives, standard fare in Madrid for tapas and some of the tastiest Patas Bravas I have EVER had, served with Chorizo, it was just divine!
This place was packed with old school charm, zero airs and graces and loads of authentic feeling! There was a retro cash till (which was in no way designed to be retro, just one they’d been using for the last forty or so years I imagine).
The other brilliant thing about this Tapas bar was the price, when we came to pay the bar chap presented us with a bill for three euros for drinks and food! We couldn’t believe it! If I go to Madrid again, I will certainly be paying this place a visit and will have enough courage to ask for the menu next time!
A little detour back through Plaza Mayor and missing out the traditional tourist traps, we headed towards another tapas bar that Mr P had discovered through the medium of Google Maps!
The Meson del Champinon was as you might have guessed, the house of mushrooms. It was all a little vague, but it seemed pretty much that all they sold was mushrooms, oh, and olives of course!
Another two beers later, we had a dish of mushrooms that was heavenly, Mr P doesn’t actually like mushrooms 😂 but he LOVED these! Me too! They were perfectly cooked, shallow fried in garlic oil, very delicate but had a bite to them too!
Again, there was no sitting down involved, but there was a little bit of bread! We headed back on to the streets, which were really bustling now it was around 10pm. Loads of people of all ages, having something to eat and a drink on a Friday night with family and friends.
The temperature was still warm, in the low 20s even though the sun was going down and there were smells of cooking mixed with the sound of people having a good time in a relaxed and chilled way. We discovered we were back at our lunch spot of the Mercado San Miguel, so thought a little night cap to see us home would do the trick!
I had a perfectly mixed Spanish Sangria, with a side of, you guessed it, olives! You can’t drink in Madrid without being given something to eat! Followed by some prawn bites, which were really good too!
At that point we decided being on our feet for 18 hours and having walked 24km (Mr P has this App…) we really aught to head to the comfort of a freshly made bed and get some sleep!
The next morning after sleeping like babies teenagers, we thought we’d have a bit more of a chilled day after packing in so much on the previous one! So we used the wifi to look for great brunch spots in Madrid. The search engine fed back that the place we wanted to be was Fonty’s which is a French inspired Bistro. We hopped back on the Metro to get there and were ravenous by 10.30am!
The menu was all in Spanish, so we knew we were on to a good thing.
It looks expensive at 40 euros for us both to have breakfast but you did get a lot and it was well worth it!
The freshly squeezed Seville oranges made for unforgettable tasting juice and the pastries were some of the best I’ve ever tasted, even in France.
I may have been watching too much Bake Off but just look at the lamination on that Pain au Chocolat! It sliced beautifully with not a hint of sogginess anywhere! Mr P is now a convert to yoghurt and Granola since enjoying it here and the eggs Benedict gave Bettys a run for their money!
They also had some very pretty tiles and I’m a sucker for a nice tile!
After being so full we could barely move we thought we aught to see a few more sights while we had the chance. Still running around like a couple of adolescents, with no small people to monitor for hunger, thirst or toilet trips. Not having to consider whether it was going to be too far for them all to walk to or whether or not they would like it when we got there we set off for Patrimonio Nacional or the Royal Palace of Madrid.
We had just missed what looked like the changing of the guards and it was, as imagined, as busy tourist spot. The palace was beautiful, not too dissimilar from Buckingham Palace, only you could get a lot closer to it than in the UK.
We also stopped by to see the Almudena Cathedral which is next door to the palace, another impressive building.
You can choose to pay to tour both of these attractions, but we decided to walk a little further to discover the Basilica de San Fransisco el Grande which is a neo-classical church built in the late 1700s. One of it’s most glorious features is its 33m wide painted dome.
It’s still a working catholic cathedral and you’re not really supposed to take photos inside it! However, we got really lucky as as we entered a baptism was just finishing and lots of the congregation were snapping away, with the lights on!
I managed to photograph this beauty – which shows some of the ornate and elaborate details on display! This Basilica was my favourite tourist find of all of them that we visited and I would recommend it as a sight to behold! Before we went in I said to Mr P – ‘seen one cathedral, seen them all’ but I was proved SO wrong on this occasion!
We walked across the bridge, and back towards the Palace heading towards the cable car ride across the city that I’d read about. We spotted a wedding party, looking marvellously Spanish city chic!
It was a long, hot walk to the Teleferico Madrid, where the cable cars are. The attraction looked like a 90’s inspired idea. The cable cars ride away from the city so that you look back at the skyline from a different angle. It is a great way to see the views, and they are pretty gorgeous, it lasts about ten minutes each way.
I wouldn’t rush back though, the 10 euro ticket was a reasonable price for a nice sit down, but on arriving at the viewing area we were a bit disappointed. There was a soft play centre – who the hell wants to go on a city break without their kids only to find themselves in a kids foam filled birdthay party?! We quickly set off on our return leg, after the obligatory photo with the view.
By 4pm on day two we declared we had ‘seen Madrid’ and decided a nice sit down with a Sangria was in order, we were to chill and take in the local colour. Which we did back at Calle Barcelona which is a busy street full of Eateries,not that far from the central train station Sol.
After a long sit down and lots of people watching we did a spot more shopping before heading back to our hotel for a quick change and headed out again for supper, and beer!
We ate at Kaixo on Calle Barcelona and were spoilt for choice with the tapas menu, we had a fabulous huge, deep fried cheese ball -what’s not to love about that and some other potato based dishes!
We wandered to a few more bars, soaked up the atmosphere of grown-ups out on a Saturday evening in the sunshine. Something that was so long over due being felt! It was so nice to feel part of the ‘normal’ people again rather than caught up in bath time, bedtime shenanigans!
We ended up, rather fittingly, where it had all began back at Chocolateria San Gines, for a last Churros and Chocolate before having to say adios to Madrid.
We’d had simply the best time. An adventure we wouldn’t forget in a hurry. It’s so important to spend that quality time with your other half, for you to remember who you are on the inside and that you’re not just somebody’s Mum and Dad.
Madrid Amazed me! I can’t wait to go back again! It is up there at the top of my list of favourite cities and would recommend it to anyone. The history and architecture, the culture and the vibe made it all my kind of place. Oh and the olives and Sangria too of course! If you’re reading this thinking, ‘we should do something like that’ I urge you just to go if you possibly can. Creating memories together makes you who you are as a couple and broadens your life beyond that of which circles your kids.
Over half term we were lucky enough to take the small people on a trip to the Big Smoke! They had loads of fun spotting the landmarks they recognised from books and TV, bezzing about on the escalators at the Tube stations and most notably enjoying the hotel buffet breakfast!
One of the best things we did on our trip to London was ride the Emirates Air Line cable cars across the Thames! It is a fantastic way to see the famous city skyline and get a perspective on the city. At £4.50 per adult (or £3.30 if you use your Oyster card) and £2.30 per child it was considerably cheaper than the £109 for the five of us to ride the London Eye!
You board from North Greenwich (or the O2) on the Jubilee line and it takes you over to Royal Victoria on the DLR. We were staying at Canary Wharfe so it was no distance at all, we even had the added bonus of a three minute boat ride across the Thames to the Isle of Dogs from our hotel, which went down a storm! You do go incredibly high over the Thames, so not one for the feint hearted, the girls weren’t phased by it at all and you can see SO much!
The girls and I took the cable cars to ExCel as we were attending the brilliant Kidtropolis event with thanks to Guinness World Records! There was loads of kid friendly stuff to get involved with and Guniness World Records were breaking live records on their stand too! My girls LOVE the Guinness Book of World Records and I know it’ll be making an appearance on their Christmas lists this year.
We were due to catch the DLR back into central London as it was more direct from ExCel but the girls were desperate to ride the cable cars back again, so we did! You can fit up to ten passengers in each Gondola. There was no queue either way when we went and we had our car all to ourselves on the outbound journey. It lasts about ten minutes and there’s an insightful video/audio commentary too!
Once we were back at North Greenwich tube station it only took us about 20 minutes (all on the Jubilee Line – no changes) to get to Green Park station from where we walked easily to Buckingham Palace.
It was the best £10 we spent all weekend and would really recommend it! We, of course, took the kids to see all the obligatory landmarks around the bustling city too, but it was the Emirate Air Line they raved about most of all!
Disclaimer: Guiness World Records kindly gave us tickets to attend Kidtropolis
Now, obviously, I’m no car expert. I’m just a Mama who happens to drive, a lot. One day last week I clocked up 16 separate car journeys in one day! It’s easily done when you’re Mum on the run with car trips to and from school, nursery, Brownies, dentists, supermarket and physio appointments! That equates to around six plus hours in the car – in one day! I’m in my car more often than I’m in my living room!
Why taking time out just for you makes you a better parent…
When my twins were 13 weeks old we drove to France, from Yorkshire, for a holiday with extended family (reasons for which I wouldn’t have changed for the world, despite the challenges of the trip). We had two over-night stops in the UK before we even hit the Channel, one of which was memorably at Watford Gap services! (Did I mention we had 13 week old twins with us?!)
It was on the way back from this trip, still in the haze of sleep deprivation and constant breast feeding, that I made a promise to myself. In order to keep my sanity in-tact and for the sake for me and my children I promised that I would make time for myself, just for me, before I drowned under the constant-ness being a full time mother to two tiny humans. I’d come to the realisation (albeit earlier than most) that a holiday with very young children was actually not really a holiday at all.
Well, I also made a little video vlog whilst we were there. You can view it by clicking below! I may mostly look a little knackered, especially as the weekend goes on and also a little non-make-upy! You have been warned 😬😂
We had a great time, see what it was like for yourselves!
Disclaimer: Deershed invited us to the event with their compliments but the opinions are my own.
Last weekend we were lucky enough to be invited to Deer Shed Family Festival in Topcliffe, near Thirsk in North Yorkshire as an official festival blogger. We’d never been to a festival before (ever!) and we’d never camped before, so were super excited and a little bit scared in equal measures!
It turned out we had absolutely nothing to fear and all had a totally brilliant time! The weather was amazing for the weekend, it was almost, dare I say it? too hot!
Here’s a little write up about what the event was like and what we got up to!
We were weeks in the planning for all our camping paraphernalia, becoming regulars in the likes of Mountain Warehouse and Blacks. Tent, sleeping bags and gas stove purchased we set about packing the car with boxes full of emergency snacks and baby wipes.
We arrived on Friday afternoon after collecting the children from school. Getting in the car park was easy with no queuing. The car park was quite a long way from the campsite so we had to park up and use a trolley to transport all our camping gear to our pitch. You could hire trolleys for £5 for half an hour, but we brought our own make-shift device with us!
It was a bit of a trek with the kids to transport all our gear, and it took us two trips, it would be about 10 minutes on our own but with the kids in tow it was more like 25 mins!
There are no set pitches, you just find a space in the huge fields and pitch up. We found a spot down by the lake area which turned out to be very close to the festival. It seems most of the pro-festival goers knew to come earlier in the day to get pitched, which we would definitely do that in the future.
After some slight passive-aggressive tent pitching from the grown-ups and lots of placating the children with snacks and drinks (did I mention it was hot!) we all settled into making camp and got busy blowing up air beds and unfolding camping chairs. Oh, and opening the wine!
It was around 8pm by the time we were straight and everyone was starving hungry so we headed off into the Festival to find some food!
The atmosphere in the Festival was amazing, it was really chilled and friendly. Loads of children being carried around on their Dad’s shoulders, being pushed around in buggies or dragged in the trolleys for hire. Teenagers hanging out with their mates sharing a laugh and giddy at their semi-freedom. Families holding hands and happily taking it all in.
There was open air music playing and against the warm summer night it drifted around the site beautifully. There were loads of lovely food outlets, smells of fairgrounds and camping with loads of variety. Stalls selling festival wares and trinkets which all looked appealing and the odd bar here and there with seating inside and out.
We let the kids choose whatever they wanted for dinner and the girls picked pancakes with lemon and sugar and the small boy an ice cream (look away now if you’re a judgey parent!).
James and I being grown ups plumbed for actual food of substance and I had a delicious vegetarian curry, all handmade from fresh ingredients on site and James went for a rotisserie chicken wrap, which the kids all tucked into too – since the meat was so tasty (and they hadn’t eaten any proper food up till then! Ha!)
The evening was so mild that we just pitched up on the grass, with the music from ‘Everything, Everything’ who were playing on the main stage drifting over us as we ate.
We wondered around the Festival taking in the giant Ferris Wheel which was all light-up against the night sky and the squeals from the heater skelter echoing in our ears. The Small Boy loved the bubble mania tent and the girls were fascinated with the opaque white bubbles which disappeared into a puff of sherbet smoke when popped!
We wandered around and checked out the movie tent and soaked up the atmosphere finding out bearings. By now it was getting on for 10pm and the Small Boy was literally on his knees so we headed back for bedtime which was an exciting event in itself for the kids!
The kids were all tucked up and asleep in no time, despite the booms from the music across the water. The sounds from the Festival kept on till around 2am, which didn’t bother the children but the grown-ups found it a bit harder to get off to sleep!
Ram-packed Saturday at Deer Shed Festival
Morning came all too quickly, which it does when you’re in a tent as soon as the sun pops up! So we were all out of bed by .6.30am and heading to the toilets.
There were port-a-loo type toilets dotted all around the campsite and the Festival.
Sometimes you had to queue for one, but not for longer than a couple of minutes. 90% of the time they had toilet roll and paper towels in them but it was worth taking a packet of tissues in with you just in case. There was a sink in them too but no soap, but hand sanitisers outside the loos, so we made sure we always made good use of them! The loos were cleaned out over the course of the weekend so they didn’t get too full – but all the same, they were festival loos!
If you wanted a shower you had to queue between 7am-noon and 6-9 pm and pay £3 for 10 minutes in one. The queues were long and most people didn’t bother!
Once we were all dressed we made a spot of breakfast at the tent, we’d taken some cereal and I even cooked some scrambled eggs, which were pretty good considering we were camping!
Then it was time to head back into the festival to do some more exploring! The girls were desperate to go on the fairground attractions. Beth and I 😬 zoomed down the Helter Skelter, £1 a go, and both girls went on the swings. The Small Boy was mostly hot as it was so humid and when the sun wasn’t behind a cloud it was baking!
Then the kids wanted to head to the workshop areas where there were SO many craft activities to do.
Some you had to pay for, like the blacksmiths workshop and the fire starting ones, the weaving willow hearts was £1 a go and the gingerbread men decorating, £3 a go. The children all made a ‘Walk of Fame’ mat with handprints and stars, which was free and decorated a CD for the ‘wishing tree’ which was also free!
We were still warm so headed for a drink in the Obelisk bar and a sit down in the shade (except we couldn’t find any! Ha!)
Next on the agenda was the Sports Arena, a big wide open space with loads of organised games going on. From football to badminton, ping pong to rugby – you could take your pick.
Little Miss B headed to the balance area where you could walk the tightrope across various lengths. The Skate Park looked popular with some outstanding displays and amazed sounds coming from the crowd watching.
The Small Boy and I pitched up our picnic blanket and watched Mr P and Little Miss K play frisbee while he used his newly purchased bubble wand to make some huge bubbles!
We heard a high-intensity aerobics class going on – which looked seriously impressive and best watched from afar! Ha!
The girls had wanted to play hungry hippos but it was time to head back to the tent for lunch!
A few hot dogs and a little sit down later it was time to go back ‘Festival side’. The girls did a bit of ribbon weaving on the way to meet the lovely Charles from SNAP!Recipebox for drink in the Sloemotion gin tent.
SloeMotion are a Yorkshire company who create their own sloe gin – more to come from them on the blog soon! There were kids games set up in the bar come tee-pee which the girls enjoyed playing while we enjoyed a cocktail – very civilised!
The girls wanted to buy some fake animal tails after that at £15 a pop, but they loved them and refused to take them off the entire time!
It was then time to all pull open our picnic rug and get a couple of drinks in to enjoy watching Rae Morris on the main stage. Her set was brilliant! We all enjoyed it.
Little Miss K and Mr P headed down to the front of the stage to get a better view for a while and join in up-close! It was a really lovely afternoon to sit outside and listen to some serious talent from an amazing singer. It was one of the highlights of our Festival.
We headed back to the tent so Mr P could have a quick shower and on the way back in were lucky enough to see two hot air balloons taking off. It was magical to see them so closely and watching them sail over the festival in the warm late afternoon sunshine was beautiful. The sounds of laughter and music were washing over the site and the sky was just turning pink. It was a pretty gorgeous moment.
The kids were allowed to choose their own tea again, pancakes, chicken and some amazing freshly stone-baked pizzas from a little van, were the order of the evening.
Followed by fresh Churros lathered in sugar with a side of hot chocolate sauce for dipping! As you can imagine the children thought they were in heaven!
Back to the tent for our second nights sleep – the music ended around midnight at that point, so the grown-ups slept better too!
Bedtime at the Festival
Sunday Funday at Deer Shed Family Festival
On the Sunday morning it was time to start packing a few things up and hauling them back to the car.
We stopped by the glamping tents on the way to have a peek, the big hummingbird ti-pis looked amazing with loads of space inside and the vintents reminded me of camping as a child myself! They’re a great option if you don’t want to haul your gear across fields or pitch a tent yourself!
Once the gear was back in the car we decided to explore the Science Tent – inside there were so many workshops going on; from plant potting to Mecano, to making your own rocket to forensic workshops. SO many wonderful things, any of which would have filled an hour!
The girls decided they wanted to have a go at the Aardman workshop whereby they could make their own Gromit (from Wallace and Gromit) one of the leading animators from Aardman was running the workshop and it took over an hour.
They loved every minute of it and were so thrilled with their final finished result a combination of the right tools and modelling clay, great instruction and a bit of creativity on their part! They’re still very proud of what they made! The Small Boy watched a bit of Frozen inside one of the tents with Daddy while the girls enjoyed their model making.
Then the heavens opened at the rain started, while it was still warm, which was great we hadn’t packed the tent away yet! Rookie error! We decided to stay for a bite of lunch, some delicious made-in-front-of -us handmade mozerralla flat breads and bought the Small Boy a bubble gun to keep him entertained while we de-camped the tent.
Once the tent was down we loaded our trolley for the second time and headed back up to the car! We packed up and were out in no time again as there were no big queues leaving either.
Everyone went home tired but happy as all that fresh air, running around, campsite living and fun had exhausted us all. The Small Boy fell asleep on the way home at 4.30pm and did’t wake till the next morning at 7.30pm! 15 hours sleep!! He must have had fun!
Looking back at Deer Shed Family Festival
Looking back at our time at Deer Shed Family Festival we had had an amazing time, created some really happy memories and stepped out of our comfort zone a little. There was literally so much to do I think we only managed a tenth of what was on offer! If we’re lucky enough to be invited back next year we’ll understand a bit more how it all works and make even better use of our time!
Other things we saw but didn’t get chance to enjoy were; swing ball fun, make your own minions, make your own minecraft head, all the comedy acts, the DJ sets, some of the shows performance and theatre, any of the literature and spoken word acts, parent and baby yoga, messy play and endless other wonderful things!
The great thing about the Festival is that everyone who goes has a different experience given that there’s so much to do, you simply can’t do everything! We chose all the things we enjoyed most and focussed on them! Someone else might go and find just as much fun doing some of the things we didn’t do!
NCT had quiet areas and baby changing and breastfeeding spaces
The workshops were a sure fire hit for my kids and the Games Arena. The food was also another highlight and Mr P loved getting to go to a ‘live gig’ in the form of Rae Morris. I loved seeing how happy the children were and how excited they were by all they could see.
It was brilliant to see how well they took to camping and really great to spend that time all together as a family. It’s wonderful being outdoors all the time and it helped that the weather was really fantastic!
If you love outdoor life, music and spending time with your family then I would say mark Deer Shed Family Festival on your calendar for next year. We had a brilliant family time of it!
Last weekend I was lucky enough to get a break away with one of my gorgeous bestie Mama friends. We have been friends since university and decided we’d go back to where it all began in Liverpool where we were students.
Liverpool has always held a special place in my heart, it’s the only place outside Harrogate I have ever lived (not counting a brief spell in Leeds!). It’d been almost 16 years since I had last been in the city and it’d changed enormously in that time for the better. So if you’re looking for a place for a little Mama break of your own I would highly recommend it.
We stayed at the Hilton at Liverpool One. Liverpool One is a 1.65 million sq ft contemporary open-air complex with shopping, restaurants, bars and hotels. It is all integrated into the existing city centre. It runs from the Docks right into the heart of the city.