Hampton Court Palace – The Magic Garden and The Maze 

I wasn’t kidding when I said I intended on seeing the best sights in (and around) London, making the most of my  3 day week. Last Friday was a beautiful day so we decided to head out to Hampton Court. We took the tube to Waterloo and then South West trains to Hampton Court via Surbiton. A quick walk from the Station and you step into grounds that would fit into a Phillipa Gregory novel easily. At first glance Hampton Court Palace is quite majestic. This beautiful Tudor Palace was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. It was never meant to be a Royal Palace but when he left in 1529, King Henry took it over. In his efforts to impress people with his grandeur and wealth, he spent what would be millions now to expand it, employing Europe’s most gifted craftsmen and gardeners. It might be almost 500 years since it was built but Hampton Court Palace (unlike the outside of Buckingham Palace) is quite simply stunning.

Last year saw the opening of The Magic Garden on the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. I’d read quite about it but we didn’t have a chance to go. Friday was the ideal day. We didn’t go into the Palace…Let’s be honest, it would be lost on our 5/6 year olds so instead bought tickets for The Magic Garden and The Maze. If you don’t intend on going into the Palace and it’s quite a warm day, don’t queue up at the main ticket kiosk. Instead make your way to The Magic Garden and buy your tickets from there instead. 

It lives up to its name…the kids had a blast!

Almost two hours later we made our way to the maze. The kids were super excited by the maze and enjoyed navigating the many corridors. At one point we thought we’d found our way out but alas it was the middle of the maze.

Right outside the exit there’s a patch of grass for the adults to rest their weary legs and hidden in what appears to be a huge bush is one of the best trees to climb.

We finally ended our day walking through the rose garden and picking up some amazing real ice cream (made with clotted cream!!)

If you’re thinking of visiting this summer, The Magic Garden is open until October. Remember to take sun cream, a spare change of clothes (there are fountains and a mini lake, as S describes it, in the sandpit) and lots of snacks (the cafés there are limited).

Don’t forget to take a picture under this beautiful arch on your way out.

It cost us £9.20 each return from Waterloo to Hampton Court on Southwest trains. If you to manage get a direct train it’s approx. 35 minutes (we had to stop at Surbiton both ways). Hampton Court Palace is very family friendly and makes for a great day out. It’s got our stamp of approval.

Summer 2017 Bucket List 

The great British Summer…There’s absolutely no guarantee of hot weather but you can always have a good time. From this week going forward I’ll be working 3 days a week (rather than 5) and I intend on making the most of August, exploring  many of the wonderful sights/attractions the UK has to offer. Here’s my bucket list for Summer 2017:

Mayfield Lavender Fields – If you’re on Instagram you can’t escape these gorgeous lavender fields. They are Insta perfect and something I definitely want to see. A little over an hour from London, in Surrey, it’s pretty easy to get to.

Hampton Court Palace – The Magic Garden looks amazing and super child friendly.

Parkside Fruit Picking – I feel like S is finally old enough to appreciate and enjoy fruit picking. My cousins have been doing it for years and now he can join them 🙂

Warwick Castle – Which child wouldn’t like to dress up as a knight and feel like part of a castle? S has the costume and Warwick has the castle. And during the summer, kids can watch Horrible Histories live on stage in the truly unique Wicked Warwick Show!

Go Ape (Alexandre Palace) – Go Apes newest venue at Ally Pally now has Tree Tops Junior. S is a bit of a monkey and I think he’d absolutely love walking high up and ziplining through trees.

Snozoneuk – While our summers aren’t always hot, our winters aren’t extreme either which means S hasn’t seen proper snow yet. At Snozone, you can feel like you’re in The Alps while only being an hour up the M1 from London.

Camber Sands – Back in May we visited Brighton Beach and while that was cool, a sandy beach will always beat a pebble beach. Fingers crossed we have one more heat wave before school starts in September and we will be down at Camber Sands in a jiffy.

Emirates Cable Cars – For the gorgeous views of London and the thrill of riding high up suspended in the air.

Of course this is a limited list…London and the surrounding counties have to much to offer. I’d love to hear what adventures you’re having this summer…

Pub lunch in Hampstead (The Wells Tavern)

Did you know that Hampstead was recently voted as the No. 1 place people would want to live in London, if money was no object. And I can see why….its gorgeous! With its hidden pebblestone streets, quaint pubs and of course the gorgeous Heath, what’s not to love about Hampstead? I also love living just a stones throw from Hampstead.

I’ve heard a lot about The Wells Tavern  (Gastropub) and when I called up yesterday, very luckily managed to get a table for 4 at 1pm today (Sunday). Thanks to whoever cancelled 🙂

We got to the pub and were promptly seated upstairs in their main dining room. They have a varied menu without too many options (including a selection of roasts on Sundays) and a wide variety of wines as well. Once we’d placed our orders, we were offered a choice of breads to nibble on.

I decided to go with the roast lamb, my dad had the (only) vegetarian main which was a roasted pepper stuffed with mushroom risotto, topped with goats cheese. My mum opted for the grilled sea bass and S had “a” sausage (the waiter was very specific) with chips and a side of broccoli.

The three (adult) mains were really good. The lamb was well cooked, very meaty without being fatty, the right amount of gravy (you could pay for extra) with a few root vegetables and 2 roast potatoes. The sea bass was a boneless fillet of deliciousness sitting on a bed of vegetables with roast potatoes. Hours later my mum reiterated  “I thoroughly enjoyed that fish today!”

The quality of the ingredients really came through in each meal. I have to be honest, I was disappointed by S’s meal. I think it would have been nice if they had a children’s menu or at least had a proper serving of food. One sausage with a massive portion of chips is not what I call a healthy meal for a child. It’s a good thing S loves broccoli and for me that was a saving grace. I thought perhaps they don’t get many kids in there but I did spot a couple of cups of crayons by the till so I guess they do. 

And then we got offered dessert…they had quite a selection of some amazing sounding desserts! Tbh at that point I was so full, I couldn’t even finish my meal (and we hadn’t even got starters). But we decided to get one dessert and 3 spoons (S had his own scoop of ice cream). My dad chose the apple and rhubarb crumble which came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Now I absolutely love crumble and not everywhere gets the consistency of the crumble right but at The Wells, it was mouthwateringly good!! There was a good ratio of crumble to filling, the rhubarb gave it a kick, lessening the sweetness of the cooked apple and the ice cream was literally the cherry on the top.

As you can tell I highly recommend The Wells Tavern 🙂 And to top off our afternoon, we carried on walking up Wells Walk towards Hampstead Heath to digest all that amazing food. 

5 days in New York 

Where do I even begin with New York? Growing up I always wanted to live there, my imagination had my dreaming of the big apple…so when I visited in 2007 and hated it, I was shocked! Fast forward 10 years and it’s a completely different story. Back in 2007 circumstances meant I didn’t truly enjoy the city as I should. Fast forward 10 years and 5 days in New York fulfilled my every expectation. Here is a concise (sort of) “5 days in New York” guide.
Having arrived on a Tuesday night, I made sure I napped on the flight so when I got to my hotel (1am London time), I was able to stay awake for another few hours and finally fall asleep at 11pm (4am London time). This definitely helped with the jetlag. We popped out to Ginza Sushi (800 Lexington Av.) for dinner. I highly recommend the “yummy roll”. As the name suggests, it was really yummy.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Hilton Midtown (53rd and 6th) and it was a great location. A 5 minute walk to central park, a 10 minute walk to The Plaza, a 5 minute walk to Times Square and a 15 minute walk to Bloomingdales. There is a Starbucks across the street, a Joe and the Juice and lots of carts selling ice cream, chicken rice and hot dogs. It’s also diagonally across the street from the LOVE sign.

Day 1 – Wednesday

We were up and out early on Wednesday. 9am breakfast at Sara Beth’s (opposite Central Park) followed by a stroll through Central Park. I can’t say I loved SB’s…it was good but not amazing. New York portions are so huge, I physically couldn’t eat it all. Although we didn’t get there in the end, I’ve heard Norma’s is amazing and so I wish we’d done that on the Wednesday instead.

Central Park was gorgeous. My friend S and I got to walk through it twice in the 5 days. Next time I intend on hiring a bike and cycling through it. 

We met our friend A back at the Fountain opposite the Plaza to start our “Sex in the City” tour. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d read good reviews and although a few friends mentioned it wasn’t so great, we decided to go for it anyway. With these sorts of things, it’s always about the guide…and our guide was amazing. As a comedian she was naturally funny and although you spend a lot of time on the coach watching clips of the show, she managed to keep us thoroughly entertained the whole way through. We visited a sex shop, Carrie’s stoop, Buddakan and Steve’s bar (for a yummy cosmo). The tour ended around 3pm at Bryant Park. 

I remember spotting a dumpling place right beside Ginza the night before so we decided to head there for a quick bite before going back to the hotel. That wasn’t the best choice unfortunately. When you’ve lived in Asia and you know what dumplings are capable of tasting like (Hello Din Tai Fung), dumplings wrapped in cases far too thick are quite off putting.

After lunch we walked back to our hotel to freshen up and change for our river cruise. One of the things I loved about New York is just how much walking we got done. The city is basically a grid making it relatively easy to navigate. A quick change and we were in a cab down to the piers where we’d booked a 90 minute cruise to see The Statue of Liberty. It was in fact a 90 minute tour of New York from the river – our guide gave us the low down on every Borough of New York as well as Jersey (across the river). It was a beautiful evening and we got to see the sun set behind The Statue of Liberty. 

Once back at the pier we jumped in a cab up to the Flatiron district for dinner at ABC Cocina and ABC Kitchen are Jean-Georges restaurants, both housed in the ABC Home store. It’s a glam restaurant (great lighting) serving Latin American fusion. We started with the pea guacamole and then went on to have the tune tartare, patatas bravas, shrimp with sizzling garlic and chilli oil (which wasn’t really sizzling), fish tacos (great flavours), chicken tacos and beef tenderloin “burnt ends” with chimichuri (this was my favourite – succulent, soft and slightly chargrilled). 

We ended the night by heading to “230 Fifth”, one of New York’s many rooftop bars. Right in front of the Empire State building means you get a bird’s eye view of the building all lit up – beautiful!

 Day 2 – Thursday

In our mission to pack as much as we could into each day, S and I were up and out of the hotel by 9:30am. We grabbed some coffee and then took a cab down to the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a gorgeous day to walk along the bridge and it didn’t take as long as we thought it would so we walked back as well. When you get off the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side, if you see some vendors selling mini taxis, buses, etc. buy them for the child in your life. I wanted to buy some for my S (they were $4) but decided I’d get them in the city instead ($10-$15 each!).

We were doing really well for time so we ended up strolling up to The Freedom Tower and visited the memorial where the twin towers once stood. The National September 11 Memorial is a tribute of remembrance to all those who lost their lives back in 2001. The reflecting pools are huge and the name of every person who died is inscribed into bronze panels on the edge of the pools. On their birthdays each year a white rose is placed by their name which I thought is a beautiful ongoing tribute. There’s a really strong energy in the area – as you watch the water go down into the ground, you’re lead to thinking about the enormity of what happened that day and how two pools (the same diameter of the twin towers) now represent what was once two huge buildings.

 As we were in the area, we thought we’d stroll across to see the bull on Wall Street but we got distracted by discounted designer sunglasses at Century 21 (as you do!) and spent 20 minutes in the store instead. We then jumped in a cab to the meatpacking district to walk along the Highline. The Highline goes to show what an urban city can do to reuse “wasted” space and add some green to the city. It’s an old railway line, sitting above the streets of New York, which has been transformed into a bridge of sorts. It was recommended to us by a few people and we were expecting lots of food stalls, street performers and art installations (a bit like the Southbank in London). At one point of it there were a few food (mainly ice cream) carts and art installations along the way but it wasn’t quite what we expected. 

We were hoping to end at the Chelsea food market to check it out (we were starving by that stage!) but when we got to the end we realised we started near the Chelsea food market and so unless we wanted to walk back, we’d missed the opportunity. Instead we stopped at a local store with a deli and bought a bagel with cream cheese and jalepeno’s which we shared – delicious!!

We then made our way up to Lord and Taylor (21 W, 39th St) to meet A for lunch at Szehuan Gourmet. While the food was tasty (my favourite was the Chinese spinach in garlic), it had far too much oil for my liking. After lunch we had a quick look at Lord and Taylor (it’s like our Harvey Nichols) and then went across to Charming Charlie. I could do a whole other blog post on that store. It really was quite charming with the cutest accessories. So definitely check it out if you’re visiting New York.

 We headed back to the hotel to start getting ready for our evening out. The great thing about a city like New York is that it’s literally a melting pot of people from all over the world. All three of us had friends in New York and so we rallied the troops and had them all meet us at Vandal (199 Bowery) for pre-dinner drinks. 

Dinner was around the corner at Beauty and Essex. My favourite part of the restaurant was the Prosecco bar in the toilets. Manned by a sweet girl who was happy to chat to us, take our pictures and even listen to our ranting! 

The food for the most part was pretty good – I didn’t think much of the beef carpaccio but the pasta bolognaise was pretty good. The chicken meatballs were far too airy for my liking but I managed to have a fusion salmon cup thing without even realising it was salmon (which I don’t eat). It was flavoured well, completely masking the taste of the salmon (I don’t know if that’s a good thing for people who actually like salmon).

 Day 3 – Friday

Friday was going to be our shopping day. In my opinion, you can’t visit New York and not hit up Macys and Bath and Body Works. A mentioned that the Westfield Garden State mall in Jersey was tax free for clothes so we decided to spend the afternoon there. It has most of the major stores – Nordstrom, Macys, Bath & Body Works, Express, Zara, The New York Company, etc. but I’d say a slightly limited selection. Most of the stuff I bought was from Bath & Body Works (I love their stuff!) but I also got some tops and dresses at Macys, Express & Zara. Given that I live in London and the shopping here is fantastic, I didn’t feel the need to shop a lot plus I thought it was a lot more expensive (more so with the current exchange rate). We got back to Manhattan at about 4:30ish, beating the weekend traffic. S and I decided to go and do our hair so dumped our stuff at the hotel and ventured out towards Times Square looking for a place. Within 2 minutes to entering the bustling Times Square area, we had a flyer for a hairdresser pushed in our faces – sorted! 45 minutes later we walked out looking totally glam and hoping it wouldn’t rain (it had turned pretty cloudy!). On the walk back to our hotel we stopped at Ray’s pizza. We couldn’t possibly leave New York without trying some good ol’ fashioned New York pizza. 

We got a slice of the pepperoni pizza and shared it. Back at the hotel we all got dolled up for a night at Tao. I went to Tao the last time I was in New York but this was Tao Downtown, the new one. It was pretty spectacular. We got there in time for our 9pm reservation but at 9:30pm we were still sitting at the bar waiting for our table. Apparently this is normal for New York although I think you should never have to wait more than 15 minutes for a table, no matter where you go. We got lucky with our table though…we were sat right in front of the absolutely massive status of the Thai goddess Guan Yin. With the magic of lighting they were able to create different looks for her AND get her to actually “look around” the room. The food was amazing and at that stage, my favourite meal in New York.

We arranged for a desert to be brought out for A’s birthday which was a sort of warm chocolate filled chocolate dome. Words cannot begin to describe just how mouth-watering this was. Unfortunately though, due to language differences I guess, this was taken away from our table too early (that may have been a good thing though). A waiter asked us how we were doing and when we said we’re good, it’s amazing, he took it away thinking we were saying “we’re good, we’re done.” Ummm….

We were hoping to go to PhD (the rooftop bar beside Tao Downtown but alas the bouncers wanted to charge us $200 for the privilege). Instead we then ended up bar hopping…first to the Gansevoort Park Avenue rooftop bar and then to the rooftop bar at the Kimberley – we didn’t think much of the vibe at either and ended up calling it a night.
Day 4 – Saturday
This was the only day we didn’t have too much planned in the morning. But only being in New York for 5 days, we didn’t want to waste any time. We were up and out in the morning and headed to Macy’s 6th Avenue to have a look around. While in Macy’s it started pouring and we had brunch reservations all the way downtown at Miss Lily’s (132 W Houston Street), a Jamaican café style joint (no pun intended). S had the Breakfast Roti, A had Jerk Chicken Roti, I had a naked (bun-less) Jamaican patty melt and we got a side of fried plantain. We also made the most of their brunch offer – an unlimited choice of the “Hotstepper” (Bloody Mary), “Lily’s Punch” (Fruit Punch) or “One Love Bellini” for one hour with every entrée ordered – for an extra $15 a head. We were expecting more of a party vibe at this place but I think with anyone in New York (or anywhere for that matter), the more the merrier. 

I was so full after that meal so S and I decided we would walk back up towards mid- town. 40 minutes later (and our lunches barely digested), we got to 6th Avenue and decided to meet some friends at The Refinery Roof Top bar (63 W, 28th Street). It was a gorgeous place (and apparently they have one in London which looks as amazing). The best thing about it was the fact that it was covered and yet that took nothing away. It still felt every bit a rooftop bar. 

We spent an hour there before heading back to our hotel to finally chill for a bit. Although we had dinner reservations at Catch, I couldn’t face the idea of another big meal. We had a couple of drinks at Tanner Smiths, a cool little bar around the corner from the hotel and then had a late bite at a casual Mexican restaurant called Toloache (251 W 50th Street). The raw yellowtail in a sort of ponzu sauce was amazing – we got it twice!
Day 5 – Sunday
Our final day, it came around so quickly! I left the hotel early to see a couple of friends who happened to be in New York from Taipei (what’s the chances of that happening?!). I hadn’t seen them in 4 years so it was a short and sweet catch up. 

I then met S and we headed to Bloomingdales. I’d seen something I liked earlier in the week and wanted to go back and get it. Alas it wasn’t meant to be, they’d sold out. We then walked back to the hotel and met A to head to the Rockafellar Centre. Thankfully it was a nice day as we intended on going to top of the rock. You can also go to the top of the Empire State building but from the Rock you can see the Empire State building. It’s $37 to visit the top. Again, while the view was fantastic, I felt like you could get as good a view of the Empire State Building from a high roof top bar. Nevertheless, I’m glad I ticked it off my list of things to do in New York. I guess you can’t compare a complete 360 degree view of the city to just seeing one side of it. 

Once we were done with the Rock we headed to The Plaza Food Hall. For me, this was by far my best meal in New York (it was probably the cheapest and definitely eaten the fastest) – it was absolutely delicious – The Lobster Roll from Luke’s Lobster. The bun was perfectly toasted with the right amount of butter. The lobster was perfectly seasoned and cooked, very meaty and I loved every single bite. It’s the one place I am recommending to anyone who asks me about New York. You could compare it to the Lobster Roll at Burger and Lobster in London.

 A was leaving for the airport early so once we saw her off, S and I went for a stroll through Central Park. We ended our day with coffee with a friend opposite the hotel who was shocked at just how much we fit in. 5 amazing days in New York – where there is a will, there’s a way – we hit up the best bars and restaurants, did all the main sites and walked our legs off!! Tired and weary, we got a cab to Newark at 7pm for our flights later that night. I came home exhausted but very happy.


Brighton Beach 🌞

When you live in the UK, you take advantage of every sunny day you get! A couple of weeks ago we had some glorious weather so decided to head down to Brighton Beach one Sunday. I’ve been to Brighton once before – years ago and by train – I expected it to take about 90 minutes from North London (it took 2 ½ hours). I thought it would be crazy busy and parking would be a problem but it wasn’t too bad. Rather than drive around looking for a spot, we parked at the High Street car park (approx. £8 for up to 4 hours) and it was about a 5-7 minute walk down to the beach.
We walked along the pier taking in all the sights before ending up at Palm Court Restaurant for lunch. Beware of the sea gulls!! A lady made the mistake of leaving her food unattended for 10 seconds – before she knew it the hovering birds swept down and grabbed her fish and chips – ruthless! Although Palm Court is right in the heart of the pier, I can’t say I was totally impressed by it. My mum and I ordered the classic fish and chips. There was far too much batter on the fish and the chips were not hot or crispy. My dad had the vegetarian lasagne which was quite stodgy. The only saving grace was S’s kids meal which he seemed to enjoy (chicken nuggets, chips and beans). Our order also took quite a while to arrive (our neighbours ordered after us and were half way through their meal before ours arrived) and we had to ask for condiments at least 3 times. Apart from the fact that we got to sit in the glorious sunshine right on the pier, the meal wasn’t particularly memorable.

Walking along the pier you end up at a fun fair / arcade. Look out for the various height restrictions so you know what your kids can go on. We bought S an unlimited band – £10 for all the kiddie rides he could go on. We started with the carousel. As he is between 0.90 and 1.20 meters, I had to go on with him but I wasn’t charged. We went on the helter skelter together and again I wasn’t charged. That was my favourite as it sits right on the edge of the pier so glance down and around and all you see if the gorgeous blue sea. He then went on the tea cup ride, the mini transports ride, the inflatable slide and the trampolines. Next on his agenda was rock throwing on the beach. It’s funny how a lot of the times we’re trying to create fun experiences for our children when they are actually happiest doing the simple things. Brighton Beach is a pebble (read rock) beach. Not super comfortable to sit on but it provides the best rock throwing opportunities. S stood at the edge of the water seeing how far he could throw rocks for about 30 minutes. We finally got up, walked across to Starbucks for some coffee before we headed back home.

Although it was a great day out, I’m going to look for a nice sandy beach not far from London for the next time we have a bit of a heat wave…although living in the UK, I could be waiting all summer! 😉

Fun Facts! 👆

The ever changing nature of parenting 

This evening I lay down beside S and watched him fall asleep. Watched as his eyes closed at the end of another busy day, watched as his face relaxed and he fell into a deep sleep. I often use these moments to reflect on our day and think about how I can do better. Parenting is a tough job…We’re constantly having to make choices and hope they are the right ones for our kids. I don’t know any good parent who isn’t constantly berating themselves for the choices they make…it just goes with the territory.

Now that he’s 5, he’s started to make many of his own choices and my latest challenge is allowing him to do the things he wants to do, even if I don’t agree with them. I often look back at old blog posts and laugh at my naivety. When S was younger I truly believed you could negotiate/gently coerce children and that you didn’t need to raise your voice or resort to black mail. And now I increasingly find myself doing those very things. 

I recently read a blog post where the writer asked : How would you feel if your spouse talked to you the way you talked to your child? This is a pretty powerful question and I’ve been asking myself a similar one: How would I feel if my parents spoke to me the way I speak to S? And that’s given me a lot of food for thought. While I do think that adults and children are different, sentences like that still make me think. Ofcourse most adults aren’t unnecessarily rude, don’t refuse to eat, refuse to have a bath  or ignore you when you ask them to do something like many 5 year olds do so it’s not an accurate comparison but nevertheless, if it’s made you more mindful then more points to the writer.

I think of parenting as an ever changing responsibility. Just when you’ve tackled one challenge, another one presents itself. It forces you to look at yourself and analyse who you are. Why is that some behaviour bothers us and doesn’t bother another parent? What is it about our children’s behaviour that gets under our skin? I was listening to a podcast recently by Torie Henderson (A life coach for parents) and she got right to the point when she said that most of our reactions towards our kids comes from a place of fear that we are not good enough mums/parents. The more I pondered on her words, the more I nodded in agreement. Most of the time, when we get frustrated, it’s because our child is doing something we don’t think is right. And our reaction comes as a result of our perception. But what if we change our perception? What if we relinquish control of how we think things should be? Wouldn’t we be happier? Wouldn’t it make parenting more joyful? 

What is it about parenting that makes us such control freaks? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

London in the Springtime 

You know Spring has arrived when the gorgeous Cherry Blossoms come out and boy have they arrived!!

We’re so lucky to live in an area surrounded by cherry blossom trees so we get to watch them bloom on our daily walk to the bus stop.

So with the Easter Holidays upon us, schools out and the skies are blue, here is my list of the best London (and the surrounding areas) have to offer this Spring!

1. Duck Tours – have a look on Groupon before you go to their website, they very often have deals on there. Make sure you read the terms and conditions!

2. The Big Bus Tour – See all the best sights of London over one or two days. I personally love a Bus Tour, especially if you’re only in the city a few days and want to make the most of your time.

3. Battersea Park Children’s Zoo – We haven’t been yet but it’s on my list of places of visit this summer. We are however members of London Zoo and S loves it.

4. Southbank – My favourite part of London! The Art of Brick: DC Super Heroes opened on the 1st of March. We went to the original Art of Brick and was amazed by it so this is definitely on our list for when we’re back in 2 weeks time.

5. The Tate Modern is running a “live exhibition“, something I think both adults and children alike will be fascinated by. Don’t forget to take a spare change of clothes, just in case your kids refuse to come out! 😉

If you don’t mind venturing out then I highly recommend Belmont Farm, Bekonscot Model Village, Windsor Castle and Legoland

If the weather turns (let’s be realistic, it’s London) then there’s Sea Life and the London Aquarium, The National History Museum, The Transport Museum or the good ol’ cinema. VUE usually run Kids mornings over the holidays where movies are £2.50 a ticket (kids and adults alike).

And of course if the beautiful weather sticks around, there are always the gorgeous London Parks – Regents Park, Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park are my favourites. Email education@royalparksfoundation.org to find out more about what’s going on in the parks over the next few weeks.

Happy  Spring! 🌸🌸🌸

A weekend in Paris 

If there’s one thing I believe, it’s that travel teaches children much more than only school ever will. Heck I don’t just believe it for children, I believe it for everyone. And armed with that belief, it’s been my mission to start ticking off places to visit every year. Last year S visited Rome, Istanbul, Dubai, Tenerife and Lagos (3 of them completely new destinations). With me working full time now, this year has been left pretty open.
I was always going to take a few days off during half term to spend time with S (catch up with friends) but in January I decided to book a weekend getaway to Paris as well. We don’t live too far from St. Pancras so decided the Eurostar would much a much more efficient in terms of our time. I booked for us to leave on the 7:55 train on Friday morning and return on the 18:13 train on Sunday evening, making the most of our days in Paris.

Getting there

I initially tried to book package deal through http://www.lastminute.com which I would advise against! It was only after 2-3 phone calls to them when I remembered a similar issue I faced last year. I truly believe that we’re being conned into believing their fares are lower than everyone else’s when in fact you go to book and find yourself unable to do so. After umpteen calls to their call centre, talking to people who have no answers and will not deviate from their script, they finally agree to book your holiday but of course by then they want to charge you £75 more because your booking is not guaranteed and no longer available! Someone, anyone…please remind me not to attempt to book with them again. A quick look at their twitter and you’ll see just how many people write to them on an hourly basis with issues with their bookings. Anyway, I finally booked the train through the Eurostar website and booked our hotel through http://www.booking.com I would recommend you first try http://www.trivago.com which compares several hotel booking websites and tells you which one has the best rate for the room you’re looking for. Tips for the Eurostar – grab your coffee, food and drinks from one of the many shops at St. Pancras as the café on the train is quite overpriced. I understand they are introducing a new fleet of trains but these haven’t rolled out yet. We were on an old train with no working WI-FI and no sockets at each seat. Thankfully the toilets were clean!

Where to stay

My cousin and her family live in Paris and we wanted to be close to her but also close enough to all the sites of Paris. We ended up staying at a hotel from the Accor Group – Mercure La Defense. The hotel is rated as a 4* but I’m not sure I would give it a 4 star. The rooms are a decent enough size and we were lucky we had a view of the Eiffel Tower as well as the La Defence district (business district, tall glass buildings, etc.) but the bathroom was pretty small. When I first opened the door, I saw the sink and tub in front of me and wondered where the toilet was. It was squeezed in behind the door. There were also no amenities in the bathroom except some packaged bars of soap near the sink and a squeezable bath gel/shampoo hooked on the wall in the tub. On the Saturday I realised my international adaptor wasn’t working and asked the hotel if they had one. Luckily they did and said I could use it but had to pay a 20 EURO deposit. I was fine with this but requested them to deliver it to the room and I’d give them the money as S was asleep and I couldn’t go down to the lobby. All I got was a “Sorry, we can’t help you.” I expected more from a 4* hotel.

 Things to do in Paris

We arrived at Gare du Nord around midday on Friday. A quick trip through the city and we were on the West side of Paris in Courbevoie. We had lunch with my cousin and her family before heading back into the city. We took the train from La Defence to the Louvre and got off right in front of the museum. When I first looked at a map of the Paris Metro, I thought it would take us at least an hour to get across the city but Paris is a lot smaller than London and getting from the East to the West was quite quick.

It was a gorgeous day. We didn’t end up going into the museum but got a peep in through a massive glass window. We then walked out across the main courtyard and through a park in the city, down to the Champs Elysee. Paris, with it’s wide open streets and ample space is a joy to walk through.

On Saturday we decided to head to see the Eiffel Tower…but not before popping into one of the many bakeries for some freshly baked breakfast goodies.

You can see the Eiffel Tower from various points in the city but nothing prepares you for just how amazing it is up close. I hadn’t been to Paris in 14 years and was amazed by it all over again.

S really wanted to climb to the top so we queued up at one of the stairs entrances. You can in fact only walk up to the second level from where you take a lift to the top. When you arrive at the Eiffel Tower there’s a security check which took us about 20 minutes and then we spent 1hr 20 mins queuing at the entrance to start our ascent.

The whole experience took us approx 3 hours. We were planning on doing the river cruise right after but it was already close to 4 and S was pretty tired. 

I’d definitely recommend the river cruise though as it covers quite a few sights. The next time we’re in Paris, we’d do it without a doubt. We spent Sunday with family having lunch and exploring some parks before heading home Sunday evening. Paris makes for a great weekend getaway and S already asks to go back all the time. I think Paris stole his heart 💜💜

Goodbye 2016

I spent New Year’s Eve 2015 at the top of Primrose Hill with my cousin J and her husband H – that does not feel like almost an entire year ago! 2016 – What a year it’s been! I’m running out of adjectives but what I’m left with year-end is “extraordinary”, in every way!
It hasn’t always been an easy year – I’ve personally dealt with sudden demise and ill health within my family – and as a nation, we’ve seen our break up with the European Union, the election of Donald Trump and far too many deaths of people who made a difference. On many occasions this year I questioned how we got to where we are. Watching the horror that unfolds in Syria, seeing children separated from their parents in the Calais Jungle, the exposing of the Panama Papers, lorries driving into Christmas markets….you get my drift!
But life is all about perspective and I strive to see the positive in things, specifically in my life. The media have a way of only portraying the worst in the world and not the best. That is not to say that what is happening isn’t happening and isn’t heart breaking in many cases. We must do all we can to help those in need, to make a difference to the lives of our fellow beings. But one of the biggest differences we can make is to our own life. It’s only when our cups are full, when we love ourselves, when we are happy, that we can help those around us.
With that, I look back at my year with a sense of contentment. I’ve made new friends, I got myself a pretty good job, I visited several new cities, I went on a date, I’ve watched S grow into a smart and cheeky little boy with a great sense of humour. I’ve spent lots of time with family, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in years and blogging has given me (and S) some fab opportunities this year.
So while I’ll say a little prayer for all who need it and hope for a better 2017, I will say thank you to 2016! You weren’t too bad, you could have been a lot worse!
Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Magical Lapland UK

It’s no secret that I absolutely love Christmas. Our tree goes up around the 3rd week of November and I start planning for Christmas around the end of October (researching Christmas presents, planning the different activities I want to take S to, getting social dates in the diary, etc.) Christmas has a way of evoking some of my favourite childhood memories. As a child, my parents would bundle my brother and I into our car and take us for a drive through London. We’d each be sat at either end of the back seat staring out at all the beautiful lights along Oxford Street and Regents Street. I may be 30 something years old but I still gaze in wonderment at the lights in the West End. Naturally I’d like to create some of these memories for S. One’s he can look back on and smile at – for me it’s an easy way to find my happy place. And Christmas to me isn’t just about the gift giving (BUT that is a welcomed addition), it’s also about the festive spirit, the kindness I see around me and the time for mulled wine (although I have been known to drag this tradition on until February!)
With that, I wanted to take S to Lapland UK this year. In my opinion, he’s the perfect age where he was able to enjoy every aspect of it. I probably could have taken him last year but somehow we had so much else on, it didn’t happen. For all those “invited” to Lapland by Father Christmas, they receive a personalised invitation a week before with a time slot. Ours was 1:30 and we arrived there at 12:30. After parking in one of their many free car parks, we walked through the Enchanted Forest to the entrance. We checked in with the elves who were super chirpy and engaged with S. We were quite early so we sat down to share a hot chocolate and take in our surroundings.

At 1:30 we had an introduction to our day before being taken through a beautiful dimly lit corridor into an enchanted forest. It was here that we met one of the oldest elves and was introduced to Ecko – the “green” elf. They engaged us with stories before singing the elf song and whoosh the doors opened into what I can only describe as Winter Wonderland – it was like a scene out of Narnia. We began our adventure at the Toy Factory where S got to make 2 toys, helping the elves get ready for Christmas. There was also a conveyor belt of dangling toys hanging from the ceiling. 

The second part of our experience was story time and gingerbread decorating with Mother Christmas and her elves. She was so lovely – they ran out of spaces and she went and personally got S a placemat, a gingerbread man, some sweets and a chef’s hat. 

Finally we were let out into the Elf village which had an ice skating rink, a bauble shop, a post office (where we wrote a letter to Father Christmas), a restaurant, a souvenier shop and lots more. There was a juggler elf and a bauble elf. Although all the vendors accepted cards, you could opt to buy “Jingles” which is elf money. 1 Jingle = 1 £.

Finally, about an hour later, we strolled through the Winter Woodland to end our magical day with a meeting with the man himself, Father Christmas. S had been counting down the days to Lapland and was even really excited in the waiting area. But the minute the doors opened and Father Christmas bellowed out “S, I’ve been waiting for you” – he got really shy and hid behind me. We sat beside Father Christmas and he did really well considering S wasn’t responding to him that much. At Lapland they’d asked us for some information before we got there and using that, Father Christmas was able to engage S by talking about things he “knew” he liked – and it worked because S perked up wondering how he knew. All part of the magical experience!

What I loved about Lapland is just how enthusiastic they all are and the very obvious effort that has gone in to create this stunning place. The “snow” didn’t just sit on the trees you could see – look up and there was snow even right at the top. No parts of Lapland looked run down and none of the elves missed a beat. They were funny, warm and engaging with all the children. Apart from his bout of shyness at the end, S absolutely loved the experience and honestly, so did I. It definitely brought out my inner child and left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Now the Christmas spell has been cast, I hope S loves the season as much as I do.
Lapland UK is open from the 19th of November until the 24th of December. We were invited to visit Lapland UK as press but as always all thoughts and views are my own and unbiased.