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8 Nov

A while back, the lovely PR people from Keycamp asked me if we’d like a free holiday.  Of course I said yes, I mean you’d have to be daft not to wouldn’t you?  Where would you like to go they said.  Somewhere in the Autumn half term, not too cold, accessible by public transport, near a beach and with interesting things to do, I said.  Don’t want much do I?

They suggested Vilanova Parc, in Spain.  Not too far from Barcelona, twenty minutes from the beach by the regular bus service, local markets, five pools, a  jumping pillow and a junior disco.  Perfect I said, and off we went.

It was exactly what it said on the tin.  Apart from the weather, which was unseasonably cold, a fact I can’t blame on Keycamp.  The accommodation was spotlessly clean, had three bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, veranda, barbecue and a very welcome, welcome bottle of wine.  The Keycamp staff were cheerful, helpful and a constant source of swimming pool noodles, ping pong bats and snakes and ladders.  The parc was beautifully landscaped and maintained, had the advertised five pools, including, thankfully, one heated indoor one, two playgrounds, a restaurant at which we ate delicious rice with squid ink, and child friendly patatas bravas, a jumping pillow, a supermarket selling Dutch biscuits, and crazy golf.  Personally I think you can’t go wrong with crazy golf.

I’d never really stayed anywhere like that before.  I suppose it had similarities with some of the campsites in New Zealand and Australia, but they were a lot smaller.  This was as large as a small town, which meant I got lost a few times, but having an ATM, onsite medical help and a proper supermarket was something we never got in the Antipodes.  Mind you, in the Antipodes, we didn’t always have running water, but that’s another story.

The kids loved it and didn’t want to leave.  They made friends with other kids and sat swinging their legs on fences watching French boys smoking whilst playing football.  I can’t pretend I wasn’t faintly horrified, but that’s what holidays are all about when you are not quite a teenager.

And with the kids so busily occupied, I read three books in five days.  Result.


What we did on our holidays

8 Jun

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Do you remember Victoria Wood’s Val de Ree (Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha) with the estimable Celia Imrie?  It’s a while since I’ve seen it, but as I remember, Victoria and Celia hike for the best part of a day across moors to reach their bed for the night in an windswept and inaccessible Youth Hostel.  When they arrive, their greeting could be warmer.  They’re told that they’re not allowed in until evening, despite the driving rain, and they spend some time trying to outwit the formidable manager by sneaking round the back.  When they finally make it inside, they’re forced to listen to an interminable evening lecture whilst eating one, only one, biscuit, then they’re kicked out again at the crack of dawn.  It’s an experience they wish never to repeat.

I’m happy to report that if Youth Hostels were ever like that, and I suspect that Victoria Wood was using a little artistic license,  times have mercifully changed.  You can stay inside all day, should you wish, eat as many biscuits as you like and compulsory evening lectures are thankfully absent.

What you do get is a clean, well-appointed, en-suite family room, a large self-catering kitchen with everything you’d need, a common room with TV, books and board games, a small shop selling food and drinks, and real coffee for breakfast.  The staff are cheerful, helpful, and a mine of information about the local area.  Did I mention the real coffee?

When were offered the chance to review a Hostel over half term, we asked if we could stay in one that was by the seaside, close to London and accessible by public transport.  The nice people at YHA suggested their Eastbourne Hostel, which fitted the bill on all three counts, including the public transport, which isn’t always the case outside of London.  The Hostel is on the edge of the town, a short bus ride from the beach and pier, right next to the footpath for the South Downs Way, and a shortish – depending on the length of your legs – walk to Beachy Head.

We ate proper fish and chips in cafe with formica tables and straws for drinks; sheltered from the weather on the pier, feeding two pence pieces into slot machines and coming away at least a pound poorer; found interesting shells and paddled on the blustery beach; got thoroughly muddy sliding down a bank, in the late evening sun on the footpath just behind the hostel; looked at Jubilee related art and made up words in the fab Towner Art Gallery; played new-to-us boardgames and discovered that Steve’s knowledge of boy bands is more extensive than any of us thought; and kept our spirits up on the slightly damp and extremely blowy walk to Beachy Head with large quantities of very sticky rock and a rousing rendition of Val de Ree.

I like to think that Victoria Wood would approve.


If you’d like to stay in a YHA property during the summer holidays, click on the link below for a SPECIAL OFFER: £99 family rooms for 3 nights during the whole school holidays! Bookable until 12th June for stays from 7th July – 12th September.  OFFER CODE: FAMSTAY-027.  WEBSITE LINK:

We stayed for free for two nights at the Eastbourne YHA Hostel, where the manager makes very good coffee.  All views expressed are my own.

How much?

27 Mar

with a view like this, does it matter that the accommodation is a bit grotty?

I remember a conversation with a friend, many months ago, before we went on our trip, sitting on a park bench in the sunshine as our children climbed and swung and balanced on stuff.  If it’s not rude, she said, can I ask how you can afford all this, how much is it costing, must be at least a hundred thousand pounds.  I laughed.  She was imagining nine months of her type of holiday strung together, proper hotels next to the beach, taxis, meals in restaurants.  I won’t pretend a nine month holiday was cheap, but it wasn’t anything like as expensive as she was imagining.

We never stayed near the beach, except for when we camped.  We usually stayed four blocks back, in the highrise without a decent view, five to a slightly too small room with the youngest child on a lilo.  Or we stayed in the guesthouse at the far end of town, too quiet for most tourists, not close enough to the restaurants.  Or in the condo that was next to the beach, but the beach you couldn’t swim in because of the crocodiles.  Often our accommodation was slightly depressing, damp, cramped, with a whiff of the ageing surfer who chats up young blondes in the lift.  But we got to visit the same beaches as the people who’d spent a small fortune.  Got to see the same turtles.

We mostly didn’t eat in restaurants, except in Asia where they’re really cheap, instead we shopped in budget supermarkets and ate a lot of sandwiches.  I love food, and sometimes it was a bit sad that we weren’t eating as well as we could have, especially in Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.  But it was worth sacrificing a few decent meals for months of wonderful experiences. And we didn’t have the wardrobe for smart anyway.

We shared.  Shared meals, shared beds, shared train seats.  Nothing was wasted, or at least we tried.  We asked for deals, particularly for the children, and people often obliged.  We went in a helicopter, they went free. We rode elephants and camels, they rode half price. We didn’t do stuff that was too expensive, our bank managers thanked us.

Budget travel isn’t rocket science.  Spend your time on the internet comparing prices, book everything yourself rather than through a travel agent, ask for discounts, share your chips.  It’s often deeply unglamorous, but it’s always worth it.


Glebe Point Road

5 Feb

I knew nothing about Glebe when I booked our Sydney flat.  The Lonely Planet described it as Bohemian and full of  bookshops, and there’s an outdoor olympic pool at the end of the road.  So Glebe it was.

It’s been the perfect place to stay in this beautiful city.  Central, but not high rise, good facilities but few chain stores, and the aforementioned pool has become our second home.  It’s slightly scruffy, but then so are we.

Glebe Point Road, our road, couldn’t be any more perfect if it tried.  Every third shop is a coffee shop, but there’s not a Starbucks in sight.  There are independent bookshops, one of which is rather brilliantly called Gleebooks, with helpful staff who ferret out children’s books about Ned Kelly.  There are second hand clothes shops, proper bakers that make fig and walnut bread, a plumeria scented plant shop with resident rainbow lorikeets.

The Turkish restaurant over the road has belly dancing some nights, alternating with live jazz on others at the French restaurant next door.  We may not be able to go out in the evenings, but with windows wide open to catch every wisp of available breeze, we can pretend that we’re there.

The local residents are a colourful bunch.  On the side streets, the verandas of little terraced cottages with their filigree railings, act as alfresco art galleries displaying sculptures of found objects.  Hungover students sit on benches outside their houses sipping Berocca and squinting into the harsh morning light.  Young men wander down the road, second hand book about wild mushrooms under their arms, strumming guitars.  As you do.

After almost three months of suburbs and countryside, Glebe has done my city-dweller’s soul a power of good.  It’s my kind of place.

Welcome to your new home

25 Jan

Glentanner Holiday Park, Mount Cook

Booking accomodation on the internet can be a risky business.  You never know quite what you’re going to get.

If you don’t know anything about the area, trying to work out the location is tricky.  The house that we thought was in Hilo, a Hawaiian coastal town, was actually miles and miles inland, right in the middle of the jungle.  But it was a great house and the nightly cacophany of tree frogs was an experience I’m glad I didn’t miss.  Could have lived without the pesky mosquitos though.

You’re also never sure what you’re going to get accomodation-wise.  Our very first room in Anaheim was huge, with comfortable beds and no extra charge for a bed for Dickon.  In Waikiki, we thought we were getting something very similar, but it was cramped, the beds were horrible and they wanted to charge us $25 a night for a camp bed.  Considering we were only paying about $75 for the room, this seemed a bit steep.  So we bought him a $3 lilo.  It was only a little bit squeaky.

Some places have had a palatial two bedrooms as well as kitchens, bathrooms and other such marvels.  Others have had one bedroom and a living room, with extra matresses fitted in here and there.  We’ve had hotel rooms with balconies, detached houses in large gardens, one room cabins with three bunk beds and nothing else.  We’ve yet to sleep in a tent, but it’s only a matter of time.

When we arrive in a place, the first thing we do is check out the facilities.  Is there internet and is it free?  This is obviously extremely important indeed.  Once we’ve established there’s free wifi or wept over the outrageous charges, we move onto counting beds, if there isn’t one each, then we improvise (see above).  Where are the washing machines and how much do they cost?  Are there saucepans in the kitchen?  Has anyone left any children’s books behind? Is there a playground nearby and does the TV work?  And where can we buy milk, cereal and ice cream?

There’s no doubt that some of the places we’ve stayed have been nicer than others, but nowhere’s been without redeeming features.  I could have certainly done without traipsing across a drizzly carpark to the loo in Mount Cook, but the view was absolutely stunning (see pic above), and the stars outstanding.  And while nowhere’s been too bad, some places have been altogether lovely.  Our current flat is above a junk shop in a quirky street full of bookshops and cafes. It’s furnished with an electic assortment of stock from the shop and is a light-filled gem.  It feels like exactly the right place to be in Sydney.

Three months in and we’ve slept in 18 different places.  I wonder how many more places we’ll call home?


If you want to see a picture of everywhere we’ve stayed, click on Home Sweet Home.