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The hills are alive

12 Oct

So this week’s Gallery theme is ‘favourite photo’.  Every week someone moans about how hard the theme is.  Every week, I find it really easy to choose something.  But favourite photo, that’s properly hard.  How on earth am I supposed to pick just one photo?  I have thousands of them.  Literally.  I have bulging cupboards full of slides, prints and negatives.  I have have so many digital pictures my laptop threatened to explode, and they are now busy filling up a portable hard drive.  How on earth do I narrow it down?  It’s too hard.

So I’ve cheated.  I’ve chosen our favourite holiday, last summer in Switzerland.  Switzerland was like every cliche I’ve ever known.  In a good way.  It was perfect.  We climbed mountains, ate chocolate and swam in lakes.  We looked at the horizon.  And I took photos.

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Splish splash splosh

8 Feb

I’m hot, sticky and tired.  We’ve been walking through the jungle in Northern Queensland for about an hour, stumbling over knotted roots on the surface of the forest floor, brushing past trailing vines and avoiding green biting ants as they munch on foliage overhead.

We hear the rushing of water as we emerge out of the dappled sunlight into a clearing and see a rocky pool at the base of a long, narrow waterfall.  “We’ll stop for a few minutes if you want to swim, but I warn you, it’s cold” says our Crocodile-Dundee-a-like guide.  I considered myself part fish as a child, so it’s an invitation I can’t refuse.

The rocky edge of the pool goes straight down some way, making the water too deep to see to the bottom.  I jump straight in, like an arrow and surface, gasping for breath.  The water is gaspingly, skin numbingly, can’t stay in too long or you’ll drown cold.  I can feel my body seizing up as I try to gulp air into my freezing lungs, but I am hooked.  I’ll never forget my first swim in a natural pool.

Since that day, almost 20 years ago, swimming in an indoor pool has lost its allure and I swim outdoors whenever I can.  We don’t get many opportunities in Britain, although the Serpentine Lido is pretty memorable.  But on a snowy February London day, swimming in Hyde Park or Lake Walensee in Switzerland seems like a distant dream.

This time next year, we will be back in Australia and I can’t wait to plunge into the many beautiful, sandy, clear, sparkling pools that are found across the continent.  Being Australia, humans are not the only creatures which enjoy these natural wonders.  I’ll try to avoid feeding the children to crocodiles.

This post was written for Mara at Mother of All Trips and her ‘Monday’s are for Dreaming’ slot.

Gurning

29 Jan

I’ve been feeling rather January-blueish this week. I’m hoping that it won’t translate into February blues, but given the current relentlessly cold, wet weather and the fact that it will be February in Britain, things aren’t looking good. It feels like a very long time until 1st November, a very long time filled with lots of boring adminy type of things to do. It also feels a very long time since August and our fabulous trip to Switzerland. In an effort to snap myself out of it, I had a look through my Swiss photos and came across the above.

I only wish we’d bought some of those cards. I could have used them to paper the downstairs loo.

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. For lovely travel pictures, click here

5 highlights of 2009

8 Jan

The lovely Kelly at A Place of My Own has tagged me, asking me to write about my 5 highlights of last year.

2009 was a good year in our family.  No huge revelations or major excitements, but it felt like we finally made it out of the long dark baby tunnel into a new and exciting world of pre-schoolers and school age children.  We got out and about, we ventured abroad, and we washed a lot of pants.  So, without further ado, my first hightlight is…

Getting enough sleep

Many years ago I was a nanny for a brief period, including caring for a newborn baby boy.  He was a ‘good’ baby, who drank his bottles when he was supposed to, slept well and rarely cried.  It was a piece of cake.  So I thought I knew what I was doing when Eve came along.  After about 10 minutes, it became abundantly clear that I was as clueless as every other new mother.  Add in a few sleepless nights and I realised that I had been deeply deluded about caring for newborns.  Nothing, but nothing, is a piece of cake when you don’t get your full eight hours.  I kept thinking, ‘if I could just get four hours, five hours, six hours without being woken, I’ll feel better’.  It took me many months to accept that I would never sleep in the same way again and for the six years that I had newborns, teethers, growth spurters and early wakers I stumbled through the days in a fog of scratchy eyes and memory loss.  2009 was different.  Gradually, without my noticing, all my children started to regularly sleep through the night and regularly wake at about 7am.  I feel different, in a good way.

Starting  a blog

After two years of reading other people’s travel blogs, I finally took the plunge in February last year.  I have enjoyed it more than I could have ever predicted.  It has become an almost daily pleasure, writing, tinkering, thinking about my blog.  It’s re-ignited an old love of words and I hope that one day I can do something more with it.

Our first camping trip

I am a fair weather camper.  I really, really don’t like being cold or wet and I’m not too good at sleeping on the ground.  As we have not been anywhere warm, like Australia, in the last 8 years, the children have never been camping.  Until this summer, when we spent a gorgeous, but perishingly cold night in a field in North Yorkshire.  We splashed in the stream, built a huge, smoky, eye-stinging campfire, toasted marshmallows and told ghost stories.  I hope we can recreate the experience on our trip, but with warmer weather and hammocks.

Switzerland

Last summer we had the most yodellingly fantastic holiday in Switzerland, a country I have always suspected might be right up my street.  Every cliched view I had previously held was blissfully right and we spent two weeks enjoying a soundtrack of clanking cow bells whilst hiking through flower-filled meadows, marvelling at the efficiency of their trains, swimming in lakes with picture postcard backdrops and eating a Matterhorn of cheese and chocolate.  For a rash of posts and some gorgeous photos (if I do say so myself) click on Switzerland in the category cloud on the right.

Catching crabs

2009 was the year I learnt how to catch a crab.  Goodness knows how I’ve survived so long without this knowledge, but I now feel confident in any crab catching situation.  It was a lot of fun.

The Heidi Haus

27 Sep

running in the meadow near Heidi house 2 by you.

It was Heidi who decided our Swiss itinerary.  French speaking Switzerland was never on our wish list, it sounds just too French.  As far as we were concerned, the REAL Switzerland was the home of taciturn goat herds, German speakers eating large sausages and little girls who live with their grumpy grandfathers.  When we discovered that you can visit ‘Heidi’s house’ and the village of Dorfli, we knew that we had a plan.

Of course Heidi is a fictional character and Dorfli is kitchen Heidi house 1a fictional village, so the Lonely Planet is very scathing about the whole operation, claiming it’s a shameless marketing exercise.  But having grown up watching the dubbed TV series and loving the books about the happy little girl who adores the mountains and her hermit grandfather, and having read Heidi to Eve, we had to go.  It’s obvious that the Lonely Planet writer doesn’t know any small children, as it turned out to be one of the highlights of our holiday.

Joanna Spyri, the author, often visited the small town of Maienfeld at the base of the Falkniss mountain and created Dorfli in this real setting.  The inhabitants of a small hamlet up the mountain from Maienfeld have turned some old farm buildings into ‘Heidi’s house’ and a shop, with a small children’s farm and a fountain completing the little village square.  

children and goat 5 by you.

After feeding the friendly (ok, greedy) goats, we entered the house on the ground floor, going straight into the cool, dark, food store with shelves of cheese presses and sacks of potatoes.  Local villagers have donated artifacts which furnish the house, and give you an insight into 19th Century Alpine life.  The very best thing about Heidi’s house, is that you are allowed to touch EVERYTHING, infact it is positively kitchen Heidi house 4encouraged.  So we dressed up, chopped wood, tried out the beds, stoked the range, churned butter, dried apples, washed clothes and generally had a fabulous time.   After thoroughly testing the contents of the house and discovering that the axe was actually a real axe and look, it’s not glued down, we headed outside before we lost any fingers (I could digress here about how Switzerland is incredibly safe, yet strangely unconcerned with health and safety, but I won’t). 

After the Heidi house, you can do the Heidi hike up to the Alm Uncle’s hut and Heidi’s pasture.  We started walking up the incredibly steep mountain path which is cut through the towering pines and switches back every hundred metres or so.  At each switchback there is a water fountain where we filled our bottles with freezing cold, sweet mountain spring water and a board featuring a different aspect of the Heidi story.  These were helpful in encouraging the children upwards, but after stopping for a picnic lunch and Heidi's bedroomcajoling the children for the best part of 45 minutes, we realised that we had rather depressingly only covered about 200m.  The path was so steep and our walk from the railway station to the house so long, that we realised the boys would never make it in one piece and decided to split up.  Steve and the boys played in the beautiful meadow pictured at the top of the post while Eve and I climbed ever higher in search of  Peter’s hut and a glimpse of the Alm Uncle, a real bearded goatherd recruited by the tourist office to look picturesque outside a suitable hut with his goats.  An hour later we made it to Peter’s hut, which according to the map was only half way to the meadow, so we celebrated with an ice cream and headed back down.  That’s the disadvantage of climbing mountains with small children, mountains are really steep and children’s legs are really short.

 The area around Maienfeld has been dubbed ‘Heidiland’ by the local Heidi and Petertourist board, and at times the Heidi branding can get a little cloying.  There’s a stupendously ugly Heidi hotel and conference centre (why?), the only truly ugly buildings we saw in two weeks, Heidi mineral water, Heidi wine,  Heidi dried meat (quite nice actually!) and more.  But all the tackiness that the Lonely Planet is so rude about doesn’t detract from the Heidi house, which was charming, informative and one of the most child-friendly museums I’ve ever been to.  Apart from the axe.

kitchen Heidi house 3 by you.

The trial run

19 Sep

Our recent holiday in Switzerland was the nearest we are going to get to a trial run before we embark on our round the world trip.  It’s hard to replicate the experience of long term travel without actually doing it, but we tried to replicate other things, such as only using public transport and moving around every few days.  And as trial runs go, it was pretty encouraging.  Here is what I learnt:

Packing

  • We packed about the right amount of stuff and used most of it.  Steve DSC_0861had his old 65l Berghaus pack and I had a 40l North Face women’s pack.  The boys had little packs (about 15l I think) and Eve had her school backpack which is 20l Berghaus day pack.  The two bigger bags had some spare space.  We also had an extra food bag for the daily picnic, which was one bag too many.  However we had to take a travel potty this time, which filled up Dickon’s bag, so hopefully next year we can reduce our luggage down to one bag each, which would be a big help on travel days.
  • The children were really good DSC_0839about carrying their backpacks and walking everywhere.  We took the buggy with us for Dickon, which we won’t next year, and it did get used (by Ned too on occasion), but Eve and Ned walked some pretty long distances. 
  • On the clothes front, the adults had four tops and three bottoms each and the children five tops and four bottoms, which was surprisingly one outfit too many.  Most of the washing was done by hand in the bathroom sink, or in the shower, so I washed anything dirty every evening.  Dickon had about six outfits which he needed as he kept weeing in them, but I sincerely hope he will not need so many next year.  We also lowered our standards on what constituted clean, unlike at home where things get chucked in the wash basket at the end of every day.  I think three outfits each will be plenty, supplemented with new T-shirts every so often.
  • Our clothes were all different colours, so when we had access to a washing machine, we could only wash a fraction on our wardrobe at once.  I think it’s worth trying to colour coordinate our wardrobes, so if we come across a washing machine, we can bung the whole lot in.  Perhaps we could go the whole hog and get outfits printed in Disneyland saying ‘King family world tour’.  We wouldn’t look in the least bit silly.
  • We took less electronics this time than we will next year, but hopefully a small notebook and possibly an ebook and DS won’t take up too much space.  I took five reading books and a guidebook this time.  If I got an ebook this could be reduced down to a couple of books.  
  • This time we had a whole pack of nappies (for nighttime) which took up a lot of space.  Hopefully we won’t need those next year, although I’m not sure.  Ned is a very heavy sleeper and we are struggling to get him to stay dry at night.  We might have to use washable nappies or another option to reduce the bulk of a full pack of disposables. 
  • For warmth, I packed thermal underwear (tops and bottoms) for everyone.  We also had a fleece each and a thin raincoat.  This worked well, although we didn’t make much use of the thermals, only having one day that was cold and one trip above 2,000m.  I would still take them Pizol view 1next time as they don’t take up much space and I think they’ll be useful for camping in Australia and NZ, which can be cold at night and also useful for visiting glaciers in NZ.  We’d probably post them home when we get to South East Asia as we’ll be there at the steamiest time of year.
  • The travel washing line got used most days, as did the headlamps, travel clock, earplugs, teddies and toys.  The only thing which didn’t get much use, apart from the thermals, was the first aid kit.  Which is no bad thing.
  • We lost three quite expensive things, which was really annoying.  Both pairs of swimming goggles were a victim of Dickon’s Sportacus obsession.  They were worn frequently, including to breakfast, but strangely enough, not when he was swimming.  Both pairs got taken off and left somewhere near a swimming pool, never to be found again.  We also lost a headlamp, which I think was a victim of its own attractiveness.  The children loved playing with them and probably put one somewhere obscure, which I missed when packing.  If we are away for nine months, we need to be more careful with our stuff, or our whole budget will be spent replacing things.

 Accommodation

  • We stayed in four hotels and one flat in Our house in Bad RagazSwitzerland.  The flat was great, and it was nice staying in a place for a week, having access to a big garden and cooking for ourselves.  The children particularly enjoyed the chance to settle in somewhere.  The downside was that they kept breaking the little nicknacks and we spent a lot of time tidying, cleaning, and moving breakable objects to high shelves.
  • The hotels were all at the cheaper, guesthouse, end of the market, but clean, comfortable, and with less things to break.  This suited us very well.  Two of them had one room with five beds, the smartest had two connecting rooms with two beds each.  In the latter, they were very happy to provide us with an extra mattress.  They were all very friendly, with amazing breakfasts.  One had a playroom stuffed full of toys, and another had a tiny garden with a slide and other play equipment.
  • Our biggest issue with all sharing a room was getting everyone to go to sleep at night.  Our children are normally pretty good at going to bed in their own rooms, but the novelty of us being together made them a bit more excitable.  By about the third night, Eve and Ned were settling well, but Dickon was still leaping out of bed every 10 seconds for the table football, hotel Sonnenhaldebest part of an hour.  He was thrilled to find that hotels all have light switches right by the beds and made the most of this discovery.  The very latest we got them all to bed was about 9.30 on our first night, which if you take the one hour time change into account isn’t bad.  And they mostly slept through the night and woke up at a reasonable hour (after 6am, which those of you with small children will know could be a lot worse).  Having suffered many sleep traumas when away from home over the years, I was reassured that things are improving.  And again, Dickon will be a year older when we leave for our round the world trip, and hopefully a little calmer.  Although writing this, I feel sad that I’m wishing his bonkers toddlerhood away.
  • We used the ipod to keep Eve entertained when the boys were asleep.  She loved listening to audio books or podcasts and it kept her quiet and in bed.
  • One advantage of us all sharing was that Steve and I got lots of sleep.  Once the children were settled, I’d read with my headlamp for an hour or two.  Steve, who’s never good at staying up late at the best of times was usually asleep BEFORE the children, and had to be nudged frequently when his snoring gave them the giggles.

Food

  • When staying in hotels, we started our day with a huge breakfast of bread, cereal, boiled eggs, ham, cheese, yoghurt and fruit.  We’d then wrap up a few rolls, some ham, cheese and the odd egg for our lunch.  Eve insisted on carrying the rolls, imagining herself as Heidi saving rolls for the grandmother.
  • The food we’d taken from breakfast in good budget traveller style, formed the basis of our daily picnic lunch.  We supplemented this with fruit, cherry tomatoes, crisps and acres of chocolate.
  • rosti
  • In the evenings, we’d head to one of the lovely, atmospheric, restaurants with cow bells in the window, for a rib sticking meal of rosti, sausage or schniztel and macaroni cheese.  We’d usually order three main courses and a couple of extra plates, which meant that the children could try a little of everything and we didn’t waste food.
  • When we stayed in the flat, we all enjoyed going to the supermarket to choose our food.  After four days of eating only in hotels, we were happy to cook almost entirely for ourselves, eating only once in a restaurant and sometimes supplementing our picnic lunches at the swimming pool with sausages and chips bought from the kiosk.  Chips aside, it was a lot easier to eat healthily when we were self catering, as the type of restaurants we were visiting didn’t seem to provide any vegetables that weren’t smothered in a creamy dressing.

Travelling

  • Eve waiting for the trainWe all adapted surprisingly well to the actual travelling.  I’ve always been nervous of journeys after surviving some shockers over the years, but despite using public transport almost every day, it all went really smoothly.  A lot of that must be down to Switzerland’s fabulous transport systems, but the children were also very patient about the inevitable waiting for trains  and buses and on the trains themselves.  They would happily spent half an hour playing with the inevitable water fountain and their water pistols.
  • They were also really good filling up the water pistolwhen it came to changing trains, or transferring onto buses.  A lot of our journeys were really bitty, with the worst being three trains and a bus in the space of half an hour.  They weren’t in the least bit fazed by the constant jumping on and off and running along platforms, with their parents yelling ‘COME ON’ like characters from the Fast Show.
  • We kept up quite a pace on this holiday, and at the end of two weeks we were all pretty tired.  One of the reasons we are doing a long trip is so that we can take things slowly.  It’s always tempting to fit in as much as possible, especially if you think you may never go back to a place, but it’s important for everyone to take a breather now and then.  So we’ll plan to have a week at a beach every so often, and the odd morning watching DVD’s at the hotel.

We had a great holiday and I now feel less nervous about our upcoming round the world trip.  There was a little bit of me that was wondering whether we’d survive sharing rooms, carrying all our stuff and being together all the time.  It wasn’t always perfect, but life isn’t, and I now know that we’ll be fine.  We might even enjoy it!

Not better, not worse, just different

18 Sep

CNV00006

When we visited Japan ten years ago, we didn’t have children.  We had the most fabulous holiday visiting temples, hiking, being amazed by Tokyo’s sheer verve and whiling away evenings in cosy izakaya’s (Japan’s answer to the pub).  When I came across this picture I took of an izakaya one evening, it got me thinking about the differences between travel with and without children.  On our next trip to Japan, I doubt we’ll be whiling away many evenings in tiny, smoky bars, with drunken salarymen for company.  But I’m sure we’ll discover things that we wouldn’t have dreamt of on our last trip.

In Switzerland our ‘evenings out’ consisted of a rosti with cheese and egg in the town square cafe at 6pm, with the children running about playing with their water pistols.  I would have loved to visit a cosy wood panelled bar for a beer later on, but it wasn’t to be.  On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have learnt the German for pirate ship (Piratenschiff, incase you’re wondering) if I hadn’t been with my boys, and I would certainly have missed out on the most scenic playgrounds in the world, talking to grannies, stroking cows, goats and dogs, amazing swimming pools and visiting Chur’s beautiful natural history museum.

Like everything else to do with parenthood, travelling with children will never be the same as travelling without them.   But I know that exploring the world with them will be an adventure.  I wonder what the Japanese is for pirate ship?

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. For more lovely travel pictures, click here