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Day out: Dartmouth Castle

14 Oct

Another place on my list: Dartmouth.  Somewhere in the bloggy mists I’ve mentioned that we once lived in Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College.  So a visit to the original Dartmouth in Devon was a must-do.  Without much time to visit, we made good use of our English Heritage pass and spent the afternoon at Dartmouth Castle.

Dartmouth was an interesting maritime town — traffic back and forth through town includes a ferry ride!  The Britannia Royal Naval College is in the background.

IMG_3988edA crazy-making drive through small winding streets brings to mind the tight quarters of a ship.  Even the cemetery slides up and down hills and holds tight where it can.

IMG_3990edThe parish church by the Castle has a simple ship-shape elegance.

IMG_4006edWithin the Castle, one can tour the original battlements, set to defend the mouth of the Dart.

IMG_4030edInside and out, there’s not an overwhelming amount to explore, but it is all well preserved and there are many kid-friendly touch-and-learn stations for extra enrichment, and benches for tired parents to sit while the kids run up and down … and up and down … and up and down …  (You might want to download and print ahead the Step Inside guide.)

IMG_4014edThere’s a pretty-ish view of Dartmouth from here, as well.

IMG_4028edIt’s a beautiful place to indulge in dreams of pirates.

IMG_4021edThe water is an amazing green, due to the limestone in the area. (I believe.)

IMG_4022edaIf only there were a bit of sun, you might believe you were in the Caribbean.

IMG_4043edA beautiful cove facing the Channel, where I like to imagine mermaids and smugglers sneaking in past the guards sitting bored in their towers above.  This used to be a public swimming beach, and remains of the former swim platform are visible on the lower left of this photo.  This day, we got to spend uncrowded moments sorting through the rocks for shells and listening to the waves.

IMG_20140901_143313edCream tea and sandwiches at the nearby Castle Tea Room were surprisingly good.  But our best souvenirs were dainty small shells and a final English Heritage guidebook to add to our collection.

London postcard

18 Mar

Oh, I’m having trouble.  Either the weather is great, so I want to be outside and away from the blog and not do anything but enjoy the sunshine.  Or the weather is horrible, and I want to hibernate in front of the fire and not do anything but wish for sunshine.  But somewhere in there we made a long weekend visit to London and saw some sights.  We haven’t been to London with the kids since February two years ago, when we went up the London Eye and on a Duck Tour.  This year, we got some sunshine, which transformed the city into something beautiful.


Boat tour on the Thames.IMG_1975ed

Trafalgar Square … in the sun!  This was the first time I’ve ever visited London in the sunshine.  I wasn’t sure it was possible.  IMG_2000ed

Parliament, Big Ben, that London Eye.IMG_2060ed

There are so many iconic photos of the Tower of London, I’m just not even going to try.  Almost all of my photos from this trip look identical to the ones I took nearly twenty years ago when I first visited London.  For this trip, we stayed in a hotel nearby and walked over in the evening to see the Tower lit up … arrived early one morning for our visit … did all the usual things.  By getting there early and going straight to the Crown Jewels, we were able to go round the jewels three times, with no crowds.  Dropped in and out of the Beefeater tours and wandered to our hearts content.  As our trip was timed during the national school holidays, we also were able to enjoy many extra activities (think costuming and faux executions).IMG_2131edThe British Museum.  My children, world-weary travelers, decided it was not as impressive as the Louvre. (Paris postcard.)  Ahem.  

IMG_2219edBehind the scenes at Tower Bridge, in the engine room exhibit.  Might make a steam-punk-y sort of blog post about that visit.  Pretty cool.

IMG_2297edFor reasons unknown but likely connected to movie marketing, Mjölnir appeared in Greenwich.

IMG_2303edThe National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is impressive, and a big kid favorite.

20140218_142056edView from the Royal Observatory.

20140218_143851edFound our first daffodils of the year in Greenwich.  I super-thumbs-up recommend Greenwich as a green and calm respite from London hurly-burly.

And that was it!  Or at least all the photos worth bothering to share.  I can’t possibly give you the character of London from these few photos and our few visits.  However, I came home and read through a series recommended by thebookgator (first review here: A Madness of Angels) that reveals a living geography of London through strongly written vignettes of color, sound, taste, smell, and rhythm.  (With, you know, magic and murder thrown in.)  When I’m hibernating — or reading in the sunshine — it’s a fun way to remember the feel of life in London.

Crumpets Cross the Channel (again): Disneyland Paris

17 Sep

Bear with me.  It’s not an England post; it’s not whinging about school life; it’s not a new recipe (although that oat flour pancake recipe is turning out to be pretty popular); it’s not even a useful review of visiting Disneyland Paris — BUT — we did visit Disney Paris, our first family trip to any of the Disney parks, on the final long weekend of the summer before the start of school.  And we had a great time.  If you don’t want to be cornered into checking out a few photos from my wallet (so to speak), bail out now.  Maybe check out that Cotswold Drive post again, and wait for the next post coming up (in the works: National Trust’s Croome Court).  Still here?  Okay, here we go:

We’ve been on the Chunnel train so many times, it is almost boring.  HA!  Not boring!  I LOVE IT.


This trip, instead of the bocage or beautiful Paris, we entered the heady alternate universe of Disneyland Paris.IMG_0091e

I don’t remember Paris looking quite like that, but … ooooookaaaaay.

As I mentioned, this was our first visit to any of the Disney parks (insert astounded Brit commentary — “Never?  And you’re American?”).  The park does not disappoint, with non-stop photo-ops.


Walt Disney Studios, adjacent to Disneyland Paris, has a truly disconcerting American-esque look.  If I had not had a lovely frenchwoman pass me croissants and baguettes with Nutella for my petit-dej that morning, I might have wondered in what country I had landed.

We stayed at one of the Disney hotels — the Davy Crockett Ranch.  Recommended for families greater than four, especially ones who have decided that all of the American West looks like a scene from Bonanza or Seven Brides for Seven BrothersIMG_0150e

There was a bar-b-que on the night we arrived.  Pony rides past those big green doors in the background.  Pluto and Robin Hood stopped by. There’s a massive pool with a multi-story slide.  It was awesome.IMG_0022e

The cabins are — again weirdly — very similar to cabins you might find in a National Park.  With room for six, two bathrooms, a decent kitchen and dining area plus an outdoor patio, it suited us just fine.20130901_125930

We navigated the meal plan options and found one that worked — but splurged one day for the ridiculous brunch buffet at “Inventions” in the Disneyland Hotel proper.  And met a dozen more Disney characters.  I may have cried when I met Minnie Mouse.  (Okay, fine, I did cry.)IMG_0366e

One of the many food options inside the park.  This one … just … was absurd.  We did not eat here.  But I’m sure it was “So very British!”20130901_203839

As the park drifted into twilight and then evening, the lights turned the whole scene into something even more magical.IMG_0190e

The Mad Hatter may have been our favorite ride — at night I loved it even more.IMG_0179e

The Dumbo ride felt surreal — especially after waiting in line for over an hour.IMG_0249e

One advantage of staying in a Disney hotel is getting in to the park two hours before regular opening.  Even that early, the park doesn’t feel empty.IMG_0301e

You can see the floats as they dance out of their hiding places for the morning parade.IMG_0266e

Or wait FIVE MINUTES to get on Space Mountain.  The whole of that five minutes was the time I spent walking from this signpost to the ride.  No line.  No line at all.IMG_0304e

Tigger.  My old nemesis.  I have a photo of myself as a very young child, in my only other visit to Disney, being terrified of the mid 1970s incarnation of this larger-than-life stuffed tiger.  He haunted my dreams.  You no longer have the power to destroy me, Tigger.  But, ummmmm, let’s keep walking.  Before he gets too close.IMG_0369e

Oh, are you looking at me, Jack?  Over here, just a little to the right.IMG_0374eI have a place we could go.  Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. 


20 May

Ah, hello again, dear blog.  I haven’t been in the mood for you, recently.  Still not, much.  So here are a very few photos from a quick trip up to the Shakespeare Houses in between my visits back to the US.  I needed a ‘normal’ family outing to somewhere beautiful in our corner of England, and we found it.


The newest wicker sculpture at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.  (See earlier sculptures here.)


And peeking at it again, over beds of tulips.


And one of the newest residents at Mary Arden’s Farm, a Tamworth piglet with CURLY RED HAIR!

IMG_5807Hello, I am the most adorable piglet on earth, and I will cheer you up.

Paris postcard

12 Apr

Imagine everything you ever liked about any city you ever lived in: that’s Paris.  Other people have written about it better, in more detail, and taken better photos than I ever will, so I’m not going to do a multi-series of posts.  This is it.  Your postcard from Paris.  Need a guide?  Rick Steves does a bang-up job.


Petit déjeuner at Cafe le Nemours

Our options for reaching Paris were train (expensive!), plane (expensive!) and driving (comparatively reasonable!).  Hotel rooms for a family of five are hard to find at a rational price, so we rented a flat.  Hands down, when traveling with children, I recommend renting a flat or a cottage rather than staying in a hotel.  Paris is no exception, and finding a flat over a boulangerie in the 1ere arrondissement just steps from the Louvre?  With a kitchenette and a washer?!  That was heaven.  (We used My Paris Visit.)


Louvre at night

I found Paris a family-friendly city.  There are parks, playgrounds, tons of open space, always something to see, and always someplace to eat.  And kids enter free at most museums.  A contrast to England, where I still don’t understand how families can travel around and enjoy any of the national treasures here – everything costs, everything costs a lot, and everything works off a different pass — National Trust, English Heritage, networks of grand houses, individual gardens charging separate pricing.  Some days it feels like the only thing free in England is walking.


Behind a clock, at the Musée d’Orsay

The weather was chilly in Paris, as it has been everywhere in this year’s seemingly endless winter.  But … winter in Paris is still better than anything anywhere else.  Probably.  Snow at the Eiffel Tower and the top of Notre Dame did not deter us.

There's always hot chocolate

There’s always hot chocolate

A wonderful week away and a bittersweet return to home-which-is-not-home.  If you need me, I’ll be trying to scratch-and-sniff photos of croissants while eating the last of the easter chocolates.

Day out: Horseworld

31 Mar

More from the summer archives.  Horseworld is an equine rescue and rehabilitation center located in Bristol.  I’m not sure how I heard about it, but it seemed like a fun day out for my horse-loving girls.  Getting there was a job for the satnav, and the eight acres of the center sit right in the middle of a residential area in Bristol.  I think my kids thought it was a trick — horses, in the middle of someone’s neighborhood?


The “d” was having a problem on the day we visited.  IMG_0064

Past the entry and the gift shop, a series of barns hold various exhibits, some interactive, some heartbreaking, like this before and after photo of one of the rescue horses.IMG_0077

Kids have the chance to clear a stable.  (Not really dirty, thank goodness.)IMG_0079

See some cute animals.IMG_0082

If a keeper is around, you can pet the bunnies.IMG_0095

There are big signs out by all the donkeys, warning that they would love nothing better than to bite your hands off.  But they look so sweet.  These poor animals are also rescues.IMG_0141

It’s lovely to see the animals with space to enjoy their new or newly developing health.IMG_0123

Depending on the time of day, animals may be in stalls or moved about to different paddocks.IMG_0136

There’s lots too do for kids, including a small tractor ride.IMG_0125

And two massive slides.IMG_0112

And an outdoor play area between some of the paddocks.  There are picnic tables and a covered restaurant, as well.IMG_0148Some of the information placards may feel a bit intense for younger children.  Some of these horses have been through terrible abuse or neglect.  But it’s heartening to see how much can be done to make life good again for these horses, ponies, and donkeys.  It’s not slick or fancy, and you get the sense that any and all donations are not just gratefully accepted but truly needed.  Definitely worth a visit for the lesson in ethical and humane behaviors alone, and with space to play, explore, and eat, an easy day out for children.


Camembert au Calvados

22 Feb

Oui, oui!  For a far-too-quick week, this crumpet turned into a dairy product and roved the countryside of Basse-Normandie.  (Yes, I turned in to a cheese.  I love cheese.)  Following the model that served us well when we visited Skye last year (start here to read those posts), we set our base in a quiet holiday cottage in the middle of the Calvados area of Normandy and went out in various directions for day trips throughout the week — with a hefty dose of taking it easy, listening to birdsong, and eating local food mixed in.


I found this cottage online through tripadvisor and liked the look of it.  It’s always a bit of a leap when you book a holiday cottage — gites when you’re in france — but overall I think we lucked out.


Our hosts left wine, bread and milk for us, which was a welcome sight after a long drive down from Calais.  We came over on the Chunnel, which I was almost giddily excited about.  At first we weren’t sure how to navigate the boarding area, but:


We just followed our noses to the platform.


Which was pretty amazing — the Chunnel is fast, simple, and the least expensive path to France from the UK if you are bringing over your own vehicle.  It was like getting on the DC Metro — if you could drive your car on to the Metro.


Youngest was disappointed in the chunnel — she had imagined it would be a glassed tunnel and various fish and seals would swim around us.  That visit to the Bristol Zoo made a strong impression.

The drive from Calais in to the Normandy region is not to be underestimated.


Especially if it snows (!) on the way.

Our first morning we spent being thankful we made it through the storm to our cozy cottage, and enjoying some walks around the property.


We were deep in the bocage.


The area is known for turfed agricultural borders and deep ditches, which — at least at this time of year — are filled with fast-flowing water.


And very distinctive mud.


It’s rural, is what I’m saying to you.  Very, very rural.


We visited Bayeux and the Bayeux Tapestry, Mont-St-Michel, the D-Day beaches, Caen, Vire (our ‘local’ large town) and the Vire Valley.  After a good long nap, I’ll get those photos together and enjoy revisiting with you.


PS – You didn’t think I’d go to France and NOT take a photo of the village recycling point, did you?  Of course not.


You’re welcome.