Leaf and Stone Sintra Portugal

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For the children these small towers were castles and keeps with high walls and prwling Orcs. They became knights and princesses. Attackers and besiegers. A place for them to run in full imaginative flow and playful fun. Better than any amusement park as they gave vent to their imaginations. Wonderful.

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Natural History Museum London Town

Opened in 1881, but dating back as an idea to  to 1753, this is ‘the’ museum for children of all ages. A hop and skip from South Kensington or Gloucester Road tube stations’ means it is also easy for even the most directionally challenged people to find! I speak from first hand experience of this debilitating sydrome. The exhibits cover such a wide range that is simply too much to take in on one visit. The architecture itself is also a delight and it well worth to take time out from the exhibits to lets your eyes run over every nook and cranny. The icing on the cake is that admission is free. What more do you want?

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Headin’ North, Oars in the Rowlocks!

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Plans upon plans. This summer, after driving to Germany, The South of France for Arles, Aix-En Provence, The Camargue and the Mediterranean, then  burrowing underground in Polish gold mines, finders keepers, we are headin’ north. Up to Gdansk which is a great town and worth a visit in its own right,  or to be more accurate Gdynia, for a ferry to Karlsrona in Sweden.

The first idea was to place the ‘oars in the rollocks’ and chain me to a Viking Longship bench. However with the car, children and four bikes along with enough logistics to land a marine expeditionary force, we have decided on a ferry. I know, a lot less fun than a longship, but my wife says I can keep the loincloth!

The idea is to take in Karlsrona by bike and enjoys its beautiful cycle paths. Then back to Gdansk to cycle and camp around the Three Towns.  Can’t wait!

Sleepy Beautiful Tropea, Italy

Half and hour by inexpensive train brought us to Tropea with its castle, monastery, cathedral and sleepy narrow streets.

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The view up from the beach. Flip flops are not the most practical footwear  for the descent nor for the tired ascent. The beach wasn’t overcrowded and plenty of places abounded for the essential tasty Italian ice-cream. The town has a little snooze in the afternoon so it is a good idea to have viands tucked away in a bag for the children who can become hungry anytime. Also remember to take that large fold up map. Good for directions, better for keeping off the sun when lying on the beach as a makeshift awning!

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The castle is small but is worth visiting as a museum gives an idea of hour people must have fared under the Italian sun. At its feet is a roundel which has now become an open air restaurant. Splendid views out across the Tyrrhenian Sea as the sunset set, was as stunning a backdrop as could be desired. Be careful about feeding one cute kitty that may well come your way though, as a few more will quickly note your largesse!

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View from our table,  without the cats . Sit back and soak in the atmosphere which is Tropea:-)

 

New Road Trip Ready

The accomodation, apart from the last week, is booked. The route is laid in  and a GPS bought for in the towns and Here Maps as a free back up on the mobile, or as I am continually corrected, an iphone;-). Both the amusement parks and water parks are built into the itinerary to keep small people happy and pumped with adrenaline. The extra summer clothes purchased and car serviced. It’s even been cleaned onside and out. Must be time to rain again! The countdown has commenced with about a minimum of 2,500km one way mapped out.Bring it on:-)IMG_3437

Road Trip Do’s and Dont’s

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In no particular order of priority.

Do -Do get off the motorways and take the quieter routes. They are toll free and give you the chance to pull over and stop in interesting place, off the beaten track.Independence is paramount.

Don’t – Don’t forget to take that spare key for the car, you know, the one you’re never going to need. So easy to lose when moving and constantly repacking from place to place. But so hard to replace when AWOL.

Do – Do take a fold up map. Useful for directions, even better as temporary sunshade on the beach.

Do – Do liberally sprinkle your tour with water parks and amusement parks for the children. Something for them to cling on to and continually ask about whilst sightseeing and travelling.

Don’t – Don’t leave earplugs or earphones in the boot, at the bottom under everything when on the move, especially when the children want to watch a particularly interesting kids film!

Do – Do down load all the maps and towns onto your mobile phone of the towns and countries on your itinerary, before leaving home. This way they can be used without connecting to the costly roaming services when abroad.

Don’t – Don’t eat heavy breakfasts when you’re going to sit in the car for hours, or later you may be sitting for hours! And make that a maximum 7-8 hour drive.

Don’t – Don’t rely on the GPS as if it is infallible. Crossing fields means the GPS may well be a little awry. Balance the GPS data with the best computer in the world, the brain between your ears!

Do – Do remember that many Southern European countries like a little snooze in the afternoon. So plan accordingly with fuel, shops and restaurants. There is nothing more desolate than a child’s face when you explain that the pizza restaurant, they are already sitting at the outside table,  is closed until later that day. Pizza DENIED!

Don’t – Don’t allow anyone, repeat anyone to remove socks in the car.

Do- Do pack a sense of humour and a smile.

Don’t – Don’t drink scalding hot coffee over your crotch as you drive.

Do- Do remind the navigator to have the map correctly orientated.

Do – Do go to the dentist before travelling for that niggly pain. Trying to sort out a dentist, and any other minor medical needs, is a nightmare, expensive and stressful.

Don’t – Don’t forget to remind the ladies to buy, pack, all of the hair clips, hair bands, hair pins and their favourite shampoos and conditioners.

Do- Do pack extra toilet roll, you have been warned!

Do – Do pack a torch, change and renew the batteries and take spare batteries as well.

Don’t – Don’t plan to travel to a country experiencing fuel strikes, rioting for assorted reasons and, oops, too late!

Do – Do learn the rudiments of polite etiquette and hello, thank you and goodbye in the language of your intended host countries.

Do – Do pack a smile as it is an international and friendly language:-)

 

 

 

Lisbon

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We arrived rather late at the airport just outside Lisbon. From there we took a relatively inexpensive super quick taxi. The kids loved the ride as the taxi took on the gravitational characteristics of a Star Wars air-speeder. Fun. Deposited centrally it was up to us to negotiate across a couple of squares to get to our hotel. Be careful, but for some reason the lovely looking stone pavements seemed inordinately, pardon the phrase, slippery when wet. And never did the phrase, ‘’don’t judge a book by its cover’’ seem so pertinent, when it came to the hotel.

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Our exedra shaped hotel was located on Praca Dos Restauradores. The VIP Eden Aparthotel looks like an Art-Deco cinema, and the front of the façade sported a group of people who had drunk a lot and weren’t featured in the promotional material! The hotel looked closed and it was not until walking across the front of the building that we discovered the front door, tucked away almost on the side. We were welcomed by a receptionist who spoke excellent English, seeing as he hailed from the Midlands! The under-lit corridor ended with our apartment which was laid out like a number 3, bedrooms at the end, bath and toilet in the middle. It had seen better days, but the rooms were clean and gave straight out onto the square.  Even more importantly it had free wi-fi for the kids.

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Lisbon for the children was great. Of course our ambling around the centre, taking in the atmosphere was dull for them. For us the alleys, the ochre roofed aging buildings and thoroughfares were fascinating. But then we headed out to the Lisbon Expo Park. This included an Oceanarium, the Vasci de Gama Tower, a cable car ride, a great waterfall and the kids loved all of these attractions. There was also a great indoor attraction that mixed science and hitting bouncy rubber things. Great for  kids of all ages J Another trip out was to Sintra Park. This didn’t have the fast rides and gleaming technology of other parks, but they loved the place. They could run into grottoes, climb stone steps and disappear into foliage, climb small towers and give full rein to their imaginations.  All without wi-fi and sitting! We also went to check out Belem Tower, got caught in the rain waited and hour then decided to buy an umbrella for 5 Euros, and yes, then the rain stopped. The zoo was also included on the kids wish list. Always a sad place for me, full of listless creatures, but with reassuringly expensive ice-cream when feeling too hot.  As always heights have to be included in our perambulations. The Castle of the Moors, built circa 8-9th century,  is set on a  rocky hill  high above the plain, which it dominates. The combination of heights, strong winds and lack of hand holds added since it was first built made it a joy to visit.

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View from the Hotel rooftop, which had a  swimming pool, but sadly to nippy for a dip.

Back in Lisbon, we ventured out at night for some Fado. We had been warned not to pick at the seemingly free food that would be placed on our table in warm and cosy bars/cafes. This was because it would actually be included in our bill. The area was interesting and the people friendly. Strangely enough there were not too many shops to buy fresh fruit and odds and ends for kids to munch on in central Lisbon. All in all a great city to visit with plenty to keep the children happy, too.

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Amusement Park Survival Guide

 

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Amusement is listed as meaning: mirth, merriment, hilarity, glee and delight, or from a slightly different angle: entertainment, pleasure and leisure. Whilst in Italy we traipsed into Garda Land, close by Bardolino on Lake Garda, and later Lego Land in Bavaria. Needless to say these were the  highlights of the road trip for the children. The park redefined these definitions.

For Garda Land we bought our tickets, which were expensive for four people, online before our departure. It saved very little, apart from a bit of queuing. The rides in Garda were pretty fast and high, at least for me, but of course the kids loved them! Take deep pockets for change, or better still hand over your small change to your wife who is sensibly staying on the ground. When climbing into the super spinning cup and saucer, don’t, repeat don’t think about the large pastry you untypically had for breakfast. Close eyes and focus on the fact that it won’t last long. If you feel the urge to projectile vomit as you climb off at the end, at least direct it from your group! If staggering due to a still spinning head, play act as if you are just pretending.

Remember before you join the long snaking queues that you really don’t have a head for heights. Then ensure you sit behind the children so they cannot see how strongly you are holding onto everything you can. Just get me down, oh nooooooooooooooo!

If the day is scorching hot, it hit 41.5 degrees in Bavaria, then ensure you go on as many of the log water rides as possible for a free soaking. Beware the cost of bottle water in these amusement parks. After selling one kidney and buying one bottle of water for each of us, we noticed the water drinking fountains where people were filling up empty bottles for free. Head gear is also useful and any cinema style inside attraction is a boon on such a  a hot day. Such cinema style attractions also have the advantage at not propelling me at muzzle velocity, perilously high in the sky! And finally, don’t forget to pack the headaches tablets, you know the super strength ones!

A bike, a bike, my kingdom for a bike

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This took my eye as we went on our cycle trip today. ”Ouch, that hurts’ I said. But honestly speaking we were surrounded by rolling fields of rich colors such as Van Gogh’s favourite, yellow, and blue skies heavily laced with white. Our route would take about 4 hours of cycling along gravel and sand paths and delving into marshy not oft trodden pathways. All this in and around beautiful Kruklanki.

We packed everything into two overburdened backpacks. The sausages for our lunch, a knife for honing our ‘kiyek’, or long sticks to you and me fashioned from sturdy sticks. What else, oh, wet wipes, map, energy drinks and snack bars for the children, bread for toasting, matches, ketchup and assorted extra items of clothing. IMG_0654

We stopped in Kruklanki itself for the essential ice cream and couldn’t pass up the chance for a pic of my new mighty steed. Then back onto the road and on into the forest again. This time we headed for a spot by the lake known only to us, and the two carloads of screaming families that turned up! We built our fire and sharpened our roasting sticks.

 

Then ignition and that wonderful primeval feelin’ of fire and meat in the great outdoors, and ketchup of course!

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Replete with meat and additives we cycled for a couple of more hours past rolling fields like these, so easy on the eye.

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Before going back into Kruklanki we took in and old Prussian built single rail line, duly destroyed by the German Army, well no, they planted the explosives but it was the locals who actually detonated them as they, the locals, wanted to stop the Russians taking everything, or taking everything into their hands. The detonator was hidden in a shelter on an adjacent hill, over which the rail line itself traversed a small gulley,  via a bridge. See below. Imperialism.

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And home with plans for the Sunday already afoot.