Beautiful Bath!

As Catherine Morland proclaims in Northanger Abbey, “Oh, who can ever be tired of Bath?”

Indeed Jane Austen was right in this, as she was in so many things.  We just loved Bath. It’s not quaint like Chichester and Arundel are, but it is elegant and graceful and brimful of fascinating history. The wonderful thing about Bath is that it is such a compact town. Everything is within walking distance, and it’s very easy to get around. A word from the wise; if you take a car, as we did, it’s not worth the extra money to stay right in town. We ended up having to pay a fortune in parking, and the only overnight car park was a 20-minute walk from where we stayed (at the YMCA in the centre of town, which was overpriced in my humble opinion). It would have been more cost effective to stay outside town, and drive in and park for the day. Anyway here were our highlights:

The Jane Austen Centre

Words cannot express how happy I was to visit the Jane Austen centre! To be surrounded by fellow lovers of Jane! It was wonderful to have such an entertaining glimpse into her life, the years she spent in Bath, and how her view of the town evolved through her works, most notably her first novel, Northanger Abbey, and her last, Persuasion. I also peeked into the Pump Rooms, where it was very easy to imagine Catherine taking a “turn about the room”.

The model of Jane Austen, my hero!
The model of Jane Austen, my hero!

The Roman Baths

I’ll be honest, sadly the kids weren’t overly enamoured with the Jane Austen Centre! However ALL of us LOVED the Roman Baths! I had been concerned the kids would get bored, but of course they cater so well for children, with special audio guides and activity packs, and my kids are always very happy when there’s a gifts shop insight! The Roman history of the baths was absolutely fascinating, and its brought to life so well in the museum attached to the Baths. We all thoroughly enjoyed leaning about Roman life, seeing the Great Baths and even sipping the water, which was a little disgusting to be honest 🙂

The Great Baths.
The Great Baths.
The Goddess of the Baths, Sulis Minerva.
The Goddess of the Baths, Sulis Minerva.

 

 

 

 

The Parade Gardens

These beautiful gardens overlook the River Avon and Pulteney Bridge, and are very pretty. They were a great spot to unwind for a few hours, and let the kids have a play. There are deck chairs available as well, and like everywhere else in England, lovely tea rooms serving cream tea. It does cost to enter, but it’s well worth a stop.

The beautiful floral displays at the Parade Gardens.
The beautiful floral displays at the Parade Gardens.

Bath is also very well-known for its glassworks, and Souljourneyboy took Picasso and Bookworm to a glass blowing demonstration, which they really enjoyed.

I can’t wait to go back to Bath one day, and spend a little more time exploring this beautiful town.

The amazing architecture.
The amazing architecture.
And great food! Picasso enjoying a traditional meat pie.
And great food! Picasso enjoying a traditional meat pie.

Exploring Bournemouth

The next stop on our trip was Bournemouth, right in the heart of beachfront Britain. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have made it onto my tourist map – however we came down to spend a few days with cousins I hadn’t seen for 38 years, and I am so glad we saw Bournemouth! Despite the rather inclement weather it was lovely to see the coast, and nearby Christchurch. Here’s what we loved:

Catching up with family

This was one of the absolute highlights of the entire trip – and in fact, the past few years :). I haven’t seen my cousins since I left England as a one-year-old, and the kids had never met their second cousins (or is it third cousins? I’m never really sure). We had a wonderful few days exploring Bournemouth together, and Little Miss in particular was devastated to leave them behind. This was a really emotional experience for me too, as I don’t have many cousins on my Sri Lankan side that I see regularly. It was just wonderful.

Swimming at the beach!
Fun playing board games on a rainy afternoon.
Fun playing board games on a rainy afternoon.

 

The English beach

Apparently Bournemouth is the sunny beach spot in all of England – except when it’s windy and cold, like it was unfortunately in the two days we were there! That didn’t stop the kids from swimming though – crazy!

The wildflowers growing along the coastline are just beautiful.
The wildflowers growing along the coastline are just beautiful.
A classic shot of Bournemouth's beachfront.
A classic shot of Bournemouth’s beachfront.

 

Christchurch

We had planned to spend one day in a nearby picnic and adventure playground. However it was quite cold and windy, so we left the kids to have a marathon Harry Potter movie-fest while the older folk decided to explore nearby Christchurch child-free 🙂 It is a lovely historic town, with a beautiful minster and gardens, and a bustling quay.

The minster at Christchurch.
The minster at Christchurch.
Christchurch is incredibly picturesque.
Christchurch is incredibly picturesque.
We went for a walk around the beautiful gardens surrounding the minster.
We went for a walk around the beautiful gardens surrounding the minster.

All in all, we loved out stay at Bournemouth. It’s well worth  visit!

Chichester and Arundel

Okay, it’s official. I am in love with Chichester. It’s exactly what I pictured England to be – picturesque green hills, beautiful gardens, quaint cottages and towns and a castle within driving distance. We have been very blessed by family friends and are staying in a beautiful home while the occupants are on holidays, and the kids have loved it. Here are some pix:

Every home needs a side gate like this!
Every home needs a side gate like this!
I desperately want to live in a home where vines grow around my kitchen window!
One of the many beautiful views in the rolling green hills of Chichester.
The view from the backyard.

Arundel Castle

Arundel is a gorgeous town in Chichester with an amazing Norman Castle which is nearly 1000 years old. We spent the day here and loved it. The castle is the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, and they actually live in part of the castle, while the rest of it is open to the public. It is spectacular, and has been maintained beautifully. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos inside, but let me tell you the library is to die for 🙂 Here are some pictures of the outside of the castle, and the gardens.

This is the view as you approach Arundel Castle. It is just amazing!
This is the view as you approach Arundel Castle. It is just amazing!
The part of the castle currently lived in by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
The part of the castle currently lived in by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
The view from the top of the medieval keep.
The view from the top of the medieval keep.
The gorgeous gardens!
The gorgeous gardens!
More gorgeous gardens...
More gorgeous gardens…
And more gorgeous gardens!
And more gorgeous gardens!

Arundel Castle is a must see, and I would have liked to have had more time to explore Arundel town as well. I hope you make it here one day and enjoy it as much as we did!

Harry Potter tour at Warner Bros Studio

So Potter fever has been pretty rife in our house for the past six months. I’d been recommending the books to Picasso for some time, but he took a look at the first few pages and wasn’t really interested. The dense language and slower pace of the first few chapters makes Harry a bit harder for kids who aren’t voracious readers to become immersed in. So in January I read the first chapter to both Picasso and Little Miss, and they were hooked – particularly Picasso. We barely saw him as he proceeded to read all seven books and watch all eight movies in quick succession! And Little Miss is not far behind, as she is now reading book four. With all children firmly Harry Potter fans (and their parents too), a trip to the Warner Bros studios about an hour outside of London was not to be missed.

I had originally planned just to go ourselves (you can get there by public transport and but tickets at the gate) but unfortunately left it too late, and all the tour companies had bought up the tickets on the day we wanted to go. The benefit of going yourself is that you’re not pressed for time – with the tour bus we had about three and a half hours to wander about the studio – and I’d read reviews that said you need longer. Probably an extra half an hour or so would have been nice, but I felt as though we saw and did everything we wanted to. Anyway, we LOVED this tour. This was one of the absolute highlights of our time in London, and I think our trips anywhere. It was amazing and magical and so much fun. Here’s what we loved:

The Great Hall and the studio rooms

When the first films were made, J.K Rowling had not finished writing the series. So that meant the producers (and probably Rowling herself) did now know which props and sets would need to be used again in the later films. Consequently, everything was kept – thousands of props and costumes and sets which on any other film set would have been destroyed – and it’s all set up in a giant room at the studio. It just feels so amazing to walk through it all and see the incredible detail, and the countless hours of work that goes into a film like this. Here are some pictures:

The wonderfully impressive Great Hall.
The wonderfully impressive Great Hall.
One of the stone animals in the Great Hall.
One of the stone animals in the Great Hall.

 

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Me standing in Dumbledore’s study. The detail was incredible.
No corners were cut making the sets - every painting you see was created by an oil painter, taking months of work.
No corners were cut making the sets – every painting you see was created by an oil painter, taking months of work.
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Snape’s potions class.

The Studio Backlot, Cafe and Outdoor Sets

This is where you can make your way through Platform 9 and three quarters, jump aboard Hogwarts, buy Butterbeer and see Privet Drive – just amazing!

Abbie-Rose at the Platform with Hedwig and Cruikshanks.
Abbie-Rose at the Platform with Hedwig and Cruikshanks.
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You can climb aboard the Hogwarts Express and see the cabins made up as sets.
Hagrid's motorcycle!
Hagrid’s motorcycle!
All aboard the Knight Bus!
All aboard the Knight Bus!
Butterbeer anyone? It was delicious - an ridiculously expensive!
Butterbeer anyone? It was delicious – an ridiculously expensive!

Behind the Scenes Peek

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was seeing how all the special and visual effects for the magic and the magical creatures worked, as well as getting a glimpse into how sets are put together – from concept drawings, to models, to the final product.

The first cardboard model of Hogwarts which was used to plan film shots.
The first cardboard model of Hogwarts which was used to plan film shots.

 

Various masks for the characters.
Various masks for the characters.
The finished product of one of the creatures!
The finished product of one of the creatures!

Diagon Alley

The Diagon Alley set was truly magical. Walking down the cobbled street you could really imagine being a witch or wizard!

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Truly amazing!

 

Olivander's wands!
Olivander’s wands!

The 24:1 Hogwart’s model

While many location shots were filmed at Alnwick Castle, a 24:1 model was built for wide sweeping shots of Hogwarts. This model was my favourite part of the tour. It was just beautiful.

Picasso standing in front of the model gives an idea of the scale.
Picasso standing in front of the model gives an idea of the scale.
The other side of the model.
The other side of the model.

The Gift Shop

And of course, last not not least, there is the Gift Shop! We spent an hour in here and went a bit crazy 🙂

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you simply can’t miss this tour! And if you’re not – become one! It really was one of the best days we’ve had.

London with kids

So our UK and France holiday has begun – and what better place to begin than London?

I thought I’d share my thoughts on seeing London with a troupe of kids in tow. The way our itinerary worked out, we only had two and a half days for London sightseeing, and while thankfully the long days (it doesn’t get dark here in summer until 10pm) meant we could really squeeze a lot in, if I was planning the trip again I would have allowed longer. The “underground” here is amazing and you can get around fast, but hopping onto the tube and zipping around from sight to sight is draining for kids. Anyway here’s what we did and loved!

The London Pass

These passes weren’t cheap, but we were really glad we bought them. With entry to heaps of sights included, plus the Hop On Hop Off Bus and River Thames Cruise, it was worth it. And the kids were super excited it meant 10 per cent off in the gift shops and cafes 🙂

The Hop on Hop Off Bus

Definitely a winner. A great way to see London, and while it’s a little slow due to London traffic it means you get rest weary legs, and get great pictures.

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Tower of London (including the Crown Jewels)

I think this was our favourite stop, and honestly you could spend an entire day here. We saw the medieval palace and the Crown Jewels, which the kids loved. I would have loved to have seen the Bloody Tower but you just have to miss some things!

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Thames River Cruise

This was included in the London Pass and was a real treat. The young English tour guide gave funny and lively descriptions as we passes various sights and under bridges, and it was lovely seeing Westminster for the first time from the Thames.

Westminster, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey

Little Miss was so excited to see Big Ben and it did not disappoint! It’s much larger than you realise from pictures. And the Abbey was incredible, although by that time (it was one of the last stops) she was pretty tired. We had afternoon tea at the Abbey and it was delicious.

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The Science Museum

The kids loved it, even though I wouldn’t have bothered if I’d been on my own. It was interesting, but I would have preferred the Victoria and Albert Museum. When you are travelling with kids that’s just the way it is!

Buckingham Palace

We missed the Changing of the Guard but the kids really enjoyed seeing the palace. It doesn’t really take very long either.

Harrods

One simply must go to Harrods in London! What an incredible place. Of course I could only afford some tea, cards and a half-price carry bag but it’s absolutely amazing. You have to see the cafe, dining hall and patisserie, even if you don’t buy anything.

Hyde Park

We were so lucky to have had perfect weather, and Hyde Park really is the jewel in London’s crown. The gardens are stunning, and the squirrels are delightful. A great place to stop and rest and eat an ice cream.

 

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Poundland

Kids being kids, they were just as excited to find Poundland (where everything is, as you guessed, one pound) as they were about seeing Buckingham Palace. I had pooh-poohed Poundland, and then had to eat humble pie. You can get snacks, bottled water, sundries and other items  – all for one pound! It was exciting.

All up, we absolutely loved London. A note of caution – apart from Poundland, it is expensive to eat, so budget accordingly. Also the coffee is not very good and you have to pay for public toilets! And I’d allow a few more days if possible (we lost a day to the Harry Potter Tour, which I’ll write about separately). But make sure you go! It is such a wonderful city, and even the normal houses and buildings are so interesting and beautiful to see.

What our children teach us

So much of parenthood is about what we teach our children: to be kind, to listen, to like vegetables (hmmm, maybe failing on that one) and to never, under any circumstances, leave those little pieces of Lego on the floor.

But I’ve been thinking lately about how reciprocal parenting is, and thought I’d share some of the things my kids have taught me.

Bookworm

There were so many delightful things about my baby Bookworm. He was super cute and loved books (obviously) and he was whip-smart – full sentences by the time he turned 18 months old. He had a fantastic sense of humour and he really liked day naps (hallelujah). But he was also very anxious and shy, and didn’t like unfamiliar environments or people. We didn’t go to playgroup much because it just wasn’t fun for me to have a child I was literally unable to put down on the floor (with all the other babies who were perfectly happy on the floor). I felt embarrassed every time people would come over, and he’d cry when they walked in the room. I hated the fact that sometimes other people couldn’t see how funny and gorgeous he was, because he would struggle to talk to them, or even look at them. I was young when I had Bookworm – 25 years old – and still very much in the stage of working myself out. I was also in an incredibly judgemental environment, where any deficiency in your child was seen as a reflection on you – like, your baby cries when you leave the room? Clearly your fault for never leaving them with a babysitter/leaving them too much/no daycare/too much daycare  blah blah blah. I knew I shouldn’t care what other people thought, but I did. I wished he was different. I wanted him to be one of the “normal” kids who was running around playing, not cowering on my lap. I was feeling pretty upset about it one day, and asked my mother what I should do about it; how I could change what was happening. And my lovely Mum said, “I just think it’s really important that you don’t emotionally abandon him.” It really struck me, and turned my thinking round about (and right side up). I stopped agonising about what I could do to change him – and started changing myself. By accepting him just the way he was, I let go of feeling like we had to meet anyone else’s expectations.

I’m not saying it happened overnight – I still fall into the trap of caring too much what others think. But I’m much better at it now, and I think it’s because Bookworm was sent to me to teach me the lesson.

Picasso

Ah, Picasso. It’s true that the extra difficult kiddoes are also extra gorgeous. My Picasso is exactly like a bear. At times so soft and snuggly, you melt for him. He’s sweet and sensitive and kind and gives you these long, still hugs that are just delicious. And then at other times he’s just so completely intractable. Unmoving, some would say. Stubborn. He’s the kind of person that won’t just accept what you say – he has to know it for himself. The fact that there’s a rule doesn’t mean it’s a rule he has to agree with. The fact you say the bike is too big to fit in the car doesn’t mean he just accepts the fact that you’re a grown up and know that the bike is too big to fit in the car. He has to KNOW that the bike doesn’t fit in the car. He has to waste half an hour trying everything to fit the bike in the car. Only then will he accept that the bike doesn’t fit in the car (in the meantime you’ve had a frustrated meltdown). He has taught me, I guess, about power and respect. He’s not the sort of child you can say “just do it because I told you so.” He needs explanations. And while this is sometimes really, really frustrating, I’m also glad that he’ll be a person who will need to discover things for himself, and not just blindly accept what he’s told. I love that about him – it’s just a difficult characteristic to parent sometimes. Picasso certainly has taught me a lot about patience.

Little Miss

There’s just something about Little Miss that makes your heart smile. She is always dancing or singing, or doing handstands or making something for the fairies; she fills up every second of her life, always brimming with enjoyment of the moment.

With the boys, I could sneak in work emails or a conversation with a friend while they were drawing or playing blocks. This never worked with Little Miss. It just wouldn’t do. If she was drawing, WE had to draw. If we had a conversation, she’d literally grab my face in her hands and make me look into her eyes. We had to ENGAGE. If I was cooking, she was cooking too, and that’s ALL we were doing. She delights in everything she does, and she does everything wholeheartedly. She has taught me so much about being present.

I’ll be honest – I really struggle with this. I don’t know if it’s a personality thing, or a hangover from having worked in media for so long – I naturally want achieve about 18 things at once before breakfast. A friend once told me I have a “very fast tempo”. It’s hard to slow down and just be present in the moment. But I’m so glad Little Miss has helped (and is still helping) me do this.

 

I’d love to hear what your little people have taught you 🙂

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Girl power tunes

There’s nothing more awesome than totally rocking out to a girl power song when you’re a bit down and depressed. I was thinking this the other day as I was driving along in the car, feeling pretty sad and stressed over some horrible events that had happened, when Katy Perry’s Roar came on. I sang it at the top of my voice – and I have to say it totally made me feel better!

So I thought I’d helpfully compile a list of my favourite songs to sing when the world takes a massive swing at you.

  1. Fighter by Christina Aguilera. I tend to blast this one up loud when someone has done something crappy to me. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as turning an attack into a something that makes you a better, stronger person.
  2. This is who I am by Vanessa Amorosi. I just LOVE this song. I feel like I spent so many years not embracing who I really am, and this is kind of like a personal anthem for me.
  3. I don’t want to be by Gavin Degraw. Girl power songs don’t have to be written by girls! I’m all for gender equality 🙂 Like This is who I am, this song is all about just being who you are.
  4. Titanium by Sia. I literally say these lyrics to myself  when difficult things happen. “You shoot me down, but I get up, I am titanium.” It makes me feel invulnerable, and I really like that.
  5. Shake it off by Taylor Swift. Because sometimes you really do just need to shake it off, right? Little Miss and I completely agree on this.

I love all of these songs, but my absolute favourite at the moment is This is My Fight Song by Rachael Platten. Every time I hear it, it gives me goosebumps. I think it’s especially meaningful because I heard it for the first time when a dear friend was battling advanced brain cancer, and I sang it for her. I also love Rachel’s story – she’s 34 and only just hit it big, after years of playing her music to audiences no bigger than about 20 people. I just love how her time has finally come, and she’s roared onto the stage with such an awesome song that probably encapsulates her stage of life right now.

How about you? What do you listen to when you need a reminder that you can totally triumph over whatever it is that has got you down?

 

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