Written/Reviewed: Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

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So I’ve just finished the epic novel Shantaram. I put off reading this time and again because of its size. At 933 pages it overwhelmed me and it gathered dust on the shelf. A friend’s Mum lent it to me and told me how amazing and inspirational it was but it took me about 5 years to get round to actually opening it. I’m really not kidding when I say I was 100% committed and completely hooked within about 20 pages. It’s one of the most beautifully written and descriptive books I’ve ever read – I’m a big reader too so this isn’t said lightly.

If you’ve not heard about Shantaram then this is the description on the back:

A novel of high adventure, great storytelling and moral purpose, based on an extraordinary true story of eight years in the Bombay underworld.

‘In the early 80s, Gregory David Roberts, an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum. There, he established a free health clinic and also joined the mafia, working as a money launderer, forger and street soldier. He found time to learn Hindi and Marathi, fall in love, and spend time being worked over in an Indian jail. Then, in case anyone thought he was slacking, he acted in Bollywood and fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan . . . Amazingly, Roberts wrote Shantaram three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions. It’s a profound tribute to his willpower . . . At once a high-kicking, eye-gouging adventure, a love saga and a savage yet tenderly lyrical fugitive vision.’ Time Out

It’s actually a very well known book, even renowned. Although saying that, I hadn’t heard of it when it was given to me. I quote 2think the fact it’s partly a true story (or at least based on some of Robert’s experiences) has made it infamous in certain circles. The author has been interviewed and is now well known on the media circuit. I didn’t know any of this though when I opened it. This book doesn’t just transport you to India, it literally submerges you violently into a world so foreign (to me) it was a culture shock. I could smell the smells, tastes the tastes and I almost immediately identified with and became invested in the characters. In fact it’s some of the best character development I’ve ever seen. It takes an immense talent to translate that to readers. I craved a cup of chai every time I read it, to the point I’ve now looked up recipes and learnt how to make my own proper hot, milky, sweet chai on the stove from scratch. I felt lonely in my flat because of the detail given to me of the communities and people in the slums of Bombay.

I was genuinely distressed at certain parts, one particular part really upset me for quite some time and it’s one of the quote 3books that has made me cry. It was also wise beyond belief. There was so much spirituality and knowledge within those pages! I wanted to write down some amazing sentence every 20 pages or so and share it on social media. It hasn’t surprised me that since finishing I’ve discovered that lots of people do exactly that, which is why this post is illustrated with some quotes from this book. It made me want to have lived in that time, in that place, despite some of the awful things that were occurring. I now more than ever want to travel to India at some point in my life. Although I feel this will maybe be something I do in my later years (I’m not sure, it depends on lots of factors coming together to do it sooner, but it is now higher up on my list).

I really felt an affinity with the experiences that Roberts had (fictional or otherwise. Partly because I’ve had a totally mad life myself, and I’ve also felt that desolation and desperation in the past. But also because that’s how Roberts writes, he draws you in and makes you live every day with him. There are very few writers who can create the world that he’s created. I will forever maintain that if you don’t read the things those people write for you then you’re missing something in life. I can’t recommend this enough to people. It’s a fabulous book about the complexity of life in Bombay at that time, a testament to human strength, love, endurance and another 50 cliched things people say. But it does this without ever becoming a cliche. I just loved it and I was sad but also strangely relieved when I finished it. I was sad because I felt like those people had really entered my life and had intertwined with mine. But I was relieved because that book was emotionally draining, it put me through the mill. I lived a life whilst reading it. That has happened to me before but usually with series, never before has an author done that in just one book.

A friend of mine raised an issue with me whilst I was reading it. He was convinced that it was just too mad, that what shantaramRoberts claimed just couldn’t be true because it was so outlandish. He was also angry because he felt that Roberts gained a lot of fame and attention from the story and because he wasn’t convinced in its truth he thinks this is fraudulent in some way. My life has been crazy enough for me to know that true life really is way stranger than fiction so I had no issue believing Roberts. In fact I can more than believe it. But more importantly I actually don’t think it matters. If Roberts has made all that up as a piece of fiction then F***! I think I might be more impressed… the writing style and content is so good I guess I don’t care if I’ve been duped. Maybe the mystery is part of it. Roberts himself says he “structured the created narrative to read like fiction but feel like fact. I wanted the novel to have the page-turning drive of a work of fiction but to be informed by such a powerful stream of real experience that it had the authentic feel of fact.” He states clearly it’s a novel though.

There’s various disputed facts from different people, I think the best route is to just look at this book as a novel. A work of fiction inspired by someone’s life over a number of years. Some of it may be how he wanted his life to go rather than how it did actually go (at least according to some Indian sources). The debate rages as to where the lines of fact and fiction are drawn and I’m pulled in different directions on how I feel about it. Putting that aside though it is an incredibly well written book and definitely one of the most accomplished displays of character development/creation I’ve ever seen. Some of the wisest words I’ve read are written in works of fiction and many are now added to that list from ‘Shantaram’.

Emotional Landscaping

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heartmapquoteThe last few months have been a massive change emotionally for me. After deciding to step out on this path of travelling and working abroad I’ve really had to take stock and it’s had a big effect on my thoughts and feelings surrounding what I want for myself and my daughter. I think in a way, entering into the final year of my degree or even just coming back to university after giving birth, has been the biggest catalyst to all this emotional change.

If you’ve had kids then you may have had a similar experience to me, where during the pregnancy and straight after the birth it’s not really possible to really know what you want. I was pretty scared and a lot of things were going on that were outside of my control. I just didn’t know what I wanted pure and simple. I knew what I had wanted in the past intellectually speaking, but it was put on hold in a strange way that I’ve never experienced before. There was an unknown entity on the way and I was really conscious that the minute they came into being and ventured into the outside world things would change – I don’t mean in the obvious ways, I mean more in the sense that there would be a person who would eventually have thoughts and opinions that would change the decisions I was going to make. This mentally put me in some sort of freeze hold and I just couldn’t conceive of much beyond the birth. Even after she was born I spent the usual few weeks recovering and acting like a hormonal wreck and then I started to focus on getting back to university.

It was at this point that I really started to ask myself what I wanted, I found myself caving in to those invisible societal pressures that surround us as parents and even just as people. Those pressures that tell us to conform, take a normal path, provide for our family and not take risks. Despite having never wanted to follow a ‘normal’ path in my life I suddenly found myself looking into ‘normal’ graduate schemes and ‘normal’ jobs. I was convincing myself that having my daughter meant I needed to make the ‘responsible’ decisions and not do the outlandish things I’d always wanted to do. Whilst in the early stages of my pregnancy, Monkey’s Dad and me discussed things that we wanted and we both expressed a wish to travel. I said I wanted to finish my degree and give myself the option of further study, but I said that travel was definitely a part of my future. He seemed to need something more than this and I just couldn’t give it to him. Now, the reasons he decided to leave are way more complex than I can do justice to in a blog post. And I don’t think it would be fair to him to claim that this is all there is to it. But I think a small part of it was that I was too busy trying to control everything, whilst he was too busy trying to force me to commit to things I just wasn’t ready to commit to. We were both panicking and we didn’t know each other well enough and he didn’t give me or himself the chance to find out what we wanted, together as a family. Within weeks of finding out I was pregnant he’d gone. I often wondered what would have happened if we’d just given ourselves the time to get used to the new situation we were in; instead of trying to force each other to be the people we thought we needed the other person to be….

Since that point I have changed and developed so much as a person I’m partly unrecognisable. I’ve gone through such a lot having my daughter on my own and coming to terms with the effect that will have on both out lives. As I said, I really ended up convincing myself that I needed to do the ‘normal’ thing for the sake of my daughter. It was only as I got further down those paths, and truly started looking at things like the NHS graduate scheme or civil service as a realistic option that I knew it was never going to make me happy – and that would make Monkey unhappy. It was this realisation that made me really start thinking about what I actually wanted – and that’s to travel. I know without a doubt that if I get to the end of my life without travelling, without living in another country and possibly without learning another language then it will be my biggest regret. So to allow that to happen whilst knowing that would be a big crime against myself.

A while ago I did a post about how big my safety net should be: http://www.backpacksandbabygrows.com/2014/07/03/how-big-should-a-safety-net-be/ . In this post I discussed giving myself a back up plan that involved completing a Masters at the same time as saving to do a RTW trip, so that if travel didn’t happen I would have other options to fall back on. Options that I actually wanted to take, such as postgrad study. Since writing that post though, I’ve realised that actually, I just want to go. I don’t want any other distraction; I just want to save up as much as I can and head off into the unknown with my wee Monkey. This trip and travelling has somehow evolved into so much more than ‘just’ a trip. I know that thought is probably echoed in the minds of countless other travellers or wannabe travellers. So much so, it’s become clichéd – but it’s clichéd because it rings so true for so many people. For me this trip is about finally starting my life. That probably sounds strange, but I’m a late starter in life – my own potential and personal development has been delayed and diverted time and time again. Mostly due to circumstances out of my control, particularly as a child and teenager. My 20s were spent coming to terms with this, and it’s only been since starting college and going back to university that I’ve become the person I always knew I could be. Having my daughter has finalised that in a way nothing else could. Making these steps to travel and jump out into the deep end, as a single parent is really the first step in what I feel is my ‘true’ life, the life I’m meant to have. So there’s a lot riding on it. It’s not that I don’t want the postgrad stuff anymore, it’s that I’m acutely aware they will be there when I get back, I can do those at any time, anywhere in the world. But it’s travelling that will help me to be who I need to be emotionally; it’s travelling that will let my daughter be the person she can be….

Another thing I’ve slowly admitted to myself is that I don’t want to put monkey into the daily grind that is the school system. I know there are some amazing teachers out there; my sister is one of them. But there’s also some terrible teachers out there and the school system is there to cater for the middle ground; it’s there to create an obedient workforce who behave themselves, turn up on time, don’t question authority and basically live life with a set of blinkers on. The world does not need any more of those people, that I do know – if it’s to survive, if we’re to survive as a species we need the mad, creative, wild and inappropriate types. I know too many people who had every last bit of creativity and individualism drained or pummelled out of them at school, to be OK with signing my child up for that. I really want to do something that probably lies in between home schooling and unschooling – (although as with most of the other unschoolers I’m not that keen on the name, as it implies no learning whatsoever which couldn’t be further from the truth). Admitting this to myself has made me realise that those are my 2 core beliefs and aspirations in my life: travel and home schooling, so the rest just needs to somehow fit around them. Or I need to make it fit around them because in the end it’s me that’s in charge of my life. No one else can do these for me. I would love to start working for myself, writing and making a living by piecing together all my skills in a way that makes me happy. Whether that’s teaching English, writing, doing photography, or a bit of all these things and maybe some other things too, I don’t know. But I’m definitely not a Monday to Friday kind of a woman. I would also love to meet someone who shares my dreams, I’d like to let go enough to fall in love again and maybe (just maybe) expand my little family, as having monkey has been the best decision I ever made. Finally realising that these are the things I truly know has given me emotional freedom that I’ve never felt before. It’s given me a purpose and something to aim at. I don’t need riches (not that I ever wanted them), I do want to have the finances to travel (obviously) and to provide my daughter and myself with a half decent standard of living but beyond that I really don’t care. I don’t want her to grow up in the consumerist mess we have in the UK, where how we view our own worth and the worth of others is somehow inextricably linked to what we own and how much money we have in the bank. I want her to know that there is so much more to life than money and possessions. Poverty is horrific but so is having all the materialistic things you ever wanted, only to realise that you’re still looking for something that can’t be bought and now you’ve not got the time to find it.

So this is where I am today, embarking on this adventure is a strange thing for me at this point in time. I’ve still got a year of my degree to complete. This will undoubtedly be one of the most intense years I ever experience but it’ll be worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears that I shed and have shed over the last 7 years. The RTW trip still feels completely imaginary – because it is. It probably won’t feel in the slightest bit real until I actually book us those tickets, and maybe it won’t feel real until we step off the plane and head into our first country on the list (hopefully China). To keep myself focused on the long-term future I keep looking at this big map online and planning where we’ll go and when, I’m reading all these travel blogs and talking to my closest friends about my plans. But on the flip side, I also have to keep my feet firmly on the ground and focus on the here and now. I HAVE to get this degree; I’ve worked too hard to fall at the last hurdle. Not only that, I know I’m capable of getting a 1st. It’s where my grade point average is lying at the moment and I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say a 1st is what I want. Although saying that, I do now know that it’s not the be all and end all, any degree will be a massive achievement for anyone let alone someone in my position.

So this is my bit of emotional landscaping – making that decision to travel has just brought on an avalanche of life choices and realisations that I could never have expected. I’d love to hear if any of you have had a similar experience in the comments section! I suspect that travel and making those massive decisions takes on this huge role in nearly everyone’s life – especially if it’s something you end up turning into a lifestyle choice rather than just a holiday. I’m so excited already at the thought of the adventures to come and the experiences me and my daughter will have together – I’ll have to increase my vocabulary and powers of articulation just to put into words how I feel when we actually go!!

Baby Wearing For The Traveller

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Baby-Carriers

Image originally found at http://www.tyckledtales.com

I thought I’d do a post about my thoughts and recommendations for baby carriers. This could be for their general use or for something more specific to the traveller. This is mostly because now my monkey is nearly 2 I’ve become pretty knowledgeable about some of the carriers on offer and i have strong opinions about some of them (good and bad). I also recently had some amazing service from the woman who makes my favourite carrier so I thought it’d be a good time to share my experience of her carriers as although she has a big fan base, I believe she mostly gets her business through word of mouth and I want to do my part as her carriers are simply the best. More on that later…..

So, I’ll give a summary of the carriers Ive used, let you know why I either like or don’t like them and try to give them a score out of 10. The thing with baby carriers is that they are probably incredibly personal (which is why my favourite is so damn good as they’re custom made); but this does mean that not everyone will agree with me I’m sure – especially on the ones I either hate or think are over rated. I’m sure some people have had a really good experience with these carriers, they’re just not for me. 

I never liked the great big pieces of material that you have to wrap around in some special and seemingly complicated way – i wish I did like them as those mums always look so bloody cool and capable – I think if you can master the art of these it’s like some kind of badge to say you’re a parent who can cope with anything; hence, they just made me feel inadequate! Possibly if I’d persevered with them I’d have got the hang of it but I was on my own and they just frustrated me, so I gave up. This led me to try the alternatives, that were as close to possible in that traditional design because I do like the closeness they give and how comfortable the babies generally look in them. I think if I were to have another I might try a big stretchy or woven wrap again or a ring sling but we’ll see. 

The Baby Bjorn (stock image)

The Baby Bjorn (stock image)

So the 1st carrier I used after giving up on the big strips of material was the Baby Bjorn – this was lent to me by a friend and it was all I had. They are mid range price, ranging from about £50 but go up to £120. I was lent the Baby Bjorn Active carrier. These are the carriers you see about quite a lot and Dads seem to like them. Baby can face inwards or outwards. I’m not into the judgemental thing over other peoples choices in the slightest but I know the ‘baby wearing’ fan base say that having baby facing outwards all the time can mean they get overloaded with sensory information and it’s better to have them facing in so they can look about if they want but also cuddle up and sleep or just get a break from the constant environmental input they face. I kinda get this argument and whilst she was little I always had my monkey inward facing and when she was bigger I had her on my back so she can also cuddle in. I’ll be honest – I’m not a fan of this carrier at all, I think it’s over rated and over used. The baby’s entire weight is on its crotch which is OK when teeny but I don’t think that’s great as they get heavier. It doesn’t allow for a natural C shape spinal position for the baby either which is the recommendation. Also even when my monkey was small (under 3 months) it wrecked my back. I would get back pain within about 15 minutes of using it, friends have experienced something similar too. I would give this carrier 4/10, maximum. So I moved on…..

I wanted something that was more natural and allowed baby to have that natural seated position and I wanted her weight on her bum not her crotch. Before I really found something like this I was very kindly given a baba sling as a gift this is a kind of pouch sling. It looks

The baba sling in the hip position - you can even tell from the image that there's pressure on her shoulder during use!

The baba sling in the hip position – you can even tell from the image that there’s pressure on her shoulder during use! (Stock image from babasling site)

great and on paper ticks lots of boxes. They have great PR and a good website. It’s a one shoulder carrier and can have baby in lots of positions that change as your child does. Again – I didn’t really like this in practice. When they’re newborns you’re meant to be able to kind of lie baby down in it in a cradle position but I just couldn’t get monkey comfortable in a safe position; her chin always seemed to be forced to her chest which looked like it was restricting her breathing – something the instruction leaflet warned about. It just made me feel panicky when using it. The instructions were difficult and it was a right faff just to get started. Almost so much so that I sort of gave up – anyone who has kids will testify that in those first few weeks everything can kind of feel like a bit of a stress and anything that made my life harder not easier got chucked to one side. On my own it’s the last thing I wanted and I’m sure that’s the same even with couples who are together at home for the first few weeks. Eventually I went back to it when monkey was bigger and could support her head more and the hip position (pictured) was OK, but when she was bigger, she was of course heavier and this wasn’t comfortable with the one shoulder style after about 20 minutes of carrying her. This sling costs about £70 and I didn’t think it was worth it at all – don’t bother, get something else in my opinion. I lent it to a friend to see if she’d have more luck when she had her baby and she actually had to wait for me to go round and show her how to use it as she couldn’t work the instructions out either. Neither of us are daft – even with baby brains! I don’t think she used it for long if at all…. I’d give the baba sling 3/10 as it was actually less practical than the Baby Bjorn and not worth the money. 

Palm and Pond Mei Tai

Palm and Pond Mei Tai

I was then recommended trying a Mei Tai style carrier so I ordered a Palm and Pond Mei Tai sling from Amazon. This cost £24.99 and was the best sling up until now. The mei tai is traditional Asian inspired sling and comes in all different kinds based around one general shape. There’s some info here and you can see how to use the sling… http://www.meitaibaby.com/index.html Baby has a natural C shape spinal curve and their weight is on their bum. It has a main panel and 4 long, usually padded ties that go around your waist and over the shoulders. Baby can be carried on the front or back once they can sit up alone. Because I am prone to back ache which is worse with front wearing, I had monkey on my back as soon as she was big enough and this worked perfectly for me for quite a long time. It was great value, comfortable and secure. It’s the style I’d probably go with for front wearing from birth if I decided not to brave the ring sling or woven wrap. With the palm and pond, the only thing I found was that once she got heavier and heavier the ties weren’t padded enough and so they dug into my shoulders. This eventually got uncomfortable so I had to find something different, but had I owned this from birth I’d have got amazing value out of it for the money as I got decent value out of it anyway. It also showed me that what I needed was a waist and chest strap to distribute the weight more evenly. I even managed to sell it on Ebay for £20 so managed to make most of my money back. For those other single parents out there or just parents who generally spend the day alone, I was shown this youtube video for instructions on how to get baby on your back and into the sling with no help – it’s the technique I use to this day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfck0-x7Z3E I used the mei tai all the time and used to walk for at least  45-60 minutes before my back started to ache a bit – but I would consider going for this long about the normal time you should carry a weight for before having a rest. If I can use a carrier for an hour before needing to take baby off then I’m happy. I would give this carrier 8/10 – just because it didn’t quite work for me as baby got heavier – really though, considering the low cost if I’d had it from birth I’d be giving it a 9/10. 

Whilst taking my monkey to nursery in the Mei Tai I saw a woman using what looked like a great carrier – it was the mei tai

One of the fabulous Madame GooGoo creations

One of the fabulous Madame GooGoo creations

style but had a full buckle arrangement so a proper waist strap with buckle and a chest strap – kind of like the hiking rucksacks but using the traditional style. It looked amazing and the baby looked super happy and comfortable so I asked the lady where it was from. She told me it was a Madame GooGoo – I had to double check that name with her as it sounded strange and I’d never heard of her. I couldn’t find a website and eventually had to look on Facebook where I found her page. The lady who makes these carriers is called Aga and she operates from Poland. I can’t stress enough how amazing they are. However, after seeing the carrier in person I was hoping to get one pretty quickly as my Palm and Pond was getting uncomfortable. I emailed off and got in touch with Justyna who I think runs all the admin side of it. I explained what I saw the lady wearing and said I really wanted the waist and chest strap as I knew this would give me the back support I needed as I seem to have a fussy back that aches relatively easily and quickly given half a chance. What I found was that Aga makes all the carriers to a specific size, so the main panel is made to be suitable for the size of your baby, and the rest of it is custom fit to your size. They’re adjustable within a range and if you and your partner want to use the same carrier then she can make one that adjusts to fit you both. She does have certain ones in stock but unfortunately none were my waist size so I had to book in for a sew date. BUT this meant I got to choose all my material (there’s some really fabulous materials to choose from too!) and pick everything I wanted in regards to the style. For my 1st carrier I chose a black

Another great design

Another great design

background with brilliant rockets and spaceships and little planet Earths all over it, with a hood which had a rainbow striped material inside it. I had black velvet shoulder straps and waist strap too. I also had extra bum darts and padded sides for extra comfort around monkey’s legs. To have all this custom made for me and monkey plus postage cost me £108 – this can change depending on what you go for design wise and where you are in the world but I think it’s roughly around this price. This was still less than the most expensive Baby Bjorn and I was happy to go for it and pay the money. It’s the best money I ever spent!! It’s the most comfortable carrier and Monkey loves it – she bounces away, falls asleep and basically is such a fan she kicks off if she has to go in the pram now. I can wear the carrier for about 90 minutes by which time I’m ready for a rest anyway. In its current size which was a 15″ back panel I reckon it would have done me from her being about 6-8 months old until now and she’s nearly 2. Admittedly she’s not exactly a huge kid but still. Because Aga is so busy and popular the only downside was that I had to wait a bit for an available ‘sew date’ – although they did slot me in as soon as they could. Whilst I was waiting a friend lent me a Littlelife Explorer rucksack carrier … more on that in a second though. I give the Madame GooGoo carriers a big fat 10/10 – can’t recommend her enough. She also makes the Mei Tai style or anything else you might want, but the full buckle style suits me the most, She also makes them right up to a size for the end of pre school if carrying your toddler works for you she can cater for it for a long time.

Find her on Facebook here… http://www.facebook.com/pages/Madame-Googoo-baby-carriers/145687608816099?fref=ts or if you don’t do Facebook you can email her at info@madamegoogoo.com – say you want a carrier and they’ll take you from there. 

Well as I mentioned, whilst waiting for my Madame GooGoo a friend lent me the Littlelife Explorer rucksack – these seem

Littlelife Explorer

Littlelife Explorer

really practical and they have a rain cover, space for stuff underneath, you can attach toys and they seem pretty comfy compared to some. Baby seems to be sat on their bum but very straight so I don’t think you get that C shape curve. For me it hurt my back within about 20 minutes, I think the rucksack is just too heavy on its own without the baby even in it. Also as monkey got heavier it got harder to lift it up safely and put her on my back as you put baby in the carrier before you put it on your back. It does have the waist and chest strap for even weight distribution but like I said, it’s just too heavy. I see a lot of guys with these and I think they just have more upper body strength to deal with them, but not for me. It costs around £100 – due to this I’d give it 6/10 as that’s a steep price to pay if you find it is too uncomfortable to actually use like me – I have a friend who used it regularly though so maybe I’m just a wuss :)

So, back to Madame GooGoo and what prompted this post – I recently went out with my monkey to the outdoor playgroup and on the way home I put her on my back and didn’t notice that a shoulder strap was twisted. Now monkey has the tendency to excitedly bounce away on my back when she sees a bus or a lorry or a dog or another baby or ….. you get the picture. This is fine and Madame GooGoo carriers can easily

The design of my lovely new carrier by Madame GooGoo - I had limited choice as I needed one of the ready made ones so I went with something different to my 1st one and had lovely blue caravans to remind me of my wish to travel!

My lovely new carrier by Madame GooGoo – I had limited choice as I needed one of the ready made ones so I went with lovely blue caravans to remind me of my wish to travel!

cope with this but the added pressure on the twisted strap meant that by the time I got home the actual velvet had ripped. I was truly gutted – I now have a kid who hates the pram and no carrier, I also know it would be complete luck if Aga had an in-stock carrier in my size and monkey’s size. I nearly cried as I really didn’t want to wait 2 months for a new carrier plus it was the day before our trip to Carlisle and we had lots of Roman discovery trips planned and a pram wasn’t going to cut it even if I did convince her to go in it. 

So, two things – first of all a friend very kindly lent me her Ergo Baby carrier that was boxed up as new and waiting for her to give birth. I know how precious the new baby stuff is for your first baby so I was unbelievably grateful to use this in Carlisle (more on the Ergo Baby carrier in a minute). Next I emailed Justyna with a panicked desperate email to see if they could help. Monkey was about a month off me ordering her a new size carrier anyway as she’s grown quite a lot and I wanted one to see us through until she’s properly independently walking at a quicker than snails pace (toddlers have no sense of urgency)! This meant I didn’t mind getting a new one; I was incredibly lucky and there were actually some ready made ones in our size – next up Justyna asked me to send her a picture of the damage to the old carrier as I’d asked if they could fix it. It’s such a beautiful carrier and I want to be able to lend it to friends or sell it on or even use it again myself in the future (you never know). Once she’d seen the damage and verified that I bought the carrier direct from them and not 2nd hand she told me they’d make a new strap and fix the carrier for free and cover all my postage. As you can imagine I’m totally over the moon with this and it just means I’m even more impressed with this lovely lady and her business practice. I think 11/10 is more justified too :)

Just before I finish I’ll quickly round up with the Ergo Baby carrier-  these come so highly recommended online I was

The Ergo Baby carrier - you can see in the picture that it's quite low down on her back

The Ergo Baby carrier – you can see in the picture that it’s quite low down on her back

actually quite pleased I got the chance to try one out. They are a good carrier and sort of seem similar to the ones Aga makes – the basic model is suitable from birth up to 20kg and can be worn on the front and back. However even though they say they’re suitable up to 20kg I found that when monkey was on my back the carrier only came halfway up her back – looking at pictures on their site this seems kind of standard. What I found was that this means monkey can move about and sway around a lot more. She’s not in danger of falling out or anything but it does mean I was put off balance a lot and this puts extra strain on my back. This led to my back aching quicker than it does with my Madame GooGoo. Also because monkey isn’t quite as secure she won’t sleep in the carrier, whereas with Aga’s carriers the panel goes right up to her neck and the hood provides neck support (if you go with a no hood design you can have an added curve at the top just for neck support) – I think this makes monkey feel more stable so she goes to sleep really easily in the Madame GooGoo carrier. The Ergo baby carrier costs between £70 and £160 depending on the style you go for – I have other friends who use it and from what I gather it’s a great baby carrier from newborn when you’re carrying baby on your front, especially when they compared it to the Baby Bjorn. However for me it just didn’t match up to the quality of Aga’s wonderful creations, it can cost more and you don’t get the awesome individuality that comes with all the choices of fabric you get with Madame GooGoo carriers. I’d give the Ergo Carrier 7/10. Good for wee ones, not so good for toddlers.  My friends may disagree with this but their babies are still wee, I reckon once they get bigger they might have the same issues I did with it.

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Sorry about the poor quality image – it’s quite hard to take a back selfie in the mirror!

You may be wondering why on earth someone would try as many carriers as this – why not just give up and stick with a pram? I’ve been wondering this myself as I write this post and actually see how many carriers I’ve used. However, there’s something special about carrying your baby about, it creates a great bond and closeness you just don’t get with a pram. Also it genuinely is so much easier (especially if you live in a block of flats, or a big city or anywhere with steps) to just get them in the carrier and leave. In Glasgow it rains a lot – monkey hates the rain cover and I also get wet, as usually the wind blows my hood down and I don’t like losing my peripheral vision so this means with the pram we both get wet. Using a carrier, means I use a big umbrella and we both stay nice and dry. It also means we can easily go to places with stairs (hidden gem restaurants that always seem to be in a basement). We can go to a museum and now she’s running round I can just run with her rather than trundle after her with the cumbersome pushchair. Buses, subway systems and any transport is loads easier too. The only thing I use the pram for now is if I go to the supermarket with her as it’s good to stash heavy stuff under, but I try and do those trips when she’s at nursery to be honest! If travelling about I’m guessing baby carriers are the way forward. Madame GooGoo carriers would be perfect – comfy for parents and babies and they can be stored in a bag when not in use (unlike the hiking carrier style).

You may wonder what I would do if I had all this knowledge right at the start… I think, (because I hate to be beaten) I would possibly try and master the woven wrap to start with. But be warned , if you go this route it WILL take time and patience. It will be worth practising around the house to start with, only when baby is in a calm mood. Then when you’re a seasoned user, venture outside. I’d then get the wrap converted into a Madame GooGoo full buckle carrier  as this is a service she offers. If I didn’t go that route I would get a Madame GooGoo normal mei tai at the start (she also makes these – the woman is a genius I promise) then get the full buckle style when baby is big enough for back wearing. I’m not sure I’d bother with a pram next time as I never use it anymore! I really hope this has been useful to people anyway and happy baby wearing!! 

And My 2nd Award is….. The Liebster Award!!

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First of all a huge thanks to Kate from the blog http://www.kateoffexploring.com for the nomination. As with anything like this I’m incredibly honoured and it gives me a massive boost to my confidence that my wee blog is appreciated and followed by my fellow bloggers and travellers. As most know I’ve not actually started the ‘big one’ yet regarding travelling as I’m finishing my degree and saving up but this blog is all about how I’m achieving the dream of travelling and working abroad as a single parent. I’ve managed to slot in lots of posts about past travels and current day trips I do around the Uk. This has been a great learning curve for me before I really get going and hopefully manage to make writing and travel blogging a part of my daily life and also my professional life. So again, thanks Kate I’m genuinely over the moon with your nomination. 

So…. from what i understand the award is given to new bloggers by fellow bloggers to highlight and draw attention to all the new talent that’s out there in the blogsville. So yes, I’m incredibly excited to be seen as a new and good quality blogger by my compatriots. 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU RECEIVE THIS AWARD:

You have to write a blog post:-

1. Thanking the blogger who nominated you for the Liebster Award with a link back to his or her blog.
2. Answer the 11 questions that your nominator asks you.
3. Nominate 5 – 11 bloggers of your own, with under 500 followers, whom you think are awesome and deserving of this honor.
4. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
5. Display the Liebster Award logo on your page.
6. List these rules (1-6) in your post.

liebster

So, drum roll please……. ……… I would like to nominate:

http://thestudenttravels.wordpress.com @StudentRucksack

http://globalresidence.me 

http://www.thebravedame.com @TheBraveDame

http://www.travelgenes.com @travelgenes

http://www.seeyousoonmom.com @SeeYouSoonMom

I would love to nominate http://www.wisemonkeysabroad.com but they have too many followers – that’s probably a bit cheeky sorry but I love their blog so wanted to mention it!

My Questions From Kate Are:

1. What’s your favourite part of the travel experience?

There’s so many this is a really tough question but there’s something really special about those 1st few seconds when you leave the airport and step into the official land you’ve just arrived in and you get hit by the smells, noises and heat or cold. It’s a sensory jolt that ejects you straight into that ‘travel mode’. It’s at this precise moment I really know I’ve started my trip.

2. If money were no object, how long would you spend at home versus on the road?

I think I would probably settle to an eventual 80/20 split spending about 80% away either one country or moving and travelling round. But I’d have to have that 20% back with family and friends in the UK and to make sure the monkey has a real familiarity with her home country too. If money were no object I’d like her to have an intimate knowledge of Scotland in particular and also the wider UK. 

3. Has any one writer or blogger influenced the way you travel significantly?

Because I’ve not truly left yet and I’m so new to the blogger community, this is a difficult question to answer in the way Kate intended but…. There’s lots of people who I think will influence me when I do the RTW trip with monkey and there are people who’ve really inspired me to grasp on to whatever it is I want and to go for it. I’ve been reading lots of ‘homeschooling’ and ‘unschooling’ related posts recently as I would like to doing something in-between these 2 things but there was a bit of me that really needed some inspiration to take the jump and admit to myself that it’s what I wanted to do the most – therefore I know I will have to fit not just travelling, but the rest of my professional life around this ideal as it has started to form one of my core aspirations. The blog that really cemented this for me was http://www.benhewitt.net and that decision will influence a lot of my travel in the future I think. 

4. How big is your backpack when you travel?

I’ve been a more suitcase traveller before but I think I will go for a backpack that doubles up as one I can pull, that’s as big as I can manage comfortably. Having not even tried any out yet I’m not sure on this but I think maybe an 80l although any advice on this would actually be pretty handy :) I have a feeling me and monkey will be getting used to some very minimal living. Due to the amount of technology you drag around these days (especially if developing a digital nomad lifestyle) and the flight entertainment toys and other essentials I’ll be carry for me and a small child, clothes will be minimal and we’ll wear a couple of outfits each to death then buy something wherever we happen to be I think. 

5. What’s your biggest travel related fear?

That I won’t ever want to come back but I’ll be forced to out of circumstance 

6. What’s the best meal you’ve had on the road?

I can’t really pick out an amazing meal I’ve had on any of my holidays although I always love the many patisseries dotted about Amsterdam. They seem to go particularly well with the coffee shop culture out there for some reason :)

7. Have you ever had a travel friend come visit you at home?

No, hopefully that’s to come – although I’ll soon be the travel friend visiting others at their homes when I get going on my RTW trip

8. What’s your favourite bit of advice about travel?

http://www.travelingcanucks.com and http://www.goatsontheroad.com are 2 of my favourite travel blogs when it comes to proper advice on planning for and paying for a trip, along with genuine inspirational lives that really make you want to achieve your own dreams. However the best advice is always from the people in your own life who instead of bringing up all the negatives or the worries that border on a sociological moral panic, they say “Just do it!!!” and it makes me smile as I know they’re right! 

9. Which countries have been the easiest and most difficult to travel in?

I find Amsterdam, Holland the easiest so far as everyone pretty much speaks English, everyone is super friendly and it’s really easy to assimilate into the country and find your way around. I think Egypt was amazing but also a culture shock and I could see why some might struggle although I fell in love with Egypt and it’s people. I think maybe you get what you give here which makes it a more difficult country to travel in if you don’t open your heart to it. But I’d have to go with Paris – NOT France just Paris. I’ve written posts before about Paris and although everyone should definitely go and more than once if you can; I find it quite stressful. If you want to know why have a nosey at my blog post on it!

10. Do you stick to your itinerary, or change it up often?

There’s always things I want to do and don’t want to compromise on, and there’s always things that I’m happy to adapt too. Sometimes things just crop up though and you have a disappointment. When I went to Egypt for a week the flight was delayed significantly heading out there, this meant we missed booking the trip to the valley of the kings. However, it was still one of the best things I’ve ever done and I want to go back anyway (maybe once the political situation has stabilised a bit though!)

11. Why did you start traveling?

Although I don’t see myself as an official traveller so to speak (yet!), I just know that I’m at my happiest and most excited and most peaceful when travelling. So in my heart I know it’s what I need to do and everything I’m currently doing, every single day is moving towards that goal. 

So, I hope you enjoyed my answers – here’s my questions, I can’t wait to read the responses!

1. Starting where I left off….. Why did you start travelling?

2. Do you have one moment in time where your heart was stopped (in a good or bad way) when you saw something whilst travelling? If so what was it you saw?

3. If you could go somewhere tomorrow, but only for a day where would you go to?

4. Where would you live (other than your home country) if money was no object?

5. Is there anywhere that really disappointed you?

6. Is there one place that really inspired a wish to travel in you as a child, either through reading about it or learning about it or something else?

7. How has travelling changed you as a person?

8. What is your favourite part of travelling?

9. What is your favourite world food?

10. Do you collect anything from each country you visit? If so what?

11. Is there anywhere that you didn’t expect to like and it really surprised you instead?

Can’t wait to read the answers guys – and thanks for reading!

English Escapes – Carlisle and Hadrian’s Wall

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Some beautiful sumptuous views at the back of Birdoswald Fort

Some beautiful sumptuous views at the back of Birdoswald Fort – fabulous clouds here as well if like me, you’re a fan of weather systems.

I went for a little break down to Carlisle with family last weekend – there were 4 adults and 4 kids all under 10. In my opinion Carlisle has got to be one of the top places to go with that age range, especially if you catch some good weather which we did. If you don’t know much about the area then Carlisle is a city with a large castle, surrounded by lots of Roman history, beautiful countryside and not far from The Lake District. Hadrian’s Wall runs through it and goes right along to Newcastle and there’s various Roman forts, bits of ruins and museums along the

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall

way.

My little girl is a bit too young to appreciate all the educational stuff but I’ve bookmarked a lot of what we did for some future homeschooling visits later down the line. It real is a perfect setting to see history in action. The attractions in the area like the Castles and forts are all part of the English Heritage group – a bit like the National Trust really. If you know you’re going to be able to visit a lot of the English Heritage sites then it would definitely be worthwhile to get an annual membership; especially if you’re a larger family as adults gain discounted entry and kids under 19 go free (although children under 5 always go free). 

If you need to stay in Carlisle we got a really good deal at the Premier Inn – I’m sure there’s more B&B’s and historic settings to stay at but it was great value and they’re very kid friendly with a good bar and restaurant. Also nearby there’s a Brewyer’s Fayre just down the motorway which has a great Wacky Warehouse attached that the kids can go mad in for no extra price. I was impressed by what you got for your money on the menu here too – if you’re looking to do a family break and keep to a budget there’s plenty to find

Hadrian's Wall (again)!

Hadrian’s Wall (again)!

We went round Carlisle Castle first as soon as we arrived- it’s a large place with still operational army barracks. Some of it’s in ruins but most is intact with a good amount of information on display and also there are some real performances by people in costume during the holidays. They re-enacted scenes from history with the kids during the ‘Kings and Queens’ weekend and the kids got some cheap Roman swords and shields in the gift shop that kept them amused for the whole break – my wee monkey even got her own foam sword that I’m still getting whacked with on a regular basis, which she of course finds hilarious :)

The following day we headed off to find some of Hadrian’s Wall that we could walk along and to hunt out Birdoswald Roman Fort (again, part of the English heritage group). There’s a warrior school on during the holidays that costs an extra pound per child. The kids get dressed up and were taught battle techniques and fighting styles and they got to make masks and other crafty things. They really loved all of this. You can then walk round the fort and see loads of information about the Roman and viking history. If you’re looking for

More stunning countryside views at Birdoswald Fort

More stunning countryside views at Birdoswald Fort

something even more educational then there’s 2 further sites further along from Birdoswald called the Roman Vindolanda Fort & Museum and The Roman Army Museum. These are basically the definitive roman experience for kids and I will definitely be taking my monkey back when she’s bigger. There’s a high amount of Roman artefacts on display here, fantastic 3D re-enactment of battles, and the building of the wall, tons of activities for kids such as writing messages home in the traditional roman style and plotting the conquest of Britain. If you’re an adult or older child with a keen interest in history and archaeology you can even volunteer to help excavate the ruins from April – September. And this is all the stuff I’ve just read about as we didn’t even go!! I think if you go to Hadrian’s Wall in Carlisle and want to investigate the Roman history then this is the place to go to – we’d just run out of time and had already done

Talkin Tarn - views to inspire poetry!

Talkin Tarn – views to inspire poetry… and look at those clouds again!

Birdoswald and we were on a bit of a budget. If it was one or the other I’d say skip Birdoswald and go straight to the Roman Vindolanda. 

Anyway, on the way back to the city we stopped at Talkin Tarn for a picnic and ice cream and the bigger kids managed to fit in a row boat trip too. This tarn has a variety of watersports on offer including one of those transparent inflatable balls you go in and try to run around on the water – although in reality I saw lots of people take 2 steps and fall over and not manage to get back up again. This was quite fun to watch but possibly not as fun to do so more of a spectator sport :) I can’t remember the exact pricing (sorry) but it wasn’t extortionate. There was also an enclosed kids playground, an area set up for lots of bird feeding and you

Feeding the birds at Talkin Tarn

Feeding the birds at Talkin Tarn

can buy proper bird feed (not bread) cheaply and feed the ducks – this was of course the highlight of monkey’s day. 

The following day we nipped to Ullswater to see The Lakes – we unfortunately didn’t have time to go on the wee steamer boat as it’s a 140 minute round trip but we did go to Pooley Bridge and have a very nice ice cream! Bare in mind that if you do want to go on the steamer then the queues were huge as it’s an extremely popular tourist destination. I’d investigate buying tickets in advance if I went again. 

So that was our little 3 day trip to Carlisle – the place is enriched with local ancient history and you’ll be rewarded with some stunning views of classic British countryside whichever direction you go in out of Carlisle. Definitely somewhere go to if you have the chance and particularly great for children so they can really engage with history outside of the classroom in a much more inspiring way. If you go as adults though, there’s plenty of really good walks of varying difficulty and lots of country pubs and restaurants to rest and recuperate along the way!

Once again, more stunning views of the lakes at Ullswater

Once again, more stunning views of the lakes at Ullswater

Tefl approved…. (technically)!

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approvedI have now finished my 120 hour online TEFL course! I’m of course extremely happy about this; I’m now officially qualified to teach English as a foreign language. BUT…. there’s always a but isn’t there? I say ‘technically’ in my title because doing the online course means I’ve had no actual teaching practice.

I’ve loved the course and I don’t want to make it seem like I’m criticising the TEFL qualification; however, there are some big downsides to doing the course completely online. I think I’d be incredibly nervous before teaching a lesson for starters. Also there were lots of grammar related questions/problems I had, that really needed the presence of a proper instructor to solve. Anyone who has looked even briefly at the structure of English grammar can attest to how complicated we seem to have made our system. But (yes there’s a 2nd more positive ‘but’)… I feel that I made the right choice and I will stick to my original plan. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you will know that I planned on doing the online course to familiarise myself with the grammar and to get a feel for what’s expected of me before applying to do the more formal CELTA qualification at the university I currently study. I’m glad I did it this way round. I now have a rudimentary understanding of grammar. Although I will say that if I was only planning on doing this course then jumping straight into teaching, I would need some immense organisational skills to fully prep all my lessons in advance in order to make sure I could answer any questions my students had. 

On saying that, I think preparation and advance planning and a huge amount of lesson plans and worksheets all done in advance of the lessons will be key to being a good EFL teacher. I can see why there’s so many complaints about of terrible quality of teaching. If you’re just bumming around and do the TEFL course as a thing to make money, but it’s not something you put any effort, energy or passion into, then you will be a terrible teacher. You will also end up hating your job as much as the students hate you. Sorry, I know that sounds harsh but having done the course I know that it’s completely true… you only have to read some forum and blog posts to know the level of appalling teaching that’s out there and I think this is the reason why. They’ve gone into it thinking it’ll be a doss and it couldn’t be further from the truth.

I think you could do the online course and then build up lots of experience through voluntary work if you wanted. This could be a viable option for anyone who can’t afford the far higher price of the CELTA course. I think I’ll try and do some voluntary stuff anyway as it will help me to get over those initial jitters about standing in front of a class, and it would be nice to have experience before accepting a proper job too. The online course is pretty easy, I don’t want to belittle anyone who found it hard… by that I mean that with a bit of effort I think most people will find it manageable and would be able to complete it. The assignments start off as multiple choice quizzes on the grammar and then build up to written assignments you submit for proper marking. However, these begin as small, manageable quick pieces of work and it’s only the final 3-4 assignments that pose a challenge in any way. These last ones do require you to apply what you’ve been taught and to prepare some full lessons from start to finish. They take time and care and are worth doing well, after all this is what you’ll be doing as a teacher!

Once you’ve done the course you’ll find that along the way, you’ve had to do so much research you’ll have hopefully built up some great resource links from external websites – these will be a huge help when actually teaching. One of the best I’ve found to date is the great blog found here on WordPress called ‘tefltastic’ – http://www.tefltastic.wordpress.com there’s tons of resources, worksheets and lesson planning advice and tips along with a large amount of activity ideas. There’s also hundreds of activity worksheets available to download. Well worth a look! The tefl community is in general very helpful and inclusive – everyone has been in that starter position before, so I think that makes everyone really willing to help and create an open community of sharing when it comes to academic resources. 

Below are some good websites I’ve found during the duration of my course:

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk This is a BBC/British council site offering loads of tips and lesson plan ideas along with grammar help.

http://www.teflteachertraining.com is a great blog by Ted, offering untold amounts of advice and help on all things TEFL

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/ A good resource if you need some grammar explained in plain english whilst completing the course. It helps to fill in some of the gaps that are there in the TEFL course book.

http://www.onestopenglish.com Again, this is a good site for filling in some of the gaps, the TEFL course is OK but I must admit I did find some explanatory gaps in their books. Although I suppose a bit of self-study is never a bad thing either!

http://www.tefl.net A general resource and advice site

http://www.businessdictionary.com This is a great resource to use for vocabulary you might need in a business english class, providing definitions and also ideas around which to plan your business english lessons.

I’m planning on continuing to post any useful information I find including useful resource sites, so keep an eye out if you find this kind of stuff useful. I’m also hoping to get a little site started up with my own worksheets and lesson plans etc once I actually start teaching. Although this will be a couple of years down the line save for some voluntary work. It is most definitely in the pipeline though – you can hold me to it! 

I just want to end by saying that the TEFL course provided by http://www.tefl.org.uk was well worth the money. Although I found some of the instructions to be a little bit ambiguous I did get through it with a grade point average well over 90%. They also marked all my assignments in the agreed timeframe and gave me advice when I asked for it. I’m very glad I did this, and I think it will be extremely valuable when I do the CELTA to have had access to the knowledge and the lesson plans. And if you are very self driven and motivated you could definitely get along into teaching without the CELTA – but I would suggest doing a substantial amount of voluntary work if you can to get the experience and to put into practice all the theory you have been taught. Also it’s worth remembering that knowledge of the subject is only one part of what it takes to be a good teacher and that will come more easily the more you do it – however what really matters are the qualities employers and students will look for :

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Happy TEFL-ing guys, I can’t wait to actually get going with my travels and put my knowledge into practice!

Sunny days in Scotland – The Isle of Bute

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IMG_0523So Last Monday it was a beautiful sunny day, on a whim I decided to travel out to the Isle of Bute. I’ve been in Glasgow a while and shamefully have to admit I’ve not done a massive amount of exploring. I’ve been to Ayr, Loch Lomond, Edinburgh, St Andrews, and Stirling, but that’s about it.

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The Isle Of Bute takes about 90 minutes in total from Glasgow central (50 mins by train the a 35 minute ferry ride). The trains and ferries are hourly and line up nicely on the timetable. It really is worth the trip. It also seems to be a popular family destination with plenty to do around the isle. I’d read a bit online before going and discovered there are a few sandy beaches. My little monkey hadn’t been to the beach or paddled in the sea so I must admit this was the main aim. I decided on heading to Ettrick Bay, the closest beach to Rothesay. There’s regular buses from Rothesay the main town on Bute where the ferry lands. There was meant to be a tour bus but it didn’t show up so we just jumped on the next normal bus.

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Ettrick Bay has a little café called the Ettrick Bay Tearoom where you can eat, grab a drink and of course go to the loo and get changed – essential things when you have a small child. The bay itself is really beautiful with a gorgeous view of both Arran and Kintyre in the distance.

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The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot so we managed to spend an hour or two digging and paddling away before monkey got tired and needed a nap. She’s well accustomed to the baby carrier so slept on my back whilst I headed back to Rothesay for a bit of an explore.

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There’s Rothesay Castle to explore which is small but has it’s own moat and an incredibly long history dating right back to the 13th century. I thought it was a tiny bit expensive at £4.50 – there wasn’t much educational stuff set up but it was a quiet break away from the world and I still like the really historical locations as they always hold a bit of a spell over me. Rothesay Castle didn’t have the level of effect the Colosseum had when I was in Rome but it was still a wee bit mystical.

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All together I think the day trip cost about £40 per adult for all the travel and all our food and the castle trip so if you can spare that kind of money and find yourself in Glasgow on a sunny day I’d really recommend a trip out to the Isle Of Bute.

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