Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare

P1000929via Photo Challenge: Rare

Lenticular cloud formation: rare

Glamping at Hoddom Castle


The beautiful Hoddom Castle near The fabulously named Ecclefechan. We were very happy to see a stunning rainbow produced by one of the few upsides of British weather – a lot of rain and a brief amount of sun. 

I’ll do a longer more informative post soon on the camping facilities here, I just wanted to share this beautiful rainbow.

How to Plan for a Long Trip

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On researching how to plan a long term travel itinerary I came across some advice which said to get some big white boards (I can’t remember the reference now as it was a while ago, so many apologies for the absence of a link to the advice). Being a visual person this idea really appealed to me so I’ve gone and set up a ‘travel wall’ in my kitchen. I sourced some big white boards from Rymans (about £10 each although they are probably available cheaper elsewhere to be honest). One of these is half pin board/half white board.

I’ve then attached these large maps of the places where I’m spending a good 3 months so I can visualise my route through and where the various attractions are that I want to visit. I wrote a post on the maps and where to find them previously so take a gander as they are a mega resource for anyone interested in travel or education etc and they’re available in very high resolution, meaning a large print can be done (also a fab teacher’s resource).

It’s also given Aria a great visualisation of these places I keep talking about and next week I’m going to get her her own little white board as she loves doodling on them. Since taking this picture I’ve filled up 2 of the boards with to-do lists and packing lists and no doubt the 3rd will fill up fast too. It’s really cemented in my head now as something ‘real’ that we’re actually going to do next year so a great idea that I fully recommend.

World Maps: In Detail

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The larger maps shown here are A1 but could have been printed even larger, the smaller maps are A3

When finding maps to plan my 2 years travelling I came across a fabulous resource for travellers, anyone home educating or for anyone at all really: Please take a look at ‘On the World Map’ for incredibly detailed, very large, printable maps of any country in the world. You can also view train line maps, political maps, time-zone maps, and many more. I’ve just printed some really large scale maps of China and Japan with rail line maps of each country too. I can now plot my routes in great detail. Resolutions are about 4000 x 5000 so if you have the printer you can get some very large maps printed.

 

Magna Science Museum, Rotherham

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Magna Science Adventure Centre, Rotherham

I had a  day in Sheffield last week visiting my mum and whilst we were there we discovered Magna. It’s a science centre set in an old steelworks and it also has a fantastic outdoor play and water park. You can buy a day ticket for both areas which you can turn into a free annual pass on the day, or alternatively it is possible to buy tickets for the outdoor park area only – these are pretty affordable. Prices are around £10.95 for an adult ticket and about £6.95 for a child’s but the outdoor area only is considerably less.

I’ll be very honest and say that the actual indoor area was not exactly the greatest science museum I’ve ever been to. It doesn’t use the enormous space to its full advantage for starters. Secondly, it looks as though it received a lot of funding a few years ago and not had much since. This results in a tired look about the place with a lot of the best exhibits not working (the tornado machine for example). But the premise is good: the museum is split into 4 areas named ‘air’, ‘earth’, ‘fire’, and ‘water’; the best was definitely water and had the most children in it. You could use wave power to light the light house, see how a canal lock works 1st hand (in miniature form) and fire water guns amongst other things.

I really think some money needs to be spent to be able call this a great science museum. However that said, the outdoor area is incredible. There is a fab water area with taps and buckets and all kinds of fountains that children (or grown ups) can run through. This was next to a huge play area with something for all age groups. You could easily just come to the outdoor area and have a fab day out on a budget. Or you can experience the whole thing for about £35 for a family of 4 and then come back for a year for free. Bring a picnic and this is great value on a sunny day. P1020848P1020854P1020849P1020847

A Day out in Warwick, UK

 

P1020677Well, really it was a day out at Warwick Castle but I won’t quibble over a title; although we did have a little wander around the town afterwards to find a place to eat (as it happens the amazing ‘Aqua’ Lebanese restaurant had incredible food with really great service and can be found at 12-14 Jury St, Warwick CV34 4EW).

P1020685Warwick Castle is actually part of the Merlin Group so I’d decided to go due to the fact it’s free with our passes. I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, however the usual entrance fee is about £25 which is comparable to most of their attractions. I’ve got to say that I was very pleasantly surprised. I’ve been dragged to a lot of castles as a child, and Warwick was probably one of them but I don’t remember it so who knows. It’s definitely one of the best kept castles I’ve ever been to and the attractions were also well organised and well timed throughout the day and some of the best I’ve seen in that setting. I chose to go on a weekday outside of the holidays and the only people there were a few school visits, nothing was over crowded and the sun was shining – a perfect day in my opinion.

P1020751Activities at Warwick include an archery display, the Princess Tower (bit rubbish and dated in my opinion and solely centred on girls hanging around for a kiss for hundreds of years, these ‘princesses’ also have no autonomy or control in their own lives and Warwick Castle clearly haven’t realised it’s 2016 not 1816). However putting the terrible tower of slave princesses aside it’s a fabulous day out. For example, the falconry was one of the best I’ve seen; the birds seem extremely well looked after with lots of information about their lives at the castle. The falconry houses some of the largest eagles in the world alongside falcons and owls, who looked magnificent simply flying around and eating snacks. The archery display was good and interesting and then later on we got to see one of the largest trebuchet’s in the world in action – firing rocks across hundreds of feet at high speed.

The Castle is beautifully laid out and preserved inside with lots of information but also not too much information either. On a sunny day the grounds are really stunning and there was food available in several places along with toilets, the most accessible of which are right by the entrance so it might be an idea to do a good toilet break and baby change

P1020812before you head into the castle grounds. Food is typically expensive so bring a picnic if you can. Prams aren’t allowed inside the actual castle (they are however allowed in the grounds) so try and bring babies in a carrier if possible as it will allow you greater freedom of the whole place.

There’s a great play park which is big enough to accommodate a lot of children and there’s a Horrible Histories Maze which we had good fun completing in-between the various scheduled displays. The Maze is really aimed at the 7+ age group but Aria had fun running round and collecting the stamps even though there was a lot of educational info that went over her head. The falconry show was different each time and there were at least 2 slots to see each show, the princess tower has to be booked in advance but doesn’t cost anything extra. There is parking but be prepared to pay even if you’re in the disabled bay – a blue badge gets you next to the Castle but doesn’t give you free parking (it was £6 for a disabled badge and I think £8 all day otherwise).

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Keep an eye out on the blog for more photos – I got so many great shots of the birds that I’ll do a whole separate post just for them.

A Day at Blackpool Tower

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The home of Strictly Come Dancing during their special ‘Blackpool week’, and with decades of history to its name this is one of my favourite places that we’ve visited this year. Opulent surroundings, a lovely afternoon tea and a sneaky glass of prossecco – you can’t get better than that. It was so lovely watching Aria spin around and enjoy herself; many people came up to me and expressed their delight and said it reminded them of when their parents brought them dancing at a similar age. It really hit home how for some people this ballroom is a staple of their childhood and helped cement a lifelong love of dancing for them.

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The ballroom is part of the Merlin group, so once again it was something we could enjoy for free and I simply paid for the afternoon tea as a birthday present for a friend. Afterwards we headed to the Tower circus which is really entertaining and well worth a visit as well… all part of the Merlin group so if you do decide to invest in a pass you would get in free to these attractions and be able to go to ‘Jungle Jim’s’ soft play centre too. Aria always loves the silly 2p machines and arcade games so I always let her have a go as a treat.

It’s only possible to book for a 90 minute slot from 12pm at various times throughout the day in the ballroom. I picked the earliest time so we could go to the 2.30pm circus show and still be able to drive back and miss the traffic at rush hour. If it’s a nice day you could easily come earlier and wander along the beach or walk down the seafront as it gets dark and see some of the illuminations come on. There’s also all the pier attractions and the pleasure beach. i’ve yet to go on the big dipper but it’s on my list before we move away next year.

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A Family Weekend in London

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A trip to London was definitely in order. I lived here for nearly 7 years in my late teens and early twenties and I couldn’t wait to bring Aria down and do some of the tourist stuff I never got round to even after all those years living here. I think when you live somewhere and don’t have children it’s harder to justify the high prices for a lot of the tourist activities and I definitely ended up making excuses and never really getting around to a lot of things I wanted to do.

We stayed in a lovely Airbnb apartment that was perfect for our needs, a friend came and stayed with us so it ended up being £70 each per night which isn’t too bad relatively speaking as London is pretty pricey for accommodation. I love having the freedom an IMG_3357apartment gives especially with a small child; she went to bed and I was able to stay up and watch the Eurovision Song Contest with my friend, which is great compared to being trapped in a hotel room in silence next to a sleeping a toddler! The apartment was 5 minutes from a tube station that was on the district line, this took us to all the major tourist destinations that we wanted to visit including the London Eye, Shrek’s Adventure Land, a fabulous play park in Kensington and the Natural History Museum.

A lot of our destinations were chosen because we were lucky enough to be given Merlin Passes by a friend of mine last year, so I wanted to try and get some benefit from these and visit a few Merlin Attractions (have a look at the website for more details, but included in this pass are some pretty well known attractions in the UK such as Alton Towers, Legoland – Windsor, Madame Tussaud’s and The London Eye).

Our first stop on the Friday daytime was The Natural History Museum , the nearest tube station is South IMG_3331Kensington and the majority of the museum is free. There are paid exhibitions on all year round which are usually worth a visit but it is free to see most of the permanent exhibits such as the ever popular dinosaurs. There is also free bag check in and plenty of cafes and food available in and around the museum. Aria is completely Space mad so we went see the paid Otherworld’s exhibition which featured some truly breathtaking images from the various spacecraft we’ve sent off into the depths of outer space. I think Hubble is the biggest contributor. Jupiter is my daughter’s favourite planet and this is an image of her ‘meeting’ Jupiter. It’s definitely one that will make me smile for many years to come. We also visited the ‘Sensational Butterflies‘ exhibition as discussed in an earlier post.

On Saturday we head out to meet a friend and travelled to Tower Bridge and The Tower of London in the morning; the bridge can be found at Tower Hill tube stop. I’ve driven over this bridge so many times when living here but never really properly visited the area or the castle. It’s probably one of the most iconic views you’ll see of the city though. Some interesting information about the bridge is that when a large ship is passing under that requires the bridge to be raised, it takes priority over all other traffic. This meant that on a visit from president George W. Bush, his motorcade happened to be on its way to cross the bridge when it needed to be raised and he was made to wait. Apparently this caused a bit of diplomatic situation as he accused people of putting his life in danger but the laws of the bridge and the water even applied to him! There is an exhibition on at the bridge but we didn’t go there this P1020588time and simply headed for the Tower of London instead. If your whole group travels here by rail as opposed to the underground it is possible to get 2 for 1 tickets; as it costs £25 per person these are a pretty good deal. My train ticket from Manchester from the previous day and my friend’s ticket from that days travel were both valid for the offer.

I would say that The Tower of London is best for the 8+ age group, particularly maybe the 11+. Although Aria was great and loved running around and seeing the castle and the armoury etc, she didn’t really get the full educational benefit. We enjoyed seeing the crown jewels and the changing of the guard, and she loved meeting Keeper the armoury dragon; however, there is much more to be had from this experience for older children and adults. There are plenty of guided walks and a huge amount of historical information available to read. One interesting fact I learnt which I never knew was that not only was Sir Isaac Newton a philosophical and natural science genius, he was also the Warden of the Royal Mint  when in his fifties! This was a position he actively sought out.

After we had roamed around the tower for a while we decided to reward a very patient Aria IMG_3408with a trip to what is listed as one of the best play parks in London. The was the Princess Diana Memorial Play Park in Kensington Gardens. There are a few nearby tube stops such as Notting Hill Gate and Bayswater and i think at least 3 different lines head in that direction so it’s very accessible. The park definitely lived up to its reputation and didn’t disappoint. Aria had enormous fun charging around the pirate ship, splashing in water and utilising all the swings and slides. There’s something for all age groups here and Kensington Gardens and Palace are also nearby. The play park is free and has some really decent free toilets as well, which is a huge bonus when travelling with children. There’s food and drink for sale, bikes to hire and it’s well worth visiting this little gem. Even though it was busy it wasn’t uncomfortably so and everyone seemed to help out keeping an eye on the kids.

Sunday arrived and it was our final day in London, and we headed off to visit the London IMG_3448Eye and Shrek’s Adventure World; both of which can be found on the Embankment and Embankment tube is of course the nearest stop. Around this area you’ll find The Houses of Parliament, The Tate Modern, Jubilee Play park (also free) and it’s also just really nice to walk along the river have a good nosey at everything going on. I never went on The Eye, despite living here when it went up so I’d was really excited about this. Our passes got us on for free which was a bonus – it’s pretty pricey at around the £25 mark. I’ll be honest, the queues are a pest and I’d recommend arriving before the 10am opening time to queue for the tickets and then  queue again for the actual Eye. Don’t bother with the extra £6 for the fast track  queue as it really didn’t appear to go that much quicker when we were there. The queues move pretty fast despite me saying it’s a pain but I still felt a bit flustered by the time we finally got on as Aria was whinging and my back was hurting from the bags etc. I wasn’t sure at this point if it was going to be worth it! But IMG_3429don’t panic, I can honestly say it was one of my favourite things. If you get a blue sky sunny day it really does give fabulous views of the city and the Thames. I loved it! I’d possibly even do it again as it was such an fab perspective of the city that you don’t normally get. If it’s raining and grey however I’d probably say don’t waste your money and just wait for a nicer day if you can, as you’ll be a bit disappointed I think.

Next stop was Shrek’s Adventure: I had no idea what to expect  as I only booked it as it’s free with our Merlin passes

I should probably take this opportunity to say that I am in no way sponsored or affiliated with the Merlin Group and have not received any freebies from them for this post – we simply received a pair of passes from a friend and I’ve been trying to get the best value I can out of them! If you struggle for money but could afford the one off purchase I would highly recommend them as it really does give you some great value experiences for the year if you make the effort to visit all the attractions. 

Anyway, Shrek’s adventure is pricey if you pay to get in and it was suggested for the 7+ age group. Aria is 3 and I’ve got to say I was pretty impressed. It was good fun and was an actor led ‘walk through’ experience. Aria loved it and I’m glad we went. I can’t decide how I would have felt about it if we’d have paid to get in, but I’d say it’s probably still a fun day out if P1020650you can afford it. They don’t allow photography throughout, but they do get you to pose for a lot of pictures taken by them and at the end of the experience you get presented with a pretty cool book with all the pictures in – however they wanted £30 for this which in my opinion was too much. I’d have gone for it had it been about £15-20 maybe! As with most Merlin Group stuff there is a very large capitalist element to it as you have to walk through the shop at the end which is filled with expensive tat (hard with a toddler who wants everything). But if you can ignore this then you can have a great day out here. At the end of the experience there is an opportunity to pose with various film characters form different Dreamwork’s films and take photos for free which was nice. Aria liked King Julien a lot!

After this we headed to The Real Food Market at the Southbank Centre Square, which is just behind the Eye. This place is really excellent and open Fri-Sun, I’d fully recommend it for some delicious food and drink that’s unusual and well made. You can definitely do some hipster spotting too… It’s possible to get a decent lunch for a fiver or a really great lunch for a tenner. I had duck fat fried chips and some Lebanese IMG_3447mezzo. There are alcohol/cocktails and lots of home bakes and bread to take away too. After food we headed to Jubilee park behind the Eye for Aria to run some steam off before we headed to get our train home – one thing to note about this area is there is nowhere you can check your bags in which is a pain. I had to lug a big rucksack around which got in the way a lot when queuing etc. I had assumed Shrek’s adventure would have a check in but I was wrong!

Obviously our trip has just covered a small part of what’s on in London but I hope you’ve found some useful information and maybe enjoyed the pictures. London is still one of the best cities on the planet and it really is a must see destination for any traveler. It’s possible to have a budget trip with kids especially if you plan in advance and maybe get the London Pass or if you live here and have a Merlin Pass you really must get the benefit by visiting as included in this is The Eye, The Dungeons, and Shrek’s Adventure. The tube system is excellent once you get to grips with it and you can get anywhere pretty easily. But really do get an oyster card as at £12.50 the day travel cards are super expensive these days as opposed to just £2.40 a trip with the oyster card.

 

Sensational Butterflies, London UK

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I’ve finally managed to sneak in some travelling around the UK in amongst the chaos that is currently reigning whilst I try and prepare for myself and my wee girl to embark on our 2 year backpacking adventure. Fingers crossed you will be hearing a lot more from me now as I share my experiences of planning, booking, and organising our trip away which will be starting in  August 2017!

However, before then I will share with you a wee trip to London which we took last weekend. I lived in London for about 6 or 7 years from when I was 19 and I’ve been dying to take my daughter Aria to see the sights and catch up with old friends. Aria is completely obsessed with dinosaurs and space so a trip to The Natural History Museum was definitely on the cards. These pictures are from the beautiful ‘Sensational Butterflies’ exhibition on at the museum. I will do a much more comprehensive post about our experience in London in the next few days once I’ve had a chance to edit all the pictures and sort through the best of them; I just felt these gorgeous butterflies deserved a separate post all of their own! If you’re in the UK it is well worth a visit if you’ve not been already; with so many exhibits on at the museum there must be something for everyone!

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Apologies, inner peace & 2017 being the year of travel!

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I most genuinely have no idea where 2016 has scurried away to in such a hurry. I haven’t written for so long I’m starting to have that nagging guilt in some dusty corner of my mind, which seems to just make me look away even more I fear. I think after finishing my degree I had to step away from writing another single word just until I transitioned safely back to normal life after the rigors of academia.

However, there’s no need for alarm (if there was any), as all of our plans to travel remain the same and are moving forward significantly these days. What follows is a quick and haphazard catch up of all my racing thoughts and plans that have formed slowly in my head over the last year or so:

We will be getting our backpacks and babygrows (well, more likely Star Wars pyjamas these days) out in July 2017 and embarking on a long and magnificent trip around anything eastward bound from the UK. The plan at the moment is to get over to Amsterdam and then take trains through Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and on to Russia where we will catch the Trans-Siberian to go to Beijing via Mongolia. With plenty of stops on the way this should be one of the most exciting and educating ways to get to China that we could possibly experience; so much more immersive than catching a plane. My 3 year old is incredibly excited to be catching a train to China, regardless of the fact she doesn’t fully understand the reality of that yet. I’m introducing her slowly but surely to the concept, process and all the places we will visit (she’ll be nearly 5 at the point we leave though). Being the wee sponge that she is she’s learning an incredible amount before we’ve even set off on our home schooling travels.

After we arrive in China we’re to spend 3 months seeing China via train (and the odd plane no doubt) before we move off to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Bali to meet friends. We’ll then head to Australia to spend Christmas and New Year with the many family and friends we have over there. We’ll be exploring Oz and New Zealand for the next 3 months and if all goes to plan we’ll be heading out to Japan for 3 months at the start of March so we can experience sakura season. Afterwards I cannot wait to visit South Korea and experience with my own eyes the rich culture I see in my much loved K-Drama.

Beyond this I’m I’m undecided. We will possibly go to Croatia or to Malta where I am musing about settling down or at least making a base in a place with a climate better suited to our needs and personalities. Croatia looks to be too unstable as they’re quite restrictive to UK migrants at the moment. In Malta however, home schooling is illegal and they start schooling at 5 years (although my monkey will 6 when we’ve finished travelling). I’m still researching the system but I may have found a very good Montessori-type school on Gozo and they appear to get 12 weeks summer holidays both of which could persuade me to try schooling to give us an opportunity to settle a bit where family and friends can visit and from where we would still be able to travel 3 months of the year. I’ll post about the relocation in more detail very soon, it’s been an interesting thought/research process for me.

So, as you can see the plans have been busily forging on despite me being woefully neglective of my blog and my followers. I promise to try and post more regularly now, especially as I’m making daily decisions for our future travel plans. I’m currently choosing a hybrid backpack (one that also rolls, if like me you had no idea what that means) and researching accommodation, visas and all that stuff. I’ve now been saving for this for about 5 years very slowly, however much I’m able. Last year I even made a couple of thousand pounds selling off some of our possessions on eBay. I do actually intend to sell most of what we own before we go, keeping only the 20% or so of belongings we truly need or desire. This is a big thing for me as I want to learn to appreciate other things in life besides the things I own. Up until now I’ve placed much emphasis on my belongings; however, I want something different for my daughter. I want her to value something other than ‘stuff’ and I promised myself I would never say ‘do as I say not as I do’ to her. I think I should show her how to behave not tell her how to. So in 18 months we will hopefully undergo some vast geographical changes alongside some moral and spiritual ones too (for want of a better cliché), as we unburden ourselves, live in the moment and appreciate everything else the world has to offer.

At the beginning of this passage I posted one of my favourite pictures I took on our trip to the Outer Hebrides. I chose this image as it was here that I felt the most calm and at one with myself, once I managed to become comfortable with the almost deafening silence that accompanies the night sky. I remember having a clarity of thought that I haven’t experienced very often and I want to try and chase that experience for a while and see what I discover about myself whilst doing it. I think my daughter will grow more in these moments than she ever could dumped into the unforgiving rat race of school in the UK. I want her to find an inner peace that I was never able to locate in amongst all the stress and trauma of growing up. So before I launch her into the world of State education and all that goes with that, I’d like her to know peace, silence and meditation. I believe these are skills essential to us if we are to survive in the modern world.

Please stay in touch to see what comes next in our adventures. As always any suggestions on anything in regards to our travel plans is much appreciated. Luggage choices, accommodation suggestions or even ways in which I could earn a living whilst travelling are all appreciated. I’m currently developing an international toolbox of skills that will help me to turn my hand to anything whilst travelling the world and step out from that normalcy that has up until now made me feel trapped in my day to day life…. More on that another day though!