Back to Bournemouth

The thing about momentum is once lost, it’s very hard to get back.  For the first two months of this trip, we rushed about madly for the most part, always ready to see something, to go somewhere, to pack and unpack and pack again.  Once we got to Winchester, we stopped.  We unpacked.  We didn’t repack.

And then the inertia set in.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine, and said how we were even finding the thought of a train trip to the coast as just too much. He reminded me something I know, but it was to good to hear again – we won’t be back here for a while, and it would be a shame to miss out on seeing what we can.

Today when we woke up, the sun was struggling out from behind the clouds, but the metropolitan weather office informed us that the further West we headed, the better our chances of sunshine.  Tony had been sad about missing out on seeing Bournemouth, and Toby and I were keen for a trip back.  So we hopped on (well, narrowly missed one train, hung out at Winchester train station for half an hour and then hopped on) a train and headed to the seaside once again.

And when we got there we were very glad we did.  Bournemouth put on a show on a glorious sunshine filled day.

Let's not forget this is England in late October.
Let’s not forget this is England in late October.

Without the trappings of a summer day at the seaside – the bouncy castles and dodgem rides of our last visit were long gone – I was struck by the nostalgic glamour of Bournemouth.    There is a fantastic hotel perched on the cliffs above the beach.

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It’s currently a Marriot, but started it’s life in 1875 as ‘Highcliff Mansions’, attracting aristocratic visitors.  It’s all too easy to imagine the ladies and gentleman of the day strolling along the promenade, taking in the sea air.

By 1908 the trip back up to the hotel was made easier by the addition of a furnicular – which is still in operation today.

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Adding to the charm is the row of beach huts along the promenade.  They’re available to hire, and although most are shut up out of summer, there were a few open today.  Each is supplied with a little gas hob and a kettle.  I can’t think of anything much more perfect than sitting reading, drinking tea, and watching the ocean from a little beach hut.  Perhaps stopping at lunch time to fry up some sausages.  (There is, in my mind, something quintessentially English about frying sausages in the open air.  I suspect it’s a Famous Five/Harry Potter thing.)

As long as I could find someone to watch the kids.

The kids loved the beach today.  Millie and Toby played together in the sand for the first time – a development that is making me very happy about our planned Christmas jaunt to Cottesloe.

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Millie put her increasingly confident walking and running skills to the test, and made a break for it whenever she could.

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Although most of the summer trappings had gone, there were a few left.  Toby had a go on the trampolines.

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The time limits were very generous (especially compared to ones we have done in Australia) so Toby had a great time.  We couldn’t convince him to do a somersault, but he did get quite high by the end.

Meanwhile Millie stole my icecream.  (Blackcurrants and clotted cream.  It was delicious.  Evidently she agreed).

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We had a great day out, made perfect by making our train home with a minute to spare, after racing up and over the footbridge, Tony carrying the pram with him (it’s the little things….).  I’ll leave the last picture to Toby, who commandeered the camera on the way home.

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(The hat was meant for Millie, but I failed knitting 101 and didn’t check my gauge, and kept squashing down that inner voice that was saying ‘I know she has a big head, but do you really think it’s this big?’.  No.  It’s not.  Luckily the hat fits Toby, and there is a matching one for Millie now on my needles.)

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Back to Bournemouth

Travelling with kids: lessons learned from the road.

After almost three months of this whole travel thing, we’ve certainly learnt a few things along the way.

1. The most important thing in any place to stay is ready access to a good washing machine and dryer. 

Pretty much everything else is optional.  Separate places to sleep?  Nice, but not necessary.  A kitchen?  Good, but can be worked around.  But unless you operate on a continual cycle of throw out and rebuy clothes, you will need a washing machine (and even then, you’ll do that a few times anyway).  And quite often, you will need one now.  Not in the time it takes to walk to a laundromat.  Certainly not in the time it takes a hotel to do the laundry.

Our house in Winchester has the most effective washer/dryer I’ve every come across – it’s also the only effective washer/dryer I’ve ever come across.  (The one in Paris, for instance, took 7 hours to make everything damp and vaguely warm).  This has been good for our peace of mind, and general levels of cleanliness.  Why is a washing machine so important? Well, kids are dirty.  Obviously.  But this also leads us to

2.  Kids have an impeccable, in-built sense of timing as to when would be the worst possible time to do something.

Rasperry vomit all over pyjamas hours before a big train journey?    Check!  Baby explosions while waiting for a bus to take you to an overnight ferry (with no washing machine?  Been there, done that!  You will end up carrying bags of unmentionably gross clothes with you, but if you at least know there’s a washing machine waiting for you at the end of the day, it’s just that little more bearable.

The timing doesn’t stop at mess making, of course.  Kids will, when travelling, do everything at the worst possible time.  Millie has mastered the art of falling asleep 5 minutes before we need to go somewhere.  During landing is her particular favourite (after a whole flight of stubbornly resisting sleep, of course), but she has managed to do it even while being held while other members of the family get their shoes on.

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Or while placed on the bed for a minute before we walk out the door.

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3.  We did in fact need a ring sling, a woven wrap and a travel stroller.

Working out what to take to carry Millie in was the subject of many long discussions before we left, and the answer we came up with was: take them all!  But in fact all have been uniquely useful.

The ring sling is great for quick ups and downs – navigating airports, being taken off for airport security, being put on again – especially in places where stairs and escalators are much more convenient than seeking out the few lone elevators.

The wrap is much more comfortable for longer periods of carrying, and has been brilliant for anywhere you would not (and often could not) take a pram:  the Vatican musuem, walking the beach at Bournemoth, climbing towers in Oxford.

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And the pram has been excellent when it’s just been too hot to carry, or when we need to be able to switch Millie quickly between us – Legoland was the perfect example of this.

The wraps and ring sling have, as we discovered a dual purpose though.  They make an excellent seatbelt/temporary child restraint system.

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4. For every good travel photo, there’s at least one outtake, thanks to the kids.

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And sometimes there’s not even a good photo.

Note her finger placement.
Note her finger placement.

5.  It’s completely worth every messy, inconvenient, unphotogenic minute.

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Travelling with kids: lessons learned from the road.

Grave News from the Dead Centre of Winchester…

…Okay, that’s the last dad joke for this guest post. I promise…

So just in case you haven’t managed to work it out yet, it’s Tony here again, guest blogging for Min while she shops for boots plans exciting new things for the blog in the coming weeks.

We’ve been based in Winchester for more than a fortnight now, putting us more halfway through our stay here (in fact, this time in a fortnight we will be in Singapore and, this time in two weeks and two days, we’ll be back home again! Eeeep!) For now, though we are – as you might have gathered from some of Min’s previous posts – thoroughly enjoying being in one place for a while. We’re all unpacked, and have dropped into a kind of normal family routine, albeit on the other side of the world. In the mornings I head up to the University, where I’m working on my OSP projects and getting a lot of writing done. Imogen and Toby do school work through until about 1 or 2 in the afternoon, and Millie… well, Millie just uses her newfound mobility to keep us all on our toes. (On an unrelated note, I’m predicting that in years to come, Millie will be our child who likes rollercoasters. And bungy jumping. And skydiving. Seriously, the kid has no sense of self-preservation at all…)

Outside, the seasons are changing, and we’re now well into a South West England Autumn. Which is rather like being in the middle of a mild Canberra winter. Maximum temperatures each day are hovering in the low teens, nights are down to two or three degrees, and the weather is grey and cloudy, but with occasional bursts of gorgeous sunlight. The trees are turning various shades of russet, the pavements buried under blankets of golden leaves which Toby is taking great delight in wading through at every available opportunity, and there’s a quiet sort of anticipation of the winter ahead. It’s very different from what we are used to.

And one of the things we are all really enjoying is just gradually exploring Winchester – finding the little hidden bits and pieces that you might miss if just visiting for a day or two. Min will no doubt be posting a few of these in the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to share one of my favourite parts of Winchester with you all.

Every morning, on my daily commute, I walk through the centre of town, past the rather glorious Winchester Cathedral, up and across the train lines and then through the West Hill Cemetery, which conveniently takes me right to the front gates of the University.

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The Cemetery has quickly become my favourite part of the walk, to the point where a couple of my trips have ended up seriously prolonged, owing to me getting distracted wandering among the gravestones.

It’s an old Cemetery, no longer in use. The most recent burials I’ve managed to find were generally from the early 1990’s, but these are spouses of people long gone, finally re-united. For the most part, the last regular burials seem to have taken place in the 1950’s, but most date from a lot earlier than that.

It’s a place that completely sets the ‘writer’ part of my brain buzzing. For one thing, it looks almost exactly like the cemetery described in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book – built on the side of a hill, the graves are dotted in a seemingly random manner, with rough paths twisting among them from the bottom to the top. There are a couple of old trees keeping sentry, and a crumbling old gatekeepers cottage with gothic architecture at the entrance.

To add to the effect, the whole graveyard is a protected grassland area – a vital little refuge for the biodiversity of the chalk region, which lends it a gorgeous, unkempt air. Wandering through it during the grey silence of an autumn morning is an amazing experience.

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The view across the cemetery - the overgrown grasslands lend the place a lovely gentle atmosphere
The view down the hill towards Winchester from the cemetery – the overgrown grasslands lend the place a lovely gentle atmosphere

And, of course, it’s full of stories. Winchester isn’t a young town, not by a long shot, and West Hill was the cemetery that oversaw (among other things) the late Victorian era and two world wars. Many of them are stories of love and separation, covering large swathes of modern British history (and are also, very often, amazing tales of re-unification…)

“Devoted to the memory of EVELYN SARAH, the devoted wife of George William Till, who died November 7th 1905, aged 47 years. And of HARRY, 4th son of the above, 2nd Lieut Closter Regiment, who fell at Ypres Oct 7th 1917, aged 32, interred here as are the ashes of GEORGE WILLIAM TILL, who died March 10, 1960, aged 101 years”

I posted on instagram a while back a picture of one of the amazing stories of people who waited, but there are also a few really touching stories of people who couldn’t:

“Precious memories of ARTHUR SIDNEY WATMORE who fell asleep 31st March 1963 aged 86 years, Rest in Peace. Also his dear wife, ALICE MARY, who passed away october 22nd 1969, aged 86 years, Together Again”

And then, of course, there are the war graves. There are war commission graves dotted right throughout the lower half of the graveyard, and a cenotaph in the middle on the main pathway, but there is one particular little cluster of war graves which, even when the grass in the rest of the graveyard is at its longest, is kept neatly trimmed and tended:

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In here are stories of those who died young –

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One solitary Australian:

“2704 Cadet G.R.JOHNSTON Australian Flying Corps, 26th March 1948, aged 22”

And many others. Perhaps the war grave that had the most impact on me, though, was this one here:

4804 Serjeant F.J.James, Kings Royal Rifle Corps, 7th January 1918, Age 42
4804 Serjeant F.J.James, Kings Royal Rifle Corps, 7th January 1918, Age 42

He was just a year younger than I am now, and the same age my great grandfather was when he was pulled into WW1, leaving behind a wife and children. There’s such a lot of loss in all war deaths, but this one really hits me.

My favourite graves, though, are the ones which are so old that they’ve been lost or forgotten, or are in the process of returning back to the amazing chalk soil – the ones where the stories are no longer etched in stone, but are faded past memory:

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There are plenty of these dotted all around the cemetery – some have collapsed, some are overgrown with ivy or other plants, some have simply fallen and are slowly crumbling away. All of them evidence of the hundreds of lives and loves and stories, all tangled together in the chalky soil of this altogether very pleasant little corner of the world.

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Grave News from the Dead Centre of Winchester…

Remnants of travel

We’ve been on the road now for well over 2 months.  And I’ve been buying stuff as we’ve gone along – some essential, some frivolous.

Millie has had many clothes bought for her – and many ditched along the way.  (Sometimes, when traveling and faced with a number three, the wisest choice is just to bin the whole outfit.  Luckily she has only chosen non-sentimental clothes to do that particular trick in.)  We’ve also had to buy necessary things and abandon them along the way – books (my kindle died 5 days into the holiday), olive oil, 1kg of really nice rice I had to leave in Italy because of stupid luggage weight limits (I’m still a bit bitter about that one), and various cheap plastic toys for Toby (usually attached to magazines) that have inevitably broken.

I do enjoy buying things while away though, not for the love of shopping, but for the lasting memory of a place.

And today, as I stood in our kitchen in Winchester, I was making a cup of tea with the tea strainer I bought in Vienna.  I was munching on the bisuits (‘pisscuttin’!) Mum bought at the restaurant we went to in Italy.  And I was wearing the jumper I bought in Edinburgh when it was cold – that I then hauled through Italy when it was swelteringly hot, wondering if I’d been silly to buy it – but have been so thankful I have it here.  (Incidentally, wordpress just tried to spellcheck swelteringly to blisteringly – what’s that about? That’s not a spelling issue, it’s an editorial suggestion!)

Anyway, back on track.  As I made my tea, ate my biscuit and wore my jumper (I’m a staggering multitasker) I did remember every place we bought those things from.  And each of them is not just a shopping purchase, but an important memory along the way, and something I will have for years to come. (Well, not the biscuits.)

As this trip slowly winds to a close, it’s nice to know we’ll be going home with some small things to make their way into our daily lives at home, to remind us of this amazing journey.

Remnants of travel

An (almost) 7 year old’s paradise.

LEGOLAND.

Having enjoyed 5 blissful nights without packing a suitcase, we got back on the road.  Thankfully this time it was only a 50 minute drive, and only one very small suitcase.

Toby had been looking forward to this trip since we left Australia, and he was not disappointed.  Legoland is ideal for the 6 – 12 year old set – as Millie discovered, under 3 isn’t so great, and I don’t think there would be much interest for teenagers.  The rides are all very tame (though Toby would disagree there!), and much of the interest is for the Lego lovers – seeing  the bigger versions/adaptions of all the kits and characters.

The park itself has various Lego sculptures dotted around – mostly very well done.  These are Lego flamingos and Lego zebras.

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There was also of course the less ‘natural’ Lego statues – including a plethora of Star Wars characters.

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Toby’s number 1 priority was Lego Driving School – for 6 – 13 year olds only, the kids watched a safety video then got to drive a lego car around a track (done up as a small city – lots of intersections, traffic lights, stop signs etc).  Toby took it very seriously.

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He did it three times in all, and watched the safety video intently each time.  He loved it.

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It’s a testament to how much he loved it that he was willing to bear the queue three times.  Legoland wasn’t too busy for us – we were there on a Sunday and Monday.  The Monday was far quieter, as it is still term time (which was planned).  On Monday we managed to go on most rides without queueing at all.  We did consider buying a device that lets you skip the queue for Sunday – but at 75 pounds per person (though that is the top of the line option) we decided it was definitely not worth it.  I can see how on a busy day it would be very useful, but I can also see how irritating it would be for everyone else in the queue.

We also went on Coastguard HQ which was a drive your own boat around a concourse type ride.  I rode with Toby, who drove.  Millie and Tony went together.

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Toby enjoyed any ride which let him take the controls, which meant he and I also went on a helicopter together.  He spent the entire time spinning us around in circles.

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As a family we also went on hot air balloon ride where you can control the altitude.  Ours was the balloon that lurched up and down dramatically for the entire ride.

There weren’t too many rides that Millie could go on, but what she could we did.  Her favourite were the boat rides, where she sat up happily and watched what was going on around her.

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Toby also rode his first rollercoaster.

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Tony and Toby are the very blurry pair 4th from the top.  Toby’s feelings about rollercoasters are best perhaps summed up in his diary entry:

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We also saw miniland, where Toby posed with in lego what he’d seen in the flesh (or steel) a week earlier.

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There were a lot of water based rides, which were fun in the rather cold weather.  Tony and Toby went on a pirate flume and got absolutely soaked, while Toby made both of us go on a river type ride with him – one each day.

It's hard to appreciate quite how wet they were.
It’s hard to appreciate quite how wet they were.

The best water ride was a jet ski ride that Tony and Toby did on the last day.

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Toby’s driving, of course.

We stayed the night in between our days at the Legoland Hotel.  We went for the fully themed room, figuring we would only be there once.  And fully themed it certainly was.

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It was surprisingly comfortable, and well thought out for the kids – there was a treasure hunt for Toby with a little Lego prize, and Lego sculptures everywhere.  The ‘food’ at the resort was ridiculous – costing as much for a very basic dinner for the four of us as it did for lunch for five at a local Michelin featured restaurant.  In fact, that was my main gripe with Legoland – while it was fantastic for Toby, the feeling that everything possible was being done to fleece you of your money was never far away.  Ponchos cost 3 pounds,  family dryers (for after the wet rides) cost 2 pounds a blast.  A burger and chips cost 9 pounds.  The lousy Australian dollar doesn’t help all this, of course. The entry tickets weren’t cheap, and it would have been nice to have just a bit more included in the park without it costing 3 times what it would outside the park.

Still, it was a lot of fun, and Toby is still buzzing from it.

An (almost) 7 year old’s paradise.

London to Winchester

It’s 67.8 miles from London to Winchester, a 59 minute journey on the train.

Or alternatively, you can do it like we did.  London to Winchester via Worcester, Southampton, Oxford, York, Edinburgh, Newcastle, The Hague, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Rome, a trullo in Puglia and Paris.  That way takes 2 months and 1 day, and covers too many miles for me to calculate at this point.

It was fun, but it was exhausting.  We made so many amazing family memories, and the in jokes and references are already firmly established.

We are, however, very happy to finally be in Winchester.  This is where we will be staying for the last month of our trip away (save a small stopover in Singapore on the way back).  It is so nice to unpack, to think about getting back into a routine, to settle in.

We made our way from Paris to London on the Eurostar, which was fantastic.  Very comfortable, very fast, and we were in the Australian family section of the train, which was amusing.  Then a quick cab ride across to Waterloo, and a very easy South West train down to Winchester.  The rest of the train passengers (mostly commuter types) were rather bemused as we clamboured aboard with our horde of luggage, but all were extremely kind and helpful – we had many offers to help get us off the train!

We are staying in a beautiful house a 2 minute walk from Winchester high street. It has a bedroom for us, and one each for the kids (luxury), room for Tony to work when he’s not at the University, as well as a fantastic kitchen.

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It’s a lovely house, and even though it’s over three floors with spiral staircases that Millie takes every opportunity to climb, I think it will work well for us.  It also has smart tvs with internet access, so last night we caught up on 2 of the 3 new Doctor Who episodes.  Tonight I think it’s Downton Abbey’s turn.

We did a journey today to buy the essentials for the house after traveling for 2 months with 2 kids (nappies, stain remover, frozen peas, wine.  And other things.) and found to our delight a food market in the middle of the high street.  We bought a cherry danish as big as Toby’s head, as well as a bottle of awesome jerk sauce from a lovely St Lucian man who makes all his own sauces.

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Dinner plans for tonight are chicken thighs in the jerk sauce, rice and peas, and a watercress and cucumber salad.  A good mix of modern British and a break from Italian/French food.

We also visited a cafe that has good coffee.  Not just good coffee for England, but actual good coffee.  It’s a very small (4 locations) chain, of which the head barista is the national latte art champion for 2013, 2014 and 2015.  Luckily the coffees don’t just look good, they taste good.  And Toby was very happy with his hot chocolate smothered with mini-marshmallows.

This is after about half the marshmallows had been scoffed.
This is after about half the marshmallows had been scoffed.

There will be many things to do over the next month – a trip to Legoland, exploring the local area, farmer’s markets, Halloween, Guy Fawkes’ Night….

But what we are all looking forward to is being in one place for a while.  Tony will be working at the University of Winchester, Toby and I will be doing ‘school’ in the morning, and we will generally enjoy living in a new part of the world without packing our suitcases.

London to Winchester

Changing Horses Midstream

(Or, what seemed like a good idea in Australia….)

Our original plan was to leave Italy after two idyllic weeks in the trullo.  We were going to drive to Bari airport to return the car, catch a train from the airport to the train station, catch a train from Bari to Bologna and then another to Milan, and stay in Milan for a night.  That would have been about 8 hours on a train, assuming no delays or breakdowns.  The whole travel day would have been well over 12 hours.  Then the next morning, we were going to catch a train to Geneva and then another to Martigny, and visit friends of ours for a night.  Then the next morning we were going to catch a train back to Geneva, and then one to Paris, and stay there for a night.  Then the next day we were going to catch the Eurostar to London, then another train to Winchester, and collapse.

We knew it would be tough, but we figured it would be doable.  We’d have just spent two weeks in the trullo, after all.  We thought we’d pack cleverly, so we only had to open one suitcase.  We thought ‘how hard can it be?’.

Then we had what has come to be known as the ‘Foggia Incident‘.  And we started thinking – what if that first train does in fact have a delay?  What if it gets to Foggia and simply doesn’t leave?  Why on earth did we think 8 trains and 4 countries in 4 days with 2 small children and many many bags was a good idea? I didn’t go on contiki tours when it was age appropriate for a reason.  Why would I subject myself to it in my thirties?

So, we got to the trullo, had a swim, recovered a little, then got on the computer and booked RyanAir flights direct from Bari to Paris.  Well, to Beauvais to be accurate.  We cancelled what train fares we could (thank you, Trenitalia – your trains may not leave Foggia, but you have a surprisingly generous cancellation policy), and decided to absorb what we could not.

And that is why I am not in Martigny, having not spent most of two days on trains.  Instead, we got into Paris last night, and have had a lovely day seeing the Eiffel Tower, and the Seine, and walking around our neighborhood.

It hasn’t all been without hiccups, of course.  The RyanAir flight was an experience in itself.  RyanAir has an excellent safety record, but it’s a low fare airline that makes it money by gouging for every single extra.  We had no choice but to pay for luggage, and we decided to pay for the privilege of sitting together (though I was tempted to take my chances and see if I could make a run for it for a seat at the back of the plane by myself…).  We were one of the very few to pay for checked luggage though, so it was on for young and old when it came to overhead bag storage.  We also had a large, extended Italian family traveling to Paris together – at least 30 altogether.  They took up the first 7 rows of the plane, and they were exuberant.  They cheered the takeoff.  They cheered the landing even louder.  They participated enthusiastically in the online gambling masqueraded as a charity fundraiser.  They did actually make the flight pass quickly, as we were seated a row behind them – free in-flight entertainment.

Beauvais isn’t that close to Paris – about an hour and a half shuttle ride in traffic, it turns out.  That would have been fine, if Millie hadn’t done…  Well.  What the ads euphemistically call a number 3, and what has become known in our household as a code brown.  She did it about 15 minutes into the journey, when we were well and truly on the motorway and couldn’t pull over.  So we, the driver, and the poor young Italian couple we were sharing the shuttle with suffered in silence.  When we got to Paris, the driver missed our street and remedied by reversing back up the one way street (apparently if your nose is pointing in the direction of traffic, going the other way is ok…), dodging pedestrians and cyclists as he went.  Given the olfactory assault our daughter had provided, we couldn’t really complain.  But we were glad to get to the apartment.

The apartment itself is hilarious.  It’s possibly the least child friendly apartment I’ve ever seen, although it was billeted as child friendly.  We’ve remedied the most serious safety concerns by putting Millie’s ‘cot’ (not a full travel crib, but a very small, very easily climb-out-able structure) into a cupboard, and blocking off the Toby sized gap in the balustrade next to his bed (did I mention all 4 of us are sharing one tiny open loft space?) with suitcases.  We’ve contacted the owner to have the (very bright) light on the (enormous) fish tank turned off automatically at 8pm, rather than 11pm, so there is some darkness in the loft at a time approximating bedtime. Thanks to Millie’s contributions, we’ve tested out the washer/dryer thoroughly and concluded as always the washing function is fine and the drying function is a waste of time.  Luckily there is a big laundromat 30m up the street which we will be visiting tomorrow.

But.  We are in Paris.  And more importantly, we did not catch an international train today, and we are not catching an international train tomorrow.

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And tonight Toby got his first experience of delighting in duck confit and chocolate mousse, which caused him to declare that ‘I love Paris!’.

Me too, mate.  But next time I might choose a different apartment.

Changing Horses Midstream