Thursday, 27 April 2017

48 Hours in Hamburg

Hamburg isn't usually the first city you think of in Germany, but we were recently invited to visit and we loved exploring this fascinating city as a family.

We have always enjoyed city breaks and rather than stopping them when we started our family, we have instead tried to find a family friendly way to do them.  Most cities are full of brilliant attractions for under 5s if you look below the surface and we loved discovering this side of Hamburg.

I checked the Hamburg website before we arrived and noticed that we were arriving in time for the Hamburg Dom.  A huge fair that stays for a month at a time, three times a year, the Dom is free to enter and full of lights and colour.  After our drive it was the perfect place to explore, although the weather had turned and it was getting chilly. 

It wasn't exactly a cultural visit, but we loved noticing the difference in food stalls, the giant cookies emblazoned with 'Ich liebe dich', the donuts and spirals, the stands selling all manner of sausages and hot dogs.  The skies were threatening rain and the fair wasn't too busy but still after 3 hours we hadn't taken it all in, it really was huge.  With the lead up to Easter there were giant decorated eggs which the boys loved spotting and everything was wonderfully colourful.




The centre of Hamburg is serviced by an underground, a light-rail network, buses and ferries and to get back to our accomodation we had to get both a train and bus.  The whole journey was only about 20 minutes door to door but the boys loved watching out the windows and exploring the differences between the transport there and at home. Everywhere was really accessible with the buggy which made getting around really easy. 


After breakfast at our hotel, we ventured back into the city centre to really explore.  Unfortunately the weather wasn't on our side, but the rain held off and we could walk around marvelling at the criss cross of rivers that run through the city, wandering across bridges and looking up at the beautiful  green roofs on many of the buildings.  The Minatur Wunderland came highly recommended and as the boys had enjoyed the local Hornby centre we thought we would try it out in the morning.

Hamburg, family travel, family travel blogger

Hamburg for families

The Wunderand really was amazing and it was so much bigger than I was expecting.  We could have spent the best part of the day there as the boys were mesmerised by the tiny worlds.  Set over two floors, you can observe minature towns, cities and countries with many American states being represented, Scandinavia and of course Germany.  The exhibit was interactive in the two year old's favourite way - buttons.  Each display had several buttons that triggered something, for example a man to bungee jump, a disco to light up, a ferris wheel to turn.  We loved pressing the buttons and watching to find out what we had done.  

It was really busy and not ideal with a pram, but you could get around and we could always find a space up against the glass to watch.  One of the most magical parts is the way the lights are on a cycle so every few minutes the sun seems to set and everything goes dark so we can see what these cities are like at night.  One display included the Hamburg Dom that we had visited the evening before and it was beautiful watching it light up.

Hamburg Dom, Hamburg for Families, miniature wonderland

miniatur wunderland, Hamburg, Hamburg Dom, come to Hamburg

miniatur wunderland, Hamburg


I would totally recommend visiting the Miniatur Wunderland, it was a fantastic experience for the adults and children and you go and watch the artists creating new figures and areas too which the children found really fascinating.

Come to Hamburg, Hamburg

The Wunderland is set right on the side of a river with the dungeons just below it.  I would have loved to have visited them, but the children are still a little young.  We had a quick run around and wander along the river admiring the statues with their scarves and how grey the sky was.  Ed noticed a coffee rotisserie and being a bit of a coffee addict he insisted we went in for a look.
It was a really interesting place with a ridiculous selection of coffee.  You could watch the coffee being roasted, try different varieties and of course eat cake.  There was a shop attached selling all the beans too and I think this was probably the highlight of his holiday.  The boys loved the cakes and I had the best latte I have even tasted.




We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the rivers, popping into a couple of shops and finding places for the children to run around.  We had been recommended the Better Burger Company for dinner and of course whilst in Hamburg it is compulsory to have a hamburger! 

better burger company, Hamburg for families, Hamburger in Hamburg

It was exactly what we needed after a day on our feet, the burgers were delicious and you can pick your toppings so we each had something a bit different.  It was a really chilled out place with long tables to share and seating outside if you wanted to people watch.  We didn't stay long as the boys were starting to get pretty tired by this point!


The journey back to our hotel was the perfect way for them to calm down and they settled easily once we got in.  

We had a long drive back, so we only had a couple of hours on Wednesday morning to finish exploring the city.  There were a few things I wanted to do including a bus tour and the Hagensbeck Tierpark which is like a zoo, but rather than cages, the animals are seperated by a narrow moat.  We decided to keep things simple though and went for a walk around the city admiring the stunning architecture. There is such a contrast between the UNESCO buildings and the modern concert hall and shopping arcades but the skyline was never boring and we found it fascinating working out what some of the buildings were.

Hamburg for families, Hamburg

Hamburg for families, family travel, Come to Hamburg

We left at midday and had a wonderful time in Hamburg.  I think it is a great city to visit and there is a lot for young families to do.  Mostly we found the people friendly, although on the trains don't expect anyone to give up a seat for you or your children even if you are babywearing.  Everyone we met spoke fantastic English and other than on the trains they were really helpful.  

We stayed in the Appartello smart living hotel which was convenient, comfortable and perfect for families and I will be writing a review very soon.



We were invited to Hamburg on a press stay and vouchers for some of these experiences were provided.  Other bits we paid for ourselves and as always this is my honest opinion.











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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Rollercoaster

Motherhood is a rollercoaster and sometimes it feels like we are riding it in the dark.  There are those moments where you can't stop smiling, it is exhilerating, exciting, you let go with your hands because you trust that everything is going to be ok.  There are those moments where you can feel yourself climbing, anticipation building, knowing things can go one of two ways - it may be smooth, it may be scary.  Then there are the moments when you are just free falling, you don't know what is coming next, when this bit will end and how you will feel at the end of it.  Your stomach feels like there are butterflies dancing around in it, you cling on to the bars in front of you for dear life and are consumed by the fall.



We are all on different rollercoasters, all similar but all unique.  Some are milder, a bit like the ladybird ride I used to go on as a child at our local theme park, some are more of a loop the loop with your feet dangling down and you can't stop worrying that one of your shoes is about to fall off and get lost in the blur underneath you.  Being in the dark though, we can't see everyone else's rollercoaster, we can't know what kind of ride they are on. 



You know how when you are on some rides there is a little hidden camera? Well I think ours is social media.  Lots of us people know where that camera is, so they can put on a smile at the right place, even when they are scared, even when their feet are dangling.  Others are generally calm and enjoying the ride at that point.  Their smile is genuine, their enthusiasm real.  I want to smile in my pictures.  I want my souvenir from this ride to be the happy memories, the hands in the air, hair flowing in the wind, shoes staying in place smiles and so that is mostly what I share.


To be honest, my rollercoaster is pretty smooth.  My children can be challenging and I will own up to not always knowing how to deal with them best, to getting frustrated, to not parenting how I imagined I would, how I want to.  I can look into other situations with ease but I can't always take a step back from my own to see where I am going wrong.   Some days my children fight and squabble, they throw and most recently they have decided they enjoy flooding the bathroom.  My toddler has spent months refusing to hold my hand or stay with me out and about which resulted in him being in the buggy most of the time as I struggled to keep him safe when he was out of it.  


Through all this, I consider myself a glass half full kinda girl.  I feel lucky to be in the situation I am, privelidged to be their mama and able to stop and see the beauty in our lives every day.  There is a lot of pressure on social media at the moment to be 'real' and not sugar coat things but I think I am real.  I share snippets of our life, the bits I want to remember.  I don't share my whole life and I will own up to having bad days and weeks but ultimately some things have to remain personal.  


I love social media, I find it interesting, inspiring and it encourages me to see things from a different point of view.  It shows me an insight into other people's rollercoasters and I can share bits of mine.  After having a difficult time with Finn, we have reached a period of calm, we can relax a bit more, enjoy him more and everyone is benefiting.  I don't doubt that the next hill is on the way (especially since Cora is so nearly crawling) but for now, things are smooth, we are mostly pretty happy and we are smiling for the camera.








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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Ergo 360 Sophie la Girafe review

Ergo 360, ergo sophie la girafe, ergo baby carrier
As Finn has got bigger and more capable of walking, we have started being able to explore sometimes without a buggy.  We can never manage long and we  don't do it often, but being out without a pushchair feels so wonderful and free.  The three boys can explore and we are free to follow them without worrying about going off the beaten track, and Cora can cuddle up close and watch the world from my level.

She has always loved being in a sling or carrier as she gets the reassurance from me as we walk.  She loves being cuddled up and being able to watch the world go by, and she sleeps soundly with my familiar heartbeat in her ear, my warmth against her.  

The Ergo 360 is a wonderfully designed sling that adapts to the baby with the adjustable sides and head support.  I have the neck support folded down for Cora as she is still quite petite but as she gets bigger I will fold it up using the higher buttons to give her more support as we walk.  Tucked inside it is a hood which is perfect for when she snoozes as it keeps her head supported and is lovely and breathable.

Ergo 360, sophie la giraffe baby carrier, Ergo sling

One thing that really stood out for me with the Ergo 360 was the waistband.  It is thick and really secure with strong velcro and then a seperate clip over the top.  Even without the clip, the velcro feels secure enough and the thick band means it doesn't dig in like some others.  The lumbar support is great and my 19lb baby feels very light.

I love the design of this, it is a beautiful blue and the inside is covered in a delicate bunting print.  The carrier has a Sophie Girafe on the side as well as a seperate toy loop perfectly designed to hold the iconic teething toy (we have attached ours already for Cora to chew on).  

Cora is a petite 9 month old and this carrier feels a perfect fit for her.  I don't know how long it will fit her legs knee to knee for, but currently she has the perfect seat with her knees a little higher than her bottom.  

Sophie la girafe, Ergo 360, babywearing in bluebells

The Ergo 360 works in 4 positions so as well as the classic front carry, you can also carry a baby facing forward and the leg support adapts via hidden buttons to ensure the child is still supported in a seat like position.  As Cora gets bigger I can wear her on my back too, and I have already tried it out around the house this way and found it really comfy.  You can also use a hip carry which we still haven't tried, but it looks simple so I will give it a go and update the post.  For newborns, there is an insert cushion you can buy to keep their legs in the optimal position.

Ergo 360 sophie la girafe, sophie giraffe carrier

I am really enjoying using the Ergo 360 Sophie la Girafe carrier for Cora.  I find it really comfortable and I love the classic blue colour and the print.  It feels secure and well padded and she seems content and happy when she is in there.  The adjustments are all easy to make and this carrier is so flexible with the different carrying positions that it suits most parents.  The carrier can be used from birth/7lb (with a newborn insert) until 33lb (roughly age 3 to 4).

Ergo 360, Ergo Sophie le giraffe carrier

You can read more about this carrier over on the Ergo website

I was sent this carrier for the purpose of this review but all thoughts and opinions are completely my own


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Thursday, 20 April 2017

10 things I wish I had known before visiting centre parcs De Huttenheugte in Holland

Centre parcs Holland, De Huttenheugte, European centre parks, Plopsa
We have just come back from a 4 night stay at Centre Parcs De Huttenheugte in Holland.  It was the perfect mix of nature, activities and cake and all six of us had the best time.  We booked our trip very last minute and didn't do much research, so I thought I would share 10 things I wish I had known before we went

1. The restaurants shut at 8pm.

I thought that being in Europe meant mealtimes were often later, but when we stayed out a bit later, we were caught out as the restaurants stop serving food by around 8pm.  We did manage to find one in the activity centre that was serving pizza still at 8:30 thankfully .

centre parcs Holland, de huttenheugte, Centre parcs Netherlands

2. The evening entertainment is like an 80s gameshow

We had decided just to skip the evening entertainment as it was all in Dutch and unfortunately my knowledge of the language is pretty limited (ok, non-existent).  We stumbled upon it one evening though and ended up watching for quite some time.  It mostly resembled an 80s game show - there were strange costumes, renditions of cheesy pop and a rather strange song where everyone grabbed napkins off the table and started waving them.  It is worth watching for an evening, even if you don't speak the language.

3. Plopsa is next door for longer stays

Directly next door to the De Huttenheugte site is an amazing amusement park called Plopsa.  You can opt to buy tickets when you book your cottage and they last for the length of your stay.  The boys absolutely loved it, there was so much to do for them.  I would say it was ideal for 2-7 year olds with indoor and outdoor rides, play areas and shows.  For shorter stays there is enough to do in the main site, but we loved visiting.

Plopsa Holland, Centre Parcs Netherlands

Plopsa Holland

4. Holland has different term dates.

It took me a while to realise that it was so quiet because in Holland and Germany the schools weren't on a break.  Our Easter terms have different dates so not only was the park cheaper, but there were never queues either.

Centre parcs de huttenheugte, Centre parcs in the Netherlands, me&i

5. Pool is amazing and open until 9pm

I haven't been to an English Centre Parcs to compare, but the pool complex was amazing! Set inside a giant dome, there were lots of different pools and areas, two kids water playgrounds, sun beds, a sauna, a shop selling all manner of water gear and a restaurant too where you can dine in your bikini.  We could have spent so much more time in there.  It is also worth noting that they have float vests available for children to use for free in the pool.

6. Water is expensive, bring reusable bottles

It is cheaper to drink alcohol in some places than water, I was shocked when I realised that they were charging me nearly four Euros for a small bottle of water! It is much more cost efficient to bring your own reusable bottles and top them up each day.  The tap water is drinkable, but even if you wanted to stick with bottled stuff, you can buy big bottles cheaper at the supermarket and decant them.


7. So many different bikes to hire - 10 person family bike for the adventurous.

No matter what size your family and what your ability is, there is a bike for you.  We went for the 10 person family bike for a cycle around the lake, but there are mountain bikes, kids bikes, tandem bikes, trailers and every variety you can think of.  There are also great safari trucks for the kids (worth booking in advance).

family bike, 10 person bike, centre parcs de huttenheugte

8. Everyone speaks great English, even the characters.

Every single member of staff we came across spoke wonderful English, including the characters.  The boys hadn't seen any of the shows as we thought that the language barrier may put them off, but when we visited the pancake restaurant, one of them was there to decorate pancakes with the kids and he chatted away with them easily in English.  This was one of the highlights for Dylan!

centre parcs de huttenheugte, European centre parcs, Me&i

9. Take mosquito repellent.

It just didn't register that we would be outside around a lake a lot, so I completely forgot to bring mosquito repellent.  As it happened, we were all fine, but I would suggest packing some just in case if you are planning a visit, especially in the summer months.




10. Milkshake is a big thing, try the Chocomel

Everywhere we went there was milkshake - far more than you would find in the UK and Chocomel was everywhere.  Obviously we had to try some in both hot chocolate and milkshake form and both were delicious!

Chocomel

We had such a brilliant time during our stay and we are hoping to go back as there was so much to entertain us all.
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Monday, 17 April 2017

A Few Days Away // Centre Parcs Holland

Centre Parcs Holland, De Huttenheugte, Travel with four children

We knew that we wanted to go away over Easter, but we hadn't got much further than that when it came to actual plans.  I wasn't sure whether we should stay in the UK or go abroad, and we have to think about what sort of holidays are practical with four aged five and under.  In the end we booked a few nights away at a Centre Parcs site in Holland and two days after booking, we were in the car on the way there.

We got the ferry from Dover to Calais in the afternoon and then drove up to De Huttenheugte Centre Parcs in the Netherlands.  I hadn't really done much research and we haven't visited a UK Centre Parcs but I was confident we would have fun regardless.  It worked out really cheap even with the added travelling costs and it meant taking the children somewhere new.  

centre parcs, de huttenheugte, centre parcs Europe

The parc is set around a huge lake and our cottage backed out onto the lake which was just beautiful.  We hadn't really considered the fact that the term dates in Germany and Holland are different to ours but it worked out well as the parc was really quiet and nothing got too crowded.  

There was so much to do for small children and we spent our days feeding the ducks, playing in the parks, visiting the animals in the small petting area and enjoying the amazing pools.  I have never been anywhere with pools quite like it.  Inside a giant dome is a selection of swimming areas including two kids play areas, a wave pool, a deeper diving pool and restaraunts, sun beds, a sauna and more.  We don't get to go swimming often with the children as with four so young there are often restrictions, but they were really relaxed and with the kids pools we didn't have to worry about baby seats so much.  There were plenty of float jackets in each area for the children to wear and we took our own seat for Cora.  I loved watching their confidence grow in the water and it was definitely a highlight of our holiday.

The restaraunts were set inside another dome which had a river flowing through it with turtles and giant fish as well as trees with parrots and a walkway up high looking down on it all.  There was such a wonderful atmosphere and so much for the kids to explore that it was never hard keeping them entertained whilst we waited for food or drinks.  


There was an action centre with a brilliant indoor mini golf, bowling and arcade games as well as a playroom where certain kids clubs were hosted.  We decided not to put the children into any of them in the end as we wanted to enjoy the time all together but I think they would have loved the 'I want to be a firefighter' or 'I want to be a chef' sessions.

On the Sunday the temperatures suddenly soared into the twenties and we hired a 'family bike' for a couple of hours to cycle around the lake.  This seemed like a brilliant idea for all of two minutes before we realised that 6 people plus a giant bike is pretty heavy and only two of us could actually reach the pedals.  The boys loved being driven round though and it was such a beautiful day that we took a little picnic along with us.  There were so many different bikes and carts available to hire.

10 person bike, centre parcs de hutteneugte

Right next to the site is an amusement park called Plopsa.  We bought passes for it and had a lovely day there.  There were indoor and outdoor rides, shows and playgrounds as well as eating areas.  The boys loved the rollercoaster, the huge indoor slides and the climbing mountain outside (which Finn scaled in a rather monkey like fashion).  There was a huge outdoor driving area for kids and they spent ages driving around, stopping at every red light, going the 'wrong' way round every roundabout and playing at being firemen and policemen.  There was so much for all three boys to do and Ed and I had a lot of fun on the climbing mountain too (although neither of us actually made it up to the slide)

plopsa Holland, climbing mountain

Our cottage was perfect for us with three bedrooms, a living and dining area, both with six chairs and an outdoor area with a table and chairs.  The cottage was clean and well equipped although we only really used it for sleeping in. 

We had such a lovely time exploring somewhere new, listening to the different languages (we only heard one other English person - they were mostly Dutch and German) and admiring the beauty of the forest and lake.  It is definitely somewhere we would visit again and I think we will try a different European Centre Parcs too after having such a great experience. 

As I am sure you can imagine, I took a few too many photos, so here are some of my favourites.

centre parcs de huttenheugte


centre parcs de huttenheugte

centre parcs Holland, de Huttenheugte






















 We had such an amazing break, the children were so happy playing that they had a proper screen detox (which was very much needed) and we have so many wonderful memories to look back on.
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