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Sunday, October 28, 2007


Sunday was LegoLand day! We got up far too early for a Sunday, had a good breakfast, set up the sandwich production line to prepare lunch and headed off along the M4. Caroline is a Legoland veteren (OK, she's been once before) and knew that a good plan was to arrive early and go right for a couple of the more popular young kids rides before the queues built up.

We were there in plenty of time, got through the front gate and waited for ten minutes to be allowed down to the main park. As the barriers opened, a mini-stampede of excited kids and chasing parents careered down the hill towards the rides. First up was the motor boats, a gentle little loop of water where the kids could drive little 'speed' boats. The staff had clearly been warned about our lack of nautical experience and gave Isie and I the slowest boat on the ride. We were overtaken by about six others as we pootled around.

Next, and much more fun, was the lego cars. Max stood in line for the 3-5 year old driving school, a simple loop and traffic light. That would be much too boring for Issie, so we briefed her for the 6-11 ride. When the attendant walked along the line asking 'how old are you' to all the kids, we held our breath as Issie said '6' very confidently. Clearly we've taught her to lie pretty well. Hmmm. She loved the cars, driving around the roads, roundabout, junctions and coasting through red lights (see the video here...)

After that we rode rollercoasters, the log flume (tip, sit at the back and have your partner in front of you if you want to stay dry), ate ice cream, played in the adventure playground and much more.

At the end of the day, we visited mini-land where there are whole areas of Lego buildings for various European countries, including an amazing section of London and Docklands, plus a container port, all with lots of railways and other attractions that kept Max glued to the action.

It was a shame that the park was closing and we couldn't spend longer there - there was a lot more we could have done. I think there was also a lot of 'make and build' type activities for older children, so we'll certainly go back to a legoland one day, just not sure which country it'll be in!


The Merry Kids of Windsor

Next gig on the Ward's farewell tour was a trip to Windsor and Richmond. We our friends Neil and Caroline, and their children Sophie and Callum who are very close in age to Issie and Max. The big event of the weekend was to be a trip to Legoland on Sunday, but first we headed out to Windsor itself as we knew that the Queen would like to say goodbye to the kids before we left her country.

Arriving in Windsor around midday, we had a lovely lunch at Browns, down by the river (where Max insisted on taking pictures and ended up with a not bad one of Gesa and I, and lots of blured ones of buses and traffic lights).

After lunch we walked up to the Castle. It's a long time since we'd visited,and never with the kids, so we'd forgotten how much there was to see and do. The kids got one of those audio tours where you press the buttons and listen to the commentary about each area or room. Max just enjoyed pressing buttons, whilst Issie was listening intently and passing on select comments to us - "this is where the King slept...."

We went through the State Apartments, and there was so much to see that we ran out of time and had to hurry the kids through the last few rooms and get back before our parking ticket expired. Although the castle isn't a cheap trip out, it was good value and we really enjoyed it. Her Majesty was at home, but sadly we didn't have time to stop and say hello so I guess we'll just have to drop her a postcard.

Back in Richmond, we were there early enough for the kids to play together before bedtime, then the adults went out for a nice meal and then went along the street to the local pub to catch the last few minutes of the rugby match. Approaching the pub all was quiet, an onimous sign and as we walked in, England were trailing France 8-9. Within minutes an England penalty put them ahead, and 10 minutes later, with a drop goal added to the tally, England were through to the finals and the pub was bathed in rowdy celebration. Neither of us are great sports fans; Gesa rarely sees a game and I'll only sit down for the biggest matches if I've got time, but this was a great way to see this particular game - all the excitement in the last ten minutes.
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Paris - Day 2 - A day in the country

After a busy day in the city we travelled out to Buc, a lovely area to the south-west of Paris, not far from Versailles.

We put the kids to bed and realised that there was a local rugby game on the TV, a little match between France and New Zealand in the world cup. Slimane is quite a fan, and with France being soundly beaten at half time, it looked like the bottle of Bordeaux was to sooth our spirits, not to celebrate.

But a superb second half recovery, and Kiwi decline, set up a tense few minutes at the end and some dancing around the room as France came out victorious, and lined up for a semi-final against England the next weekend....

The following day, we headed out for a walk in the local area. They live just up the road from a stables, where Gemma rides sometimes, and the kids enjoyed seeing all the horses and ponies and Max got used to feeding them hay, although Issie became a scaredy-cat for the time being.

Walking on through the forest we followed beautiful wooded paths and clearings, finding a 'den' of sticks which the kids added too and played in, then on round a lake, along the stream and playing 'tag' in the meadow. A beautiful autumn day, in fact.

All too quickly, our brief visit to Paris was over and we headed back to the Eurostar, home to England, and the traditional British Sunday travel experience, the 'rail replacement bus'. It was a tired team that got to their beds at 11pm, but we'd really enjoyed reminding ourselves just how nice Paris is, and we look forward to visiting again many years hence.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Paris - Day 1 - The City

Continuing our tour of places we want to see before we leave, we spent a lovely long weekend in Paris. We caught the Eurostar from London, travelling first class for a bit of luxury, and enjoyed our champagne and three course meal as we whooshed through the 'tunnel under the sea'. Max and Issie enjoyed the journey, and were, to our relief, very well behaved.

We we met at Gare de Nord by Doreen, a long time volleyball friend who used to live in Cambridge. She now has a fantastic apartment just a few yards from the south bank of the Seine, opposite Notre Dame. It's hard to think of a better location and we took the opportunity to wander around the famous cathedral, play in the park, get ice cream and relax before putting the kids to bed at a fairly civilised hour.

Morning saw, of course, a leisurely breakfast of fresh bread and croissants, after which we walked the few yards back to the river and caught the Batobus, the river bus, which is a great way of seeing the city whilst getting from one end to the other - so much more pleasant than the métro.

We got off at the Eiffel Tower, having briefly thought about going to the top, we looked at the queues and said 'nah', just as we always have. We walked underneath the tower, admired the enormous rugby ball suspended there for the World Cup, and watched as a few local fireman abseiled down from the first level of the tower - not sure why but it did look like fun.

We walked on to find a café for coffee, and were successful in finding about the most expensive cup of coffee I have ever had. If only the quality had matched the price, but I guess we were paying for the view.

All this time, Max had been feeling unwell, periodically being sick and generally needing looking after, which was actually not a problem as it was easier dealing with a cuddly Max than the usual wild energy filled creature that he tends to be. We decided to take it easy for the afternoon so headed back to Doreen's for a late, long lunch before popping out to the Park.
Lunch was long enough that by the time we walked to the Jardin de Luxembourg they were closing the kid's playgrounds. Our two were not impressed by this, but to distract them, we played a fun game of hide and seek on one of the grassy areas, before piling up the leaves that wee lying around to make a 'leafcastle'. That was fun until the local park police descended to tell us in polite but firm terms, that the gardeners would be unhappy if we didn't leave the leaves in a neat pile, and that we weren't allowed on the grass anyway. Oops, sorry. Following in the French tradition that 'what isn't specifically allowed is forbidden', there was just one patch of grass with signs saying 'walking on this grass is allowed'. In England, coming from a different cultural tradition, if it isn't specifically forbidden, than it's allowed, which is why the signs would say 'keep off the grass'. Makes it much easier to draft the rules, surely?

We had fun nevertheless, and then met up with our friends Kathy and Slimane, and their daughter Gemma. They also used to live in Cambridge, but now live in the leafy suburb of Buc, about half an hour from the city centre and close to Versailles. We said goodbye to Doreen and headed south to stay with them, and I'll write another about that later.Posted by Picasa


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Nostalgic Northern trip

This weekend, we took a four day trip up the A1 towards Northumberland, where I grew up. We stopped first in Shotley Bridge, where our friend Margaret Hodgson lives. Regular readers will remember that Margaret is our amazing family friend who recently drove down to see us on her way to sing at the Albert Hall. Oh, and she turned 90 this year.

We had a good time visiting her, she cooked a lovely dinner, the kids were on best behaviour and we'd been booked into a nice pub for B+B. The next day, we left fairly early and made our way across country to Morpeth, where I went to school for most of my education. The old town has changed in many ways, and is still the same in many more. The high street is usually a defining feature of any market town, and Morpeth had joined the 21st century courtesy of a Costa Coffee and M+S Simply Food store, but was also pleasantly rooted in the past with many small family stores still there and apparently successful.

We walked along the river, fed the last of our biscuits to the ducks and negotiated the 'steppies', a set of stepping stones that I'd crossed many times on my way out of school.
Further up the road, in Longhorsley, we had lunch at the Shoulder of Mutton. Our family home is a couple of miles from here, this was always the village local and has been through a number of iterations on the way to becoming a very nice pub / restaurant and we enjoyed our meal here. We drove down the road and dropped in on our old neighbours, Pattie and Clive, who run Kington B+B as well as leading generally busy lives. It was very good to see them again and we chatted for a long time around the kitchen table.

We then went next door, to the house I grew up in, where the current owner was very friendly and even invited us to come through the house and show the kids where Daddy grew up. It was both good and strange to see the old house again, so little had changed but it certainly wasn't home any more. Reality is often smaller than one's memories, in many ways.

That evening, we stayed at Thistleyhaugh Farm, run by the Nelless family. I went to school with two of the boys, Duncan and Angus, who now run the farm and have just completed the conversion to organic farming, producing their own feedstocks and organic beef and lamb. They seem, as ever, truly contented and the farm kitchen table is still a wonderful place to sit, chat and catch up. We can also highly recommend their accommodation, if you are ever in the area, but do take good note of the map. My memory still lets me drive those back roads on autopilot but as Gesa noted, you'd have trouble finding the place in the dark.

On Saturday morning we said our goodbyes and headed South to York, where we wanted to take Max and Issie to the National Rail Museum. Eventually we left the car at a Park and Ride, caught a bus and made our way to York Station, where we paused for a sandwich. Max, who had been somewhat touchy all weekend, got tremendously upset when he realised that we weren't going to get on a train, and had trouble with the concept that just 200 yards further on were more steam trains than he's likely to see in one place ever again. We got there eventually, and the railway museum was a success.

That evening, we went to stay with my aunt and uncle, Gillie and Gary. My cousins Paul and Simon had travelled up from London too, and we had a wonderful dinner together before settling down for a quiet evening. Sadly, Max had other ideas and created merry hell when asked to go to bed, finally succumbing to extreme tiredness sometime after almost everybody else, and still waking up at 6:30am demanding to play. How does that happen?

Gillie and Gary live in Hessle, near Hull, and their area is tremendously beautiful with a big country park around the approaches to the stunning Humber Bridge, and a lovely area of the River Humber foreshore just yards from their front door. It's been many years since we visited, and it was really good to see them all together at home before we set off. As with so many friends and family, it's hard to know when we will next see each other, and every week brings another set of gatherings, farewells and adieus. We'll be back in England, of course, and I remind all our readers that there is an open invitation to visit us wherever we are, but we know we'll miss everybody very much.

So our tour of North Eastern England was an enjoyable trip, despite the tricky behaviour of our children, and it was good to revisit some important places of my childhood and youth yet, once again and as ever, it is the people there that mean so much to me, and us, and it is through them that our views and memories of these places are formed and adapted over the years. Thanks to you all. Bye for now.
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