Barcelona – travel with kids

I have shared a few pictures of our recent trip to Barcelona with the kids. The pictures show – as pictures tend to do – happy kids in a beautiful European city. I’ve always tried to be authentic in writing about travel with babies and travel with kids. I’ve recently added to my social media presence by joining  instagram– lots of fun so far, but it has reminded me again about the importance of authenticity online.

Barcelona – authentic notes on a city break with kids

Who: me: mum: Sandy the carrier of Finn.

Jon: Dad: husband: aka the carrier of bags.

Rafa: the five year old who can not stand still.

Finn: the three year old who is still not very well toilet trained.

When: Three nights during the October half term 2018

The Cheat sheet:

We are not very good with 24hr clocks.

Time at the airport is always longer and more stressful than you think it will be.

Kids are basically happy to be taken to familiar places: playgrounds and the beach were their highlights.

Cultural attractions can be bribed with ice-cream.

I carried Finn in the harness at various points, this allowed us to do big touristy days out with a three year old, who can walk quite a long way, but would have struggled to keep up otherwise.

Picnics are winners.

Tapas Bars are winners the most.

Three days is a great amount of time in which to see the main city attractions.

A city break is far too busy to come back relaxed – I came back with a cold.

Top Tip: Short city breaks with kids are great family time. Families are loud, exhausting, funny, stressful, grubby and very rarely perfect.

The truth behind the insta perfect moment:

img_3070
my insta perfect moment

I love this picture, it was taken by my husband just as we were heading off for our ramble in the Gothic Quarter. We had checked out of our accommodation and had all our luggage with us. Within two hours of the picture being taken Finn’s legs were tired and I put him in the harness. Jon took my bag along with his own and Rafas. Finn had a huge wee in the harness, soaking through his clothes, the padded seat of the harness, and my dress. Thank goodness for dark colours.

For more authentic travel with kids and babies check out You Won’t Remember This- travel with babies

The long version of our family trip to Barcelona:

Departure:

We had an evening flight on the Tuesday. Not ideal for the kids, but the most affordable option. All the packing got done after lunch. We just did carry on bags so we could get away from the airport quickly. We were packed, had an early dinner and were about to settle into killing time before going to the airport, when Jon got a text reminder about our departure time from the airline – which was two hours earlier than the departure time I had in my head. We scurried about got shoes on, double checked passports, had a final wee and headed off to the airport tram in a far less relaxed state of mind than we had planned.

I reminded Jon that I should never be trusted with 24 hour time – but we were on our way. Yippee.

At the airport:

Check in was straightforward as we had no bags to check and we got there early enough for there to be no queues. We got through security etc. with no more hassle than the usual stressed parent trying to keep two small children in a straight line while juggling passports, our bags, kids bags, toys, jackets and jumpers. And then we were back to killing time. It was at this point of the trip that I came up with a new family rule: superglue – which meant hold my hand and don’t let go… or it was supposed to… now it means walk sort of near me… or it was supposed to.

There were two play areas: one near gate nineteen, one near gate two. Our flight did not have a gate yet. We took a punt and headed to the play area near gate nineteen. It was relatively quiet and the boys played noisily, and mostly entertained themselves. I watched for the gate to come up on the departures screen. Jon caught up on work on the airport wifi.

The gate got announced. It was two. We gathered up all the boys toys, our bags and other debris. I put Finn into the harness on my back. We hiked to the other end of the airport, and waited again.

The Flight:

Direct from Edinburgh to Barcelona. I was seated in front of Jon and the boys. Finn had reached his tired threshold and cried and cried and cried very noisily to sit next to me. The staff found other seats to move the two people next to me and moved Finn. He was happy, and after take off he went to sleep. Before we landed I had to move him so that the armrests could go down. He cried and cried and cried.

When we got off the plane I put Finn into the harness again – on my front this time. He went back to sleep.

Our Accommodation:

In the Gothic Quarter. We looked at various options but decided central was a good plan for such a short trip. We arranged a late check in with our accommodation. When the taxi dropped us off we had to search around a little bit to find the late arrival instructions. We were let in through the stunning foyer by a very kind man and shown to our room. Basic, clean, shared facilities and with windows out over a laneway with a very noisy bar.

Eventually everyone went to sleep. Then the garbage trucks came. Then we went to sleep again.

Day one:

I woke up rather groggily. Jon found peppermint tea. It helped. The boys were very excitable. The slight change in time zones helped us out a bit – it was not as super early in Barcelona as it would have been in Edinburgh, but I was still very aware that everybody else in our accommodation was going to hear all their carry on. We went out in search of breakfast and coffee and found a cafe across the street. Fresh juice, pastries, coffee and more coffee for me set us up for the day. We made this our regular breakfast place for the whole trip.

Kids in the traditional entryway to a building in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona.
Grand entry to our accommodation. Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

We tried to plot our day over coffee. The weather report said this was going to be the sunniest day, so we went for beach, and cable car. We went back to our room. Packed everything for a day into one backpack and headed out. Got a block away and I realised I was going to need my hat. Jon went back for it. We headed off again. We realised that Rafa and I had hats, but Finn and Jon did not. We bought hats from a street seller and wandered on. We could see the cable car in the distance, but managed to walk the wrong way to get there. We looked at a lot of very expensive boats. Finn got tired and I put him in the harness on my back and carried him.

We found the Cable car. Win- both kids were free! I suspect that there would be times of the year when the queue for this attraction would be very long. Even in October it was not quick. There is a queue to buy the tickets. A queue to get into the lift and a queue once you are up the top of the cable car tower thing. There are also great views of the city and clean toilets to use while you wait. There was quite a lot of ‘why is it taking so long’ type complaining. Finn had a wee in the toilet – win.

We all loved being in the cable car, seeing the city far far down below.

There had been a lot of ‘I need an Ice cream’ type complaining through the morning. Ice cream was promised when we got to the top. Ice cream was delivered. And fries. And more coffee. This was our most touristy eating destination for the whole trip. Good views though.

Travel with small kids really needs to be timed around when they need feeding. Eating in Spain (according to the guidebooks) needs to be timed around siesta. With an eye on the clock we explored a bit, tried to keep the kids out of the fountain, tried to keep the kids out of the dirt, and then decided to head down to find some proper lunch near the beach.

More queues. More complaining. Lots of ‘I don’t want lunch I want to go to the beach.’

We decided on a picnic lunch via a beachside supermarket rather than risk the disquiet of a sit down meal. Bread, samami, cheese, a cold drink. As soon as we hit the sand Finn sat down and started digging. Rafa ran off towards the water. We found a bare patch of sand. We gathered up the boys and attmpted to feed and sun cream them. Attempted to get them to stay out of the water until we had something to eat. Attempted to keep the sand out of the food. Attempted to get the massage ladies, sarrong salesman, beer salesman, mojito salesman to leave us alone. We failed.

We had fun.

 

Later on we scraped as much sand as possible off ourselves and wandered through a new neighbourhood. We found a coffee place next to a local playground. The boys played, we revived. It was tempting to stop and eat again, but it was decided (by me) that it was not quite warm enough any more to sit outside. There was much complaining about leaving the playground.

We found a tapas place with friendly staff. We ate lots of tasty food. I had a cava. It was a perfect meal. Unfortunately we can never go back. Prior to departure Rafa stole Finns chocolate cake and destroyed it under the table, then Finn had a wee on the floor. We paid. I realised we had no more dry clothes for Finn. He went into the harness with wet jeans. We walked home just as most of the city was heading out for the night.

Day 2.

This was our sight seeing day. I wanted to see Sagrada Familia and Park Güell aka lots of Gaudi. We decided on the hop on hop off bus as best for little legs and seeing as much as possible of the city. On one of our hop on hop off moments we crossed Catalonia Square and the boys encountered a mob of pigeons. Then the rain came. We dashed to the bus and clambered, avoiding the downpour: or so we thought. The open rooftop of the first part of our journey had been replaced with a canvas roof… with many holes, and the windows were still open. We drove through Barcelona spotting notable sights, avoiding drips, and being soaked with dumps of water everytime we went around a corner.

I loved it.

At Sagrada Familia we had our first proper taste of big tour groups and crowds. We decided not go inside, but ogled the building from outside.

When we had had our fill of the spires and cranes we wandered back towards the bus, and sheltered under some trees. It was a good day for umbrella and rain coat salesmen, though presumably they find plenty of other things to sell on sunny days. Finn chose that moment to have a wee in his shorts. We decided that since he was already soaking wet from the rain we would leave him as he was.

The rain continued when we got back on the bus and the decision to sit in the relative dry of the downstairs of the bus was unanimous. The drop off point for Park Güell was actually nowhere near the park. This did mean we were able to find a local place to have lunch. It also meant a rather steep walk on tired legs. The rain had stopped and we kept them going up the hill with the promise of a playground.

There is part of Park Güell which is paid, and part of it which is open to the public to wander about in. Jon stayed with the boys while they played in the playground – which was in a foresty sort of spot but really could have been anywhere. I considered going into the paying section, but the timed entry meant it would have been about an hour until I could go in and I was conscious of the kids energy levels. I opted instead for walking about the curved, sculptural paths that wound up and up and up.

It was great to get a feel for this amazing park at my own pace, see the views out over the city and glimpse the famous mosaics. When I got back the boys were nowhere to be seen.

They eventually returned from a bathroom visit: clean trousers were required this time.

By the time we got back on the bus energy was low. We watched destinations and neighbourhoods slip by, read about their highlights in our guidebook, but even the football stadium got only a murmur of interest. We were done.

Back in the Gothic Quarter we glimpsed La Rambla but managed to find smaller, quieter streets to wander down. We were too early, or late for one or two food places, but we found a tapas bar open, got good chat from the staff and demolished a lot of meats, breads, cheese and tortilla. We managed to persuade the boys to have an after dinner meander with the promise of icecream and got a look at the promenading locals.

We headed back to our room about when everyone else was heading out.

Day three:

I think after a few nights in unfamiliar beds we all slept best on the last night- an unavoidable issue of the short city break. By the time you have adapted to your new surroundings it is time to go. Without particularly planning it our last day was also our earliest start, so we were up, breakfasted, packed and out the door in record time. With a late afternoon flight we decided to take all of our luggage with us for the day rather than backtracking.

We kept it local and explored the sights of the Gothic Quarter. I was impressed with the boys behaviour in the Barcelona Cathedral. Rafa was in awe of the statue of Jesus on the cross and Finn wanted me to find mothers and babies for him to look at. They were actually scared of the geese – a famed highlight for children in the cathedral. After some more Gothic sight seeing all the boys really wanted to do was to find somewhere to stop and play with their toys.

I carried Finn again and we made our way though the Gothic maze to the Plaza Real getting tangled up in tour groups as we meandered around looking for sights listed in our guide book, and spotting other things. Finn had a huge wee down my back. Nice.

We camped out at Plaze Real by the fountain, putting dry clothes on Finn, people watching, soaking up the atmosphere and for those who needed it drying out our clothes in the sunshine. The small boys were delighted to get into their superhero game and oblivious to the selfies they bombed. The square is lined with outdoor eating possibilities. Being close to La Rambla made us dubious about committing to eating there, but eventually those of us who do not wee in our own pants made the decision to have an eating and bathroom stop.

We continued with our attempt to eat as much Patatas Bravas as possible and tried to get some calories into the children who were in a run around, be loud and complain sort of mood.

The thing that made this meal a winner was the street performers. I am not keen on street performers in general but this group of young, fit men did a very inspiring street acrobatic performance. T he boys actually sat still and watched it. I am ashamed to say we had no local currency on us having donated the last of our Euros at the cathedral, so these admirable performers got shrapnel which was a mixture of British and Australian currency.

Train to the airport:

After lunch we meandered towards the train station. Finn ended up back in the harness, with the promise that ‘I won’t wee on you any-more mummy.’ He was asleep on my back before we entered the underground. The staff at Catalonia Square told us exactly where to change trains and mid afternoon on the Friday it was not overcrowded. The train to airport option was a good one. Like going into the underground in London there were a few long tunnels and perhaps the longest, deepest escalators I’ve ever been on. Finn woke up on the second part of the journey and went into play mode with Rafa. We were just congratulating ourselves on a drama free airport journey when Finn had another huge wee, flooding the floor of the train. It was amusing to see how quickly everyone evacuated that end of the train. We pulled out our travel towels and mopped down the area and changed Finn again. I decided that at this point he could go into a pull up.

The return journey.

With non of the exhilarating ‘we are going on a holiday’ vibes the return journey was not much fun. We were all out of energy, the plane was delayed which made our quite good on paper arrival time really rather late. Jon found a power point at the airport and the boys watched a movie on his laptop- first screen time for the whole trip. The flight was pretty painless. This time it was Rafas turn to fall asleep. Finn chatted the whole way.

Back home we were thankfull again that we did not have to wait for bags to come out, but the customs arrival hall was as tiresome as ever. I was again pleased to have the harness to put Finn into. He fell asleep on the tram home.

barcelona_travel_with_kids
If you love it Pin It. ta.

In conclusion, a reminder: Short city breaks with kids are great family time. Families are loud, exhausting, funny, stressful, grubby and very rarely perfect.

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Dear Damsels

 

child looking out the window of a plane, baby travel
Finn – on a recent journey

 

Today is a big day for journeys.

In a few hours we are setting off for Heathrow and flying to Australia for three months catching up with family and seeing the sunshine. There is a Super moon due and with our two lunatics on board the plane absolutely anything could happen.

And that may well be the seeds for a story another day.

In a nice circularity a story I wrote that happens to include journeying with a baby has been published today over on Dear Damsels .

Do have a read.

How to Act like a Traveller at Home

Host travellers via Airbnb- If you have the space spruce up your spare room and create a hosting profile on airbnb – it is a great way to bring the travel vibe into your home. You can sit down to breakfast with travellers from all over the world – just like being at a backpackers – at home. And it can help you make some extra money to go towards your next holiday.
 

Travel Insider Tip: I love picking up little independent travel guides for my home city that are based on interviews with locals – always makes you discover new corners of your hometown!

Kathi Kamleitner – WatchMeSee

Turn off the Data on your phone – Chances are when you travel you pare your expenses down as much as possible – and paying for roaming data overseas is not cheap. Your travel self relies on wifi, paper maps, talking to your spouse over breakfast and looking out the window of the train. Give it a go at home (occasionally) and see how it feels. You will probably be a bit jittery at first – but perhaps the unconnected lifestyle will grow on you and you might just make some connections and memories offline. All the better to share on the social media of your choice later on.
 

Travel Insider Tip: Geocaching! Helps you discover so many hidden gems on your doorstep.

Claire Jessiman – Foodie Quine

Back up your computer, and your phone – This is a boring one, but practical.The life of a traveller is considerable less secure than your home life, and because of this travellers are better at remembering to back up their preccious memories, weather this is saving things to the cloud or a portable device no true-blue traveller would let their photo’s, diaries and work be vulnerable to theft and corruption by just being saved in one location – and while you are at it check up on your anti-virus software as well.

Travel Insider Tip: Keep an eye on cheap accommodation offers and book something nice in a different part of town for a night.

 Sonja Bolger – Migrating Miss

Join a travel network- If you work in a travel industry- but don’t get to travel as much as you would like join a group like Travel Massive – there are chapters all over the world and they are a great way to stay in touch with travel insiders, hear what is going on around you and sit down for a drink with some like minded travel addicts and talk about past and future travel escapades.

Travel Insider Tip: I’ve been doing a lot of exploring in my home city right now. Always fun to play tourist at home or to dig a little deeper and find hidden gems.Kirstin McEwan – The Tinberry Travels
Go somewhere new that is local to you – Chances are there are plenty of amazing things to discover not far from your front door. Why not: Visit a small gallery. Stand in a forest for 10 minutes and just listen. Walk down a different street when you are coming home from work. Eat out somewhere you’ve never eaten before.
 

Travel Insider Tip: Take a walking tours, actually find out what the buildings stand for that you walk past every day!Gemma Armit – TwoScots Abroad 

 

Try out minimalism- Reduce your wardrobe, remember how much simpler life is when you travel. Why not try pairing your wardrobe down to something closer to the contents of your suitcase. Sort out a seasonally appropriate wardrobe that can be mixed and matched to get you through your everyday- and put the rest into storage until the seasons change. Or try reducing other ‘stuff’ you keep at home – 

Travel Insider Tip: I spend most of my time in the same area, so during the weekends I like to head to a complete opposite side of town. Then I just stroll around, discover the area, find a good pub etc. I like seeing new sides of the city I live in.Christina Sunneklep – Cava for Lunch 

 

Know Your Passport: When you are travelling you always make it a priority to know where your passport is, and when the expiry date is. If you make this a priority in your at home life as well you won’t be sorry. Trust me you don’t have to go far to find a story about a lost or expired passport and a ruined trip. Don’t be the story.

Travel Insider Tip: Find your nearest hotel concierge and chat to them to find out what they recommend in the city for tourists – it’ll likely be things you’ve never considered, and they know all the best tips on how to get cheap/good tickets for things, and local events that are happening.

Julia MacGregor – Fizz and Pheasant

 

If you have kids or babies why not try out these tips to get that travel feeling: 

Throw out your routine – I know it is a scary idea. Dinner, bath, bed is my life raft, but when you are travelling with kids you have to accommodate all sorts of changes to routine, and everyone survives, and sometimes we even have fun. So at home why not: Go for a walk after dinner, eat out, sleep on a camp bed in the lounge room – who knows some of it might get incorporated into a new routine.

 Regular traveller Anne Hamilton told me how she and her son keep bed time from getting boring by bringing travel home. 

 

Travel Insider Tip: Every few weeks or so when bedtime gets boring and we’ve no real trips planned, we ‘camp out’ overnight in the sitting room. The 6 yr old chooses the country, and we spend the night under a selection of bedding on the sofas. Most recently, Antarctica was the ‘in’ place, so we put together a pick-up tea (a picnic by any other name) of tuna, prawns and ice cream – yep, we interpret local foods very widely -and ate it in our camp with March of the Penguins as background. If you left the room, you donned your hat and scarf and waterproofs (imaginary wellies out of deference to the lady in the flat below!) and braved the polar bears (played by a giant papier mache cat and Clifford the Big Red Dog)… Next time, apparently, we’re going to Denmark, but given LEGOLAND appears to be the real draw, that’ll be doubly interesting! 

 

Anne Hamilton – writeright editing

Again try minimalism – Get radical with how many clothes your children have – do they need that many t-shirts –are there things they never wear? Would you take that much stuff if you were travelling. The other kid area you could try to downsize is the toys – encourage the kids to help, make a pile to donate to a local charity.


Do you have any tipe to share?

Five Tips from a One Time Group Travel Virgin

On ‘that’ trip. Scotland 2011
In I my pre-mum, pre-writing about travel with babies life I was often to be found curled up with a good book. On occasion I got myself out of the house and had an adventure or two. If you read until the end of my rather long tale of group travel virgin blog you will know that I married my tour guide. That fact basically makes me an expert in small group travel. Between the Kimberly trip which was my first time and the trip with Walkabout Scotland where I met my husband I also went by myself on small group tours to:
USA – epic road trip from California to New York -2008

Ayre Peninsula- South Australia -2009
Borneo  – 2010

 

On Safari in Tanzania -2011
A sail boat adventure in Turkey – 2011
A snowy road trip from Vancouver to Banff- 2011
A road trip/pub crawl in Ireland -2011
Here are some things I have learnt along the way:
Tip 1: 
When selecting the type of group travel to go for always choose something you love: ie if you go on a trip that involves camping, or trekking – because you love those things, you will meet like minded fellow travellers.
 Tip 2:
If your already out of your comfort zone – go even further and break the ice with everyone in your group, because…
 
Tip 3:
When you travel with an organised small group tour you are never on your own for very long. You may not know it yet – but you are about to become part of a new tribe!
 
Tip 4:
When reading a tour itinerary it is a good idea to keep in mind what is an ‘included’ item in the itinerary and what is an extra – that way you know what you are paying for before you go and can budget for any extras you might want to do.
 
Tip 5:
Beware – group travel is a gateway drug. Before you know it you will be jumping off the tour bus and into a solo travel adventure.
Flying solo in Israel -2011

Tale of a Group Travel Virgin

I wrote a travel story recently about my first experience of group travel. It saw me looking back to a trip that I took ten years ago. Writing it was quite an interesting journey in itself – funny how when you look back patterns reveal themselves. That’s one of the reasons I love writing. The story did not get chosen for the project I sent it off to- so I thought I would post it here.
 
Slow Starter
Darwin to Broome
On the first morning I woke up in Darwin with human faeces in the hallway of my hotel. I am someone who once returned the gift of a mystery flight because the idea of going somewhere new, by myself made me uncomfortable. And there I was, by myself in a very unpleasant hallway about to spend two weeks on a 4WD bus travelling though the remote Kimberly wilderness with a group of strangers.

Why, I asked myself, did you give up the comfort of your couch and your knitting to come here?
Booking myself onto this holiday had been a convoluted sort of process. With my first almost full time job I had a little bit of disposable income, and paid holiday time, but there was nobody to go on holiday with. A much more well travelled cousin encouraged me to visit her in Thailand, use her home as a base and look into some group travel as a way to explore Asia. Reading trip itinerary’s got me excited, but Asia semi-alone seemed a little scary. Fear of the unknown held me back. But the seed of the idea of group travel had been planted. Perhaps I could see more of my own backyard? I switched from brochures about Asia to brochures about small group travel closer to home, and a trip caught my attention: travelling from Darwin to Broome, along the Gibb River Road, camping, swimming in fresh water gorges, visiting El Questro and the Bungle Bungles.
Now it turns out that travel agents have this great skill – you make an enquiry, they hold something – say a tour and some flights provisionally, and then they tell you you have so many days to pay or you will loose the booking- they give the reluctant, pondering traveller such as myself a deadline and a fear of missing out. Which is I suppose how I went from enquiring about availability and flights to being alone in a fetid hallway.

That day we travelled out of Darwin, and after a swim beneath sun drenched rocky escarpments at Edith Falls and a long drive, we camped on lush grass at Timber Creek under strange, majestic upside down looking boab trees. On the second morning there was only kangaroo poo outside my tent. Big improvement, but I missed being amongst my people.

In early photos from the trip everyone is standing up very straight with their hands tucked behind their backs or in their pockets. We are travelling together, but we were not together. Those first days I dwelt on the contrast of how much more comfortable I was on camping holidays with friends or family. I was hyper aware of the little groups that existed within our ‘small group’ – I was not part of any group. There were two brothers travelling with their wives who spoke minimal English and were easily thirty years older than me; other couples travelling together, two friends who had come together, and an assortment of other solo travellers like myself. I felt lonely amongst this group of strangers.

My tent mate was a British doctor,

the start of everyday was a struggle for us- as we were both equally poor at functioning without coffee 

and the itinerary most days demanded we pack up our tent before breakfast. After breakfast we would be on the road again. The Northern Territory and Western Australia have properly Australian distances. We drove, and drove the next day, and the day after that and the day after that. We often drove through the hottest part of the day, arriving at our camp-site in time for a bit of an explore and a swim. Sometimes staying in one place for a night or two before moving on.

I have done a couple of road trips up and down the eastern coast of Australia with my family. Between Melbourne and the Sunshine coast the landscape is dotted with towns and cities. Between Darwin and Broome there are remote indigenous communities, farms that get managed via helicopter they are so huge, wild rivers, a few small towns and rough roads. The most spectacular locations, within the wide open land of the outback that is the Kimberly, can only be accessed via roads such as the notorious Gibb River Road – and its smaller, rougher off shoots.
Even in the dry season, robust, high clearance 4WD vehicles are the only way to attempt the journey if you want to see any of the countryside not immediately adjacent to the Great Northern Highway. There are river crossings, big remote distances without street signs or easy landmarks and changeable conditions. The road can be closed completely during the wet season, and vehicles even contemplating travel in the wet must have a snorkel! The debris stranded high up in the trees marked the height of the water in the wet season. As we covered those big distances I realised how challenging it would be for me, and my townie friends and family to ever embark on this type of journey. Going with a driver who know the terrain, and with an organised group – so someone else took care of all the preparations – gear, food, water etc. was a perfect way to experience this wild corner of outback Australia.

Every destination was absolutely worth the chunk of driving that it took to get there. The contrast of hot, hot days relieved by swimming opportunities in spectacular locations like Bell Gorge was without a doubt a highlight for me. On one of our hiking/swimming adventures we made a non-vehicular deep river crossing. Some strong swimmers (myself included) pushed inner tubes across, floating our boots, camera’s etc. to keep them dry. As I gained the far bank, with the kit safely ashore I looked back to see that one of the men in our group was loosing confidence. The water was slow moving, but dark, chest high and the river bed was slippery bottomed. Within a moment one of the tanned and barrel chested German brothers had taken his hand and supported him for the rest of the crossing. The moment: these two men, previously strangers to each other, holding hands as they emerged from the river was not captured by my camera, but the memory is one of my strongest from the trip.

Bell Gorge, Western Australia 2007

There were great reminders that the driving itself was part of the destination. When we drove the 50km 4WD only track into the Bungle Bungles I sat up the front with our guide.

In the truck I could feel every bump, taste the dust and see the blind corners coming – I truly felt like I was in the Kimberly. 

The vast glory of the Bungle Bungles was a great reward for surviving that terrain without the air-conditioning and good suspension of the cabin. We hiked through dry river beds at the base of ancient canyons in temperatures above 40.C and picnicked in the shade of Cathedral Gorge. You can see the evolution of friendships in those Bungle Bungles pictures, we are all a little wilted, very exuberant and our arms are interlocking in the foreground of images capturing a fragment of that majestic Martian landscape of orange beehive domes thrusting up from the earth’s crust.

And somewhere along those hot dusty roads, and in between swimming, walking, sweating and wildlife spotting I found I was not travelling with a group of strangers anymore. Perhaps it was Pip and I laughing together everyday in exasperation at our own continued inability to pack up our tent; perhaps it was those helpers who came along and sorted out our tent mess; perhaps it was conversations unfolding along dusty walking trails, by camp-fires and over card games on long drives; perhaps it was sharing snacks and beers at sunset over-looking the Bungle Bungles, watching the colours change on those ancient masterpieces in the cool of early evening. Somehow the alchemy of heat, dust, shared exploration and discovery, bumpy roads, river crossings, the minimal comforts of camping, spectacular locations; combined with cold beer, starry evenings and being away from everyone you know came to equal friendship. I don’t recall exactly when the cross over happened – but I do remember looking around at our group scattered about the camp-site one evening and realising that thesewere my people. I was not on the outside looking in anymore.

Bell Gorge, Western Australia 2007
On the last day I woke up in a tent pitched with a view Roebuck Bay in Broome, Western Australia. I was part of a group formed from people from all over the world who had shared the adventure of travelling through the Kimberly. I was soon to discover the main draw back of small group travel – that hollow feeling you get when the trip is over and everyone disperses back to their real lives.
But you carry those memories with you. And if you are lucky – like me, you will keep some of those friendships going. I caught up with one of my trip mates for a beer a few weeks later in Melbourne – she had continued on from Broome to Perth along the coast – and as I heard her highlights I began planning for my next small group trip. It turned out to be a road trip across America, but that is another story.
Cable Beach – Broome, Western Australia 2007
Many years later I went to visit my old tent mate in her home in Devon. I spent an idyllic few days walking forest and beach trails with Pip and her dogFinn before heading to Scotland to go on another small group trip – hiking in the highlands. I had been travelling in Africa, the Middle East and Europe – doing some small group trips, a family visit with my cousin in Egypt, (I never got around to visiting her in Thailand) and some completely solo travel, again that is another story.
 
The part that connects to my Kimberly trip, is where that Australian girl, who was a slow starter to solo travel, but was converted by spending two weeks driving through the outback with a group of strangers, found herself on the other side of the world,

trekking through bogs, up and down rain pelted mountains, making more friends from around the world and falling in love with her tour guide.

Four years later I am still here in Scotland, married to the man who led us up to the misty top of Ben Nevis. We have had plenty of adventures together, some of the travel variety, and some involving the birth of our two sons. Lately I have been reflecting that if I had never taken the plunge, gotten out of my comfort zone and gone on that first trip, perhaps I wouldn’t be living the life that I am now. And oh what a pity that would be.

Rover mum, Rafa and Finn, Cairngorms, Scotland late 2016

 

group travel, solo travel, travel
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The Cut-Outs

The Matisse exhibition in London has been tantalisingly near, yet far all summer. Yes it is only four and a half hours on the train from Edinburgh, yes I am on maternity leave and my time is my own. But somehow the no’s have stacked up against it in my mind. After four and a bit months living out of suitcases homehas become a very nice place to be, and the notion of navigating the London underground with a pram has weighed against the friends and artworks on offer down south. So it has been days in the park, day trips to the beach, play in our backyard with the neighbours and quiet nights in for me through this glorious Edinburgh summer. And there have been visitors to stay in with and occasionally visitors to babysit and let me out for a wander in our long twilights. 

Rover mum and Rafa at North Berwick, Scotland 2014
A couple of days ago however I realised that my days as a yummy mummy were quickly coming to an end. Rafa is nearly one and my return to work is immanent. So I took the rather radical decision to take a few days R and R for myself before we go into the next stage of life. I got the husbands blessing, booked some train tickets, arranged to stay with friends and headed off to London – by myself – with two nights and three baby free days up my sleeve!
I am in day two as I write and have to guiltily admit that I slept very well last night – with non of that middle of the night, wake up – check the baby is not tangled in the sheets, suffocating under a pillow paranoia, that sometimes happens when the baby is sleeping soundly in his cot. Nor was there the disturbance of being woken by a baby who has rolled onto his front, tried to crawl in his sleep and butted his head against the end of his cot. I am pleased to report that although the husband took a little while getting him to sleep Rafa slept though till 6.40am – which in our world is a win. I am even more pleased to report that I slept till 7.15am, and have had a dirty nappy free morning in Primrose Hill, and got to drink my coffee in my own time rather than sculling it when it was still scalding – or sculling it after it had gone cold as is sometimes the case at home.
Anyway this blog was supposed to be about going to Matisse – it’s just that as so often right now most of my thoughts skew towards babyland (which is a land that I love to live in, but am having a wee break from right now). So yesterday after I got off the train in balmy London I headed towards the TATE Modern, stripping off my layers as I went.
Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs is a 14 room exhibition of works from late in the artists life. There is a great pathos as you watch footage of the artist; he is nearing his death, bursting with creativity, his output getting more and more youthful and exuberant as infirmity takes hold. The works ask you to look for the artists tool marks, discern his lingering hand in the scissor edges and the pin pricks that get lost in reproductions, but are easily visible in the originals. According to the blurbs on the TATE walls the artist himself was dissatisfied with the printed results of his Jazz series, preferring the lively sensitivity of the cut out originals. The printed book certainly has a much flatter feel than the cut-outs – but what a treat to have them side by side.
In the My Trash blog I wrote about my 14 year old self going to the 1995 Matisse exhibition at the NGV. The poster I toted around for years was from the Jazz series – and I quite likely saw these works at that time. But of course you never walk down the same road in the same way twice – the intervening years have changed my eye. I see hearts everywhere and get distracted from the works to look for an echoe of my old self amongst the youngsters milling about – but I did not find her. Instead, babyland as inescapable as ever, I follow the sound of a baby crying – not mine! And soon the baby quietens, fed by its mother in the middle of the Oceania room. Amidst the submarine world of Henri’s Tahition lagoon– what will this one be drinking in today I wondered with its mothers milk – what a vibrant mind in the making.
Matisse, and his colours lure me around corners through the labyrinth of the exhibition. Chapels, bees, dancers – the experience is all bright, jagged hearts of Icarus, luminous fronds, repetitious curvaceous plant forms broken by surprises of geometry and close hot people, people, people all soaking up the works and jostling for viewing space.
The blue nudes slow me down at last. I love colour, but it is amid the simplicity of the single colour works that I am hydrated, calmed after the morning journey and months of rush and burble before that.  Here the female figure is allowed to be bold, larger than life; cut in lines that are both fluid and jagged. At first the blue nudes are seated and inward looking – folded in on themselves – this mass of stillness, this oneness spoke to me in my world of all encroaching busyness and babyness. I breathed and looked and imagined that the press of the crowd was receding.
Blue Nude II, H.Matisse (photo of the print I bought)
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As I moved, almost reluctantly, on the blue nudes picked up the pace, they started dancing and chatting to each other. In a jovial return to the world of Matisse colour ‘blue nude green stockings’ greeted me – a happy dancing figure who burst upon me and reminded me I love the outside world with its play and passion, and that a bit of a bustle is just the price you pay for living. Matisse, with his busy scissors and his beautiful assistants certainly knew about the joy of living and creating – and the legacy of his passion, as seen on the walls of the TATE speak to us still of the luminosity of a life well lived.  
Blue Nude with Green Stockings, H. Matisse (photo from TATE Modern catalog)

The New Project

I am looking to collect up travel stories with a twist – travel with babies. Do you think you could be interested in contributing a story, poem, memoir, or travel tale? My concept is still sketchy, but I am ultimately looking to create a book of beautifully written and engaging stories from around the world.
I am provisionally entitling the project: You Won’t Remember This – travel with babies
At the moment I am after expressions of interest, and perhaps a brief outline – if a story immediately springs to mind, email: youwontrememberthis@yahoo.com
Even if the idea of writing a story for print is intimidating – but you have a great tale to tell – do let me know, I am more than happy to do some work-shopping/editing with you.
 I am not sure what my story will be for the collection, but here is a Rafa travel one I have been writing…
                                                             A Big Deal
Rafa, in the queue you were your happy smiling self, but by the time we got on the bus something had taken hold. You told us about your unhappiness all the way along the winding farm road. Although we still remember the mutterings of the other passengers, at the time we were mostly concerned for you. What was this red faced distress? The tour guide spoke, but his voice was lost beneath yours: ‘I’m not happy, I’m not happy, I’M NOT HAPPY!’ On a packed and moving bus we quickly ran out of options for comforting you, and resorted to the old reliable – a mummy cuddle. It did not help.
Blessedly the bus ride was short, but your unhappiness continued in the open air. Your mummy hovered at the back of the group with you screaming in your harness. People with children murmured sympathetically; people without children congratulated themselves. The white muslin draped over your head to block out the March sun did nothing to muffle your distress.
All around us lay fields touched by the long New Zealand summer, but where we in a green bower. Quite likely the tour guide was explaining why, but we did not hear him. Bees may have buzzed happily in this innocent, happy land, but we did not hear them.
The green of Hobbiton, New Zealand, 2014
Slowly, slowly you quietened, moving from slow grizzles to restlessness and finally a hiccupy sleep. Luckily this was in the days when you were not so big your mummy couldn’t carry you, and so up hill and down dale we went at last, exploring Hobbiton.
On our way to Lake Taupo for the weekend I happened to spy that Hobbiton was only a small detour. The most expensive single touristy thing either of us had ever done – and it started with the you screaming the place down.
Movie buffs, book geeks, yes and yes we were; obsessive know it all’s who constantly need to prove their extensive knowledge of Elvish, Entish, lost kings, and Orcs – we left that for others in the group. I read and imagined Tolkein as a young woman in Australia, but now I live in the land of its authorship, and am getting to know the landscapes in which the author imagined his world into being. In New Zealand we stepped into Peter Jackson’s imaginings of The Shire and spent a happy afternoon wandering about with a quiet bub, peering at Hobbit holes, listening, at last, to the guides stories, and having a quiet ale at the Green Dragon.
Sleepy Rafa and Rover mum outside a Hobbit hole.
And the reason for this distress, we discovered later that day – your first tooth, peaking out of some angry gums. A big deal indeed. Rightly causing you to be upset. But Rafa, this tooth, and those that follow are the doorway to new worlds – chewing and biting new tasty foods.
We look forward to sharing so many new things with you. Tasty lunches, second breakfasts and stories of brave young Hobbits.
That troublesome tooth on a better day