California Road Tripping- San Diego to San Francisco (part 1)

So we have finally recovered form jet lag and from the miles we covered in our epic road trip holiday. I have had a few people ask us some of the ins and and of our trip so thought a blog post would be the best place. I’m going to do it over a few posts, too much information for one.

Now I have to remember the details! We travelled for just over two weeks from San Diego to San Francisco, we ranted an SUV and stopped in six different hotels. We decided to go with pretty nice hotels as this was a special holiday for various reasons….and thank goodness we went through a travel company as the Flight Centre saved our holiday….

We almost didn’t get to go on holiday, after months of planning we arrived at Heathrow airport with plenty of time to avoid any stresses. We ended up in the great British Airways fiasco. See the news? Yes someone unplugged the whole IT system meaning flights were “delayed”, or after an entire day sat in a queue on Heathrow floor…were totally cancelled! Try explaining that to a four year old who had been part of the whole planning process!! I don’t have the energy to explain what a disaster zone it was, how utterly useless the staff of BA were, the way they abondonned the airport…despite standing on the news saying the opposite.

Anyway, my husband is truly amazing, and as I crumpled into misery that this year is turning into some sort of horror movie, and trying to console a distraught daughter, my husband spent hours on the phone seeing what could happen.

Another day later, two extra flights and we made it to San Diego! Horrah.

We stayed on Mission Bay and the San Diego Bahia Resort. I have to say right now, the staff were amazing here and so friendly. We lost a whole day in San Diego and we were totally exhausted from the very extended travelling time.

We had pre-booked tickets to San Diego zoo, which thankfully had an open date on, but we had no choice but to go on our first day, having arrived late the night before *gulp*.

What a zoo….if you go to San Diego you must visit this zoo-but find food to take with you, the food was as expected over priced and not amazing.

It is huge, and is about to open a brand new area too. There are numerous buses and ways of getting round but it is walkable, if rather hilly. I had read many blogs about the zoo and the queues for the pandas so we were prepared…however we visited the pandas twice and never queued. The zoo is full of volunteers who are clearly passionate and super helpful. Amelie loved the way they took time to talk to her (and stamp her arm with different animals stamp!)

My tips for the zoo…look at the map thoroughly and plan your route carefully to avoid walking too much. Some of the buses are pretty pointless if you want to actually see the animals. Make time to speak to the volunteers, they are fab. Take a pushchair for jet lagged four year olds…even if you never use one at home, it’s big, hilly and can get warm! It won’t do any harm.

It was pretty cool for Southern California on our trip, but this meant there were lots of playful, awake animals. Our favourites…the pandas, koalas, polar bears and hippos….oh and don’t miss the dog in with the cheetahs!

It’s an expensive zoo…but totally worth the money.

The zoo is set in Balboa Park, full of museums and stunning architecture, we took a stroll around it after the zoo. We had hoped there would be cafes and restaurants for dinner but nothing! This amazes me, it looks the perfect spot but hopeless for a post-zoo dinner!

That evening we found a diner to eat at, in our hugely tired, jet lagged desperation we just randomly picked a restaurant off a list our hotel gave us and ended up at Corvette Diner…we had no idea what to expect! Imagine full on US diner, with a car inside, neon lights, a DJ, singing and dancing waitresses, straws being thrown everywhere, a “balloon dude” and waitresses who tie up your four year olds hair in a Mohawk with straws….yup drinking straws! Amelie thought this place was AMAZING. It was a bit of an assault on your senses, but we think our introverted Britishness made it all the more crazy and funny.

Our next day we left San Diego, too soon, but we lost a day thanks to BA. Our hotel had offered a free paddle ship cruise around the bay but sadly we missed out on that.

We headed to the Gas Lamp quarter for breakfast and found a cool cafe for pancakes before heading to La Jolla, a place lots of people had recommended to us. Famous for sea lions…and we found them on the beach, all smelly and noisy. In fact looking through photos of Amelie paddling (paddling in the Pacific Ocean was on a her wish list!) on another bay we noticed a seal lion photo bombing all the photos! La Jolla had a great feeling about it, we just didn’t see the sun…June Gloom.

We found an amazing place for lunch as I was desperate for my taco fix (on my wish list), Puesto. Oh my, those tacos were insanely delicious! Go find it if you’re there! Make sure you have three tacos over two…I had two and wished I had gone for three!

From La Jolla we drove on to our next destination…Newport Beach. Driving in the US is different, firstly there are points with 9 driving lanes…yes 9! And there doesn’t seem to be a logic as to which lane you should drive in. They are also less polite and letting you move across lanes when you realise you need to cross 9 lanes for your exit. Take a sat nav, we paid for the upgrade on our own and took it as it’s cheaper than hiring one from the car hire (on that note we bought a cheaper car seat for Amelie and took that too, far cheaper than the hire and free on the plane.)

We stayed at the Marriott Newport Beach, and we had four nights there. Beautiful rooms, wonderful staff but not that close to the beach and all rooms over look the air conditioning units on the roofs so quite noisy.

More on what we did at Newport in the next post…as that was a super busy few days for us. We just wished we had longer in San Diego and more favourable weather.
(Photos- panda at San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and sea lion at La Jolla, Corvette Diner and Puesto La Jolla)

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California dreaming

At the start of our year when life kind of crumbled around us we decided it was time to give ourselves something amazing to look forward to and that we could throw ourselves into. So we have decided on a family adventure.

Before we embarked on IVF all those years ago we had decided that if it didn’t work out we would go on a California road trip. Amazingly we ended up with our precious daughter so the road trip was put to aside. 

Until now….this summer we will be finally going on our California road trip but taking our miracle daughter with us! And I cannot wait.

We haven’t done many road trip type holidays before, we spent a month travelling Canada many years ago and we did a road trip in Iceland when I was pregnant but never done anything quite like it with A. I feel totally out of practice even thinking about such a holiday but I have loved throwing myself into research and planning.

So we’ll be flying into San Diego and traveling up to San Francisco (I know we’re doing it the wrong way round…tip don’t book a holiday when ill!). We’ll be stopping in Orange County, seeing Joshua Tree National Park, Santa Barbara, we were planning on Big Sur until I found out this week that the national park and highway 1 is closed until September (I cannot tell you how upset I am about this!), we’ll be stopping at Monterey and heading on to San Fran. It’s going to be amazing! Tips are welcome!

I think half the fun is in the planning. I’m not afraid to ask for advice, I have been desperately searching Pinterest and reading every blog I can, what others have loved and picking out the bits that interest us.

It seems so daunting but it’s been a great family activity. I’ve drawn out a huge rough map and have been getting A to help me find places on it and stick post-it notes all over with ideas of places to visit. She feels totally involved in the planning, at four I think it teaches her loads too…she can find California on a map and can tell you all the cities we’re visiting. She has her own wish list of things to do and see. These include eating American pancakes for breakfast, eating ice creams on the beach, seeing a cactus in the desert and seeing sea ottes, sea lions, elephant seals and pandas! A pretty cool wish list when you are four hey!!

We’ve had people question whether it’s a bit daft taking her so young, will she even remember it?! Well, A has a phonomenal memory (it’s scary!) and remembers holidays pre being two. I think it will shape her, she will remember snippets, we will take thousands of photos and we’re already thinking about creating a travel journal. She’s busy practicing with one of our old cameras so she can snap what she sees as interesting too.

I’m most concerned about an 11 hour flight with her and jet lag! Any tips on how to more than survive this aspect would be very gratefully received. I’m planning on packing something little and new to give her each hour of the flight there. 

It’s going to be an amazing memory making, learning, family loving time of our lives. 

I’m sure I will be blogging more later on in the year once we’ve returned and recovered.

It’s good to talk…

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“It’s good to talk”.  How many times have you heard that before…or even been the one uttering that phrase?  There used to be a well known phone company who used that as their strap line.  I’m not sure they do any more, but it was always a catchy one.

I’m pretty certain that I have used the phrase many many times in my years doing youth work.  Encouraging young people to not bottle up their feelings or get those questions out there.

Did I believe what I was saying was right?  Of course.  However…what do you do if you don’t know how to!?

We assume that everyone knows how to.  Where’s this all coming from you may ask.  Well I have heard had this phrase said to me many times this year.  2017 is so far proving to be up there with the worst of years.

I have always found talking in hindsight relatively easy.  I can talk about stuff that has happened and has been felt with relative ease.  As for talking about the here and now, especially when feeling utterly broken is another thing entirely.  I have had friends say “we understand you are really private”; it’s not so much I am private but putting feelings into words when they are at the most raw is really, really difficult.

I’m surely not the only person.  I admire those who when posed with the question “how are you?” are able to tell you exactly how they are feeling.  I am slightly jealous too at their ability.

Is this a learnt skill or are some of us just born with this ability?  I know that I am desperate to teach my daughter to be able to express her emotions, to talk about how she feels, to cry on me when needed.  I want her to not have to suppress herself because of some terrible inability to say “life sucks, my heart hurts, day to day is hard and I need a hug”.

To those of you who can talk openly, be happy in that.  But please remember, not all of us are free in that, some of us have to have those conversations inside our heads and write them out (though a journal full of the same conversations isn’t exactly helpful either!), some of us crave to be pushed into this difficult questions because being told “I’m on the end of the phone” is too big a step to take.

If you have a friend who you think is just doing fine or you think is super private, may be ask them if they actually find it difficult to talk, keep being there, keep asking and keep giving those opportunities….one day they might find courage, they might find the words and they will definitely thank you for it.

What things help you to open up?

May be I’ll blog about self care soon…thats a great thing I am learning.

A heart of thankfulness

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What’s really important to you?  What are those things you really want your children to learn to be?  For me I have always wanted my daughter to be kind and I really, really want to instil a heart of thankfulness in her.

I’m not just talking about general politeness, yes I do hope and expect her to say “please” and “thank you”, but I want her to know how utterly blessed she is in all the little and big things in life.  I want her to be thankful for the sun, for the rain, for the flowers, for the stars, for the people in her life, for her toys and her home.  I think when people are thankful for all the things around them it becomes easier to live happily and contentedly.  It becomes easier to focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t have.  It’s something I believe you have to work at, learn and try really hard.  A movement of your minds thinking.

I’m hoping that trying really hard to teach her this from a young age will help her to love and care for the people around her and in the world but will also give her a positivity that will drive her through tough times in the future.  Not saying that when tough times come it won’t still sting, but might help move her forward.  I might be talking rubbish but I’m willing to give it a go.  How lovely it is when you are surrounded by positive, thankful people.  I want her to be one of those people who radiate a love of life.

So this lent we are focusing on thankfulness.  Amelie is a lover of art, drawing masses of pictures all day long.  We have used this love to take time out each day to draw a picture of what she is thankful for.  For us we are thanking God, as Christian’s it’s something we recognise comes from someone greater.  But whatever you believe, I think this has been a wonderful activity.  By the end of lent we will have 40 pictures showing what our three year old sees as wonderful in her life.  I am loving it, as is she.  We have the pegged up in the dining room, and I have caught her sitting there thanking God for each of the things she has drawn….from her scooter, to Tim Peak the Astronaut, to her family.

How do you instil thankfulness?

Wooo it’s half term!

Anyone else excited for half term??  I am so super excited to not have to share my daughter with her teachers.  In fact we started our half term yesterday with a trip to the cinema to see The Good Dinosaur, loved it…but glad I took the tissues with us!

I kept telling myself we would keep half term a bit quiet but that quickly went out the window and we have a jammed packed week of fun.  I’m a bit organised this time but in case you’re not quite so organised I thought I’d put a quick blog post together with some suggestions, some might tickle your taste buds.  We’re in Suffolk so these are ones we would do from here.

1, Bury St Edmunds Moyse’s Hall has a Lego Brick City exhibition, looks great fun for any Lego enthusiast.Moyses Hall

2. Stickman Trail at High Lodge, Thetford.  We did this a couple of weeks ago, we loved it.  Lots of activities in the £3 pack bought there or just follow the trail and the boards have lots of suggestions too.  Just beware not to wake the sleeping Gruffalo’s child!  We love High Lodge, great for bikes, great musical forest and so many playgrounds for space for all even during a school holiday!

3. Cambridge museums.  Cambridge has lots of museums to explore, such as the Fitz William or the Science Centre, some will have great things going on for half term.  We’re off to the Science Centre for the first time this half term and it looks great for my wannabe Space Cadet.

Science Centre

Cambridge museums

4.Cambridge Waterstones have some great storytelling and craft times during half term, and weekends during term time.  Last summer we went to a Tiger Tea party and it was a fabulous FREE event.  Story telling and crafts in a brilliant book shop in the centre of the city.  Check out their Twitter and Facebook pages for more information.  I believe they have Thomas The Tank Engine, Winnie the Witch and the Scarecrow Wedding books this week coming.

5. London!  Why not take the train, drive to a tube or Stratford and explore London either central or Docklands/Stratford.  Go along to some of the special events Discover Story Centre have on in Startford (booking is essential, we struggled to get a time we wanted!).  Check our my previous blog posts for more London day out ideas.

6. Ickworth Park National Trust, a bonus if you are a member but a good day out either way.  The snowdrops are out and over half term they have amazing free crafts in the function room upstairs in the house.  We make use of this every school holiday and love it.

Ickworth

7.  Of course there are many many farms to visit locally here, Hollow Tree is a rather lovely one, Wimpole (National Trust) is a favourite with us here.  And the weather looks like it might even be kind to us this half term!!

Hollow Tree Farm

Whatever you do, I’m always wanting to hear of new places to explore so please do share your favourites, my list is designed to be on the inexpensive side, in other words £5 and under per person, money is tight but that doesn’t mean fun can’t be had going for day trips, I realise there is and endless list of activities with a larger budget.

Have a great half term, kids grow up fast so cease this time and make memories…we certainly will and we’ll be making a scrap book to keep those memories clear.  Enjoy!!

(Feel free to share my post of you’ve found it useful)

 

London Docklands

Hello…

It’s been a while, I don’t think I could quite face New Year so decided to just by-pass that one.  But now I’m back on track, have been super busy using nursery mornings to complete sewing orders, which are finally off and life is finding space to breathe!

We have quite a few plans over the coming few weeks for little adventures, of which I will share as we go along, hopefully to inspire some family adventures of your own.  I want 2016 to be the year of serious memory making, exploring and laughing….there wasn’t enough laughter in 2015 so this year needs to work harder on that.  I’m never sure if anyone really ever reads this blog, or finds it interesting or useful…but then I discover the odd few friends who do read and then go on to discover new places.  So I hope this does help.

We started our year of adventures last Saturday with our first trip of the year to London.  One mention of London and Amelie amazingly can get dressed super fast and do as she’s told…amazing!

We decided to explore elsewhere as we so often get drawn to our normal haunts of the Southbank, Science/History museum etc and we want to show Amelie London has so much more.  So off we went to London Docklands.  We looked up free parking spots around Canary Warf and found lots of roads with free parking at weekends.  We had planned to go to the Museum of London Docklands, and venture to Greenwich if time allowed.  We knew we’d also get to ride the DLR lots, which if you get to the front is fun for little ones to pretend to drive the train (they have no drivers!)
IMG_3452On the way down I decided to look into the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that goes over the Thames near to the O2 arena, so we decided to go on that too.  For a capital city ride I was surprised by how reasonable it was, especially if you have an Oyster card, Amelie was free and I believe a single ride was £3.50 each….not bad ey!?  It was worth while, I love getting to see cities from different perspectives and Amelie was glued to the window and absolutely love it!  It would be even better on a less grey day.  We did plan pretty badly and ended up zig zagging on the DLR/tube as we went to Greenwhich to look at the Cutty Sark, we probably would have been better off getting a bus from the O2.

We later went to the museum, (West India Quay DLR).  We had booked a time slot session for the children’s gallery, you can do this online, we possibly could have turned up and got a ticket but busy times would be best to do it online.  It’s not a huge museum so don’t be thinking Science museum size!  It’s free again, as is the children’s gallery and there was a nice coffee shop.

The Children’s gallery is fantastic, full on hands on learning experience.  You get 45 minutes in there which was ok (an hour would be perfect!).  There are large wooden models of the docks with boats and cranes to manoeuvre cargo, there was a small soft play area for littlies, lots of balancing games for cargo, water play, building.  So much hands on stuff and linked to all the docklands work.

The main part of the museum wasn’t hugely interesting for Amelie’s age (3.5yrs old).  Although there was an old sailor town to look at and spices to smell etc.  The rest of the museum is less geared towards young children but I would definitely recommend just going for the children’s gallery.

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So it was a tiring but good day, better planning would have been better, but hey it doesn’t really matter.  We really enjoyed our Eastend day exploring more of London, and Amelie wasn’t too disappointed that she didn’t see Big Ben.  How brilliant is our Capital city with so much free stuff for families to do!

 

(http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands/)

https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/fares/emirates-air-line

We’re going on a Bear Hunt…

So, yesterday we took Amelie on a treat day to one of her favourite places.  We visited The Discover Story Centre in Stratford.  This place is brilliant, and its always on my list of places for families with pre-schooler/toddlers to visit.  When it had the Oliver Jeffers exhibition we visited a number of times.  Anywhere that can bring books to life is brilliant in my mind.

So as our Christmas treat we went off to the new Michael Rosen exhibition of ‘Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things’ and also for the interactive storytelling of ‘Percy the Park Keeper’s Winter Park’.

Here’s my thoughts on it!  So Percy the Park Keeper is a massive favourite in our house, for both Amelie and us parents.  Who cannot love stories where the animals are friends with a human!!  This interactive story telling involved Percy’s assistant and a host of his animal friends brought to life in puppetform.  A half hour telling of the story A Stormy Night, and it was lovely.  The puppets are gorgeous and the story teller really brought it to life with a wonderful set.  The children all sit on the “grass” and there are benches for the adults behind.  All the children there were transfixed.  After the story they all got to make a christmas bauble, we liked this time as it was great to have a conversation about the story…and try to decide which animal we loved best (was it the badger or fox…I just can’t decide!).

We booked for Bear Hunt straight after.  Now here’s the thing to note…at weekends it obviously gets very busy so they are ticketed entrance and have a time limit on….if you go midweek its open after 3 and not limited time!  We found the 40 minutes too short to really play and explore so we’ll be returning midweek some time.  However, it was very good and there was a story teller who took us on the Bear Hunt getting everyone interacting with this children’s classic.

The basement is all dark and mysterious and you explore the stages of the book until you find the dark cave…I won’t spoil it for you…I’ll let you discover whats in the cave! 😉

It is lovely, and it sparked my three year olds imagination, and I do get why it’s timed, but for her 40 minutes wasn’t enough when a good chunk of this is taken with the story teller (who was great I might add!).

After all this we just squeezed in enough time to explore the main centre and fantastic play area in the garden.

Some practical tips…

If going at the weekend, we booked Percy (just on before Christmas) and booked Bear Hunt at the same time for the next slot (e.g. 1.30 Percy and 2.20 Bear Hunt), this timing worked perfectly.  You get entry into the Discover centre with the Percy ticket so makes sense to book your Bear Hunt too.

If you just want the Bear Hunt, go midweek if you can.

For people not local to Stratford, like us…it is so easy to find.  From Westfield Stratford its just over the bridge, through the train station and over the main road!

Here’s the link to the site…Discover Children’s Story Centre