Heading back to the land of the long white cloud!

We’re packing up. Boxes are everywhere. In six weeks time we will land back in New Zealand, just in time for Daylight Savings to start!

It’s been quite a year of travel and adventure living in Santa Barbara, California, but we are now looking forward to getting back to our home in New Zealand.

Our oldest daughter can’t wait to rejoin her friends at school, our middle daughter (who has been learning at home till now) is keen to start school at the beginning of 2015 and our youngest daughter (4) will probably continue to enjoy natural learning for a while.

Hubby is saying goodbye to the big corporate scene in the USA and looking forward to returning to the hub of technology in Wellington.

I’ll be blogging back at Catching The Magic – http://www.catchingthemagic.com from now on. See you there!

FAMILY

At home with my folks, Hampshire, England

It’s been a fortnight since we returned from the UK to the US. We are heading back to New Zealand to live at the beginning of October, but for now we’re in limbo; between the two places we love.

I haven’t felt like writing anything much, but have tried to fit in a little reminiscing about our trip. It’s bittersweet to write about the times we shared with our wonderful family and friends whilst in the UK: On the one hand, the photos and memories make the trip linger on and make everyone we love there feel closer; On the other hand, I’m thrown against the wall of reality – that we shan’t see them for a year or so, at the least, and we are about to move even further away again – back to New Zealand.

On every trip back there are always so many people we don’t manage to meet up with; as well as all the wonderful reunions I write about. I haven’t seen many cousins, aunts and uncles in well over a decade. The UK is my home of birth, but not my children’s home. They were born in New Zealand and, as much as they’ve enjoyed this time living in the US, are looking forward to getting back there.

I am forever torn in two – trying to be positive for my children and their future (for sure they have an amazing life in New Zealand and a wonderful future with so much freedom of choice and opportunities), whilst feeling guilty at not being there for my folks. I feel driven to write down all the events, both big and small, that make up the passages of time; clinging on to them to protect them from fading. However faded those memories become they will live on in photographs and the love that we shall always feel in our hearts.

So, this is what it is; a place where I can write about the times we have shared and safeguard them in some small way.

Our last week in Europe was spent with my Mum and Dad in their Hampshire home.

My dear folks with their youngest granddaughter, Alice

It’s where they have lived for thirty-five years and where I grew up. My best-friend, from when I was 11, still lives a few houses away and many of my other school friends have stayed and are seeing their own children pass through the schools we went to. The week was one of spending time with people that have touched my life throughout the years and still mean so much to me. I caught up with friends over coffee, at local pubs, even at a new trampoline centre (anything to keep the children happy!).

Old University friends of both my husband and I (yes, we met way back then… at Southampton University) came together. We shared memories, talked of our different life journeys – the happy and sad parts that combine to make life’s rich tapestry – and looked forward through our children’s eyes at what is yet to be.

We took a day trip into London with my folks and our children, walking through the parks and admiring the sights steeped in history. Hubby took our older two children to the theatre to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’, whilst I spent a lovely afternoon boating along the river Thames with our youngest daughter and my folks.

The week came to a close on a Friday. Our flight scheduled to leave Saturday afternoon. The last day was spent sharing my best friend’s celebration of her youngest son turning ten. She kindly invited us to share the ‘football party’. It was lovely to see her sons and my daughters getting on so easily.

In the afternoon one of our nephew’s, Michael, came down from his University digs, along with his lovely girlfriend, to spend the evening with  hubby and I. One of the binding memories of our visit to the UK this time round was how our daughters enjoyed the company of their older cousins – they were reunited with all but one of their six cousins. All their cousins are boys, and most are a fair bit older, but the bond of family made their union easy.

Michael, Sophie & Alice

Likewise, the bond between Aunts and Uncles and the girls, their nieces, was lovely to see.

Seeing my sister and having the chance to head out for a run with her was a special highlight for me (yes, I’m still running – before wine… have to earn it now I’m forty!).

My sister and I

The memories will live on in our hearts forever xxx

________________________________________________

Linking up with ‘The Photo Gallery’ at Sticky Fingers

 

North Wales coastline

A coastal run in North Wales

Whilst holiday in North Wales I was delighted to escape out for a couple of runs along the gorgeous coastline that borders the Hafan Y Mor Havan Caravan Holiday Park. If the pull of spending time with my family hadn’t been so strong I would have strapped on a backpack and disappeared for a whole day! The bays that weave along the coastline, with the undulating land rolling into the sea, are a living, breathing gallery of art.

Coastal footpath

The pathways, cut into the dense, fern covered terrain, lead over land that has witnessed centuries of human history.

Ferns, sea & mountains

As I looked toward the magnificent hills of the Snowdonia National Park my eyes kept being drawn to Criccieth Castle, built around 1230. It’s not really visible in this photograph (the zoom on my phone camera wasn’t sufficient) but to my eyes it was a dominant feature on the landscape. A historic marker of the people that have inhabited this land.

Looking toward Criccieth

Running along the trails and along the foreshore, whilst the tide was out, felt so invigorating to my legs. The terrain mixed with the scenery filled my legs with energy to keep on going. My mind travelled from being blissfully in the moment, with the natural surroundings, to stepping back in time to a land that never knew caravans!

Toward Snowdonia from Hafan Y Mor

And then, as I turned inland, I stumbled across a country scene so reminiscent of New Zealand, my home for some seventeen years, and where we are heading back to live as a family in October of this year.

Country scene

But it was the sea that drew me back. Seeing the magnificent blue of the water, surrounded by green hills, under a beautiful blue, summer sky.

A path of natural beauty

And when my run was done I turned to bid the clouds (the non-threatening kind!), dancing their shadows over the distant hills, farewell; grateful for their presence after a year of living under a Californian blue sky.

My body and mind shan’t forget the feeling of running on the North Welsh coastline. I left footprints, I took photographs and Wales left my heart marked with love for its natural beauty so steeped in history.

London

Instagram love – a poem

There are days when it’s hard to leave the house
not worth exchanging p-jays for a blouse.
To motherhood I surrender, with love –
yet the coop I escape from, like a dove.

Adventures I yearn for, without a care
just my own body and soul laid bare.
To Instagram I fly, fleetingly so –
a few minutes pass, yet time flies like a crow.

To Paris and Rome, over land and sea –
to landscapes of cities and mountains I flee.
So glad am I for the eyes of others
sharing their finds with escapism seekers.

© Sarah Lee, (August 2014)

Instagram love - a poem by Sarah Lee

Instagram love – a poem by Sarah Lee

Portmeirion Village North Wales

Exploring Portmeirion Village in North Wales

In an exquisite natural location of breathtaking beauty sits the artfully designed village of Portmeirion in North Wales. During our week’s stay in North Wales this was one of the highlights. Travelling in a large family group, a blend of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins, can make finding a day-trip to suit everyone a challenge – but this worked out a treat.

The younger members of our group weren’t sure that they were going to enjoy it and one of our daughters was overcome with hay-fever on arrival (thankfully she was calmed by her rock of a Daddy, after finding a heavily air-conditioned cafe). We split into groups to explore and I headed off with two of my daughters and two nephews.

Cousins

They quickly got into the character of the place and I had so much fun accompanying them. We meandered through the village and down to the coastline, admiring the scenery; that opened up before us, through the Italian styled architecture hugging the land.

Beautiful scenery

Portmeirion is a place that opens up the mind to creativity and it’s easy to see why it was used as a film location for a Dr Who episode and ‘The Prisoner‘.

My group of explorers were inspired to pose for the camera without any suggestion or prompting from me!

It was easy to escape into other worlds and be completely in the moment. I would have loved to have stayed for a long weekend, in one of the many choices of accommodation in the village. Hotel Portmeirion is beautifully situated on the estuary front and was the original mansion of Aber Iâ. It was built around 1850 and first described by Richard Richards in 1861 as, “One of the most picturesque of all the summer residences to be found on the sea-coast of Wales”. Famous guests here include H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Noël Coward and Sir Kenneth Clark.

I’ll have to wait for my children to be full grown and maybe revisit with my husband in our ‘silver hair’ years! I did manage to entice my group to sit and enjoy the view for a moment, so that I could at least ‘imagine’ a weekend of decadent relaxation. I ordered a Pimms for myself and a tray of club sandwiches for us all to eat. Most delightful, especially in the glorious sunshine.

Pausing for a drink

We stepped down onto the sand and marvelled at the expanse of the tidal estuary of the River Dwyryd.

It was hard to leave such a beautiful, serene place, but before long we knew it was time to rejoin the rest of our family group.

Cousins

We bid farewell to the natural scenery and walked back up hill into the architectural splendour of the village, set amongst lush forest land – reminiscent of New Zealand’s bushland.

We went on a little train ride around the forest land. With the heat it felt like being in a tropical rain forest! I would have loved to have enjoyed more time to walk through and explore the extensive grounds and gardens.

‘Before anyone took an interest in developing the Portmeirion Peninsula, the natural vegetation would have been sessile oak with birch, rowan and locally in wet areas alder and willows. The soil would have been a thin skeletal, acidic brown earth on Cambrian shales and grits which would have dried out very quickly as it does today.

The climate is very mild , winter frosts are rare and this has allowed plantings of tender exotic genera and species in common with many Cornish gardens.’ (Gardens of Portmeirion)

 After the train ride we found the rest of our party and enjoyed a final walk around the main village before heading back to the caravan park.

On the scenic drive back to the Hafan Y Mor Caravan Park we marvelled at yet more beautiful scenery and passed by one of Wale’s many castles. Such a magical landscape.

Welsh castle

 _____________________________________

Linking up with the wonderful….

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
North Wales Hafan Y Mor Caravan Park

A family reunion in North Wales

‘Pack the wet weather gear!’ everyone warned – and, as we drove from Lancashire to Pwhelli, on the coast of Northern Wales, the brooding clouds suggested we’d need them. Hills and castles appeared and disappeared as we drove the winding roads to our destination, Hafan Y Mor Caravan Holiday Park. But we need not have worried. It was as though Merlin had waved his wand, sending the dark clouds scurrying away. Blue sky opened up above us and the forecast looked heaven sent.

In fact, we were incredibly blessed – with a week of glorious sunshine and temperatures on a par to California. Jelly fish on the beach signalled sea temperatures warmer than average (even warmer than California!) and we welcomed the cooling spray of water guns, fired by our cheeky daughters.

We booked two, six-berth, caravans to accommodate our family, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. It was quite the reunion for my husband with his side of the family (my sister & her man did manage a quick visit too)!

We spent an amazing week together, making memories to last till the next time (which sadly isn’t as often as we’d like – flights from New Zealand to the UK are hard work and time consuming – not to mention costly!). We celebrated a Birthday; played endless games of badminton, tag and football; ran around the camp and down to the beautiful coastline with sweeping views over the Snowdonia National Park.

The cousins, a mixture of ages, came together like old friends and spent hours trying their hand at various activities like archery, go-karting and aqua jets in the swimming pool.

Our only wish was that we could have stayed longer – and maybe booked a few more caravans for my side of the family too!

Linking up with…

Walking in the rain in Copenhagen

Our rainy day finds in Copenhagen

We were blessed with mostly sunshine on our visit to Copenhagen, but when it did rain we weren’t short of options (including scrumptious places to eat!). I was delighted to have a decent cup of coffee too (reminiscent of my Wellington, New Zealand, days – the Capital City of Coffee!).

There are numerous museums and art galleries to choose from; I would have loved to have spent a day to myself meandering around them… but with three children to entertain single handedly (each with their own unique interests) I sadly didn’t visit many. However, we did find a couple of rainy day gems; including a brilliant swimming pool –DGI-byen – with the bonus of a gymnasium with a giant bouncy pillow to play on (a school holiday addition).

The swimming pool has a dedicated diving pool – with a climbing wall, trampoline and various other platform, a wonderful children’s pool area, with toys and floating devices for free use, and a large oval lane swimming pool – with a rectangle pool in the centre! The girls loved it. Even our youngest daughter had a go diving in from the trampoline, and our eight year old managed a flip!

After a good swim we made use of the free access to the bouncy pillow. The girls burned off yet more energy bouncing, hula-hooping and playing ball. By the time we left the rain had let off a little and we walked back to the apartment for a well deserved rest.

On a rainy Sunday, when my eldest and I weren’t feeling well, my husband took our younger two to a great hands on science place called the Experimentarium in Copenhagen, located in the central city for two years (but usually located at Tuborg Havnevej, Hellerup). They had a lot of fun trying simulated winter sports and enjoying the outdoor exploration area. They didn’t take many photographs, as they were busy having fun – but there’s plenty of information on the website.

In the wonderful apartment we rented there was a homely feel that made us feel quite content to stay in and play some rainy day games too. The apartment was on the popular street Værnedamsvej – and we made frequent visits to the Granola Cafe, as well as Cafe Viggo!

The view out the living room window was over the street, whilst the kitchen looked down upon a courtyard, filled with bikes. The smell of restaurant food drifted up through the windows, combined with the scent of tobacco (smoking is still very popular in Copenhagen) and the sound of voices chatting and laughing over coffee or wine. When it did rain it felt cosy, homely and a good place to be. We shall remember our visit to Copenhagen very fondly. It’s a wonderful place to visit, rain or shine.

Playground in Copenhagen

A place to play in central Copenhagen

We stumbled across a lovely playground in the centre of Copenhagen on a hot summer’s day. A paddling pool invited the children to splash around and cool down. Ride-on bikes lay about for children to freely play on.

ride-on fun

A welcoming hut had toys outside, akin to a pre-school, but all the toys were for passing children to enjoy, share and play with.

The spirit of community was strong and as visitors to Copenhagen we were greeted with welcoming smiles.

Playground and community hub in Copenhagen

It was a beautiful play-area and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours. A couple of children’s tennis racquets sat invitingly on a bench next to a swing-set . Miss 4 had a great time knocking the ball back and forth with me, whilst Miss 8 had fun nearby on the swings.

A beautiful imaginary play area, including carved wooden horses, totem poles and canoes, was surrounded by trees with bird boxes. As the children played I could hear baby chicks chirping from within the bird-boxes.

What’s more, there was a cafe that served a superb latte for the adults and ice-lollies for the children. Perfection!

IMG_5489
We visited this playground, Skydebanehaven, a few times over the 12 nights we stayed in Copenhagen (earlier blog post here). It was only a ten-minute stroll from the apartment where we stayed and just the place for children to be happy, nestled in a natural retreat within the city.

_______________________________________

Linking up with Country Kids at Coombe Mill

 

Tivoli Gardens Copenhagen, Denmark

Tivoli Gardens Copenhagen – Mr Disney’s Inspiration

After living in California for a year and being very fortunate to have visited Disneyland, it was wonderful to visit Tivoli gardens – the place that first inspired Walt Disney to set about creating Disneyland.

From the moment we walked into the gardens and amusement park it was very clear to see how Mr Disney was inspired.

The similarities between his Disneyland in California and Tivoli are apparent (just on a different scale). There is a lake in the middle of the gardens, surrounded by restaurants, with a tall ship anchored up at the edge of the lake. At night the gardens and lake are illuminated with colour, just like at Disneyland. The walkways are bedecked with hanging baskets and beautiful arrangements of flowers.

Thrill rides soar over the gardens, whilst children’s play areas and old fashioned fair-ground style games are tucked along decorative walkways.

Our youngest daughter was delighted with the playground area and beautiful, animal carousel.

Her older sisters were quite happy to go along for a ride too.

The gardens are a delight and there is a wonderful choice of eateries to suit all. There are rides for every age, size and level of daring. What’s more, this block of fantasy, fun and escapism is all located within the centre of Copenhagen.

_____________________________________

Linking up with ‘Country Kids from Coombe Mill

Hop on Hop off Copenhagen bus tour

Scenes from the bus in Copenhagen

I took my three daughters on the ‘Hop-On Hop-Off Copenhagen‘ bus tour (though we didn’t do much hopping; as the children were very happy on the open air top-deck of the double decker bus).

If I wasn’t managing three children of different interests, ages and sensitivities, I would have spent all day hopping on and off, exploring the beautiful streets and historic landmarks, but I was aware of my own limitations (and my children), so I simply took the easy option – sat back, enjoyed the views and took just one ‘hop off’ at the half way point of the tour – by the ‘Little Mermaid‘.

We didn’t bother with the crowds of tourists lining up to get their photo with the ‘Little Mermaid’, but did enjoy the beautiful vistas.

As the ‘World Travel Guide‘ writes in its guide to Copenhagen travel;

‘Water is ever-present in Copenhagen, a reminder of the city’s heritage as a major Baltic port, and the harbour is the best place to observe the capital’s great contrasts. Nyhavn has retained a deceptively provincial atmosphere, with colourful gabled buildings and cobbled lanes, recalling the fairytale capital that inspired Hans Christian Andersen.’

Water is never more than a short stroll away in Copenhagen. Its city streets, broad and friendly to pedestrians, are pleasant to walk (or cycle) – free from the pollution that plagues so many other European cities. If it’s not water you seek, then inner city green spaces are also plentiful, from parks like the Botanical Gardens and the grounds surrounding the Rosenborg Castle to ‘Pocket Parks‘; drops of urban green on a small scale.

The streets in summer are lined with cafes spilling out on to pavements. Music from buskers filled the air as we drove past, intermingled with the sound of people happily whiling away time over a leisurely lunch.

As we finished our bus tour, riding on the lower level for the second half – taking shade from the sun, we plugged in our headphones, provided as part of the tour. The commentary came in a selection of languages, informing us of the sights as they came into view. I was surprised at how much my youngest daughter enjoyed this (even out trumping the choice of using her iPad and the free Wifi!).

The bus tour lasted a little over an hour and was definitely a great way to get an overview of Copenhagen. I could happily have spent all day hopping on and off. A beautiful city to see, especially in the summer.