holiday

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

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Linking up with the wonderful….

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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…

24 hours in England

We touched down at London Heathrow early afternoon on Saturday. Our flight from Los Angeles went smoothly enough – after a delay boarding the plane due to a fatality on the incoming plane from New Zealand. Thankfully, we had access to the Air New Zealand lounge, which was so much more pleasant and peaceful than the alternative. It was a lovely touch of ‘home ‘ for our three New Zealand born daughters. They walked in to a greeting of ‘Kia Ora’ and a big cuddly Kiwi bird. New Zealand wine and beer was available, cheese from the homeland, carrot cake and pictures of red Pohutakawa trees bordering a pristine New Zealand beach.

We enjoyed grazing on snacks, chatting to the cabin crew, watching the World Cup football and the airplanes coming and going.

The cabin crew on the Air New Zealand flight to London Heathrow were so friendly and welcoming; a blend of nationalities from Welsh to Spanish. We settled in for the ten hour flight, with a great assortment of inflight entertainment. The children were all impeccably well behaved on the flight. They didn’t sleep much (probably three hours at tops!), but were quietly happy with the movies and games. The man of the house was delighted to enjoy a ‘Speights’, so he was ‘good as gold… mate’!

When we landed in London, early afternoon, it was morning in Santa Barbara, California. They’d been on the go for 24 hours and were extremely sleep deprived, but still held themselves together for the nearly one mile walk from the airplane to customs!

It was incredibly humid in the airport. By the time with reached the lines of people at customs we were all dripping with perspiration. After a relatively short wait, of around twenty minutes it was our turn to hand over our passports for inspection. Unfortunately our middle daughter was feeling very queasy at this point and shortly after declaring, ‘I feel like I’m going to vomit’, she spewed on the floor at the customs desk. My heart went out to her, whilst my stomach churned. It was all too much for our eldest daughter, who withdrew as far back as possible. Our youngest was sweetly comforting and sympathetic. The staff at customs were so good, offering up water, a cloth for our daughter and a bag for anything else to follow. Poor love.

Half an hour or so later, we finally emerged with our bags at arrivals to be greeted by my dear parents.

Whilst Dan headed off with our eldest daughter to pick up a hire car, I headed off with our two youngest in Grandma & Granddad’s car to their home in Hampshire. We skipped an awful traffic jam on the M25, by driving via Windsor – pointing out the castle on the way.

We spent the rest of Saturday resting. The man of the house enjoyed watching some more World Cup football, having a couple of pints in an English pub with his father-in-law and picking up a primo English curry (the Gulshan in Fleet is such a good’un!).

Our youngest daughter was the liveliest. She was so excited to be at her Grandparents house.

The next day, Sunday, started incredibly early. Miss 4 and Miss 8 awoke before 5am. By 7am Miss 4 was ready for some exercise out and about (she’d already circled the garden, said ‘Good morning’ to the wood pigeons, and eaten a pancake). I headed out to the local swimming pool with Miss 4 and Granddad  – at 7am! We had a really fun time and returned back to the house. Miss 4 was still bursting with energy. Meanwhile Miss 11 awoke and headed up to the local town centre with her Daddy and Grandparents for a full cooked English breakfast, before walking up to the local Calthorpe Park to check out the annual carnival festivities with young Miss 4 in tow.

They all returned about midday, with Miss 4 asleep in the buggy. I’d stopped at the house to keep Miss 8 company – still in recovery mode from the being sick on arrival at Heathrow.

We had a few good hours left to rest before having to head off on another journey – this time to Copenhagen in Denmark. All the girls fell fast asleep and we had to wake them up at 4pm when it was time to leave for Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5.

Terminal 5, London , Heathrow

Terminal 5, London , Heathrow

So, a flying visit to England indeed! Managed to get a quick fix of an English curry, pub and full cooked breakfast though. I managed a nearly 4 mile jog too (on the day we landed – definitely had a touch of cabin fever to expel!). It’s always a great feeling to arrive in England, the birth place of hubby and I. There’s a feeling of completeness, for me in particular, when I’m at my folks home. We bid farewell, knowing we’d be back on British shores again in a fortnight, after a two week business trip for the man of the house in Copenhagen. Phew! Busy times, but precious too.

LA to UK for 4 days, sans children. A once in a decade trip! Part 1

It was my first trip away in ten years, without wearing my mother and wife ‘hats’. An old University friend in the UK was the carrot and after ten years of at home parenting (mostly as an expat in New Zealand), with only one night away (ever; and that was when I had two daughters, not three), it was a well overdue trip. It took lots of friendly encouragement from friends to give me the confidence, before hubbie gave me the final push – by booking the flight for me! There was no excuse now!

So it was, that I boarded the air-coach at Santa Barbara on a Thursday morning, to travel to Los Angeles and then fly to London Heathrow for a four day stay, wearing only my daughter, sister and friend hats. It seemed easier to fly ‘across the pond’ (the Atlantic) than it ever would have been to do a short trip home to the UK from New Zealand, our home of over fifteen years. Half the cost, half the distance, half the travel time.

The biggest ‘pull’ to living for a year or so in the USA with three children (for hubbie’s work), was knowing I’d be a little closer to my beloved family in the UK; so it was only right that I made the most of the opportunity. Hubbie insisted that they would cope without me (but I still employed someone to help out on the days he would be working from home – knowing full well that little work would be possible with the ever present zest of our wonderful Miss 3 and home-educated Miss 8 and 10!).

Boarding the air-coach was easier than I could have anticipated, with all three children being genuinely positive with their send off. There were no tears, no guilt trips, no desperate pleas to join me. So I stepped onboard with light feet and excitement, feeling instantly free of responsibility. A two hour coach trip, four hour wait at LAX and ten hour flight was ahead of me – time, more than I can remember having in the past decade, for reading, shopping, browsing the latest book releases, eating at leisure, watching movies and staring out of the window for some uninterrupted day-dreaming.

The flight was quiet, with almost everyone in the back third of the plane having a line of seats to themselves. There were hardly any children to remind me of my own (though one did pipe up about the time I knew my brood would be heading off to sleep in California – which resulted in me having a little sob!). I got those tears out of my system, sipped a wine, put on my eye-mask, plugged in ear-plugs and breathed deeply – I’d need all the rest possible – as I was due to arrive in London Heathrow at 11am (3am in California).

My agenda for the four day trip was a stay at my childhood home in Fleet (after landing at LHR at 11am and catching a breath of fresh air at the amazing Wisley Gardens), and a catch up with my best-friend, on the Friday night; a wedding on Saturday, at The Grove, Hertfordshire; a trip up to the Peak District to see my sister on Sunday; a return drive on Monday, from the Peak District in northern England to Hampshire in southern England, an evening watching Giselle, the ballet, at a cinema in Camberley (live screened, globally, from the Royal Opera House in London); before a 6am departure on the last day for my return flight.

I landed in LHR ahead of time and cleared border control and customs before my folks had even arrived at the airport to greet me (it was a lot easier to power walk from the airplane to border control without children trailing bags and needing toilet stops!).

My folks surprised me with a visit to Wisley Gardens, enroute to my childhood home in Fleet, Hampshire. It was just the fix my body needed after a long haul flight and six months of living under Californian blue southern skies, where I’ve only seen rain in two days! I was hungry for ‘real weather’, green grass, air temperatures that make a person feel alive, savoury foods and a proper cup of tea in a china cup! At Wisley Gardens I was immersed in historic architecture and gardens willed with familiar trees from my childhood in Hampshire.

Wisley Gardens, England

I borrowed my Dad’s camera and turned into an obvious ‘tourist’, finding excitement in what the locals would take for granted: Silver birch trees and pussy willows dangling over a river in flood, holly bushes and snow-drops, grass so green it was luminescent and watered only by nature’s hand, hellebores in flower and even a tree in blossom. I barely had a moment to think about my dear daughters in the USA, as I was so immersed in the moment!

Wisley Gardens, England

My senses were alive with getting a fix of nature, British style, and the fresh air was fighting off my jet lag with a brisk hand.

Wisley Gardens, England

 

Unfortunately the fresh air wasn’t quite enough to completely banish the fuzzy head of long-haul and a nap would be needed if I was going to manage to stay up till bedtime, so it was home to Fleet we went. My dear Mum tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, under instructions to wake me about 5pm.

A refreshing nap and I was ready to catch up with my best friend from school days. I wish I could have stayed up longer, but with a wedding to attend the next day, I needed some shut eye!

To be continued…

Twenty Fourteen in San Diego

We have seen in the New Year from the vibrant city of San Diego, where there is an abundance of attractions, activities and beautiful scenery. There is so much to do here that I already want to start planning my next visit. On the drive down we stopped a night at Legoland California, where all the children enjoyed an amazing time, from the ‘disco lifts’ and themed hotel rooms to the park itself, with rides and exhibits set in a wonderful natural setting, under deciduous trees, still hanging on to a few leaves, around waterways and over meandering bridges and pathways.

New Year’s Eve itself was a quiet one from the hotel, with stunning views – but an unfortunately timed sea mist rolled in to put a halt to the firework display that was on the agenda. Being one of the last places in the world to see in the New Year, after so many years of living in New Zealand – one of the very first places to see in the New Year, was a new experience.

Last sunset of 2013 from San Diego

By the time the sunset on New Year’s Eve in San Diego, we all felt more than ready to kiss farewell to the good, the bad and the in-between of 2013, and move on to 2014.

Our two youngest children, along with their Daddy, spent the sunset hours partying with new friends, from Vancouver, Canada, they had made in the hotel pool. They got invited to an apartment near our hotel – to meet the grandparents and had a wonderful time.

I stopped in the hotel room with my oldest daughter, who wasn’t feeling well – and still isn’t (hence my time to write a blog post today, whilst the rest of the family is out exploring San Diego Safari Park). Later in the evening we were joined by Grandma & Granddad, and enjoyed their company very much, over a few quiet drinks and Despicable Me 2 screening in the background. We were all asleep before midnight, but glad of the energy to greet the first day of 2014 without any sore heads!

New Year’s Day itself was a wonderful one for me. It was my turn to get out the hotel, whilst Dan did the honours and took care of our oldest. However, he did manage to get out for a few hours of fun – persuading Miss 10 to come out to Sea World for a couple of hours and then, later in the afternoon, to Belmont Park with Miss 10 and Miss 8.  We didn’t make the decision to visit SeaWorld lightly. It breaks my heart to see Orca, such as Tilikum, as well as any whales or dolphins in captivity and the continued breeding of these intelligent animals for the entertainment of people should be stopped. However, there is still room for SeaWorld – but they really need to move with the times.

Orca at SeaWorld

SeaWorld put on excellent attractions for children, with large scale climbing frames and activity areas, rides and educational exhibits. The entertainment by dancers, acrobats, actors and singers in the park is top notch (there is no need for performing dolphins really – as the people do such a class act!). Our youngest daughter loved the ‘Winter Wonderland’ and making her first snowman (not that this has much to do with the marine environment – other than perhaps experiencing a taste of Antarctica!).

Winterwonderland at Sea World San Diego

The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund grants millions of dollars to conservation projects worldwide – and this is what SeaWorld needs to promote and get young people involved with. There needs to be more hands on conservation exhibits and educational displays, so that the actions of everyone can help to clean up and protect our oceans.

We have two more nights left in San Deigo, before driving back to Santa Barbara on Saturday. I’m hoping to get out to San Diego Zoo tomorrow, which Grandma, Granddad, hubbie and our youngest two daughters have already experienced with great reports back.

There is so much here in San Diego to see, besides the big parks, I wish I had more time to visit the Old Town, Little Italy and the Seaport Village. The USS Midway would be fascinating to visit too.

On our first morning here, I did venture out to the Seaport Village, on the recommendation of my dear Dad, to explore a wonderful cafe and bookstore (and much more!). It was my equivalent of heaven – good coffee, plentiful reading material, trinkets of all kinds to discover in every corner, seats in the shade and the sun, overlooking a meandering footpath, past a quaint duck pond and beyond, to the crystal clear harbour and ever blue, southern Californian sky. There was classical music playing to further stir the senses, and hideaway nooks inside to enjoy a quiet cuppa and be alone with ones thoughts – whilst being surrounded by the written thoughts of thousands of others. Just perfect!

Seaport Village, San Diego

Around the corner from the bookstore we discovered a beautiful, historic carousel, which had been lovingly restored in 1992. Hand-carved in 1895 this delightful attraction features 54 animals and two horse-drawn chariots. There is a sea dragon, giraffes, camels and a bear, as well as the traditional horses. Of course we had to have a ride on it, along with Grandma and Granddad too! It is so wonderful to have them visiting us from England.

So, a couple more days of holiday, before returning to Santa Barbara. Our oldest daughter is going to start a little private school and give it a go, whilst our other two daughters will still be learning from home. We have made no definite plans to stay in Santa Barbara beyond the year, or to return to New Zealand. Our current lease on the house, that we are renting in Santa Barbara, runs out in September, so we’ll make some decisions around May this year, depending on so many factors and the feelings of everyone in our family of five. It’s good to know our home in Wellington, New Zealand, is being well looked after by a good friend.

The biggest word for our family this year is ‘open’ – the continual drive to be open to new experiences, opportunities, people and adventures. Letting the tide take us!

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and wonderful year.

Sarah x

Kissing goodbye to 2013