Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Travelling with a baby - Baby Friendly Boltholes

I'm a big fan of holidaying (who isn't?) so when Bobble arrived we were determined that we were still going to be able to travel as much as we did in the pre baby days. I think it can be easy to lose your confidence a bit after having a baby, in so many ways, including travelling. Aside from perhaps not having quite a many spare pennies as before, the thought of packing up all of the new equipment that you need for a baby can often make you think that it's easier to stay at home.

But fear not, there are several companies out there specialising in this niche market, who can help you enjoy a stress-free first holiday with your little one. I've had a great experience with Baby Friendly Boltholes, so I'm going to tell you about how they can help.

What is Baby Friendly Boltholes?

Baby Friendly Boltholes provides a one stop shop for parents of pre-schoolers wanting to travel. Covering destinations as near as the UK and far flung as Thailand and the Caribbean, it lists hotels, b&bs, farm stays and self catering accommodation carefully selected with parents in mind. It errs towards the more luxury end of the scale, but does also feature plenty of places that are also wallet friendly.

We used Baby Friendly Boltholes when we took Bobble on his first trip abroad to Italy when he was 7 months old. I came across the website using good ole Google as I searched for baby friendly self-catering accommodation. I was looking for somewhere that could provide a lot of the equipment that we used at home, but didn't want to transport with us, particularly on a flight. Lots of places provide a cot and a highchair, but for young babies and even older toddlers, it takes more than just these two things to care for and entertain your child. At 7 months, we needed things like a hand blender, steriliser, toys, bouncy chair, baby bath etc. All of this was provided at the accommodation. And what's more, as the owners are usually parents themselves, they can also offer lots of helpful advice on family friendly restaurants, activities and days out when you're there.

The lowdown... 

Is it going to cost more?
You don't pay any booking fees to Baby Friendly Boltholes as you book directly with the owner. As I said above, a lot of the properties are quite luxurious so can seem more expensive. But as always, if you're parents to a pre-schooler, you can save a lot of money by travelling outside of the school holidays.

There are so many properties to choose from, how do I choose?
My one criticism of BFB, is that I don't find the search function on their website particularly easy to use. There are a lot of filters (which is great) but you can still often end up with pages and pages of potential properties to look through. However, what I think is fantastic is their online chat facility. I have used this several times and love the fact that within a minute or 2 you are talking to a real life person who is very happy to suggest properties based on whatever vague or specific requirements you have.

How do I know if the properties are any good?
Each property has a tab showing reviews and feedback from previous guests, so you can get a very good idea of what you can expect when you get there - no surprises.

Our experience

We used BFB in October 2012. We were looking to travel to somewhere that might offer us a last glimpse of sunshine before a (what turned out to be a ridiculously) long winter. I used the online chat facility and spoke to a real life person. She suggested a few properties in France and Italy based on my requirements for equipment, number of bedrooms and budget. I shared the shortlist with my husband and we ended up choosing an apartment based in the same location as one of the suggestions. It was slightly more expensive than the one that had been suggested. I think this is actually a great point, the rep from BFB didn't try to up-sell me at all.

Where we went

We spent a week at the Pantano apartment at Santa Chiara, which is in Umbria. We flew in and out of Rome, which was a little over a 2 hour drive away, but there are nearer airports. There's no getting around the fact that the apartment is a little off the beaten track. It's literally down an unpaved road, and is a good 10 minutes drive from the nearest supermarket. However, the location is so peaceful and idyllic, that we didn't mind.

The view from our balcony

The view in the other direction
Pantano apartment is on the top floor
Looking across the olive groves
Surrounded by olive trees, the sun drenched balcony offers up great views of the valley, and as this apartment is on the top floor, those views are uninterrupted. The owners are English and live on the ground floor. They're perfect hosts in that they're there if you need them, but not always there and watching your every move! Equipment-wise, it was spot-on. As well as a cot and a highchair, a baby monitor and steriliser were provided along with a hand blender. Admittedly there weren't any baby toys as such, but the swing in the garden more than made up for this. It was Bobble's absolute highlight of his first holiday abroad! For older children, there were some toys provided and the (shared) garden also included a slide and other toddler-friendly toys.

King of the swingers!

What we did we our week

During our week we enjoyed several trips out. We visited the beautiful city of Assisi and the ancient town of Spello. We saw a lot of the town of Gubbio from underneath an umbrella, and found Lake Tresimeno to be pretty, but rather quiet out of season. We crossed the border to Tuscany and visited Cortona, a place that we had holidayed in 10 years previously. We pottered around the quiet city of Città di Castello and enjoyed some amazing gelato while Bobble snoozed. Under umbrellas once again, we saw the impressive man-made waterfalls at Cascata delle Marmore. And finally, we did a whistle-stop tour of Rome before flying home.


Travelling in Italy with a baby

For a first holiday abroad with a baby, we felt that we couldn't have done better than travel to Italy. The Italians LOVE babies, and everywhere we visited/ate/drank we were treated like royalty. I think this is actually true of a lot of countries in Europe, based on our experiences in France this year. In the supermarkets you can buy nappies, formula and wipes - so you can save space in your luggage. We were still fairly early on in Bobble's weaning journey so I just took a selection of Ella's kitchen pouches to make mealtimes easy, but supplemented these with fresh fruit, which was plentiful.

The one thing that I didn't enjoy on this holiday, in fact I'd probably go as far as saying that I hated it, was the driving. Driving in Italy was very stressful. It didn't help that Bobble spent a lot of time crying in the back of the car, which we had to use almost everyday due to the fairly remote location of the apartment. What made matters worse, was the other drivers on the road. Yes there may well be a lot of Italian drivers who are courteous, considerate and safe...  but it felt like the majority were dangerous, unpredictable and scary. Some drove incredibly slowly, which can be very unsafe on a motorway, some insisted on driving right up your rear end, and many others relied on the fact that you could read their minds and anticipate the fact that they were going to pull out, overtake or turn off. Ok, rant over. I'm never that great a passenger in a car, so maybe it's just me.

The last word

My top tips for travelling abroad with a young baby:
  1. Don't panic about the flight, it won't be nearly as bad as you think it will be. You might actually enjoy it!.
  2. Tiny babies are so portable! If you travel before you begin weaning, you have so little to worry about. And if you're breast feeding, it couldn't be easier!
  3. It really is worth staying somewhere that is baby or child friendly. With packing space at a premium, it will really help if some of the essential equipment you need is provided.
  4. Think about what you can buy when you get there, rather than trying to cram everything in. Nappies and wipes take up a lot of space and nearly all of the brands you can buy in the  UK are sold abroad.
  5. Remember that you're on holiday, so try to relax! A stressed out mummy and daddy will more than likely make your baby stressed too! Accept that you won't be having the same sort of holiday as your pre-baby days and instead, just enjoy showing your little one the sights, smells and sounds of new and exciting places!


Read more ...

Monday, 19 August 2013

A unique and personal wedding present idea - 12 months of treats

One of my oldest and dearest friends is getting married this summer. I'm going to be a bridesmaid and can't wait to help her celebrate the big day!

When it came to choosing a wedding present for them, the bride and groom opted for what a lot of couples now seem to do - a request for no gifts, or some cash towards their honeymoon. I can completely understand this, especially when most couples already live together and have no need of the 'setting up home' things that go on a traditional list.

Waiting for a brainwave

Rather than simply write a cheque, I really wanted to give my friend and her fiancee a thoughtful and personal gift. Luckily there was a small group of us, friends from school and college, who felt the same so we put on our collective thinking hats and tried to come up with a few ideas. We hit a bit of a wall when it came to giving them a one-off gift that was both extravagant, and within our fairly modest budget. So I did something that I often do when I've exhausted all other ideas. I turned to a facebook group I belong to for local mums and mums-to-be and sought their ideas. And what do you know, they came up trumps!

The big idea

So this was the idea. Rather than give them 1 special treat, like meal in a fancy restaurant or a night away in a hotel, why not give them a whole year worth of mini treats? Here's how it works.

  1. The bride and groom are presented with a box. The box contains 12 envelopes (one for each month of the year), a variety of presents labelled with a particular month and an envelope labelled 'read me first'.
  2. The 'read me first' envelope contains a letter explaining how the gift works. At the beginning of each month, the couple open an envelope which contains details of that month's treat. The treat will either be a voucher/money to spend on a particular thing that we have chosen for them or instructions to open a particular present.
  3. The lucky couple open up one treat a month until they reach their one year wedding anniversary.
Pretty simple eh?

Why I think this present idea rocks

Here's 5 glorious reasons why this present is fabulous:

  1. No one has a lot of money these days, so what better way to enjoy yourself than to have a full year of treats paid for by someone else?
  2. When it comes to trying new things or having a date night, it's so easy to put it off isn't it? Not enough time, not knowing where to go or what to do and not having much money are just a few of the usual excuses that roll off your tongue. This present takes all of those excuses away!
  3. You can make the treats really personal. Whatever your friend's hobbies, there is always a treat that you can build around it.
  4. This is a great present to organise as a group. Unless you are extremely generous, you will need at least 2 or 3 friends to contribute to make your budget go further. Even if you only allocate £10 a month, that's still £120, so the more that join in the better.
  5. The happy couple will not get another present like this one. Well unless this post goes global and suddenly everyone starts doing it!

Treat ideas

I'm not going to spoil the surprise by revealing what's gone into my gift, but I really think that the world is your oyster when it comes to thinking of 12 different treats. Here's a few ideas to get you started...

  • Cinema voucher
  •  Bowling voucher
  • Meal in a new/favourite restaurant
  • Starbucks/Costa voucher for coffee and cake
  • Ingredients to bake a Christmas cake
  • Voucher for a garden centre
  • Spring bulbs to plant in their garden
  • Wildlife park/aquarium tickets
  • Afternoon tea voucher
  • Day at a spa
  • Night at a hotel
  • Ghost tour for Halloween
  • Bottle of wine/bottles of beer and a DVD for a night in
  • Sparklers and a bag of cinder toffee for Bonfire Night
  • Voucher to buy some Easter eggs from a fancy chocolate shop
  • Tickets for a local farm
  • B&Q/Homebase voucher to decorate a new house
  • Pottery painting vouchers
  • Cash to spend on cocktails
  • A dance lesson
  • Canoeing/rafting/windsurfing lesson
  • Segeway experience
  • Cooking/baking lesson
  • Murder mystery night
  • Comedy night
  • Theatre trip
  • Cheese and wine evening
  • Romantic night in - bubble bath, candles, chocolates etc.
  • Breakfast in bed - egg cups, toast rack, posh jam and marmalade etc.
  • Picnic basket/picnic rug
  • Money/voucher for Sunday lunch or Sunday brunch
I could go on and on, there are endless possibilities!

More tips about treats

  • With my present, I tried to think quite 'seasonally'. So I went for outdoor activities while the weather was still likely to be good, and indoor ones during the winter. 
  • It's easy to weave in Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas to the treats too. Not to mention birthdays and of course, their one year wedding anniversary
  • I also tried to think of activities that are much harder to do once children are part of the equation, you know, just in case!
  • I tried to ensure that there were a good spread of presents to open, so they had some actual keepsakes after the year is up.
  • If you're buying anything food or drink related, check the best before date to ensure it's still ok to eat or drink when they open it!

Making it all look pretty

For the most part, the monthly envelopes are the main attraction of this present. So for me, it was important that they look pretty. I look into buying some really sumptuous and expensive looking envelopes, then stumbled across a much better idea instead. And what do you know, I found the idea on a blog. Emily Summers at Design and Nonsense had written a post about making pretty handmade envelopes out of wallpaper samples. Total genius. And what's more, I already had a bag of wallpaper samples lying around from an earlier decoration project. All I had to do was buy some glue and find a free hour or so of my time to make them. The glue was a doddle, the free time less so with a toddler currently going through a no-sleeping phase!

Here's my finished envelopes! Now I'm definitely not a gifted crafter, but I was quite pleased with these.
Pretty neat, eh?

The full set of 12

The finished present

Here's my finished present. I've got a box covered in gift paper that I'm going to put everything into. Now I'm just excitedly waiting for them start opening those envelopes!

Preparation is key!

One final tip, this is a present that is definitely easier the earlier you do it. It will take a bit of thinking to work out what you can buy with your budget. And don't forget to allow time for writing the letters and making it all look pretty.

Let me know if you end up giving this a wedding present to one of your friends. I'd love to hear what you put in it and their reaction!
Read more ...

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike

A couple of months ago, around the time that the prices in the car parks of my local town were increased (again!), I made an ebay purchase. I bought a barely used Hamax Kiss bike seat to go on the back of my bike. As well as saving money, I thought this would be a great opportunity to dust off my old bike and have some gentle exercise at the same time.

What a bargain!

As I side note, ebay once again proved to be a great place for picking up second hand bargains. I paid £26 for the seat. The RRP is £60, but I have just spotted that you can get the same seat in Halfords for £47.99. So at the very least, I saved £22 by buying second hand. Yippee!

Getting back in the saddle

After getting used to riding a bike again after at least 2 years out of the saddle, and getting the hang of loading and unloading Bobble, I was ready to start putting my best leg forward. Initially I used the seat for trips to the park and toddler groups - it was strangely liberating not having a pushchair! Bobble loves being in the seat as he gets a whole new perspective on the world. I'd also add that the extra weight really isn't noticeable. The hardest part is getting on and off the bike as you have to handle it completely differently to prevent it from tipping over.

A family peddle around Rutland Water

Recently, when we had family to stay, my biking-mad brother suggested that we join them for a ride around Rutland Water. I'll admit to being slightly apprehensive. I'd only ever done very short trips and wasn't sure that my legs would stand up to a longer distance. But with a husband who is also biking-mad, I knew that he would enjoy it too, so we agreed to join them.

I've never been to Rutland Water before, in spite of passing it about a million times on drives up and down the A1. I had no idea that it's one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe and is Anglian Water's drinking reservoir. In spite of its very functional purpose, it's actually rather pretty and is a globally important wetland site. There are loads of things to do there. Apart from riding a bike, you can take a walk, go wildlife spotting, try out any number of watersports, go rock climbing, or even take a trip out on the lake.

We had a great day out there, so I thought I'd share the details to inspire you.

What we did on our day out

We arrived in Witwell and ate our picnic on the grass alongside the lake before setting off on our bike ride. We took our own bikes, but you can hire them from £9.99 for the day for a child's bike. You can also hire a child seat for a bike from £3.99 for the day.

A complete circuit of the lake is around 15 miles. We had several mini breaks on the journey and a longer rest at the award winning Horse and Jockey pub in Manton, just as a few spots of rain started to fall.

During the first half of the ride the road/paths are a little bit set back from the lake and there are a few hills to huff and puff your way up. But the second part brings you much closer to the lake and is very pretty. We passed through a couple of Rutland Water's other visitor centres, as well as a couple of well positioned ice cream vans, so there are plenty of places to rest/pop to the loo/scoff an ice cream.

All in, we cycled for 2 hours, but we gone for almost 3 hours with all of the breaks. The majority of the route is on very safe roads and paths within the nature reserve. There is a very short stretch on a quiet road, and another section on cycle paths running next to the road.

Along the way we saw loads of families out on their bikes. Call me old fashioned, but I got a lovely warm feeling seeing so many people out enjoying such a simple and healthy activity.

Find out more

Rutland Water has its own website www.rutlandwater.org.uk but for details on bike hire, this website gives much more information www.rutlandcycling.com.

Finally, for planning a family day out this website is the best place to begin www.discover-rutland.co.uk
Read more ...

Thursday, 8 August 2013

An aMAZE-ing day out for the whole family - Milton Maize Maze

If you live in Cambridgeshire or you're visiting the area on holiday, there's one place that I recommend you visit - the Milton Maize Maze. We had an absolutely brilliant day there recently and as a I make a point of recommending it as a great day out for the whole family (to everyone I know!), I had to share it on here too. But don't delay, the maze is only open until 3 September, so plan your visit soon!

Maize Maze? What's that?

You know maize! You've probably enjoyed some of it on your BBQ this summer... it's corn on the cob. A maize maze is simply a maze made out of corn on the cob plants. It's a tall plant that can grow up to 8ft, making it perfect maze material as you can't peek over the top and cheat.

Why is it so much fun?

Maize Mazes are open across the whole of the UK for a couple of months during the summer. As well as providing a fantastic maze to negotiate, most sites offer a whole host of other fun activities to keep you entertained all day. At the Milton Maize Maze the following attractions are included in the admission price:

  • Peddle go karts
  • Mini golf
  • Giant inflatable slide
  • Mini golf
  • Tractor and trailer ride
  • Bouncy castle
  • Table Football 
  • Pool 
  • Table Tennis
  • Trampolines
  • Giant Jenga
  • Word Cup Football Shoot Out
  • Field Skittles
  • Duck racing
  • Under 6 toddler area
  • Meet the animals
 I'm sure you'll agree that this is an impressive list of activities!

 Getting competitive on the go karts
Some of the field of fun activities

Negotiating the maze

Admission prices for the Milton Maize Maze

So how much is this going to set you back? I think the entry prices are very reasonable.

Adults: £7.95
Children under 16: £6.95
Children under 3: Free
Students/OAPs: £7.50 (with ID)
Family ticket: £30 (2 adults + 3 children, or 1 adult + 4 children)

Season tickets are also available and start at £55.

I think you'll agree that as far as value for money goes, you're getting an awful lot of fun for your pennies.

Who's going to enjoy it?

Easy - everyone! We have been every year for the last 4 years, and each year have had a brilliant day out. In those 4 years we have gone as childless adults, adults with a small baby and adults with a group of children aged from 1 to 6 years. There really is something for everyone. The adults will particularly love the go karts, the inflatable slide and getting competitive with the table football. We have found every year that this isn't actually enough time to play with everything. That season ticket is starting to look tempting...!

Sounds good. What about food?

You've got 3 options:
  1. Bring a picnic
  2. Buy a local free range sausage sandwich or burger from the BBQ marquee
  3. Buy a sandwich/salad/jacket potato/cream tea from the Old Dairy Cafe
All of the food menus can be found on the Milton Maize Maze website.

I'd also recommend taking a mid afternoon break from all the fun to fill up with an ice cream (luxury Norfolk ice cream) or a slice of cake from the Old Dairy Cafe. Yum!

Got a pushchair or wheelchair?

The maze has been designed to provide access for everyone. So while your wheels may get a little muddy if you visit after rain, you will be free to get lost along with everyone else.

Where can I find the Milton Maize Maze?

Milton is 4.5 miles north of Cambridge. Full directions can be found on the website.

Opening times, what to wear, payment details, can we bring our dog and other FAQS

Answers to all of these questions can be found on the website.

Find out more


Don't live nearby?

Fear not! There are maize mazes right across the country. Find one near you by visiting www.maize-maze.com

This is not a sponsored post. Our visit to the Milton Maize Maze was a family day out, paid for out of our own wallets.

Read more ...