Tag Archives: Travelling

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

It was dark and foggy when we arrived back at Exeter station last night, and this one cut quite a figure in his pyjamas and leather jacket, wearing my bobble hat and clutching his new monkey.

He led the way through the empty corridors and back towards the car, where after a weekend of London adventures he fell asleep within seconds – and stayed asleep till he woke up in his own bed this morning.

This boy totally has this travelling business nailed.

Adventures in friendship

The unschooling diaries: weeks forty-three and forty-four

As I type, the rain is beating against the windows and the wind is howling its displeasure in every nook it finds. There is something comforting about being inside, with the crackle of the fire and the glow of the computer screen, but still a bigger part of me is yearning for the simplicity of the temperate outdoors – or more specifically, for a yurt in Lanzarote.

We had the most glorious holiday there, last week. I feel almost guilty for having had such a lovely escape at a time when the world was plunging into new depths of disastrousness, but it really was the perfect place to be. Beachfront tapas, good wine, fervent discussion under the stars.

We cooked up this plan as the summer in the UK drew to a close with one of my oldest, bestest friends and her family. They are currently living in a yurt, and I was eager to show them the yurtastic idyll that is Lanzarote Retreats. We’ve been there already once this year, but it has been such a year that Easter feels like forever ago. And besides, to launch into this adventure with friends was a whole new level of awesome.

Especially for Arthur.

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Emily’s oldest daughter is mere weeks younger than him, and over the past few years, during sleepovers and festivals, they have formed a quiet bond. Her youngest is now old enough to be a proper little person, and the three of them, during our week of adventures, became thick as thieves.

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There is something lovely about watching children come together when they are faced with experiences that are new and unusual, watching them make sense of the spectacular windows on the world that travelling affords.

These three embraced the adventures they were offered in parallel, bouncing their interpretations off each other and finding solace from the strange in the familiarity of friendship.

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And that friendship was built in lego bricks, in early mornings and stolen moments back at the camp. Arthur brought with him a little stash, one which he swore on the plane on the way over that he would not share. That didn’t last long, though.

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Holidaying with friends is not something I have done often, but it is something I really hope to do again – soon. Especially with these ones.

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I am always proud of Arthur’s ability to play alone, but it was wonderful to watch him create a world with these girls. In the closing hours of our commune he had begun to refer to them as his sisters. I don’t think that relationship will be lost, somehow. Though I wish our respective homes were not quite so far away.

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The whole experience really made me think about community, and socialisation, and how we are going to create that without the status quo of school. We need to find the people near us who will make us glow like these friends do. But whilst we’re working that out the nourishment this magical break gave our souls should last for a good while yet.

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The joy of travelling with a three year old

The unschooling diaries: week forty

Travelling with kids gets a pretty bad press. It is, patently, harder than travelling used to be pre-parenthood: there is another person’s needs to factor in after all, a person who can’t actually contribute anything to the logistics of the whole process.

But what they might lack in organisational skills those little people make up for in a whole host of other ways.

We spent a few days in Barcelona last week. It is one of my all-time favourite cities, helped along by the fact that one of my bestest friends has lived there with her family for the past seven years. Visiting them feels a lot like going home (in an unashamed global citizen – thank you very much Theresa May – kind of way), and I love that my son is starting to get to love the city too.

The anticipation started before we even got on the plane.

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We had woken early, leaving home in the dark soon after six to drive to the airport. Arthur slept all the way, and was still a little disorientated when we got to check-in. He perked up as we headed towards security though, full of questions about what the machines were looking for, and why we had to put liquids in a little plastic bag.

We answered as frankly as we could, and smiled as he bravely stepped up to walk through the scanners and waited for our bags to make their way along the conveyor belt.

On the other side: breakfast, and then the excited scramble to the gate.

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Once we were on the plane, Arthur expertly secured his own seat belt, and listened intently as the safety message was relayed. He passed away the journey with a movie on the iPad, interspersed with chat about what we were going to do once we arrived and a little bit of Spanish practise.

He is so used to travelling now that he no longer needs much of our attention, at least not on a short flight. Leigh slept, and I wrote a blog post. And as we came into land we all peered out of the window with anticipation.

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Our little holiday itself was fairly uneventful. We hung out with our friends, we enjoyed the cultural acceptance of children that meant we could enjoy a drink and some tapas whilst they played in the street, we noticed things in their barrio that we might previously have taken for granted because Arthur’s observations and questions threw new light on the everyday.

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We had one day when we ventured further afield: we were keen to go for a swim, so planned to take the cable car from Montjuic to Barceloneta. We set off up the hill, but when we reached the station we discovered it was closed. Arthur was gutted, so there was no denying him when he spotted the cable car up to the castle even though we’d only intended to get the funicular down to Paral.lel.

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It was an unexpectedly awesome trip. Whilst Leigh and I gawped at the views Arthur gave us a running commentary on the mechanics of our transportation. He was fascinated by how it all worked – and whilst I generally prefer not to think too much about that when I’m suspended high above solid ground it was strangely liberating to answer his questions.

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We eventually made it to the beach, and though the pool we were aiming for was not hugely accommodating to kids the sea was fresh and clear and alluring. Our friends have pretty much finished their sea swimming for the year, but the water was warm by our standards, and Arthur delighted in playing in the surf. It was just on the edge of safe, but with Leigh and I taking it in turns to shadow him he was able to test his limits and work on his confidence in the water – one of the most crucial strands of our makeshift curriculum.

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Back with our friends over dinner, it was lovely to watch Arthur bonding with their daughters. Seven and nine years old, I have known them both since infancy: they were really my first initiation into motherhood, and will always hold a special place in my heart. When we were in Barcelona last summer Arthur was still only two, and whilst they did their best to be kind to him he was not yet playmate material. This year all that had changed.

They played, and chatted, and laughed. Over dinner Arthur began exploring some Spanish words again: I love that he’s interested in the concept of another language, and I’m keen to take advantage of that as much as I can.

Our country might be tightening its borders and distancing our neighbours in Europe with every new utterance, but that is not the future that I want for my son. With this special link we have with Barcelona, and with this wonderful aptitude for travelling that Arthur is revealing, I have a feeling our horizons will only get broader from here on in.

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London calling

The unschooling diaries: week thirty-seven

I love our life in Devon, the sea swimming and beach exploring and cliff walking, but sometimes it is pretty awesome to switch our scenery around and hang out in the city.

The big smoke seems to be calling us a lot at the moment, and last week I had to make the trip up on my own with Arthur. It was a whistlestop visit, and I admit I was dreading it a little bit. But turning what could have been a chore into a bit of an adventure definitely helped.

He’s getting to be quite a seasoned little traveller, and insisted on picking up a magazine for the journey before we boarded the train. Not to read, you understand – but those little plastic toys are just so alluring…

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It was actually a really chilled out journey once we’d got comfy. We had a breakfast picnic, and Arthur was very happy to snuggle up with a movie whilst I caught up on some writing.

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When we got to town, we had a whole afternoon at our disposal before my appointment the next morning. I had in mind a very specific quest: to visit Kings Cross Pond before it closed forever. We missioned it across the city and set off into the forest of cranes and tower blocks – a highly unlikely setting for a natural swimming experience!

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But nestled between the building sites there was a little oasis of calm, and I relished the opportunity to have a dip – even if Arthur did decide it was a bit too cold.

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After our swim we set off to meet a friend – no particular mission this time, just a couple of hours to meander and soak up what the city had to offer. Arthur was drawn to the fountains in Granary Square, made particularly alluring by the sound installation that accompanied them. He stood completely mesmerised before creeping closer until his head was almost up against one of the speakers.

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Unexpected public art was definitely a theme of this trip, and Arthur especially liked the swing we came across in the middle of the street. I’m sure the grown-ups love it too, but there was something pleasingly incongruous about watching Arthur going about the very serious business of swinging whilst everyone continued on their way around him.

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I’m pretty sure Arthur decided that the whole city was a playground to be honest – from random swings to balancing along water features whilst he raced leaf boats over the little waterfalls.

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And then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, I realised that we were just around the corner from The Railway Children at the Kings Cross theatre and couldn’t resist some last-minute discount tickets.

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It was already past Arthur’s bedtime, and as soon as we sat down he curled up on my knee for a power nap. Fifteen minutes later though he was woken by the sounds of steam trains and singing and sat completely rapt as the story played out in front of him. It was his first proper theatre experience and he was quite blown away by it all – especially when a real-life steam train pulled onto the stage!

The next day was a bit less exciting as I had a meeting to attend, leaving Arthur playing patiently with his hot wheels cars and chatting away to his toy dog, Merlin who he had insisted on bringing with him in a special doggy sling.

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We did manage to fit in a visit to one of his favourite actual playgrounds – we very rarely visit them in Devon, so it always feels like a bit of a treat. He’s been to this one on trips up to London before, but not since he was much smaller. As soon as we arrived he set his sights on the biggest of the three slides on offer, and circumnavigated it several times, trying unsuccessfully to clamber up the ropes to get to it. Then, though, he watched as a boy not much older than him approached it from a whole other angle – and of course he had to follow.

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After all of this adventuring Arthur was well and truly knackered by the time we began our long journey home – we both were!

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It was well worth the effort though. I am already looking forward to the corners of the city we will discover on our next trip…

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

We had a bit of an epic day of travelling last week, me and Arthur.

It was the funeral of the father of one of my oldest friends up in Stourbridge, and I really wanted to be there. It meant a crack of dawn start and eight hours on peak hour trains to get there and back from Devon, but fortunately this little man took it all in his stride.

He is such good company, and so curious about the world. I just can’t believe how grown up he’s getting.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

On the road

The unschooling diaries: weeks twenty-seven and twenty-eight

To celebrate Leigh’s graduation (and to maximise the time our family had together before we were hit with the schedule of a junior doctor) we headed off for ten days or so in our campervan.

We have always loved camping as a family, but recently succumbing to the dream of having a van has taken things to a whole other level. It makes it so much easier (and more comfortable) to hit the road – particularly with a little person.

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Arthur had an awesome time, and learnt so much. Travelling is always so inspiring, but there is something very grounding about being together in a small space surrounded by nature, and something strangely mindful about the repetition of all the little tasks that need to be done to keep our little camp ship-shape.

Most of the time of course we ventured out together to explore.

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We were generally retreading familiar ground, but even then (and particularly with Arthur leading the way) there was always wonder to be found: from breathing in spectacular views to examining the insects we came across along the way.

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We swam in the sea most days, despite the fact that there were rather too many jellyfish for my liking. There was one particular day when the sand was strewn with them, and we spent a fascinating couple of hours identifying different types and working out which ones would sting and which ones (the vast majority) were harmless. Still, neither Arthur or I were all that keen on sharing the sea with them, and we were glad to see that the shift of tides the next day had left the shallows at least much clearer.

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There were other animals to bond with too: we gravitated back to Arthur’s Field, a lovely campsite in Cornwall that we discovered last year, where Arthur spent his mornings collecting eggs, and fed the guinea pigs before bedtime.

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Arthur also loved the fact that there were lots of kids around. I do still worry sometimes that because he’s not at preschool (apart from a few hours in the forest) that he’ll find it hard to make friends when the opportunities arise, but watching him fearlessly approach other children to play as soon as we pitched up reminded me that I really don’t need to.

He especially loved hanging out with his cousins for a few hours when they came down to visit, and we spent an idyllic evening by a fire pit overlooking the sea listening to stories and poems and music. I might not have quite plucked up the courage to join in, but it was still lots of fun.

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And then there was of course the quality family time. The opportunity to touch base with Daddy, who has been crazy busy in pursuit of his medical degree and is about to get even busier.

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All three of us really benefited from that time to be honest: I guess the enforced proximity of the campervan could become claustrophobic, but actually it meant we had to focus on each other, on listening and understanding and cooperating.

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We’ve come back stronger as a family, and whilst Arthur is desperately missing his Daddy who is nervously donning his scrubs for the first time, he is also super happy to be home.

He has been doing some seriously good playing over the last couple of days with all the toys he’d almost forgotten about – and, as he always seems to whenever we go away, has levelled up yet again.

 

Astronauts and alligators

The unschooling diaries: week twenty

One of the most awesome things about travelling with Arthur is the way it opens my eyes to new experiences – both seeing the familiar in a brand new light, and encouraging me to explore places I might not otherwise have ventured into.

We managed to squeeze a surprising amount of adventures into our recent whistlestop tour to Florida – we were only there for three full days, and one of those was a wedding. But in between cooling off in various pools and making lots of lovely new friends we managed to make the most of where we were with two very different excursions.

The first was to the Kennedy Space Center. Now I love space as much as the next person, but honestly if it hadn’t been for Arthur being as fascinated as he is about all things interstellar I very much doubt my husband would have persuaded me to go. But we did, and it was brilliant!

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Arthur was almost climbing out of his carseat with excitement as we approached, the models of various Saturn spacecrafts towering into the sky. Everything was familiar to him from the books we’ve read and the documentaries he’s watched with his daddy, and as we got closer he began pointing out to me the different parts of the rockets and explaining how they flew.

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He got to sit inside command modules, try his hand at moon landing simulations, experience a re-enactment of the Saturn V launch (actually possibly the best bit of multi-media theatre I’ve seen) and walk beneath the Saturn V itself, his all-time favourite spaceship.

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He was fascinated as we trawled round the various displays, looking at old photographs and actual rocks from the actual moon. Being there just put into context everything he’s been exploring at home, making it so much more real – and so much more exciting.

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We even almost got to see a rocket launch, but it was cancelled at the last minute. Even that Arthur took in his stride, though he was clearly disappointed. It wasn’t quite the same watching the video one of our friends took when they caught the rescheduled launch the following night, though that was still kinda cool!

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In total contrast to this, the next day we went to Gatorland. Now again, this was not the sort of place I would have rushed to if it weren’t for the talk of alligators piquing Arthur’s interest – and again we had an awesome, and enlightening, few hours of exploration.

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There were literally thousands of alligators and crocodiles, some so close that you could almost touch them, spread around an awesomely retro site where egrets, herons and storks swooped and squawked. There was a balance of wide open spaces and smaller displays, and we had some really interesting talks about habitat and animal behaviour as we explored the park.

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Arthur was also fascinated (and a little bit scared) by the snakes, peering in through the glass. Less scary (though a little bit random) was the petting zoo, where he sneaked in a cuddle with a kid before we continued on our way.

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The other unexpected highlight – and one that was particularly helpful as the mercury topped thirty degrees – was the kids’ splash park. We dipped in there twice during our visit. The first time Arthur hung back, nervous in the company of raucous older children. On our return, though, he threw himself in with confidence – proud with himself for having overcome his fears and rewarded by being drenched in deliciously cool water.

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For a holiday that I thought would revolve mainly around socialising, albeit on the other side of the world, I was amazed by how much we managed to pack in. It reminded me, though, of the wonderful thing about travelling with children: it might add another layer of complication to the journey, but when you begin to see the possibilities the world presents through their wide eyes it can’t help but bring a whole new dimension to the adventure.

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