Category Archives: Reviews

Eating Out with Allergies in Manchester

When planning our weekend in Manchester, I started as always with a quick bit of research to see if there were any hidden gems that we could visit for some delicious meals. I knew that we would have our pick of the plethora of safe chain restaurants to fall back on if we needed, but it’s always a great treat to be able to eat somewhere different and new, and we were especially lucky with the choices available to us. We found 3 great restaurants for dinner and even had unexpected success for lunch, which was fantastic.

Marco’s New York Italian, MediaCity   – I had high hopes for our Saturday night dinner and they absolutely didn’t disappoint. My research showed that they had a gluten-free menu available, but I couldn’t find a copy online, so emailed about a week or so before our trip to ask if they could email a copy to me and also enquiring if they would be able to cater dairy-free too. Within an hour and a half of my first email, their reservations manager, Hannah, replied with the GF menu attached and told me that she had asked their chef to confirm the DF options that would be available to G and M. If I’m honest, I didn’t expect to hear back from them again, so was thrilled when a second email popped into my inbox a few days later with the list of DF meals they could offer.

Their service from the beginning of our meal to the very end was absolutely impeccable. The manager arrived at our table with a form to complete, but this was simply to record our contact details and what the allergies were so that every meal coming out of the kitchen could be recorded and checked before it was brought to the table. For the first time in an awfully long time, G and M were able to have a 3-course meal and every bit of it was absolutely delicious. G started with garlic bread, then enjoyed an American pizza and finished with a bowl of vegan vanilla ice cream; whilst M opted for New Orleans Shrimp, Spaghetti Bolognese and apple crumble with ice cream.

The staff were attentive, the food incredible and the care to detail brilliant. We wouldn’t hesitate to eat at Marco’s NY Italian again and give it a well-deserved 10/10 for not only the wide range of menu options available, but also the fact that they had allergy-friendly desserts other than fruit.

IWM North Café – Lunch when we’re travelling can always be tricky, especially when we’re not staying somewhere with a kitchen to allow us to take and prepare packed lunches. I had spotted on the IWM North website that their café had GF options available, so I thought we’d see what they actually had on-site that might suit G and M before heading off for a snack somewhere else nearby. To my delight, they had a ready supply of GF/DF/EF bread rolls and hot dog sausages, which constitutes a great treat for both children. They were thrilled to be able to have hot dogs for lunch, which might not have been an exciting menu option, but were delicious, whilst Mike and I stuck to the more traditional sandwich and pasty offerings. They did also have a couple of GF and vegan cakes available, but unfortunately none that would suit our particular allergy needs.

Sweet Mandarin – a last minute addition to our itinerary, thanks to a random tweet I spotted the Wednesday before we went. This Chinese restaurant has a separate GF menu and the children were thrilled to be able to choose whatever they wanted from it, more or less. M suggested they shared some starters of spring rolls and salt and pepper chicken wings, and they then each opted for their own sweet and sour – G picked prawns whilst M decided he wanted chicken. As is so often the case, we ended up with far too much food for the 4 of us, but enjoyed a leisurely and delicious meal before heading back to the hotel for the night. Another excellent recommendation, though it only got a 9/10 from the children.

Heading North for the Bank Holiday

No sooner had we arrived back from London, than G and M disappeared off to South Wales with my Mum and my Aunt for the week leading up to the August bank holiday, leaving Mike and me at home to work, wash clothes and start to sort out what was needed for our bank holiday adventure in Manchester. We travelled to South Wales on Friday evening to pick the children up and spent the night there before heading off to Manchester the following morning. We decided to try and avoid as much holiday traffic as possible, so wended our way across mid- and North Wales to reach our final destination and that decision proved to be the best one we could have made as we saw very little traffic at all. We reached Manchester, and one false start later – who knew there’d be so many Premier Inn hotels in the Salford area? – had arrived and were ready to start our visit.

Sunday was dedicated to the IWM North (that’s the Imperial War Museum for the uninitiated) to support G’s GCSE History studies about the rise of Hitler in the inter-war years and the Cold War period, and proved to be an excellent exhibit to visit. Their audio-visual short films shown every hour were a great addition to everything that was on display and there was a nice mix of interactive elements for the children to do as well. The sections covering the time periods of most interest to us were, perhaps, not as in depth as we would have liked, but overall we enjoyed the time spent there. G and I also took some time to walk around their special exhibit about the Yemen crisis, although M had definitely had his fill of all things history about that point and abandoned the galleries for the cafe with Mike. It was fascinating to see G’s reaction to the photos and displays about this more recent crisis and she was keen to express her thoughts about the responses of politicians and their excuses for not doing what they knew was needed.

Originally we hadn’t planned to do anything for the rest of the day as we weren’t sure how long we would spend at the IWM, so over our lunch, we investigated and discussed where to head next. M was keen to do something “fun as a family” and so was delighted to learn that we could visit EscapeHunt Manchester and try our hand at one of their themed escape rooms. We were lucky to get a booking for their “The Last Vikings” challenge and had just enough time to walk our way from Mediacity across the city to the escape rooms. It’s the first time we’ve attempted an escape room as a family, but is definitely something we will try our hand at again. We had lots of fun, although we failed at the final hurdle and were in the midst of solving the last clue when our time ran out.

Our decision to go to Manchester were twofold, the first being the IWM North, but our second was perhaps the more exciting, especially for G and M. This was the day for their indoor skydive in aid of Over The Wall and despite a somewhat grumpy start from our youngest, we arrived at iFly Manchester with 2 very excited children. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate due to a shoulder injury I sustained at the start of the year, but Mike was keen to try his hand too, so we had booked them a family session which allowed them to split 10 minutes “flight time” between them. I was impressed at what appears to be the natural skydiving skills of my husband and children and the smiles on their faces said it all. Mike and M are both keen to go back and do it again, but G is less convinced, though glad she gave it a try in the first place. All in all, it was a fantastic bank holiday weekend and we were back home for a rest before school went back the following week.

Eating Out with Allergies in London

I wouldn’t usually think to write about where we’ve found to eat out in London as over the years we’ve often frequented one of the very many chain restaurants that we’ve come to know and love, but this time we spread our wings a little bit further and I thought it worth sharing our latest mealtime experiences.

Our Thursday evening dinner was courtesy of that old favourite of ours, Pizza Express, who were conveniently located less than 5 minutes from our hotel in Southwark, though there are many branches you can choose from no matter which part of London, or the rest of the UK, you’re in. In the 8 years or so that we’ve been frequenting their restaurants, we have only had a poor experience on one occasion, when they had run out of gluten-free pizza bases but failed to inform us until we were placing our order. Thankfully, even then, the restaurant staff worked hard to prepare other safe food for both G and M and both children managed to eat well. G  is very much a creature of habit when it comes to her food, so I knew she was likely to order the GF dough balls followed by an American pizza with goats cheese; and so she did. M loves to peruse the menu whenever he gets the chance, but this time chose a meal almost perfectly matching his sister’s, simply changing her goats cheese for the vegan mozzarella instead. The order came quickly, the food was delicious, there was no confusion or hassle about their orders and we left the restaurant with our appetites pleasantly sated,

Breakfast on Friday was a typically low-key affair and eaten in our hotel room as we had done our usual and carried travel containers filled with safe cereal for G and M to eat. M and I managed to find a small Sainsbury’s near to the theatre on the Thursday evening, so had popped in after the show to pick up a carton of rice milk. We have found that this is a routine that works really well for us and reduces the stress of choosing safe breakfast options for both children to eat. M’s only apology was that he had forgotten to research the nearest Starbucks to our hotel so that I could start my day with a coffee, but was quickly reassured when we reached the Globe theatre to spot one just across the street from it.

No sooner had we finished our Globe theatre tour, than M was clamouring for lunch even though it was only around 10.45 in the morning. This was not the result of an overwhelming hunger on his part, but rather great enthusiasm from both him and G as we had discovered a Subway sandwich shop near the Tower of London which stocked GF bread, which was also dairy- and egg-free, and they couldn’t wait to give it a go. During our holiday in Canada last year, we had seen GF bread available at the Subway on Toronto Island, but had not opted to buy one as 1) we had a packed lunch with us and 2) we had rather foolishly assumed that we would be able to buy it at other stores too. We were very much wrong in that assumption and have spent the last 12 months trying to find a shop serving GF bread somewhere in the UK, so you can just imagine how excited they both were to finally try a sub.

We were impressed with the service provided and care taken, even during a fairly busy lunch service during the summer holidays. The staff changed their gloves before handling the GF rolls for the children’s sandwiches – without me having to ask – and there was detailed allergy information available indicating the top 14 allergens present in all of the sandwich fillings and toppings. It was a strangely emotional experience as I watched G and M decide what sandwiches they wanted to try and pick out the toppings they wanted to add to make their perfect lunch. Here were my 15 and 13 year-old children, who have never been able to order at a Subway before because of their allergies, finally eating just like their friends. The look on both their faces as they made their decisions was priceless and their verdict on lunch – perfect!

We had booked tickets on a late train home to give us enough time to enjoy our planned excursions as well as the unplanned ones, and the final trip of our day was to one of our family favourite places to eat, although we hadn’t yet tried the London branch. Do you know where we went? Well, I’m afraid that’s a story for another post.

Eating Out with Allergies in Berlin

With breakfast, lunches and snacks sorted out, all that was left to do was to find a few places for dinner whilst we were in Berlin. Mike had done a lot of research on the museums and sights to see during our trip, so I had taken on the challenge to see what options for safe dining there might be. We had great success with the 3 restaurants we ended up eating at, even if none of them could be described as being “traditionally” German, and the allergy information was readily available and easy to read.

Pizzeria Simela: In my extensive internet research this restaurant consistently appeared with excellent recommendations for its brilliant gluten-free offerings of both pizza and pasta and I was delighted to read a more recent review that revealed they could also offer vegan – and therefore dairy-free – cheese. Based just around the corner from the fantastic Denns Biomarkt, this tiny restaurant has just a handful of tables, but is definitely worth a visit and booking in advance! We settled on some fresh tomato bruschetta on GF bread as well as a charcuterie platter for the four of us to share as a starter before selecting pizzas for our main course. Mike, G and M all opted for the GF buckwheat pizza bases, whilst I chose their regular base. It was also great to see a GF beer on offer and Mike willingly gave it a go, giving it a thumbs up. The food was absolutely delicious, there was a huge number of safe options G and M could choose from and there was very little left once my fellow diners had eaten their full. Definitely a winner in our books and one I would highly recommend.

Corroboree: This was a surprise find after a busy day involving 3 museums, a tour bus, lots of walking and even a lunchtime boat trip down the River Spree. We found ourselves at the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz, which seemed like a good place to search for a restaurant that might be able to cater reasonably well for even the most difficult of dietary requirements. Corroboree serves Australian-Asian fusion food and provided M with the chance to try some more unusual meats, something he’s been wanting to do for a very long time. The allergy menu I was given was fantastic and really easy to navigate and work out what was safe for both M and G. We were having a relatively early dinner, so G decided she would have a chicken Caesar salad supplemented with a bowl of chips, whilst Mike and I shared a Caesar salad with kangaroo steak as well as a platter for 2 which included Asian chicken, calamari and bruschetta. M, however, was the most adventurous of us all and decided to try the Corroboree platter with dairy-free tandoori chicken, crocodile tournedo and kangaroo filet. He enjoyed almost every mouthful and would happily eat crocodile again, though he’s less sure about the kangaroo as it tasted too much like beef for his liking. Something a little different to what we’d normally eat, but a big hit and a definite thumbs up for the freefrom offerings.

Hard Rock Cafe: It should come as no surprise that our first, and in fact, final meals were at our family favourite, the Hard Rock Cafe. Once again the allergy advice available was comprehensive and the restaurant manager came to discuss our dietary needs with us before the children placed their orders. We were reassured to hear that their GF fries are cooked in a separate fryer and there was no problem with tweaking the children’s choices to make sure they were as safe as they could possibly be. G once again chose the pulled pork sandwich which she first tried in Glasgow and now absolutely loves, whilst M changed his choices up a bit by choosing the pulled pork sandwich on the first night and a chicken and bacon “burger” for our final dinner. Both children were extremely happy with their meals and M was delighted to be able to try a selection of their smoothies too, having quizzed our poor waiter to make sure there was no milk added to them at all! Mike also decided to try their Local Legendary burger, which changes in each restaurant location and in Berlin was a burger topped with a serving of currywurst – the local delicacy of a bratwurst sausage topped with a curry sauce. I’m not sure its a burger I would have chosen, but Mike enjoyed it – and the generous glasses of beer that accompanied it. One of my favourite things about the Hard Rock Cafe is seeing what memorabilia they have on display and here they had a guitar made from a piece of the Berlin Wall with barbed wire as its guitar strings. Once again a restaurant we’d recommend to those eating out with allergies in the beautiful city of Berlin.

City Adventures in Berlin

Given the huge amount of history contained within this European city, it’s really no surprise that there is an incredible number of museums to visit in Berlin and somewhat understandably, by the end of our penultimate day, both children were beginning to grumble about feeling a little “museum-ed” out. We were lucky to enjoy some glorious sunshine whilst we were there, so we took every opportunity available to venture out on foot as well as making using of the “hop-on, hop-off” bus and highly efficient public transit system. I think (hope) we managed a good balance between those museums with exhibits about Nazi Germany and those about the Cold War era and it was great to hear G being able to explain in more detail some of the topics she has learned about at school. Here’s a list of some of our city adventures in Berlin this May:

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: A strangely effective and emotive memorial built within 5 minutes walk of the Brandenburg Gate. These 2,711 concrete slabs vary in size and shape and are constructed on undulating ground, which once formed part of the “death strip” that split the city into East and West by the Berlin Wall. There is no attributed significance to the number or design of this memorial, but instead it intends to invoke a sense of unease as you wander through the rows. Beneath the memorial, there is an information centre, which contains details and memories of some of the Jewish families affected by the horrors of the Holocaust from 1933 on. Unfortunately, the centre was closed on the day we visited and we didn’t have time to go back, but it is somewhere I’d be keen to revisit if we had the chance.

DDR Museum: Located on the banks of the River Spree, the DDR museum details life in East Germany under Socialist rule and is a fantastic interactive experience, which M really enjoyed. It looks at all aspects of everyday life from school and work to holidays, transport, national service and beyond. M was particularly taken by the opportunity to try his hand at driving the Trabant P601 simulation, whilst G spent a long time at the interactive desk which gave in-depth information about different parts of the political history of Berlin. My Grandad came from Czechoslovakia to the UK as part of the Allied forces during the war years and I found that the exhibits invoked many memories of how my grandparents lived, albeit in Northamptonshire, as well as of my first trip to Czechoslovakia in 1988 to visit our family who still live there. A great museum which kept us busy for between 2 and 3 hours.

Palace of Tears: This tiny museum is one we almost missed, but is definitely worth dedicating at least an hour to wander through it. It is based in the former border crossing point at the Berlin Friedrichstraße station, which was only used for those leaving East Berlin for West Berlin. It covers the timeline from the building of the Berlin Wall to its collapse, looking at the stories relating to the checkpoint as well as the process to achieve the reunification of the country. M and I spent some time watching the video of the fall of the Berlin Wall and talking about the fact that this event was living history for me – something that I remember happening during my childhood when I was about his age.

Jewish Museum: This was one of the museums recommended to us by G’s history teacher, but unfortunately the permanent exhibition is currently closed as it is being redeveloped. However, we spent the morning seeing what was open to the public and it was definitely time well-spent. Split over a couple of floors, we first visited the Holocaust exhibit, which displayed mementos, letters and photos from many Jewish families and relayed some of their history as well as detailing whether they died in a concentration camp or were fortunate enough to survive that terror. From there, we ventured outside through a memorial garden, before heading back in to the “A is for Jewish” interactive exhibit, which talks about the many varying aspects of contemporary Jewish life in Germany. Finally, we walked through the “Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves)” art installation, where you quite literally walk on 10,000 sheet steel faces of varying sizes symbolising all innocent victims of war and violence.

Mauer Museum at Checkpoint Charlie: This was one of the surprise hits of our holiday and one that we wouldn’t have visited if it hadn’t been for my insistence that I wanted to go to see Checkpoint Charlie on foot and our need for something to occupy our unplanned afternoon. Filled with an absolutely incredible amount of exhibits, it started with a look at the story of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman who is thought to have saved thousands of Jews from Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust before he disappeared in 1945 and was presumed to have died whilst imprisoned by the KGB, although there have been very many question marks surrounding the circumstances, and timing, of his death. Upstairs the exhibit moved through very many escape stories from East Germany, which absolutely fascinated M, not least of which was the armoured escape vehicle on display. There is also a huge area dedicated to human rights and worldwide civil unrest, including Ukraine and North Korea. An absolutely fascinating museum and one that you could easily spend a day, or more, exploring.

German Spy Museum: The unquestionable highlight of all the museums we visited in Berlin and it got a definite thumbs up from both children. Starting with a timeline of the development of espionage worldwide through the ages, this museum blends its interactive experience with a particular focus of espionage during the Cold War era. The main exhibit was divided between East and West Berlin and how spies played a part on both sides for many years. The laser maze gives visitors the opportunity to see if they can successfully work their way through the lasers to reach the abort button before enemy missiles are launched. Sad to say, neither G or M managed it, triggering the alarms as they made their way through it, although they both had great fun trying. There was also a section about fictional spies, most notably 007 himself, James Bond with some memorabilia and clips from several of the films. We hadn’t left ourselves enough time to see everything this museum had to offer as we had to head back to the airport for our flight home, so it’s definitely one to revisit in the future.

Bringing History Lessons to Life in Berlin

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a big fan of holidays. Not just the trips themselves, but I absolutely love the process from the moment we start thinking about the perfect destination to pick and, much to Mike’s frustration, can frequently be found thinking about where we should travel next, even before we’ve left home on the next one booked. We haven’t done too much travelling since our trip back to Canada last summer, but no sooner had G and I got home from our fantastic day out at the Strictly tour, than it was time to finish the packing and zip up the suitcase for our 5 day half-term break.

Our holiday was perhaps not what people expected, in that we weren’t chasing the sun with a few days at the beach, even though both G and M are desperate to go back to Greece and mention it every time they can possibly shoehorn it into any conversation. Instead, we had taken inspiration from G’s GCSE history syllabus and her learning about Superpower relations, the Cold War and Nazi Germany during the inter-War years, subjects which also happen to tie in quite nicely with M’s focus on World War 1 in his history lessons this year; and so headed to Berlin. As the children have got older, we try to involve them more and more with planning our activities whilst we’re aware from home and this trip was no different. G spoke to her history teacher just after Christmas as the school had taken a group of their A-level students to Berlin a few weeks earlier and came home with some recommendations of the best places to visit to help solidify her learning and understanding of these eras.

Armed with that information as well as the additional research Mike had carried out in the preceding weeks, we had plenty to do to fill our time and couldn’t wait to get started. I had found what looked like a great place to stay: the Citadines Kurfürstendamm Berlin apart-hotel, meaning that we had access to a full kitchen which always makes life a little easier when travelling with food allergies. We were ideally located not too far from the main retail street and within easy walking distance to not only shops and restaurants, but also the Berlin U-Bahn, or Underground rapid transit system.

Our first day started, as it so often does when we travel to a new city, with a “Hop-on, hop-off” bus tour, although we weren’t as impressed with the City Circle Tour offering as we have been with other tour companies we’ve chosen in the past. However, it gave us a great introduction to the city of Berlin itself and helped us work out how to get to the various sights on our list as well as ticking a few of them off without too much hassle. Both G and M were fascinated by their first view of the few remaining remnants of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate and the bombed remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, all of which really brought their history lessons to life.

Strictly Marvellous!

What better way to kick off the May half-term after an almost unreasonably short term 5 than heading to Cardiff with your dance-mad daughter to finally enjoy her long awaited Christmas present?

What had been planned as a perfect mother-daughter Saturday outing to the Strictly The Professionals tour was somewhat derailed by the cancellation of our “Meet and Greet” session due to the irrefutable demands of 35 nation-wide performances of 50 dance routines in each 2-hour show, but leaving the Arena with an absolutely buzzing G proved that the day itself didn’t disappoint too much in the end. Of course, her perfect view of the intricate and often fast-paced dance routines as well as of her all-time favourite, Gorka Marquez, from our upgraded front row seats might have had something to do with her enjoyment!

The performance itself was truly inspiring, especially to my young and aspiring dancer. Carefully mixed with clips from previous Strictly shows and commentary given by each of the professional dancers appearing on stage, it was a wonderfully crafted show and both G and I loved seeing some of our old favourite routines as well as the incredible new ones. It was also a lovely tribute and send-off to Pasha Kovalev, who will not be returning to the 2019 TV show and G was quickly on her feet to join the standing ovation given to recognise him and his years on the show.

Add in lunch at her restaurant of choice – Pizza Express; a brief shopping trip and a dairy-free hot chocolate before we headed back to the station and it really was the perfect day out for us both.

 

Apologies for the less than perfect photos – but they were the best we could get from our seats and considering the lighting used!

A pudding for every day

M’s restricted diet has come with a number of challenges over the years, not least of which is finding some delicious desserts for him to enjoy at the end of a meal. I have worked hard to adapt recipes or create new ones for him, but sometimes all this busy working Mum wants is to be able to pull a pudding out of the fridge and not have to do anything more than remove the lid and provide a spoon. One of the staples of my childhood for weekday desserts was fruit yoghurts and when M was small, he absolutely loved eating a yoghurt whenever he fancied it. G has always been less keen, although she definitely enjoys the odd soya pudding – especially the chocolate ones – on occasion.

So, I’m constantly on the look-out for an M-friendly alternative and you can imagine my delight when my hours of internet trawling uncovered the wonder that are Bio Organic Rice Desserts. Now sadly these puddings are incredibly difficult to source and I have spent a small fortune in shipping boxes of them to our house. However, the chocolate desserts have been a huge hit with Master M and those boxes definitely don’t last long unless a few are hidden away from his immediate view.

18 months ago I came across  La Crèmerie’ and their rice yoghurts at the Foodmatters Live Conference in London and last summer I eventually managed to convince M to give the yoghurts a try. We placed an order for both the plain and the vanilla flavours, but unfortunately  La Crèmerie was low on stock and we had to wait a little while for just the plain yoghurts to be delivered to our door. The rice yoghurt is delicious, although M wasn’t too keen on the plain flavour – I just wish that he’d had the opportunity to taste the vanilla ones as well. However, whilst they weren’t the biggest success we’ve ever seen, they did make a great addition to his smoothies and I was also able to use it to create a stewed apple and yoghurt pudding for him. Sadly, these are another more expensive option and perhaps not one for everyday, but they are a good dairy-free alternative and one I’d happily recommend.

Easter travels

I thought that time flew by when the children were young, but these days I’m finding it passing even quicker and this Easter holiday has been no exception to that rule. G and M have split their time between Over The Wall and my Mum for the most part as, for Mike and me, it has very much been a case of business as usual during our working week. However, we have made the effort to take advantage of the opportunities created by a break from performing arts and dance classes as well as the long weekend to squeeze in some fun family days out where possible. Despite their seeming reluctance to go for a walk, we’ve found that adding new locations to the mix has made the challenge of keeping our 2 teens engaged much easier and I wanted to share them with you:

National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire – nestled away in South Wales, this is a place that we’ve visited a few times over the years, but it had been a while since we had last ventured in that direction and neither children could particularly remember our last visit there. The Gardens are home to the largest single-span glasshouse in the world, which houses some of the most endangered plants from around the world. M really wants to travel to Australia and whilst that isn’t currently on our holiday plans for the immediate future, he was thrilled to explore the Australia area in the glasshouse. In turn, that led to a very interesting family discussion about where we’d really like to go and revealed those we already knew – Australia for M and Japan for Mike – as well as the previously unheard suggestions of Greenland and Russia from G. On the day we visited there was a display of various bugs and creatures for the children to investigate and we enjoyed the opportunity to chat to the Botanic Garden’s very own “Butterfly Ranger”, which is definitely the best job title I’ve ever heard.

Uncertain of what food might be available on-site we had taken a packed lunch with us, which proved to be the best decision as there was only a handful of gluten-free offerings available in the café. We did supplement our lunch with a portion of chips for the children and Mike to share and took advantage of the tables set up inside the glasshouse to sit inside and enjoy our lunch. Lunch finished, we then headed around the rest of the grounds, although there was a lot more we could have discovered if only we’d had more time. Both children enjoyed stretching their legs, playing in the play area and generally just burning off their energy by running along the pathways. It was a great afternoon out and one we’d certainly revisit again.

Longleat Safari Park, Wiltshire – We haven’t been to Longleat since M was a baby and as we drove past the main entrance en-route to taking G to this year’s South Siblings OTW camp, I thought it was definitely time for a return trip. Unsurprisingly neither child has any memory of being to this amazing estate before and were happy to agree with my suggestion as long as we drove through the safari park (M) and tried our luck in the hedge maze (G). Our visit started with the safari park and both G and M were delighted with all of the animals we spotted on our way round, especially the antics of the monkeys as they clambered across our car roof and down the rear window. Mike had stopped to remove the radio antenna from my car before we entered the park and the children could quickly see the reason why when the monkey on the car in front of us bent their aerial almost in half and started chewing on it! Hunger pangs hit G and M when we were about half-way around the park and so they took the opportunity of sitting in the car to munch on their sandwiches whilst trying to spot lions and tigers…(and bears? Oh no!).

Safari finished, we then headed into the main estate itself and insisted on what was meant to be a quick pitstop for Mike and me to eat our packed lunch before we tackled the challenge of the maze. However, having spotted an array of gluten-free offerings on the café menu, we couldn’t turn down the chance to feed the children a second lunch and so M filled up on yet more gluten-free chips, whilst G enjoyed GF sausages and chips. The hedge maze was a lot of fun and we were surprisingly successful in reaching the centre far quicker than we were expecting. The view from the top of the central tower was incredible on such a beautiful spring afternoon. From there, it was time for a quick runaround the castle play area, a trip to see the koalas and then back to the safari park, this time stopping at the African village near the entrance to satisfy G’s yearning to get up close to the giraffes, thereby unwittingly recreating a photo from her last visit at age 2.5!

Margam Park, Port Talbot – this was our final day out over the Easter Holidays and we picked the perfect time to visit with the glorious sunshine that bathed the country over the Easter bank holiday weekend. It was the first time Mike and the kids had been to Margam Park and both M and G have already expressed a longing to return there in the summer – though I suspect the lure of the Go Ape Rope Adventures might well be the biggest draw. Once again we had taken a packed lunch with us and we found a great picnic table near to the Castle to sit and enjoy our meal in the sun. From there, we wandered around the park: past the boating lake, through the farm and along some of the trails before arriving back at the mansion itself.

M had spotted the go-karts and so we decided to hire 3 -one each for Mike, G and M – who then spent 30 minutes pedalling around and navigating more of the trails, whilst I took the opportunity to wander alongside the lake before finding a bench to sit peacefully and enjoy a little more sun. We rounded out the day with a walk to the Orangery and through the monastic ruins before we headed back to the car.

All in all, we enjoyed some magical days out together and would really recommend all these places for a fun family day out.

Pizza and Ballet

One of the Christmas presents we were treated to this year was family tickets to go and see Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” at the Bristol Hippodrome. We have only been to a couple of ballets with the children over the years despite our love of the theatre and my Mum was keen for us to experience this unconventional retelling of this classic ballet. Of course, no family evening out can start without dinner out too and this time round, partly as we were later arriving in Bristol than we’d originally planned and partly because, well, why not, we decided to veer away from our known safe restaurants and look for somewhere new to try.

It’s always a challenge when eating out with G and M because of their dietary needs, but our decision over the last 18 months or so to relax M’s restrictions on high days and holidays in order to find a better quality of life and balance for him means that on occasions like this, we’re able to eat in places where we’re confident he can choose safe ingredients to make a tasty meal. We know that there are a number of restaurants near to Bristol Hippodrome from Pizza Express to Wagamama, so I made the suggestion that we wandered up Park Street to see what else might be available, with our end target being Pizza Express if nothing else seemed to suit.

About halfway up the hill, we stumbled across the marvellous Molto Buono restaurant and, spotting gluten-free pizza bases on the menu, decided to stop there and see how their food measured up to the children’s somewhat exacting standards. It didn’t take too long for G and M to decide what they wanted to eat and were delighted to discover that as well as gluten-free pizza bases, the restaurant also had vegan mozzarella available as a topping. Much to my surprise, G opted for the GF Marinara pizza – tomato sauce, olive oil and oregano – and M chose the GF Diavola – tomato, salami and vegan mozzarella. Mike joined them in trying one of handmade pizzas, whilst I settled on a pesto pasta. The dishes that arrived looked amazing and tasted even better with portion sizes that satisfied even the voracious appetite of the youngest member of our family. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this restaurant – excellent food, prepared simply, served quickly and all at a great price.

Fully satisfied by our meal and with more than enough time to meander our way back towards the theatre, our evening had started in fine fashion. We all then sat enthralled for the next couple of hours as the story of Swan Lake unfolded before us. Matthew Bourne’s interpretation brings a more modern-day twist to the tale and replaces the well-known Dance of the Cygnets with an incredible male troupe of swans instead. The dancing was incredible and brought real inspiration to both G and M as they watched it in absolute awe, something that should never be under-estimated as M had expressed his concerns about watching a ballet – “…there are no words to explain what’s going on, so how do you know the story-line..?” before it even began.

I think we would all heartily recommend seeing this production, though it turns out that I’m something of a traditionalist when it comes to the setting, much preferring the classic portrayal of the Swan Lake tragic love story. It was fascinating to talk to G and M about their thoughts on the production, with M uncertain as to whether the second half was a dream or not and both expressing the view that the role of the Swan/Stranger represented the 2 sides oft he Prince’s psyche. This was a performance that really challenged everything we knew and expected of a ballet and was a truly amazing experience. Despite my hesitations about some parts of this version, I am fascinated to see how Matthew Bourne has adapted and updated other ballets and hope to be able to see another of his productions soon.