Tag Archives: hotel

Seeing the sights of NYC

When Mike and I visited New York nearly 3 years ago, we stayed in the fantastic Hotel Beacon on the Upper West Side just a couple of blocks from Central Park. We loved the location and the facilities and always thought that it could be a contender for if and when we ever visited with the children in tow. However, Mum was keen to stay closer to Times Square and so this trip saw us at the Westin Times Square instead. A great hotel on West 43rd street with the most amazing views from our 44th floor bedroom, but disappointing offerings when it came to allergy-friendly food. Fortunately, if there’s one thing you’re not short of in NYC, it’s restaurants and we found several within walking distance that were more than able to cater well for both G and M.

Our visit was planned to the nth-degree. With no input from the children except some less-than-subtle questioning about what they might like to see after G’s best friend visited NYC last summer, Mike and I had put together an itinerary that we thought would cover most of the must-sees in the city and it definitely kept us busy whilst we were there. My Mum has visited NYC a few times before and so didn’t necessarily want to do as much trekking around as we knew we would end up doing with G and M. I think we managed a good balance of the main highlights, leaving both us and the children enough to still see if we ever come back again and even managed to throw in some extra activities that we hadn’t done before.

The children were less than impressed with Mike’s yearning to see the inside of the Guggenheim museum on our first afternoon, especially after our lengthy wander across Central Park. I insisted that we took in both the Alice in Wonderland sculpture and the “Imagine” mosaic as we walked through and I think tiredness after our extremely early start was really kicking in by the time we made it to the Guggenheim. I only wish I’d been able to snap a photo of G’s face when I told her that we weren’t going round the museum exhibits, but simply going to stand in the main entrance whilst Mike looked up in awe and took several photos. She really was lost for words for a few minutes, though she quickly found her voice to comment on our 2 minute stop for a long time afterwards!

The Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, 9/11 Memorial Museum, One World Observatory, Grand Central Station and the New York Library for M to see Winnie-the-Pooh, we “did” them all. We usually choose to take a sightseeing bus to do a city tour when we visit anywhere new, but, given the busy traffic in NYC, instead thousands of steps were walked each day and we ventured onto the subway whenever time and location required. Our days were absolutely jam-packed, but we managed to do everything we wanted without too much hassle. Our fears about the winter weather didn’t come to pass and we definitely didn’t need the oodles of thermal underwear I’d had packed “just in case”.

Fairytale of New York

This has been a big year for the 7Y2D household. Mum’s 70th, G’s 16th, my Aunt’s 65th and our 20th wedding anniversary have kept us busy over the last few months and the celebrations have been nearly endless since the middle of September, especially for my Mum. However, there was one more surprise to come for the children, which started with a wish from Mum, was then planned meticulously for almost a year and finally revealed to G and M on Christmas morning.

With the help of some carefully thought out and themed pressies and well-crafted clues as well as the odd stocking-stuffer here and there and my Mum’s Christmas tree that was decorated with predominantly NYC baubles, an incredulous G and excitable M eventually discovered that we were off for the surprise trip of a lifetime and heading to New York. Neither had an inkling it was even on the cards as they hadn’t questioned our decision to cook and eat our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve – something that worked surprisingly well at reducing stress levels on Christmas morning itself and definitely something I’d want to consider doing again – or worried that the stack of pressies under the tree for them was considerably smaller than normal.

The plan was simple, though had taken hours of subterfuge to achieve. I spent most of December “checking and washing” the pile of winter and ski clothes stored in the attic to see what still fitted us all, something M eventually twigged was all due to our planned trip as we headed to Heathrow. I had slowly, but steadily removed items of warmer clothing from their wardrobes and drawers to take to New York and had, in fact, packed 3 sets of bags by the time December 22 was with us. 3 suitcases and 2 pieces of hand luggage for the flight as well as a small overnight bag were deposited at my Mum’s house one evening by Mike without the children realising and our boxes of Christmas pressies, food and bag of clothes strategically left in the hall and landing at home as evidence of what I’d been sorting out behind our closed bedroom door for hours.

On Christmas Day itself, once the presents had been opened, the secret revealed, questions answered and additional bits and pieces needed for our holiday sorted from the rest of the Christmas detritus, there was just enough time to share a family buffet-style spread, more in keeping with our Boxing Day meal than anything else. Mike, G, M and I set off from South Wales in the early afternoon, detoured via my Mum’s house to swap the Christmas packing for the holiday suitcases and eventually arrived at our hotel in Heathrow in the evening. We had little time to enjoy their beautiful Christmas decorations as we were more focused on packing the final items and getting an early night.

Our flight was at 9am on Boxing Day, so we had an early start (3.30am!) to reach the airport terminal and get ourselves checked in before heading to Heathrow’s T3 lounge to relax in peace before the flight itself. One of G’s Christmas pressies was a manicure before we flew, so she had just enough time to enjoy a GF/DF bacon sandwich and a bowl of cereal before hitting the lounge spa to have her nails done. G absolutely loves painting her nails, but this was her first manicure and she enjoyed being able to choose her colour – a pale mint green – though she wasn’t quite so certain about the soak and massage bit of it. And finally, after an extremely busy few times, it was time to board our plane and fly out to 5 days of adventure in NYC!

Return to an old haunt

At one time, London was very much our home from home as we visited several times a year to attend M’s hospital appointments at GOSH and whenever those appointments didn’t fall on a Wednesday afternoon in term-time, always tried to tie it into a few days away from home. Both G and M had the chance to stay in London as part of their school’s enrichment week residential trips, and both said no. After all, why would they go with school to a city they’ve spent more time in than sometimes they’d care to remember?

Bearing all that in mind, it could come as something of a surprise that we’ve spent the last couple of days back in this old haunt of ours – and by choice, not by necessity thanks to our success in getting theatre tickets through Kids Week London. We’ve been extremely fortunate to see a number of shows over the years and this time we decided to chat over the choices with G and M before I attempted to buy the tickets the moment the website opened. Much to our surprise, the children had very different ideas about the shows they wanted to see and so I was set the challenge of trying to get tickets for G and Mike to see “Phantom of the Opera” on the same night that M and I headed to “School of Rock”. Fortunately, I was successful and with our theatre trips confirmed for the Thursday evening, we decided to make a short break of it and visit a handful of sights we haven’t been to before.

Our day started with a 20 minute walk to our local station to catch the London-bound train. I had made it clear to both children that I didn’t want them plugged into their electronics for the duration of our journey, so M had selected a few card games to take with us and, much to my amazement, we spent the entire time playing an array of card games as well as a couple of rounds of Marvel Top Trumps.
In no time at all, we had reached London and then it was a case of trekking across the city until we reached our first destination of the day, Tower Bridge. Thanks to M’s hard work researching and planning our routes and timings before we arrived, we decided to get off the underground at Monument and then walk along the river path to the Tower of London, where we ate our picnic lunch before climbing the stairs to explore the history of Tower Bridge itself.

The climb to the top of one of the towers was interspersed with facts about the construction of the bridge itself 125 years ago and, having reached the top, were then able to walk across the walkways linking the 2 iconic towers at either side, including a stretch of glass walkway that looks down onto the road and river below. This is not our first glass walkway – we’ve ventured onto the one at the CN Tower in Toronto too – and M was quite happy to wander across, jump onto and sit down on it. G, however, was lot more reluctant, but with a little gentle persuasion and a lot of hand-holding from me, she tentatively stepped onto the odd corner here and there, though she pointblank refused to do much more than that. Walkways conquered, we then headed on to the pump house to understand how the original mechanisms to raise the drawbridge worked before stopping for a vegan ice-cream treat from the ice-cream van cannily parked in the square beneath the bridge.

By the time our ice-creams were devoured, we were all ready to head to our hotel, fortunately just a short walk away along the South Bank. We have stayed at this Premier Inn near Borough Market several times before and find it wonderfully centrally located and easy to reach as well as surrounded by a number of chain restaurants that make it easy to feed both G and M. We had just enough time to unpack bags, dig out the theatre tickets and freshen up before we headed back out the door in search of dinner and our shows. Once we had finished our meal at the nearby Pizza Express, Mike and G disappeared in one direction, whilst M and I went off in another in search of our respective theatres. It was a wonderful evening and both children absolutely loved their musicals of choice. I would highly recommend a trip to see “School of Rock” as would M, whilst Mike and G raved about “Phantom of the Opera”.

Eating out with allergies the Portuguese Way

I’ll be honest, the last few months have been difficult in more ways than one. M’s broken leg has meant that we’ve been unable to trial any new foods since April, which has been tough for him especially as we’ve just marked one year since we last successfully introduced a safe food into his diet. I knew that his restrictions were taking an emotional toll on M, but nothing expressed that more than when he recently apologised to me for feeling fed up and complaining about the fact that he has to eat the same 5 foods day in, day out. As we were preparing for our Portuguese holiday, we quickly realised that, without doubt, our travels abroad would stretch our keen foodie to his absolute limits and we needed to come up with a plan that would allow him to enjoy himself without too much pressure on his health.

This was particularly important as M had been frustrated to not be able to trial the couple of new foods we had pinpointed as pre-Portugal challenges because of his lengthy recovery and was extremely disappointed at the prospect of only eating his safe foods whilst the rest of us enjoyed seafood and fish galore. img_08971After much discussion, both between ourselves and with M too, Mike and I decided that we would allow him the occasional day off whilst we were in Portugal and let him choose a normally forbidden food or two to enjoy.

From the start we made it very clear that this couldn’t be an everyday treat and that between days he would have to keep strictly to his diet and so we planned accordingly. The holiday was split between a short hotel stint in the capital city and a longer stay in a self-catering apartment on the Algarve, which allowed us to cater for M and G as and when was needed. Our medical suitcase had been crammed full of a selection of safe foods for M including cartons of rice milk, cereal and rice pasta as I had no real idea as to what we would be able to find for him where we were based. img_10511Unlike our recent travels to Italy, where allergy-friendly offerings had been easy to find in the airport and service stations, safe foods were not so readily available in Portugal, but our trip to the Jumbo hypermarket just outside of Portimão proved to be a visit to a real Aladdin’s cave. My Mum and I were impressed with the array of dairy-free milks available and chose some new brands of rice milk for M to taste during our holiday. As for the selection of products on the freefrom aisle, I could easily have spent a lot longer than I did examining each and every one of them to see which were suitable for both children.  I managed to buy nearly everything we needed including cookies for G and rice cream for M and the only disappointment was that I couldn’t find a gluten-free loaf of bread for G. img_10521There was several bread mixes available, but there was no way I was ever going to entertain the thought of baking a loaf of bread for her in 35°C weather and so she managed with some delicious gluten- and dairy-free crackers I discovered instead.

M’s experience of eating out with allergies in Portugal was mixed to say the least with the resounding success of two dinners at the Hard Rock Café in central Lisbon in stark contrast to the disappointing first night meal of plain boiled rice and an apple and it was hard to predict what the rest of our holiday would bring. Our translation cards meant that language wasn’t a barrier to making our needs known, but we did struggle with well-meaning restaurant staff offering alternatives even though it was clearly stated that these were the only safe foods he can eat. To be fair, I can understand their difficulty in believing that M’s diet really is that restricted, but it was frustrating to deal with especially when the viable food options were diminishing before our eyes and a certain 10 year-old was hopeful we’d give up and give in and allow him another unplanned treat. For the sake of M’s health, we did have to insist that some of our meals out were strictly M-friendly and the offerings were often mixed. In the UK we frequently find that most restaurants are unable to provide plain rice and so M often ends up with a meal consisting of chicken and cucumber and occasionally some apple too, all supplemented by a bag of slightly crushed Rude Health Mini Rice thins recovered from the depths of my handbag. Portugal was surprisingly no different. We did discover a few restaurants that could cook plain, boiled rice, but sadly this was rarely accompanied by safe chicken and he ended up with some very odd meals indeed.

img_10841However, as well as the Hard Rock Café, we did achieve great success in 2 restaurants in Alvor, where not only was M well-fed, but G enjoyed some great dinners too. The first was at what has long been a favourite of ours, Vagabondo in Alvor itself, a place that the children were keen to go back to again this year. Every year since our first visit there, M and G have loved their chicken kebab starter because of the delicious peanut sauce it is served with and it’s a dish that they’ve asked me to recreate at home time and time again. Peanuts have never been a problem for M in the past, but I was anxious about him suffering an unexpected reaction to them and wasn’t keen to trial them for the first time whilst we were abroad. M was disappointed by my decision, but reluctantly agreed to eat his safe foods only. By the time it came to dinner there, he was still suffering from the effects of some of the other “treats” he’d enjoyed during the week and was happy to stick to his normal diet for the evening. Once our waitress grasped M’s exact needs, she was fantastic at sorting out his meal and advised us brilliantly about what would be safe for him from the menu. img_10851Unfortunately the wild rice was marinated with garlic beforehand so we chose not to order for M, but the plate that arrived contained a huge piece of chicken as well as some cucumber slices and a specially prepared apple from our thoughtful waitress. The apple had been cut and served to resemble chips and so M’s plate looked similar to G’s dinner of a chicken and bacon kebab and chips. It was a large meal, beautifully prepared and he managed to eat every single mouthful.
The second and surprise success of the entire holiday was our final lunch, which traditionally we have always enjoyed at the poolside restaurant at the hotel Pestana Alvor Praia. img_10871In the past the children have chosen gluten-free hot dogs and chips, but we had spotted that they served grilled chicken and rice and were hopeful that these would be safe for M. Once again, a well-informed, attentive and extremely helpful waitress advised me that there would be no problem in preparing these dishes to ensure they were safe for M and in the end both children enjoyed a delicious grilled chicken breast, which was served with chips for G and plain rice, cucumber and apple for M. We enjoyed our meals out on holiday and found all of the restaurants eager to help us as best they could when it came to encouraging M and G to eat out with allergies the Portuguese way.

Vigilius Mountain Resort

IMG_0685[1]Our retreat for those four days away was the beautiful Vigilius resort, 1,200 metres up the Monte San Vigilio in the Italian Alps and only accessible by a 7 minute cable car ride. Mike and I had arrived in Lana, the small South Tyrolean town at the base of the mountain, at around 5pm and headed immediately to the cable car station, where we waited patiently for it to be fixed before we headed up to the hotel. It had been an early start and a long day of travelling, but as we stepped out into the idyllic atmosphere of this peaceful location, all the stresses and strains gently started to slip away. IMG_0595[1]We were met at the cable car station by one of the hotel staff, who offered to give us a brief tour of all the facilities before booking us a table at one of the restaurants and settling us into our room for the evening.

This is an ecologically friendly and sustainable resort, where neutral colours and careful simplicity create a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The rooms are spacious and open, with stunning views of the mountains – the Dolomites and the Alps – on every side. It took a little getting used to the open plan nature of our room, where the bathroom area and bedroom were separated only by a strategically placed small clay wall that gives a slight nod to a sense of privacy. IMG_0524[1]Every room includes a stereo system, but no televisions, though they and DVD players can be provided on request and whilst wi-fi is provided free of charge, it is switched off by 11pm every night creating the opportunity to be as technology-free as you want during your stay. The facilities include 2 restaurants, a library, inside and outside seating areas as well as eternity pool, whirlpool and spa. It really is a place designed for relaxation and indulgence in equal measure.

Our days were wonderfully lazy as long and late breakfasts were followed by time spent alongside the pool or exploring the local area. On 2 separate days we took the single chair lift up to the top of the mountain and followed the well-marked trails to discover astounding panoramic vistas, remote churches and wonderful gasthauses where we enjoyed simple lunches of the local specialities – speck, cheese, fennel bread  – and the occasional glass of beer. We also took the cable car back down to Lana, where we spent some time searching for postcards and goodies for M and G as well traipsing between some of the 40 churches and monasteries to be found in this vibrant Italian market town. IMG_0678[1]This area is bilingual with all signs and menus written in both Italian and German – that 8-week Italian course in the 6th form finally came in handy – and we found most of the people keen to practise whatever English they could.

The resort itself offers a range of activities to its guests, including hiking, mountain biking and other fitness programs, though Mike and I only watched an archery session from afar. We did, however, spend a lot of our time in the pool, sauna, steam room and spa, enjoying the peace and quiet of the mobile-free area as we swam in the eternity pool and relaxed in the indoor and outdoor whirlpools. Thanks to my Mum, I was also able to pamper myself one afternoon with a peel, wrap and full body massage. Two hours later, I rejoined Mike poolside before we headed back to our room to prepare for our complimentary evening aperitif before a late dinner in one of the fantastic restaurants.

Without a doubt, Mike and I enjoyed a fabulous time at the Vigilius Mountain Resort and left feeling more relaxed and rested than we have in a long time. The hotel staff were friendly, polite and helpful and made our stay a wonderful experience. It was a great opportunity to spend time together, without the pressure of having to cope with the everyday juggling act that is the constant needs of the children, work and home. We wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Vigilius again should the opportunity arise and I would love to explore more of the surrounding towns of the South Tyrol.

*Disclaimer – Our 4-day stay at the Vigilius Mountain Resort was courtesy of a competition prize won at the Allergy & Free From Show Liverpool and sponsored by Dr Schar UK. The views expressed in this review are entirely my own and those of Mike.

How to survive a hospital stay – the Parents Edition

Courtesy of yoast.com

Courtesy of yoast.com

When M was admitted to GOSH for a week for repeat scopes back in October 2013, I turned to the wonderful support network that is FABED and asked for some tips on the essential things I needed to take to get us both through that week.  The resulting list was my parent’s survival guide, a resource I found myself turning to once again before our most recent admission.  However, the one area I didn’t cover in that survival guide was what I did to get through those endless hours, especially when M was otherwise entertained or busy at hospital school and my lovely friend, F pinged me an email all the way from Canada to make this very point.  She had her own set of questions about what I’d got up to whilst M was in GOSH, telling me what I’d missed from my previous posts and I thought I’d share with you all my curiosity-satisfying answers.

Where did you sleep? – I do so hope you didn’t need a hotel

7176037017_45f555b6cc_zNo, no hotel for me, though actually there were times when a hotel room would have been invaluable.  I slept next to M’s bed in a modern version of a medieval torture device: a chair that supposedly converted to a bed, though I think sleeping on a mattress on the floor, or even just the bare floor itself, might have been more comfortable.  There were definitely some mornings when I would have killed for a good night’s sleep or the opportunity for a long soak in a hot bath, but sleeping in “the bay” with 3 other patients including 1 baby meant that my nights were often disturbed.  M’s cubicle contained 1 of the 2 sinks for the 4 beds, which meant that one notable night, I had doctors, nurses and parents trooping through past M’s bed in a steady stream during the early hours as they needed to wash or sanitise hands and access sterile gloves.

The long-term gastro ward is shockingly out-dated and the facilities don’t meet the needs of the patients or their parents.  Unbelievably there is just one bathroom for 16 beds and only 2 other toilet cubicles, so you were constantly having to keep an eye on the bathroom to make sure you could dash in there before it was in use again.  Given this was the location of the height chart too, you can imagine just how in demand that single room was.

What did you eat when you were there? (I can only imagine this expense adding up if you were buying all your own meals)

Courtesy of mirror.co.uk

Courtesy of mirror.co.uk

The expense certainly did add up as I had to provide all food and drink for myself during the admission.  The small kitchen had a fridge which parents were able to keep food in, but I often found myself heading out each day to get some fresh air as well as my meals for the day.  There was also a microwave and crockery and cutlery, so that did make having a hot meal a little easier.  I kept some bread and crackers for breakfast and then would go out to buy sandwiches, ready meals or other snacks for the rest of the day.  There are several supermarkets in the vicinity, so there was reasonable choice, though the largest shop is a Waitrose, which definitely didn’t help with the cost.

I didn’t really eat out too much, though I took G out for meals whilst she and Mike visited and I treated myself to the odd coffee or hot chocolate mid-morning from one of the nearby coffee shops.  I also had a really lovely dinner out with one of my fellow Mums on the ward.  We headed across the road from the hospital to a small Italian restaurant and enjoyed some delicious food, great conversation and a small glass of wine each, whilst the boys were under the watchful care of the nurses!

How did you pass time? – Surely M didn’t need you every second of the day?

The first few days M was reluctant to let me out of his sight for long, especially when he was struggling to cope with the effects of the bowel prep on his system.  He understood that I needed to go out and get something to eat so that I didn’t make myself ill, but I would bring the food back onto the ward to eat at his bedside.  He didn’t necessarily engage with me for most of that time, preferring to be plugged into the TV or playing his tablet or DS, but my presence was very much required.  I took a supply of magazines, books and various puzzle books with me as well as my laptop, so I was able to entertain myself whilst he was absorbed in what he was watching.

teaOnce he started going to school, I spent my time off the hospital ward as much as possible, taking walks in the local area and getting some fresh air or doing the more mundane chores of laundry or tidying up our very small bed area.  I was lucky enough to be able to arrange to meet up with several of the lovely FABED Mums whilst we were there too as their children came in for various appointments or procedures.  It was great to actually meet, sit down and chat with some of these folks who’ve been giving support over the last 4 years and to finally put faces to names.

Did you have opportunities to have ‘a break’?

My only breaks were relatively short ones when M was in school or the evening he went to Scouts.  Some parents lived close enough to be able to go home or even into work during the day, but being over 2 hours away from London made that impossible for me.  The 2 Saturdays when Mike visited, he spent most of his time with M, so G and I could go out and have some quality time together.  We went to a coffee shop for elevenses both weeks, I took her out for lunch the first week and the 3 of us went out for dinner both evenings before they headed home.  We were lucky that there are restaurants nearby that do gluten- and dairy-free food options, so eating out with G proved to be easy to do.  But that was it.  No other breaks for me as it was, all things considered, a relatively short admission and I needed to be advocating M’s needs during our time there, something I just couldn’t take a break from.

How do you stay sane while there?

friendsWho said I did?!  Truthfully, my sanity remained as much in tact as it did thanks to amazing support from family and friends.  The folks who dropped me an email, sent me a text, popped something in the post for M or even arranged for a beautiful bouquet of flowers to turn up completely unexpectedly.  And that’s not even thinking about the wonderful Mums I met on ward, who were all there for varying lengths of stay, for vastly different reasons and who gave me an ear to bend and a shoulder to cry on when I needed them the most.  Believe it or not, we had a lot of fun in the evenings, sitting in the bay, comparing stories, sharing opinions of nurses and consultants, chatting about life and generally putting the world to rights.  Those friendships were made in the hardest of times and the strangest of situations, but are worth more than their weight in gold.  I met amazing parents who are facing much bigger challenges than we have to cope with and yet go about everyday with a smile and a kind word for everyone they meet.  We all had our down days when we needed the support of those around us and I can’t think of a nicer bunch of people to have been through that experience with (Rhys, Lauren, Caroline – you know who you are and thank you!)