Tag Archives: serviced apartments

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.

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Impractical Jokers – Birmingham 2017

The last month or so has been filled with an unusual number of opportunities for Mike and me to take a little time off from our jam-packed lives at home and have some much-needed time to relax, rejuvenate and re-find ourselves as a couple. We’ve been fortunate that, just as she did last June when we enjoyed my surprise holiday win to Italy, my Mum was willing to take charge of G and M for the duration and we’ve been celebrating our 40th birthdays in style. Our first treat involved a road trip to Birmingham, an overnight stay near the Barclaycard Arena (previously the National Indoor Arena) and an evening spent laughing, courtesy of the tickets I had bought for Mike as part of his 40th birthday present.

img_13471Just over a year ago we discovered the American hit comedy show, Impractical Jokers and have spent many hours curled up in front of the TV, often with the children added to the mix too, giggling and guffawing at the escapades we’ve watched unfold in front of our eyes. For those of you who have never heard of the Impractical Jokers, this hidden camera show follows 4 childhood friends from Staten Island, Sal, Joe, Murr and Q, as they play a series of practical jokes on each other and the unsuspecting general public. In a hyped-up version of “Truth or Dare”, they challenge each other to complete a string of ridiculous tasks, knowing that failure to complete or achieve the goal will result in the biggest loser of that episode having to undergo a punishment at the hands of their friends.

The Jokers usually do not know the details of the pranks until the moment they have to do them and are often pushed to say and do things that are well beyond most people’s normal comfort zones. From saying outrageous comments when serving customers at one of the many stores, fast food joints or cafes featured from New York, to having to convince strangers that they have met before in the most unbelievable set of circumstances, the pranks nearly always have us all laughing out loud. I’d be hard-pushed to say which part of each show we most enjoy, but the final punishments are almost always as funny as the pranks themselves and go from the sublime to the ridiculous. img_13531In many ways, it’s seeing the response that adds to the humour of the situation. My Mum freely admits that she can’t see what makes us laugh so much and perhaps it’s true you require a certain quirky sense of humour to enjoy the half-hour episodes.

Having missed out on tickets for their first UK tour in February 2016, I was determined to get some for January 2017 and was delighted when I managed to secure 2 great seats at the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena. It took some strategic planning with my Mum – well, I had to check she’d be in the country to look after G and M for the night! – but we got there in the end and I even managed to keep it a secret until the big reveal on Mike’s birthday in October. M was not so impressed with our planned night out, but Mike was as thrilled as I was and the time just flew past until we found ourselves taking an afternoon off from work and bombing down the motorway towards our final destination. We found a great place to stay – City Nites Serviced Apartments – within walking distance of the Arena that included a secure location to park the car and enjoyed a delicious dinner at Thai Edge before the show itself started.

We were hoping for a great night out and weren’t disappointed. The Jokers, also known as The Tenderloins comedy troupe, have been performing stand-up for years and their show was filled with a skillful mix of scripted jokes, some improv and the inevitable reveal of previously unseen clips from their successful TV show. I’ll be honest, a few long days and nights on UK tour had obviously taken their toll on all their voices and a heavy drinking session meant that one member of the group in particular was not as sharp as he usually is on-screen, but my favourites, Sal and Joe, were in fantastic form and made the night for me. Mike loved being at yet another live comedy show, having already enjoyed seeing Josh Widdicombe and Dave Gorman for previous birthday treats. It was a brilliant overnight break from the children and one that we both needed after the medical stresses that had stalked us at the end of last year.c2dvr6txeaan_op

Dinner Plans

The beauty of staying in the amazing Applause apartments in East Aldgate was the ease with which we could accommodate M’s current dietary requirements at mealtimes.  Every morning, he and G enjoyed a bowl of safe cereal and rice milk for breakfast, whilst Mike and I had coffee and brioche before we headed out for the day.  Once breakfast was done, the children and I would finish getting ourselves ready and Mike would make and pack lunches for us all.  The ability to prepare packed lunches was just what we needed as not only were we able to meet M’s extreme food requirements, but also the dairy- and gluten-free needs of G.

20150414_174629On our first day there, we stumbled across a fantastic shop called “Planet Organic“, where we were able to pick up some previously undiscovered M-friendly bits and pieces, including mini rice-cakes, which are perfect for his lunchbox.  Of course, with the packet now nearly empty, the race to find them closer to home is on before he finishes them off.  The brown rice noodles have also been a massive hit and make mealtimes just that little bit more interesting than they have been over the last 3 months.  Sadly, the one thing we had been hoping to find, rice pasta, was sold out and so my search for that alternative continues.

The more interesting task was that of our evening meal.  One of the things we have always loved to do is eat out as a family and it is one of the things that M in particular has found hardest about having his tube.  We have had a wealth of experience over the last decade of finding restaurants that will accommodate the ever-changing dietary needs of G, M and even me and we had settled on a few firm favourites that we knew would almost always meet our requirements.  Of course, the option to cook dinner where we were staying was great to have, but Mike and I were both looking forward to having a break from the monotony of 3-ingredient dinners and decided to do some focussed research before we even left the comfort of our own home.  We spent hours one evening trawling the internet, finding restaurants in the areas of London we were likely to be near at meal-times, looking at their menus and investigating whether they had allergen information readily available to read then and there.  To our delight, we found a few where we knew we could cater for G and where it seemed probable we would also be able to order safe food for M, and we couldn’t wait to put our selection to the test.

20150408_181702Our first was Giraffe, which is just round the corner from GOSH and a popular choice for our post-appointment dinners.  When we got to the restaurant, I asked the waitress at the door whether they would be able to cook safe food for M before she had time to find us a table and the response was fantastic.  She turned out to be the restaurant manager and headed off in the direction of the kitchen to talk to their chef and find out exactly what our options were. The chef assured us he could cook plain, boiled rice and grill a chicken breast for M without using any oil, so, feeling hopeful that this could prove a success, we found a table to enjoy our first family meal out for 5 months.  M was delighted with the plate of food that arrived for him and had no allergic reaction to any of it, reassuring us that Giraffe is a safe choice for the future.

IMG_0940As it turns out, Giraffe was the only restaurant we ate at that was able to cook plain rice for M, but we enjoyed 2 other great meals out and  both restaurants were more than happy for M to munch away on his own rice-cakes to accompany his chicken and cucumber.  The second restaurant was Bella Italia, a popular restaurant chain found across the UK and we had dinner at their St Martins Lane branch.   Again, our waiter worked with the chef to ascertain exactly what could be prepared for M and this amazing plate of food arrived – M joked that he thought they had cut him up a whole cucumber to make up for the lack of variety on his plate.  We were also impressed with how much their gluten-free offerings had improved since the last time we ate there as G was able to enjoy some GF garlic pizza bread alongside her GF margherita pizza with pancetta and ham with goats cheese.

20150411_152613My final recommendation is Jamie’s Italian and I can’t begin to tell you how impressed we were with the excellent service provided at their Canary Wharf restaurant.  From the greeter who listened to our initial needs to the manager who came to answer our questions before we even got to the table, they were keen to reassure us that they could meet all our requirements.  As for our amazing waiter, Tom H, he listened carefully and patiently to what we needed, made sensible suggestions based on M’s safe foods, checked with the chef that everything could be prepared safely and treated M just like any other child eating in the restaurant.  He was delighted with the plate of food that arrived at the table as it was presented in the exact same way as G’s dinner and his unparalleled attempt to eat almost all of the food served earned him the same prize that G was awarded for eating her salad – an achievement that we rarely manage at home.

All in all, our trip to London proved to be a fantastic and unexpected success when it came to our dinner plans for our stay.  We found 3 restaurants who were prepared to go the extra mile, make the effort and help us enjoy some great meals out.  Even better, M had the opportunity to feel more “normal” than he has done in a long time, which, for us, was absolutely priceless.

Home or away?

IMG_0746With a trip to London for M’s GOSH appointment an unavoidable part of the Easter holidays, we decided to make the best of it and spend a few days there on our very own mini city-break.  In preparation we spent one Sunday afternoon leafing through the pages of Mike’s “501 Days Out” book, looking for inspiration for what we could do during our stay and  G and M quickly filled a sheet of A4 with their suggestions.  It was left to Mike and me to make the final cut and hone our plans and, despite desperate requests for Legoland Windsor and Chessington World of Adventures, we decided to stick to those attractions within a reasonable distance of where we’d be staying and drew up a list that felt exhausting just looking at it.

where_to_stayThis epic event was our first overnight stay away from home since M had his tube back in December and I drew up thousandshundreds…well one very long list of everything I needed to do in preparation.  My first job, once our trains were booked, was to find somewhere to stay that would meet all of our requirements.  Usually we choose to stay in one of the Premier Inn hotels on the south-side of the Thames, be it near the London Eye or closer to Southwark Cathedral and find them a great base for walking, or using the underground, to almost anywhere we’re intending to visit.  Unfortunately, leaving the actual booking to a little late in the day meant that none of our usual suspects of hotels was available for the 3 nights we were planning to stay and instead I had to search for a suitable alternative.  Whilst browsing frantically looking for a room at the….an….any inn, I came across the option of a serviced apartment and things suddenly started to fall into place.

We chose a one-bed apartment in East Aldgate, not too far from the Tower of London and easy walking distance from the nearest tube station.  The benefits seemed huge:

  • with a separate bedroom and pull-out bed in the living area, G would be able to go to sleep at a reasonable time, whilst M played his usual night-owl games
  • there would be plenty of space to store all of M’s medical gear as well as the supply of safe foods for both him and G that we would take with us
  • having a kitchen meant we could easily prepare M’s feeds, make packed lunches and even cook dinner, thereby covering every possible meal-time option we might face
  • it also meant we would have a fridge to keep cooked meats, cheese for G and M’s feeds in overnight without the need to request one beforehand and then keeping our fingers crossed it would be available when we checked in
  • finally, we would have a quiet place to retreat to when things got too much or the children needed some down time in the middle of the day

So it was an easy decision to get that apartment booked.  The days flew past until finally I had no choice but to tackle the task of packing for our trip.  By the time I had everything I needed for M in the case, plus our supply of safe foods for both G and M, I was beginning to wonder whether I’d have room for any of the clothes the 4 of us would need for 4 days in London.  With some canny packing and careful choices about exactly what was necessary, I just about squeezed everything in and we were ready for our next big adventure.