Tag Archives: stress free travelling

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!

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea, One Aldwych

Given the morning had been spent tramping across the length and breadth of London, you can only imagine how delighted M and G were to eventually reach our final destination – One Aldwych Hotel. Ever since I had settled on taking my Mum to the Royal Opera House as part of her 70th birthday celebrations, I knew that I wanted to find somewhere for an afternoon tea which could cater for both children as well as the adults. Our last afternoon tea in London was over 16 years ago when I qualified as an accountant and treated the family to tea at the Ritz, all whilst pregnant with G. It was an amazing occasion and I really wanted to find somewhere to meet our expectations and previous experience if at all possible.

I spent weeks searching the internet and reading reviews before finally settling on the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea offered at One Aldwych. I already knew a little about One Aldwych as Executive Chef Dominic Teague won the inaugural Pathfinder Award at the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards in 2016 and I had read all about the work he had done to create a completely gluten- and dairy-free restaurant without advertising the fact.

Our experience started with my initial contact with the hotel to see if they could cater for both G and M without too many problems. There then followed a flurry of emails between us to establish what safe foods could be prepared, keeping it relatively simple to suit G’s tastes and without pushing M’s boundaries too far. I asked for his meal to be MEWS-free and was impressed when they sent through to me a copy menu for what they thought they could make for both children. With a few tweaks here and there, we ended up with what looked to be an impressive selection of savoury and sweet treats, guaranteed to make this afternoon tea a truly special one for us all.

With one week left to go, there was just enough time to exchange one last email before we headed to London and I was able to order a MEWS-free celebration cake to mark the triple occasion – Mum’s 70th, G’s 16th and our 20th wedding anniversary – all in one fell swoop. I had also received a reassuring email from Executive Chef, Dominic Teague himself, explaining just how they would look after our table and take care to make sure the cross-contamination risks were reduced to as low as they possibly could be. Other than making sure that we had enough medicines with us to ensure that M was well-covered for the extra treats I knew he’d be trying, there was nothing more we could do until we arrived at One Aldwych itself.

On arrival, we were ushered upstairs to the beautiful dining space of One Indigo and quickly seated at our table. My one criticism of our afternoon is that service seemed to take a long time from beginning to end and we had been sitting at our table for a good 5 minutes before the restaurant manager appeared to introduce himself and tell us about what food we could expect to be served. However, everything settled, we then sat back to wait for our food to appear – and that was definitely worth the wait.

My one hesitation had been around the savoury items going to be served for G as she is not the most adventurous when it comes to food and although I had originally asked if she could have just plain GF/DF ham sandwiches, the final menu I had seen suggested that she would be given more than that. A little prompting ahead of time meant I’d agreed with her that she would try at least a mouthful of everything she was served, so you can imagine all our delight when a plate of safe ham sandwiches appeared for her as well as an allergy-friendly carrot puree and houmous tart, all of which she enjoyed with an enthusiasm just about matched by M as he enjoyed an incredible array of unexpectedly safe foods.

The pièce de résistance was, without question, the marvellous dessert selection that arrived for each of us. Cakes, scones, mousse and fruit kebabs made for a truly spectacular display and the selection provided for M was just as impressive as those for the rest of the table. The chocolate and raspberry celebration cake was wonderfully light, airy and delicious, though totally unnecessary given the amount of food we had to enjoy for the meal. My Mum, Mike and I were all delighted to be able to treat both children in such a way and one that we would never have thought was possible 4 or 5 years ago. My thanks go to Dominic Teague and his team at One Aldwych for giving us such a wonderful birthday meal – and for the boxes of leftovers we were able to take to enjoy at home later too!

A Night of SeriousFun

It’s no secret that I absolutely love listening to our local radio station. It’s a great opportunity to hear about local people and stories as well as the national and international news. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to hear a friend or acquaintance being interviewed and I’ve even been on the radio 4 times speaking about M, G and the impact that his EGID diagnosis and restricted diet have had on our family. One of my favourite times to listen is in the morning, when the regular presenter hosts his phone-in on a wide variety of subjects from the sublime to the ridiculous and it was this morning’s topic that triggered my thoughts for today.

Today is World Children’s Day, a day to focus on children and more specifically, according to the UN, To recommit to putting children first. For every child, every right: the right to be a child, the right to play and the right to be safe.”

And this made me think.

It brought to mind an event that Mike and I attended in London last week, the annual gala dinner for the SeriousFun Network, the global family of camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and families. We were there to support Over The Wall, the charity that runs the incredible UK-based camps that both G and M have been fortunate to attend over the last few years. Those camps work hard to help those children who go to feel “normal”, often for the first time in their lives and to realise that they are not as isolated in their experiences as they so often can feel, whether as the child living with the chronic illness or as their sibling.

I’ve spoken so many times about the impact that OTW has had on both G and M since the first time they went and those effects are long-lasting. Friendships have grown with those they’ve met at camp and for G in particular, those same people have become her tribe. Time and distance has made no difference to those connections they’ve built and each camp sees them re-establishing their friendships from where they left off in years before.

The gala dinner was a great opportunity to celebrate the work that the SeriousFun Network camps do across the world. Much to Mike’s delight we were seated, purely by chance, with a group of Canadians connected to OTW through their corporate giving and they managed to spend half the evening talking all things ice hockey with great enthusiasm. It is thanks to individuals, groups and companies like these that OTW have managed to increase the number of campers they take each year and, having broken their target of 1,000 campers this year, have now got ambitions to reach 1,200 children in 2020. We were entertained by a variety of great acts including 2019 Britain’s Got Talent winners, Twist and Pulse, singers and musicians Damien Rice, Charlie Siem and Diane Birch and comedian Steve Coogan as well as a few of the SeriousFun campers who have performed at Stage Night at their respective camps.

It was a lovely evening, spent with people who all have the same goal to support and bring a touch of the usual to the lives of children who are anything but. We feel privileged that since 2016 our children have benefitted so much from the extraordinary efforts of the surprisingly small handful of staff members and the huge army of volunteers working for Over The Wall. In a reality where M’s health challenges have been an unwelcome, yet prevalent feature, it can never be underestimated just how much of a difference OTW has made to both G and M, and Mike and I are already planning to join the party again next year.

This truly is an organisation that has committed to putting children first and focuses on that right of each child to be a child, no matter what else life has thrown at them.

Keep Calm and Curry On!

There’s nothing better when visiting a new place than finding a local market to explore and uncover any treasures hidden amongst the stalls. Manchester proved to be no exception and we were tempted by the vast array of produce, handcrafted gifts and other knick-knacks on offer. G was drawn to the trays of sparkling jewellery, whilst M investigated the various food items to see if anything was M-friendly and worth considering. He was delighted with the fresh fruits on offer as well as the multiple flavours of Turkish Delight that seemed to be calling his name, whilst G was drawn to the jewellery stalls, particularly the rings. We found a variety of small items to pick up for future occasions, well Christmas is fast-approaching after all, but the out-and-out winner for the day has to be the amazing “Curry On Cooking” Korma curry kit

Company founder, Veena Josh was on hand on the market stall and more than willing to spend some time chatting to me about their curry kits, which are fantastically top-14 free and definitely worth a try at home with the children. G isn’t the biggest fan of curry, but M loves Indian food and I was hoping that this would give him a more authentic taste than the concoction I usually manage to scrabble together for dinner from whatever spices are lurking in the back of my cupboard. Veena shared with me that not only does each pack include a recipe on the packaging, but also either she or her sister try making their curries using a variety of milk alternatives to check that the curry can be prepared to be as allergy-friendly – and delicious – as you want and need it to be.

Having bought a kit and brought it home with us after the indoor sky-diving adventures, it was a case of waiting for the perfect opportunity to give the recipe a whirl and just a couple of weeks later, we decided on a curry for our Saturday night family dinner. M read through the ingredients listed on the inside of the pack, made a note of anything we needed to buy to make it and then helped prep and cook the meal itself. A delicious meal was prepared and served to our discerning family audience. M, Mike and I all very much enjoyed the flavours of the curry and whilst G was far more reluctant to give it a glowing review, she did manage to finish her plate,eventually!

The curry kit has since been used to make another dinner for the children as well as a handy safe alternative to the biryani spices needed for M to cook with at school. We will definitely be trying out some of the other curry kits available and seeing just how far we can push that spiciness factor!

Mini Adventures for October half-term

Last week was October half-term for us and, after an almost painfully long term, it was definitely needed by us all. Our plans meant that both Mike and I took the week off work to spend on some mini adventures from home as well as finding the time to complete the inevitable bits of homework that G and M had been set for the week.

And what a week it was:

Monday: Homework squeezed in around orthodontist appointments and blood donations amongst other less-than-interesting things.

Tuesday: A lazy morning in before heading off for a 15-mile bike ride along a local cycle path. We had great weather for it and even took a packed lunch to enjoy on our way. What better way to round off our day, but an evening glued to the Great British Bake Off final and, thank goodness, complete consensus on the final winner!

Wednesday: An early start to drop Mike’s car off for its service before we headed to Hampton Court Palace. This was the first visit for Mike and the kids, who enjoyed the House, the gardens and the Maze, despite their initial reluctance for a visit to “yet another” place to keep Mum happy. We stayed overnight at a nearby Premier Inn, but had a very disappointing dinner at the attached Beefeater restaurant – somewhere I definitely wouldn’t recommend to anyone visiting with allergies.

Thursday: A mixed day today. Halloween is always difficult for me because it’s the anniversary of losing my Dad, but our plans for a fun-packed day at Chessington World of Adventures helped make it a better day than it might otherwise have been. It was surprisingly quiet at the park considering we were in the middle of half-term and the extra hours at the end of the day meant G and M could revisit some of their favourite rides several times as the dusk crept in. We were very impressed with the allergy information available and enjoyed a pizza dinner, with specially-prepared gluten- and dairy-free pizzas for the children. Definitely somewhere we’ll look to visit again.

Friday: Back home for a quieter day, which was just as well given the torrential rain that hit us hard. It was very much a day for curling up in front of the favourite and enjoying some TV before the weekly Stagecoach run for G and M.

It was a lovely week, filled with a little bit of everything – although possibly not quite enough sleep to see us through the next 7 weeks of term until Christmas.

Bluestone Photo round-up September 2019

A great weekend celebrating a milestone birthday with family. Food, fun and fantastic weather – what more could we ask of South Wales in September?

Eating Out with Allergies at the Bluestone Resort, Wales

Our stay at Bluestone ticked the boxes in so many ways, not least because it gave us access to a great kitchen which meant we could eat breakfast and lunch safely “at home” and still have the opportunity to try out a couple of the restaurants on site. I had been in touch with the resort team a few weeks before our stay and they had sent through to me a great allergy information document, which detailed each restaurant, all of the food items on their menus and showed clearly which allergens were contained in each dish. Usefully, it also indicated those dishes that could safely be made gluten-free, which made it easier for G and M to choose what they wanted to eat.

Farmhouse Bar & Grill: As we knew we’d be arriving late on the Friday night, we booked our first meal out for the Saturday evening and chose the Farmhouse Grill, which seemed to have a good selection of meal choices for even the pickiest members of our party. G opted for the baked goats’ cheese salad with blueberries, cherries and a mix of toasted nuts as well as a side of chips, which we were assured were cooked in a separate fryer to make sure they were safe. She enjoyed the meal, although learned the important lesson that it’s always worth asking for the dressing to be put on the side as the strong balsamic vinegar dressing was a little too much for her taste-buds. M decided that a gammon steak with pineapple and chips was the perfect dinner and loved every mouthful he managed, although the generous portion was a little too big even for my hungriest child. There were no safe desserts for them on the menu, but with more than enough birthday cake to eat, the puddings weren’t missed at all.

Knights Tafarn: For our Sunday lunch, albeit it a late one due to a morning spent enjoying the slides and lazy river at the Blue Lagoon Water park, I suggested the Knights Tafarn, the on-site “local” pub. We were lucky to find the restaurant fairly quiet by the time we were ready to order and it had no problem in catering for the 7 of us in good time. Having chosen something a little more unusual *for her* on Saturday night, G stuck to an old, but familiar favourite of ham, eggs and chips. Once again we were reassured that the chips were safe and she certainly enjoyed every single mouthful. M, on the other hand, decided he wanted to have a slightly lighter lunch of gluten-free ham sandwiches with a small salad and a side of chips. I say small, but afraid that it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy M’s almost insatiable appetite at the moment, Mike had actually ordered a double portion of sandwiches and so we ended up with a few leftovers. The food was good, although not remarkable, but it was simply great to be able to eat out for a Sunday lunch with our extended family.

All in all, I was impressed with the food offerings at Bluestone. We didn’t have time to try the Oaktree Italian restaurant, although I had spotted that they had GF pizzas on the menu. The small convenience shop stocked an adequate supply of freefrom foods in case needed and I was impressed to see an array of safe breads, biscuits, cakes, pasta and chocolate for sale as well as the increasingly popular vegan Magnum ice-creams. The selection was small, but good and I loved that they had a number of local suppliers available as well as the bigger name brands.

A Bluestone Birthday

What do axe-throwing, high ropes, tree-climbing, birthday cakes and family have in common?

Easy; my Mum’s milestone birthday – her 70th – and a family weekend spent celebrating in style at the fantastic Bluestone resort in South Wales. For those of you who have never heard of Bluestone, the resort is set in 500 acres of beautiful Pembrokeshire national park near Tenby with stunning views out to the Preseli hills and is a complete escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As well as a site which is largely car-free, it is also absolutely jam-packed with activities and adventures to choose from and our weekend proved far too short to enjoy more than just a select few handpicked choices.

With 7 of us visiting, we stayed in one of their Grassholm lodges, which slept us all more than comfortably and included a fantastic open plan downstairs space with a generous sitting room, dining area and kitchen. Those of us who could booked bikes for the weekend and G and M had a great time racing around from venue to venue for each of the activities, although some of the hills proved a little more challenging for the rest of us. Over the last year, both children have really enjoyed every opportunity to go on bike rides especially as M’s confidence in his bike-riding has grown, and we can often be found spending a couple of hours exploring the country lanes near our house as part of a family ride. It’s also possible to hire a golf buggy to drive around the site, but we spent much of our time either walking or on our bikes whenever possible.

Needless to say, the children and Mike selected their activities for the Saturday with relative ease and I spent my time trying to grab action shots as G climbed to the top of a 40+ foot tree, whilst M and Mike took on the challenge of the high ropes course. Add in the demonstration of their Canadian roots in the afternoon with some axe-throwing skills and great fun was had by all. We even managed to squeeze in a quick early evening swim before heading out for a celebratory dinner at the Farmhouse Grill. Sunday was a little quieter with a morning at the Blue Lagoon water park before a late lunch at the Knights Tarfan.

All in all, we had a brilliant weekend and it came as no surprise when both G and M asked if we could go back another time. There were lots more activities that we could have tried, both indoors and outdoors, but we just couldn’t fit them in this time round. We would highly recommend Bluestone for a weekend, or week, away from it all and it certainly has enough to keep the most active of youngsters occupied for a good few hours anyway.

Summer Photo Round-up 2019

Summer 2019 was all about home-grown entertainment and experiences before heading into a year of GCSEs – both exams and options!