Tag Archives: summer holiday

Living the Good Life

Are you more “Tom and Barbara” or “Jerry and Margot” when it comes to your approach to life? There’s no way I could let a reference to this unforgettable 70s British sitcom pass without a gentle nod in their direction, but my blog post is actually all about our exceptional retreat in Syros during our recent Greek holiday. Somewhere that embraces the self-sufficient lifestyle of the Goods and yet provides an experience that even the pickiest Leadbetter would struggle to complain about.

The Good Life Greece is owned by the charming and laid-back Nick, who, despite having called Greece his home since 2004, still speaks with a distinguishable Australian accent and, with the help of his sons also set up a number of small businesses in Athens, including our base whilst we were there, the Athens Studios. Escaping the noise and busyness of the capital city, the Syros villas match the peaceful beauty of their location and gave us a chance to recharge our batteries whilst embracing the simplicity of Greek island life.

Our home for the week was the idyllic Balance villa, a traditional stone house surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Carefully designed to be sustainable and eco-friendly, the villa was simple with an understated luxury that we all enjoyed. The children were welcome to pick vegetables, hunt for eggs and harvest the figs on the nearby trees; and enjoyed every moment as they explored the grounds around the villa. With 2 bedrooms, a kitchen I’d love to have at home, bathroom and spacious living/dining area complete with TV and DVD player, there was more than enough space to house us all without risk of getting in each other’s way. A beautiful stone patio circled 2 sides of the house with amazing sea views, which we enjoyed on our quiet Sunday “at home” when we spent the day playing card games, listening to music and soaking up the sun in absolute peace.

Before we arrived on Syros, Nick and I had exchanged a couple of emails and I gratefully accepted his offer of a pack of local foods to welcome us to the island. I was so delighted by this decision when we discovered the wonderful array of goodies that filled the fridge and pantry. Fresh fruit and vegetables, goats’ cheese, yoghurt and milk for G, local sausage, cooked meals and chicken kebabs for M as well as eggs, fresh bread and, most importantly, local beer and wine gave us everything we needed for the first few days. Nick also hosted a wine-tasting evening mid-week, where he introduced us to a number of fantastic Greek wines accompanied by a spread of delicious local foods. We met our Dutch next-door neighbours, whose 11 year-old son quickly became great friends with both M and G as well as a willing partner-in-crime!

We loved every moment of our holiday on Syros and would go back in a heartbeat. I am particularly tempted by the thought of a Christmas spent there and, who knows, maybe we’ll make it back before too long.

Marks out of 10: 10/10 without hesitation

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Magical, mythical Athens

One of the most wonderful things about our Greek holiday was to experience the absolute delight of both G and M as we trekked our way around Athens, visiting those ancient sites that they both associate with the fantastic Greek myths that they love to read. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when we introduced the children to the Greek myths, but they both love to listen to the audio-book of “Atticus the Storyteller” and M has been known to spend hours at bedtime absorbed in re-reading his favourite tales. There are just so many places to go and sights to see in Athens that we had to carefully pick out those we wanted to visit during our limited time in the city.

You just can’t visit Athens and even consider not wending your way to the top of the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and other monuments. Climbing up in 34°+ heat is not easy, but the views from the top were definitely worth the effort, and all the water we drank. Mike’s must-see destination was the Acropolis museum and whilst neither children was initially that keen to go, the lure of the air-conditioned inside, the wide array of artefacts on display and the brimming bookshelves they discovered in the shop soon overcame their reluctance. Our hostel for the duration was less than 5 minutes walk away from the museum, which made it the ideal place to head back to for a much-needed late lunch and a little downtime after our busy morning.

As well as his yearning to find a city playground to spend time in, M chose to take us to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We visited these incredible remains in the early evening and were fortunate that there were very few other visitors to the site whilst we were there. The remaining columns were simply awe-inspiring and we were fascinated to spot the individual pieces that were so carefully used to construct each column. The ancient engineering skills that created this spectacular monument left the children speechless as we contemplated just how the Greeks managed to build it in a time before modern machinery existed.

Poor G had to wait to the end of our holiday to get to her location of choice, but it was definitely worth the wait. She would have loved to go to see the Temple of Poseidon, but the 2 hour journey there was just too much for us to squeeze into our already time-pressured holiday schedule. Instead, G decided she wanted to see the Temple of Hephaestus and it proved to be a great choice for our last day in Greece. It is found in the ancient Agora, which has so many wonderful ruins to explore as well as the impressive temple itself. The Temple of Hephaestus is the most complete temple in Athens and gives just a small insight into what it must have been like to live in the city over 2 thousand years ago.

By the time our first 3 days in Athens drew to an end, we were all ready to embark on the next part of our Greek adventures, which began with yet another early morning start, a cross-city taxi journey to the port and a passenger ferry trip to the beautiful Greek island that would be home for the next few days. 

Portugal Photo Round-up 2016

Our 10 days in Portugal were wonderful and just what we all needed. We had great fun, lots of sunshine, delicious food, family time and a chance to get a break from all that’s been going on at home. It’s been a busy few days, so these are just a few photos to share that capture our fabulous holiday:

Kids’ eye view of Lisbon

One of the attractions that M was keen to visit was the Oceanário de Lisboa, opened in 1998 as part of the last twentieth century World exhibition and which is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. Having explored Old Lisbon on our first day, we were all happy to change pace a little and eventually made our way there via the beautiful Praça do Comércio and a necessary decision to hail a Tuk-Tuk, when our hop-on, hop-off bus couldn’t be spotted except as a dim mirage in the distance. By the time we arrived the main queue was dishearteningly long, but thanks to the helpful advice of our friendly Tuk-Tuk driver, IMG_0943[1]we instead joined the one for the ticketing machines and found ourselves moving through it fairly rapidly and were into the aquarium itself within little more than 30 minutes of our arrival.

We were directed to begin our visit with the temporary display before we cannily stopped for a relatively early lunch, which meant we managed to dodge any lengthy waits in the cafeteria. Both children were eager to head into the main and permanent exhibit, lured by the promise of manta rays and rainforests and we spent a glorious afternoon there. This was a truly amazing exhibit that took us on a 2-level tour around the world and around the incredibly impressive huge tank that formed the centrepiece of the aquarium. This tank was filled with all manner of fish and could be easily viewed from just about every angle as we made our way around the building. IMG_0955[1]G and M spent their time photographing or filming what they could see, racing between displays and tanks, and excitedly sharing the tidbits of information they had picked up along the way. From penguins to puffins, jellyfish to sunfish and sea otters to sharks, the kids got to see them all and were totally fascinated the entire time we were there.

Our second child-friendly stop was spotted as we left the Oceanário and meandered our way in the glorious sunshine to where we had been reliably informed we could catch that ever-elusive tour bus back to the main centre. M had actually already identified it as a possible place of interest, but it wasn’t until breakfast time of our final morning that we decided to pay it a visit. After an unsuccessful lengthy wait for the renowned Tram 28, Mike, the children and I decided to abandon the rest of our group as they continued to queue for it and instead headed off to the Pavilhão do Conhecimento or Knowledge Pavillion. IMG_1009[1]We have previously had great experiences visiting other interactive science museums such as the Science Museum London, @Bristol and the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto and G and M have loved every moment of them. I was confident that we would have similar success in Lisbon and couldn’t wait to see what experiments and activities were on offer there.

It was absolutely another day that was more than well worth the very reasonable entrance fee and we explored every inch of the place thoroughly. We started downstairs in the Viral exhibition, which looked at what contagion is and how it works, not just from a bacteria point of view, but also looking at the current spread of the social media trend. G and M loved the interactive displays from capturing and identifying different germs to seeing if watching others yawn can cause you to do the same , as well as whether they could incite a virtual audience to copy their clapping, dance moves and Mexican wave. IMG_0980[1]We paused for a quick lunch, which included a plate of rice for M and some gluten-free chips for G in the on-site restaurant before heading upstairs to tackle everything else the museum had to offer. M was particularly enthralled by the prospect of riding a bike across a high-wire suspended above the main floor of the building and successfully rode there and back, though G was a little more cautious and couldn’t quite brave it. Our afternoon was packed full of activity for us all and I was especially appreciative of the strategically placed armchairs spotted throughout the exhibits for those of us who didn’t want to be on the go the whole time! We filled the time we had there and managed to do most of the exhibits, though not quite all of them. It was a fun afternoon for the whole family and I wouldn’t hesitate to take G and M back if we had the chance.

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Hard Rock Cafe, Lisboa

Dinner out on our first evening in Lisbon was not as easy as we might have hoped and, in some ways, encapsulated our worst fears. By the time we had made our way from the airport to our hotel, we didn’t really want to hunt around with two tired children in tow, so simply headed to a local restaurant with our fingers tightly crossed and our recently acquired Yellow Cross translation cards clutched in my hands. IMG_0904[1]We found a restaurant that looked promising as it had grilled chicken and rice on the menu and sat down to peruse the choices for the rest of the family until it came time to order, when I handed over the cards and waited to hear their response.  The cards did their job, but whilst the restaurant staff were incredibly helpful in trying to provide safe food, poor M ended up with just a plate of plain boiled rice and an apple. At that point my Mum vowed that she couldn’t face another dinner out like that and so the search began for somewhere that could cater much better for M’s particular needs.

Lisbon_EntranceAs a long-time fan of the Hard Rock Cafe, I had been delighted to discover a couple of weeks before we travelled that there was one in Lisbon and had even managed to find a copy of their menu, including allergens, on-line. My e-mail enquiry about their ability to cater for M had gone unanswered, but I felt confident that there was a good chance they would be able to cook him some safe chicken at very least and so we headed there for our second meal in Lisbon. We were not disappointed. The Hard Rock policy is that all allergy enquiries and requests are dealt with by the manager and she came to our table to understand exactly what we needed. They weren’t able to provide rice for M as it’s cooked with vegetables, but an impressive plate of grilled chicken with apple and cucumber slices arrived and was quickly devoured by our hungry boy. G was also well catered for as they had comprehensive allergen listings available and could prepare all burgers and sandwiches using a delicious gluten- and dairy-free bread. She chose the classic club sandwich with fries and I was delighted to hear that they used a separate fryer to cook the fries to ensure that cross-contamination risks were kept to a minimum.

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The meal was such a success that when my Mum suggested that we go back for our final meal out in Lisbon, Mike, the children and I were quick to agree. Once again their service in meeting our allergy needs was impeccable and despite it being a much busier Friday evening, we were still confident that the food had been carefully prepared. We ran through M’s food restrictions with that evening’s manager and the resulting plate of food earned a well deserved 9.5 out of 10 from M. We did have a couple of small hiccups with both meals, but they were quickly dealt with and the staff were keen to make sure that we were happy. M’s food was re-plated on  a clean dish when I pointed out that the decorative strawberries included on the original plate were not safe for him, and G’s mayonnaise was replaced after she found an unidentifiable lump in the bottom of the small serving dish. It turned out to be a stray spoonful of coleslaw, but they apologised profusely and the manager even came back to the table to add her apologies and to ensure that the rest of our meals was everything we needed. It was great to discover that this old favourite of mine was so capable of preparing safe and delicious meals that both children absolutely loved and I’m now excited to discover what other locations we can visit on future trips.

A perfect meal for a little rock star!

City Adventures in Lisbon

The first few days of our Portuguese adventures were spent in the capital city, Lisbon, where we enjoyed some great days out in what was a first visit for us, even though we know parts of the Algarve extremely well. For anyone wondering where to go on a family break, Lisbon has a huge variety of choices to suit just about every age and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. We weren’t staying in Old Lisbon itself, but rather in one of its suburbs and it was extremely easy to travel in and out of the main centre by train using their Via Viagem travel card system, something akin to London’s Oyster cards.

My Mum had lent me her Lisbon guide-book before we went, which I had just about had time to skim through and highlight some things which I thought might appeal to us all, given our ages ranged from 10 to somewhere in the 60s, and I knew she had a list of ‘must-sees’ to hand too. Her Berlitz Pocket Guide also proved to be a welcome distraction for an unexpectedly nervous M, who was surprisingly anxious about our 2 hour flight as he hasn’t flown since before having his tube and spent the time studying the guide pinpointing attractions he really wanted to visit whilst we were there. IMG_0957[1]With a list as long as our arm to work our way through, we narrowed down our choices to the top few that appealed the most to us all and set off to see just how much ground we could cover in our 3 full days in the city.

Our main choice for the first day was to jump on to a “Hop-on, hop-off” bus, a firm favourite in our family as a way of exploring a new place as it not only helps orientate ourselves, but also serves as a great way of seeing some sights that we might otherwise not get to visit due to time constraints. We used the familiar City Sightseeing tours as a company we’ve used around the world with great success, but have to say that this time we were left a little disappointed. The bus-stops were poorly signed and we frequently found ourselves walking miles in an attempt to work out exactly where we needed to be to catch the bus back to wherever we next wanted to be. On one occasion, we even gave up completely having spied the bus heading away from us after a good 20 minutes standing in the blazing sun at a marked bus-stop on what we knew had to be the wrong side of the road for the direction we wanted and instead negotiated a great rate with one of the Tuk Tuk drivers, much to the children’s delight.

We took the bus and travelled out to the area of Belém, where M had identified the impressive Torre de Belém as a necessary sightseeing stop. He was particularly intrigued by the stone rhino that graces the base of one of the Tower’s turrets and insisted we explored until we found it whilst the older members of our group held a place in the queue. We waited for well over an hour in the soaring heat and it was just about worth the wait. IMG_0914[1]Both children enjoyed exploring the different levels of the Tower, honing their photography skills amongst the cannons in the artillery as well as in the dungeons and of the stunning panoramic views of the River Tagus from the top. The tower is climbed via a steep spiral staircase and a series of sequenced traffic lights indicated when it was time to climb up, down, or pause for breath in one of the rooms off the main staircase.

Having exhausted all that the Torre de Belém had to offer, my Mum was keen for us to head towards the infamous Padrão dos Descobrimentos, perhaps one of the most well-known sights in Lisbon. Sadly, the monument that depicts a number of important Portuguese historical figures including explorers Magellan and Vasco da Gama, was hidden by scaffolding, but we enjoyed the walk along the river before wearily trekking on to our ever-elusive next bus-stop. Our travels also took us past the impressive Cristo Rei statue – M’s “…like Christ the Redeemer, but not..” – the beautiful Moorish-inspired Campo Pequeno Bullring and the awe-inspiring Águas Livres Aqueduct, all of which give us great reason to visit this beautiful city again.

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Wanted: One Job

When this week started, I was expecting the usual end of term mayhem for both children as we gradually wound down towards the summer holidays and close to 6 weeks off school. The holiday child entertainment plans were falling into place with activity weeks, Over The Wall, pony camp and drama school booked to keep them occupied whilst Mike and I put in our hours at work. I had been in touch with Easyjet about our flights to and from Portugal and was well into the process of making sure we can take with us everything we might conceivably need to feed both M and G whilst on our holiday.

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What I didn’t expect was to be looking for a new job.

This week has disappeared into a wild roller-coaster of raging emotions, sleepless nights and a flurry of internet searches, e-mails and phone-calls to recruitment agents, accountancy friends and old contacts to see what leads they might have for me to follow; and I’ve not been able to slow it down enough to get off the ride. When I was told on Monday that I was being made redundant with immediate effect, I was shell-shocked to say the least. Left numb and reeling by the impact this news would have on our summer, but, as the week has progressed, my emotions have broken through the surface and have vacillated between barely veiled anger at my ex-employers, a sense of depression that threatened to overcome everything else and complete disbelief that it wasn’t just a dream.

My post as a senior accountant has disappeared due to a massive change in the personal circumstances of my most recent employers, something we were only told about a month ago. At the time my concerns were whether this change would impact on our work, but was told that nothing would happen for another 6-8 months as they worked out what to do with the business and the client base. I am angry that little more than 3 weeks on from that conversation, I’ve had to deal with the further fall-out and the unwelcome revelation of redundancy without any real warning. I’ll be honest, I had started a little tentative searching to see what was out there as the atmosphere in our office had become tense and untenable, but I truly believed that I had a little more time on my side, time that would allow me to make the decision to move on once again and find the right post for me and the family.

Drawing on the strength that has defined me as an EGID Mum, I’ve got up every morning to get the kids washed, dressed and to school on time, even though all I’ve wanted to do is stay hidden beneath my duvet and avoid the real world. I’ve spent hours in front of my computer screen every day, fine-tuning my CV, searching for available practice and industry roles in the surrounding area and retyping my information time after time after time to complete applications and establish an on-line presence in the recruitment world; before finishing the days too worn out to do anything more than watch mindless TV before collapsing into bed. I’ve taken endless phone-calls from eager recruiters, who are desperate to place an individual with my skill set and have learned to be firm about the type of role I’m looking for and where I’m willing to compromise on my requirements.

Mike and I have taken the decision to keep the news from both M and G at the moment as they need to be able to enjoy their summer without the worry of Mummy being out of work overshadowing their holiday fun. I’ve smiled and chatted and engaged in the classroom and at the school gates, celebrating the end of year excitement alongside the children. I’ve taken M to his first physio session and watched with joy as he finally starts to regain his confidence and is working to rebuild the strength and mobility of his leg, and I’ve joined in and encouraged their plans for their adventures over the next few weeks.

I’m working hard at staying positive. I know that my accountancy skills will stand me in good stead and the fact that I already have 2 interviews set up for next week, with a possible 3rd in the works too, shows me that hopefully I won’t be without work for too long. But, my biggest decision has to be about the direction I follow next with my career. I can, in all likelihood, pick up another part-time job in an accountancy practice without too much trouble, which would be the easy thing to do, but this could be an unexpected chance to make a change. I don’t love working in practice. I’ve been happiest working in industry and that’s what I ideally want to go back to. I want to use not just my accountancy background, but the business acumen I’ve picked up along the way. I am re-assessing the type of company I work for, knowing that the last couple of years have seen a real passion growing for charity work as well as my blog and the allergy world. I have loved all of the opportunities that have opened up with events like the Free From Food Awards and the Allergy Show, and the amazing friendships that have grown through those events. I have an idea for something that I’m sure would be a success if I could just work out how to get it into production, but I need a steady income to allow me to investigate whether it is a real business possibility or not.

At the end of the day, I’m an out-of-work accountant, a dedicated Mum and an enthusiastic blogger and I just want a job that allows me to put that all together in one winning combination.

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And so the holidays begin

We’re nearing the end of the first week of the summer holidays and what a busy week it has been:

G has been taking part in the Explore week arranged by her new secondary school, which allows the current Year 6s and 7s to meet each other, build some new friendships and orientate themselves around the school. 20140523_000817She has had lots of fun learning more about CSI techniques, photography and archery, with pottery, media and innovation and a Mini-Olympics still to come. I suspect G would be hard pressed to name her favourite, but the cookery session got a huge thumbs up from me. I had warned her in advance that, as I had no idea what they would be cooking, it would most probably be a case of preparing the food, but not being able to taste it herself. However, the amazing staff had made note of her allergies and provided gluten-free flour and a dairy-free alternative to the margarine for the cupcakes as well as gluten-free pasta for the pasta sauce they made. I needn’t have worried and couldn’t have asked for anything more.

cache_2460432896Whilst G has been engrossed in the numerous activities at school, M has been equally busy at the week-long holiday club organised by our church. Every year for the last 20+ years. around 250 children from our community have attended this holiday club, which is supported and run by our church. They take part in a whole range of activities from puppet-making to electronics, go out on a day trip and are entertained daily with songs and skits based cleverly on a set of themed Bible stories. M and G have been attending the club for a few years and M couldn’t wait to go along again this year. It’s been a different year for him with G choosing to do something else, but he’s loved every moment so far and can’t wait for the rest of the week.

Mike has had the week off work to support M and be one of the very many volunteers helping lead the groups and look after the children at the holiday club. Having survived the day’s activities, it has been a case of coming home for a quick tea before heading off with G to be a leader at the church’s youth club equivalent of the daytime holiday club, which runs every evening of this week. So far, he has splashed in the open air pool, had a cake built from raw ingredients on his head and indulged in a lengthy water fight. As for me, well, it’s been business as usual and after doing the “school-run” with G each morning, I’ve headed into my office to do a full day’s work. My evenings have been a little quieter than normal as once dinner is out of the way for us all it’s been just M and me to enjoy some time together before bed. All in all, a great start to the rest of our summer.