“10 days” seems to have become a mantra for our holidays over the last few years. Be it Portugal, Greece or Scotland, we’ve had some amazing fun, making memories and just spending time together. Here’s the photographic proof:
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
Our trip to London to see the World Athletics had been planned with careful precision to fit in with our much-longed for summer holiday. Whilst we usually try to fly from our local airport, which is a mere 10 minute drive door-to-door for us, we took advantage of being in the London area and instead arranged flights from Gatwick for early on the Sunday morning. I scoured the internet looking for a nearby hotel and parking package, which would allow us to get a few hours sleep before we travelled and included parking for the duration of our holiday. Much to my delight, I managed to find a fantastic deal giving us a night’s stay at the Holiday Inn Worth and valet parking at Gatwick’s North terminal – ideal when your Sunday morning flight requires you to be at the airport for around 2.45am!
It took us a little longer than hoped to journey across London from Stratford and out to Worth, so by the time we arrived, all we really wanted to do was move a couple of key belongings from one case to another, pack our hand luggage for the flight and have dinner before heading to bed for as much sleep as we could manage ahead of our middle-of-the-night wake-up call. Whilst I sorted the cases and G and M emptied, sorted and repacked their backpacks, Mike was tasked with the job of investigating the hotel restaurant to see if we could just stay put and successfully feed both children there, or if a quick internet search was required to find somewhere safe to eat in relatively close proximity. Thankfully the hotel restaurant, Lytton’s Bar and Brasserie, assured us they could cater for both children, despite the seeming lack of allergy-friendly options noted on their menu and so we settled down for an early dinner.
G opted for her perennial favourite of a medium steak with salad and chips, which we had confirmed would be okay for her, whilst the chef worked his magic to prepare grilled chicken with pilau rice and a side of cucumber for M. For those slightly more eagle-eyed amongst you, you might notice that there were some peas mixed into M’s rice, something that is definitely not yet on his safe foods list. We had agreed with our local gastro consultant that we would relax M’s restricted diet a little when away and whilst we might not have necessarily chosen to kick that trend off before we even left the UK, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and live life to the fullest. By the time we got to the end of the meal, both plates were more or less cleared and we were delighted to have once again found a great option for an allergy-friendly meal without too much hassle.
Mike quickly fell asleep, but the children and I decided to lie in bed watching the relay finals and celebrated quietly the huge success of the British squad, whilst commiserating over the unexpected injury of Bolt, who we had seen perform to his usual phenomenal standard that very morning. Excitement over, we drifted off to what little sleep there was left to grab before my alarm went off 1.35am and our holiday really started. We made it to Gatwick in good time and got ourselves checked in without too many problems around the extra suitcase of food and medicine that we had once again arranged to carry free of charge with Easyjet. Both G and M managed extremely well given our early start and we were soon to be found sitting in the airport Starbucks, enjoying our drinks of choice and playing a few rounds of the newly acquired Marvel Avengers Top Trumps and other travel games. Our holiday adventures were about to begin!
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:
With 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.
This epic event was our first overnight stay away from home since M had his tube back in December and I drew up
thousands… hundreds…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.
When originally planning our 2 weeks “doing” Orlando, Mike and I made the conscious decision not to visit any of the multitude of water-parks you can find there. As much as both children enjoy swimming, M’s recent struggles with his bowels meant that we were uncertain of how well he would cope with a day in, out and around the swimming pool, so instead, we opted for 2 other water-themed parks: Discovery Cove and Seaworld.
One of the things I was keen for the children to experience (and to be perfectly honest me too) was swimming with dolphins and where better to give this a go than at Discovery Cove. This idyllic haven is hidden away in central Orlando and it transports you away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks almost as soon as you step through the doors. We arrived early, booked in for our dolphin adventure and then headed off to the beautiful beaches and pools to find a place to camp out for the day. The park only allows a maximum of 1,300 people entry on any given day, which ensures that there is room enough for everyone to enjoy what’s on offer. We settled next to a pool where you could swim with stingrays and other tropical fish and then headed off to the main restaurant to talk to the chef about breakfast and lunch.
Discovery Cove is a very different experience to the others in Orlando as your ticket price covers all your food and drink for the day including breakfast, lunch and snacks and they request that you don’t take any of your own into the park with you. My initial email to their special assistance team had resulted with their Head chef calling us at home to discuss the day of our visit and M’s food requirements. They were able to offer M and G a good choice of foods for both meals and, even better, had 3 allergy-friendly snack boxes that were readily available at all of the food concession locations and included M-friendly treats such as fruit snacks, Orgran Outback animal biscuits, pretzels and portions of houmous. Food sorted for the day – and maybe a few extra snacks too – we spent the day lazing in the sun and learning how to snorkel amongst the fish.
The highlight of the day was, quite obviously, our swim with the dolphins. M had been nervous as he’s not the strongest or most confident of swimmers, but there was no need. The trainer encouraged both M and G to feed, pet and even kiss our dolphin, Clipper, before their individual swims and they loved every moment of it, despite the cold temperature of the water! M was able to do the “shallow” swim, which allowed his feet to comfortably reach the bottom at all times whilst still being pulled along by the dolphin. G, Mike and I took part in the “deep” swim and the thrill was exhilarating. All in all, we had an amazing day, M and G were desperate to do it all again and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone.
Marks out of 10: 10 – a real once in a lifetime experience for all the family and the food offerings were impressive too
Having had such an amazing experience at Discovery Cove, we were keen to see how their neighbour, Seaworld would compare. The day started well, with efficient service at guest relations to issue our disability access pass and a park map that indicated where allergy-friendly foods could be found. We set off on our way around the park and G and M were delighted by the various displays and shows we could see. First, we oohed and aahed at the amazing dolphins and beautiful birds of the “Blue Horizons” show, which instantly drew a response from G that she’s planning to work at Seaworld training dolphins when she’s older; and later laughed and disappointingly didn’t get splashed by the mighty killer whales in “One Ocean“, despite M’s best efforts of sitting us in the splash zone!
Due to the wealth of food available to us at Disney – an opportunity that we’d certainly taken full advantage of – we didn’t feel hungry enough to need to investigate our food options until we got to lunchtime. The children were excited to see an allergy-friendly pizza restaurant on the map and we headed there with our fingers crossed that we might be able to enjoy pizza for a change. Disappointingly, we once again hit a problem. The gluten-free pizza base came ready topped with tomato sauce and cheese, instantly rendering it unsuitable for both G and M. I was surprised to find this was the case, but quickly ushered the children away from there and headed off to the next location.
Two locations later, I finally stumbled into the Spice Mill restaurant and met their allergy server and chef, who discussed our needs and what options were available to us. Both children settled on burgers, served in allergy-friendly rolls with a side of fries for G and a hefty portion of water-melon for M. We were able to jump the queue and, as we paid, the server prepared our food and brought it to us as quickly as possible.
Lunch finally sorted, we spent the afternoon in Antarctica with the penguins and getting extremely wet on the impressive “Journey to Atlantis” log flume ride, before Mike and I took G and M out on the lake in pink flamingo pedalos. It was another good day and despite the uncertain start, lunch turned into a great success.
Marks out of 10: 8 – the children loved seeing the shows and the animals, but we were let down by the assumption that gluten-free pizza with cheese could be considered fully allergy-friendly.
As well as our successful days at DIsney and our disappointing foray to Universal, Mike and I treated the children to a day out at Legoland Florida. We are big fans of the Legoland Windsor resort and had a marvellous visit there last summer with our friends from the wonderful charity, FABED, so were excited to make a visit to the bigger and better (well it’s American so it had to be, right?) Floridian version. This theme park is situated on the site of the old Cypress Gardens and has kept a relatively small portion of the original park at the centre of the new one. It’s around a 45-minute drive from Disney and was easy enough to find once we were headed in the right direction. The park was surprisingly empty upon our arrival and we headed straight to Guest Relations to see if we could get a disability access pass (or their equivalent) for M. The pass was issued without question and Mike then asked about what allergy information they had available and how we could manage this during our visit. The very helpful guest relations staff member knew there was a hard copy somewhere of this information, but sadly couldn’t put her hands on whilst we were in the office. No matter, she reassured us, it was all available online. Great, I thought, I could hop onto their website using my tablet and work out where we could safely eat. Ah no, Legoland Florida has no wi-fi available in the park, so it was actually impossible to see any of the information we had been advised to access.
Being seasoned travellers with M and G, of course, we had our trusty rucksack full of safe foods and reasoned that we could and would think on our feet when it came to lunchtime. My notes from our day trip record that it was “good, but not the well-oiled machine that WDW is”. The queues were painfully slow and the service not massively efficient. Their staff members appeared, for the most part, to not be terribly enthusiastic in their roles and I felt it would benefit from finding more customer service orientated staff. Mike had to wait for nearly 30 minutes just to get to the front of the queue to ask whether they could accommodate food allergies at that particular food concession unit. There was a copy of an allergy menu there, but we were disappointed to discover after ordering that the allergy-friendly “plain” burger was served with cheese!
We each picked our ride of choice from the map and started heading our way around the extensive grounds to make sure we made the most of our one day there. Many of the rides were similar to those found in Windsor and the children had a great time revisiting some of their old favourites as well as trying out a few of the “new” ones. We enjoyed the US version of Miniland although I was disappointed at how shabby many of the models appeared, especially as you could easily identify where elements were missing due to the telltale marks and empty spaces on the surfaces. Nevertheless, it was fun to see the likes of Las Vegas, Hollywood, the White House, San Francisco and New York depicted in lego.
Unfortunately the weather was somewhat inclement and so many of the rides closed for around an hour or so during the afternoon. We took advantage of the opportunity and explored the original grounds of Cypress Gardens and stood in awe of the amazing Banyan tree that can be found there. We were hoping to see the Pirates water show as M and G love the “Pirates of Skeleton Bay” in Windsor, but the threat of thunderstorms and lightening meant that the final performance was cancelled. Despite all of this, we enjoyed our time there and had plenty to keep us all busy for the day. I would say that Legoland Florida is worth a visit if you, or your children, are lego fans, but in my opinion, Legoland Windsor beats it hands down.
Marks out of 10: 6 – a good attempt, but the queuing system, park maintenance and food available let it down.
The time had finally come and the night before we flew, I sent tweets to both Virgin Holidays and Virgin Atlantic to issue my challenge to meet my holiday expectations and both accepted it immediately.
First up was Virgin Holidays and their Gatwick V-room. As I wrote back at the end of July, I had been promised a supply of rice milk for M as well as some suitable options for his breakfast and I was keen to see just what would be waiting when we got there. Upon arrival, we met the fantastic Dominic, who knew all about M and our request for rice milk. As soon as we found a table for breakfast, he brought the milk over and then spent some time discussing all of M’s allergies and what food they had on offer that might suit him. I was impressed to learn that they stock B-free bread and although it contains egg and therefore isn’t suitable for M, G snapped up the opportunity to have 2 slices of toast as part of her breakfast. Both children also had some cereal with the rice milk and there was fresh fruit and smoothies available for them too. I was hugely impressed with Dominic’s attitude throughout our time there and at no point felt that we were an inconvenience to any of the V-room staff. Even better, we were able to take the remainder of the carton onto our flight with us, which meant we could go on our holiday knowing M had a limited supply of safe milk to hand.
It was then on to our plane and it all started well. The check-in staff had confirmed that the special request meal had been noted on our booking and the cabin crew provided us with a ready supply of ice to keep the cool-bag of medicines cold for the 9+hours we’d be in the air. I was equally impressed that they offered to place our ice packs in their on-board freezer to ensure that we could keep everything cool until we reached our final destination in Orlando. Eventually it was time for the meal and here we hit our first rocky point. I had requested a gluten-free meal for G which quickly turned up, but there was no sign of the requested meal for M. The cabin crew searched high and low for it, but couldn’t find it and we were left with the option of whatever fruit they could get their hands on plus the snacks I had packed to keep M’s appetite filled. Just as I was mentally drafting a letter of complaint to Virgin Atlantic expressing my disappointment at being let down in such dramatic fashion, our air stewardess hurried up with a tray of food and an apology on her lips. The confusion had arisen for 2 reasons: 1) the meal had been prepared with G’s name on it rather than M’s and 2) it had been assigned to the seat number of another passenger who had also requested a special meal and the names had not been cross-checked to make sure everything was right.
Disaster was averted, but only just. The meal prepared was exactly what I had asked for – plain grilled chicken with rice and vegetables and a fantastic fresh fruit salad for dessert – and M tucked in with gusto. We were lucky that the other passenger had not started eating the meal before the mistake was identified and I’m glad to say that our return flight was not plagued with the same problem, although it still appeared that G had 2 meals (both the gluten-free and special request meals being assigned to her name), whilst M had none! I hadn’t considered that a smaller snack would also be provided on the flight and was delighted Virgin Atlantic had thought further ahead than I had and provided another delicous fresh fruit platter for M to enjoy safely.
I have been really impressed with how well both branches of the Virgin family accommodated our needs and requests on the flights and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone going on holiday with special medical needs. We didn’t run into any unexpected problems with our travel arrangements and I will definitely consider travelling with them again.
It’s that time of year when months, weeks or maybe just days of frantic planning come to fruition and families across the UK enjoy a week or two away from it all. Whether it’s time in the sun, travels to far-flung shores or even just a few days experiencing something new in the UK, most of us wouldn’t think much beyond making travel arrangements, booking somewhere to lay our heads and throwing the essentials into a bag. For years my saving grace was the thought that, insulin aside, if I had forgotten anything else even vaguely important, as long as we had money, we could pop to the shops to find a replacement.
Once you have children with chronic illnesses or food allergies, everything suddenly becomes that tiny bit more difficult. No longer can you risk forgetting any part of the equipment or medicines you need to get your child through each day. No longer can you assume that you will be able to get hold of the gluten-, dairy- or any other allergen-free food that your child needs to remain healthy. And you have to consider what you would do if any one of your “what if” worst case scenarios was to actually happen. With all of these things to complicate what should be a fun and relaxing time away from home, it’s no wonder that many families living with chronic illness choose to holiday at home, or within reasonable spitting distance, so that many of those concerns are alleviated.
Whether you consider it courageous or complete and utter madness, we’ve never been a family to stay close to home. Mike and I both love travelling and have chosen to nuture a similar passion and willingness to explore the unknown in our children. Part of that has no doubt been fuelled by our want to go back to Canada regularly to visit family and friends and over the last couple of years we’ve developed strategies to help us cope with travelling with M. I carry doctors letters and copy prescriptions for both M and me in with our passports and last year discovered that we’re entitled to ask for additional luggage allowance to carry all of M’s medicines and foods with us free of charge.
With all this in mind, and our plans for this year’s holiday well under way, I contacted our travel company and airline to discuss our needs. This year is our “holiday of a lifetime” as we are going to Florida to enjoy all things Disney and Universal before spending a relaxing week on the beach in St Petersburg and I want it to be as straightforward as it possibly can be given the challenges of EGID and multiple food allergies. Planning for this trip started months ago and I had drawn up a list of things I wanted to find out to make our holiday as stress-free as possible. My first set of questions was all to do with our flight out and I contacted the Virgin Atlantic Special Assistance team to talk over our needs. I was quickly reassured that, as before, we could carry all of M’s medicines and foods in an extra suitcase and was advised to make sure I had copy prescriptions and doctors letters with me to make our security experience as smooth as possible. They’ve also added a note to M’s booking to make it clear to all staff that we are entitled to carry extra luggage free of charge for medical reasons. A big tick there that there will be no problems carrying M’s medical supplies.
Next the small matter of M’s in-flight meal. I couldn’t imagine that any of the special meals on offer were going to avoid the wide range of allergens we needed them to, but again the Special Assistance team were able to help. I sent an email with a full list of the foods M can’t eat and then followed it up with a phone-call. The lady I spoke to agreed that it would be difficult to accommodate him with their standard meals, but asked what, if anything, would suit him.
“Plain chicken and rice,” said I, “with no butter or sauces added and a few vegetables on the side.”
“Leave it with me,” she said.
A couple of hours later an email popped into my inbox. “I’ve spoken to the catering staff and they will make plain chicken and rice as requested for M for the flight. I’ve passed on a complete list of his allergies for their reference, so please let us know if anything changes between now and your flight. I’ve added all this information to your booking.” I was amazed at just how easy adapting a meal to suit M was, but because I’m something of a worrier, I gave VA a quick call last week to confirm everything was okay for the meals. “Yes absolutely.” said the man I spoke to this time round. “I can see this meal marked on M’s booking and this list of foods to avoid. Is that all correct?” They’d even had the sense to annotate the return flight too, so I can be confident that M will be eating something safe in both directions. They also suggested we carry a supply of safe snacks in our hand luggage (another extra bag could be carried free of charge if it was necessary), so that M won’t go hungry during the flights.
The final element was our booking in the V-room airport lounge before we make our flight. A complete breakfast menu is available to us, but scanning my eyes down the list of food, I could see that there was little on there that would be safe for either child, though G had a few more options than M. This time I contacted Virgin Holidays as they run the airport lounges and asked what our options were. I was given a list of foods that are M-friendly and advised to ask to speak to the chef when we arrive at the lounge to discuss what M would like for his breakfast. They stock gluten-free foods as a matter of course and whilst they had soya milk as an alternative for dairy, this wouldn’t suit M. Once again I was told that this wasn’t a problem and was hugely impressed to receive a follow-up email telling me that the chef of the V-room had contacted their suppliers and would get in some rice milk just for M on the day of our flight. What more could an allergy-Mummy ask for?
Of course, there are no guarantees that any of this will work out as planned and I am cautious enough to be taking supplies sufficient to meet our needs as we make the trip to the US. I will, naturally, let you all know how it goes once we’ve made our flight!