Devin Castle day: Archery, History and Dragons! (Well, in our head it was Dragonstone!)

On our way to our next stop (Brno, Czech Rep.) we planned to pop into Devin Castle, not far from Bratislava and near the border with Austria. It’s mostly ruins sat on an outcrop and looks like a set directly out of A Game of Thrones. (DragonStone, perhaps?!). There is a fantastic set up there with a few restaurants and a play park at the bottom of the hill. So seeing as we arrived at lunchtime we took advantage of this. Om nom nom!


We then climbed the short hill to the Castle (€4 each adult entry), having a go at archery and checking out some Stone Age tools and medieval weapons on the way. 


There’s currently no access up the the top part of the castle, which was a shame. But it was still spectacular. The views were amazing and just being there transported you back in time (or to Westeros if that’s what’s in your imagination.) It’s my favourite castle. I’ve never had a favourite castle before! 


We spent much longer there than anticipated, but it was such a great place, we’re so glad we did. It did mean a late ETA for our next stop in Brno… Which is another story!!!

An afternoon IN Lake Garda! Swim and kayak (Day 12 of Europe Road Trip)

A trip to Lake Garda wouldn’t be complete without a trip INTO Lake Garda. We’re a water loving family, so hoped to find a beach where we could paddle, splash about and maybe hire a pedallo or something. 

We first tried a beach that a lovely German family we met we’re going to that afternoon in the hope to meet up – but the car park was full so we decided to continue north and see what we found. We love all the tunnels through the rock that the lake roads wind in and out of and got quite excited that there were actually exits from the tunnels to get to places! So we took one to a place called Campione, that we knew nothing about. Well, it must have been fate, because said beach was a water sports beach! 

There were loads of people out windsurfing and kite surfing and on SUP’s (Stand Up Paddleboard) and sit on top kayaks that you could hire. I really want to try SUP’ing at some point, but thought this would be unfair on the kids because I don’t think I could have taken them as a passenger! I might not even be able to do it myself!

So firstly, we had a swim and a splash and Pip got very brave with his swimming, going well out of his depth! Bee wasn’t so keen, however, so I went and hired a sit on top kayak for €10 for an hour. I have a decent amount of kayaking experience from my uni days, so felt confident to take the kids out. And really happy to be sat with a double ended paddle again! (We only have canoes at work, not that I’ve been in one for ages!). We all had a great time, and Mike managed to not capsize (unlike on Derwent  water a few years ago…)! The kids loved it! Bee was very expressive of this during her first go, turning round to me and saying “I exited! I excited, mummy, to go in boat! I excited! Eeeeeeeee!”. So cute ☺️

Here’s some piccies. They get blurrier and blurrier as my ‘life proof’ phone case got some moisture in a couple of months ago (dropped it in swimming pool shower!) that I haven’t got round to sorting. But they make for a fancy filter, right? Instagram, eat your heart out! 

A fantastic afternoon 🙂

Agriturismo Cervano and Lake Garda – overview Days 9-14 :)

Lake Garda was stunning. Agriturismo Cervano was amazing.  So they get a blog of their own! (I’ll do a couple of blogs for the 0ther stuff we did while at Lake Garda)

Agriturismo Cervano is on the hillside above and slightly north of Toscolano Maderno, about half way down the West side of Lake Garda. It is a converted farm that has been in the owners family for ~200 years (I think this is what we were told!). On their advice we took the north side, via a golf course, to get there from the main lake road. It was mostly a single track with a few passing places… Apparently the other way in is worse! Despite us being used to driving on narrow Cumbrian roads, we’re glad we took their advice! Once through their gate there was still a few minutes of switchbacks through the olive groves before the view opened out to the charming rustic converted farm buildings. 


The outside of the buildings were not ‘polished’ like a posh hotel, but tidied enough to look authentic and keep their character, without being tatty.
We were met by the owner Gino who gave us a very warm welcome and tour of our appartment and some of the grounds. We later met his daughter, Silvia, who was the perfect host throughout or stay. Very helpful and attentive, without being interfering. Inside the appartment the decor was both modern and traditional, keeping the character of the buildings while still being clean, chic and stylish. We got an appartment with three bedrooms, with the dream of children going to sleep more easily and us having our own room… A couple of the nights we both slept the full night in our bed, but mostly one of us was in with the little princess! 

Bee’s and our rooms were on the bottom floor along with the lounge/kitchen/diner and main bathroom.

The third bedroom, which we gave to Pip, was on a mezzanine level in the loft space. Not perfect at Bee’s age, but Pip was very good about it. He even got his own bathroom, and there was a little cubby/walk in wardrobe bit which worked perfectly as a little play room/den for them both 🙂 

 

It was absolutely perfect for the ‘holiday’ part of our Europe road trip – luxury inside, rustic and natural outside. The buildings and grounds were superb to chill out in with the kids. They even had some little electric rode on vehicles in one of the courtyards – a wonderful surprise for our two speedy heads!

 The main buildings have a wildflower meadow to one side, just a few steps from the door and nestled below the mountain side. 



It was literally alive with wildlife! The cicadas were persistent in their song, which was both deafening and peaceful at the same time. Bees and butterflies busied theirselves around the flowers, and if you stepped through the meadow, dozens of grasshoppers and crickets leapt away from your feet with every step. It was all so magical and we loved catching (and releasing) anything we could. This lead to the kids leaping round the meadow in persuit of very evasive grasshoppers! Luckily I’m a bit more skilled at the acquisition of invertebrates, so Bee got to ‘hold’ a few things. Pip just looked closely, he’s a bit squirmish!



There is a lovely viewpoint which opens up into a panorama of the lake. There’s seating and a table and fairy lights in a dome created from the trees.


One of my favourite memories is calling Mike and the Kids in from the window of our appartment for their tea, when they were playing up at the viewpoint. I felt like I lived there! I could get used to that! 


Tea on that particular night was a sort of risotto type thing, with a bunch of amazing veg I got at the local supermarket… Which was an experience! You had to wear a plastic glove to choose them and then weigh and label it yourself – not at all what I’m used to in England where we have bare hands and the cashiers weigh and price it. 


I also bought a giant watermelon. Just because “I carried a watermelon”! (If you don’t know that quote, shame on you! And watch Dirty Dancing!). We never ate the watermelon, and had to leave it there. But I carried it. (See!)

Anyway, enough of my melon. Where were we… 

There’s so much to do around Lake Garda and so varied, there really is something for everyone. We got a good mix of stuff done, I think, with a visit to Verona, a trip across the lake and up the cable car to Monte Baldo and an afternoon of swimming and kayaking at Campione. (All of which I will blog about seperatly). I could have spent all my time at Cervano, either lounging around or exploring. We did a days worth of this at the start and end of our trip. It was so relaxing to chill out at one of the many tables and chairs scattered around.


 One time we played ‘Go Find It’ which is a treasure hunt game with pre made cards. I wasn’t best pleased with Bee’s choice for ‘smelly’. But she wasn’t wrong!


When we weren’t trying to be lazy by sending the kids running about while we lounged, we loved just mooching round the grounds and finding all the little ‘hidden gems’. 


I just want to live here. I love it!

18 hours in Innsbruck -Ski Jumps and Sightseeing busses! (Day 8 of Europe Road Trip)

To say that our stay in Innsbruck was brief, we managed to do quite a lot thanks to the sightseeing bus.    We arrived quite late the previous evening, and managed to get the kids to sleep pretty easily in our quadruple room. The next morning at breakfast we made a packed lunch for the evening, and Pip discovered he loves natural yoghurt and pretty much devoured the whole serving bowl! 
After that we packed up so we were ready to head straight off later, and ventured out to the sightseeing tour bus stop, a 5 (15!) minute walk down the road. On boarding the bus we learnt that they only take cash, and we didn’t have enough! Luckily the driver took pity on us and let us on anyway, phew! 


Our first ‘hop off’ was for the Olympic ski jump at Bergisel. It’s €9 entry for adults and our kids were free (I’m afraid I can’t remember the cut off age.). The gentleman as the desk was very kind and gave us ‘cash-back’ too after we asked if there was a cash machine – meaning we could actually pay for the sightseeing bus that we’d already done a third of the circuit on! 


What a sight it was! After getting the funicular/lifty thing to the top, and then heading to the top of the tower, the panoramas of Innsbruck and the mountains were stunning. And the ski jump was spectacular, belly turning just to imagine whizzing down there. 


We got more than just imagining though, as a local ski jumper (Andreas Zoller) was there practising (in between studying medicine!). He was a really nice guy and chatted with us, and I managed to get some cool footage of his jumps. Once from the restaurant and again from the middle stop of the lift, where I got the über cool ski-mo from! 

​​

After waiting for to see that, we were almost late for the next bus – but it was worth it! Innsbruck is a beautiful city with some really ornate buildings which we wouldn’t have seen on foot (because we wouldn’t have got very far!). I didn’t get any pics though. When Bee was with me she was a wiggly nightmare, and Pip fell asleep!

Our next ‘hop off’ was based around lunch. A few days prior I’d discovered the http://www.glutenfreeroads.com website by the gluten free brand Schär. It shows you the locations and info and reviews of recognised restaurants that cater for gluten free. We went to a well known chain called Vapiano who do Italian food. They were brilliant! I over explained Pip’s condition (they were well aware of coeliac/zöliakie disease!), and I was really pleasantly surprised to find they only used gluten free flour for all of their dusting etc – so the only gluten was in the previously prepped dough! And it was the best gluten free pizza we’d ever had! Pip polished off a full sized salami one (minus the crusts)!

Hbhyggerrep

After lunch we did the rest of the tour us to take us back to the car, and head south to Lake Garda. We stopped at the north of the lake and had our ‘packed lunch’ from Innsbruck on the promemade. A beautiful taster for the next few days 🙂




Paradise 🙂

Aaand we’re off! Europe Road trip – Day 0: Packing up and catching the overnight ferry (Newcastle to Amsterdam)

After spending ALL of Monday packing, we were pretty confident we could be away on Tuesday morning for our epic adventure. We didn’t dobadly! I got the last bits together and everything was packed for 9am. It was then Mike’s turn to wind down the house: tidying up, locking windows and doors, turning off electrics etc. I took the kids out of the way and went to get gluten free Sarnies etc for tea on the boat. We got back at our planned departure time of 10am. And we managed to set off at 11am… After kids toilet trips, quadruple checking house security, chucking a bag loads of random stuff into the car that we hadn’t packed, and may not need, but it was there and there were spaces to fill! 

Our trusty steed, and roof box, all packed up andbready to roll!

This is us! Yes, i know, i I got a sticker for my blog… I couldnt resist at only £2.50 for two!

We’ve definitely got the passports! I checked them 5 minutes ago!

Pip already managed to nearly break the brand new multi usb charger in the car before we’d even left our drive! But luckily (for him!) it was superficial damage, and we were on our way with smiles on our faces 🙂

Well, most of us had smiles. One of us had the nervous thumb in mouth.
It’s a couple of hours journey to the port at Newcastle, and the journey was pretty uneventful fortunately. The car remained dry on the inside *phew*! We did put Bee in a pull up, but with multiple stops to empty them both, the pull up stayed dry! Hurrah! Most of these stops were, of course, about 5-10 minutes AFTER a planned stop. “I NEED A WEE!” One of them says, quickly repeated by the other, 10 minutes after we leave Scotch Corner services. 

Wild wees occur frequently whe we’re out and about…


We had a late lunch of gluten free fish n chips at Pantrini’s in Whitley Bay. They were brilliant! We rang ahead to verify what we’d read on their website about providing gluten free, and they took our order and got the gluten free fryer fired up so we only had a few minutes wait when we got there 🙂 They were great about cross contamination too, washing hands between handling, and asking about whether we wanted separate bags etc. And above all, they were delicious! Thumbs up from our little coeliac!

Thumbs up for Pantinis gluten free fish n chips in Whitley Bay!

Our ferry booking info said we were to be at the port at least 90 minutes prior to departure. So we got there at 3pm for our 5pm sailing, feeling smug and prepared. 

We promptly got directed to our waiting lane where, for the next hour and a half we moved 5 car lengths while watching all the other lanes board the boat; cursed at all the cars who got there after us but got on the boat first; the kids had two wees each at the side of the car; Pip turned into a whingey teenager: “I want to get on the boat!” (So do we) “Why can’t we get on the boat?!” (We don’t know), “When is it our turn?!” (We don’t know, look, an aeroplane!), “This is booooooring” (Yes. Yes it is. Eye spy with my…); I caught 2 Pokemon (nothing exciting); we face timed grandad; and eventually about ten minutes before the boat pulled away from port, we were let in, as one of the last handful of cars at the back of the boat. *grumpy face*

we were literally right at the back!

The cabin was comfy and cosy, and not actually as small as I imagined.

Our cosy cabin


 We paid a little extra for an outside cabin and scored a view at the front of the boat! Awesome! *que inside version of that Titanic scene*

Our ‘Captains view’!

Once settled in, we headed out on deck to wave goodbye to England for 5 weeks.

Farewell England! Perhaps we’ll seek citizenship elsewhere in the EU… Oh wait.

We then headed to the ‘kids lounge’ so they could burn off some energy. 

The kids lounge. Where the kids play and the adults drink.

Dont anyone EVER let these two know that you can put money in these things !


There is a ball pool, Lego, a film on (Frozen), soft play, crafts (Pip did his usual chop a piece of paper into pieces), and a bunch of other toys. And it was close to a bar, so we had a lovely grown up drink while the kids played…

A ‘nice relaxing drink’. imaging sipping a mohito at soft play. yeah, that.


 Oh wait, that’s right, we have a clingy two year old who wanted in on my mojito action! She did go play eventually though 🙂

Though the cabin was comfy and nice, the night could have gone more smoothly! Two giddy kids does not make for an easy bed time! After half an hour of on and off cmscreaming from Bee, she finally allowed me to cuddle her in her bed. Which is where we both slept through the night… Apart from 3 wees and Pip falling out of bed! 

In the morning we were woken by he the ships wake up call announcement that is played through all rooms. It was actually a nice gently announcement. Which you would believe if you saw Pips reaction! He sprang out of bed, and hurried to about 3 different parts of the room before bashing his head on the top bunk and falling back into his!!! It was like when you let a balloon go without tying it and it whizzes all over, and then comically falls to the ground!

Once Pip had gotten over being rudely awakened by a multilingual omnipotent voice, we went for outer breakfast. There was a fantastic selection, and enough naturally gluten free things for Pip to eat. They also had gluten free gluten vrij bread for our little coeliake, which he enjoyed with choccy spread 🙂

Land ahoy! We arrived at Ijmuidem (Amsterdams port), ready to wave off our boat and start our trek across Europe.

Land Ahoy!

Look, flag!


Random Observation: in the loos there is a special bin for safety pins, needles and umbilical cord clamps.

Bin for safety pins, needles and umbilical cord clamps.

5 Week Europe Road Trip… With a 4 yr old coeliac and a potty training 2 year old!

 On the 26th July our family will be departing on an amazing adventure round Europe! We’ll be in our trusty Ford Kuga with a roof box, with our 4 year old coeliac and potty training 2 year old… What could go wrong?!

I was itching to travel again now the kids are a bit older (4 and 2 years), and the opportunity arose when we were invited to my cousins wedding in Poland at the end of August. “Let’s make a trip of it!” I said… And somehow my husband agreed! We’ve managed to get 5 weeks off work, so we’re actually properly really off!

Places we are either going or interested in going. google maps app screenshot.

It’s been really really exciting planning the route… I’m a geography geek, especially when it comes to maps and GIS. So using google earth and google maps app for something so real to us has been great!

 

Trip planning spreadsheet! I’ve been in my element making this! Great overview of the trip, accommodation and costs, kilometerage, and ideas of things to do. Really helped make sure we’re not cramming too much in.

I also love a good spreadsheet, so have one set up to help make sure we have a balanced trip regarding number of stops and travel time etc. It’s even colour coded by region!

I really have been in my element! 😂 It’s saved on Microsoft One Drive too, so I can play with it on the MacBook or my iPhone, meaning it can come with us – ahhhhh, tech geek bliss.

I’m usually more of a spontaneous traveller. Pre children, we had a couple of trips (UK and France), where we just followed the road and found somewhere to stay on the day. But with two small children in tow, we don’t want to run the risk of not finding anywhere, or ending up somewhere awful. So we’ve got most of the trip booked.

I’ve been using the Booking.com app for the majority of our accommodation. Another tech dream, as it automatically adds the accommodation and dates to google maps and I can easily save them to Apple wallet.

So… Here’s where we’re going!

Night 1: Ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam

Night 2: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Night 3: Bacharach, Germany

Night 4: Baden-Baden (Black Forest), Germany

Night 5-7: Black Forest (central), Germany

Night 8-9: Innsbrük, Austria

Night 10-14: Lake Garda, Italy

Night 15: Venice, Italy

Night 16: Ljubljana, Slovenia (how is Ljubljana pronounced?!)

Night 19: Lake Balaton, Hungary

Night 20-25: Budapest, Hungary (Sziget Festival – Hungary’s Glasto, and visiting relatives!)

Night 26-27: Undecided (probably a route through Bratilslava and eastern Czech Reublic to Wroclaw.)

Night 28-32: Wroclaw, Poland (Wedding!)

Night 33-34: Berlin, Germany

Night 35: Lübeck, Germany

Night 36: Bremen, Germany

Night 37-38: Somewhere near Efteling Fantasie Park, Netherlands

Night 39: Ferry back from Amsterdam to Newcastle

Yes, we’re a bit mad! We’re aware there will be many challenges. But I think we’re prepared! (Ha!)

We don’t have many set plans for each place, so any hints and tips would be most welcome!

I’ll be blogging throughout the trip, so I’ll leave it at that for now, and update soon!

M x

Campervan Adventures: Storms, a bad choice of car park and a tow home from Scunthorpe = home early!

Well, that was… Erm… Memorable. Yes, we’ll not be forgetting this trip in a hurry! There were many good points, but I think the universe has told us in no uncertain terms, that camper vanning is not for us!

Firstly, an over 6ft husband who doesn’t like confined spaces (not claustrophobic, but he doesn’t do well cooped up), should have clued me in to this eventually failing. I really enjoyed the van and the kids thought it was really exciting. But Daddy had other views. And I think Pip probably isn’t one for being cooped up either!

 

our makeshift playpen!

 
We did, however, manage to make it to the North East and camped in he national park near Kielder. The Stars were amazing and the facilities and staff at Bellingham Camping and Caravaning Club were great. 

   
 
The next morning we met a family from Australia with kids the same age as Pip and Bee. They’d been touring round Europe towing caravan for the last year! Inspirational!

We then headed towards Newcastle to make use of the 4G to replan our next move due to the incoming storms and severe weather warnings for Scotland, our initial destination. After spending our first night on our drive, pretty much under the only patch of weather warning, we figured we’d avoid any more! 

 

Our first night in the camper van was at home, pretty much under the weather warning..,

 
We decided to head south after a stop for food and a visit to the Angel of the North.

   
   
   
 
We ended up in Bridlington, a favourite of mine when growing up in Yorkshire. However, we arrived at night and only the security guard was there and had no idea of our earlier booking. He then took the best part of an hour to sort us out. *sigh* But alas, we finally got to pitch and sleep.

The next day we headed to The Deep in Hull, which was AWESOME! So awesome I will do a separate blog for that at some point. I think this was the highlight of the trip for us all. It’s only about 30 mins from my Aunties though, so not somewhere we’d need to be on holiday for. 

That is actual ‘reef’, not a picture! and that is Bee’s posed smile 😆

But that evening I made a bad choice…

My Aunt was away so we decided to ‘wild camp’ in a car park in nearby woodland. Which would have been fine if said car park didn’t have other uses at night time. In the day people walk their dogs… At night I think a similarly named activity occurs! We heard cars coming and going (pun unintended), but fortunately didn’t get a knock on the door! 

Do NOT camp here…

And then it got worse. We awoke the next morning to a flat tyre. We tried to change it but it was properly stuck. Even when hubby jumped up and down on the crank!

Good job we had the rain cover for the buggy 😉

So we got someone out who changed it. But then they also said that both back tyres and spare were too worn (we really should have noticed this!). After a trip to a garage in Scunthorpe they deemed it unsafe due to wear on the brake disks and pads. So, eventually, after 8 hours stuck in Scunthorpe, we got towed back home to Cumbria. Which Pip loved! So that was possibly his favourite bit! (We have got all our money back for the hire!)

Watching the camper get loaded onto the van… from F&B’s… in Scunthorpe.

In conclusion we have decided that a camper van is not for us. Even if we’d not had the issues with vehicle, our decision would have been the same. We’re just gutted we didn’t get to carry on our adventure and visit relatives down south 😦
Here’s some General campervan adventure piccies…

   
  
    
    
    
   

We’ll now be looking at other options for our 5 weeks round Europe next summer! 

Life Unexpected