Posts tagged ‘family holidays’

August 21, 2012

Ventnor Botanic Garden: a moment of solitude

One of my favourite places on the Isle of Wight is the Ventnor Botanic Garden. The location of the garden means it is really well protected from the elements giving it a unique micro-climate. This means that they are able to grow many subtropical plants outdoors and on a sunny day it feels a million miles away from Great Britain. I never get the chance to see all of it in one visit, as my family are less enthralled by gardens than I am, so I have to prioritise the parts I want to see on any particular visit and make a beeline for them. One of the parts I’ve not made it to yet is the Hop Garden, where they grow the hops that will eventually become TropicAle, their own beer!

One of the truths about going on holiday with small children is that it’s not terribly relaxing. Although its lovely to spend time together, without the daily grind of school and work to think about, it’s generally not going to involve much lazing around in the sunshine reading a book. More like relentless noise and activity, and sometimes, to be honest, I find it a bit overwhelming.

On my flying visit to the Ventnor Botanic Garden this year, I decided to visit the New Zealand and Australia garden, one of my favourite parts. I love the Australian garden in particular as it is predominantly planted with Eucalyptus, the smell of which beings back memories of a wonderful trip across South Australia and Victoria, which I was stunned to realise the other day was ten years ago!

On my way back to the playground to meet up with my family (and what a great idea to have a playground, making it possible for me to be there at all!), I was distracted by the most beautiful flowering Eucalyptus I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately I forgot to make a note of the name, but I will try to track it down because I’ve fallen a bit in love with it. The peeling orange-red bark, the fine pointed silvery-green and pink  leaves, and the contrast between those and the white fluff of the flowers made for the most remarkable colour combination.

I stood for ages just gazing at it, when I noticed an older woman doing the same thing.

We chatted for a while about this amazing tree, then I confessed that I must go because I’d left my children and husband in the playground. On hearing this, she turned to me and said “Oh, but when you have small children, time spent alone is essential, my dear. Don’t ever feel bad about taking some time for yourself.” Then she smiled and went on her way.

So, I’m going to take her advice and make sure that I get a little time alone every so often and that my husband does too. He will probably be on a bike. I will probably be in a garden…

How do you like to find peace in a busy life? I’d love to hear about it. 

July 30, 2012

Slow Travel

I’ve long been a fan of train travel. Partly because I’m quite scared of flying and partly because I’m drawn to the history and romance of rail (even though the commuting reality can be somewhat different!) it’s been my favourite way to get about for a long time, bikes and horses notwithstanding. Whenever we go on holiday in the UK, I always hunt down the local steam railway too. It’s an unashamedly rose-tinted view of history, I know, but I adore steam engines and have a lot of admiration for the people who volunteer to keep them going.

North York Moors Steam Railway

Spurred on by thoughts of slow travel, I’ve been reading Dan Keiran’s ‘The Idle Traveller‘ and it’s made me go back to thinking about long distance rail travel with the kids. On our annual Parisian pilgrimage we always go by train. We just prefer it to flying. And I’m not even talking about environmental benefits, well-known as they are. I just find airports really intimidating, so they make me anxious and I spend most of my time watching the departures board and holding my breath. Then I have to get on the plane and get the plane into the air by the sheer force of my brainpower alone, judging from the white-knuckled way I grip the seat. I’m not so bad once we’re in the air, but landing makes me close my eyes and clutch at the seat again, praying to whoever might be listening that we make it to the ground safely. And I know that I’m more likely to be killed in a car than on a plane, but tell that to my heaving stomach! As you can imagine, I make a far better travelling companion on a train than on a plane…

Compare that with the sheer beauty of London St Pancras station and rail travel is already looking like a winner. The train connection (apart from having to run from King’s Cross, as the Leeds to London connection is always a little bit late) is a lot more straightforward and less scary. Leaving London and arriving at Gare du Nord in central Paris is so much better for my stress levels than getting to CDG airport and having to manage the connection from there.  But, no matter how many times I go to Paris on the train, whenever I’ve gone further into Europe (and leaving aside my university coach tour of Hungary and the Czech Republic) I’ve always gone by plane. Even though I’ve had my copy of The Man in Seat 61 and Flight-Free Europe for ages, I’ve I’ve never got past reading and dreaming. And that’s before I’ve even thought about my Bucket List rail journey; The Trans-Siberian Express, via Mongolia where I will disembark to see Pzrewalski’s Horses in the National Park…

Ooh, drifted off for a moment there. Where was I?

Oh, yes. I think that I’ve always been put off longer distance rail travel with the kids because I’ve been worried that they will get bored and that it will be really stressful. But, what if I re-think this? What if the journey itself is the point, rather than something to be borne with gritted teeth until we get to the destination? Keiran makes the point that during his rail journeys he has met many interesting people and seen things that would have been completely missed by anyone flying from A to B, which makes me think back to my own rose-tinted view of rail travel. Besides, I’m about to read a chapter called ‘Embrace Disaster’ which I’m sure will cover my fears of the kids getting bored! Mark Smith, the wonderful Man in Seat 61 also invokes that feeling in me that long-distance rail travel with kids is entirely possible, because of the way he recounts his own journeys on his brilliant and massively inspiring site. I’m also in love with the idea of sleeper trains, they feel terribly romantic, as though you might be a character in an Agatha Christie novel, but without the murderous intent.

The train is perhaps more expensive than flying but there are a few things to think about. On many train lines, children have a reduced or free seat price for longer than on a plane. There are fewer, if any, surcharges for baggage, priority boarding, calling the customer service line or using your card to pay for things, like there are if you travel with some budget airlines. And if the sleeper train provides a decent night of sleep, perhaps it reduces the amount of nights you might need in a hotel. Also, the idea of train travel is filling me with glee, unlike the plane which fills me with dread.

So, perhaps next year we’ll go to Europe on the train. Take a sleeper train from Paris to Italy. Or Spain. Or, more likely, just to Disneyland Paris to start with! But if we see the journey as part of the adventure, who knows where we might end up going?…

Have you done any long distance rail travel, alone or with your kids? I’d love to hear about your experiences!