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Paris with Kids – sightseeing on microscooters

29 September, 2015

We took our kids to Paris a few weeks ago. We considered asking Ramona if she’d like to stay with Aunty Jo while we zipped off with little Juno, because you know, four year olds can be pretty set on what they want to do and a tour around Paris might not be up there! We didn’t want 3 days of conflicting plans. In the end we booked tickets on the Eurostar for all of us and we were so, so, SO glad we did!

We had the BEST time. Paris is a wonder for families – everyone is so friendly towards kids and there are playgrounds everywhere you look and the food is our children’s dream come true!

We spent three days eating huge amounts of carbs and meat, microscooting around the smooth, marble paths and being wowed by the incredible sights.

We took it really easy, and did plan a trip to mirror the needs of our whole family. So, while we were interested in visiting the Louvre, we decided that might be better another time when the kids are better able to understand that we are queuing to see a historically important and heart moving portrait of a mystery woman…

Instead we walked/ scooted a lot and played in a lot of playgrounds and ate a lot of crepes. We hardly spend a penny on activities, opting to spend our cash on the trains and food. (Did I mention food?)

In this post I will start with things to do in Paris with children and will move on to things such as accommodation and things to take… you with me?

(Hey, also, I know it is well weird me blogging about the delights of a European city whilst fully esconsed in a yurt in a forest in NZ… Pahahaha… What can I say? We LOVE the forest and we LOVE cities… So yeah, we are that, erm, unique brand of hippy that guzzles coffee and croissants like there is no tommorow!)

Paris with kids - activities, accommodation and getting around

Things to do in Paris with Kids
There are loads of expensive activities to do with children, but so much to enjoy that is free or cheap too. I think it is all about finding the right balance. We paid for very little, but used everything as a learning experience. When we go back with older kids (ours are 2 and 4) we will probably pay for a few more galleries and museums and things. 

Jardin Luxembourg
We wiled away a lovely afternoon at the Jardin Du Luxembourg – conveniently located right next to the Luxembourg station.  We watched people sailing their boats on the little lake, we paid $7 euros for our family of four to enter the epic, epic playground, and we wandered up and down the tree lined avenues. In the summer months there are puppet shows and a beautiful carousel. We love the general relaxing atmosphere – sheesh, Parisians know how to take it easy! Everyone was just draped over seats and along the grass and we just joined in and people watched. Paris with kids - everything you need to know

Centre Georges Pompidou
This huge cultural centre is astonishing! It costs a fair few quid to get in (£15 per adult which actually isn’t too bad for the floors and floors of exhibits) but the most tantalising part of it for our young children was the huge, huge, HUGE escalator that is outside the building! I can not tell you how much our children buzz out on moving stairs – that is what living in rural NZ does for you – so this was heaven for them! It costs £3 per adult ticket to ride the stairs, but at the top you get the most magnificent views. Possibly the best in Paris. Save that, erm, tower thingy.

Surrounding the centre are lots of little indy markets and some amazing buskers and crepe shops and street art. It is a whole quarter buzzing with life. Paris with kids - world's biggest escalator

Moules and Frites
We saw getting a few massive buckets of mussels as an educational experience. Luckily our kids LOVE seafood – we actually have Mussel Monday every week in our home. We devoured this reasonably priced lunch at Leon in Republique – avec a cool little kids toy pack-  and then headed over to the Marionette statue over the road (see below) to laze around watching skaters.Paris with kids - moules and frites

Place de la Republique
If you are close to Republique (which you will be if visiting Centre Georges Pompidou or eating Moules) it is worth checking out this huge enormous, slightly forgotten square.  We watched the skaters, did a load of scooting, lounged under the enormous Marionette and discussed French history!

Jardin Buttes Chaumont
We scooted and strolled around these Jardins (hehe, said in a very British accent) with the kids for a whole morning. We saw a flautist rehearsing under a tree, and a very loud opera singer practicing her dramatic melodies. Where in the world do you see these things? There are rolling streams that we paddled in and great hills that offer grand views. Find it close to the Buttes Chaumont station.

Big Paris Attractions
Can’t really not mention these whoppers…

Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris
This cathedral is a site to behold and we didn’t even go in! Just astonishing to see and also surrounded by lots of tiny little playgrounds – sandpits, swings, weird roundabouty things. So the children play while the adults scope out the idea way to capture the gothic art for Instagram!

The bridge of locks
Our girls loved checking out Love Lock bridge which is right next to the Cathedral. It was such a sensory experience for them, playing with all these steel symbols of love. We talked about why people might chose to leave a padlock like this, and I regretted not bringing our own little family one. There are other things too… turns out, not just locks. As I was choosing a picture for this post I nearly chose one of Juno handling a little lock right next to a grey pair of lacy knickers before my brain had figured out what they were. EW! Paris with kids - love lock bridge

The Louvre
The Louvre is magnificent outside as well as in, so if you have young kiddos don’t be afraid of just lolling about on the grounds! There is plenty of outdoor art to enjoy (and nipples to squeeze) and general good atmosphere and, of course, KILLER SCOOTING TO BE HAD. Epic. Paris with Kids

The Eiffel Tower
It is set apart from everything but it would be impossible to visit Paris without seeing this astounding monument. It is properly, weirdly, massive and, um, well, a little bit pointless. We opted out of the queues and climbing and enjoyed it from below, we had a little picnic of pastries and Orangina on the vast lawns around it. Ramona absolutely fell head over heels in love with it. We made body shapes like it and as we walked closer to it she was holding up her fingers to almost try and capture it in her hands.

Getting Around
Paris is MASSIVE and there is so much to see. We bought a bumper back of tickets we could use on the metro and bus and simply hopped on and off and did loads of walking/ scooting in between. Our favourite way of seeing cities is walking around – we love the daily hubub of life you see, and we love discovering little corners. Paris with Kids - le Louvre


No bones about it, Paris is expensive to room in. I can’t recommend enough the idea that staying out of the city and getting the train in is easy peasy. So, so much more affordable. We have had lovely stays at different campground – the campground in the very central park Bois Du Bologne is great for access (we rode our bikes in to town in a jiffy – well, that is, AFTER following the Seine round the wrong way for about 1.5 hours … man, Paris was getting dingier and dingier and the roads were really beginning to resemble motorways but the Eiffel Tower seemed to be getting nearer! What the? We soon realised that the weird bending of the river is a bit of a crazy mind trick and we were cycling away from our beloved Gay Paree!)  Sites are small and you HAVE to book otherwise you end up on a craggy patch of grass with all the drunkard students!

We also had a truly delightful stay at the Huttopia campsite in Versailles one year when Ramona was little- that time we drove 12 hours to go to a car boot sale in the South of France. Haha.

However this time round we got the train so couldn’t bring all our camping gear. We did two things, a hotel in town and Air BNB.

There is so much gorgeous accommodation available on Airbnb Paris and if you look around enough you can get some great bargains. We bagged an entire apartment for just over £30 a night and it was completely gorgeous.
If you use this link to sign up right here  then both you and I get £13 added to our accounts which is nice right! And then you get points for inviting your mates… Like a budget accommodation pyramid scheme ha.
This is the place we stayed at. Thanks Maude!

Hotel Eldorado
We also had a rather more expensive, but equally lovely, stay at Hotel Eldorado because Maude’s wasn’t available for our first night and this was recommended to us. It is an old, rustic town house with the kindest staff and the loveliest ambience.  We wandered up the road for a lovely French tapas meal and got croissants across the road in the morning for breaky. Lush.

If your kids scoot and you can trust them not to go to far or be dangerous I recommend taking them with you! It was so incredible being able to walk for miles while our kids scooted happily along on their microscooters! Even Juno who is 2.5 went for almost the whole day scooting along. It felt really safe, and when it didn’t we just held hands. Paris with kids - a family holiday

We also took a fold up buggy so everyone could nap (it was a squash for Tim) (I jest) and the sling too. This meant we could stay up way past bedtime (hahaha, like we have such a thing) and just make our way home with two sleeping, worn out kiddos.

And, finally
In a dash of uncanny timing, I was sent info about this Paris weekend comp – it would be amazing if a reader won this! If not, do consider heading over there anyway, it is so worth it.

Love or hate it?
Would love to hear about your own Paris memories, whatever they are. (My parents and sister hate it, they think it is smelly and too big. Hahaha. I think they are holding onto traumatic memories of winding around the busy Paris streets with two grumpy girls in a groaning VW campervan. My own childhood memory involves waking up in that very van parked right on the kerb in front of the Palace of Versailles where we spent the night in an outrageous bid for a cheap holiday…)Family Travel - paris with kidsRamona took this shot…

Family Travel

“Hey!” says the sea, “come and PLAY!”

27 August, 2015

It’s pouring down with rain… Guess where we are… Last week’s blog post is a clue… YES you betcha baby, we are on the south coast of England camping in the rain again!!  If it wasn’t so ridonkulous we’d cry! 

We are here with the whole fandamiliy for my mama’s birthday, it’s been planned for many a month, otherwise we’d have all sacked it off once they started issuing weather warnings y’know? But here we are! Making the most of it! 

As we walked through the town today, I was composing a blog post in my head called “Things to do on a rainy summer holiday in Britain” featuring things like “Go to the pet shop and stare at the gerbils” and then we turned the corner to the sea and everything changed. 

It was like the whole earth went TADDDAAAA! PRESENTING: Vast Magnificent Sea and Thunderous Make-Your-Problems-Seem-Tiny Clouds.

And there were kids swimming! HA! It is not just rainy, my friends, but freezing, three-jumper-freezing, and there, so determinedly on summer hols, were loads and loads of kids swimming. 

The waves leapt in, towards the concrete promenade, rambunctious and teasing. All the grown ups stood under bright brollies, miserable about the weather, but all the children had answered the call and had stripped off and followed the foaming water in, larking about together. 

 Our five started with their be-wellied feet, then shook those off. Then got their leggings soaked so legs were unwrapped, and then dresses wet, so they were untangled from them too. (Strip poker without the booze and cards.) Then that was it, they crashed right on in and jumped and splashed and swam. 

There was a fizzy energy on the shore, a catching happiness, an almost-giggle that spread from person to person like it did in a stern school assembly when somebody did a fart.  

 It was a giddiness, frankly. I think it was bought on by just watching so many children be utterly delighted in the sea. (It could also have been because for a few seconds we could spy where the sun was in the sky… a faint glow over to the west, behind a few less layers of cloud. The rain became just a faint mist for a few magical moments there.)  

 But I think it was the children taking up the invitation from the sea. The waves had drawn them into a complete ability to be In. This. Moment. Only this one, now, right here. And by watching it, we caught a bit of it, that presence, that being here with every bit of ourselves. It was joy combusted all over the beach like a busted open glow stick that has shaken its neon around. 

Nature is powerful like that. 

And I reckon children are still sensitive to this call of the wild. They can hear it and attend to it, without the inner voice grown-ups have, we’ll be warmer and comfier if we just stay sitting down in our cagoules, checking out other people’s holidays on Facebook. 

Yeah, we will. But we won’t be happier. 

Our kids seasided today like Bosses. There were quite inevitable tears when there wasn’t enough dry clothing to get on to their red, clammy bodies, but they’d had this huge happy connection with earth, each other, themselves- it was so worth it and they  would do it all over again tomorrow, no regrets. 

*checks weather forecast* Ah, yep, we will be doing it all over again tomorrow.

So that’s good! *smiles brightly*   

   PS I have just finished my book! All about this ancient, broken connection with nature, and the invitation extended to us to restore it, and to come alive through it. They are short chapters for busy parents who want to help their family begin a life long love affair with the wild. It’s out on Monday, hooray! Keep your eyes peeled: Thirty Days of Rewilding (or #30DaysOfRewilding because something doesn’t exist unless it has a hashtag right?) 

Family Travel

The expectation vs reality of camping

21 August, 2015

We are on a summer camping holiday on the South Coast of England right now. That is to say we are actually in a traffic jam in the pouring rain on our way to slot an endless amount of copper coins into the two penny machines in a smelly arcade on the end of a pier with a million other families at their wit’s end.

We have had a good few days, where we were living a dreamlike life where camping fully met our grand expectations. And then the rain set in, and now it feels like it has been raining solidly for a year, even though it’s only really been three days.

  Here are all the ways a camping holiday is different in reality from expectations.

Expectation: The campsite is only 100 miles from home- we shall set off at 9:30 am, arrive in the late morning, quickly set up camp and spend the rest of the day on the beach skimming stones, reading novels and revelling in our scout-like efficiency.

Reality: A multitude of external factors thwart our ability to get out of the house, and then when we are finally sitting in the car, little Juno finds a jar of tumeric (!) that has been last-minutely thrown in and rubs a fistful in her eye. After sorting that out, a full fifty minutes is then spent “just dashing in” to the house for those necessaties such as:
A deflated My Little Pony balloon

The barbie leg that fell off

The massive donkey on wheels

A spare Minnie Mouse onesie (hello? Don’t the kids know we are going on a seaside camping holiday and it’s going to be super hot the whole time?) (We will end up not regretting these mad-dash warm clothing runs…) 

The wooden flute that whistles like a train (we will regret this with every milimetre of our ear canals)  

We’ll be in traffic for almost the entirity of the M4, will arrive at dusk, panic about the best spot to pitch the tent and end up sticking it on a hill. 

Expectation: Erecting (huhuh you said erecting) the tent will be a family team building exercise- the girls will joyfully hand us the pegs, each one of us excelling at our appointed roles, spurring each other on through the darkening sky.

Reality: The girls go absolutely nuts with glee about the fact that mum and dad have so willingly, despite a day stuck in traffic and a quickly setting sun, put on the ultimate activity for their benefit- PARACHUTE GAMES! We know this one! We run under the flappy material and we try and grab it and hold the ages and run in circles then we sit on it and run over it and try and tear it from each other’s grasps thanks mum and dad oh thank you we LOVE THIS oh why are you crying? The whole thing made bearable only because we keep finding different reasons to say “erecting.”

Expectation: Meals are like “Jamie Oliver visits River Cottage” – we forage for some herbs and throw them in to the fish that we caught that’s baking on the embers of the fire we built.

Reality: The pan of pre-cooked rice mixed with baked beans and a tin of sweet corn topples off the precariously balanced Bunsen burner thingy and is scooped back into the saucepan because the three second rule is not a myth I don’t care what you say. 

Expectation: we fly a kite and sing the song from Mary Poppins and connect as a family in our kite flying joy.

Reality: the parrot kite we bought is neither ornament nor function and by the time we have it in the sky the girls have lost interest but in order to keep it in the sky I have to run with it and yet still, every 20 seconds it’s enormous carnival coloured head outweighs its body and it comes crashing down, narrowly missing small children.

Expectation: I’ll manage a few days without embarrassing myself. (How can this still be an ambition of mine? With everything I know?)

Reality: I walk past the loo in the middle of the field and notice that the foggy Perspex windows actually reveals an awful lot of what is going on and I’ll remember how just that morning I decided that I didn’t want to sit on the loo with my Kermit the frog onesie around my ankles because the floor looked wet in a dubious sort of a way so I took the whole thing off and then got tangled up as I put it back on a few minutes and stumbled around a bit. And I imagine other campers referring to me as Nudey Kermit or something.

Expectation: The sun is going to be so deliciously sunshiney that we’ll have to smother ourselves in this ludicrously expensive non toxic sun cream.

Reality: rain. The sort of rain that makes me think it might never stop. Like when I went overdue and I began to feel like I genuinely might be the first woman in the whole of history to be pregnant forever. This is definitely the start of The Everlasting Rains.

  Expectation: swimming in the sea at every chance, because genuinely the coast around here is as beautiful as any I’ve seen in the world. 

Reality: I swim once and although I LOVE it it takes me three hours to get warm despite putting every spare item we have on down there including a Dora The Explorer towel cloak. In fact, I only get warm back at the tent when I put on my Kermit onesie. 

Expectation: sitting around a fire as the sun sets.

Reality: sitting around a fire in the drizzle, the sun could be setting but who knows as we haven’t seen it for yonks, the smoke changes direction every time I move- who KNEW my face was such a smoke- magnet. There are marshmallows, caught alight and black on the outside, perfectly rubbery on the inside and campfire songs are replaced by the deep, raging howls of the children that missed out on the last marshmallow in the packet. 

Expectation: Balmy nights sitting on our hill top spot, counting shooting stars.

Reality: Falling asleep when the children go to bed because it takes too much energy to get up from the deflated air bed. 

Expectation: Lolling on fields filled with sunshine and wild flowers and fellow campers all drinking tea or locally brewed cider. Like a festival but without the expensive ticket and loud noises.

Reality: Fog. Fog so thick it is like a stew with lumps of canvas poking out of it. Dismembered limbs and heads appear calling for their children. The once-playful sound of kids shooting machine guns made of sticks becomes deeply sinister and the fog carries high cortisol levels from tent to tent until it actually feels like the start of Zombie Apocolypse: Camping in Britain. 

(The benefit of this fog is that I can’t see all those beautiful kites flying perfectly in the sky judging our pathetic parrot with their wistful tails.) 

Expectation: Packing down is a seamless affair because we are camping legends. Tim and I actually have arguments about who is the most legendary camper. However:

Reality: We pack up the tent and all of our gear into the car WITH OUR CAR KEYS STILL IN THE INTERNAL POCKET OF THE TENT. Twice in a row.

Funnily enough, despite all this terrible weather and real-life rubbishness we have totally enjoyed ourselves. We are camping with good friends and that helps. (Blimey, imagine this with bad friends.) I have felt our friendship deepen over the hardship in a way soldiers in a muddy trench might. The whole campsite seems to have a World War like camaraderie. Or perhaps we’re feeling the bond natural to those moments just before a Zombie Apocolypse. 

(I find myself deciding which of the other campers I’d like in my zombie fighting team. The older couple who are stealth camping in the bushes seem to have a survivalist mentality that would be handy. Perhaps other campers would choose me to be in their team because my Kermit suit means I’m probably fun and could lighten the mood in the moments of impending, gruesome zombie death.) 

There is a certain stoic sense of pride in our ability to weather a rainy summer. Unlike my experience of camping in other countries no one here is taken unawares by the stormy gales. Oh no. The campsite is like the Winter catalogue of but with more driving rain. Puffa jackets, woolly beanies, cagoules, cagoules for legs, welly boots, gaters, cagoule onesies. 
We raise our eyesbrows and laugh as the thunder rumbles around us and step in to help each other’s vehicles out of the swampy fields. 

And I guess that’s partly why we will be camping again next week, and at every opportunity. Because really, it wouldn’t be a proper camping holiday without the desperate misery of days of rain. I think we all love it, deep down. 

In lieu of the epic strawberry-and-pimms-summer joy we hoped for the parents are able to find joy in life’s true simple pleasures:

A dry picnic table 

A boiled egg that peels really easily

Narrowly missing stepping on dog poo

and without being able to wile away the hours splashing in a warm sea children discover the ability to delight in the small things:

Bouncing on the air beds until they spring a leak

Balancing biscuits on head

Swapping raincoats 

 So, high fives to all damp campers and other holidaymakers digging deep and making the most of one of Britains most cherished traditions: Belligerently Eating Ice Cream By The Seaside In the Pouring Rain. 

One day we’ll have a summer where fleecey onesies and cagoules have no place. 

And we’ll discover it’s not all that. 

Family Travel

5 lessons in rewilding from Camp Bestival

11 August, 2015

Last weekend you might have found Ramona and I sitting in a tiny big top, watching a shadow puppet ghost show run by a mum and her two daughters, complete with piano accordion accompaniment and tap dancing. Or you might have found us capering about to a cover of Ice Ice Baby done by a skiffle band. Or making mud gargoles to stick on a collective mud mural. Or you might have spotted Tim, dressed as a giant croc getting started on by a giant tiger…

Because, OBVIOUSLY, we were at Camp Bestival. The only place you can hope to do all these sweet/ absurd things.

This year I attended partly as a blogger, intending to write about it, and partly as an artist.

I was the tantalizing gogo dancer for the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Did you spot me?golden wings

I jest, I jest.  That would be my dream. Getting my proper super duper weirdo moves on in front of 30,000 people wearing 4 metre gold wings. HELLO.

In actual fact I took the stage in a bit more of a sit-downy fashion at the Guardian Literary Institute being interviewed by the (hilarious and brilliant) Scummy Mummies about my book Happy Hair (no golden wings but I did wear sequined hot pants.) It was so, so much fun and definitely a massive highlight for me and my book!

Camp Bestival also provided exactly the thing I needed for my next book; a ginormous dollop of motivation! This year Camp Bestival was all about being wild, which, perfectly, is exactly what my next book is about. A thirty day guide to rewilding our families, due out within the next 30 days. (Hehe.) That word rewilding is something I am really delving into. It speaks of restoring a part of us that has been lost, our wild selves.  I think you are going to LOVE it. Eeek, I have the biggest smile on my face just thinking about all these inspiring little stories in it… gah…. I so want to tell you more but I think I should save it for when it comes out… *internal struggle*

Let me crack on with a few of the things Camp Bestival inspired me about, when it comes to rewilding….

Many kids want time in the wild more than anything else
One of the most loved parts of Camp Bestival is the Dingly Dell- a collaboration between nature and artists. There are nature walks and activities, forest crafts to make and conservation knowledge to learn. Mostly there is mud. And where there is mud, children are happy. On Sunday afternoon we spent 4 HOURS playing in mud, along with a hundred other families also playing in mud. We had a mud tea party and made mud sculptures and some children covered their whole bodies in mud and others managed to make mud pies without getting any on their hands at all. It is funny that at a festival where there is every delight a child might possibly fancy, it is this muddy haven that remains the most captivating.

Here is a little video I made in the Dingly Dell – can I tempt you with a, erm, cake? A mud cake?

Native english moths and primates are basically twins
Talking with one or two of the organisations present (WWF and Wild Futures specifically) it became clear just how related the insects in our gardens are to those rare primates that are on the brink. Both are in decline as a result of human activity, and both can be restored if we take our role seriously and if children fall in love with nature. It is absolutely true that saving the world’s wildlife begins in our backyard. (More in the book!)

Nature has the power to suspend our cynicism
One of the most inspiring conversations I had over the weekend was with a chap from a little organisation that runs holiday camps for children, run by teenage volunteers. He was sharing story after story of how too cool-for-school teens came along to camp, who, by the end of it, had their stony facade broken down and were trusting themselves, and others, and nature again. Seeing the magic. Finding the space simply to be. He told me how on Saturday night a few of the teenagers ditched the Kaiser Chiefs and came to the Dingly Dell and simply sat in the dark, under the stars, weaving nettle braids.

We all want to secretly embrace our wild side
There are three things I love about Camp Bestival. Firstly, seeing families rocking out together. I love it. Teenage boys raving with their mums. Daddies and daughters busting their moves to Ella Eyre (who was one of the absolute stars of the weekend, as well as Crazy old Arthur Brown.) I actually get emosh seeing families dancing together. (Bit strange, I realise.) I also love the thought put into the festival creative- incredible installations and artwork everywhere you look. Finally, I love how people throw themselves into letting go – mostly in terms of dressing up. The amount of mums who had quite obviously said YES to their kids painting a rubbish animal mask on their face. Hilar. And onesies, and ears and tales and sparkles. No one really trying to look good, but everyone just embracing this little wild part of themselves, the bit that we normally kind of repress in order to stay sane on the daily commute. Hehehe. So great.

 The wild can transform us
I spent a lot of the weekend interviewing people from different projects and was overwhelmed by the stories people were sharing of how nature has transformed someone’s life. From the 3 year old preschooler who got a huge boost of self confidence from learning bushcraft, to the teacher who found a vocation in helping people see themselves as pivotal to the thriving of wildlife. I had a book partly written about the power of nature, and now I have one bustling with actual real life stories of it. So, so incredible.

So, yep, there goes Camp Bestival being legendary again! (If you want more Camp Bestival goodness do check out 76Sunflowers– who took the above picture of me and the Scummy Mummies- Mammasaurus, Kate Takes 5 and a whole bunch of official Camp B Bloggers.)

The only downside to it really was that I think it has grown up a bit quickly – it is like the adolescent boy who had a growth spurt and now his  trousers bash his ankles, revealing mismatched socks. On the Saturday afternoon the kid’s garden was utterly rammed and it was actually hard to move around. I hope they consider capping numbers or expanding the venue for another year. And, of course, the cost… it is absolutely stuffed with value, and worth every penny…. but still, I can’t help but feel a bit bummed about how prohibitive the ticket prices are, and the potential for things like this to become a middle class love in. So far it hasn’t, there is no rich-kid vibe at all. But perhaps for next year they can release the first 20,000 tickets at half price to bonafide socialists or something? Hehe.

Let me leave you with another video – a day in the life at Camp Bestival – see how many Ninja Dinos you can spot…

Have you been to a great family festival this year? Would love to hear from you, and any thoughts you have about rewilding…

Family Travel, unschooling, writing

Family travel | Chiang Mai, Thailand (ARGH! ELEPHANTS!)

30 June, 2015

The baby elephant swung its thick grey trunk over to Ramona, moving his snout across her body while she ripped the sheath from a corn cob. Before she could hand the sweet corn over, another trunk, this one about 8 times the size, reached over her shoulder and pinched it. Grandad elephant, with his big gnarly tusks, doesn’t get the snacks after the whipper snapper, thanks very much.

It was magical, getting up close and personal with these jungle beasts. There was a crowd of them right next door to where we were staying, a motel at the foot of the mountains outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

We’d wake up to the sound of them trumpeting to each other as their mahouts got ready for the day ahead. We followed them on a little trek, Juno shouting POO! POO! most of the way because, turns out, the jungle is where they do most of their biz. We were even there for the precious moment when the baby elephant did a sneeze and farted at the same time – such a classic. We were all completely delighted!

As we spent more time there, we watched them carry tourists around the jungle, splash in the river on command and pose for a photo.

And we were left pretty saddened by it.

It wasn’t really at all what the website portrayed it to be with it’s “Keeping Elephants Alive” slogan…. Keeping them alive, sure, but shackled and controlled.

It is incredible standing next to one of these magnificent creatures, but you also feel like you’re not really meant to. They are meant to be crashing around a dense jungle, stampeding together, getting furiously protective of their babies, not chained too many metres away to even stroke them with their snout.

We still enjoyed our time in the foothills of the Chiang Mai mountains- we visited a waterfall and ate our weight in tropical fruits. But it was with relief that we got in to the city, where we didn’t feel accused by the neighbouring elephant’s eyeballs.Family travel in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai turned out to be incredible! Totally wasn’t expecting to fall so in love with it. We were surprised (and gladdened to our CORE) to find tasty flat whites amongst the street food stalls. We stuffed our faces with every kind of noodle and curry. We sat in little shacks filled wall to wall with enormous cuddly toys. (Yeah, it was weird, in a way only a city full of hipster designers can be!)

And then we came across Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai’s only true elephant sanctuary. We were finally able to visit a herd of elephants with good consciense! (We had good conscience, I can’t tell you about the elephants – cheeky, a few of them were, I suspect.) The Thai woman who began this elephant sanctuary actually has royal protection as she has received so many death threats for being so determined to rescue Thailand’s elephants from illegal logging, and an often undignified and cruel tourism trade. Here is a video I made all about this part of our trip:

There are over 40 elephants spread around 300 acres, and they aim to try and rehabilitate some into the jungle where possible. There is no riding, no shows, humans are the ones that have to step back when an elephant goes where it wants to go – it was perfect and totally soul-lifting. family travel thailand - elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai

We only had 8 days in Thailand so tried to tick off a few Must Dos – i.e a massage. Mine was done by a blind man, a member of the Association for Blind Massage, a Chiang Mai social enterprise. It was completely brutal. Sheesh. I almost cried – except that I didn’t want the big Thai lady getting a massage next to me, who did huge, smelly burps every time her masseuse rubbed her back, to think I was a wuss. But I did feel about an inch taller afterwards. Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand - elephants and pad thai

Less of a typical “Thailand Must Do”, but a major “Our Family Must Do” was a visit to the local Chiang Mai flea markets. Unexpectedly enormous and filled with old delights, the Prince Royal College secondhand markets were full of proper Asian antiques, and – the stuff I love- a load of manky household crap. BRILLIANT. I bought, get this, a big Pestle and Mortar. Hahahahaha. It weighs 8 kilos. Exactly what we need in our suitcase at the start of a 3 months travelling adventure. I was like; BAG IT MY FRIEND!

We spent our first few days feeling sad about chained up elephants and also being extremely jetlagged and basically all really mad with each other. But by the end of our time there we were just floating on a massive Pad Thai buzz. Happy that we had spent our baht on some good, ethical stuff.Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand

What is the trick to finding good ethical tourism? I don’t have lots of great answers. This week showed us just how entangled the industry is with untruth and propaganda. Research as much as possible online (we didn’t touch the local tiger place as I’d read about some awfully cruel practices there), talk to lots of people on the ground, make one or two choices to support local social enterprise. But mostly, realise that travelling is less about ticking off all the “Things To Do” and more about being in a place, eating the food and talking with people. That is where the real experience is to be had. I reckon.

Like, if we’d filled up our days with all the suggestions of visiting exotic, caged creatures, how would we have found ourselves perched at the foot of a two storey marble cat with a moustache and a handbag, drinking the yummiest mango smoothies ever?

Family Travel, unschooling, yurt life

Heart-thumpingly, fringe-snippingly exciting

23 June, 2015

We are off! We have 15 minutes to go; Tim is making last minute coffees, the girls are bouncing around in the corner simultaneously wrestling and playing Mummies and Daddies (this involves Ramona giving birth to Juno over and over again) and I am doing a sneaky little blog. These sum up our priorities EXACTLY.

We are facing down a 12 hour flight to Thailand, the start of a three month trip that involves frolicking with elephants in Chiang Mai, touring about the UK with our friends and family and then a whizz through San Fran. HOORAY!

We have packed down our little yurt and said cheerio to all our beautiful friends in the Coromandel, for when we get back to New Zealand in September we are going to be moving onto our new land! ARGH!

*reins in the exclamation marks*

I am generally excited about everything right now, this is obvious in how short my fringe is getting- I’ve come to understand that when I am buzzing out a little I tend to gravitate to the mirror and cut my hair.

Here are somethings I am weeing my pants about:

Happy Hair Workshops in Bristol and London
THESE ARE HAPPENING! SO cool! They are open events, everyone is invited, I will be talking through the world of giving up shampoo and toxins and covering other Hippyshake kind of stuff. I did the last New Zealand one of these a few weeks ago, 75 people came and we had an absolute BLAST. So much fun. Please do come! Find the Bristol event here and the London event here.  

 Camp Bestival
One of the funnest weekend in our family’s life was when we took Juno and Ramona to Camp Bestival just before taking off around Europe in our campervan. There is incredible music, stack loads of creativity, an enormous arts and crafts tent; just this weird little universe of families all letting loose together.  I saw a sign there that year, scrawled by a mum, “Families who festival together stay together” – it makes up in truth what it lacks in rhyme.

Partying in the meadows of a castle, with the tunes of musical legends beating down around you, while the children are being entertained by a Picasso inspired style Puppet Show. Nothing beats it. Let me know if you are going so we can hang out…

Annie here has the full download- everything you need to know and here is the Camp Bestival site itself.cb

Staying in super spesh places
We have booked loads of our accommodation through Air BNB for the first time ever. It has been really cool being able to tailor make our wants/ needs and then hit search and discover loads of unique places to stay. In Thailand we are staying at someone’s apartment in Bangkok, next door to an Elephant sanctuary in Mae Wang amongst other places. (It’s possible- but I’m not entirely sure- that if you sign up using this link that I get points… try it and see, it will be like giving me a virtual high five…)

It sort of feels like for the next three months we are going to join that tribe of digital nomads, families blowing on the breeze, lives made possible by the Internet.

Here is a little conversation I had with Juno this morning:

Last, but not least (cos GOSH that would be offensive!) SEEING OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY!
About 7 million of my friends have had babies while we have been away, so of course, I CAN NOT WAIT to meet these new souls. And my nephews and niece have grown up into giants so I need to do some serious playing of Hide and Seek and Ninja Mermaids and stuff with them. I get the tingles when I think about crunching all these people I love up!

HOORAY! Right, Tim has turned the car around, we are really, really DOING THIS… think I still have time for one more snip of the fringe though…