3 days in Rome with a 2-year-old and a 4-month-old

Day 1: 7th September: flight and arrival in Rome

As much as we were excited about our trip to Italy, we first had to get through the journey to Rome. A 7:15am flight meant us leaving the house at 3:45am with a just-gone-2-year-old and a 4-month old….

I woke at 1:30a.m. after 4 hours sleep and couldn’t get back to sleep. Tabitha; the 4-month old, woke at 2:30a.m. for a feed, so I quickly got changed and ready to go before feeding her and then held her asleep whilst my husband got himself ready and then put the cases in the car. Then at exactly 3:45a.m. operation ‘Get the Children in the Car’ began. Amazingly Tabitha stayed asleep whilst I put her in the car seat – its never happened before as she usually wakes at the slightest sound. Hetty, however, woke as soon as she was brought downstairs and stayed awake the entire journey to Manchester Airport – a 1hr 15 min car ride – and Tabitha, amazingly, slept the whole way, despite her older sister shouting ‘Tabby!’ ‘Tabby!’ at her to wake her up.

I must say the signage when approaching Terminal 3 is atrocious and it is amazing that we managed to find where we needed to be – it only took 2 wrong turns (!). We had booked meet and greet parking with FHR and it went swimmingly. With young kids that is the only way to park in my opinion. It was only slightly more expensive than normal airport parking so worth every penny. 

I’d already checked in online so we just needed to drop our bags and we were ready for security. Luckily that all went without a hitch except Hetty having a mini-meltdown over being parted from her Bunny whilst it went through the X-Ray machine. Oh and demanding to be carried everywhere #shouldhavebroughtthestroller. My husband and I had had a big debate leading up to the holiday as to whether to take the stroller with us or just take the slings. After going back and forth we ultimately decided to not bother with the stroller. It was a brave decision and if you read both blog entires on Italy you will probably realise neither decision would have won – there were times when the stroller would have been a massive inconvenience and times when it would have been a God-send.

Although we had priority boarding we hung back until nearly the end so that the girls were on the flight the least amount of time possible. Shortly after boarding the pilot announced there was a 40-minute delay. I could have cried! But luckily that turned out to not be the case and we were soon on our way. The flight went surprisingly well – Tabitha was due a nap so promptly fell asleep and Hetty played with the new toys that we’d put in her backpack for the first hour or so. She then started getting a bit unsettled so we pulled out our number 1 parenting tool: Peppa pig on the iPad. That kept her entertained for the rest of the flight, along with copious amounts of biscuits 😉

I was worried that Hetty might be a bit scared by the plane landing – I needn’t have been as she loved it so much she kept saying ‘more, more’ and had a bit of a moan when she realised we weren’t doing it again. In my planning I’d thought about the plane journey and the taxi journey but hadn’t really considered the wait for passport control and retrieving our baggage. Luckily both girls did really well despite being very tired and grumpy. We didn’t have to wait long for our baggage and the taxi driver booked through our hotel was there waiting for us with a sign as we exited the green lane.

I had requested car seats but the taxi didn’t have them. There was no point in kicking up a fuss as it wouldn’t have got us anywhere and I was way too tired in any event. When we went to Canada when Hetty was 10 months we just sat her on our knee – yes it isn’t ideal but needs must and it worked out ok. The journey wasn’t too bad as both kids fell asleep but there was quite a lot of traffic as we got nearer the centre. I always like the taxi journey from the airport into an unfamiliar city as it gives you a flavour of real life in that particular instant of the place. We went round windy streets, narrow streets, passed ancient walls and monuments and people going about their daily business. You could tell we were getting near when we passed hordes of tourists clutching at cameras. 

We arrived at the hotel around 12:30 p.m. Having landed at 10:55 am which I didn’t think was too bad. Even though check-in was from 2pm our room was ready and we were shown to it by the reception lady. We booked to stay at Residenza Santa Maria in Trastevere – a little out of town but within walking distance of most monuments and much cheaper. I’d booked an apartment as we needed two bedrooms due to having a baby and toddler. I was really impressed with the apartment – spacious, modern and clean. Exactly what we needed. 

After getting sorted and feeding Tabitha, we decided to head out and find some lunch. Hetty had been snacking on all sorts of crap so luckily it wasn’t an immediate requirement. We had a little wander out of our apartment and round the corner we found Piazza de Santa Maria which had a large fountain in the middle and a few cafes around. We had a little walk and came across a shop selling focaccia sandwiches so we each chose one and got a margarita pizza for Hetty and went and sat on the steps of the fountain and ate our lunch. It was a lovely introduction to Rome and Trastevere I thought. There was a man playing the harpsichord in the background which really set the mood!
We 
We then decided to have a steady walk to the Pantheon as it was only a 15 minute walk from our hotel. Hetty walked a little bit of the way but then she wanted to be carried. After a little bit we put her in the sling and she was happy enough in there whilst we walked the rest of the way. It is surprising how this massive ancient structure can creep up on you, but it’s true. Mainly due to the fact that there are very tall buildings extremely close to it. This spoils the effect a little but luckily to the front there is a nice courtyard space, including obligatory fountain to enable you to not only enjoy and take it in, but also get far enough away you can fit the whole building into a picture! Andrew and I were very moved by the sheer size of the Pantheon and even more so when we went inside and saw the incredible structure that is its concrete dome. It’s free to enter and very vast so it’s ideal to take children into. It wasn’t overly crowded although busy.

Next on the list for today was the Trevi fountain: a further 10-15 minute walk from the Pantheon. Again this enormous fountain creeps up on you due to the buildings being so close, however sadly on this occasion the space in front is not as ample. As a result I felt a bit underwhelmed and unable to appreciate the fountain to its full potential. You can’t stand far enough away to get the whole fountain and statues into a photo and it was so overcrowded it was hard to even have a good look at it. We managed to stand to the side of the fountain and be able to take a good look at it but to be honest I felt like I couldn’t fully appreciate it. It didn’t help that whilst we were there it started to rain, so the crowds plus umbrellas were not very easy to navigate! 

The rain did put a dampener on things if I am honest although it didn’t stop us continuing on to the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately when we got there the steps were cordoned off due to maintenance, so we couldn’t even sit on them. I was starting to get very hot and fed up (we were both still carrying the children in their slings including a backpack) and we were all very tired due to the early start so we decided to head back to the apartment for a re-group. We were now however approximately a 40-minute walk away. Andrew filled up our water bottle at one of the several fountains dotted around Rome.

I needed to feed Tabitha and as this was my first time breastfeeding in public in Italy I was a little worried and self-conscious. Stupid I know, as I feed in public all the time in the UK. However I was trying to find somewhere indiscreet to feed and we decided on a nearby fountain as there wasn’t many people around. However as soon as I sat down lots of people seemed to appear and when I finally plucked up the courage to start feeding, Tabitha decided she didn’t want to feed and started kicking off which drew more attention to us. Because of this I started getting very stressed out, plus as Tabitha hadn’t had a feed in a long time, particularly when considering the heat, and the fact we were all VERY tired, my back was killing from carrying Tabitha/Hetty/backpack all the way and we were at least a 40-minute walk away from the apartment as well as needing to carry Tabitha/Hetty/backpack all the way back. Oh and did I mention it was also still raining. We needed to change both girls’ nappies which we duly did at the side of the road and then decided to start walking back to the apartment. Hetty refused to walk which meant either carrying her on putting her in the sling which she was refusing to do both. I was ready to give in and call a taxi (#shouldhavebroughtthestroller) but then we swapped and I took Tabby whilst Andrew put Hetty on his back and we power walked all the way back to the apartment. I was extremely grumpy and tired by the time we got back but we survived (just!). We quickly got the rooms set up for bedtime, after realising I’d left the adaptors, tea bags and Hetty’s hair bobbles in the other suitcase at home that I’d initially tried to fit our stuff into first of all but then transferred everything (bar those items) into a different case, Andrew went and grabbed some food for us from a nearby cafe and we got the girls in bed with only minimal tantrums/tears/calpol/teething gel. By 7:30pm we were sat in quiet. Andrew went out in search of adaptors, water, milk and fruit and luckily managed to get everything reasonably quickly within a short walk of the apartment. We then went to bed and I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow!

Day 2: Colosseum, Palatine Hill & The Forum

Amazingly both children slept well, so although we were all still tired we had at least had a reasonable nights sleep. First stop was breakfast at the hotel which was nice, especially the locally made pastries with old Roman recipes. 

We then headed off to the Colosseum and despite my aim to get there nice and early we ended up arriving just as everyone else seemed to! Luckily Hetty walked about half of the way there, but that meant we were walking at a very slow pace. We spent a brief moment outside the Colosseum to take the obligatory selfies with the Colosseum in the background however most, if not all, came out horribly due to Hetty looking the wrong way or having her eyes shut. I think in the best photo she had one eye closed!

Luckily I’d booked tickets online the day before we came to Italy so we didn’t have to queue with everyone else. The queue was ginormous and although we had to queue with the other online-bookers, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the normal queue! I was very worried how Hetty would do in a place like that and although it wasn’t perfect we coped (again with food as bribery!) and had a nice time. I had to breastfeed Tabitha whilst inside and Andrew had to change a poonami but we managed! The Colosseum was very impressive and although it would have been nice to do a private tour and see the underground part and the third level (we didn’t want to attempt it with two young children), it was still impressive nonetheless.

We then intended to do Palatine Hill and the Forum but after a walk to find the entrance we were met with a long queue. With a tired and hungry toddler we decided to give it a miss for the moment, and so carried on walking past the entrance and up the hill in search of somewhere to eat. What we didn’t realise was that the hill led up to a dead-end. At the top was a church which we went in to in order to get out of the heat and have a brief rest. It was a lovely church and very nice and peaceful. We then had to walk all the way back to the bottom by which time we were all fed up and tired. We headed in search of food and headed up some steps to the left of the Colosseum. We happened upon a cafe after not very long and went inside to have some lunch. We really did drop on as although it was quite touristy the food was good and the cafe was very comfortable. We were sat next to a group of British people who chatted to us whilst the kids slept for a rare nap at the same time. Everyone seemed to then leave so after the girls woke we sat and ate in a very relaxed environment: Hetty on Andrew’s knee and Tabitha had a stretch out on the bench cushions next to me. I was also able to feed her without any other customers around us. 

Batteries recharged we then headed to the Palatine/Forum entrance and luckily the queue went down very quickly. It was a very hot day and carrying the children and backpack was taking its toll. We walked up Palatine Hill to the top and it was very picturesque. Hetty had a lovely time running around the area and I took some pictures. We weren’t able to look around all of the ruins unfortunately due to the heat/Hetty not tolerating it but what we did see was well worth it. We then headed down to the Forum and as we were looking around an interfering woman took it upon herself to tell me that Hetty was burning or more specifically ‘her scalp’. I was horrified and mortified in equal measures until I checked her over and she was fine. She had sun cream on but her face was red just because she was so hot. Her scalp however was fine. I suspect she probably had an issue with her being in a sling and needed to put her oar in but it really upset me and made me feel like a crap mother. 

I tried to not let it affect me but we decided shortly after to head off as I was now paranoid the girls were too hot. We walked the rest of the way back to the apartment and by the end my feet were killing me. Andrew dropped us all off at the apartment where we could cool off with the air con and he went to get us some Gelato from a cute little place not too far from the apartment, where they make their own. It was scrumptious and a great first sample of Italian Gelato for Hetty!

After a shower and a recharge of the batteries we headed out for tea at a local cafe which went surprisingly well to say that Hetty hadn’t had much of a nap. We even braved staying for desert and the Panna Cotta went down a treat 🙂

Day 3: Vatican City

This was our third and final day in Rome, therefore we decided to tackle Vatican City. We were all exhausted and it was set to be the hottest day yet but we didn’t want to come to Rome without seeing the Sistine Chapel and St Peters Basilica. 

As our feet were in shreds we had the ‘ingenious’ idea to get one of the ‘hop on off off’ tours which would take us to Vatican City and then take us home again via other sites if we wanted to get off. The only problem was the nearest stop to us was a 20-minute walk away in the opposite direction to the Vatican. The Vatican Museum was a 40-minute walk away so we decide saving the extra 20-minutes would be worth it, plus the tours also sold skip-the-line tickets for the museum. Amazing! 

Again despite ideally wanting to be up and out early it didn’t quite go to plan. We walked to the nearest stop for the tour buses and found a man selling tickets and duly purchased a one-day pass for the bus for us both and skip the line tickets for an eye-watering cost of 94 euros. ‘It’ll be worth it’ we told ourselves.

We then followed his directions a little further in order to find the bus stop and luckily a bus was waiting. We showed our tickets to the lady on the bus and she gave us a one-day pass for the hop-on hop-off bus. We took our seats and plugged in the earphones to listen to the guide as we went round the various sights. The Vatican was the first stop on the bus so we duly disembarked and made our way to the Vatican. I needed to feed Tabitha so we stopped within sight of St Peters Basillica so I could feed her and we gave Hetty a snack and all put suncream on as the sun was starting to really wam up. In front of us were some street performers: a flutist playing some classical music and a person dressed as if they had no head, but some glasses and a hat left in place. It was nice to sit and people watch and take a moment to absorb the surroundings. Once Tabitha had been fed we then walked the rest of the way to the Vatican Museums which was another 10-15 minutes. Had we realised we had to walk so far anyway, we probably would have just walked from the apartment. 

As we reached the museum we saw an epically long queue and walked right past it – smug in the knowledge that we had skip the line passes. We got to the front and went to the correct entrance for those with ‘partner’ or group/online tickets, to be told we needed to exchange our tickets for the correct one at the hop-on hop-off ticket booth near St Peters square. I was so annoyed and upset, but too tired to get angry. I was exhausted – my feet hurting and in quite some pain from the previous two days efforts.

Both kids were asleep in their slings so Andrew said he would go on his own, so off he went power walking whilst I stood in a grump outside whilst watching tons and tons of tour groups disappear the way we were supposed to be going. It took him close to half an hour I would say and he came back looking how I felt and the guard let us straight in. Andrew then mentioned that as he was going past the queue one of the people working for the museums saw him and said he didn’t need to queue as he had a child. So we didn’t need the skip the line tickets after all. I was so annoyed! But to be fair, it’s not like we knew that in advance and were about to risk having to queue for hours with the kids anyway. But hopefully this will help someone who goes with kids: either to save them queuing or at least to save some money!

We got through security with no queueing luckily – if a few tour groups show up at once sometimes the queue backed up a little. Andrew was so tired I told him to go straight to the cafe and get a drink/lunch for him and Hetty whilst I went off to see the thing we came for: the Sistine Chapel. We aren’t knowledgeable in the art department so the rest of the museum would have been completely wasted on us but we wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. Having Hetty with us we weren’t sure if we’d be able to see it but decided we would try to do it separately. I went to start my power-walk to the Sistine Chapel, to find that I needed to exchange my ticket AGAIN at the ticket offices at the entrance of the museum. It would have cost 16 euros, so we overpaid by 13 FOR NO REASON!

Off I went, power walking my way through the museum via the ‘shortened itinerary’ route. I don’t know if this is a new thing, because my research suggested the minimum time to get to the Sistine chapel was 40 minutes but it took just 15 minutes. I did have to keep stopping when I came across various tour groups loitering in the corridors and slowly walking and bunching up around the doorways. There was a small-ish queue to get in the chapel but it went down very quickly. Once inside you are ushered to keep moving by guards and told to keep quiet. It was busy but I was expecting nose-to-nose and it wasn’t that bad. 

The ceiling was very impressive and I quickly spotted the ‘Creation of Adam’ depiction right in the centre. I enjoyed looking at the masterpiece and it was moving to be in the presence of such a famous artist’s work. After a short time looking at the ceiling I then exited the chapel and made my way back to the restaurant to meet Andrew who was just paying for some food. He was surprised to see me so quickly seen as I told him I’d be at least an hour but I was back within around 35 minutes. He quickly ate his burger and left to go see the Sistine chapel whilst I had some pasta and Hetty finished her chicken nuggets and chips. Andrew returned around 40 minutes later, stating that apparently the shortened route to the Sistine chapel had been closed but luckily a guard let him through as he was on his own. There is a baby change in the museum, but it is a tiny room with no actual pull-down mat to use so you still have to change them on the floor!

After that we all got changed out of our long trousers and tops covering our shoulders and headed towards St Peters via a small detour to get some ice cream at a nearby cafe. By now the temperature was very hot and the girls were looking very red faced. We reapplied sun cream to everyone and got into the queue to get into St Peters. You don’t have to pay to get in but you do have to go through security and despite it being around 3pm it was very busy. I was struggling in the heat as there wasn’t any shade in the queue but Hetty seemed OK and Tabitha was fast asleep in the sling. We were waiting around half an hour in total and as we got near the front a guard spotted us and let us to the front which was nice, although I wished he’d seen us earlier! 

I have to say the inside of the building is so much more impressive than the outside. We saw the Pieta statue by Michelangelo which had a big crowd around it and then headed further inside to the Basilica which was very impressive. We had an obligatory selfie and then headed out as the girls were fed up and so was I if I was being honest: tired and very very hot. We walked back to the bus stop to get on the hop-on hop-off bus but realised due to the time we didn’t have any time left to get off at any other stop before Hetty needed her tea and to go to bed. The journey took an age but we finally made it and luckily missed a big downpour of rain in the process. Whilst on the bus we met a lovely couple with a young child from Israel who told us a lot about the area they were from.

On our walk back to the apartment from the bus stop we came across a street seller selling some art and one piece caught Andrews eye so we bought it for the reasonable sum of 30 euros. Then we grabbed a quick pizza at a restaurant near to the apartment before a shower and bed for the little ones.

Reflecting on the day we felt that we’d massively overpaid for the experiences we had but nevertheless we were glad we had done them. We had just about survived sightseeing in Rome with two very young children in over 30 degree heat without a stroller. Maybe we took on too much doing all of those sights, especially when we had to carry both girls for the majority of the time. Yes, it was stressful at times but we saw some amazing sites, we have fantastic memories and photographs for the girls for when they are older. Next stop: Sorrento!

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Amsterdam with a 15-month old


In December 2015 my husband and I decided to take our 15-month-old daughter to Amsterdam via ferry for a long weekend. 
The reason we chose to go away via ferry was mainly due to the fact that our daughter is very active and ‘strong minded’. This essentially equates to her not sitting still for a nano-second. As a result the thought of taking her on a plane filled me with dread and a ferry seemed like a good idea: a whole cabin to contain her but plenty of room to run around and play. 
We booked an extended mini-cruise with P&O via Direct Ferries from Hull to Rotterdam with a coach transfer to Amsterdam. It left on a Thursday evening, arriving the Friday morning and then we’d booked a hotel for Friday night. We then returned on the ferry overnight Saturday; arriving back in Hull on Sunday morning. The journey is around 11 hours but as it is overnight most of that time is spent sleeping. Well for those with young kids it is! Those without can take full advantage of the entertainment and bars, casino etc that were onboard. 
We parked the car in the car park at the port in Hull which costs £7 per 24 hour period. It was very easy to find and you can pay by card, cash or by phone which is very convenient. There is a lift down to the check-in area and the staff were very friendly and helpful. I had booked breakfast both ways but asked at check-in if I could switch the outward journey to dinner instead and although there was a higher fee to pay they did it no problem. We’d arrived quite early so we could get Hetty settled and have a run around the boat before it set sail. As a result there weren’t any queues and it didn’t take long at all to get to our cabin. 
Our cabin was really nice – we’d booked a 4-berth as that was our only option when booking but I’m glad we did as it gave us the extra space with the two beds on the opposite side folded upwards. We’d taken our own travel cot as although you can request them from P&O they can’t guarantee one would be available. It was quite annoying and we could have done without having to bring it but we managed. We set up the travel cot and got a few bits ready in the cabin to make life easier when we got back and then went off to explore the ship. We were really impressed with the facilities and the kids play area was really useful. The shops and restaurant didn’t open until 6pm so we were wondering around quite a bit which was annoying but we managed. For those with young kids a 6pm opening for the restaurant isn’t great but we were able to keep Hetty going a bit longer. At least it was a buffet so everything was ready to eat as soon as it opened.
The buffet was really nice – lots of different options and high quality food. There was soup to start and for main there were 3 different curries (with poppadoms, rice and naan), a chilli, chicken vegetables and chips. There were loads of options for dessert – I just wished I had room to try them all! My daughter has an egg allergy and the chefs weren’t very clued up on what had egg and what didn’t – perhaps it was the language barrier but they put little signs up with allergy information on them however they didn’t cover all the food options. Luckily they had little pots of icecream that were egg-free so we were all good.
The ferry on the way there went really well – Hetty slept well, although that was probably due to the motion! I think it must have been our position on the boat but we could hear car alarms going off for quite a while after we set off but it did stop. It wasn’t loud enough to prevent us from sleeping luckily. 
We arrived in Rotterdam at around 8am the following morning and getting off the ferry was a bit of a pain, especially with a buggy and all our luggage. Most people were going for the day so they were able to leave their luggage on the ferry, but we were staying one night in Amsterdam so we needed to take everything with us. 
Everyone was made to leave their cabins, but they hadn’t opened the doors, so everyone on the ship was congregated in the same area, queuing to leave. Luckily a staff member saw us and let us through to the front so we didn’t have to queue, but that wasn’t the case on the way back. It was really easy to find the coaches as they were straight outside the building and after not very long we were on our way to Amsterdam. The journey took about an hour and 20 minutes and Hetty slept a bit of the journey which was good and we just took some crayons and a colouring book to keep her entertained otherwise. The coach dropped us off near to Central Station and told us it would collect us at 5pm the following day to return to the port.

We then made our way to our hotel to drop off our things. We’d booked to stay at Hotel Mansion as we needed somewhere central, a reasonably sized room to fit Hetty’s cot and at a reasonable price. This seemed to tick all the boxes and it had decent reviews. We found it easily enough and it only took around ten minutes to walk there. Although we’d arrived early they let us check in (aside from the fact when we got to the room the cleaner was still cleaning it so we had to wait for a few minutes in the corridor whilst she finished!) and the room was really nice. It was clean and spacious and really nicely done out. We put our bags in the room, put Hetty in the sling and went out to grab some lunch.

In my research before we came I found that a common problem with visiting Amsterdam was finding somewhere to eat that was child friendly. One place that cropped up in a few different blogs was La Place at the library. We decided to give there a go. It was a bit interesting trying to find it as there weren’t any signs advertising it as we went in to the library, and looking at the floors list on the lift it wasn’t there. We asked a security man and he explained that it was on the 7th floor – the lift only goes up to floor 6. La Place is reached via a flight of steps from floor 6 so I was glad we’d taken her in the sling! Although it was child friendly in the sense that it was very spacious and there were high chairs, I wouldn’t say it felt child friendly as there weren’t many other children there. It felt more of a student meeting place – lots of people were there having coffee and catching up.

The food choice there was really good – freshly made, healthy and good quality. It’s cafeteria style so you go up, select what you want and put it on to a tray and then pay at a till at the end. At least the food is there and ready which is a definite bonus when with kids. 
The balcony at La Place gives an awesome view over Amsterdam but it was closed when we went unfortunately. We could see out of the glass doors and it was really foggy anyway but on a clear day it would be a good way to see Amsterdam. 

From there we decided to go and buy a hop-on hop-off canal cruise ticket, so that we could see Amsterdam from it’s famous waterways but also use it to get around. We got on the next boat and planned to get off at the Van Gogh museum, but en route we listened to the facts on Amsterdam via the headphones provided to us when we got on.

On our way to the Van Gogh museum we stopped via the ‘I amsterdam’ sign to take some photos. As we had some time to kill before our allotted entry time (we had booked our tickets with the canal cruise place and had to specify a time in order to get direct entry) we stopped at a little cafe called Blissfully for a coffee and cake whilst Hetty slept in the sling. It was a lovely place – just off the main busy touristy area containing both the Van Gogh and Rijks museums. 

After our brief bit of quiet, once Hetty woke up we entered the Van Gogh museum at our allotted time, skipping the queues. We had to check our backpack in as nothing bulky was allowed in to the exhibitions but we transferred what we needed for Hetty into a carrier bag. The cloakroom was free but the queues were very long. 
Going to a museum in general with a toddler is not the best idea but it felt like we were being frowned upon as we went into the exhibitions. Hetty didn’t take kindly to standing still for very long and did cry a few times so we took her out so as to not disturb anyone and we took it in turns to go in to view the paintings. The way the museum is set up was quite handy as there were large corridors outside the main doors to the exhibitions so we could let her run around a bit whilst the other was in the exhibition. Some of the items we saw were fantastic, but I particularly enjoyed seeing the sketch of ‘the scream’ by Edvard Munch, Van Gogh’s self portrait, sunflowers and the bedroom, amongst others. We had some food whilst at the museum and although there wasn’t much choice we managed to find something Hetty would eat and the quality of the food was very good. They had high chairs although they were few and far between. Luckily it wasn’t very busy when we went or we might have struggled to get one! 

By the time we left the museum it was dark, so we took some more photos at the ‘I amsterdam’ sign and then headed back to the canal to get the last boat back to the stop nearest the hotel. At one point near to the last stop we got stuck in the canal as there were too many boats. I think it must have been the time of night but it wasn’t great timing as Hetty was becoming very tired and cranky! Eventually we got through after a bit of ‘argy bargy’ (see what I did there?!) and back to the hotel to put Hetty to bed via the shop at the train station to get some milk for her drink before bed.

The next day we were up early in order to go to the Anne Frank House. We arrived around 15 minutes after it opened and the queue was around the corner. As it wasn’t really toddler friendly we took it in turns to see the museum. The only way it would have been feasible to take a baby/toddler would be if they’d be quite content in a sling or napping at the time. As it is busy you have to queue most of the way around inside as well so it can be quite slow moving. It was incredibly moving to be in a place with such history and to see the actual diary was amazing. I loved the way it has been displayed – with minimal furniture and original pictures on the walls so you really get a sense of what it was like when they lived there. 

Whilst Andrew was queuing and visiting the Anne Frank House I took Hetty for a walk along the canals and side streets to get more of a feel for Amsterdam. Unfortunately a lot of shops are very small, down in basements or have steps so aren’t stroller friendly. 

We then came across Dam Square and Hetty had her photo taken with a person dressed as Darth Vader. There were lots of people dressed up in various costumes, demonstrating things and even a horse and cart. Everyone was in good spirits, the atmosphere was great and it seemed like a popular place to meet and have coffee.

Once Andrew had finished it was lunch time so we chose an Italian restaurant that didn’t look too busy just off Dam Square. Unfortunately I didn’t make a note of its name as they were really accommodating; they had highchairs, space for us to store our pram and the staff were friendly. The pizzas were good too 🙂

That afternoon we decided to try and fit in a diamond factory tour via the canal cruise that they’d mentioned was free. As the ticket was for 24 hours it was still valid (just!) so we used it to go to the Gasan factory. It wasn’t a ‘tour’ as such, more a talk about how they cut diamonds and they showed us the machinery. We were then taken into a consultation room and showed various sized diamonds of various qualities, including some jewellery. It wasn’t a hard sell to get you to buy anything which was refreshing – it was more a: ‘if you see anything you like or want to ask me prices for a diamond then we can maybe do a deal’.

From there we walked back to the hotel although unfortunately right at that moment the heavens opened. We packed our cases and headed to the meeting point to get the coach although carrying all our belongings (including the travel cot!) and pushing Hetty in the stroller in the pouring rain was not fun! We stopped via the shop at the station to buy Hetty a sandwich for the journey back to the port. The shop in the station is really useful – it has all sorts from snacks to drinks, fruit, milk sandwiches etc. And at normal prices. 

The journey on the way back was not as smooth unfortunately due to the weather. There was a force 9 gale which meant the boat was swaying a lot on the way home and I didn’t get much sleep. Hetty slept ok considering but it’s not a journey I would want to repeat! 

I had a lovely trip to Amsterdam and although travelling with a toddler is much harder than with a baby, we managed it and were able to still see some sights and experience Amsterdam. I enjoyed going by ferry as it was something different and life is all about experiences. 

Canada part 2: Halifax & Nova Scotia – our first trip abroad with Hetty


Day 4: 11th July 2015 – Arrival in Halifax

The next morning we were up early for our flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we were spending the rest of our trip. The flight went without a hitch and Hetty slept for most of the 2-hour flight. Result!

Once we’d retrieved our suitcase we went to collect the car that we’d hired through Budget. I was worried there wouldn’t be a child’s car seat for us but I needn’t have as they had one waiting for us, together with the sat nav we’d ordered. 

Next on the ‘to do’ list was to collect a travel cot I’d arranged to rent from Tiny Travellers – a baby equipment hire company based in Halifax. Hetty had clearly had enough of all the travelling so we decided to go straight to the house we’d rented first to let her have a crawl around her new digs for the week, whilst Andrew went back to collect the cot.

We decided to rent a house for the week as we thought with having Hetty it would be much easier a) having a kitchen and b) having her in a separate bedroom. We found it through airbnb which I hadn’t used before but would definitely recommend. It worked out cheaper than a hotel (with a kitchen and separate bedroom) and it meant we were staying in a typical Canadian/Nova Scotian neighbourhood. We were around a 40-minute walk from downtown Halifax but right by a main street with takeaways, restaurants and shops so we definitely weren’t out in the sticks.

We got the bags into the house and Andrew got the travel cot with no problems. We then needed lunch so decided to head into Halifax and check out the harbour front. We had lunch in Murphy’s; a seafood restaurant, which was nice. We shared the lobster dip to start which was lovely and then I had salmon with curried pasta which was certainly different but tasty.

After a little walk around we headed back to the house via a supermarket to stock up on food for the week. I was surprised at how expensive everything is here, even the basics. We spent the rest of the day getting settled into our accommodation.

Day 5: 12th July 2015 – Peggy’s Cove & Halifax Citadel

Today we were up early for a trip to Peggy’s Cove to see the infamous lighthouse. We arrived relatively early but there were already quite a few people there. Unfortunately it was raining but it wasn’t too bad as to spoil the day. I managed to get a few pictures of the lighthouse without anyone in it and then we had a bit of a climb up the rocks and looked out at the view of the coast and sea. If you are going to Peggy’s Cove with a little one remember to take the sling as it isn’t really stroller/pram friendly.

We then had some brunch at the cafe there which was nice and a look around the shops which sell a lot of normal touristy stuff but also a lot of locally handmade items. On the day we went there happened to be an art show of local artists and we purchased a lovely painting of the lighthouse as a lovely memento of our trip.

I also fell in love with some handmade hats in one of the shops but refrained from purchasing one (how I will never know!).

The area around the lighthouse is beautiful – the colourful houses, the boats docked in the water and green grass surrounding them. It really is worth a trip there, although I can see how the traffic is starting to spoil things. Maybe they should think about not letting traffic right up to the lighthouse and stop them up near the visitors centre as it isn’t far to walk and it would make for a much more pleasant experience for the people walking around. 

After an ice cream at Dee Dee’s (also a must!) we headed back to Halifax via the monument that remembers the lives lost in the 1998 plane crash. 

We spent the afternoon at the Citadel. For the equivalent of around £6 they really do put on a good tour/show there. In quite a few of the rooms they had student guides there to tell you a bit about the room, what it was used for and some interesting facts. They also had tours once an hour but unfortunately we’d just missed one. You are given a map so you are able to do a self-guided tour which, due to the people stationed in the rooms, it still made for an interesting trip.

On the way back to the house we stopped off to grab dinner at a Greek restaurant on Quinpool Road called Athens. Hetty didn’t eat much but we both enjoyed it.

Day 6: 13th July 2015 – Clam Harbour Beach 

The following day was forecast to be very hot, so we’d planned a beach day – we aren’t really beach people or sitting around sun-bathing types but we thought we’d at least go to a couple of beaches a) for the photos and b) so Hetty could have a paddle in the sea.

In my research before coming to Nova Scotia, I’d flagged up 4 possible beaches within an hour-or-so’s drive of Halifax that had good reviews on blogs/websites. Those were Clam Harbour, Martinique, Lawrencetown and Rainbow Haven. We decided to do the most ambitious first: Clam Harbour and then head to Martinique in the afternoon. It didn’t quite work out to plan.

Clam Harbour beach is said to be very ‘child friendly’, having a long shallow tide that gets quite warm in the summer. It also has changing rooms and picnic tables and is supervised during the peak months. 

We planned it so that we set off just before Hetty was due a nap, so she’d hopefully sleep for most of the journey. Googlemaps stated a journey time of around an hour, and I think it took us about an hour and 10 minutes. When we pulled into the car park there were no other cars around and we weren’t exactly sure where to go as there weren’t any signs, but we managed to work it out. There is a wooden ramp that leads from the car park down to the beach and also across to the changing rooms. We got to the beach and there wasn’t a sole on it yet – I quickly took some photos and I’m glad I did as right behind us was a couple of dog walkers. After about 10 minutes or so a few more people arrived with children and set up camp.

It soon became apparent that there were quite a few flies and mosquitos around and they all seemed headed in our direction. It must be the European blood! We were getting bitten alive – especially my husband. We kept hitting them away from Hetty and luckily she didn’t get bitten.

We soldiered on and still spent some time there, seen as we’d come so far. We changed Hetty into her UV suit and sun-creamed her up. She loved having a little paddle in the sea and eating the sand. Its the only thing since we got here thats kept her still – sitting eating the sand 😉

Andrew had fun making a 3D maple leaf in the sand and then we did the obligatory footprints and ‘Canada 2015’ so we could take a photo as a memento.

It got to lunch time and we decided to get Hetty showered and changed so we could eat on one of the picnic tables by the changing rooms. The showers were freezing cold but they did the job and we were impressed at the changing facilities. Unfortunately the flies and mozzies were all around the changing rooms too and as we’d already been bitten enough and to be honest we were fed up, we decided to head back to the car and have lunch there. 

Whilst in the car we had tons of flies trying to get in the car, we reviewed our many bites and as the reviews of Martinique beach mentioned that it had a lot of mosquitoes we decided to give it a miss. Hetty was due a nap so we decided to just head back to Halifax with our tails between our legs.

When looking back we had a lovely time – especially seeing how Hetty loved the sea and the sand. We just really aren’t beach people – I hate the fact sand gets everywhere and getting bitten so many times really put a dampener on things. It would have been nice to tick Martinique beach off but it was another 50 minute drive, plus then another hour back home to Halifax we decided not to. Had we not had a baby with us then maybe.

On the way back we went straight to Halifax harbour front and grabbed ice cream from Cows (which was pretty mediocre in my opinion) before heading home to re-group.

We then decided to brave having dinner out, although as we eat pretty early with Hetty the restaurants are usually empty so at least we don’t disturb too many people. We decided on a restaurant called Messe, again on Quinpool Road. I had a few different Mezze’s (falafel, humous and halloumi) and Andrew had a lamb Kabob. Mine weren’t great – too salty for my tastes, but Andrew enjoyed his. 

Day 7: 14th July 2015 – Lunenburg & Mahone Bay

Today we were up and off again – this time to Lunenburg for Whale watching. The best whale watching in Nova Scotia is definitely to be found at the Bay of Fundy but with a little one going there and back in one day just wasn’t a viable option. We could have stayed up there overnight but packing everything up for one night just didn’t seem doable either. So we decided to ‘risk it’ and go to Lunenburg instead.

Lunenburg is picture-postcard ready. It is absolutely beautiful. Please see the first photo posted! It is a quaint little town and definitely worth a visit. As soon as we got there we signed up for the next available whale-watching tour and then went to get a second breakfast whilst we waited. I took a few pictures, we people watched and simply took in the beautiful scenery. 

The boat tour left at 11:30am and there were around 15 people on there. It took a while before we saw anything decent – a few sun fish – and it got to the point where we didn’t think we’d get to see anything. We were all looking around: eyes pealed but it was looking less and less likely that we’d see any whales. My research suggested it was about a 50/50 chance on this tour as to whether we’d see anything, but seen as we weren’t able to go to the Bay of Fundy I thought it was worth a shot. I started to get a bit disheartened. At one point we were out in the middle of no-where: no land in sight and they turned the engine off. The sea was really calm and it was so quiet out there. Its one of the most serene moments of the trip and one of the highlights if I’m honest – even for me who hates the sea as it freaks me out!

As we were heading back we luckily came across a few Minke Whales so our trip was not unsuccessful 🙂

Back to shore and we went to get fish and chips (how British of us!) which were a bit of a disappointment and headed back. We had a quick look at the memorial on the front where they have the names of all the fishermen and women who have lost their lives inscribed.

 On our way back to Halifax we stopped in at Mahone Bay for an ice cream. It was a very brief stop so I am unable to really say much about the place but it looked like a nice small town with quite a few shops. It isn’t as picturesque as Lunenburg so if you have a choice between them definitely go to Lunenburg. 

Then we headed home, exhausted from our long but lovely day further down the East coast.

Day 8: 15th July 2015

Today we decided to have a ‘lazy day’ as we had things planned every-other-day and the weather wasn’t supposed to be that great. We thought we’d treat ourselves to doing nothing and recuperate a little as we were both exhausted from the trip so far – having a little one in tow really does take it out of you! But us being us we don’t do sitting around very well and our lazy day turned into a lazy morning. 

The weather wasn’t actually too bad so we decided to have a leisurely walk to the public gardens in Halifax – which took us about 45 minutes – and then once there we decided to push on through to the harbour front. 

The gardens are stunning. It was lovely and really quite relaxing having a stroll around them, looking at all the beautiful flowers and walking around the large pond. We had a bite to eat in the cafe and I was impressed at the standard of food they serve for such a small venue.

We stopped in at a few shops on the way to the front to get some souvenirs (including Hetty a Canada t-shirt for the trip back!) and then walked the length of the harbour front before heading back home. 

Hetty needed some milk so we stopped in at a crepe cafe, just a bit further down from the Citadel, and thought we’d both have one as an afternoon snack. My gosh they were so big they could have counted as our dinner! We really should have ordered one between us but we didn’t realise. They were so good but quite sickly. If you are in the area definitely check this place out. They also gave us some free fudge on the way out (I didn’t take a piece but of course Andrew did!).

Day 9: 16th July 2015

Today we had booked a winery tour with Grape Escapes which was quite pricey but we hoped that would mean it would be informative and good fun. We certainly had fun and tried lots of Nova Scotian wine in the process!

We started off at a couple of breweries in Halifax, which I’m not really in to but it was interesting nonetheless. Hetty had fun crawling around anyway – luckily neither place was busy as it was quite early in the day for most people!

Then we had about an hours drive to the first winery – Lucketts. Its a very commercial winery which is obviously ‘the place to be’ as the restaurant was very large and very full of well dressed people. We had a sandwich (tasty but very small much to our disappointment!) and then our wine tasting whilst sat at a table overlooking the vineyard and spectacular views. I enjoyed all the wines we tasted but not enough to purchase any. It was the first winery after all and we could only really take one bottle with us back on the plane. 

The grounds and views were spectacular and it would have been nice to spend some more time there to take it all in. We had a little time to take some pictures but then we had to get back on the bus to the next place. Being from the UK we didn’t take the opportunity to make the phone call in the London phone box in the middle of the vineyard but it is a quirky feature thats for sure.

Next we went to an organic winery called L’Acardie – named after the grape that is used in a lot of Nova Scotian wines. It is one of the only grapes that will grow in their very changeable climate. I was impressed at the fact that it was the only organic winery and how dedicated and enthusiastic they were. We bought some of their sparkling wine as we were very impressed with it. 

The third and final winery was Domaine De Grand Pre. We didn’t see anything of their vineyards – we were just taken into their shop, given some wines and a liqueur to try and some seafood (which I don’t eat). I was least impressed with this stop although the staff were really lovely. 

The last stop we had was at a ‘distillery’ called Tangled Garden, which is in inverted commas as they don’t actually make the spirits there they just infuse them. I loved it here. It was so quirky and different and just a little bit weird. They let us try so many things – but best of all were their ‘jellies’. We bought a couple to take home as they were extremely good. They have some beautiful gardens that you can have a stroll around and you can see where they grow all their herbs and flowers for the infusion. 

Then it was back home and luckily the driver said he would drop us back at our house (they only pick up and drop off at 2 locations in Halifax which are down at the harbour front). Of course we gave him a good tip!

Day 10: 17th July 2015

Our last day in Halifax and as it was forecast to be nice weather we decided to tick off 2 more beaches from my list: Lawrencetown Beach and Rainbow Haven.

We arrived at Lawrencetown beach early just as the surfers were arriving. The beach there is full of stones, except right at the shore edge. We were hoping the tide would go out whilst we were there but unfortunately it didn’t. Hetty loved sitting playing with the stones and we loved sitting watching the surfers. A really tranquil and enjoyable morning thats for sure. I’m really glad we went. 

After an hour or so we headed on to Rainbow Haven which seemed like much more of a family-friendly, sunbathing-type beach. 

We did arrive much later in the morning – almost lunch time – but it was very busy. It was a much bigger beach than Lawrencetown and it was sandy. There were a few stones dotted about but it was mainly sand and a lovely golden sand at that. It is obviously a popular local spot as there were lots of groups of teenagers and young adults there with Frisbees etc. But plenty of families and people with dogs. There wasn’t much in the way of facilities there, other than toilets and I think there were showers, a couple of picnic benches but no cafe or shop.

Both beaches were lovely and well worth a visit. Like I have already said I am glad we made the effort to go there, even if it was’t for long, just to see them and to experience them.

The rest of the afternoon was unfortunately spent packing for our flight back to Toronto and then home the following day.

Day 11: 18th July 2015

We were up very early today for our flight from Halifax back to Toronto. On our way to the airport we dropped the travel cot back at Jennifer’s house. We gave the rental car back at the airport with no issues and I must say it was a very easy and efficient service. Our flight to Toronto was with Westjet and it was one of the most enjoyable flights I’ve ever been on. The staff were so funny and engaging – singing on the tannoy with westjet themed songs, cracking jokes to us during the flight and remembering our names. As soon as I got on the plane one of the flight attendants helped me with my bag and immediately recognised my accent as Northern so proceeded to take the mickey out of me for the rest of the flight. 

Once in Toronto we headed to the luggage store at the shop to leave our cases which was a godsend. I don’t know what we’d have done if it wasn’t for that shop! We then headed into Toronto on public transport which took quite a bit of effort but we managed it. There wasn’t any information around to explain how to get public transport – other than the new shuttle service that costs a small fortune. We managed by asking people and everyone we spoke to was really helpful. It meant getting an express bus to a tube station and then changing once. 

During my research I’d realised that the Toronto Blue Jays – Toronto’s baseball team – were playing the day we were leaving. Not knowing how we’d feel on the last day of our trip, we’d earmarked it just in case we had enough energy left. We hoped we did as we both really wanted to see a baseball game as neither of us had before.

We headed to the Rogers stadium on what was the hottest day by far and to top it off Hetty was fighting her nap. I managed to get her to sleep just as we arrived at the stadium so I stood in the shade whilst Andrew went off to get us some tickets. Someone we’d spoken to on the wine tour in NS had told us we’d have no problem getting tickets there.

The queues to get in the gates were huge, especially so if you take a bag with you as they search you. So Andrew got in the queue with the stroller and I stood in the shade with Hetty asleep in the sling until he got to the front. It didn’t help that the suncream was in our suitcase back in the luggage store! It had to be in the case for the flight as it was over 100ml and I forgot to transfer it into my backpack before we stored them. Epic mummy fail!

Anyway, we got in to the stadium no problem and it was very family friendly. They had a free buggy park! We got a flag from the shop for Hetty’s keepsake box and got to our seats without any issue. Unfortunately due to the queues we had missed the start but it didn’t really matter. 

Luckily we were sat behind someone who knew his stuff and he filled us in on the rules. By the end of the game I think I largely understood what was going on! The blue jays lost unfortunately but we had a great time, and I saw a home run! Poor Andrew was in the toilet at the time changing Hetty’s nappy!

Then we headed back to the airport and grabbed some food whilst we changed Hetty into her PJ’s and gave her her milk. She of course didn’t go to sleep on her bottle as we thought she would but after some walking around she fell asleep in the sling.

We checked in after a bit of an issue with being overweight but with some re-jigging we managed it. Hetty had a few stirs but she stayed asleep for the whole flight home – only waking when we landed at Manchester. We on the other hand didn’t sleep a wink!

Despite having a 10-month old with us we managed to do so much on this trip and we have so many amazing memories of our daughter’s first trip abroad. 

Canada part 1: Arrival & Toronto –  our first trip abroad with Hetty

Day 1: 8th July 2015 – journey and arrival in Toronto

Our first trip abroad with Henrietta began like most of our others: with something going wrong. The night before I had sat down after Hetty went to bed at 7pm and checked the online departures board for Manchester airport. It was lucky that I did, as I realised that our ‘travel agent’ (in inverted brackets for a very good reason) had told us we were departing from the wrong terminal. Although the terminal didn’t affect the car parking I had booked; we had ordered a large amount of formula milk from Boots to collect once past security in the airport. At the wrong terminal!

I duly telephoned our ‘travel agent’ who could not have cared less – complaint is pending – and my anger and upset built even more. Boots were very helpful but unfortunately could not help us with transferring our order to the correct terminal. It meant me rushing out to Asda, who didn’t have any of our formula (even more panic!) but luckily Sainsbury’s saved the day. It meant that we had to try and fit the 14 cartons of ready made and the box of formula in our case but we managed it and somehow were underweight too! 

Apart from forgetting a couple of non-essential items, the next morning went reasonably smoothly and we arrived at the airport in good time. Our car park meet and greet service with ‘Easy Park’ was very handy and convenient.

On check-in with Air Canada we requested a basinet seat, having been told by our ‘travel agent’ they could not be booked in advance but low and behold there were none left, despite us being one of the first people to check in. We were then given separate seats which I complained about and the woman snapped at me for stating it wouldn’t work having separate seats. Well do your job properly then!!! She accepted it was her mistake and quickly changed our seats to be next to each other in a 2-seat aisle so no-one would be next to us.   

Hetty was then due a nap and following a quick bum-change duly fell asleep after a brief wheel around in her stroller. We then took the opportunity to grab some breakfast at Frankie & Benny’s whilst she slept. Some brief peace and quiet! Hetty then polished off some of our left over breakfast when she woke and we took her to the children’s play area to let her crawl around and waste some energy before boarding the plane. 

Before travelling I had googled tips for travelling with an infant and one of the suggestions was to board the plane last, which we did and I am glad we did as by the time it came to take off she was getting a bit restless. Luckily the seats were quite spacious so we had a bit of room to entertain her on our knees. And by the way I have to say that the staff onboard Air Canada flights must be the trendiest in the world!

To our delight the flight wasn’t fully booked so once we had taken off we were able to move to spare a 3-seat which was so much more convenient. The meal onboard was nice and Hetty had a good long nap after her bottle which gave us a bit of peace and quiet 🙂

The rest of the flight went without a hitch – other than Hetty not having another nap which meant by the time we got to the hotel she hadn’t napped in 7 hours. For a 10-month old thats pretty good going!

It took forever for our bags to come once we arrived at Pearson Airport and when we finally got out it was about 4:15pm local time (we landed at 2:50pm) and the taxi I had booked through Zoom tours was no-where in sight. After a bit of asking around it appeared that Zoom tours aren’t a usual pick up at the airport so after a couple of attempts at using a payphone we managed to get hold of someone who confirmed no-one had been sent as the ‘flight number I gave was wrong’. Even though there was a flight coming in at the same time from the same origin. I’d given the flight number on our tickets but Lufthansa and Air Canada must have an agreement to use each other’s flights so when we got to the airport we were on an Air Canada flight with a different flight number. They didn’t have anyone available so after all that effort we ended up getting a limo from the airport. It worked out quite a bit cheaper than pre-booking and would have been more convenient so if you are travelling to Toronto Pearson Airport I really wouldn’t bother pre-booking a taxi. I’d also tried to pre-book a company that provides car seats but they were useless at getting back to me so that fell through. As it happens for the purposes of getting to and from the airport it was ok not having her in a car seat. 

We arrived at our hotel: Town Inn Suites at around 5pm (10pm UK) and Hetty was still awake. She’d been almost dropping asleep on the way in the taxi but arriving at the hotel perked her up a bit. I was really impressed at the room – just what we needed. A separate bedroom, a living area and a kitchen with everything you could need. Perfect. The bathroom wasn’t done out amazing but we coped – it would have been nice to have a plug for the bath but oh well you can’t have everything! The hotel was a bit far from downtown but it was fine. It took about a 40-50 minute walk to get to the waterfront, CN Tower etc. 

Our first task on arriving at the hotel was to get Hetty to bed which she promptly zonked out on her milk and went in the travel cot, provided by the hotel, fine. Andrew then went in search of pizza and some milk and bread for the morning whilst I unpacked. There was lots around the hotel so it didn’t take him long to find what we needed.

Day 2: 9th July 2015 – A day in Toronto

The next morning, with Hetty being wide awake at 3am (*sob*) we were out for a walk very early and grabbed a coffee and bagel at one of the many, MANY Tim Horton’s. You can’t go far without passing one thats for sure. They must be doing something right!

Next it was back to the hotel to grab a few things before we headed out for the day. 

Following a third (!) breakfast at a little place near the harbour, our first stop was the CN tower. I’d pre-booked tickets online but we were so early I didn’t really need to. There were no queues at all so we were straight through security and in the lift to the first viewing platform. The views over the city were pretty great but unfortunately it was quite a misty morning so we couldn’t see too far. I’d heard that on a clear day you can see as far as Niagara Falls and Rochester.

We’d paid the extra fee to go all the way to the highest viewpoint, known as the Skypod. 447 feet above ground. Scary! But it would have been a lot more worthwhile had it been a clear day. We were then taken to the level with the glass floor which was terrifying but fun. I tried to take some pictures of us laying down on it but they didn’t come out. We also tried to get Hetty to crawl on it but even she wasn’t so sure! I don’t blame her 😉

I was impressed at the CN Tower and I have been up a few similar tourist attractions (for example the Eiffel Tower and Auckland’s Sky Tower) and I would say the experience was very good and the staff were all extremely helpful and plentiful. We actually had a hard time getting away from one lady who wanted to tell us lots of things to go and see whilst in Toronto! 

Following this we went down to the harbour front to catch the next ferry over to Centre Point on Toronto Island. It is a very family-orientated place but one that is very worth while to visit. It has lots of grass, flowers and picnic tables, not to mention the attractions. Our first port of call over there was lunch at a cafe. We had a really nice lunch there and would recommend it – I had a burger and Andrew had a flatbread. 

We then went to the farm, as Hetty was too young for most of the rides in the amusement park. Whilst looking around a young lady asked us if we would like to go in with the piglets. She said if we made a small donation to the farm she could take us in. So of course we duly obliged 🙂 The piglets were so cute and loved being stroked. They were even nibbling on our clothes and Hetty’s toes! 

We walked to the beach and along the pier, took some photos and then decided to call it a day. We’d been up since 3am and so were shattered, even though there was a lot more to see (gardens, viewpoint, lighthouse…) we needed to rest for the long day we had ahead of us the following day: to Niagara Falls!

Day 3: 10th July 2015 – Niagara Falls

Today we had a 5am start so we were at least heading in the right direction with Hetty’s jet lag! We had to walk to Tim Hortons on York Street to meet the bus for our tour to Niagara Falls by 8:30 a.m. and it was at least a 40 minute walk, so it was probably a good thing we were up so early. I’d booked the tour with Zoom tours and due to the fiasco at the airport with the none-existent taxi I was worried it wouldn’t show up but luckily it did. We were collected in a rickety looking bus by ‘Tudy’: a tad overweight – father Christmas look alike. He seemed a bit abrupt and cold at first but he warmed up a lot during the tour and by the end was smiling and waving at Hetty 🙂 We sat up front on the bus which was a good thing as he didn’t use a microphone for when he was telling us information and it was sometimes hard even for us to hear him.

The drive to Niagara Falls takes around 90 minutes and we had stops in Niagara Falls village, the flower clock and a winery called Reif Estates. We had 45 minutes in the village but by the time we’d got the shuttle there and back we only had 30 minutes and it wasn’t nearly long enough. We looked in the Christmas shop and got an iced coffee and some sorbet from another shop and it was time to go! The village is so pretty and picturesque – absolutely full of flowers everywhere. I’d have liked to have stayed there a bit longer, but I guess thats what you get with tours. Looking back I didn’t take many photos in the village, which I wish I had as it looked fantastic with flowers everywhere. I assume it was due to the lack of time we had there. I have included a (terrible) photo of a pub just to give a sense of how many flowers there wear around the area.

The flower clock was pretty but missable. There were so many people around it that it was hard to get a photo, which was the main reason to stop there. 

The winery was really good. We had a tasting of a white, a red and an ice wine – which we’d never heard of before so it was interesting to learn about it. 

Ice wine originated from Germany and a family brought it over to Canada in the 70’s. Now 89% of the world’s ice wine is made in Canada and 85% of it in Ontario. At least those are the facts and figures I recall from the tour so I hope they are correct! 

Finally it was then on to the Falls and we went straight on to the Hornblower cruise. The boat was packed but we still managed to get a good view of the magnificent waterfalls. We got so close to them that, had we not been wearing the poncho’s they’d handed out beforehand we would have gotten drenched. They even gave Hetty her own mini-poncho which was so cute! The fact you get so close means you can really take in the sheer size of the falls and power of the water coming over them. 

It was such a bright, sunny day that the water was reflecting the sun and it was difficult to get a decent photo! 

After the boat cruise we went for lunch in a nearby fast food restaurant that overlooked the falls which was lovely. We managed to get a photo at a view point which included both waterfalls. Luckily whilst we were there a group of young lads offered to take a photo for us, which came out really well. Thanks to them, and the large, brightly coloured puppet they were carrying around, Hetty was even smiling on the photo! 

We then grabbed an ice-cream and sat across the road on a grassed area to let Hetty have a crawl around before the bus ride back to Toronto. The bus ride was awful as it didn’t have aircon so we were all sweltering in the heat. Hetty was down to just her nappy by the end of it and was bright red bless her 😦

We had a great day, ticking off a natural wonder and it was really worth spending the day visiting it from Toronto. Although we didn’t have long in Toronto this really was a must-see for us.
The following day we were headed to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a week – I’m covering this in my next blog post, so keep an eye out!

Babymoon in Mojacar, Spain


Day 1: Getting there

Our journey to Mojacar, Spain, wasn’t the smoothest journey we’ve ever been on.
Our friends own an apartment in Mojacar, and we needed a one-last break just us, before the baby arrived, therefore we thought a week-long relax in the sun sounded perfect. It was also a chance to see our friend’s apartment and the area they love so much.
My brother dropped us at Leeds and Bradford Airport, where they have introduced a ‘no dropping zone’ all along the outskirts of the airport, to force you to go into their short stay car park which charges you £2 simply to drop someone off or pick them up. My brother stated he would drop us at the edge, as he had done several times before apparently, only to be caught by a parking attendant who claimed there was a camera directly above us and it was a £60 fine. My brother quickly sped away and the attendant duly started radioing someone my brother’s licence plate. Cameras? So what was the need to radio his licence plate?? Either way it was a fab start to our holiday.
We’d checked in with RyanAir online and only had hand luggage, so we went straight through security with no problems. I don’t know how, as I certainly didn’t pay for extra for it, but our boarding passes had ‘Priority Q’ at the top, so we thought we’d lucked out and duly joined the priority queue.
As we walked through to board the plane a lady stopped us and asked us to place our hand luggage in the display box to check it was the correct size. Well, of course they weren’t. They were both tiny cases but too wide; but not by much. We pointed out to the lady that a lot of the cases that were passing were much bigger than ours, so the overall size of ours was smaller than them. She wasn’t having any of it and had a ‘computer says no’ attitude. So we opened the case up, and placed some clothes into a carrier bag we had, and put it back into the display box: it now fit. I spoke to the manager about it, to try and complain that they really should have had a bit more of a common sense approach; but no, he also had a ‘computer says no’ response. I said it was a bit ridiculous that we were made to do that, when the clothes from the carrier bag were just going to go back in the case. His reply was that if we did, we’d be made to come back and put the case back in the display box. He spoke to us like children and it did put our backs up a bit. 
Naturally, we then proceeded to compare everyone else’s cases and ‘handbags’ (as you do) and noticed so many people had larger suitcases than ours and even had large backpacks as their handbags. Note to self for next time: make sure your case fits in the box, but take a backpack with the rest in and you’re all good. 
The flight itself was absolutely fine, took less time than expected and was reasonably comfy. We flew into Murcia airport which was one of three we could have gone to, within a reasonable travelling distance of Mojacar. Our other main choice was Alicante, or a more local but expensive airport was Almeria. In order to get to Mojacar we had hired a car from Goldcar. As we only had hand luggage and there were 2 of us we decided to get the cheapest, smallest car possible: a Fiat 500. A week’s rental for £46. We knew they’d try and get us to opt for the more expensive insurance, which, due to our luck so far on this holiday we thought we’d probably better take out. 70 euros! Then they tried to up sell a better car and I had a bit of a strop that a £50 rental was now turning into a £100+ rental. She backed off then with the up-selling! 
We found our rental car ok and it looked relatively new and was spotless inside. It was surprisingly comfortable and a really nice ride. My husband was driving the 1.5 hours to Mojacar but being used to long car journeys it wasn’t a long drive to us. I’d printed out trusty googlemap directions and off we went. The journey wasn’t too bad – we went wrong once by missing a turning but we soon rectified it: no harm done. As we got to within two streets of the apartment the directions weren’t accurate so we ended up having to pull over and pay for data to get up googlemaps and find our way to the apartment.
Things then got interesting. We’d been given the address of the apartment as number 6 [street name]. My friends had only just bought the apartment and we were the first to stay in it. We pulled up outside number 6 [street name] and tried the keys in the gate. Only one key fit but it wouldn’t turn. We tried and tried to open the gate, wiggle it incase there was a knack to it, but it wasn’t opening. It was about midnight at this point, pitch black and no-one around. My husband reached over to the other side of the gate to see if he could open it from the other side and there was a key in the other side of the lock! We used that key to open the gate and when we got in, the garage was wide open. I said to Andrew that I didn’t think this was where we were supposed to be. As I said that we heard someone from above come out and a head popped over a terrace. “Can I help you?” a rather drunk sounding Irish man asked. My husband explained we were supposed to be staying at 6 [street name]. The drunk Irishman asked who had told us that. We replied, the owner [insert friends name]. That person isn’t known here, replied the chap. We explained that she’d just bought the apartment. He replied that this wasn’t an apartment and the only apartments were right at the top of the street. We said we’d have a walk up the top and try to find it, apologising for waking him up and effectively breaking into his house. He continued to chat to us about XYZ, us edging further and further out of the gate but he didn’t seem to want to go inside! He was a lovely guy, and I think we were very lucky it wasn’t a different type of person’s house we’d just broken in to!
Up the hill we went to the top of the street, where, at NUMBER 7 [street name] there were a block of apartments. Our key worked (hallelujah!) in the gate so we knew we were in the right place this time – however now we had to work out which apartment it was! The apartments were numbered but upstairs were A and downstairs were B. How do we know which one it is? Going by the ‘6’ [street name] we were given, lets assume its apartment 6. But is that apartment A6 or B6? We sort of remembered from the pictures that it looked like a downstairs apartment, so we gambled at B6. Luckily we tried the key and it worked. Otherwise who’s knows what would have happened!

Day 2/3: our first days in Mojacar
Before going to bed the night before we’d said that we wouldn’t set an alarm and just get up whenever we wanted. It was really strange to us that we didn’t have anything planned or anything to get up for. Whether that was at home or when on holiday! We ended up laying in until midday! I can’t remember the last time we did that. Years ago perhaps. 
We had breakfast on the veranda, with gorgeous sunshine and were able to really relax. This is what its all about! 


In the afternoon (as thats all that was left of the day!) we went for a walk down to the front. The beach is beautiful but a bit pebbly, however the wind had picked up by now and the sea was choppy. Mojacar is apparently quite famous for strong winds, especially higher up in the mountains. It means that although the sun was blazing out, you could sit in the sun and not feel the heat. Dangerous for sunburn, yes, but nice and refreshing when 6 months pregnant and unable to handle the heat very well.
We found a beachfront bar called ‘Ankara’ which was heaving with lunchtime business; I got a Mocktail and Andrew a San Miguel. We just sat, chatted, sunbathed and relaxed, looking out at the sea. A perfect way to spend our first day on holiday. Aside from the four flies I found in my drink (the waitress got me a fresh one!), the drip mark on my top from my ice-cream and the fact half my ice-cream broke off into my mouth not long into eating it!
Later on in the afternoon we went to the supermarket to stock up. We got some fruit and didn’t realise you had to weigh the fruit yourself and print off a sticker. When we got to the checkout the woman went off to do it for us (she didn’t speak English) and a Spanish guy behind us in the queue sighed so loudly I think someone in their car passing by would have heard. Those damn English (!)
In the evening we went to a lovely Argentinian restaurant called Cabana. We both had filet steak which were amazing. The selection of starters I wasn’t overly keen on and the desserts we had weren’t anything to shout about but the atmosphere, decor and the staff made the evening an extremely enjoyable one. We were made to feel like they’d known us all their life and were part of the family. Definitely go there if you visit Mojacar.


On the second day in Mojacar we had another lazy day: the weather wasn’t great. It looked as if it might rain all day, although it didn’t. It was very windy and cloudy, although we saw the odd spell of sunshine. We had another long-ish lay-in, had breakfast and then went for another walk down to the front to get some lunch. Nothing fancy, in a place called ‘The Irish Rover’ which, surprise surprise is an Irish bar. Not really the sort of place we’d usually go on holiday but this isn’t a typical bloggers holiday anyway! We’d heard that the food was surprisingly good so we thought we’d pop in and as it was Sunday, we weren’t sure anywhere else would be open anyway. The place was full of the British having Sunday dinners. It looked like it would be a very lively, entertaining place on an evening but I bet the clientele would be exactly the same. Not our sort of place but our baguettes were lovely and the service was good.
A lazy afternoon followed by an attempt to have tapas for dinner. A place we passed looked busy and advertised tapas outside so we thought we’d try there. As we walked in we noticed that once again, we’d managed to find a place full of the British eating Sunday roasts. There was also a guy singing, not particularly badly, but it looked and sounded like he was using a karaoke machine to do it. Again a poor choice of venue. The tapas was all laid out on the bar and we chose a few different dishes and sat down. A little while later I heard the ‘ping’ of a microwave and commented to my husband “oh no, that wasn’t a microwave was it?”. Lo and behold a couple of seconds later and our tapas appeared! It had to be the worse tapas I’d ever eaten. I’ve had much better, authentic tapas in England. Lesson learned.

Day 4: Nijar
On the following day, although it was still cloudy it was clear the sun would eventually win. We decided to go to a little town/village called Nijar, recommended by our friends. We didn’t have a road map – just a tiny little map in one of the leaflets in the apartment which showed us Nijar fell about half-way along the main road to Almeria. The journey wasn’t too bad, a relatively straight run, up and down windy mountains with beautiful scenery. 


We arrived at Nijar and knew that it consisted mainly of one main street with shops on it and a church at the top. As we were driving we spotted what looked like a main road so we pulled into a side street and parked up. The main street had the odd shop dotted along it, mainly selling pottery and rugs but also the usual touristy stuff. It sloped upwards and got quite steep in places. At 6 months pregnant my calves were sore once we reached the church. 


It is a pretty little town and the church is really picturesque too. It sits overlooking a small square which has tapas bars on either side and an official-looking building at the bottom. The roads around there are narrow and I wouldn’t advise driving up unless you have a tiny car and are very brave!


We sat and had tapas at the bar to the right of the church (as you look at it) and it was excellent. Real tapas! The portions are quite big so watch out! The staff were very friendly and helpful. Their English wasn’t great but between us and a multi-lingual tapas menu we got there in the end.


On our way back down we stopped in a few shops – most selling similar, but interesting to look at items. Most of the items were too big for us to take back in our hand luggage, but that was probably a good thing as I’d have ended up buying so much as there were some lovely things being sold. If you are in need of souvenirs or something a bit different for your home then it is definitely worth a trip. 
Day 5-6:


The rest of the trip we spent either around the pool at the apartment or down by the beach. As the beach was pebbly we didn’t actually spend any time on it but the front was really pretty. We had a leisurely stroll along the front which was nice as its got a paved walkway. There is a miniature golf place on the front and a bowling alley as well as other resorts along the coastline.
All in all it was a lovely relaxing holiday in a pleasant area of Spain, although it is somewhat overrun by ex-pats!

3 days in Reykjavik


We booked a long-weekend break to Reykjavik through Travelzoo in March 2014. It cost us in the region of £350 for 3 nights B&B at Foss Hotel Baron, with a Northern Lights tour and flights with WOW Air included.
Prior to going to Iceland, as with most trips we do, I’d researched what to do. With us being on a tight schedule I wanted to plan as much as possible, whilst remembering that I would be 4 months pregnant and my energy levels might not be at my usual peak.
I therefore booked us onto a ‘Golden Circle Afternoon Tour’ and a trip to the Blue Lagoon for one of the mornings. I thought that by splitting the tours into different days we could try and visit sights around Reykjavik for the rest of the day or if I was feeling tired I could have a nap/lay-in. The Afternoon tour that we chose was a quicker version of an all-day tour they do: you just don’t spend as much time in each place.
The next hurdle we had to get through was what clothes to take. We’d never been on a cold holiday before, plus we had just hand luggage in with the deal. Luckily we were leant some skiing clothes from my in-laws so we had some warm clothing for on the tours when we went further in land. I only had to buy some ski trousers for me (due to my expanding waste-line) and a hat. We already had some walking boots and for around Reykjavik centre we just took jeans and thermals. Fitting it all in to our hand luggage was the problem! But we managed it: we just had to wear our boots and ski jackets to travel in.
I was really impressed with WOW Air. I thought it was probably going to be similar to a budget airline like RyanAir but they were very efficient. I would however suggest buying snacks before you board the plane as the food onboard was extortionate! We bought a coffee and a sandwich and it came to £12.
In order to get to our hotel from the airport (transfers weren’t included) I’d read up about the shuttle service from the airport to Reykjavik. As we walked through the airport I spotted a desk for the shuttle (it isn’t a big airport so you can’t really miss it), booked two return tickets and told them our hotel’s name. We were shown to a coach and waited for others to arrive. Most people on our flight got on the shuttle. The journey took around 45 minutes and then once at the depot we were transferred on to smaller mini-buses and they dropped people at their individual hotels. Such a great service and we soon came to realise that everything in Iceland was run extremely efficiently. The shuttles run in line with the flights that come in to the airport, so there will always be one running, no matter what time you arrive.
We checked into our hotel late afternoon, which was very clean and comfortable: dumped our stuff down and then went for a drink in the bar. We had some soup and a bread roll and spent the evening just relaxing, ready for the Blue Lagoon tour early the next morning.


The coach picked us up from our hotel at 8:30 a.m. and then once they had picked everyone else up we headed off to the Blue Lagoon: a journey lasting around 40 minutes. The Blue Lagoon is a naturally heated pool in the middle of no-where, surrounded by snow covered mountains. A word of caution for those going on a ‘Blue Lagoon tour’: not all companies include your entrance ticket: just the coach journey. You can order your tickets online in advance, which I’d recommend to save you from queuing.
It didn’t open until 10 a.m. so we got in the queue whilst a man helpfully explained all the different options and the rules whilst inside. We opted for a basic package, which included a towel each, plus a dressing gown for me. 
The whole thing is run very efficiently; your wrist band is your locker key as well as your tab whilst in the pool if you want to get a drink from the pool bar.
Walking from the changing rooms to the pool is freezing cold: especially on the way back! The pool is lovely and warm, and there are spots that are much hotter. The ground is uneven but we managed it in bare feet. Some people had flip flops on, which might make it easier but they are certainly not essential. Around the pool are some signs which explain how the pool was formed and also a map of the pool, but it isn’t massive by any stretch of the imagination. When we went there was quite a strong wind so you could hardly see anything due to the steam.

We braved taking our camera in to the pool, just to take a few snaps of us in it and then put it back in our locker. The camera did have condensation on, so it probably wasn’t the wisest move. If you have access to a waterproof camera then great! There is also an official photographer going around but if its busy they might not get to you. 
It was a nice, unique experience, even if it was a bit touristy: soaking in a warm lagoon, surrounded by snow-covered mountains. I have to say, however, that it wasn’t a big place and as its so popular the place gets crowded. I would not describe it as an essential thing to do whilst in Iceland, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The coaches to and from the Lagoon leave at specific times. We left on the next coach home: 11 a.m. so we had about 40 minutes in the pool and it was long enough for me. Some people stay there all day but I’d have been bored. If there is a group of you I’d go for longer but with just the two of us we had just about the right amount of time. A little rushed getting changed afterwards but I’d rather that than stay there another 2-3 hours. You can eat there though and there is a gift shop, so you can kill some time if you need to. You can also have massages etc with their products if you are feeling plush.


That afternoon we went for a walk along the sea front and through the main street in Reykjavik. It was very windy! I really liked the main street as there were lots of little shops and cafes – every time I walked down I’d see something different. My husband went to the Phallic Museum later in the afternoon whilst I had a quick lay down before dinner. He reported that it was a bit of a gimmick but quite interesting nonetheless.


We ate tea that night in a place called ‘Harry’s’: relatively high up on trip advisor. I think its technically an oriental restaurant but they have other items on their menu as well. We both had fish and they were cooked superbly. We also both had a desert and they were amazing. Thoroughly recommended if you are in Reykjavik.
That night we had the Northern Lights tour booked. We therefore got all kitted out in our ski gear: very excited that we might get to see something that was on our bucket list. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side: overcast and very few breaks in the cloud. Apparently another tour had been called off and ours was very close to being, but on the weather maps the organisers had seen an area that they thought we might still be able to see the lights. On the way to the chosen destination the guide told us lots of information including about the settlement in Iceland and facts about the Northern Lights which was very interesting.
We got to the area in question which had a cafe at the site; luckily we were the first coach to arrive so we got a table. 8 more coaches soon followed and the place was rammed. We got ourselves a hot chocolate and waited to hear news from the guides. A couple of hours passed and we were told they didn’t see any movement and we were heading back. We were really disappointed but the guide told us that we could come back on the tour the following night for free, so we booked on to that to try again.
The following day was hardcore: the Golden Circle tour in the afternoon, finishing at 7pm and the Northern Lights tour that evening starting at 8pm and then up at 4am for our flight home the following morning after that.
That morning, therefore, I wanted to try and relax as much as possible, so we did some souvenir shopping and went to the Christmas Shop to buy some baubles. I could have spent all day in there!


The Golden Circle tour was really good and worth doing. We saw the first settlement of the Icelandic Parliament which is right by a huge area where the tectonic plates are coming apart. We then went on to see Gullfoss: a huge waterfall that is absolutely spectacular, and then finally to see Geysir, the most famous geyser in Iceland. A whistle-stop tour of the main sites, but a must on most tourist’s lists when visiting Iceland. 

We managed to have time for some soup and bread in the hotel bar before getting our warm gear on again for our second attempt at seeing the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, despite the Northern Lights allegedly being out, we couldn’t see them. Apparently they were visible on a very decent camera but otherwise could not be seen with the human eye. As a result we went home very disheartened, cold, and with our tail between our legs.
We loved our brief trip to Iceland, despite being hugely disappointed at not seeing the Northern Lights. It was great to see a cold climate for a change; the landscapes were breathtaking, the people extremely friendly and we were impressed at the all-round efficiency of the trip! 

Days 13-17: Phu Quoc


The last stop on our whistle-stop tour of Vietnam was 4/5 days on Phu Quoc Island. The idea being to have a good long relax at the end of our backpacking trip before heading home. It would have been nice to spend more time in HCMC, but I thought we’d need time to recuperate before heading back to the UK and work.
Prior to leaving the UK I found out that I was pregnant and in the very early stages. By this point in our trip my morning sickness had kicked in big time and other than the first day on Phu Quoc, which we spent sunbathing on the beautiful beach in front of our hotel, I spent the rest of our time in Phu Quoc either in bed or with my head over a toilet. At least it hadn’t started sooner as I’d have missed out on so much during the trip.
Poor Andrew had to therefore look after me, find food (western, as I couldn’t stomach anything else *insert embarrassed/ashamed face icon here*) and spend time alone exploring the island so he could enjoy the last part of the trip: even if I couldn’t!
I’ll let Andrew tell you about the day he hired a moped in order to explore the island…
After a couple of days of relaxing I start to get a bit restless, so Louise suggested I went out and explored a bit of the island as she wasn’t feeling great. So I set off with my wallet and passport and went to rent a bike from one of the locals.
After a bit of research the previous day I managed to persuade the rental place outside our hotel to rent me one of theirs for a significant reduction due to one a couple of miles down the road being a lot cheaper. Getting into the haggling over what is probably £1 or £2 is what I tend to do when I get caught up in smaller currencies and then I feel guilty over quibbling for what is pretty much nothing to us and a significantly larger sum to the person I’m haggling from.


Anyway, I set off with my lovely old moped and as a bit of practice (I don’t ride motor bikes outside of east Asia) I decided to head through Duong Dong to their lighthouse. I got off, had a very brief look around, had a picture taken on my camera by a Japanese tourist (no joke!) and jumped back on the bike.
I then headed to the peppercorn farm along the ‘TL47’ that I had seen on the map the day before. I love a good bit of pepper and it intrigued me as to how it was grown and what it looked like on the plant. I arrived to find a tour about to start and got shown around the farm in a small group.


Turns out the peppercorns are just dried out berries – which surprised me. The difference between the types being that black pepper corns are dried red berries, green peppercorns are dried green berries and white peppercorns are the seed from the middle of the red berries that have been taken out and cleaned.


All of the peppercorns are laid out in the sun after picking and just left to dry. A pretty efficient way of making the most of the surroundings. Once I finished here I bought a tub of peppercorns and got back on the road, next stop – a nearby temple that looked interesting on the map.

Su Muong Pagoda is a small set of pagodas set high in the hills with a small number of monks on site. I arrived and started showing myself around and was greeted by a small monk in a grey ‘monk suit’. To this day I don’t know what that signifies and why he wasn’t wearing orange, or even if this meant he wasn’t a monk at all.
As I was shown round, pointing at this, nodding at something else, he offered to take a photo of me with a large statue. I handed the camera over and he took the photo. He then showed me the donation bowl to which I felt obliged to donate. It’s always a decent idea to have some small notes for these occasions in the pocket and order them from small to large in order to be able to tell exactly what you are pulling out so as not to show whoever it is that’s expecting the tip or donation how much you actually have.
Things continued in this way for the next half an hour until my small note collection was turning into a miniscule collection of large notes. Before I managed to make up a good enough excuse to get rid of him, the monk grabbed my nether regions (possibly for some fertility pagoda’s benefit) and expected a tip – ended up giving him about £10 just to shut him up and almost ran out of there from one of the highest pagodas! Which is no mean feat! 
Back on the bike, silently crying to myself I headed to the south of the Island to the fishing village of An Thoi. The drive down had 2 options, the longer and safer motorway journey or the far more appealing and desolate track route.
Obviously there was only one choice, so I made sure I had enough fuel as I wasn’t expecting the track to have any petrol stations and started following my trusty map south.

The journey down was an experience in itself; It starts off as a track through the forest to which you are unsure if it’s even a road and then turns in to a straight line along the west coast beach. Along this road, which is about 30km, I saw perhaps three vehicles. It gave me a sense of isolation which was almost eerie at points. I stopped the bike at one point in particular that I could just see horizon in either direction along the ruler straight road with the sea on one side. There was a building that looked abandoned and dilapidated and I sat on the beach in silence just watching the sea and enjoying the detachment from civilisation.

Once arriving in An Thoi, I simply rode around looking around. I found some interesting Pagodas around the town and saw the locals going out in their fishing boats. Not a single tourist in sight. It was nice to see a part of Vietnam that didn’t appear to be greatly influenced by foreign invasion.

I headed back north along the motorway this time as I was conscious that my bike had to be back (and I had left my pregnant wife in the hotel room) and came across a Vietnam War monument. It’s a big sculpture that has the moulding of many different people in the middle of different sizes to symbolise that people can break chains together.
I got back on the road and tried to make up some time; cue the toll road that I completely forgot I had to pay for (lucky I made the move when I did from my little Monk friend in the mountains as I only just had enough cash to cover it).
I got back just after dark and went to tell Louise all about my eventful day.
And that concludes (finally!) our visit to Vietnam 🙂