Choose your language:

English (Great Britain)

Discover Adria

 

The family of four are undertaking a year’s travels within their Matrix Silver Collection M 670 SL during an extended career and school break with the intention to experience and embrace as many European countries as possible.

Just a thought.....

Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to take a year out. Invest in your children by living and learning together on a joint adventure. Here's our family account of a 'lifeinavan' journey around Europe.

The family of four are undertaking a year’s travels within their Matrix Silver Collection M 670 SL during an extended career and school break with the intention to experience and embrace as many European countries as possible. Keep up with their adventures here!

FOR MORE INFORMATION YOU CAN FOLLOW THE DIRECT BLOG AT  www.lifeinourvan.com

Seeing the Loire Valley as it should be.... by bike!

7/15/2016

Leaving the prospect of a full visit to Villandry until we return in September, it feels like we keep enjoying the aperitif yet not the full bloodied red that this region is famed for.... St Nicolas-de-Bourgueil would be our choice if pressed!! But today's welcome chance to grab the bikes and head out for some well needed exercise was anything other than an aperitif... it could have matched the wine cellars of the Houses of Parliament....

We'd chosen the motorhome aire site at Villandry as it is perfectly situated to see some fairly big 'fish' in the chateau world.... allowing an opportunity to see VillandryAzay Le Rideau andUsse within biking distance...

So we'd started west along the brilliant Loire bike path (Loire à velo) towards the quaint La Chapelle au Naux... this stretch of the bike path is flat, easy to ride and well signposted and the 10km were some of the easiest and most picturesque bike rides we've enjoyed across Europe

The Loire à vélo runs from Cuffy (near Nevers) to Saint-Brevin-les-Pins (opposite Saint-Nazaire) - er sta distance of some 800km... all easily ride-able with great places to grab a break and to enjoy the wildlife.... After stopping for both croissants (breakfast) and pastries/baguettes/tartlettes (lunch) we can vouch for the truly peaceful places to stop and gently gaze as the Loire winds its way lazily through the interesting landscape... full of sand banks with herons, to fishermen taking fish from the river to the butterflies/dragonflies.... it really was a 'Taste of France'

Exchanging historic cathedrals for the chateaus of the Loire Valley

7/14/2016

We awoke knowing we had a fair few miles to cover to achieve our aim of staying the night of 'Bastille Day' at one of the most famous images of decadence in the Loire Valley, namely Chateau Villandry. Hoping to add to our Educational Explorer section, we hoped this would give a great chance for some homeschooling on French History (The Chateau's history is relatively chequered with royal connections dating back to pre Louis XVI, it was then confiscated in the revolution before Napoleon Bonaparte acquired it for his brother Jerome. )

But before we arrived in the Loire, we had numerous places planned enroute.... most notably the home of the famous 24hr race at Le Mans.... this wonderful track that spills out to use the public roads that surround it... this year's event had only just passed in late June so the area still looked like a grand prix circuit.... great fun as it reminded the girls of our Monaco GP visit and is certainly one for our next Dash Cam video to rival Geirangerfjord, Norway!!

Aiming to head south through Le Mans we savoured the journey towards Tours on the intricate D roads that connect the two key cities of this region....enjoying  the views of apple / cider farms, the Charolais bullls/cows and the wonderful tree lined roads that make this such a special part of France

Before eventually crossing the magnificent Loire river and arriving at Villandry.... past rows of troglodyte caves and into the perfectly situated aire close to the chateau... With little to do before the evening's entertainment, we worked together to learn more about Bastille Day, grabbed a croissant (or two) from the local boulangerie and ventured out into the village to enjoy the outdoor BBQ, live music and fireworks display... Just brilliant and a wonderful memory of France to take away from this European Adventure!!

Leaving those grey skies over England, hoping for glorious French summer skies!!!

7/13/2016

Leaving the gloomy grey, rain laden skies of Dover, we embarked on the next leg of our adventures across Europe… With 26 countries covered in over 20,000 miles, we are ready to spend some time with family travelling across France. With a chance to spend some time in the Gironde first with Catherine’s parents… we’ve set sail earlier than them in the hope we can grab some French culture enroute…

This ‘Taste of France’ adventure should last 5 weeks until mid August before returning briefly to the UK to exchange sets of grandparents before setting off again in early September for a month trying to cover the rest of France…. phew! it should be an epic summer in France…

Hopefully offering both girls the chance to fully immerse themselves in the language and culture… As a family we’ve loved visiting France for over a decade together and we love everything from the food to the glorious weather as you travel south!!! So today’s adventure saw us leave Black Horse Farm CC site (worth the overnight!) to Dover on an early ferry, allowing us the chance to get across France before nightfall..

Heading south past the Battle of the Somme at Vimy Ridge (one to return to in September after our thought provoking trip to other WW1 sites at Ypres), we headed across wonderfully French countryside on a mixture of peace motorway (toll roads) and small french D roads….

Eventually finding ourselves in Amiens, a city some 120km north of Paris and famous for both its importance as the capital of the Somme and its Gothic Cathedral that reminded us of our travels to Metz earlier this year

Transferring to the quieter back roads, we headed west towards the wonderful port of Rouen. Straddling the Seine it is very much the capital of Northern France and a crucially important city since Roman times. Famous for its wonderful cathedral and cobble roads it is perhaps better know for the burning of Joan of Arc. Both girls were in awe of this story and it again reminded us of the Nobel Peace Centre and the importance of ‘speaking out’ if you strongly believe in something (just like Malala did)

Leaving Rouen behind us, we headed south to our chosen destination for tonight’s stay, the wonderful city of Chartres (Capital of Light after it’s famous illuminations)… not far from Paris but with a cathedral that matches its namesake (Cathedrale Notre-Dame). It rises majestically above the cityscape and is visible across the gently wafting barley fields… Finished in 1220, it has two stunning spires, flying buttresses and some quite remarkable blue tinted interior stained glass windows…. We hope to return to do it more justice later this year…

A busy day ended after we arrived at a wonderful little village near the Parc du Peche region that sits above the Loire Valley… the aire in La Madeleine Bouvet was perfectly located alongside a fishing lake beside the village church and marie (town hall)… full facilities and a chance to enjoy our first night back in France. Bliss!!!

Briefly back in the UK... so what did we get up to??

7/11/2016

As we've been away so much this year, we've worked really hard to keep in touch with friends where possible... sadly when we get back, there's never enough time to see all our friends due to time and geographic constraints.... but thankfully this gives us good reasons to come back and find time to see them all later in the summer.

This time, both girls have been delighted to see some of their god parents when we came back ... but trips across from Hampshire to North Yorkshire to the Midlands and London... have all meant this time has been shorter than we'd hoped... however we've managed some wonderful days with great friends and the occasional 'much missed chinese' or 'english breakfasts'!

"Time waits for no man!".... and nor does the grass in our garden... certainly one of the toughest jobs on any return back from a trip abroad... but this time it was of epic proportions... we almost lost Libby in the wilderness on the first day!!

But it was good to get back to some hard work and as ever, the results always make the hard work worth it... but perhaps not as enjoyable the indoor dusting and cleaning!!!

​We even managed to grab time to fit anotherNextbase Dashcam... so impressed with the hard wiring kit as it made this one an absolute doodle, and we love capturing our journeys across Europewith them

Animals, animals, animals.....

As regular readers will know, both girls have developed a genuine passion for all things 'horsey'.... so a trip to see the New Forest Ponies made both girls weekend!!

As too did a chance to visit family friends on their farm and see the newly born calves.... a chance that Libby grabs with both hands (literally!  those poor calves never stood a a chance!)

With dog walking, hikes over the North Yorkshire Moors and the New Forest... its been an active 2 weeks... think we need a holiday!!!!

Good thing the Gironde is beckoning and the forecast looks good....For those who love France, the next few months have been given over to developing both girls language skills... as we hope to travel across the whole country in September and a focus in August on the Western Atlantic Coast and the Dordogne region.

Everyone in the van can't wait for the ferry on Wednesday!!!! Part 5 almost ready to get underway!!

 

Planning our French Leg of our Adventures....

6/27/2016


Recently we've had a fair few families writing to us to ask questions about how we prepare and choose each leg's adventures.... so we thought we write a few blogs showing what goes into each trip, so here goes!!!So with our throughly enjoyable Scandinavia leg now finished.... our thoughts have turned to the next leg of our round Europe trip.....

France is a country that we have visited with both girls for years... but last year's trip ultimately led to this year of adventure! So we've included a few pictures below from last year's trip to show the type of things we got up to in Ille de Re, Gironde and the Dordogne.

But this year's trip will hopefully include much more of France... across two separate legs (July - Aug) & (Sept-Oct) with a UK break in between


This is the first stage of the planning.... 

1. Collect together 25-30 places we want to see (often using LonelyPlanet Discover Guides or Tourist Board websites), we normally separate each leg into roughly 60 days each - so this ensure we have plenty to choose from (see left for an example)

2. Find 10 interesting family experiences /challenges/ adventures that will keep everyone interested on the journey and keep them on a separate list to be added in later on when we confirm the schedule

3. Plan the route and get rough distances/times so we can look at possible sites that will give the kids a chance to socialise (at varying points of the trip). ​Crucially important aspect that we prioritise where possible

4. Work through the route plan and opportunities with both girls.... get them to give their thoughts on things they really like the sound of and then 'bold' these into our planning.

5. Once we've got a rough schedule together we look at how we can link some homeschooling into this.... and try to ensure we are getting an even coverage across the subjects... i.e. history - D-Day Beaches, geography - Dune du Pilat, physical education - Dordogne kayaking

Hope it helps some people who are thinking of planning a similar journey, our next blog post will focus on how we get the girls more involved in the planning process....

A Quintessentially English Experience...

6/26/2016

Having worked our way around some of Europe's most interesting experiences including the Flamsbana Railway in Norway or camping in anactive volcano in Naples, Italy.... today was an entirely different experience as we took the girls to Lords (the home of cricket)... to enjoy a very English experience - a cricket game between Lancashire and Middlesex.

Add in a picnic lunch, a chance to relax in the company of old friends who met us there... perfect!

It also gave us a chance to compare the London Underground to those that we have enjoyed across our year in Europe - Libby counted to over 30 that have been tried from Valencia through to Stockholm...

The cricket and weather couldn't have been better with Lancashire finishing the day in the ascendancy at 298 -3 due to Peterson's hundred..
Both of the girl's grandfathers are huge Lancashire CCC fans so they were delighted they got a chance to share this with them..

It was also great to catch up with an old friend who had also travelled down from Denstone to don his 'MCC' tie in the Lords Pavillion.... a true British institution the 'Bacon & Eggs' tie.... So all in all, a wonderful day and a very English experience... (that included cucumber and sandwiches.... we couldn't resist!)

Tomorrow sees another chance to catch up with old friends and the girls godparents! It really is nice to be back in the UK as our travels just reinforce how important our family and friends are to us...

Back in the UK, catching up with the wider family....

6/25/2016

Following a wonderful Scandinavian adventure we've endured some pretty epic driving days (June 23 - 900km (from Copenhagen to Dusseldorf) & June 24 - 750km (from Dusseldorf to North London) to get back to the Calais ferry....

But it's been great for the girls to be able to reconnect with Catherine's side of the family and we've enjoyed a chance to relax with family  BBQs and some well needed housekeeping (including getting some Euros for our next leg...)

Both girls loved watching the English rugby side complete a fantastic 3-0 whitewash of the Wallabies... before a trip to see a real cricket experience at Lords tomorrow.... Lots of work are now needed over the next 2 weeks before we return back to mainland Europe and a chance to immerse ourselves in French life for our next leg...

 

Appreciating European Heritage in Brussels....

6/24/2016

On a day when 52% of England voted to conclude their long standing links with the European Unionwe remain fully committed in ensuring our young daughters do not share this insular point of view.... We fully intend to bring up our daughters as outward looking global citizens who share a love for the variety and cultural uniqueness of each country across Europe.

Thankfully we found a brilliant place to see this at the 'Mini Europe'  attraction in Brussels (the capital of Belgium)

Throughout our motorhome journey across Europe, both girls have enjoyed seeing the wonderful sights of Europe in person - from theleaning tower of PisaCopenhagen's Nyhavn districtLjubljana's three bridges or even natural landmarks such as Mount Vesuvius..

This wonderful attraction sitting underneath the iconic 'Atomium' manages to host these with walking distance of each other - each of the 350 models an impressive piece of art in itself with wonderfully carvings and realistic people represented in the 1:25 scale.

The park operates in real peace & harmony with the  sounds of Big Ben or national anthems providing wonderful background music. Not just content with landmarks,  a number of key transport links are shown too including iconic features such as the channel tunnel. Both girls loved the educational aspect of the animations such as the working model of Vesuvius or the exhibit that detailed the Roman's amazing inventions and engineering

The sense of a 'Spirit of Europe' is both obvious and clear across the park but this is further improved by the excellent exhibitions beside the cafe.

The park manages to bring it all to life with both girls particularly loving the opportunity to see, hear, touch (although not the models!) and smell the countries models. All faithfully laid out in a geographically correct manner with easy, accessible walkways throughout. 

Both girls left the park thumbing through the excellent pocket guide that both describes how the models were made, why each attraction was chosen and some measured comments on the European Union.....
It's sad to think that both girls will face a future that may / may not include this feeling of being part of a European Union.... but we will make every effort to ensure that we offer them the opportunity to experience European Culture!!

Family Adventures at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

6/22/2016

Grabbing the  bikes for yet another day intoCopenhagen courtesy of Tivoli Gardens. It is striking just how brilliantly devised their cycle paths are - it really does take the pressure off finding somewhere to park or even the cost of public transport
​All important when trying to tour around all 42 European countries with a family on a budget.
Tivoli Gardens is far more than initially meets the eye.... yes it has a grand entrance close to the city centre, but it is very much like Pandora's Box... doors/paths just keep opening up to yet more treasures!

Quite amazingly, we saw the Queen of Norway in Bergen, and apparently Tivoli Gardens is that good... it gets regular visits from royalty (like tonight!). Queen Margarethe has even played a key role in designing parts of the set/costumes of the wonderfully entertaining shows that can be enjoyed across the park's theatres.

The girls watched with growing fascination to the story about a fortune teller (Spåkvinden) at the Peacock Theatre... followed by live jazz music at one of the outside stages... music to perfectly match the idyllic gardens that Tivoli is famed for....

Tivoli's night time illuminations and laser shows are world renowned so arriving at midday we finally left at 11pm - so a full day's family  entertainment at a reasonable price.

Just be prepared to bring your adventurous side as some of the rides in the amusement park are clearly made for thrill seekers!!!

With both girls revelling in the chance to jump on a rollercoaster (on their own) for the first time... it reminded us of our days in Disney's theme parks... great family fun with lots of genuine laughter...

The rollercoasters are pretty accessible to most heights and there appears to be something for everyone... For those who don't like rides, there are plenty of stalls to win some soft, cuddly toys.

Food is plentiful, restaurants looked very full but having eaten beforehand.... candy floss was the order of the day as we exited after a great day's family entertainment

A Princesses view of Copenhagen at Christiansborg Palace

6/22/2016

What a family adventure!!! A chance to see a royal palace and what an amazing experience! Since the first castle was erected in 1167, theChristiansborg Palace has stood tall and proud over this region! Undeterred by fires in 1794 and again in 1884, it is a source of real national pride. It's rich history dates back before Copenhagengrew in prominence. Whilst the current building houses both the democratically appointed parliament and the royal family... a true statement of synergy!!!

Situated no more than 1km from the outstandingly beautiful Nyhavn, it is easily reached by bike so we took the 10km journey in again... such a pleasure to see the city on two wheels!

Our visit was split into 4 parts - Royal Palace, Copper Kitchen, Parliament and the Ruins of the old Palace. All well worthy of at least 1-2hrs each and each captivated the girls for differing reasons... Perhaps the best was the 'Tapestries of the Kings' which was brilliantly supported by a downloadable app/commentary

Although the tower takes additional time, it's worth trying to gain access to the impressive views from the Tarnet Tower which allows views to Sweden and across the beautiful architecture that Copenhagen is so famed for.

With excellent information boards across all fours areas, it is one of those places that you simply didn't want to rush.... immersing yourselves in the rich furnishings of the royal reception rooms or trying to see your faces in the copper pans in the Royal Kitchen.. Both fun and educational, it was well worth the day spent here

Christiansborg Palace - Royal Rooms

Donning the blue 'shoe socks' we headed up the palatial staircase into the reception rooms of the Danish Royal Family... The rooms were as impressive as we had expected but perhaps we hadn't expected the amazing contemporary art on display... a real nod to the future and both girls loved the special 'Tapestries of the King', the Golden Thrones, Queen's library and much more...

Even finding time to stare longingly at the glittering tiaras on display in the gift shop.

The Copper Kitchen, Christiansborg Palace

An unexpected delight... the chance to see some great uses of technology to bring an old room to life...

The excellent LCD displays built into windows show just what 'palace kitchen life' must have been like (from both chef and little girls viewpoints)... The shining copper, knife sharpeners and old 'ringing' telephones were brilliant fun for our girls.

Not to mention the excellent 'behind the scenes' video of how a royal feast is prepared....

Ruins of Old Christiansborg Palaces & Copenhagen Views from Tarnet Tower

Visiting this darkened series of ruins at the end of the day proved both engaging and a good end to the day...

Lots of the old artefacts from the 3 generations of palaces are on show and there are some well organised walkways through the ruins...

I'm sure this could be of real interest to visitors but spare some time too for the Tarnet Tower as the views over Copenhagen are quite simply stunning

Royal Stables, Christiansborg Palace

Both girls now consider themselves budding 'horsewomen' so this was clearly going to be a visit to be enjoyed.... they wandered around, pausing to give their 'considered opinions' and 'reflections' on what tack was used for what, why the horses needed to be 'out for pasture at this time of the year' and what each stable block is deigned for...

​Brilliant to see a growing enthusiasm for horses grow... although we can feel our wallets trembling at the thought too!!

DenBlaaPlanet - Amazing Aquarium - best we've seen across Europe

6/20/2016

Both girls could barely contain their enthusiasm at visiting Northern Europe's largest aquarium...jam packed full of 48 individual aquariums set in the shape of a contemporary whirlpool... easily accessibly via train (Karstup) or by bike... we chose the former after yesterday's efforts!

It is intended to showcase numerous elements including rainforests, steep bird cliffs (complete with puffins), beautiful coral reefs and oceans filled with manta rays and hammerhead sharks.. 

A brilliant place that allowed the girls to explore the 'touch/see pools', enjoy the immersive film theatresand view the well stocked aquariums... for well over 7hrs!!! So it must have been good!!

But particular highlight was the the brilliant 'storytellers' who were amazing with both girls... no question left unanswered and some really interesting workshops across the day - feeding the sea otters, dissecting a squid or feeding the hammerhead sharks or pirahanas.

So when Daniel (storyteller) offered us the chance to see 'behind the scenes'... we couldn't resist.... so we headed into the back of the main 4.1million litre 'Ocean Aquarium'. Treading very, very carefully we stood on the gangway over the top of the aquarium filled with sting rays, sharks and many more wonderful fish! A truly breath taking experience that was an undoubted highlight of the whole year around Europe!!

But perhaps matching that experience (well almost!) was the immersive film experience linked to the recently opened 'Planet Shark - Predator or Prey'... lying back on the bean bags, we watched with utter amazement at the wonderful 360° cinematic experience... Hugely educational and thought provoking..

Clearly conservation is a crucial part of the 'educate not eradicate' message and it prompted lots of questions with both girls... a brilliant homeschooling opportunity as we covered both marine biology and also conservation... Truly unbelievable that more deaths are caused by saunas each year rather than sharks!!

Both girls have come away with a huge amount of positive messages that we are genuinely thankful for.... plus some wonderful information (i.e. otters have 165,000 hairs per sq cm (most of any animal in the world) 

I guess that's what every attraction should be.... educational, interesting and captivating.... and we haven't even mentioned the wonderful cafe or amazing children's playground with its numerous water experiments.... So pleased we made the effort and visited here today.... a real highlight of the year so far!

Copenhagen - a truly brilliant city for cycles!

6/19/2016

If London is so well known for it's red buses... thenCopenhagen can  probably lay claim to being the most bike friendly capital city in Europe... I'm sure others might contest this (and we can think of a few....) yet it's the detailed planning of the cycle routes that gives Copenhagen the edge for us...

Cycle lanes are split into categories but all appear very safe... with both girls flying along the clearly marked cycle lanes until the 'cycle traffic light'... yes you heard me right the first time... these 'cycle traffic light' are a brilliant example of just how much thought has been given to each route!!

With each cycle route allowing more than one bike beside each other, it led to a brilliantly relaxing Father's Day. Cycling along, chatting away with the 3 most precious people in my life.... good old family fun, a bit of physical exercise and a stunningly beautiful city to explore... just a perfect day! (Plus the not small distance of 34km biked, which is a far effort from both girls (especially our 8yr old Libby!)

The cycling paths even have their own 'green waves' a perfectly timed series of green lights that can allow you to fly through the city - if you keep up with the pacing!! Great fun as we tried to hit green lights throughout the journey... Our journey started some 8-10km outside the city centre in the DCU campsite - Absalon  (A well laid out site with plenty of things for the girls to do, plus a great shop/reception)

The ride took us past the various sites that make Copenhagen such a special pace -the Royal Palace, the Tivoli Gardens, the impressively large Zoo and onto the famous statue of the Little Mermaid by the harbour... But we also opted to take in the UN centre in the redeveloped dock area, the GeoCenter and much, much more.... before arriving at the achingly beautiful Nyhavn....

It is hard to put into words just how stunning this colourful street is, but it certainly rivals anything we saw in Norway or Sweden in recent weeks

Although we had our bikes in the back of our trusty Adria, you really could arrive in Copenhagen and be on a bike within minutes... the impressive City Bikes (so named after Copenhagen gifted Bill Clinton with one on his 1997 visit) are so easily accessible. Easy to locate as they are blindingly white, and all have built in sat nav with tourist info pre-loaded... a brilliantly effective idea and one that seemed to be heavily used (as too did the electric 'ride now' cars... it really is the way forwards!!!)

With much planned over the next 72hrs in Copenhagen, we hope it matches this wonderful first impression. A city that enjoys the outdoor life, appears to know how to create a great family atmosphere and has much to offer a tourist!

Is it family friendly? On first impressions we think it's probably one of the safest and child friendlywe've been too... it appears to have a great series of 'city centre' based attractions but it appears there is so much more outside of the city in this stunningly pretty Vestegnen region.

Learning about the history of Candy Canes at Gränna

6/18/2016

Following a day at Vadstena pretending to be the princess in the tower in the majestic 'Slott' 
Today was all about finding about some of Sweden's more contemporary history... its always great to see the 'bricks 'n' mortar' of a country but sometimes the human angle is equally appealing to our young explorers....

And Gränna has that covered, the undisputed home of the red/white spiralled 'candy cane'....

Tucked under the eastern shores of Lake Vättern, it has an enviable position... all made even better by the picture perfect 'coloured houses' that adorn the main high street...

The story goes that in 1859, a widow began making these wonderful confectionary to support her young daughters.... the tradition stuck and soon became hugely popular not only in Sweden but across the world... with plenty of Christmas trees lined with the wonderfully evocative 'red/white Polka Pig' candy spirals that promise sweet tasting delights... if a little pepperminty!!

The whole region is a fantastically beautiful one... with the road running alongside the lake for much of the 20km leading unto the town... with the island of Visingö perched serenely in the middle of the lake....

It also lays claim to some famous hot air ballon exploits..... and as luck would have it, a ballon rose majestically as dusk approached... you couldn't have planned it!

The balloonist Salomon August Andrée, who died in an attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon, was born in Gränna so perhaps this is why the ballon is launched each weekend.... or maybe it was to view the jaw droppingly beautiful sunsets... the first we've seen in Sweden on the night we leave...

The Oresund bridge beckons tomorrow and a chance to explore Copenhagen.... Sweden remains a beautiful place that may well form part of our Year 2 planning.... choices, choices, choices!!

Vadstena - adding to our collection of 'Castles across Europe'

6/17/2016

Heading west from Stockholm, we’d first visited the historic town of Linkoping. A beautiful cathedral adorns the centre of this small city with it’s famous old town and wooden buildings… sadly the weather gods had turned against us and the rain curtailed any further visits..

Refreshed after a good night’s sleep, we rose early to tidy and clean the van from top to bottom… well needed and certainly a task that gave a certain feeling of accomplishment by the end!

Setting off for the lakeside town of Vadstena, we’d heard of its gentle beauty and historic importance to Sweden… especially it’s famous cathedral and castle… both girls have developed a keen interest in castles since we started the trip in September… With 26 countries now visited after 270 days on the road… they’ve certainly had a few castles to compare… from the sublimely electic Palacio de la Pena to the stunning Alcatraz of Segovia

Vadstena Castle is widely considered to have been one of the finest early Renaissance buildings in Scandinavia following King Gustav Vasa’s orders to build a true fortress in 1545. One complete with gun turrets, ramparts and moats….. It’s role has changed as new kings have taken over (perhaps most notably during King Johann III’s reign) yet never found its way to becoming a favoured royal residence. Highly restored by the SFV (similar to English Heritage) it now closely resembles how it must have looked in the early 17th century.

Both girls enjoyed the interactive ‘dress up’ areas which set the scene for a well laid out and enjoyable series of rooms spread over 4 floors - each with it’s own story to tell… from the decadent royal bedrooms to the enormous State Halls…. it even had it’s own organ in its chapel!

Thankfully it is well signposted, enjoys a superb guide book as part of the entrance fee and has small information boards (in  English) throughout the major rooms… its rich history also includes spells as a linen mill (mid 18th century) and as a grain store and garrison

The town of Vadstena is well worth visiting too… with a history dating back to the Middle Ages where it gained royal approval and it’s brick palace, it has also been a place of pilgrimage since the 15th century due to its impressive abbey. Not to be missed are the cloisters attached to the abbey, the walk along the shores of Lake Vättern and the tasteful shopping district (Storgatan

For those travelling in motorhomes, the local marina charged just under £15/night with full facilities… making it a welcome place to rest and watch the world go by… before popping into the centre of the small town for evening food….sadly no meal out for us again, but a feast of BBQ hamburgers more than made up for this….

Stockholm - visiting a city on a budget!

6/16/2016

As a family of 4, an adventure or simple jaunt around a city can prove fairly costly.... especially when taking in some museums, using public transport everywhere and even some shopping before a lunch out....

Today, we shunned some opportunities to take the girls to some of Stockholm's premier attractions, as we focused on seeing if we could enjoy one of Europe's most expensive capital cities... with just £30 in our pockets... an exercise in seeing what can be enjoyed without the need to spend obscene amounts of money.

Other tourists have proved it was more than possible, and with the girls enjoying so many trips recently.... it was a great reminder of what is important when visiting a city.

Firstly, to see how the city really works... away from the bustling touristic centres of activity or the carefully manicured areas that you often get pushed into seeing. Nothing is worse than seeing a false image of a city, it just frustrates!!

Secondly, we wanted to get a feeling of how it might feel to live in the city... our journey is all about comparisons... is Stockholm more friendly than Bergen, does Seville have more culture than Florence....

Thirdly, what makes the people tick.... are they all hustle and bustle like the residents of Naples, or are they as laid back as the people of Andalusia... what would we think about those who choose to live here?

Finally, what do you really need to have a fun, enjoyable day out..... does it have to be expensive, do you need to be up at the crack of dawn to enjoy the place or get your money's worth....

So with those thoughts in our minds we set off into Stockholm from the crowded Angby campsite... not one for the purists but only 500m from the metro into the centre (£8).

Stockholm's main station sits astride a busy concourse that was flanked by 'tastes of the world' outdoor kitchens - Australian BBQ, French Crepes, Dutch Waffles... the national stereotypes kept coming.... an inauspicious start....

Thankfully Stockholm only ever improved from that first impression.... so we headed into the tourist office (great, friendly staff) and picked up information on any free museums,tours. There were plenty, in fact we could have chosen.... free guided walks, museums and open parks (full of life/activity)

As Stockholm opens out towards the archipelago islands near Skane and the old town (Gamla Stan)... it gradually becomes the city we thought it might be.... it had a fresh, clean feeling with smartly dressed people everywhere.... The walks were beginning to take their toll on the girls so we enjoyed the harbour for an hour or so (make sure you pack your own water... eye wateringly expensive!) Once rested we set off for the 'IceBreaker' museum... a chance to see some more maritime history for the girls after our recent trip to Oslo. Brilliant place and worth every minute, Girls loved having the run of the ship!

Pausing briefly to look at the Aquaria, Gronaland (amusement park), Junibacken (of Pippi Longstockings fame).... we considered a visit but eventually decided to head into the old city (but not before enjoying seeing some wonderful geese/ducklings enjoying the early summer sun)

The old city certainly lived up to its billing as a place worthy of a visit - especially via water on the frequent ferry (£6).

As both girls enjoyed some of the local food on offer (£7) at a nearby bakery, we worked out a plan of action.... firstly the colourful streets and square of Stortorget, then the Nobel Museum, then Royal Palace and Parliament... that should keep us busy!

With both girls enjoying the frequent chance to rest and view the wonderful architecture... at times similar to both Bergen but also with someAustrian Tyrol too....

We'd soon worked our way through the maze of streets and onto the bridge that connect the small island to the main part of Stockholm... Time to spend some time in one of the large open gardens that Stockholm is famed for!!! (Kungstradgarden)

Before heading back onto the metro (£8) to Angby.

Did we miss the kayaking chance, or the Junibacken visit or the GoBoat experience... probably! But in truth we had one of those glorious family days that make this trip so worthwhile... All for less than £30... although we might need to find a shoe repairer after the amount of walking we did today!!!

First BBQ of the summer and it comes in sunny Sweden

6/13/2016

Our first impressions of Sweden are exactly what we had hoped... if Norway is the UK's equivalent to the Lake District.... then Sweden is most certainly the UK's East Anglia....Dry flat fields stretch endlessly into wide forests that appear to disappear over the horizon before they end... full of wonderfully shades of greens/browns and wonderful scents too

Add to that the idyllic lakes that literally appear at every turn - full of lilly pads, dark but clear waters... and those wonderful bulrushes... and you have a truly wonderful first impression

For those who love adventure (extreme or otherwise).... then this blog post may not be for you today... but for those following our families journey.... this was a true family day!!! A chance to remember exactly why we do this!

If there's something we've learnt along the way its that nothing else really matters... but family!

Happiness is found outdoors and having fun as family... be that a BBQ, paddle in a pedalo boat or simply spending time watching your kids playing in nature's playground.... life really doesn't get better... it may get more exciting, but it doesn't get any better!

For those who know as a family and friends (and i count our regular followers in those numbers).... you'll know that this is the most important part of our journey... a chance to rediscover what really matters!

Absorbing science in the Norse Teknisk in Oslo.... a great chance to play Donkey Kong too...

6/12/2016

The Norsk Teknisk museum is a wonderfully good way of allowing your kids to burn off some energy.... but also learn something at the same time too!!

Sadly, its located to the very north of the city and takes some 45mins to reach via Tram 11 or the metro (Kjelsa Station)

​In our experience, its best visited towards the end of the day as the transport was easier to get onto - but that may just have been us!!!

It is filled with chances for playful learning - with the girls particularly enjoying the wind tunnels and Hydro Electric Power interactive displays (great following our visit to Tyssedal HEP museum last week)

They also enjoyed the light refraction, speed and 'whirlwind/whirlpool' exhibits with both girls running around to twist knobs, wind cranks and send levers flying

Perhaps the most obvious interaction was the effort to work with GAME ON and it allowed a nostalgic walk through of all of both my & Catherine's early childhood computer systems &  games - from the very first 'table tennis', through Donkey Kong into the world of Sega Megadrives.

But there are also great opportunities to see how science and technology have worked together to form transport... with some amazing exhibits including full scale planes and steam locomotives..

Although hard to get to, it does allow you to see more of Oslo and it's beautiful neighbourhoods and both girls would certainly visit again given the chance..... but perhaps this might have something to do with the chance to play more PC games!!!

Yet again though, the Oslo Pass came to the fore, as we took numerous trips around the city to get to the museum, but also took the chance to get off in places to see the hustle and bustle of a weekend in Oslo... To a person, the Oslo residents/visitors are smartly dressed and appear to have little to no cares in the world.... it does on the face of it, look a pretty great place to live.... if a little expensive to eat out!!!

 

Learning that 'Speaking Out Matters' with Fred & Toca Loca at the Nobel Peace Centre

6/12/2016

As we are learning on this trip... sometimes you just get lucky and discover 'gold dust' in terms of the perfect place to support your children's education.... perhaps not academically but in becoming a more well rounded human being.

What an opportunity to visit the Nobel Peace Centre.... its renowned awards are highly prized by the intellectual world in areas that include :- Literature, Medicine/Physiology, Chemistry, Physics and perhaps most importantly Peace.

The first and most important advice is to take the guided tours (2pm&3pm each day) as these brilliantly highlight the crucial areas of the museum and the importance of it's ongoing work. Both girls were enthralled by our wonderful guide who had that very special gift of making the whole place come alive. That said, the presentation and interactivity of each exhibit is truly astounding and makes you 'ask more questions when leaving than you came with' A brilliant museum for both adults and children alike!

For those travelling with children - they will love the wonderfully illustrated and highly absorbing 'Fred & Toca Loca' exhibits... all with easy access but each poses a moral dilemma for children to discuss. This was one of the best examples of us all working together (across the whole trip) as we completed the 'Speak Out' children pack. The girls immediately took to this and wrote some poignant messages towards the end which they added to the 'postcard wall'. Try to spare some time for the gift shop. Brimful of interesting bits and pieces with almost no 'tat'!! Another novel feature as some museums take alternative approaches

For those wanting to know more - The museum's main exhibit focuses on the work of 'Nobel Peace Prizewinners' in this case the 1936 winner, Carl Von Ossietzky . A pacifist from Germany who opposed the Nazi regime with his one weapon - the power of words. Ossietzky sadly died due to his imprisonment in concentration camps before WW2 even began. Regarded as a traitor/whistleblower, he was highly criticised after publicising an article by Kreiser on German rearmament (he was editor of the 'Die Weltbuhne') He was imprisoned but had the option to escape after his Christmas release. He chose not to oppose from abroad but continue to 'demonstrate' from within Germany. Arrested after the burning of the Reichstag in Berlin, he never saw freedom again. His story is incredibly moving and offered everyone real 'food for thought' (it clearly divided opinions even in Norway at the time with Knut Hamsun (against) and Sigrid Undset (for) writing passionately about his case.)

The Peace prize is recognised each October (2nd Friday of the month) at precisely 11am when theNorwegian Nobel Committee announces the winners. The current holders are the quartet who support the 'Tunisian Method' after the Arab Springs and achieved a 'Consensus and Dialogue' between competing factions. Tunisian peace remains fragile to this day, but it has achieved a new constitution that allows a "Tunisian democracy' to be sustained... unlike its neighbours (Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen)

Alfred Nobel was clearly a huge personality of his times - inventor (of 355 patented designs including dynamite), a friend of creativity and freedom.
​His 'rags to riches' story takes in Europe, the US and St