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24Sep 13

Postcards from the edge

Holidays are worth the hassle - if only for the occasional album-worthy snap

The occasional album-worthy snap makes the effort worthwhile, I think

Holidays with children. Are they worth the hassle? I slave over travel websites, pest call reservations desks with increasingly bonkers enquiries (are there coco pops on the breakfast buffet? Does the villa kitchen have a blender?) and spend bucketfuls of cash in the quest to bask in joyful family time somewhere that isn’t our house, and therefore doesn’t have all the stuff that makes life easier.

 

And I hate packing. I really hate it. I hate it even more if I’m packing for five people on a three-person baggage allowance (thank you, budget airlines, for thinking under-twos travel light).

 

I’ve got three children – a five-year-old, a toddler and a baby. Plus a husband with a gout-inflamed toe. Just getting to the airport can be a struggle. But I’m determined We Will Have A Good Time, whether they like it or not. So I’m always on the hunt for the next big adventure, or, more often, the next minibreak somewhere lovely with high threadcount sheets.

 

Since the third child arrived we need more than one hotel room. It feels like we take over a floor when we check in these days, only much less like J-Lo and her entourage than this sounds. At least now we need interconnecting rooms we don’t make any children sleep in a cot in the en suite, like we did when there was just one.

 

How many chicken pox survivors can you fit in one of Cowarth Park's copper baths?

How many chicken pox survivors can you fit in one of Cowarth Park’s copper baths?

 

To celebrate surviving a chicken pox outbreak we took our first family-of-five trip to Cowarth Park in Ascot. It’s a ‘family-friendly’ hotel – a term that fills me with doom, as a rule – I’ve seen enough chicken nugget kids’ menus, dog-eared travel cots and mouldy in-room bottle sterilisers to last a lifetime  – but this hotel is a real, grown-up treat that also caters infallibly for mini-guests. For a price, though. Blimey.

 

Fluffy robes to fit everyone at Cowarth Park

Fluffy robes to fit everyone at Cowarth Park

 

Then there was a lovely visit to North Norfolk, where you can buy lobsters as big as children and sleep in sleek converted farm buildings at Barsham Barns.  

 

I'm pleased to say I put the correct one in the pot

Yes, I did put the right one in the pot

 

After staycation warm-ups I took the circus overseas. Eldest child saves his very worst behaviour for airports and planes, the toddler had embraced screaming tantrums with gusto since discovering with dismay she was a middle child, and I was breastfeeding the baby. We are That Family, the one everyone prays to God won’t be near them on the plane. Long haul was out.

Sunny Tenerife it was. Four-and-a-half hours of packed Easyjet flight brought us to the Abama resort. “It’s a bit Vegas”, was husband-with-a-sore-toe’s opinion of our sprawling hotel’s pink-hued Moorish design and countless swimming pools. But  the Abama can keep kids happy.

 

Middle child working the pool jewellery for toddlers look

Middle child working the pool-jewellery-for-toddlers look

 

Bowls of lollies decorate every surface. An ice cream cart sits poolside permanently and there are live family shows daily. I scoffed at these – so Butlins! – but the kids loved them, so I had to as well. It’s hard not to smile at a bunch of parrots riding skate boards, especially if they have your children in the palm of their wings. Iffy service aside the holiday was a hit.

 

The sunny Abama Resort in Tenerife

The sunny Abama Resort in Tenerife

 

I tried to book something similar for the summer, but I was late – the cardinal sin for school holiday-tethered families. Agents sucked their teeth and offered options so expensive Russian oligarchs would have thought twice.

 

“Corsica’s lovely” said a friend with two young boys, “White sand beaches, shallow turquoise bays”. I found a villa in the south that came with British Airways flights – reserved seats, suitcases for everyone and a free sandwich – oh the luxury.

 

But pride comes before a fall, I was reminded, at 5am at Heathrow with my grumpy, wayward gang. Our seats hadn’t been allocated. After much clipboard-wielding (travel rep) and many tantrums (some toddler but mainly husband-with-a-sore-toe) we were seated excitedly on the plane. But it was faulty. Of course it was. “It’s better to discover the plane was broken BEFORE take off!” I cheerfully told the children. They variously ignored me, asked for snacks and cried as they stumbled onto the new, air-worthy machine.

 

In-villa dining. No French parents to sneer at my brood's (lack of) table manners
In-villa dining. No French parents to sneer at my brood’s (lack of) table manners

 

Corsica was lovely. But self-catering isn’t one long, um, holiday. Trips to the local hypermarket count as an outing. “Did you bring the camera?” asked husband-with-a-sore toe as our Citroen Picasso pulled up at Geant Casino. Our kids don’t do the Mediterranean thing of playing happily late into the night while adults enjoy supper out. They crumble into loud tears past 8pm, so I self-catered a lot of kids’ teas.

 

Hooray for marble-shaped oven chips (who said British children don’t appreciate French cuisine?) and the unerring deliciousness of Gallic chipolatas. But when a blob of scalding sweet potato hit me in the eye as I pureed it for a the baby I did cry hot, sweet potatoey tears. No days off for poor Cinders, sob.

 

Move over, Thorpedo. Eldest made exhaustive use of the pool

Move over, Thorpedo. Eldest made exhaustive use of the pool

 

What we lost in five-star service we gained in freedom, though. Eldest child learned to swim without armbands thanks to almost permanent submersion in the villa pool. Middle child remembered how to be adorable because she had all of our attention all of the time, and the baby gurgled photogenically in mountain gorges, under beach trees and at our chaotic restaurant lunches.

 

Beach baby

Beach baby

 

Husband-with-a-sore-toe invented the Rummy Juicy cocktail, an unsophisticated but effective combination of the rum we found in a villa cupboard and the fruits of our over zealous juice shopping. Sometimes just surviving things as a family is as good as having a great time.

Holidaying with kids is a learning process. Next time I will remember:

  • Long winding car journeys to appreciate scenic mountain views are A Very Bad Idea
  • Renting a pedalo with a slide on it is A Very Good Idea
  • Elaborate holiday wardrobes for children are pointless. They will only wear a swimming nappy and the ugly hat bought from the beach stall when the tasteful one got left at the villa

 

 

Brits abroad, in their pants. Where are my thoughtfully chosen outfits? *sigh*

Brits abroad, in their pants. Where are my thoughtfully chosen outfits? *sigh*

 

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