Posted on January 15th, 2017 - Fiona
Welcome to the first in a series of posts I have coming out on Greece. Farmer Nick is half Greek, which explains our crazy surname (Cambouropoulos), and he has been retracing his roots to near Athens. I’ll be sharing our journey with some lovely sunny photos to brighten up the winter months. Right now is peak summer booking time, I hope you’ll enjoy our adventure. If flying abroad isn’t for you, then why not join us in Cornwall, I think we will be staying here this year and enjoying some family day trips out from Coombe Mill.
Athens: A treat for our boys
It was 2.5 years ago now when Alistair, our eldest, finished his GCSE’s. We rewarded his effort by taking him and his choice of friend away to our favourite Honeymoon hotel in Devon, he chose to take his brother Felix and we all had a wonderful 2 nights away. Roll on 2 years and we had them both finishing A levels and GCSE’s. Upping the stakes somewhat we agreed it would be wonderful to go Athens and visit some of Nick’s relatives the boys had never met and make a little holiday of it. We booked 3 nights in Athens followed by 4 nights in the Peloponnese making the most of Nick’s Mum for her knowledge and connections there and her command of the Greek language. This was almost a year ago back in February 2016 and excitement was riding high as the exams finished and the holiday arrived.
Kifisia on the Outskirts of Athens
I have to confess I was rather worried about the economic situation in Greece and the impact on Athens with their desperate government debt, terrible unemployment (60% for under 25s) and refugee crises from Syria. We had treated ourselves to a lovely hotel in Kifisia with air conditioning and a pool that Nick’s Mum had stayed at many times before. It proved a great base at the end of the underground line allowing us to easily travel into the city centre but perfect to relax in the leafy suburbs at the end of the day.
Kifisia is a well to do area of Athens, rather like the Fulham of London. Here we encountered many boutique shops, bars and restaurants with a very continental and cosmopolitan feel and some huge houses with high walls and beautiful flowered gardens. I felt quite safe walking the streets during the day or night, though I always had Nick or one of the boys with me, largely because I have a hopeless sense of direction and found myself clueless on direction on more than one occasion! It felt much more prosperous than I had feared and the dust and dirt I remember from the Athens of 20 years ago was pleasantly absent.
For our days out it was about a 15 minute stroll to the underground station from our hotel followed by a 40 minute tube journey into central Athens. This cost just a couple of Euros for us all, was impressively clean, spacious, new and most importantly air conditioned! We made just one line change to take us right to the base of the Acropolis. There are only two lines so it is very easy after London. One terminates at Piraeus port and the other at the city beaches.
We spent both days in the centre covering the acropolis museum and the acropolis, meeting up with family and soaking up the buzz of the city. I have a separate post to follow on the Acropolis of Athens as this deserves more than a passing comment.
The Greeks are famous for their warm welcome and sense of family and belonging. Whether visiting relatives a couple of miles further out in Narathriar, where Nick’s Grandma once lived, or old friends and family in the city centre we were made to feel so welcome by all and treated to more food than we could eat. I had to say to the boys after a while to stop finishing everything on their plate as they would at home as it was taken as a sign they were still hungry and more plates being ordered. The city trip was completed for the boys when their cousins, who they had never met before the holiday, took them out clubbing on our last night. It is certainly a holiday they won’t forget and not everyone gets to go to a night club in Athens before they do in the UK! Safe to say after rolling in at 4am we had very tired boys on our drive south to the Peloponnese for the next leg of our holiday.
Tips for visiting Athens
- We stayed in the Theoxania Palace at Kafisia. The hotel was perfect and a little bit of luxury. It is expensive but if you just book bed and breakfast and eat out in the local restaurants it is not so bad.
- Having a pool was a real bonus after a few hour of sightseeing in the city.
- We booked directly with the hotel by calling over the phone to secure the best price, but if you go online www.booking.com is the most common site used across Greece. English is widely spoken as a second language so calling to book directly is easy.
- Reaching the centre of Athens by foot and tube takes an hour, but it is clean, cheap and air conditioned.
- The local restaurants are reasonably priced and good and start from within a short stroll of the hotel.
- We found Athens to feel safe and encountered no problems, however we met with others staying in a cheaper central region who had witnessed some scary night time scenes involving drugs and alcohol.
- If we can afford it I would love to return when our younger children reach the same age and would choose the same hotel again.
- This is not a trip I would recommend with young children in summer as it is very hot in the city: typically 34 degrees when we were there in early July.
Posted on November 11th, 2016 - Fiona
So today I was supposed to share a long overdue kite flying session from September; however we took a spur of the minute decision in the week leading up to Guy Fawkes night to treat the kids to the famous Lewes Bonfire Night celebrations. This is right over in East Sussex and we haven’t been since pre kids. Farmer Nick grew up here and has many happy memories of the Lewes bonfire night. In the past we have held our own Coombe Mill celebrations with friends and guests, however our own children and their friends have now outgrown these. We only had a couple of guests leaving and arriving on the Saturday so we decided to take the triplets, leaving the older kids in charge of the animals and the guests. As fireworks night is a bit of an ‘of the moment’ occasion I decided to bump kite flying forward another week and share our adventure.
A 5th of November to Remember
A Coombe Mill Bonfire night certainly did not prepare our triplets for Lewes. We tried to explain to them what it would be like, but the scale of the operation was just beyond their comprehension. The town was diverted of all traffic from midday and on street parking suspended. Shops across the high street were being boarded up in preparation and excitement building. With Nick’s Mum living in the town we were sorted for parking and wandered through the beautiful Tudor lanes and Grange Park in the afternoon on foot to see the town being transformed.
I’m afraid I only thought to take photos of the pretty parts and not the boarded up high street!
It was bitterly cold in the evening as we headed down into town for the procession. This goes on for hours with each bonfire society parading. I remember struggling to see anything through the crowds in the past, but somehow the triplets wriggled through to the front in their eagerness to see what was going on. Bands marched and effigies were raised high supporting giant signs. We were looking out for friends of ours in the Southover society parade, but somehow missed them.
The huge fire torches made quite an impression on the triplets and they kept trying to grab the burned out ones dropped in the street.
Feeling cold and hungry we headed home for dinner, it really is a long night and we were told it would be at least 10.30pm before the fireworks would begin. With our outdoor clobber back on, a hip flask in hand and tummies full we headed back out for the fireworks.
At this point we had to decide which Bonfire society party to join as different groups split off around the town. As Southover was our nearest and our friends were there we naturally veered off following their loud music and tipsy crowd pullers. This really isn’t one for very young children and I was glad I had waited before taking our triplets, not least because if they became separated from us in the crowd they knew their way home.
Even heading back out at the programmed time there was precious little by way of action for the first hour. Finally the processors turned up at the field; the Teresa May and Boris Johnston effigies took their place on top of the Bonfire and the Pope stood up on his platform.
Nick and I knew just what would happen next but the triplets couldn’t believe their eyes. The pope was pelted with hand fireworks while the fire popped and cracked burning our Government with bangers constantly thundering round. I’d like to say it sounds scarier than it really is, but every time I go to a Lewes Bonfire night event I worry for the poor person playing the Pope.
The fireworks themselves lasted for ages making anything else I’ve ever seen look tiny. I’m sharing just a small clip from my phone, but honestly, against the biting cold evening sky they were incredible.
It was a very long way to travel for one night, but it is a 5th of November my children will always remember. Even the New York Times thought it worthy of a video
Lewes Bonfire Night 2016, you rocked!
Posted on October 14th, 2016 - Fiona
Every year on our annual family holiday to France we try to give the children a mix of days out. Adventure trips usually feature high on their wish list and they have their favourites they like to repeat, but Nick and I like to introduce something new each year too and introduce a little learning. Last year we visited Avignon together with its famous bridge for the first time. This year we found the ‘Grotte de Trabuc’, a series of underground caves, with an excellent write up and despite some reluctance from the triplets, we loaded up with a picnic and hit the road.
We had no idea what to expect, although our French cousins spoke very highly of their visit years ago. For starters, the coolness of the caves gave us a welcome break from the searing mid day heat. We joined a guided tour, although thankfully we had our own English hand held translation, as the guided tour was all in French.
The steps take you down underground into a magical world created by nature and enhanced by man with some helpful lighting. Whether or not you have an interest in Geology and Chemistry, you can’t fail to be impressed by the beauty of the caves. They were first discovered by smugglers in the 1800s who would hide in there; some basic weapons have been recovered and displayed.
The original entrance is not accessible to the public, but it must have been a wonderful haven for those entering years ago.
Grotte de Trabuc holds a scientific secret
There are some scientific conundrums in the caves. Every calcium deposit dripping from the ceiling forms a stalactite and corresponding stalagmite below, however there is a section in the caves known as ‘the room of 1000 solders’. Here there are stalagmites growing which resemble solders on a battle field but with no corresponding Stalactite above them. No one knows how they were formed, they are the only ones of their type known to exist in the world.
Perhaps the most spectacular areas of all are the crystal clear pools of water. They are in various shades of turquoise, depending on the sulphur and mineral content of the rock, and simply breathtaking.
One such pool at the deepest point is large enough for a kayak to travel across. A waterfall cascades from the river Gardon, this feeds the water supply through the caves.
Back out in daylight we found a quite picnic table overlooking the stunning mountains to enjoy our lunch. Here we ate and chatted over our favourite aspects of the tour. Nick did his degree in Geography was very helpful filling in any follow up questions from the kids.
Even the triplets who were a little reluctant to visit couldn’t help but be mesmerised by all they saw at the Grotte de Trabuc. Hopefully it added to their geography and chemistry knowledge base.
Tips for visiting the Grotte de Trabuc
Most suitable for older children who can appreciate the explanations of the cave formation and features.
Not suitable for buggies or wheelchairs or elderly unsure of their footing.
Wear sensible footwear as it is damp with puddles in the lowest sections.
€10 for adults and €6 for children, but watch out over 12 counts as adult.
If you have an interest in geology this is a must, with just a passing interest I still thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
The cafe is very basic and there are no other restaurants close by so a picnic is a good idea.
Take a jumper, it is much cooler inside the caves even in midsummer.
Posted on October 7th, 2016 - Fiona
Every year on our family holiday to France a day on the river and a day at the beach form two of the ‘must do’ activities of the week. Without exception the kids voted for the familiarity of Palavas beach; my yearning to explore somewhere new would have to wait again. It is over an hour’s drive from our cousin’s home in Uzes and much further than a beach trip at home, but it offers a very different experience and one the children look forward to each year.
No sooner had we placed our bags on the sand than the kids were in the sea. After Cornwall the Mediterranean feels so beautifully warm and it is a treat to be in the water without the palaver of a wetsuit. I briefly stalked everyone with my camera before following them into the water.
Acutely aware of the midday sun building, I reminded everyone coming out the water to put sun cream on before they tucked into the picnic bag.
I’m sure my parents always used to make me stay out of the water after eating in case of cramp. Since I had no idea if this was an old wives’ tale or not I let them head over to the road bridge over Palavas beach to see if they were still brave enough to jump in. Of course they were! Clio was especially proud as she lost the confidence to try last summer. Round and round they went, jumping, somersaulting and backwards jumping. Just for once they even encouraged me to film them then rushed round to watch themselves.
Farmer Nick is not a fan of beach sitting and so I knew he would want to go for a stroll round to the harbour. At the thought of some expensive yachts to admire Alistair decided to join us while the rest of the kids stayed on the beach and in the sea.
Just beyond the harbour I could see the cable cars we saw last year. Back then we had been exploring in swimwear with no money on us, this time we were more prepared and splashed out on the 3 euro return tickets to take us across the water.
On the other side we found ourselves in a pretty little tourist resort. I was in my element browsing the street shops. The boys on the other hand found it a very poor second to yacht dreaming!
By the time we caught up with the others we were more than ready to cool off with a swim. I don’t know how the hours slipped by so fast, it was already going to be a late supper again, but somehow on holiday, with no timetable to stick to, it really didn’t matter.
Tips for visiting Palavas Beach
- The toll motorway goes right down past Montpellier to within 10 minutes of the beach making it easy to find. Follow signs for Palavas-les-Flots
- Parking is free along the road, though parking spaces can be hard to find at peak times. There are beach car parks which you can pay for, these are fairly quiet due to the amount of street parking available.
- There are toilets along Palavas beach front at intervals but you will need a euro to use them and may need to walk as we have always found a few out of order.
- There are beach showers to rinse off sand and sea water.
- The sea is very gently shelving and sandy underfoot.
- Access is good for buggies and wheelchairs all along the promenade which runs right next to the beach.
- There are a few water sport activity points and pedalos to hire.
- Beachside bars and restaurants are within easy reach if you don’t fancy a picnic.
- This is primarily a family beach, although there is a nudist section much further along the beach away from the family attractions. With 7km of beach it is easy to find a spot that suits you.
Posted on September 30th, 2016 - Fiona
For the third in my series of posts from our holiday in France I’m sharing our Tree Top Adventure. We last tried this back in 2013. Back them, we had never been on, or seen anything like this before but it was so popular with everyone bar farmer Nick, we have been campaigning to return ever since.
3 years ago the triplets were just nine years old and too young to complete all the adult runs. This time at twelve they were just able to do the full set including the famous black run with its scary wire bridge across the canyon.
It was an hour’s drive from our cousin’s house in Uzes and so arriving at lunchtime, the first thing on the kid’s minds was food. We found a beautiful shady bench overlooking the river Gardon for our picnic.
Next to the picnic benches were some tightrope challenges. They just had to be tested and proved the perfect way to limber up and practice balance before our tree top adventure.
Replenished and loosened up after our drive we checked in with the guides. I was pleased to see the safety harnesses had improved since our last visit. Back then a forgotten clip could be serious; now the clips and harnesses had a safely feature to ensure while off the ground, you always had at least one of your safety ropes attached to an overhead wire. I was glad of the detailed explanation in English on how to use the equipment before we began.
Even after our briefing there was a trainer trail to complete before we could be let loose on the serious course. A chance for plenty of family banter for anyone finding themselves in a muddle!
Finally with our training complete we were ready to begin. The kids all put me last so I didn’t hold them up, cheeky I thought, but in fact they were quite right, I was the most nervous and scared of all and just thrilled to be joining them and not welching out to take the photos. Though it did mean balancing my phone precariously in my bum bag and trying not to shake as I risked letting go (harness attached) to grab the odd snap from up high. I was kicking myself for forgetting to charge the Go Pro after kayaking on the river the previous day.
The Red Run began at ground level so I was able to video a clip of the boys receiving their briefing and setting off.
By the time we finished I couldn’t have been more proud of my athletic kids and their tree top adventure. However my real star was Clio who hung back to encourage me not to quit when I really thought I couldn’t cling on. Together we completed the black run and wobbled over the final terrifying canyon to meet up with the boys.
All in all this was a huge success and a real highlight of our holiday, although it did leave some of us quite exhausted.
Our Tree Top Adventure on Video
Tips for attempting a Tree Top Adventure
- We went to Abracadabranch in the South of France
- Prices were around 20 euros each making it an expensive day for all of us.
- Take plenty of drinks, we ran out despite taking several litres of water and ended up investing in more there which thankfully was available to buy.
- At Abracadabranch there is only one loo and it is a composting toilet in a B&Q style shed – be warned!
- Road signs are pretty poor, we relied on our cousins for directions heading out of Ales, as you are almost there before you see any signs.
- Take off any rings a they will rub when you are hanging onto the ropes.
- I wish I’d taken cycling gloves. I ended up ripping the skin off my fingers clinging onto the wire ropes hauling myself up to ledges.
- Wear comfy flexible clothing. I wore my running gear. Shirts and T shirt are fine so long as you have good movement.
- You need a moderate level of fitness, my arm strength let me down and my shoulders ached the following day.
- Allow 3 hours to complete all the runs.
- If you are a little nervous try not to have a big crowd with you on the more tricky sections like the long wire bridge as it will make it more bendy and hard to keep your balance and grip. The boys thought this was hilarious, Clio and I crossed solo!
- Remember the harnesses will save you if you are in trouble so never panic or it will zap your strength. Just try and you might surprise yourself. I don’t have a great head for heights but still loved the adrenaline rush of completing each stage.
- Listen carefully to the safety briefing, it is quite straightforward when you get the hang of it but requires concentration.
- If you try this abroad make sure you are fluent in the language or choose a venue with English speaking guides as we did.
- Many of the UK Forestry Commission sites in the UK offer a similar tree top adventure with smaller courses for younger children too.
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