bookmark_borderPlaces to see in and around England?

Possible summer holiday map
Originally uploaded by viralbus

Our plan for this summer is to fill our Citroën C8 up with two adults, five kids, a tent, sleeping bags and lots of other stuff, and then drive clockwise round England, possibly taking a small detour to France and Belgium, and possibly another one to Wales (see the map).

We think the kids ought to see London, I would quite like to see Dartmoor, and a friend recommended that we take the kids to Bridlington.

However, I’m actually writing this because I’m interested in your suggestions.

Where should we go? Where are there beaches, museums, castles or rollercoasters that would thrill five kids ranging between 6 months and 13 years, preferably without breaking the bank?

bookmark_borderUnder the ash cloud

Anna in Edinburgh airport
Originally uploaded by PhylB

I’m blogging this from Aarhus, which is not how things were supposed to be.

We were supposed to spend a week in Copenhagen, celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday, let Anna play with her first and second cousins (Ursula, Aya, Karl and Olivia), show off Amaia to everybody, and then fly home to Scotland last Friday.

However, Thursday morning Phyllis’s parents contacted us about an ash cloud.

At first, we thought it was a delayed April’s Fool joke, but as soon as we switched on the TV, it became obvious that it was no laughing matter.

By Thursday evening it had become obvious that our flight home would get cancelled.

Friday morning I went to the main railway station to see what they could do.

I was offered a train to Amsterdam with changes in Fredericia, Padborg, Hamburg, Münster, Enschede and Amstetten, and then a ferry to Newcastle. There were only two problems: Firstly, the train was leaving an hour and a half later, which meant that I had to call Phyllis to get her to pack our bags urgently and rush to the station. Secondly, to get the ferry ticket, I had to line up in a separate queue, although they assured me that the ticket should be available.

I then queued for more than an hour, and by the time I got to the front, there were no more ferry tickets left.

I consulted Phyllis, who had already arrived, and we decided to go to Amsterdam anyway in the hope that there would be more ferry tickets available there (and we would be much closer to the English Channel if trains or ferries became available there).

So we rushed off to the train and started working our way down Europe.

However, when we reached Neumünster (north of Hamburg), the train stopped and we were told to change to a replacement bus.

Because we had lots of luggage and two small girls in a damaged buggy, we were the last to get to the bus, so by the time we got to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the train was long gone.

I went to another long queue, and then another, and then we were lucky: A nice lady in her fifties had a look at my wee girls and asked whether I really wanted to spend the night in Duisburg Station. I said no, and she then offered us a free hotel room for the night.

Of course I said yes, but I got a shock when I saw our room: A suite with two queen-sized beds in Park Hyatt just round the corner from the main station, with breakfast included! It was the most luxurious hotel room I’ve ever been in!

The next morning we returned to the station to continue our journey to Amsterdam.

However, a technical problem meant the train was suddenly changed to take off from Hamburg Harburg, but again our slow progress with our wee girls meant that we missed the train.

I asked when the next connection was, and I was told that we wouldn’t reach Amsterdam till dinner time.

We concluded that this would be useless, given that the news programmes were claiming that there were no hotel rooms left in Amsterdam because so many people were stranded in Schiphol.

So we asked to get back to Denmark, which they agreed to do.

This time we got onto a direct train, and we got to my parents’ flat in Aarhus just in time for dinner.

In the evening we booked a new flight for Friday (Billund-Edinburgh), which is also when the three big kids are now supposed to return from France, so hopefully the ash cloud will disappear before then.

If it stays in place, we don’t know what we’ll do. Rent a minibus, drive down to France, get the kids, drive up to the Channel, take a ferry and then drive home, perhaps?

bookmark_borderDon’t Ryanair want customers?

Ryanair have now decided that people have to check in online and print out their boarding passes themselves, even if travelling with checked luggage

Here’s what they say about it themselves:

If you do not check-in online you will be required to pay the relevant fee to re-issue your boarding card at the airport (Euro 40/GBP 40).

Passengers travelling with checked luggage will be required to present their online boarding pass and checked baggage at the airport bag drop desk at least 2 hour prior to departure (bag drop desks will close strictly 40 minutes prior to scheduled flight departure).

I can immediately spot one problem with this:

People might be on holiday in a place without a printer. It is possible to check in up to two weeks in advance, but if you’re away for two weeks and a weekend, you have to find a computer and a printer while away.

I also think a £40 fine for not printing it is somewhat steep. (Perhaps there would be a business opportunity for providing internet and printer access in the airport for distraught travellers?)

There’s also another serious problem that my mum experienced while travelling back to Denmark yesterday:

In the “old” days, the people at the check-in desk would have a look at your hand luggage and tell you to check some of it in if it was too big.

But now that’s not possible any more, so to prevent people from abusing the hand luggage allowance, Ryanair now check hand luggage sizes in the boarding area.

But that’s ridiculous, because it’s too late to check it in! If your bag is too big, your options are to leave it behind or to stay behind with it. You can’t pay them to put it into the hold, and it’s too late to go back and check it in.

I predict this change will cause some severely annoyed customers to vow never to fly with Ryanair again. Is it really worth it?


The fruit market in Århus
Originally uploaded by PhylB

Phyllis has already ranted about this, but our recent trip back to Denmark for a long weekend brought back to me how much I miss proper markets.

In the UK, so-called farmers’ markets seem to be an excuse for farmers to make more money, but with no real benefits for the consumers.

On the continent, however, although some vendors are farmers, lots of others are just people who buy stuff from whole-sale markets and sell them on.

The biggest benefit is for the consumers, who get more choice and lower prices.

Just look at this beautiful selection of peppers and chilis from Bazar Vest in Århus in Denmark.

Isn’t that just much more attractive than what you’d find in Asda or Tesco or in your local farmers’ market?

bookmark_borderCenter Parcs

Lots the archer
Originally uploaded by viralbus

We’ve just come back from three full days in Center Parcs (Friday noon–Monday noon).

It’s basically hundreds of wooden cottages inside a forest, with lots of activities for kids and adults. Most of them cost money, except for the subtropical water complex.

The kids loved it – they now want to go there for all their holidays (although I think Marcel will change his mind in about five years’ time – like Legoland, it’s devoid of young people between 15 and 35).

Marcel and Charlotte did archery, “Olympics” and quadbike, and Phyllis and I went for the serail treatment (which was really nice).

The only annoying thing that happened was when we all went for a birthday meal (Léon is 3 years old today) in the Chinese restaurant. We ordered the set menu in advance, and they told us that kids under 3 were free, which made us very happy because we were bringing three (Léon, Gordon and Anna). However, it turned out that they were planning to just give them empty plates for free and we were then “allowed” to share our food with them. Since when has it been free not to pay for nothing?!? Fortunately, the manager eventually gave in, but watch out if you’re planning to visit the Center Parcs restaurants!

bookmark_borderOxygen for babies

Oxygen Masks – 3
Originally uploaded by drbrain

There was a story today about a Ryanair flight which lost cabin pressure as a result of which oxygen masks were released.

Fairly standard stuff that doesn’t worry me overly.

However, it made me wonder what to do about babies under two. You see, you can’t book individual seats for them, they have to sit on your lap.

So what do you do if you need oxygen and you only get one mask for your baby and yourself?

I asked in the comments section in the article I linked to above, and somebody relied:

It depends from aircraft to aircraft but all aircraft have 4 masks on certain rows, and therefore on a full flight passengers with babies should be checked into a row which has 4 masks. If in doubt check with check-in staff who should be adequately trained to know the aircraft configuration and also with cabin crew. It is a part of basic safety training that you know which rows have 4 masks, but again I can’t give a general comment on this as every single aircraft type I have operated on has differed in this respect.

However, a different person followed up:

However we flew on a Ryan air 737 over the weekend with our small baby and asked to sit in a row with 4 oxygen masks. The cabin crew didn’t seem to know what we were talking about!

So what do you do if the crew can’t help you and you can’t find a seat with an empty seat next to it?

bookmark_borderSuitcase on wheels

Kiddie suitcase on wheels
Kiddie suitcase on wheels

While we were waiting for our suitcases in Stansted two days ago, two kids walked past me sitting on pink suitcases.

This looks like a great idea! Suddenly carrying their own luggage becomes a game for kids…

Only problem I can see is to keep them away from slopes in all disguises, or your kids might suddenly travel a bit faster than is advisable at that age.