On travelling with a family of four kids in Europe and South Africa. Living in Ireland we’ve travelled to France, Spain and Italy as well as returned to South Africa to visit family. We have travelled with babies and older children on planes, trains, boats and automobiles! Here I share some of our experiences whether house swapping, camping or staying the very occasional fancy place.
Or ‘My Button Keeps Popping off My Pants and other Sad Stories’
I am fortunate to have been pretty much the same shape and size my whole adult life but now I have bumped into a bit of a mental hurdle and I’m literally clambering over it to the next dress size up. It hasn’t been a good dayyear trying to pretend my trousers still fit around my waist.
In talking about what you should not eat – ie dieting – has your body shape ever been compared to a piece of food? For example ‘apple’, ‘pear’, or if you’re VERY unusual, ‘inverted carrot’. (I made the last one up – it applies to the male physique). Continue reading ‘broad bean’ and other edible body shapes…?
This post is inspired by two other bloggers who both recently wrote lists on gratitude and beauty. I think I’m meant to showcase some new products but as I have not received any freebies I’m not feeling the love need.
So instead my first impulse was to write about all my well used household cleaning equipment that is very pretty, I have some things a colourblind 1950’s housewife would be proud of, including but not limited to, flower cuffed washing up gloves (purchased for me by my husband) and three other dirt tackling devices: Continue reading 10 beautiful things that make me grateful.
Once again this year I carefully selected my favourite photographs of our holiday to showcase on Facebook. Funnily enough I didn’t take any pictures of the less than memorable moments, and like any family holiday, there were quite a lot of them. Our recent getaways have been peppered with illness, car breakdowns and near death experiences. That’s apart from the obligatory shouting at the kids and spousal arguments which tend to drive one towards another glass of wine, all of which we don’t talk about.
It cannot be possible that we are alone in this, I’m pretty sure that everybody has secrets about their holidays, events that they’d rather not remember and would certainly not post pictures of on social media. We tend to filter out the worst images and pretend life is glossy which, according to clever people who do research, leaves other people feeling depressed and inadequate. So to bolster you up and make you feel a bit better, here’s the alternative but ‘fuller picture’ version of our recent getaways, as inspired by a visit to my dear cousin, who shall remain anonymous to protect her identity.
We had a good laugh my cousin (who, like Emma Thompson, is beautiful in real life), our husbands and I about how the pictures really would look like if we had been brave enough to share them. Their’s had been a particularly disastrous trip this time, ending in broken bones, a torn ligament and a lost tooth. She looked not unlike Nanny McPhee for a couple of days. Sadly I couldn’t persuade her to update her Facebook profile with a true and accurate image.
The day she lost her tooth co-incided with us losing our clutch en-route to the airport. The good news is it is possible to drive with a dodgy clutch if you know how, as my husband does and so we even managed to drive a further 184 miles, through the rugged HIghlands of Scotland.
It reminded me of our previous holiday, which was in South Africa, when the car we were driving sprang a leak in a part of the cooling system so we had call the break down service from the side of a busy road. With our bonnet standing open and my kids thinking it was hilarious to dance and wave a safe distance from the verge, hundreds of people drove merrily by and waved back.
The tow truck driver was a young exhausted fellow in rubber slip-ons and socks, ‘Lord, save us – with another saviour!’, was my first prayer. We were driving a Toyota Land Cruiser which is the weight of a small elephant. It was winched up onto the truck and we took our seats in the tow truck cab, mere centimetres in front of the grille of our car. On the return trip to the garage he drove the truck at the maximum speed limit using his elbows, his hands were not free as he was WhatsApping his mates – he informed us that the coming weekend would be spent in an alcoholic oblivion. There were no seatbelts in the cab, we were squeezed onto a vinyl covered bench, one of my buttocks was threatening to be pressed against the neighbouring one of our driver but I refused it permission. My knuckles were white with, not only fear, but also from trying my best to stay on the seat when we careered around the corners. I had no intention of sliding over onto his lap. And I genuinely thought we would all die that evening.
For the first three days of our recent trip to Scotland our youngest child ran a temperature, was vomiting and hardly ate so when her neck swelled up on the fourth day, we took her to the doctor. He reassured us that her bug had passed and the swollen glands were healthy and good signs of that being the case. I was dubious but he was right, thankfully. On our previous holiday she had an ear infection and combined with a wax blockage but because we only spent a few days in each place, we had to visit two different doctors and an ENT specialist to finally get it all cleared up.
I’m looking forward to a holiday when we don’t have to visit a mechanic or a doctor.
Then on this trip there was a moment when I thought I would die again. My feet went out from beneath me on a slippery rock, I landed flat on my back and my head just missed smacking the rock by centimetres. I was out of view of my kids and my husband was at the mechanic (!). Thankfully I was only bruised with a headache and had whiplash for a few days, I was a grateful but cranky, stiff-necked woman.
So sadly I cannot show you any candid snap shots of my husband unsuccessfully trying to hitch-hike home, my child lying limp and sweaty on the couch or me lying face up in a puddle, perhaps those are memories I’d rather not keep or repeat. They do make good fuel for a story though and one thing is for sure, our holidays certainly don’t lack adventure. Through our various mishaps we have met some interesting local characters and actually, I think that’s been one of the highlights of our holidays.
I can show you a few made up images, thanks to pixabay:
What are some of your most disastrous holiday memories and are you brave enough to share your worst photos?
It may be easy, as a foreigner, to miss the importance of the number three here. I will probably need to explain a bit as, firstly, your ear would not be used to the subtleties of the accent. The first time I noticed this was in 2004, the year we arrived, and the supermarket P.A. system declared that ‘If you buy two, you get a turd free’. I nearly missed that one! I’d been living in South Africa and my ear wasn’t tuned in yet. Back there I was used to humour but it fell more under the laugh and death category, not so much the dirty jokes. For example, in SA You could fly on a local airline and be asked to put on a ‘laugh’ jacket in the event of an emergency.
South Africans deal with so much death and other hateful things, they are definitely good at looking on the bright side of life. ‘Laugh’ is too short to take yourself too seriously.
After all this time though, I’ve become so used to the Irish accent and expressions that when we go back to SA to visit, I think my nieces and nephews talk funny. And I get some odd looks when I snort with laughter through the airline safety demonstration.
However, that beautiful and mysterious three spiralled symbol, the origins of which nobody seems to know the meaning, got me thinking about all the things that come in threes in this country, and there are many:
The flag has three bands: green, white and orange.
The shamrock (national symbol for good luck) has three leaves.
Three most important institutions: Church, state and the pub.
Three times your parents bring you to church: your baptism, communion and confirmation.
Most typical Irish dinner would consist of: bacon, cabbage and potatoes.
Any self-respecting Irish Mammy should be able to bake these: scones, apple pie and tea brack.
Most popular three ‘minerals’ (not ‘a solid, naturally occurring inorganic substance’, more like the opposite): coke, club orange and 7-up.
Likewise three fruit juice flavours you will always find: apple, orange and blackcurrant
Three drinks consumed in greatest quantities? Guinness, tea or blackcurrant juice.
Sauce for your chips? Ketchup, mayonnaise or curry sauce.
You may be able to think of many more, and please note, this list is not based on any surveys or research, it’s just a wee bit of craic.
Addis Ababa Bole International Airport is small. You arrive downstairs, walk a tiny bit and go up an escalator to upstairs. from whence you depart through a rustic little security zone. Here the roller belts are narrow so that bags tend to fall off the sides, staff randomly heap piles of trays up on the floor and passengers mill around one in crowds rather than queues. The entire length of the terminal is a walk of perhaps a minute.
When we booked, we were offered flights with a transfer time of 20 minutes between arrival from Cape Town off one aircraft and and departure to London on another, and I believe we could have made it. As we arrived through the doors, we were met by a group of ground staff yelling ‘Toronto? Kigali? Some Eastern City Whose Name I Forget?’ We would have been met by a shouting person who could have hurried us on, through the milling crowds, to our correct flight. However, we opted not to take such a risk. 20 minutes? Crazy! We chose therefore to take a more leisurely break of two hours between flights but this meant we had an extra flight added to our return journey. We could no longer fly direct to Dublin but had to reroute through London Heathrow.
In our case though, once we were upstairs we discovered our flight was delayed by a further two hours. Which meant we then had to organise a bit of rescheduling for our later flights.
At Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, if your flights are delayed and you need to make alternative travel arrangements, you can’t alert your family/hotel/connecting flight via WIFI as there is none. You can either hope for the best, or stand in a queue at the customer service desk for three hours. I chose the latter. There is a sloth in the Zootopia/Zootropolis film who serves customers faster than I was helped last Friday night. I stood, then sat, then wanted to lie down and die in the queue from 23:15 to 2:30am.
It was not a long queue, there were only 3 people in front of me so I felt mostly calm for the first hour. But in those three hours of queuing I went from patient to bored to annoyed to depressed. Then I got a bit silly, at one point three of us standing there were wearing white shirts with tiny black dots on them so I told the rest of the people that this queue was only for those in white shirts with black dots. I don’t think they understood English as they just stared back.
After about two hours the angry man from Burkina Faso behind me started yelling at the impervious assistant about missing his conference the following day. Apparently he missed his flight as no PA was made. He was very tall and intimidating and I’m sure his pals back home could hear his complaining. Then the man from Italy at the back started yelling at Burkina Faso Man, his needs were more urgent as his departure more imminent. It took the petite Italian female passenger in the middle to calm the two of them down.
In the meantime, because three international flights are delayed simultaneously, the airport became VERY cozy. The few seats and reclining chairs looked very comfortable from the vantage point the rest of my family had on the floor. (It helps to keep a blanket or two just in case your children need to lie down to sleep in the early hours of the morning). Then we were called into the lounge area and given spicy chicken and rice which I recognised as being EXACTLY the same as the meal I’d just had on the aeroplane, just not on a tiny tray. I wish I had ordered the beef then instead.
Eventually our flight started to board which was a good excuse to run away from the angry queuing mob. I managed to grab the printouts that served as boarding passes from the assistant that reappeared finally, at the last minute, from where ever it was she had gone to print them. It seems their internet or printer or something was also broken, apart from there being ‘technical difficulties’ with our aeroplanes. As the nice Italian lady said, if there are technical difficulties with all of our delayed aircraft, we don’t actually want to hear about it.
Unfortunately the Air Ethiopia Assistant had not only booked us on the wrong flight from London to Dublin but she had also succeeded in moving us out of our grouped seating arrangement on our London flight and split our family up so that our children were scattered all over the aircraft. Even more unfortunately it was too late to do anything, our flight would not wait another 3 hours for us to correct her mistakes.
On the aeroplane, I was not too happy when a female passenger came along and kicked my child out of her seat so that she was separated from her siblings. I was also not happy about my little girls having to sleep sandwiched between male strangers. It was 3am and I was blinking back tears until my determined husband stood up and declared that the aircraft would not be departing until our family was reunited. The staff then made a plan so that we could eventually all sit together.
We finally arrived in London but with no idea which terminal our flight to Dublin and the final leg of our journey was to be departing from. All we knew was that it was a BA flight. We found the BA help desk, it was in my opinion, Help Desk Heaven. There were about ten members of staff in a lovely glassy row, all with computers that worked with amazing speed and efficiency! I still don’t know where the Air Ethiopia help desk is at Heathrow, it’s not an airline desk I’d like to revisit anyway.
Now to be fair, our outward flights from Dublin to Cape Town via Addis were fine. That is if you don’t mind stewardesses who may or may not bring a blanket or meal for your kids. Also if you don’t mind being woken at 1am for breakfast after eating your dinner just three hours earlier.
BUT, you have give the stewardesses huge credit for being gorgeous:
Helpful Tip One: Sometimes you can bring your duty free items through security but other times they may decide to keep it. I don’t know why but perhaps it depends on whether they’ve a party planned? If I were you, I wouldn’t bring duty free items if you are transiting through to Addis Ababa.
Helpful Tip Two: When flying with more than one child, make sure you position your children in the seats closest to the aisle. Then you will more likely be able to see whether they have been served a meal or not before the steward moves on. This is particularly for the centre three seats section of the aircraft where there is an aisle on either side and you are trying to keep an eye on both sides.
Helpful Tip Three: bring your own blanket and snacks for your kids, otherwise make a nuisance or yourself and keep climbing out of your seat to ask.
Helpful Tip Four: NEVER book a connecting flight on another airline within at least two hours of your arrival at the airport. If you miss the flight, it will be at your own expense to reboook and may cost a small fortune at the last minute.
Helpful Tip Five: Encourage the airline to also add insult to injury by losing your luggage. They will then deliver your bags to your home a day later so that you do not need to lug it through the airport and squish it into your car. That also allows a day’s grace to rest before having to tackle all the holiday laundry. That’s if your washing machine hasn’t packed up.