Three Tips For Senior Travels

One of my favourite memories and photographs of my grandmother is of her crawling on all fours in a camp site after a 7 month old Aviya. Every birthday my gran has had since I was a kid was her 100th birthday but  if I had to hazard a guess, I think she was around 75 when this picture was taken.  Since then she has done two long haul flights to Australia, shared a house with 3 grand children and 2 great grand children, driven in a combine harvester, and a whole bunch of things that most roughly 80-year old’s just don’t really do.

Capture

Travel can be a huge undertaking, but if you go through a provider like Saga Travel you should be well taken care of, leaving you with a worthwhile vacation you can appreciate every step of the way.

Shop Around

It is essential to shop around and compare prices for the best travel deals before committing yourself. Whether you are considering a budget cruise for the family, a traditional package holiday or a group tour by coach or rail, discounts are often available. Early birds can often take advantage of discounts of up to 30% while those who have the flexibility to pick up last-minute bargains often get the best bargains of all. Look out for deals on extras such as airport parking and car hire; holidaymakers can save money by booking these items in advance and shop around when it comes to your insurance – on our recent trip to Australia we found annual travel insurance for the whole family to be cheaper than a single trip insurance!

Travel Light

Consider how you will manage your luggage at the airport. A wheeled suitcase avoids the need to carry heavy bags. Packing only the essentials makes sense for seniors as it is much easier to manage a small bag than a large one. You will also save money by avoiding having to pay for extra bags. Many seasoned travellers avoid baggage charges altogether by packing just one carry-on bag. Roll rather than fold clothes, buy miniature bottles of toiletries and seal in a zip lock waterproof bag, and take an e-reader rather than heavy books. Consider wearing the bulkiest items that you will need on your holiday while travelling. Also using air lock bags (those that you suck or roll the air out of to compress the contents) mean you can pack more into a small space. And don’t be ashamed to ask for wheelchair assistance at airports – that way you don’t have to carry anything!

Look After Your Health

Travel insurance is an essential for many destinations, and seniors with health problems should protect themselves from expensive medical bills with a policy that covers pre-existing conditions. Make sure that you take a good supply of any regular medications and pack these in your hand luggage. Travel can be tiring, so if you are not usually very active try to gently build up your levels of exercise in the weeks before you travel. Also, travel insurance for seniors can be exorbitantly expensive, so make sure you both factor the extra into your travel budget and make sure to shop around!

A little planning and preparation should help you make the most of your travels and hopefully the memories you make will transcend generations.

Great Sources of Secret Travel Tips

Travelling is, in general, exciting. People love it. We love it. But have you ever gone away and returned home seeing nothing more than the top five, ten, fifteen things in the tourist brochures? The things every tourist sees in the same place?

Have you ever wondered how people find out about gorgeous secret locations? How other people seem to find the best breakfasts, or know what’s happening in town as it happens.

Here are our top three tips for finding hidden doors to ‘local’ gems:

  1. Search Blogs

Blog

Do a search for blogs on your location

This is the most obvious one, but make it less obvious. Look for ‘Must see attractions in Paris” sure – you should at least see the Eiffel tower up close once or twice – but then Google the unusual “hidden bars in Croatia”, “Best beaches in Perth” and so on. Be specific, and seek out the headings that attract your attention. Gloss over them and find all those ‘hidden gems’ those in the know often seem to struggle to keep hidden.

  1. Pinterest

    Pinterest

    Seek out ‘secret PLACE NAME’ on Pinterest for amazing images

Pinterest is a place of beauty. Almost every picture is exquisite, almost every destination looks heavenly – and pretty much every place on the map has had someone visit it. Start a pin board where you list all the beautiful and unusual, off the beaten track places that others have written about. Some you’ll get to, some you wont, but it’s a great way to find especially natural spectacles that you will probably never find in most travel guides. (Click on the Pinterest link, and replace ‘Isle of Wight’ with your destination.)

  1. Instagram

    instagram

    #hashtag your destination on Instagram for up to the minute information

Hashtags are your friend. Often when we find ourselves in a place we’re unfamiliar with, once we’ve done the ‘what’s on in XYZ’ and found ourselves uninspired, I’ll go on Instagram or Twitter and search by the name of the place we’re in. We’ve found festivals, outdoor concerts, and all sorts of entertainment – often free, too – this way.

It’s also helped us discover some fabulous places to eat – say someone says they’ve found the best milkshake ever, then we know the place they’ve tagged is a good place to try out. And we’ve rarely been disappointed.

Use your Instagram and Twitter hashtags. You’ll find many a holiday-making moment that way.

  1. Guide books

booksOkay, for all that about guide books, there are a few that are actually great. We have 1000 Places To See Before You Die, which has some of those you’d expect – but also many that you wouldn’t always think of first.

There are also many specialist books – if cream teas are your thing try AA Britain’s Best Afternoon Tea, if you want to follow in the footsteps of stars, The Ultimate Hollywood Tour book will make sure you don’t miss anything, and so each country and many interests are catered for – but don’t forget your web searches, and your hashtags.

 Great sources of insider travel tips

Unusual Child Friendly Travel Destinations

Our time here in Australia is careening to a screeching halt, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad about that. The kids are sad, I’m sad and well, we’re all a bit bummed. I’ve learned from the past though, and one thing I know for sure is that one way to deal with the sad disappointment of circling Heathrow in the cold/dark/gray/rain/snow is knowing that you’ll be jetting off somewhere soon again. And while our tans will quickly fade, the hopes and dreams of another new horizon keep us ticking over every time. While Australia and a 19-hour minimum transit time was very much a family requirement (my brother was getting married), there are many child friendly travel destinations, and here are a few that might not ordinarily spring to mind…. but they’re on our short list.

Burj al Arab Hotel, Dubai

hotel Dubai

We’ll spend a few night time hours in Qatar on the trip back, but I kind of wish we’d chosen Dubai, since we have family there. We’d really love a stay on a private island though, like the Burj al Arab Hotel. This Dubai hotel ranks as the most luxurious hotel in the world, and it really knows how to spoil guests of every age! While you pamper yourself in the luxury spa, the little ones can spend some time in Sinbad’s Kids Club, where they will be looked after by the hotel’s babysitters giving them something to do in between trips to Wild Wadi waterpark, camel rides on the beach, and visits to the aquarium.

Egypt

Egypt

Egypt is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, and for inquisitive kids, it’s entirely mesmerising. Not only can children learn about Egypt’s impressive ancient and modern history, but there are many extraordinary things to do that you can’t in other holiday destinations. Exploring the insides of pyramids and catacombs would be fascinating for kids – especially Ameli who surprised me at four years old by asking what a sarcophagus was! –  but you can also do simple things like wander through local markets and explore the desert landscape.

Egypt is also home to 21 protected areas of natural habitats where you can see elephants, hippos, leopards, and cheetahs, and there are excellent child-friendly resorts. Plus, you can feel good about supporting an economy that is still in recovery—there are many completely safe parts of the country to visit, and your travel cash will help local businesses to grow.

hotel LA

Los Angeles

Los Angeles has it all. By all means, experience the magic of Disneyland in nearby Anaheim, but don’t miss out on other exciting experiences for children. Dive into movie history in Hollywood, but you don’t even have to go to movie capital to find plenty of entertainment. You can catch live performances of plays geared towards children in several L.A. based theatres, or take a backstage tour in the magical El Capitan Theatre. And with a host of kid-friendly restaurants that allow children to eat for free, Los Angeles ranks highly for culture loving families.

belize

Belize

With a tropical coastline, dense jungles, fascinating Mayan temples and turquoise water, the Caribbean resort of Belize is a superb destination for all the family. Touted as one of the best snorkel and scuba diving experiences in the world, white-sand beaches provide a bevy of water sport activities, whilst the Belize Zoo and Baboon Sanctuary gives you a close encounter with animals. The chance to explore the underground water system in ancient Maya caves or a jungle trek should not be overlooked either and is a memorable experience for all the family.

Tivoli

Denmark

When a country has a national hero like children’s story writer Hans Christian Andersen, you can guarantee there will be plenty fun things to do with kids. So don’t overlook Denmark when deciding where to go on your next holiday. Regarded as the happiest country in the world, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, Denmark is home to Legoland, (no wonder they’re so happy!), an adventure park made from 59 million pieces of Lego celebrating the “toy of the century.” Closer to the capital of Copenhagen is Tivoli, a fairy tale amusement park which puts on live music and nightly firework displays. Just north of the capital is Bakken, the oldest amusement park in the world, where you can enjoy a horse and carriage ride to see the wild deer that live in the surrounding woods.

Hmmm.. if it’s up to the kids, it’ll be Denmark for sure, but I think we’ll have to put names in a hat, ’cause that spa in Dubai is sounding pretty good to me.

Five Great Christmas Events For The Family

For the first few years living in the UK, I found the whole cold winter, dark days, early nights and crazy commercialism of Christmas utterly strange. Four years ago we had our first Christmas back in the Southern Hemisphere, however, and I was surprised to find that I really missed the post card Christmas, the log fires, and mulled wine. A winter Christmas had truly become Christmas the way I like it.  This year we’ll be in Australia for Christmas, and there’s quite a bit we’ll be missing out on here in what’s meant to be a very cold winter, so I thought I’d share some of the things that are still on my bucket list for Christmas activities with my girls.

1. Hogwarts

Hogwarts at the Harry Potter Tour is an almost guaranteed hit with kids at Christmas. We visited for the grand opening when Aviya was just 4 days old, and I’d love to go again – specially since they’re doing a whole ‘Hogwarts in the Snow’ thing. The Harry Potter movies are loved by kids of all ages, which makes Hogwarts a perfect place to visit this year. Walking round the castle provides a unique experience and the studio tour provides a fascinating insight into how the films were made. It’s also a great chance to see the props and sets that were used in the film up close.

Kids at christmas hogwarts2. Legoland

Legoland is considered one of the very best of all the theme parks in the UK and I’ve written about it and visited it many a time. Ameli has over 100 visits under her belt, and the pass holder bricks to prove it. For her birthday this year we stayed at the Legoland hotel, which was amazing, but we’ve still never made it to one of their seasonal events!

From November 22nd to December 24th, Legoland put on the Bricksmas Express where you and the children can discover a charming Christmas land where fairy lights twinkle, festive food delights and LEGO®bricks are a-plenty. It’ll be awesome, I’m sure and I do wish I could take the girls to Santa’s LEGO grotto.

3. Edinburgh Castle

I’ve only ever had two brief stops in Edinburgh and each time I’ve made a note that I really would love to return with a bit more time on my hands. In the week before Christmas (from the 20th December) you can learn how the famous author Charles Dickens found the inspiration for his book ‘A Christmas Carol’ after his visit to an Edinburgh graveyard – okay maybe more for me than the kids, that one, but I’d love to step back into Victorian England and have a chinwag with the ghost of Christmas past. And top it off with a feast in Jacobite Room. It would certainly be an experience to remember. Whilst it might not have the rides and high tech thrills of a theme park, it does provide a stunning setting to experience Christmas in. The sheer size of the castle and the breath taking surroundings make it a perfect place to visit for kids of all ages.

Whilst you’re in Edinburgh, why not check out what else the city has to offer.

4. Alton Towers

Alton Towers is another popular theme park in the UK. As a park, Alton Towers are said to be particularly good at catering for younger children. Looking at their Christmas line up, I think there’s so much going on, you’ll have trouble fitting it all in, really, what with meeting your favourite characters at the new CBeebies Land, embarking on a mission of discovery in Sharkbait Reef by SEALIFE and enjoying festive fun on their magical rides.Then there’s lunch at the hotels, a visit to the Wacky Waterpark and of course that very special visit to Santa and his elves in his secret hideaway grotto. I’m sure everyone will sleep well after that day out.

kids at christmas alton towers

5. Celtic Manor

Celtic Manor is a great alternative to the more obvious places to visit. It’s located in South Wales, and has plenty to offer kids, including the Christmas village, ice skating and Santa’s grotto. I only heard about Celtic Manor recently, when someone was telling me about their spectacular fireworks display that included live music and entertainment.

When you also take into account beautiful natural surroundings, then Celtic Manor is a great choice of a Christmas break for you and your kids.

kids at christmas celtic manor

I’m not sure what we’ll be doing in the run up to Christmas, but if Christmas 2012 is anything to go by, it’ll include frequent visits to the swimming pool, and queuing for an hour to spend 30 seconds in a snow dome filled with fake snow… trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds, and is how the Southern Hemisphere tries to capture a few moments (quite literally) of the romance of a white (ish) Christmas.

 kids at christmas celtic manor

 

Jurassic Nozstock: The Hidden Valley 2014

What feels like forever ago now, we made our way to Nozstock festival early in August, for our third year in a row. The theme this year was Jurassic, and the festival itself was just that.

Unfortunately, as luck would have it, on the day we were set to go, our car was giving trouble and we had to offload all our camping gear and take it to the mechanic before we could head off. Nine hours and £600 later, we decided to spend the night at home, and head out first thing in the morning, but we hit torrential rain on the way, so even our early departure didn’t see us getting to Nozstock before mid day.

Never the less, we decided to make the very best of what was left of the weekend, and at Nozstock, that’s not hard to do.

camping

On arrival, the first thing we noted was that the live-in vehicle section looked much larger than previous years, and much better organised. The traffic and security people also seemed to have a better grasp on what was going on and where everyone should go, which was much improved too.

Heading into the festival and camping grounds, we discovered a gate down to the Dingle Bar – I’m not sure if that was new this year, or had been there previously, but it was a winner for us! A nice short cut to the area we wanted to be.

As is always the case with Nozstock, so much effort has gone into ‘theming’ the event, and the huge Dinosaur welcoming you to the event area was brilliant. All around the festival site, there were homages to the theme. The kids loved it – I know. Girls who loved Dinosaurs. Thank heavens for that.

Nozstock Decorations

We tend to spend most of our time at Nozstock in the Bandstand area and surrounds, and between the Dingle Bar and the Bantam of the Opera Stage, our weekend is pretty full.

We watched a stage show by the Outlawed Nomadand while I’m not sure she really followed it, 4 year old Ameli was so mesmerised, she made us go in and watch it with her again on Sunday! The Little Wonderland Kids Area was amazing again. Even I picked up new skills in some of the craft sessions.

There was, as always, so much going on for kids, from ‘cave painting’ to gladiator games (with foam clubs!) to making dinosaur bone drumkits and treasure hunts and all sorts, just so much to do. My girls love their arts and craft, and by the end of the day, they were decked out with (foam) bones in their hair, shell and bone necklaces, and prehistoric dream catchers to decorate our tent.

To burn off energy they were entertained by climbing frames, hula-hooping and beatboxing, as well as going on an imaginary dinosaur hunt, which they were thrilled by.

All in all we had action packed days.Kids Nozstock

Even though we had camping tickets, we’d all been unwell the week before Nozstock, so had decided to get accommodation off site, about 4 miles away, so when we were all dirty, and exhausted, we stopped by Hot Rocks Pizza for a 4-minute stone baked delicious pizza, before heading off for a hot shower and a comfy sleep. It’s a different way to do the festival, and you lose out on some of the festival spirit for sure, but it wasn’t a bad option for our under-par health family – and good for the local economy, I tell myself!

While all the traders and artists and everyone else at Nozstock have such a positive and cheerful attitude, especially towards the children, we were particularly impressed by one of the stallholders at L for Leather. Ameli had been given some spending money, and wanted a ring made from leather. I don’t know his name, but he was so patient with my little girl, allowing her freedom to choose the ‘wrong’ side of the leather, and choose to her likes and dislikes without telling her how it ‘should be’ or dictating in any way. I thought it was magical how both amused, and sweet he was about her uhming and ahing over what colour staples to use – an important decision after all- when he was only making £2 out of the deal.

Overall, and once again, we loved Nozstock: The Hidden Valley 2014, and even though we only dipped in and out of it this year, we had a fantastic time, and the kids still talk about it, and pretend play that they’re heading off to Noztock, dino-bones in hand.

P.S. The headphones the girls are wearing in the pictures are brilliant for kids in noisy places. These kids ear defenders come highly recommended.

Planning & Preparing For ‘In Case Of An Emergency’

It’s finally happening. We’ve handed in our notice. We’ve bought boxes. Slowly but surely, this whole moving thing is happening. We’re in the extremely lucky position that we are able to work from wherever we have an internet connection, and it’s taken us a few years to move beyond the realisation that we don’t need to plough all our money into the same four (or more) walls, month after month, paying off someone else’s mortgage to actually doing something about.  And so we are moving our stuff into storage, and taking our lives, and our children, on the road.

UntitledIt’s fun to plan, exciting to dream about, and downright terrifying. It’s not like we’re starting with the biggest budget in the world, and in fact, we still have more debt than is sensible, but part of our reasoning for downsizing our lives and our outgoings is to try to bring that debt under control. We did this a few years ago, actually. We took out a Santander bank loan, consolidated all our debt and spent three years paying it off. It worked well, because at the same time we cancelled two of our credit cards, and in the space of three years, on low income, with a baby on the way/newborn/toddler, we managed to more than halve our debt. Somehow. It’s pretty epic and we’re proud of ourselves.

One of the biggest things I’ve been working through in planning for this new adventure, however, has been emergency preparedness. As a family of foreigners living in  England, we’ve managed to create friendships and get to know people, so that if something happened to my husband and I, there would be someone who knows to get in touch with one of our families, and how. As people of no fixed address for a while, that becomes a little more tricky, and being prepared has become a big thing for me.

We need to know that we have access to ’emergency money’, should something go wrong. Whether ‘wrong’ is that we suddenly need to find accommodation off plan, should the car break down, should one of us become sick – none of them are options we want, but they can happen. Being unprepared for them is foolish and probably the quickest way to end our romantic travel dreams.

We’ve worked hard selling off extra and unwanted, no longer required household goods, toys and baby stuff, and we’ve put all that money into making space on the remaining credit card, so that should we need it we have access to funds. Not millions, mind, but just enough to make sure the unexpected isn’t more stressful than it needs to be.  Crashing on a friend’s sofa for a week is one thing when you’re a singleton – but a family of four take up substantially more space than most families with kids can comfortably accommodate. Our car isn’t young anymore, and while she’s well serviced (and has already cost us a fortune this year!) sitting on the side of the road in Spain sounds no more fun than sitting on the side of the road in England.

Untitled

Being prepared for a huge family adventure is certainly about more than sandwiches and drinks bottles. It’s about packing lightly, but with enough of the right stuff. It’s about making sure your GPS is up to date. It’s about doing a LOT of research – there’s nothing quite like running out of fuel somewhere on a back road in Slovenia because you were trying to avoid the toll fees you didn’t know you had to pay to put pressure on a family road trip! (By the way, if you’re religious, that’s also one of the quickest ways to really get you back to focused prayer, praying for a fuel station! I’m totally not throwing eye daggers at the Mr as that memory returns! 😉 )

And it’s about knowing who to contact – or more importantly the children knowing who to contact, and how, in the case of a real emergency, and it’s about having the financial reserves, or at least a back up plan, if or when you need it.

As a couple we were avid travelers, but I realise  now, in planning a trip with a family, that the ‘basic needs’ are very different to what they were for two people. What constitutes ‘necessities’ are different. What constitutes an emergency, is different, and plans need to be put in place.

Well… we already have the girls memorising ‘I’m from England, please take me to my embassy‘… words I hope they’ll never, ever need to use… but all part of being prepared, I guess.

I know we’re not the first family to take on this challenge, so let me know… what would you do to plan for all eventualities on a family road trip?

A Day Out In London: Visiting Hamleys Toystore

I honestly never thought I’d say this, but it turns out spending a morning in a toy shop can actually be a fun event.

If you’re heading to London any time soon, and specifically if you’re looking for a way to kill time indoors for a few hours, Hamley’s Toy Store in Regent Street is amazing. On our way in I told my 4 year old Ameli that I wouldn’t be buying anything and we were just there to look, and amazingly, that was fine! She didn’t ask for anything all day, and was more than happy with the ‘free’ things she walked away with. (More on those in a bit.) I was quite surprised. I had expected a bit more fight! (In truth I think she was so overwhelmed she wouldn’t have known what to ask for anyway!)

I am in love with these Magic Markers. Ameli was thrilled to take the picture home!

I am in love with these Magic Markers. Ameli was thrilled to take the picture home!

Hamley’s Toy Store isn’t a shop. It’s an experience. Seriously. When they open the doors at 11am (on a Sunday) there’s a whole countdown, and eager browsers and shoppers alike are dragged into the spirit of the thing by ‘hosts’ counting down to the opening of the shop, by princesses and the Hamley’s bear waving at them and welcoming them. I’ve never really experienced anything quite like it!

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The Tiger Who Came To Tea Live In London

If I were to have any regrets about my life before children it would be that I didn’t take enough advantage of the theatrical options that life in London offers. I mean, we did go to Royal Albert Hall, we did go to the National Opera and we did see ballet. We saw King Lear, and we saw amazing concerts from Leonard Cohen to Nickelback, but considering that we lived in London, and that we had two good full incomes, we really didn’t take advantage as much as we could have.

I do love the theatre though, and it is my sincere hope that the girls will grow up loving it too. Which means that we need to expose them to it now, in their childhood.

When Kids Week came along a few months ago, I was thrilled to get two adult tickets with two free child tickets for The Tiger Who Came To Tea Live.

We walked into the theatre with no expectations, since we have never actually read the book and had no idea what Judith Kerr’s story was about. Sometimes its nice that way.

The Lyric Theatre in London is beautiful, small and perfect for a show aimed at children. We had front row seats, so the kids had to sit on our laps to be able to see the whole stage.I only realised this a few minutes in, and Aviya’s face went from ‘that’s nice’ to ‘WOW’!the tiger who came to tea live

The show itself is highly engaging, with the audience being encouraged to participate from the off. They make use of ‘old tricks’ like a bit of slap-stick comedy from the father, or the Tiger knocking on the door and disappearing – cue hundreds of children shouting warnings at the cast, but it works brilliantly. The children adore it.

The actors entered the stage with huge smiles and full of enthusiasm. They sang and had fun and the audience loved it. The children were mesmerised by the on stage magic – the disappearing food, emptying juice bottle and vanishing contents of the cupboard and fridge.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea Live

– Engaging show

– Short enough for children

– Beautiful theatre experience

The tiger/father/postman/milkman was played by Matthew Dudley. The tiger was a huge suited hind-leg standing creature made up entirely of frills and the actor who played him was fantastic. The kids loved the tiger and my daughter has been emulating his walk and curtsy all day long. I was worried that a huge stuffed tiger would be scary for the kids, but it wasn’t – his way, his movement, him presence, were all comical and lovable. He was really very well portrayed.

The actress who plays Sophie, the little girl, Abbey Norman, is wonderful too. She had such a lovely singing voice, she was an absolutely mesmerising. She was full of energy and looked like she was having fun.

Finally the mother, Jenanne Redman, was so like a real mother: she led the tick-tocks and told the story in the ‘everything on stage is a prop’ kind of manner – like the passing of time, had fantastical facial expressions, and made everything happen – she brings out the food, makes the bathroom appear, and loads of other little scene setting things, that are largely unnoticed…. pretty true to life, I think! I did laugh out loud when the tiger said he was hungry and she grabbed her daughter away from him. So mother like indeed.

the tiger who came to tea live

I think the real magic of this show is definitely that of the props. The tiger eats all the sandwiches,cakes and biscuits off the plates, so there’s obviously some kind of mechanism to flip inside of the plate upside down.  My daughter is convinced the Tiger ate them.

There must also be an opening back to the cupboards and the fridge, that someone takes things out as the large tiger “eats” through everything. It really provided an element and awe and magic and reality that the children adored and I appreciated.

We loved The Tiger Who Came To Tea, the actors, the set and the props. It was a fantastic show, and a brilliant 55 minutes of day time entertainment for the kids.

Here’s a little clip from the live stage show:


YouTube Direkt

And here’s more information:

The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 7ES
Box Office:  0844 412 4661 www.thetigerwhocametotealive.com

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! London – A Great Day Out In London

Ameli and I spent a day out in London today, with a visit to Hamleys Toy Store (more on that later), lunch at Planet Hollywood, and then a first-for-us visit to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Ripley was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur and amateur anthropologist, who created the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! newspaper panel series, radio show, and television show which feature odd facts from around the world. He himself explored  over 120 countries of the world, collecting the weird, the wonderful and the down right bizarre.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! certainly contains a collection of eclectic things, from the portrait of Brad Pitt made entirely out of cigarette ash, to the somewhat disturbing picture of Kennedy made out of butterfly wings, to the really clever snake effect portrait of Mrs Obama, made out of bottle tops.Ripley's Believe It Or Not! London

Read more on our new travel blog Giving Up Normal

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A Day Out In Birmingham, Midlands

If you’re stuck for something to do this summer – whether it’s with your kids, your friends or your other half, museums are a great way to pass the time. We all know that the British weather – even during the height of summer – can’t guarantee unending sunshine, and when it is looking a little overcast and glum outside, museums are a perfect option for a cultural afternoon.

A little while ago, the girls and I spent a day in Birmingham, and I was really surprised by it. For some reason I’d imagined it as a very industrial city, but it is really beautiful and a lot of work has gone into making the city centre people friendly.

The Midlands city of Birmingham is also packed with stunning museums and galleries and over the summer months, there are plenty of events, activities and exhibitions that can keep people of all ages amused. Book into one of the Travelodge hotels in the city centre and make the most out of your time in Birmingham. Here’s some of what you can enjoy:

birminghamBirmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery offers a wealth of craft activities for creative kids to enjoy. Fees apply, but it would be a perfect way to pass an hour or two with small people. There’s also a sensory gallery where you can experience a variety of artworks through touch, sound and light.

Step inside a 17th century painting, eavesdrop on Albert Einstein, or squeeze yourself into a chair in the shape of a 19th century corset.

There are also family fun trails which you can enjoy for free – it’s a great way to introduce children to a variety of art styles.

Thinktank

Thinktank is well worth a visit regardless of the additional events and temporary exhibitions that it may have over the summer period. Spend some time in the outdoor Science Garden – perfect on a sunny day – and get hands-on with some of the interactive displays and objects.

Gas Hall

Gas Hall is home to incredible exhibition that features work by Rowland Emett, who was the creator of the contraptions in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s the largest exhibition of its kind, and will engross the imaginations of everyone, no matter their age.

Circus Academy

If your kids like active challenges, take them to one of the Circus Academy workshops that are scheduled around the city throughout the summer. There are workshops being held at Soho House and Blakesley Hall in August.

Birmingham Sea Life

We actually never made it beyond the entrance of the Sea Life Centre, but even that was quite something, with huge fish tanks adorning the room. Very beautiful and the girls were thrilled with even just the 20 minutes we spent there.

If you’re planning on making more than one visit over the year, the Birmingham Museums Annual Pass (this doesn’t include the Sea Life Centre), set at £85 per year for families, gives you the chance to visit various museums across the city, as many times as you like.

I was pleasantly surprised by our day trip to Birmingham, and look forward to the next one!