Seven Days in Sorrento

Our recent week in Sorrento was a great, active break – and we felt we fitted in everything we hoped to do and one week was the perfect length of time. So here I share with you my ideal seven days in Sorrento.

  1. Explore Sorrento and find the station

We all do the same things on our arrival in a new place, don’t we? Get your bearings! First find Sorrento main town and the nearest train station.

We actually stayed in Saint’Agnello, a nearby town east of Sorrento. It was a 15-20 minute walk to Sorrento, which in the July heat was quite exhausting so if you can afford to I would recommend staying in the main town. We found our way to Sorrento, explored the winding streets and the many shops within.

Important parts of Sorrento to find is the stairs down to the port. This is on the main Corso Italia road, on the Piazza Torquato Tasso. You will see a railing with a view of the sea, to the left are the steps leading you down to a road. It is only a short walk to the port where you can pick up a boat to Capri. There are a lot of steps, however I believe there is also a lift somewhere west of this point – though we never used it.

Also find the station, if like us you’re happy to travel cheaply to the many sites around Sorrento you’ll need to find this. In Sorrento this in on a little road just off of Corso Italia. if you headed east from the steps. The road Via Ernest De Curtis is on the right, and you will see the sign for Circumvesuviana, the name of the train line.

We found a nearer station in Saint’Agnello, it was a little dirty inside but walk up those steps and the station is fine! (We circled the whole building checking it was the right entrance!) You may wish to walk to Sorrento in the hopes of getting a seat since Sorrento is the start of the line, but at Saint’Agnello we spotted the front carriages had empty seats (right if looking at the train line) so made a beeline for those.

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2. Pompeii

We spent out first full day in Pompeii – this may have been a mistake as we weren’t ready for the climate, though we were aware of the vast size of the site! You may wish to move this later in your week.

We took the Circumvesuviana line to Pompei Scavi station and on exiting you will be greeted by tour companies. It is your decision if you want to use these but we did. It cost an extra 12 euro on top of entry fee but it meant we skipped the queue and had a guide to point out the important aspects of Pompeii life. (Make sure you have cash to pay for your ticket into the site.)

Our tour lasted a couple of hours, but only covered one area of Pompeii so we stayed another couple of hours to visit the Villa De Mistri and the colosseum. (Yes, they are polar opposite locations!) The Villa De Mistri is a fair walk away from the main part of Pompeii, but you see beautiful gardens and then the site itself is rather different to every other home you see. Then we headed across the site to view the colosseum, you can enter it by going around the side – it isn’t obvious at first look. There is also an indoor museum next door where you can view more artefacts.

There are plenty of places to eat around Pompeii, we weren’t shocked by the prices in our one (exiting Pompei by the colosseum) but we may have walked off the beaten track slightly. Definitely allow yourself a full day here!

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3. Amalfi Coast

To visit the Amalfi Coast we bought tickets for the ‘City Sightseeing’ tour bus. We thought it was good value being 10 euro there, and 6 euro to come back again. Plus the on board commentary via headphones. Be warned though this bus is not ‘hop on hop off’ like others you may have used to explore big cities. It only stops once during the journey to a town I don’t recall the name of, and it’ll be another 6 euro to get back on at this point.

And make sure on your outbound journey you sit on the right! We were excited to have front seats on the left that we didn’t think about the fact the coast was on the other side of the bus! We sat on the left on the return to get a better view.

At Amalfi we spent a few hours exploring the town, we headed up to the shops and explored the outside of the cathedral. We were duped into buying expensive ice cream because we took a seat (it costs a lot extra to sit in at some of these places, but they do give you more and in a fancy glass, just find out prices first!)

There is a small area to sunbathe and paddle, we preferred sitting on the cliff top looking over them and enjoying a glass of limoncello.

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4. Mount Vesuvius & Herculaneum

On the train again, the stop is called Ercolano. Be aware, even though a station is crossed out on the map the train still stops there! I was thinking London Underground and noticed the stop before Ercolano was crossed out so we were a little concerned when we first left the train. This must be a regular occurrence as the train driver pointed us and other tourists back on the train!

Leaving the station there is a tourist company to the left that will drive you to Mount Vesuvius. I’m not sure how regular their coaches are but we were not waiting long. We paid for our ticket in the office, and were given a little red sticker on board when showing our ticket. Mine came off my bag strap on the coach so I stuck it to my vest, by the time I was off the coach it was in my armpit so I took it off and stuck it to my bus ticket. James lost his too and we found one on our journey up Mount Vesuvius. It was fine boarding again for our return as we showed the ticket, but maybe just stick your sticker to the ticket to be on the safe side.

Head straight up! There is more walking than you realise, even when you think you’re near the top. We just had enough time to walk up and back, toilet (you need to pay the guy sitting nearby…) and a can of drink before the coach returned.

Once we were back at the station we headed to Herculaneum. If you had come out of the station you are almost walking straight ahead off you, just keep walking in that direction and you find the entrance at the bottom of the road about 5-10 minutes walk. This was a lot quieter than Pompeii and we were able to wander around at our own pace. The free guide was really useful, there are numbers around the site that link to the information in the book. We managed to go the wrong way around but it seemed everyone was doing the same!

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5. Capri

There are many different options for Capri, there was a massive ferry taking people over but we went with a smaller tour. It was 45 euro and took us along the Sorrento coast, over to Capri, toured around the island, we saw the coral grotto and the green grotto. We saw the outside of the famous blue grotto, but the hoard of boats, and queue along the coast for row boats kind of killed the mood of this. We weren’t going to have the time to queue for a row boat so we skipped this, it sounds amazing inside though.

The boat trip was about two hours and following a week of sun and walking it was a welcomed rest! Once on the island we wandered around the shops looking at the Capri bells, knowing we would be buying one for our Christmas tree. We stopped for ice cream and explored along the coast to the end of the beach. We weren’t prepared for lying on the beach too long, plus our time was short as we only had about 2 hours before the return boat trip.

If you’re looking to explore the island at a leisurely pace this tour would not have suited you. We had no idea where we were going though and were quite happy just chilling around the harbour.

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6. A day exploring Sorrento

Sorrento isn’t really a ‘beachy’ holiday, but you can have a day lying by the sea on a sunbed with on demand service if you like.

We spent the morning wandering the streets of Sorrento picking up souvenirs and searching for anything quirky. We walked further and further west until we came to a stretch of beach covered in sunbeds, and signs indicating the sunbeds were free to their customers so we bought some drinks and had a lie down. If you’re that way inclined you could spend a whole day in this area.

There isn’t a whole lot to do in town, we ended up going back to the hotel to change into nicer clothes for the evening meal, the only time we had done this. The shops were open fairly late too so we look around at clothes. Then a late night waffle.

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7. A day in Naples

Our last full day was in Naples. The train journey is roughly 2 hours and is the full way along the Circumvesuviana Line. It is a little rough on leaving the station but the area gets nice as you walk on.

Our day consisted of visiting the National Archaeological Museum, which has free entry on the first Sunday of each month. We picked up an audio guide for £5, and they have free lockers since you cannot take large bags in with you. The museum has lots of exhibits around Pompeii and Herculaneum, including mosaic art and sculptures. It is definitely worth a visit if you spent time in one of the two sites. There are vending machines inside if you need a drink or a snack.

After this we found the Underground Naples tour and descended under the city streets to see the town it was built on. This tour was a good price at 10 Euro. We were shown the ancient Roman site and given lots of new information, which helped with understanding Pompeii a little more too.

There are plenty of places to eat around Naples, it was hard to choose somewhere for our last meal!

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So this is what I considered to be a great way to spend seven days in Sorrento, and hope it inspires you!

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Our adventures in Reykjavik

One month ago I was in Reykjavik. A four day trip with mixed feelings of highs and lows, it has taken me a while to tell the tale. Unfortunately that means my memories of such events has started to diminish, and unlike Paris I don’t have a fully detailed travel journal to refer back to. So here is four days in Iceland from memory.

Day one. Getting through the blue lagoon.

Our early morning flight got us up and awake at 2.30am. Arriving at Keflavik airport we spotted the name of the tour company we were using and got our tickets to the blue lagoon. By mid morning we were at the world famous spa. So here is a story in itself as a spa is something I’ve never done before in my life! James and I split into our single sex changing rooms and I now had to fend for myself and figure out the dos and don’ts of spa life. I managed to get myself changed, four days worth of luggage in tow, then had to figure out the locker system. We had wrist bands to open them but I hadn’t realised I was looking for an open locker, I was just wandering around pressing my band to the scanners expecting it to find one for me! Once I had found a convenient corner locker a nice American lady helped me shut it and I headed onto the showers. After a quick wash and lots of conditioner I left the changing area to find James waiting for me. Apparently I’d taken ages and James was worried I’d melted down in anxiety in the middle of the lockers!

The blue lagoon was lovely. So nice and warm and calm. We tried on the face masks, floated around the whole area looking for warm spots, enjoyed a blueberry skyr smootie, and James went for the sauna. After a couple hours we left, changed back and went exploring the outside area and enjoyed the views. This was a little off the beaten track so was also very quiet. We returned to the bus and got ourselves dropped of in Reykjavik.

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When we got dropped off though we managed to get ourselves to the wrong hotel! There are lots of Foss Hotels in Reykjavik and luckily our one was only round the corner to the one I mistakenly thought was ours. After checking in and dumping our bags we explored the city and had an awesome dinner in this little pub themed restaurant. We headed back to the hotel for a nap before our bus was due to pick us up for the Northern Lights tour at 10pm.

We were downstairs at the hotel by 9.20pm, as it states pick up starts half hour before. But the bus never picked us up. To cut a horrible story short, somewhere between the travel agent in the UK, the holiday company they book through and the tour operator in Reykjavik someone printed us tickets for our chosen time of 10pm, but we were actually booked on the earlier 7.30pm. The 10pm didn’t event run that night, and we would’ve been happy to go at 7.30pm had we known. It was very frustrating, left me feeling very worried for the rest of our excursions and disappointed not to see the lights. We were able to go on the tour the following two evenings, spent 1 hour 45 mins standing in the freezing cold watching the sky both nights and saw nothing, and we were aware that people had seen the lights the night we were booked for. That explains the whole story, so I won’t be mentioning it again.

Day Two; Reykjavik city life

The next morning after our lovely breakfast at the hotel we wrapped up warm and headed to the small city to explore. First we went to the coast and watched the waves crash onto the rocks that stood before us. We walked along to the new Harpa building. A place to get out of the cold but we were surprised by the inside. We explored the shops, all at this time of year with beautiful Christmas decorations. Wandered the building and its interesting architecture.

Next we headed into town and found many Christmas themed shops. James took to one in particular and discovered the story of the 13 Yule Lads of Christmas. We now have this cute little Christmas story in our living room, and it shares the secrets of this family who visit in the run up to Christmas day. After the shops we had a drink in a coffee shop and read the new book. Next we walked up to Hallgrímskirkja, the church at the centre of Reykjavik and the tallest point in the city. We paid to go to the top and looked out at the views. The wind was so strong that day we had to hold onto the bars across the windows to hold ourselves up!

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Leaving the church we explored further to find a strange little bridge to another venue holding events, explored some more and found ourselves in a cosy little coffee shop again for a rest. (Somehow James led us in the staff entrance, James insists he is correct but we definitely left through the public entrance!) As we sat I read through our guide book and found the few sites I wanted to make sure we visited during our short stay. One was the art museum,Hafnarhús, showing the works of Icelandic cartoon artist Erro.

Leaving the coffee shop (through the correct door!) we found ourselves opposite the art museum from my book! Being close to 5pm we walked in to look around the shop, but we then realised the gallery stayed open late on Thursdays and decided to visit there and then. The works of Erro were very thought provoking and showed a lot of dark feelings, giving the time period he was creating this work. We visited the rest of the gallery too, I also enjoyed the work of Örn Alexander Ámundason and their blunt explanation of the art you were looking at, James was not quite as impressed. We both enjoyed Yoko Ono’s ‘One More Story’ exhibition, which promoted working together, peace and activism. This exhibit included a lot of opportunity to take part, but I especially liked the chess set all white and the implications of keeping track of the game if everyone is the same.

For dinner we headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe. We had a nice meal, picked up some shot glasses for our collection and James was of the impression it was fairly new. I don’t know why. But it did turn out it had only opened 3 weeks earlier.

Day Three; the Golden Circle

We headed out on the obligatory Golden Circle tour on our third day. This took us the see how tomatoes are grown in the giant green houses outside Reykjavik, watching the geysers exploding, take in the views of the Golden waterfall, and then head to the Þingvellir National park for a walk along the canyon formed by two tectonic plates. The photos do all the talking on this day, and the video of the snow storm the amazing coach driver drove us through. Still need to get the photos off the camera so that is still to come!

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Oh yeah, I wore my Girlguiding jacket the whole time!

Day Four; shopping and visiting the Vikings

On our final day we made our way around the shops to pick up the souvenirs we had wanted to bring home (but were too concerned about our money to pay at the time!). We also headed to the Saga Museum, a small exhibition following the early history of Iceland and the first settlers. This museum was a collection of lifelike models accompanied by an audio guide to explain the stories of these famous figures. It was very informative and even though it was a fair walk to the other side of the city it was well worth it.

Our final meal was a fancy fish and chips at this nice restaurant alongside the volcano house (which, if we had more time we would’ve taken in the film here). After lunch we took our final walk through the city before collecting our bags, and getting the taxi back to the airport.

Random Tips for Iceland!

  1. It really is expensive!
  2. The water smells of sulphur, you won’t be looking forward to your morning shower.
  3. You won’t find many bugs.
  4. Go before Christmas to enjoy the festivities!
  5. You only need a backpack, just pack lots of layers. No need to lug suitcases around.

How to spend 3 days in Paris

Earlier this month James and I had an amazing few days in France. We travelled on the Saturday, spent the day at Parc Asterix on the Sunday (blog post coming soon) and then three days sightseeing in Paris. Here is our experiences and my suggestions to those looking to do the same. Please keep in mind this is from September mid-week, and the experiences during a busier period may differ very much.

Day One: Buy three day tickets for a Parisian hop-on hop-off bus tour. We had a lot of talk about whether to buy these or use the metro but decided on the tour bus as we would see all the sights, rather than pop up out of a metro station. Plus the tour we chose included recorded commentary and included 4 different lines, and one bus stop was a fifteen minute walk from our hotel.

Head to the Arc de Triomphe and climb to the very top. It is awesome to see the sights from the top of this impressive building. In every direction there is a road heading toward you, and the traffic running around the roundabout beneath you is entertaining itself.

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Then head over to the Palais de Chaillot for an awesome photo op of the Eiffel Tower. From here we took the boat trip included with our Bus Tour tickets all the way to Notre Dame. (Do some extra research here, we were not impressed with the boat tour, it wasn’t open top and the plastic sheeting above you is covered in their adverts so spoilt the view.) Once at Notre Dame we took a bus tour to the catacombs. Next tip, check with each site that it is open on the day you decide to visit! (Catacombs is closed on Mondays, our entire visit was not pre-determined).

We decided to walk back the bus route to visit the Jardin Du Luxembourg where we sat and chilled for a while after all the walking of the day.

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Day Two: We took the bus to the Musee d’Orsay and spent all morning looking at the galleries. We saw Van Gogh exhibition and the impressionist exhibition. We were shocked to see people taking photos, and even selfies with the art. This was Tuesday morning, we got there just after opening time, and the queue was maybe 10-15 minutes. If you’re under 26 you get a reduced rate too, along with many other sights in Paris!

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We found a nice little place to pick up a panini and cake and sat by the Seine and ate our lunch. Unfortunately a gang of wasps joined us too. From here we took the bus to the Eiffel Tower and climbed up the first two tiers. You cannot walk to the top tier, but it is so high it would take so long! We enjoyed the sights of the first two tiers then joined the queue for the lift to the top. This took nearly 2 hours, be prepared to wait. Once we reached the 2nd tier was decided to join the queue straight away and enjoyed the view while we waited. It gets quite cramped when you get to the front, and there seemed to be 2 queues merging into one. The lift took about a minute and a half, then your have plenty of space to observe Paris beneath you. You can even see the actual top of the tower:

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Be prepared to queue to get down again too!

Day Three: We headed straight to the catacombs as I had read there were long queues to get in. By heading straight there, I still mean we got there a good half hour after it opened and the queue was already very long. They only allow a set number of people in, and as you spend roughly 45 minutes exploring it the queue will always take a long time. We queued for 2 hours, and this was from the 2nd entrance to the park. I don’t know why the area smelt so weird too. There is a McDonalds near by if you want to pick up a drink while you wait, plus it has a toilet (but not a very nice one).

Once inside the catacombs I would strongly suggest purchasing the audio guide. You can put two headphones in so you can share. Then head down the very long staircase into the tunnels.

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There was a lot to learn in the tombs and the guide was very informative. On exiting the catacombs turn right and right again to walk back to the entrance (in case you’re confused about where you’ve left!). It is about a 20 minute walk back, which we hadn’t factored into our busy day.

We took the bus back and spent the next hour taking the blue bus line around the contemporary side of Paris.

Finally we headed to the Louvre for the evening. On Wednesdays the museum stays open late, so this fits perfectly into our schedule. At this time of day the queue was almost non-existent. And how I wish we had bought the audio-guide, as to be expected with the world’s biggest museum there was so much to see! We spent a lot of time in the ancient Egyptian exhibition, plus the Greek, the sculpture and the paintings exhibitions. You can also purchase a 3ds guide to the Louvre, I really felt I missed out by not having a guide so do consider it!

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On reflection there isn’t too much I would do differently. Perhaps a little online research to purchase advanced tickets like we did for Rome. But this also kills some of the excitement of exploring a new city for the first time. I wouldn’t be so nervous about restaurants either, we had some amazing meals I didn’t even go into here. The audio guide at the Louvre would be on my list, I do find it odd you cannot get one once you’re inside.

In conclusion, this was an amazing trip, even better than I had expected. It restored my faith in city holidays and cannot wait for our next one.

Out of Doors – Phase 3

Phase 3 of an octant is a long-term commitment and should take at least 30 hours, can include gaining a qualification or teaching something to others. My Phase 3 is something Ispent months researching and planning for, and spent a full weekend working towards…

Phase 3: Complete Brownie Holiday Licence

After completing my Adult Leadership Qualification I wanted to get involved in organising a Brownie Holiday for the unit. Our unit had not been on a holiday recently so I spent a lot of time researching, getting advice from District Commissioner, and reading the ‘Going Away With…’ book from cover to cover.

After visiting a couple of holiday homes I settled on Thriftwood as it had a lot of outdoor space and new activities the Brownies hadn’t tried before.

Gaining the licence took a lot of work, I first planned a budget so I knew how much to charge each girl. This was based on the costs of accommodation, two on site activities, food, sundries and contingency. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough girls take us up on the trip and therefore invited girls from another local unit to take our numbers from 8 Brownies to 11.

I then set about asking the Brownies what sort of activities they wanted to do on holiday. They chose an Olympic theme, aiming to complete the On Your Marks Sports badge over the weekend, plus they asked to do archery and the cresta run. We also looked at the menu and they were happy with the options I had set up. I also asked each girl to fill in a survey on what food they liked and didn’t like. This went okay, but the following year we decided to give this to the parents to complete on their behalf.

Once the programme was decided I created packs of information for the parents. This included the weekend programme, menu, kit list, directions and emergency contact details. I held the parents meetings at the end of a Brownie meeting with our young leaders occupying the girls. I introduced the team, went through each piece of paperwork and answered questions.

I completed a massive order for the food from Tesco and this was delivered on the night before we went. I also collected boxes full of craft and activity equipment, had three different first aid kits with updated inventories and packed my own weekend bag too!

The weekend went smoothly. I was lucky to have a couple of girls from a neighbouring unit who had been on holiday before to show how it is done to our new campers. The only downside was the rain; some outdoor games had to be taken indoors but the two onsite activities ran fine. The Brownies got very muddy at archery, and many said their favourite activity was the cresta run.

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It was difficult to get the Brownies to sleep on the first evening, I learned that I should try to get them worn out on their arrival!

I brought along an empty notepad and asked the Brownies to sign the first page and write something they enjoyed and this has started our ‘pack holiday memories book’.

Since this weekend in 2012 we have taken the Brownies on four more Brownie Holidays. In 2013 we took a small group of 8 older girls to Chigwell Row for a weekend of toy making, climbing, pedal karts and a treasure hunt. In 2014 we held a bigger holiday with 13 girls going to Belchamps for a party weekend to celebrate the Big Brownie Birthday. The Brownies tried mini crossbows, geo caching, the assault course and pond dipping, we also had a piñata and the Sixes led party games. In 2015 the Brownies adventured in the jungle, with a blind trail, water walkerz and the wobbley pole. And in 2016 we returned to the Olympic theme with cork guns, slacklining, and lots of time spent out doors.

Brownie Holiday 2015!

Brownie Holiday is the highlight of the Guiding year for me, so much time and effort goes into the event that the period afterwards is very strange. I’ve had time to digest it, and moved on to continuing weekly Brownie meetings. But now I’ll retrace the memories of our Jungle Adventure 2015…

For this event I’d done more decorations prep than ever before, close to the effort I put in for our first holiday with Olympic posters and cutouts of athletes, but this time I’d been drawing lots of giant animals pictures, twisted brown bags into jungle vine and given every poster an animal print border. This was a great theme to get stuck into. And therefore I arrived at the venue two hours before the girls to get set up. This includes unloading the equipment, food and our own belongings too.

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Arrival went smoothly, the girls chose their beds, we took required items from the parents, and the Brownies were introduced to their holiday diary (a post on those to come!) Unfortunately, the balloons became a distraction and what should have been a quiet settle in became loud and energetic. Reminder for next year: do not put out balloons on arrival!

We had the house rules talk and the fire drill and then started our first activity, shadow puppets! We did this activity at a holiday two years ago when we also did Toymaker and it went down really well. In groups the Brownies cut out animal shaped puppets and made a theatre from cereal boxes and white tissue paper.

This was follows by our yummy hot dogs and then outside for the animal hunt. I’d bought reflective stickers and cut out eyes to put on the animal shapes. The Tigers managed to find all 24, but the Zebras were quickest at collecting them all up for us.

Back inside, the sixes put on their puppet shows in the dark and then we were all ready for bed. Unfortunately the Young Leaders’ bribe to the Brownies to go to sleep with reward of a ‘secret’ midnight feast the following night didn’t work overly well as the girls were up until the little hours. But we weren’t going to spoil their fun the next night.

Everyone was up early for breakfast and we quickly moved onto animal masks. The girls made their animal six name so they could blend in together.

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Next we headed outside for the water walkerz, didn’t quite live up the photos! The clear water and girls in a clear round ball were replaced with murky water and two long cylinders side by side! But the girls loved it so how can we judge? In fact, having two girls in a roller must’ve made it more fun for them.

Yummy jelly filled jungle juice was followed by lunch and then out we went again to the wobbly pole. Once we found the right pole (!) everyone was kitted out with helmets and asked to hold the rope to pull a fellow Brownie up the pole. Some struggled, others were quick to climb, but only one reached the top.

Saturday afternoon was a lot of fun, with the girls making worms in dirt dessert (Oreos, chocolate mousse and gummy worms, what is not to love!) and then our blind trail. This was an activity a lot of the girls asked to do when we chose the theme of jungle so wanted to get it right. We set up crawling under chair obstacles, following string, finding paper plate bananas in the trees and walking around cones. The final activity was to eat an alligator eyeball! Some guessed they were grapes but I would never confirm that! We had them imported from Australia, don’t you know!

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After fajita dinner we headed to the campfire circle for our first ever guide and scout campfire! We learned lots of new songs, one included individuals being picked on to stand up and dance and I was amazed when our quietest Brownie was picked on and happily took on the challenge! The Brownies were also the first group up to lead a song!

The Young Leaders then led their ‘secret midnight feast’. This worked even better than I’d hoped. Some of the Brownies had mentioned that it was nice for us that the young leaders had offered to patrol the rooms that night. The girls had a riot and all went to sleep much earlier following their deception.

The next morning though was fantastic. By pure mistake, some girls had left maoam wrappers on their beds and on the floor. Three Brownies sat in one room after packing their bags and I climbed around the bunkbeds checking for anything forgotten. I found three wrappers. Not even thinking about the feast I pretended to be shocked to find sweets in the bed. This led to the girls ganging together to hide their midnight secret. Later, as I helped a few Brownie volunteers to sweep the bedrooms more maoam wrappers were found. One Brownie in particular cannot lie! She couldn’t stop talking about the wrappers and the fact she knew nothing about them. Completely unprovoked she randomly told another leader of the incident that had nothing to do with her once we returned to the group. It is like having my own reality show, watching the fallout of the secret feast!

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After breakfast we headed to archery, this was good fun and most of the girls took part. There were jigsaws to make when we returned to the house before dinner and the big final clear up. We ended with some songs, which I later discovered had become a non-stop activity at home for some of the girls!

This was my favourite holiday yet! Loved the theme, all the activities were good and the girls were all well behaved. I also discovered my love for a midnight feast and how awesome a group campfire is! Roll on 2016!

Port Aventura, Spain

This was our reason for choosing Spain as our holiday destination and so we were happy to see our hotel room view was Port Aventura (in the distance). We could see Shamballa and Hurkan Condor rising high above the rest of the landscape. Pictures coming soon!

And we went up there, right up there, several times! The tall column to the left of this picture, I couldn’t be sure if this was a drop ride or a giant sign for the park. Not until we saw some ant like people freefalling from it! So, without further natter, here are my thoughts on the rides:

Shambhalla:

This ride was awesome. There are no inversions but it is fast and high. The seats are spaced so the two in front are together, and the two behind are to the sides so each seat has plenty of space around it. We tried both types of seats and while the outside seats felt awesome the inside seats were better for this photo:

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We look so happy as we are sat in the front seats of this ride. It was luck but also a really lovely ride attendant who helped us out. We were at the front of the queue line, trying to not get our hopes up that we would get the front, when the fast trackers were let in first. I groaned as a good three or four couples entered before us. All took back seats though beside one guy who was trying to persuade his buddy to do the front row. As the ride attendant let us in this guy left his friend and took the front row on his own. I just stood there and stared at him, he couldn’t have fast track and sit there all by himself! Luckily the ride attendant saw this and told him “no” and to join his buddy in the third row. Then James and I jumped into the front row and woosh, best ride of the park!

Furius Baco

Do not read this paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled. Skip to the next ride. I had no idea what this ride was besides a mini version of The Swarm and only found out seconds before we sat down. But, if you’re interested, here is the picture!

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So Furius Baco would appear to be about a mad monkey who turns on the vineyard owner and flies him off on a barrel? I had no idea what the theming was about but it looked interesting! I was not fussed for this ride as we queued. Having done winged rollercoaster ‘The Swarm’ at Thorpe Park I imagined this was a mini version. A test version before creating awesome ones elsewhere.

I was wrong. This is the fastest coaster in Europe, going 0-83mph in 3.5 seconds. It is faster than Stealth. Stealth and The Swarm combined. This was a hit and miss ride though. We did it four times, two were fantastic and two were a headache. I think this was because this ride has loops, very tight loops. Stealth and Rita (UK quick start rides) do not have loops. The Hulk (Florida quick start ride) has loops but on a larger scale, so you can adjust better to being upside down at that speed. Furius Baco had corkscrew type loops, which even on Collosus gives me headaches, but sometimes it didn’t have any affect and other times I couldn’t quite enjoy it. Very Marmite ride.

Dragon Khan

A strong, looping roller-coaster. However there was nothing special about this one. It is just a very standard roller-coaster.

Hurakan Condor

When we’re at Thorpe Park we don’t do Detonator. Drop rides were not my favourite. There is a real change in your body on these rides that I don’t often feel on roller-coasters. But having seen this ride from our hotel balcony I knew I had to face it. James was also reluctant but wanted to do it because I did. Try to get yourself onto a seat facing you as you walk into the ride. On this side you get great views of the park. On our second go we were sat on the opposite side and had a great view of the car park. It is a must ride though, just to say you’ve been up there.

Stampida

A proper old wooden roller-coaster, prepare for a head bashing! This has a cool aspect where you choose a team, red or blue, and then the coasters race each other. It means more people ride at a time and there is a sense of community on your ride. From what we saw on the day it would seem Red always wins, but either side you get the same thrills.

Tomahawk

This was a weird one. We saw the queue line by chance, almost missing this entirely. We joined the queue and I checked the park map to see what this rollar-coaster was and it clearly said this was a children’s ride. But the entire queue was adults. Everyone on the ride were adults. Each train was full of adults! Being a child’s ride you can only sit one adult per seat (with the expectation that a child would be with them!) so James sat in front of me. This was a strange set up, we’ve always sat next to each other! It was fun, but I wouldn’t want another go.

Tutuki Splash and Grand Canyon Rapids

Both good strong water rides. The rapids especially were a lot better than UK versions we’d been on. On our first ride through we had a boat to ourselves which is great for moving between seats to avoid sprays of water. Second time around we weren’t so lucky! Tutuki Splash is a Tidal Wave type ride with a longer route. Wasn’t fussed about doing this one again though.

El Secreto de los Mayas

From the title we guessed what would be inside was a secret. We were quite unsure but enjoyed the thrill of not knowing what we were queuing for. Added to that, a member of staff was handing out plastic gloves. What the heck were the for? I was a little disappointed to find that this was a mirror maze. They don’t work well when (a) you’re at the back of a queue of people walking in together and (b) you have a member of staff walking quickly behind you. We tried to loose everyone so we can appreciate it for ourselves, then we got lost. The people coming in behind us caught up and we ended up leaving with a different group of people. It was okay, probably quite exciting for the children.

We also saw a few shows, something Port Aventura has plenty of. Unfortunately we crave the rides so we didn’t get to see some of the amazing stuff this park has to offer. This is what we did see:

Templo del Fuego

Meaning the temple of fire, on this show we followed an explorer as she made her way into a cursed temple. This was a show all about effects, fire, water, lights, to make an atmosphere. The lady running the show was really good too and got the loudmouths in the crowd to shut up. I’ve seen shows like this before, but it was still fun.

Submarine Odyssey
Now, I’ve failed to mention so far that I once visited Port Aventura as a 9 year old child. I went with my Mum and brothers and remember having a fun day. I didn’t remember anything we did though, aside from this 4D experience. In those days it followed a dolphin who was taking you on a tour of his undersea world. Now, the dolphin has been dropped but you still adventure under the sea. It was fun, I like a good 4D experience ride, but for me it was the nostalgia. Even the half submerged submarine is still sitting outside. So strange to return to somewhere I only once visited as a child.

So we reach the end of our adventure. We enjoyed our days at Port Aventura (the first day was better, as we battled bigger queues on the second day) but decided there wasn’t anything too thrilling here to make us wish to return. Shamballa was the clear highlight for me, I would love to ride that one again and again. But for now, it is another theme park ticked off our world list!

Our First Center Parcs Adventure

I was going to call this ‘Our Center Parcs Adventure’ but as we already envision a sequel to this Winter Wonderland trip I’d better make this post title less generic to distinguish against next year’s.

This post is also be an ambitious one as I try to capture our entire trip in one hit. I started this post on the Friday evening of our return so that all the memories were fresh. However I decided as I wrote to go into more detail on some activities in separate follow up posts, but still ambitious in my eyes!

And so I start the tale with our arrival. We are a mere 1 and a half hours from Elveden so arrived around 11am on Monday morning. The postcode Center Parcs gave for Satnav users sent us straight past the gates. “Look, it says Center Parcs there,” a welcoming sign with the well known logo covered in fake snow. James flies past listening to sally Satnav, “It says it is a little further up, it should be just….here…ah.” We circle around and second time lucky make it into the gates.

We were ready with our written up registration form, I was sure I’d done this online but didn’t want to be caught out. Along the motorway as I filled this in I realised I had no idea of James’ car’s registration number and neither did James. So as we queued in our car at the arrival lodge I jumper out to take note. With the form in hand we pulled up to the happiest employee on Earth to find we had done it all online. Being in the hotel we were advised to park up close to the bottom on the car park and it would only be a short walk.

Our first morning consisted of table tennis, our home made cheese sandwiches, a debate over paintball and the eventual booking of it, and a wander around the village. I came across this yellow tree which mesmerised me, it stood out amongst all the green and brown, James thought I was crazy but I needed a picture of it.

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At 2.40pm we thought we’d chance by the hotel to see if our room was ready. Lucky for us it was and after only a morning walking around in the fresh, forest air we were knackered!

We had an early dinner at Huck’s, an all American burger bar. Early dinner means surrounded by children, and being school term time the majority of kids were toddlers. We still managed to enjoy our meal though, most of it, I loved the Portobello Mushroom Sandwich but James was disappointed with the Classic Burger. I also tried a great Jam based cocktail. Being referred to as a Jam Jar cocktail I was disappointed to see it come up in a regular tumbler but could taste the strawberry jam all the same.

By night you get to experience the beautiful Christmas lights. These twinkle lights were scattered around the park with many small displays in hotspot location like this one outside Starbucks;

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“Which Starbucks?” You wouldn’t sound stupid to ask. There is one in the sports plaza, one by the swimming pool but this one is by the lake. If we missed any Starbucks please let us know!

Day two began our pre planned activities. We had Field Archery booked for 2.30pm so started the day at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. This amazing indoor water park consists of a wave pool, three varied water slides, hot whirlpools, a cold plunge pool, water rapids and a full theme park style water ride with vertical drop and high speed. The water ride is the same as what you would get in Florida but my favourite was the rapids. You had to brave the outdoors to get to them and if a bunch of people were all at it at the same time it could get ugly but aside from that this super fast super bumpy experience was so much fun.

With damp hair and cold skin we had a wander around the site after swimming and took on my biggest challenge of the week – a hot drink! I am not a hot drink drinker. “Even hot chocolate?” I hear my colleagues ask each time a new person becomes aware of this shocking revelation. Well, this Tuesday I attempted a hot chocolate. James was more excited than I was. It took close to an hour for me to drink it. It was too hot at first but the cream on top did help lure me into it.

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For lunch we headed back to the hotel room and devoured our sandwiches before heading out again for Field Archery. This version of Archery uses 3d targets that are shaped like animals which vary in size and distance. I think I’ll go into the activities in more detail in individual posts but I’ll say here that Field Archery was fantastic even for complete beginners like myself. In our group of 7 I scored the lowest but it didn’t matter I just wanted to shoot the arrows. I got one target in the kill zone too so I was happy with that one!

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For dinner we had the Indian Restaurant Ranjinda Pradesh. This was probably the least welcoming of the restaurants and was aimed more at the adults. I felt out of place in my hoodie with my hair in a scruffy ponytail but being at Center Parcs how could you look any different? (Except by using the Aqua Sana which I’m sure you can guess isn’t a place you’ll be finding me!) We had our standard Indian order, Korma for me and Tikka for James with rice and naan, after poppadums and a platter of starters. This happened to be a set menu for £20.95 per person including a drink- a great deal – but as we hadn’t specified that we had ordered these same items under the offer we were charged £10 extra. This was corrected but we were made to feel we had mislead them when all we had done was order the food on the offer that other people would receive at the cheaper rate. Anyway…

Day Three we had a lazy morning getting to the Segways for 11am. I was slightly nervous of this as I had a bad experience with Quad Bikes as a child. Not that I was hurt or anything, I was just so rubbish that the instructor had to help me around and I was so embarrassed. James reminded me I now drive a car. So off to the Segways we go! These were very easy to master and very strange to ride. It is almost natural in a way that it just took the slightest lean forward and backward to control them. We were kitted out in very fetching helmets, elbow pads, knee pads and orange high visibility jackets before parading around the forest to the confusion of many toddlers. The max speed was 8mph so we couldn’t really race but I felt adequate that I could keep up with the instructor. Going up and down slopes was the biggest challenge on these monsters and this was mastered by the end of the session.

We had badminton in the afternoon. One thing we learnt, which we felt we already knew but didn’t want to risk, was that you do not need to book badminton or table tennis in advance. Just turn up. The bookings people were fine with us adjusting the time of our session and we had a sweaty 45 minutes playing badminton. By playing badminton I mean myself whopping James’ backside at badminton. I used to play a lot with my friends so this is probably one of my best sports. It was only fair I beat James as he is a pro when it comes to table tennis. Notice I avoided table tennis altogether on this blog so far?

Before dinner we headed down to the firework display by the lake. It was a great show using some lovely Christmassy music. I’ll admit fireworks aren’t really my thing but I’ve seen a lot in the last few years and this was a good show.

We couldn’t get a seat in Bella Italia after that so we headed next door to Café Rouge. This is a restaurant I wouldn’t usually go for but was pleasantly surprised with my garlic and thyme chicken (when I wasn’t throwing all my chips over the table, of course). Over dinner we discussed our plans for the next day and got into the Center Parcs spirit – we had put together an itinerary.

10:30am – Paintball. This was a lot more fun than I expected. Though my aim was rubbish I wasn’t afraid by the end to go charging into the middle of the battlefield, full post coming soon.

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1:00pm Table Tennis. This hour session really showed James’ skills. We had a few games, all won by my pro boyfriend, but we were just having a laugh with it by the end.

2:30pm Bauble Painting. This was something we had read about before arriving but was unsure how it would work and if it would be a room full of babies. The pottery painting studio is located within the hotel so we passed by on several occasions and found a range of people taking part. While there were plenty of children colouring in animal models there was also mothers and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends and parties of  8 plus adults all working away on designing and painting so we decided that this would be a great way to add to our bauble collection. You pay a standard fee of £5 for use of paints and then choose what you want to paint for additional cost. My bauble was based on the forest and I turned the yellow tree from earlier this week into a Christmas Tree. James went for designs of holly, a cracker and a tree with a very cute (I mean manly) Father Christmas and reindeer flying in the distance.

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4:00pm Swimming and Water Slides. Another dose of indoor watery fun.

6:00pm Time for a drink at the bar.

7:00pm Bella Italia. After being turned away the night before we got our table booked and had the best meal of the week. Antipasti to start, a Calzone each and a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream on top to finish. Yummy Yum.

Which leads onto Friday, and the finale of our Winter Wonderland adventure. We started the day with another dip into the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. We took several turns on the ride in the hope of a good photo (and ending the ride with James facing forwards) but at a cost of £8 we were against buying the souvenir.

For lunch we had Starbucks, a cold drink for me and we both had a Panini and cake. This was followed by collecting our finished Baubles and a final wander around the village. We took the opportunity to go camera happy and here are a few of the sights we saw.

The reindeer, while a beautiful animal we weren’t too impressed with the girl who was due to give a talk about the creature. “We normally do a talk at 2pm but… well…its just you two…so… but if you have any specific questions I can answer them…” Not exactly as advertised.

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There were ducks. Our neighbours would feed them their leftover bread every morning so we would watch as an army of ducks would waddle past. At the duck pond the ducks are very happy to see humans despite us not having any bread ourselves. I was a bit freaked at them charging at us, but to prove I was there here is a duck:

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We also saw lots of squirrels. On the last day we tried to get lots of photos but this required being quiet and moving slowly. We caught a couple of nice close ups. Next year we will have a competition to see who can take the most squirrel photos!

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There was also a lot of beautiful winter decorations. My favourite photo, amongst the pretty lights and festive greenery, was the Nativity with the Water Ride in the background. The true meaning of Christmas.

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And it wouldn’t be a British holiday with a trip to a cold, miserable beach. While it was deserted by the humans it was nice to see the ducks enjoying the sand between their webbed feet.

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We left the village at 2:30pm and while we were sad to leave we felt content with our adventure. Especially as we spent the journey home planning our return visit. Paintball and Archery are a must, more table tennis and badminton sessions, and a full week planned itinerary!