Archive for the ‘holiday’ Category

Silver Coast and Lisbon

While Britain roasted, the four of us who travelled to Portugal found mostly sunny, temperate weather, which kept us active and outdoors more than had it been very hot. Robin was attracted to water, spending the most time in our villa’s pool and was the first in the sea or lagoon at each beach we visited.

Robin was insulated against the cold of the water. I joined him on an inflatable assault course that we had to swim to in the bay of a local resort. It was a cloudy late afternoon and clambering around, splashing in and out of the sea, I soon felt the chill. Eventually, taking pity on me, he agreed we should swim back, where I needed layers of clothes and tea to recover.

Robin and Eliza had two long surf lessons, the second of which took place amongst waves taller than them. Both progressed from their first lesson in France last year and quickly managed to stand as the wave swept them towards the beach. It thrilled them and left them exhausted.

Sight-seeing trips were much better-humoured than last year’s, with Robin sticking tightly to L or I. Eliza only protested at a march around the ramparts of Sintra’s hill-top Moorish fort and sat alone listening, I assume, to music. But a similar trip to Obidos, walking the medieval wall of the the village was approached enthusiastically by all.

A thread of anxiety ran through Robin’s holiday: the flight and difficulty sleeping. In Lisbon, over the final two days of the holiday, he worried about earthquakes. But we found the city benign, albeit noisy at night around our apartment in the traditional Alfama district. He added Benfica’s Stadium of Light to the list of major stadia he has visited. Eliza left with an attachment to nata, the Portuguese custard tart.

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Flying to Portugal (or not)

Fear of flying (Gabe’s and Robin’s) meant that the holiday was put out for consultation with the kids at the turn of the year. “We will go somewhere we can reach by train, if you prefer,” they were reassured. Portugal got the go ahead.

In the weeks running up to our departure (the first day after schools broke up for summer), Gabe began to raise objections, in an ‘on and off’ fashion. L and I had a ‘final’ discussion with him on Thursday evening, two days before departure: “tell us now, or never.” He reluctantly agreed. But the agonised discussion recurred the following evening and eventually Gabe opted not to come – if he could stay with his Grandpa, which kindly, at barely two days’ notice, he agreed.

Four of us left on Saturday afternoon for the airport, with Gabe at home awaiting the return from holiday of Auntie S and family, who then took him back to Scotland with them on Monday.

Robin coped with the flight, but was highly anxious before the plane took off, settling once we were airborne and needing to grip L’s hand throughout.

Up in Scotland, Gabe studied and seemed to find a daily rhythm that complemented his Grandpa’s routine. He also had time with Auntie S and family as well as Alistair and Emily. He returned home a day before us, travelling from Scotland alone. The fraught decision to forego his holiday seemed to deliver a timely experience of independence.

Bordeaux week 2 – surf dudes and card sharks

Four of us left early(-ish) one morning to head for the Atlantic coast. Gabe, beach unfriendly, stayed at the gite. 75 minutes drive later, we parked, walked through a pine wood and dunes onto a long, wide beach. I discussed the possibility of a surfing lesson in French and then in English with Vincent, a lean, tanned surfer. Eliza and Robin were given clammy wet suits and waited for the rest of Vincent’s class. Eventually, he said they could start. 

For the next 90 minutes, as the tide swelled inwards, Robin and Eliza went from lying on the board to picking themselves up and standing, if only for a few seconds, as waves swept them towards the beach. “The best thing of my 13 years” said Eliza. Robin was just as enthusiastic.

Every night, we settled around the table to play cards. Whist, contract whist, black two, hearts, etc. Gabe had a lordly air, playing to win and controlling the music. We were each asked for a track, which he might censor, before calling up on Spotify and certainly criticise once it was playing. The cards games were keenly competitive, verging on the unfriendly. Robin, tired and less adept, was heckled for holding up play or teased for poor judgement. The edge to the evening was broken when we wrapped up the game and headed to bed.

Bordeaux week 1 – sleep, eat, rest

Gabe flew with us. For two days in the run-up to the holiday he had called L and my bluff and said he’d prefer to spend two weeks with his Grandpa than fly. As L and I made ready with compromises, he backed down. His aspiration for the holiday: sleep, eat, rest.

Mornings in the gite passed quickly. The kids rose late and lazed around the lounge with headphones and devices. To those activities they would return directly from finishing lunch. But some days we enforced trips: to Saintes, Bordeaux, Royan, the beach at St-Palais-sur-mer. These risked, and usually resulted in bad tempers, with frequency related to increasing age of child. The tempers could be assuaged with pizza lunch, or ice cream.

We went kayaking up a river that flowed gently into the Gironde. Robin and I had just established a good rhythm when a kayak occupied by two grey-haired men and a young woman capsized. Hampered by language and them being too heavy to haul onto our kayak, they spent ten minutes in the water holding onto their upturned vessel before they maneuvered to the bank, tipped the water out of their kayak, climbed back in and continued their trip.

Back at the gite, the pool and table-tennis prompted the most activity, particularly from Robin. We borrowed bikes and cycled on the narrow roads bordered with vines and sunflower fields. A couple of evenings, they joined in the rounders match run by the hosts’ children, involving the kids of the other gite and the French children staying with the owner.

Sights of Tuscany

The children might have settled for two whole weeks at the villa, but L & I led us away every second or third day to a Tuscan sight.

In Pisa and Florence we scaled tall buildings: the leaning tower and the domo. Robin was enthralled by the climbs and the sense of height. Eliza was anxious and needed a hand to be held (almost as much as I did) as we walked around the summit of both climbs. Gabe made it to the top of the Leaning Tower, briefly, but pulled out of the ascent of the domo before the section that took you up stairs cut into the arc of the lower level of the dome.

The children were more reluctant to appreciate the architecture from street-level – apart from in Pisa where the tower offered photographic opportunities. We managed an hour and a half in the Uffizi: Eliza most focused on the art; Gabe on historical and cultural facts; Robin under intense strain.

More popular was a day at a crowded water park. As a threesome, they queued for trips down slides, not demanding L or I participate.

But every trip out was tolerated knowing that it would bring a reward in the form of ice cream, coke and pizza.

Calci

Two weeks holiday in a villa situated on a farm in a valley outside Pisa.

Robin

Robin inhabited the pool as much as he did the villa. He took every opportunity to be there and then stretched that opportunity to the maximum. Of a uniform depth, Robin could on tiptoes just stand with this face, tilted upwards, out of the water. Hour after hour he immersed himself. Gliding, twisting and spinning like an otter in the water – his favourite manoeuvre was a backwards turn under water. Then batting a ball around, or wrestling a lilo. And always diving or pitching himself back into the pool.

Gabe

Gabe was more taken by the charms of the villa. He lay on its sofas in the red-tiled living room for hours, particularly through the morning and early afternoon. He read To Kill a Mocking Bird and Harper Lee’s sequel in long spells of intense concentration. He surfed on his phone, listened to music and by the second week there was the Olympics, through the lens of Italian TV.

But he was more sociable than last year and when he came to the pool he orchestrated games – happily and unashamedly competitive.

Eliza

Eliza inhabited a middle ground: reading and playing on her phone at the villa, but more easily drawn to the pool than Gabe. There she sat on the side of the pool, often with a book as an excuse not to get in and face the shortlived cold shock. But once in the pool she joined in with Robin and they played together as they have done for nearly ten years. Eliza even took part in the one bounce games of footie beside the pool.

Having swum and splashed for a while, Eliza loved to lie on the red stone that surrounded the pool, soaking up rays from the sun and heat from below, leaving a damp body imprint on the stone that she would jump up from after a few minutes to admire.

Out in Languedoc

The Domaine’s electric steel door drew to the side with the touch of a button fob and we were out into Languedoc, near Beziers. Beaches, predictable destinations, proved unpopular, with complaints about sand and saltwater rashes on Robin. 

The best watery fun was had on a floating, inflatable obstacle course at Cap d’Agde. For an exhausting hour, the kids, clambered, slid and threw themselves into, along and off bouncy obstacles and into the lagoon. The course was very lightly supervised (although we all wore life-jackets) so everyone helped one another out of the water and back onto the inflatables for another round of charges, leaps and slides. 

We also swam in the fresh water of the River Herault, from the shore at the far side of a lake from Pont de Diable where devil-may-care youngsters plunged 30m from the bridge. Our youngsters liked the thrill of the current that pulled them out of the lake and down the shallow river. 

We did a high trees adventure, again lightly supervised in French style, climbing, balancing and sliding along zip-wires. We knew we had to stay clipped on to the wires, but were left to manage the obstacles at our own pace, without warnings or encouragement. 

With so much to enjoy at our domaine, we stayed within an hour or so of Beziers. Two exceptions were: to visit the Curries’ Proven├žal holiday home and a trip to Carcassonne, the return from which was long and arduous as it coincided with a storm that threw so much water on the road that the lines marking the lanes were hard to see. 

We visited local towns, but two cathedrals in the first three days of the holiday was held against us by Robin. The best trip to a town was to find ice-cream in Beziers. The destination we chose, a bar on a square, serving many flavours of artisanal ices, was a near perfect fulfilment of an admittedly simple need.