‘Mind the gap’ – London UK

Anyone who has been on the tube in London will know the announcement ‘Mind the gap’, warning passengers of the gap between the train and the platform. Yesterday it was about the only gap we came across. London was packed!

We started our day at The Tower of London. Aunty Travel Bee had kindly pre-booked all our activities for the day. Even still, we had to wait, and…. wait, in the rain. This was the mother of all queues.

Tower of London queue umbrellaed by London sky

I must say, it was a bit disconcerting knowing thousands were being crammed in the gate and that we all wanted to see the same things. Nevertheless, there was nothing to be done about it so we shuffled our way along. Once we entered, we picked up a Yeoman tour.

Clive our Yeoman, lead us to the chapel where not only were there chairs, but underfloor heating! Such relief from the dreary London weather (thank you Queen Victoria for insisting on this upgrade). He then entertained us with the history of the tower, it’s Kings, stories of beheaded Queens and other notable executions. It was well worth waiting for and definitely the quickest way to get an understanding of what the tower is all about.

Residences of the tower protected by the King’s guard

After, we wandered through the courtyards to White tower where we discovered the ‘Line of Kings’ and displays of all their armour. You could have spent hours reading about each King and their endeavours but instead we flowed with the crowd, occasionally breaking free to read something that took our fancy. A favourite for Miss 12 was the dragon on the top level made from leftover pieces of armour!

Unfortunately, the crowds were just too big and we had to make the decision to forgo seeing the Crown Jewels (the queue looked to be at least an hour wait) along with many of the other attractions at the tower. We needed to head to our next booking and Master 15 was……….. you guessed it……. hungry.

Back on the tube and across town, we had just enough time to fill our tummies before heading into Wyndham Theatre for a matinee showing of Life of Pi. Built in 1899, this small, intimate theatre is a beautiful example of a quintessential West End theatre.

Wyndham Theatre

Before watching this show, I knew very little about Life of Pi. The only thing I did know, was it was a story about a boy befriending a tiger. One had to wonder how on earth there would be a tiger on stage!

It turned out puppetry was the answer and wow was it clever. Each animal was operated by three puppeteers partially inside the puppet, one at the head, another the ‘heart’ and the third at the tail. Within twenty minutes you didn’t even notice them and focused only on the animal.

Between the puppets and the set, this truely was a spectacle of theatrical craft and imagination. We were astonished at how the stage itself transformed into an ocean. The story although slightly gruesome in parts, was quite thought provoking and enjoyed by all.

From here we finished the evening with a meal at Côte (French restaurant chain) near Bond street. The pulled pork was sublime disappearing from Miss 12 and Master 15’s plate rather quickly, as did the chocolate crepe for dessert.

So after visiting eight different tube stops, walking 10100 steps, climbing around 1000 steps and riding around 12 escalators we made it through a second day in London. Nan Travel Bee kept up the whole way and we managed not to lose anyone! Success!

Tube escalators are huge!

TTB

London Baby – England UK

Wow what a day! December 23rd was our first day exploring this magnificent city. Having been here before, I can tell you there is a certain energy about London that is contagious, but two days before Christmas, it is something else.

As expected, the weather was looking slightly inclement. I had booked a midday ride on the London Eye and a 4pm bus tour of the Christmas lights (yes it is dark enough!) with a stroll through the sights in between. But, with rain forecast we made a last minute indoor addition to our itinerary, the London Dungeon recommended on a google search list of things to do with teenagers. This turned out to be a great decision.

First up, we negotiated the rail system to get from our Airbnb into the heart of the city. Easy. I am not kidding, it is super easy. We were fortunate enough to be staying 5 minutes from a station on the new underground Elizabeth line, this means a day travel card covered the journey in and out plus all our tube trips for the day. An hour and twenty minutes later and we popped up at the iconic Waterloo station and headed to the London Eye.

Our London Eye tickets, purchased online, allowed us to join the long line (I forgot how much the English love to queue!). But, within 20 minutes, we were in our pod and on our way up. This is exactly when the most amazing thing happened…….the sun came out! From there it was a glorious half hour identifying the iconic sights of London; The Thames, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral, the list goes on. Then, like magic, when we stopped….. the rain came back.

The Thames from the London Eye
London Eye and rainbow from Westminster bridge

And so……. we headed into the dungeon. In effect, this place is a lesson in history but it an entertaining and interactive way. Think ‘Horrible histories’. This part of the day was a surprise for the kids but in actual fact turned out to be Miss 12’s highlight. We lived through the times of Henry VIII, Guy Fawkes, witches, the plague, Jack the Ripper, the Great Fire of London (sorry that turned out to my fault, I shut the faulty oven door!) and Miss 12 (aka Diego) went on trial in an 18th century court house, accused of being a Spanish Spy.

It was scary, it was surprising, it was clever and it was loads of fun. Master 15 was hilarious, jumping, screaming and playing dead at appropriate moments scaring our fellow group members. Totally agree, this deserves its position on any list of ‘places to take teenagers in London’.

From here, it was a walk across Westminster Bridge and a close up look at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament before hopping on a tube and heading to our Christmas Lights tour.

Big Ben from Westminster Bridge

At this point, I apologise. My photos do not do it justice. This was a truely magical evening. Our Big Bus tour guide was a wonderfully animated and spirited man named Phil who made our night as we drove around the streets of the monopoly board. He excitedly pointed out the best lights and Christmas trees. If at the end of this, you weren’t excited, you truely are a grinch. As it turns out in an amazing coincidence, Phil went to school with Mr Travel Bee and they were able to have a catch up on the side of the road at the conclusion of our tour!

Turning into Regent Street
Hamleys toy store and lots and lots of people
Westminster Cathedral’s Christmas tree (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey)

To complete our day, we filled our tummies in a beautiful little English pub called the Duke of York near Victoria tube station. Bangers and mash, macaroni cheese, steak and ale pie and cider. Mr Travel Bee was in heaven.

Scores on the doors for favourite part of the day: Miss 12 London Dungeon, Master 15 Christmas Lights, Mr Travel Bee Duke of York pub and me………. I have to say sunshine at the top of London Eye.

TTB

P.S. This has been written at 3:30-4:30am. I am still not in the right time zone!

Tips for preparing to travel with teenagers

With our next adventure less than 24 hours away, I thought I would share some tips I have learnt preparing and travelling with our children.

1. Don’t bother getting them to pack!

I know this is a controversial one. Everyone says “they are old enough to do it themselves”, but mine (12 and 15, female and male) just don’t. They leave it and leave it. When the time comes, everything they want is on the floor dirty and the arguments begin.

Some would say I have facilitated this laziness and reliance on Mum and that may be a fair call. But, I think my kids just know……if you want a job done properly, get Mum to do it! And don’t think I haven’t tried. There was that one trip when Master Travel Bee had one pair of undies for a week (you couldn’t even buy any at our destination) and had to resort to wearing his father’s. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it wasn’t the best start to a relaxing break.

Do make sure you start early. Put things in the cases they aren’t going to be using and encourage them to leave it alone. Stay on top of your washing for the 10 days leading up to the trip. Start filtering more into the suitcase, telling the kids to only rotate through a few outfits for the last couple of days.

Call me a control freak, but the advantage of doing it this way, is less worry down the line. When you are heading to the other side of the world with loads of activities planned, it is good to know what is in the bag and that all activities are covered or at least what you may need to pick up along the way.

Top tip: roll your clothes

2. Just deal with it, there will be rewards at the end.

I have run around endlessly for the last two weeks packing suitcases, buying Christmas presents, trying (and failing) to buy warm clothes, sorting the house out ready for house sitters, ordering school books for next year, planning itineraries and booking tickets. I am shattered but calm. It’s done.

Yes, I may have moaned about being the only one that does anything but at least I am in control (I really am a control freak). I know what is done and what needs to be done. You can always ask someone (AKA the husband) to help, just make sure you are clear in what you want them to do. I did this last week and with two of us working on it, we blitzed through some of the more arduous tasks together.

Remember once you are on that plane with everything planned and everything booked, you can relax and enjoy the ride. If things aren’t planned and you don’t have what you need, you will end up in a world of pain with grumpy and bored children.

3. Prepare the kids for things going wrong.

Especially at the moment, travel doesn’t always go according to plan. Planes do get delayed, luggage does go missing and activities can go wrong. Kids (and adults) have to be able to roll with the punches. Make sure everyone has at least spare underwear in their hand luggage (if not a full change of clothes) and activities for delays. Make sure you have chargers for devices you may need on your journey. Accept that at least one thing will be left behind at some point.

If you are heading to the UK like we are, prepare for anything! Below is a schedule of all the upcoming strikes. We are fully aware that at some point, something we have planned is either going to be disrupted or not happen at all. I guess we should scrub the driving test off the itinerary 🤣

Courtesy of the BBC

4. Plan rest days.

I think this goes for adults and children alike, travel can be overwhelming. Everything is new and exciting, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you can not waste a single minute, but this is a mistake. Rest is vital, particularly if you have a long haul flight to contend with.

Have a day off and sleep in. The next day you will feel so much better and enjoy whatever you choose to do that much more feeling refreshed. The kids are less likely to drag their feet and you won’t get caught out spending a fortune on coffee.

5. Always pack snacks.

This goes without saying. Same as any other trip out of the house. Make sure you either have snacks in your bag or quick access to them! Hangry travellers is a recipe for disaster. If you have a teenage son, plan the whole day around meals!

6. Just do it!

It is easy to think travelling with kids is too hard. No routine, different foods, too tiring, close quarters, they don’t like what you like, but honestly the benefits are huge.

Children are far more resilient than we give them credit for. In my experience they handle change far better than us adults. Travelling with children is awesome, they force you to look at things from a different perspective and find the fun in everything you do. The wonder and awe you see in their eyes plus memories created is truely something to cherish.

Do not forget the tickets and passports

Wow! Now I am super excited now! Half a sleep tonight (airport at 3:30am) and we are off. I can not wait to share our stories with you all.

TTB

It’s a secret: Yallingup Lagoon – Western Australia

Yallingup lagoon is my happy place. Each week I make a thirty minute drive to met my friend here for a swim. Whether in a wetsuit, in bathers and once….. in our underwear (sshhh!), it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, we do it anyway.

Usually we try and do four laps of our triangular route. We head out to what is affectionately known as ‘the rock’, swim diagonally through ‘the channel’ to the corner and then back parallel to the beach. One must always attempt to get at least a foot on ‘the rock’ or it isn’t a proper swim!

On a calm day, we have been known to stretch to five laps. If it is rough, it is three. If it is really rough, we might only get wet after taking a brisk walk along the coast (now the underwear makes sense). Whatever we do, it makes us feel alive. It blows the cobwebs out, it grounds us. It is like our own private reset button.

There is something very special about this place. To be honest, I am not sure whether I should tell too many people for fear of our tranquility being disturbed!! But here goes….

Yallingup lagoon is an area protected from the wild Indian Ocean by reef. Just beyond its boundaries are the well known surf breaks of Yallingup and well…… yes sharks. But, inside the reef, is a sheltered safe haven.

Fish use it as a resting spot, a nursery and a hospital. This means you never know what you might see in there. You also never know what will be happening with the swell and current. Even us regulars are often fooled by the weather forecast. Essentially, it has its own microclimate. It is potluck, you don’t know until you get there what it will be like.

I thought I might write a small series of blogs to describe what we see and what happens at the lagoon. Some call us mad, but I think you will soon see, we are just in love with the lagoon and all the adventure it brings (plus the hot coffee and a chat at the end). The black line in a swimming pool is just so boring now!

TTB

Whistle stop Melbourne – Victoria

To finish off our ski trip, The Travel Bees had two nights in Melbourne…….and Melbourne means food!!

Here is a selection of what we sampled.

Tempura lobster – Koko Japanese
Chocolate mousse with sesame seed crisp and raspberry coulee – Koko Japanese (To die for)
Blueberry Danish – Queen Victoria markets (Best pastry ever)
Koko chocolates – Queen Victoria markets

We were also lucky to squeeze in a trip to The Lume. This is a digital art gallery that cleverly integrates the art work of Vincent Van Gogh with lights, music and the story of his life. Not your standard art gallery, this captures the attention of young and old (except teenage boys who are just too cool for this kind of thing!). Miss Travel Bee and I were spellbound as we read, listened and absorbed the sad life of such an amazing artist.

Of course, a trip to Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without a spot of shopping and a visit to see street art. This is where Master 15 was in his element; graffiti and Culture Kings, what more could a boy want?

The boys in the hood – Hosier Lane

TTB

Mt Buller – Day 4 and 5

The last two days of our skiing we were blessed with beautiful sunshine. We started day 4 by discovering a faster way onto the mountain, the Northside Express. This chairlift leaves from the carpark and bypasses the crowded shuttle into the village. The downside is……. on the north side of the mountain there is only one green/easy run and to get to the other side you either need to traverse cross country or hit a few more advanced runs and chairlifts.

I was feeling okay having coped with blue runs the day before so I decided we should go for it. First up we conquered the Burnt Hut Spur (beginners) that I had fallen on earlier in the week. That went well. Next we decided to head down Upper Boggy Creek Trail to get to Grimus chairlift and up to the summit. That was our mistake.

Little did I realise (I think the others knew) that this trail hit a black (advanced) run with moguls for the last 100m into the chairlift! I had managed the trail okay but when I hit the moguls I freaked out. In the end, after much deliberation and sweating, I took my skis off and skidded down the slide of the run half on my bum. I was so embarrassed. That was, until a poor woman came flying out of control over the moguls from the black run and lay facedown unmoving in the snow. At that point I ditched my skis and headed over to see if I could help. Turns out I couldn’t. Bambi on ice is pretty useless in an emergency other than to yell for help!

Fortunately she was okay and had just severely winded herself. As there were other more useful helpers on hand (those that could actually stand up in their skis) we headed up the chairlift to the summit. By now, I was absolutely petrified about how I was going to get down.

View from the summit

Being a beautiful sunny day, the view from the summit was stunning but I was still completely focussed on how I was going to get down. Miss 12 led the way and we gently zigzagged down the intermediate Summit run. I survived and to celebrate we hit my favourite family run and then into Koflers cafe for a hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate break

The stress of the morning and the previous three full days of skiing took its toll a short time later and we decided we would all head back to Mansfield for an afternoon off.

Day 5 we met up with our friends again and had a great day. I decided it was going to finish on a confident note and stayed on Burnt Hut Spur for the entire day. It was great to just relax well within my comfort zone and practice, practice, practice. Mr Travel Bee, feeling tired, stayed with me and our friends took the kids off on an adventure which included new runs, jumps, filming and lots of laughs.

Mr and Mrs snowman on Burnt Hut

Meanwhile, Mr travel Bee and I enjoyed a sneaky drink at Spurs cafe/bar while waiting for the adventurers to return.

A well earned beer. The baileys went straight in a hot chocolate! Yum.

TTB

Mt Buller – Day 2 and 3

Day 2 started with me falling over on the first run and getting snow down my pants! I had been attempting a different run (Burnt Hut Spur) and visibility was poor (not that it takes much for me to fall down)! I gathered myself and resolved to carry on. I did however get a tad annoyed when a couple of turns later I hit the deck again. This time there was a boy who looked to be about 9 nearby who very politely asked if I was okay and offered assistance. I of course said I was fine and he expertly skied away….. on one ski (show off!).

The falls, combined with suboptimal conditions led to me completely losing my confidence. I forced the family to trek across the flat so that I could avoid more advanced runs. This caused a few arguments given we could barely see 2m in front of ourselves and had no idea where we were going. By the time we got back to familiar territory we all needed a snack. Good one Mum!

Following our break, I decided I needed to take it easy and went off alone. The rest of the family headed to explore Wombat run. Miss 12 was gaining in confidence by the second and Master 15 (having changed his board for a shorter one) was starting to hit his groove.

Wombat lift – spot Mr and Master Bee

Not long after, I decided it just wasn’t my day and headed into the village. Passing the beginners slope on Bourke Street I saw multiple splashes of blood on the snow and a number of people tumbling over one another. I knew then, I was done for the day and it was time for something to warm my belly. As if by magic, this sign appeared in front of me.

Unfortunately, as has been the theme this week, they were sold out of toasties but thank goodness they had mulled wine! I got mine takeaway and headed out into the village square (that is round!) to people watch.

Mulled wine disguised as coffee!

There were definitely some interesting sights in the village square. The families having snow ball fights, multiple dads jumping up and down on top of snow mounds before falling flat on their backsides (don’t ask me why?!), one guy coming off the lifts wearing jeans and a jumper looking suitably drenched and frozen, people nursing injuries, school group animatedly discussing their morning and of course lots and lots of people taking photos of snow.

Mt Buller Village Square

Day 3 and my friends encouraged me to get back out there and try some new runs. First up they took me to Little Buller Spur. I was super unconfident but my friend lead the way and we made it down unscathed. I was getting tired very quickly and having to stop regularly though. I think this was for a combination of reasons; poor fitness, recent Covid and just being so bloody tense!!!

Next up I got to try Wombat run. I had been looking forward to this one because Miss 12 and Master 15 had really enjoyed it the day before. We were warned at the top to take it easy because of ‘snow making obstacles’………… what??!!

Turns out that means big fat lumps of snow! This immediately lead to more tension for me and some spectacular falls for the others. Miss 12 face planted it just in front of me falling into a pillow of powder. It actually looked quite fun but I was completely incapable if helping her due to my complete focus on self preservation! I didn’t need to worry, she was up and grinning as she passed me within a minute.

My friends certainly got me to push my boundaries and although I felt terrified the whole morning I know it was the right thing to do. After lunch I felt much more confident and for the first time actually enjoyed family run because it seemed easier!

Two successful days and if I thought day one was scary going up the mountain …… the last two were much much worse!

The clouds descend!

TTB

Mt Buller – Day 1

Tonight the Travel Bees are exhausted. Driving down off the mountain we had two sleepy Bees in the backseat. I think we had all forgotten quite how tired you get skiing/boarding and how tough the late afternoon can get!

Our day started with a flurry of activity as everyone got their ski gear on and we gathered the required puffers, masks, hats and neck warmers. We piled into the car and started our half hour journey from Mansfield to Mt Buller.

After passing the toll gate, we started the road up the mountain complete with zig zags, hairpin bends and narrow corners. I had completely forgotten about this part of skiing! I am a nervous passenger at any time but this was next level and took me back to the days of Mt Hutt and The Remarkables travelling by bus (NZ). Those were truly terrifying trips.

The weirdest part about the journey up today was the gum tree lined road with signs to look out for wombats and koalas. It just felt a bit wrong to me! There was one other glaring fact…… there was no snow! Master 15 was getting rather distressed in the backseat comparing it to our trip to Japan where there was snow piled beside the road miles and miles from the ski field. It wasn’t until a few turns before the carpark that we saw our first glimpses of snow.

We needn’t of worried. Once we were up on the mountain and at the lifts, it was clear there was plenty of snow………and plenty of people! This season is in fact one of the best for snow in recent years. This combined with Covid has lead to the busiest season ever according to staff at our ski hire.

Bourke Street – Mt Buller

We are travelling with another family who are very experienced with Mt Buller. They kindly took it upon themselves this morning to show us around. The teenagers went off in one direction (not seen until several hours later) and the rest of us headed for the main Bourke Street run.

Okay…… I may have gone to the magic carpet…… but only for one run before realising I actually don’t need to do that anymore….. Hooray!

Miss and Mrs Travel Bee

And so, it was a full day complete with friends, thrills and spills. Not surprisingly, the scheduled dinner at the pub had to be postponed (due to lack of energy) in favour of pizza at home in the AirBnB.

There are a few aches and pains tonight as our bodies remember the muscles needed on the mountain. There is also a pretty sore bottom for one of our snowboarders!

TTB

Melbourne – Yea – Mansfield: Victoria

Today we have enjoyed a stunning road trip from Melbourne through to Mansfield where we will be staying for the next six nights. The scenery is quite a contrast to flat Western Australia with beautiful green rolling hills and windy roads.

Strath Creek – Goulburn Valley
Lunch stop – Provender Country Bakehouse – Yea
Yea to Mansfield
First glimpse of Mt Buller
Our AirBnB for six nights – so cute

So, the mountain is looming. The skis and boards are hired. The snow is good. The forecast is good. The Travel Bees are excited! (Mrs Travel Bee is perhaps a tad scared!)

TTB

Jetstar – Busselton Margaret River to Melbourne

Anyone would think we haven’t been on a plane for two and a half years! This morning, the Travel Bees were literally the first through security and into the ‘lounge’ at Busselton Margaret River airport.

It was hard to contain our excitement. Not only were we getting on a plane, but for the first time it was from our home town. No drive to Perth, no fluffing around with car parking, no fighting the crowds to check in. This flight is a game changer for anyone who loves Melbourne or loves to travel! 🙋‍♀️

We did however get a tad wet! Busselton Margaret River airport is pretty basic. There is a check in desk, security, a lounge and a cafe (more like a kiosk). That is it. You walk across the tarmac to the plane and when it is raining….. you get wet.

For me, all that just adds to the charm. Simplicity is sometimes very welcome and when you haven’t been interstate or done any international travel for two and a half years, it is the perfect reintroduction to flying.

We are super excited to finally be getting another travel adventure. We feel lucky to have landed in Melbourne with all of our luggage. A small delay of one hour is nothing to complain about. Given the situation in airports throughout Australia this week, we know we are one of the lucky ones.

Tonight, we have fully bellies (a couple of wines in for Mr and Mrs Travel Bee) and are contently settling down for the night at the airport Park Royal in Melbourne. Tomorrow we pick up the hire care and head for the mountains.

So excited travel is back!

TTB