Contemplating Life in France

Last five nights to go. We are on the train on our way to the last destination before heading home. It has been a very quick five weeks! First two we were in Finland and I was still working. Note to self, you do not want to be working while everyone else is already on their holliers! For the second part of our five week escape we flew to Nice and spent three weeks travelling in Cote d’azur.

French countryside somewhere between Saint-Raphaël and Toulon.

After a tough couple of months, both in work and personal life, I was in dire need of the time off. To completely switch off and only worry about whether to have a croissant or pan au chocolat for breakfast, which beach to go to, or what to have for dinner. And as you would expect, when you take the time off and step back, even if it’s for a shorter while, you can see more clearly. You are able to put things into perspective and maybe even come up with some plans.

I’m a firm believer in doing things your way, to live your life in a way that makes you and your family happy and fulfilled. If something is making your life miserable, then you need to take steps to change things. It is all relative of course and life isn’t all flowers and sunshine all the time, but change the things you can, the way you can. Can things be done differently, is it something you have to do or if it’s not making you happy, can you drop it? And if not, is there something else you could be doing that would make you feel excited?

That’s a lot of thought for a holiday, but what better time to do it, right?! When you go through the day to day, you only concentrate on “what’s next”. It’s hard to take a step back and think about life and what you want from it. What’s important, what’s not? What’s necessary and what is not?

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Rainy Helsinki after Sunny Dublin

That was a long evening of travelling. All the transfers to and from the airport, waiting around for the flight – it’s almost like a full working day! We’re finally here, having left the sunny and warm Dublin behind we woke up to rainy Helsinki. I’m told this is supposed to be temporary and the headlines in the Finnish evening tabloids were shouting for “KUUMA HEINÄKUU” (hot July) so I’m hoping that for once they have it right.

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Rainy but green!

I’ve been known to be grumpy if the weather is not right for the holidays. And I don’t only mean that it needs to be sunny, it needs to be warm too. There were a couple of days of disappointment over the previous years’ holidays when it wasn’t quite as warm as I wanted it to be… Even in Portugal! I think it’s because we don’t really get the sunny, hot summers in Ireland so when I’m on holidays, I don’t want to be restricted by the weather. Last year, when the temperatures weren’t quite at the required levels the first few days of the holidays, I was already on Google checking where we will go this year to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I know, it’s a bit sad right. It was sunny and the weather was definitely way better than it was back home. And I was on holidays, rain or shine! But what can you do, I run on solar power and I feel the need for at least a few weeks a year when I can just stroll to the beach and not feel cold coming out of the water. Sit at the playground, watching the kids play and the wind doesn’t make me shiver but rather is a welcomed breeze of milder, fresh air.

This year is different though. I won’t mind if Helsinki is a bit rainy. I am going to embrace the weather – well at least today when it’s still all new and we’re only here a day – but that’s only because I will have my guaranteed sunshine and heat in the south of France later this month. This year, Helsinki is all about spending time with my family and friends and not worrying about the weather! Now, the hubby might have a differing view as he gets to spend the days with the Little Messers while I’m working 🙂 I’m sure he wouldn’t mind a bit of heat and sunshine so he could bring the kids to the outdoor swimming pool!

Nice for Families

This year we’re changing Portugal to France and even though it almost feels like I’m cheating on my beloved Portugal, we’re all getting more and more excited about the holiday. Our trip this year will be a little bit more adventurous as we are travelling nearly the full length of the Côte d’Azur. We went to Nice for a week in April 2015 and said we will go back someday. That someday will be this July, but let’s revisit to find out what Nice was like three years ago…

“What was the best part of the holiday?”
“The big fish slide!!” (Mr Messer)
“Sniffing my wabbity!” (Missy Messer)

I had never been to France before our holiday in the French Riviera last week. I had my suspicions about its suitability as a family holiday destination, but I was proved wrong! We had a great time, the kids loved it and I would love to go back someday.

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Harbour

We booked the holiday well in advance as we came across really cheap flights just before Christmas. We found what looked like a great apartment for our family through House Trip. The apartment is located in the Old Town, near Place Garibaldi with a short walking distance to the harbour and Promenade du Paillon with all the play areas for kids. The apartment is very well equipped, it has everything you would ever need! Kitchen has everything from utensils to pots and pans to blenders (!!), there are piles of towels in the wardrobe and rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom which is something you often need to buy first thing when you rent an apartment. Lots and lots of toys in the kids bedroom. A selection of DVDs and books, ok some of them in French but the kids didn’t seem to mind… The bunk bed was a massive hit, especially with our four-year old. He wanted to spend the first two days playing in his bed, it was near impossible to lure him out to see the new city we had landed in… The only way to get him out was a promise of a playground. Here is the link to the apartment: HouseTrip apartment.

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The lovely seafront, great for jogging along, when it’s not too hot!

We spent most our days in Nice walking around the city, enjoying the nice, warm but not too hot weather and visited the playground in the Promenade du Paillon every single day. It’s fabulous for kids of all ages as there are six play areas along the promenade designed for varying ages all the way from threenagers to teenagers.

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Promenade du Paillon

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The Old Town with narrow streets and steps, lots of steps, is not ideal with a buggy but manageable if you have a small one. Our Baby Jogger City Mini was perfect as it’s fairly small but has proper size wheels so it was easy enough to get over the bumps and curbs… The French are very polite and friendly on the streets if you’re traveling with a buggy. They will give way to you and will help you getting on and off the trains and buses!

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An afternoon stroll in the Old Town

Nice is an ideal location to explore the French Riviera with Monaco just a 20-minute train trip away and Cannes only 30-minutes away on the train. You don’t necessarily need a car as the cities are small enough to explore by foot (it’s the best way to get the most out of the place anyway!) and the train line covers most places even if you want to travel inland or go further towards Marseilles which is around 3 hours from Nice by train.

Nice and well, most of the French Riviera has a reputation of being overly expensive. We arrived with that in mind and were prepared to pay through the teeth for cups of coffee. We soon found out that a glass of wine is around the same price as your cappuccino, score! As we stayed in an apartment, we cooked some dinners rather than eating out every day. Groceries are around the same price as if you went shopping in Super Valu, not the most expensive but not quite as cheap as in Lidl or Aldi! A bag of cereal, milk, a bottle of wine, some croissants and pain au chocolats, pasta, pesto, cucumber, and bananas would cost around €25. Something to bear in mind though: the shop opening hours aren’t quite as relaxed as in UK or Ireland and shops are, generally, closed on Sundays!

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The harbour with its yachts…

If you are traveling on a budget, a great way to save money is to do picnics. The best part is, you are certainly not the only one to take out your baguettes in the middle of a park or on the beach. Everyone seems to do just that! They even do it in Monaco so it must be the chic thing to do around here 🙂

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Some of the fabulous buildings in Nice

There seemed to be a lot of people around, all day long. People who you’d imagine should be at work, or in school. Many of them are tourists like ourselves, naturally, but if they are all tourists and it’s only the end of April, I don’t even want to know how many people there are here in August! I would definitely recommend Nice for a family, but I think the best time to go is before the holiday madness starts!

 

Discipline – Gently Does It?

You know the way you say to yourself about most things parenting that it’ll pass. It will get easier. They will start listening and the rest. Well, it gets different. It doesn’t get any easier, the struggles are just different. I used to tell myself they will start listening to me and behaving like little angels in a couple of years’ time. A couple of years have passed and while they are easier to deal with as they understand more, they still don’t behave like angels all the time. I still need to discipline them, preferably without losing my head.

I wrote this piece about four years ago and reading it now was a good reminder that while the kids are bigger now, they are still kids and the logic behind these techniques will work for them even as they grow. They still need to feel heard and understood, that we will stick with them and love them even if their behaviour is not ok, but that the behaviour will not be tolerated. So grab yourself a cuppa and read on…

 

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Coffee break

It was a Sunday morning, I had just had a lie in as the Hubby took the kiddies downstairs for breakfast and I stayed comfy in our bed. We were downstairs, I was eating breakfast and the Little Messers were playing with their cars. Then for a reason I can’t even remember anymore, Mr Messer slapped his daddy. Then he slapped his little sister. Two minutes later Missy Messer had moved on and found our laptop on the couch and before I knew it, she had pulled two buttons off the keyboard… Bye bye Happy Relaxed Mummy, Hello Grumpy Pants!

Most of the time you can see when these kind of events start taking place. You know your own kids, you know when they start getting frustrated and often it can be fairly easy to prevent these situations from happening by offering help before it goes haywire. Or not leaving the laptop on the couch where the two-year-old can reach it! This is often the easiest approach, but sometimes you miss the opportunity and sometimes it just doesn’t work.

David Coleman, a clinical psychologist specialised in working with children and their families, has written a very interesting book about how to raise your children in a gentle way and also have fun while doing it. The book is called Parenting Is Child’s Play and it has given me many practical tips on how to handle different situations in a gentle but effective way.

The book starts with a chapter in communication. Coleman talks about some very valid points when it comes to communication. Things that we easily forget, such as active listening, i.e. showing your child that you’re paying attention and hearing what they are saying by using gestures such as lowering yourself at their level, turning to them when they’re talking, and repeating what they’re saying to you to show them you have listened and understood what they’re trying to tell you. It might seem like pointing out the obvious, but when you’re cooking the dinner, tidying up the living room, or writing a blog post (!), it’s easily forgotten. But I see the difference in my kids when I communicate with them properly and especially when I pay attention to them. I get very annoyed when they don’t listen to me but keep doing their own thing, so why should I expect them to be any different? How often do you hear yourself saying “look at me when I’m talking to you” when you’re talking to your kids?

Sometimes talking isn’t enough though. I’m sure every parent with a child over two years of age has come across a situation or two (or ten!) when the marbles are lost and there is no talking sense, neither to the child nor the parent… Slapping, shouting, or naughty steps/bold corners never appealed to me and when I came across this book, I thought it was the best thing ever.

In his book, Coleman suggests a very compassionate approach to dealing with tantrums and bold behaviour. He gives a number of examples on how to handle different scenarios and he explains the function and causes for tantrums and bold behaviour. Below, I have gathered a very short summary of some of the techniques recommended by Coleman and that I have found very useful.

For tantrums, he suggests a three-phased approach:

  1. Understanding the cause and empathising with the feelings the child is experiencing (“I can see you are very frustrated, because you can’t fix the train track…”)
  2. Letting the child know that you can’t help them while they’re having the tantrum (“…but while you’re crying and screaming like that I can’t help you”)
  3. Once the child shows signs of calming down (crying turns into occasional sobs and sniffs), it is vital to turn back to them and help them with whatever the cause of upset was (“Ok I see you are have stopped crying and have calmed down, now we can go and fix the train track together”).

When it comes to bold behaviour, Coleman doesn’t believe punishment is the answer. He believes in the idea of natural consequences for behaviour. This means that the consequence should always fit the misbehaviour, both in scale and in manner. For example, if the child deliberately throws food on the floor, the natural consequence would be to have the child clean it up either alone if old enough, or with your help if they’re younger.

Coleman also proposes a new approach to using “Time-Out”, which seems to have become the answer to all our problems when it comes to misbehaving. Using time-out as a punishment is the emotional equivalent to slapping, sending your child away to a step or corner when they are misbehaving is sending them a message of rejection, that you can’t even bear to have them near you. Instead, Coleman suggests that we use time-out to give ourselves and our children time to cool off, count to ten, and breathe:

  1. Take the child away from the situation (for example, if they are hitting or biting another child) to stop the misbehaviour
  2. Tell them this behaviour is not ok and that they have to calm down to be allowed back in (“Hitting is not allowed. If you hit, then you must sit on this chair and when you can play calmly, then you can join back in”).
  3. As you indicate the place to sit, you physically guide or carry them there. Once you’ve done this, you reduce your attention to them (don’t start lecturing about rights and wrongs of hitting, that can happen later once everyone is calm!).

This notion of actually being with your child if they are misbehaving and sticking with them and their difficult feelings is critical to the success of using time-out in the way I am suggesting. The underlying message you are giving your child by sticking with them is: “You are important, and that is why I am still here with you, but your behaviour is not OK, and you need to stop it and be calm so that we can move on from here”, Coleman explains in his book.

What I like most about Coleman’s book is the practicality of it and proper, real life examples that I can use at home when the situation is on. It is also quite comforting to read that the author himself has lost his head the odd time! I guess we’re all human, but there is hope for us yet.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this area – what works with your kids? What doesn’t? And most importantly, how do you keep your cool?

 

 

Family Holiday in Portugal – Cascais

I’m one of those (annoying, you might say) people who start planning their next summer holiday while still on holidays… Which means we usually have our holiday booked by the end of January! It’s a long time waiting from there on, but I suppose that’s part of the fun right?! Until it comes to a month or so before that said holiday and you realise you’re in desperate need of it too. So what better way of getting yourself in the mood than looking back to old holiday pictures and posts!

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Street Art in Cascais

We’ve been to Portugal on a family holiday twice now, both times to a little coastal village called Cascais, only a 40-minute train journey from Lisbon. I think it’s a perfect spot for families as it’s small so you can walk around to places, but it’s big enough so you won’t get bored. It has that lazy rhythm of life, you’re not rushing anywhere and it’s so easy to forget about the stress of your daily life and just relax. And that’s what holidays are about for me. The time to sit down and listen to the kids, have a play with them, ask what they want to do and if it’s spending the day on the beach, then do just that.

Our day to day routine got pretty much perfected over the two holidays to include a morning stroll to a park with a coffee shop and playground, then lunch and siesta at the apartment followed by an afternoon at the beach. Evenings were late as you’d often come back late from the beach and by the time you’ve showered and got everyone ready for dinner, it would be well past normal bedtime! When you’re travelling with kids, I find routine and predictability is something that works. At least for my two. Whenever we did something outside the routine, like day trips to Sintra or Lisbon, it was all questions and concern around “will we go to the beach later then?“.

So what to do in Cascais? Here are our top picks.

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Parks and beaches

Parque Marechal Carmona (number 1. in the map above) in the centre of Cascais has a lovely playground with swings, slides, climbing frames… There is a separate area for younger kids and during the summer months, you will find the park itself and the playground busy with kids camps. It can get busy and noisy in the morning before lunchtime, but we always found the Portuguese kids very friendly and polite! Marechal Carmona also hosts a mini-zoo with peacocks and chickens and there is a lovely coffee shop near the playground with loads of grass area for the kids to run around in! The only thing to note is you might want to keep an eye out for the pigeons if you’re sitting outside, they love toast…

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Exploring the park

Parque Urbano da Ribeira dos Mochos (number 2. on the map) located about a 15-20 minute walk outside the town centre was another favourite of ours. It’s quieter than Marechal Carmona, has a nice coffee shop as well and while the playground was slightly smaller, it has better climbing opportunities for kids who are past the toddler phase and need a bit more of a challenge.

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We all loved climbing here!

Beaches – there are three beaches right in the town centre (the yellow dots on the map): Praia da Ribeira de Cascais at the end of the main road going through the town, Praia da Rainha at the end of one of the shopping streets is a small sandy cove with a restaurant at the top, and Praia da Conceição near the train station which was our favourite as it is the biggest of the three and there were lots of water activities from this beach. You can also hire a deck chair with parasols, but there is enough space to go with your own blankets as well.

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Our favourite beach

Another beach worth mentioning, especially if you are or have aspiring surfers, is Praia Grande do Guincho (not marked on the map!). It’s a surfers’ paradise with great looking waves, lots of surf schools operate here and it has lovely sand dunes at the back of the beach with a boardwalk for those who are not surfing. It’s worth noting though that while the other beaches weren’t overly windy, this one will get you a new hairdo in seconds…! It’s a good bit outside Cascais town centre so you will either need a car/taxi or you could cycle there too.

 

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Guincho – a surfers’ paradise!

 

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Duna da Cresmina

 

Restaurants – there are so many restaurants in Cascais and they are very reasonable in terms of pricing. Dinner for two adults and two kids never cost us more than €50 and that would include a couple of beers or a few glasses of wine, as well as the food. Obviously. As you would imagine, the restaurants right in the town centre are generally slightly more expensive (still reasonable though), but it’s also well worth it venturing a little bit further afield on the tiny side streets where you will find some hidden gems. Our favourites were:
Os Bordallos – this Portuguese burger restaurant is very popular so you might want to get in early or book a table… they had the colouring out for the kids straight away and the burgers were honestly the best I’ve had anywhere in the world. I would go back to Cascais just to eat here again.
South Africa Restaurante – this South African restaurant is located a little bit outside the town centre and we used to walk past it every day, peeping in and saying, we should definitely go there one of the evenings. Well I’m glad we finally did, my Zulu steak was amazing! They don’t have a specific kids menu (at least not last summer when we were there!), but you can pick anything from them menu and they will make it kid-friendly.
Caffé Italia – for when the kids inevitably want pizza. Good location near the harbour with a lovely terrace, pizzas were yummy and they served lovely wine too! This is a popular restaurant as well so arrive early or otherwise booking is recommended.

More pictures and recommendations can be found in my previous post on Cascais here. It also covers our day trips to Sintra and Lisbon.