Cycling tours have become a bit of a staple activity for us on our travels. So when in London we decided to join Fat Tire Tours London on a four hour Royal London Bike Tour.
Advertised as a tour to show us the main sites with a traditional pub lunch in between, we were in. And, given the awesome tour we had done just the week before in Berlin, we did not hesitate to book with Fat Tire.
However cycling in London is quite a different beast to cycling in the rice fields of Vietnam, the temples of Bali or the bike friendly city of Berlin. I think we failed to factor in just how BUSY London is!
London Not Exactly A cycling Town
London is not exactly what I would describe as a cycle-friendly town. Well, lets be honest it is hard enough as a pedestrian to get around the major attractions - try and do it on two wheels and the challenge increases - even more when you are only seven years old.
And with tourists in all the major hot spots coming from every corner of the globe, the acceptance of cyclists and the patience and courtesy offered varied depending on who you ran into!
We did get to see all the major royal sites Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Marble Arch and the commentary offered by our guide Paul was informative.
Cycling through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens offered relief from the major tourist hubs. In fact, even though we lived in England before the kids, there were corners of the parks explored on this tour that we had not discovered before. The gentle ride through the parks was some of the most enjoyable moments of the tour.
English Pub Lunch
Our anticipation of a traditional English Pub lunch was squashed when our guide took us into the centre of Trafalgar Square and gave us 25 minutes to find lunch, go to the bathroom and return to our bikes to continue.
“Don’t order food at the pub” we were informed “We have English people serving and you will never get your food in time.”
A sandwich from Boots, a queue to use the bathroom at the pub and we stood shovelling food in our mouths before jumping back on our bikes to continue - not exactly a relaxing quaint English pub meal.
Fat Tire offer a variety of kids bikes, as well as child seats - so they are a great option for families. On a stop in the park, passers by were asking which tour company we were with as they were pleasantly surprised to see so many children on the tour.
Would I recommend a London Cycling Tour? Well as long as you know what you are in for. Our seven year old was probably a bit young to be cycling on her own, our ten year old however handled it pretty well.
It was a pretty stressful experience constantly watching the children weave in between the hoards of pedestrian tourists - but as long as you are prepared for that I say go for it.
You can find more details of Fat Tire London Tours at their website. If you are interested in finding out more about bike touring there is a great resource at Best of Bikers.
Itchy Feet Family
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Travelling Europe with kids has it’s challenges. Whilst the adults marvel in the history and architecture - it does not quite hold the appeal a Disneyland holiday has for a 7 and 10 year old. Keeping the kids entertained whilst also giving them a historical and cultural lesson can be tricky.
Our kids hate doing bus tours, they simply don’t enjoy any part of them. Before children we would always do a hop-on-hop-off tour to orientate ourselves in a new city. However our kids simply whinge the whole time - trust me we tried it!
It is for this reason we have started to opt for city cycling tours. We have done a few in places like Bali, Vietnam, New York and now have added to the list with the Fat Tire Berlin Day City Tour.
Range of Kids Bikes
Depending on the tour company, kids are catered for in a range of ways. Child bikes, child seats for the adult’s bike - or as we just tried in Berlin, tag-along bikes. Essentially a tandem bike, the child has their own seat and pedals but the adult bike brakes and steers from the front whilst the child tags along.
We started with a child’s bike for our seven year old however as we were cycling on roads through some traffic we opted for the tag-along for safety. Whilst she can ride confidently on the open parks and walkways at home, we decided she probably was not really confident enough to ride through Berlin traffic. For the most part the tour was in parks and on cycling pathways, however there were occasional stretches of city traffic to manoeuvre.
Our 10 year old on the other hand relished the freedom and cycled up the front of the group right alongside the tour guide.
Berlin City Highlights
The beauty of a cycling tour is that you get to see all the main attractions - we visited Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island, The Berlin Wall, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and more, all the sights you would see on a bus tour - however the kids (and adults) were being active and having fun.
Our tour guide, Alex, was fantastic and kept both the kids and adults fascinated at each location. Although it was quite a heavy history lesson to digest, the kids took in bits and pieces and we were able to discuss further after the tour where they had questions.
Great Tour Guide
There is definitely something to be said for an enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide - Alex was a great story teller and was animated in his delivery. A Canadian, he had a clear passion and enthusiasm for the city and it’s history which he shared with us all.
As well as the major sights the tour also took us through a large stretch of Tiergarten, Berlin’s premier city park. We covered ground that we never would have seen by foot and visited a Beer Garden tucked away in a corner of the gardens that only a local would find.
The tour took a total of 4.5 hours and included a one hour stop for lunch. The kids loved every minute of it and not once whinged are we there yet!
If you are travelling with kids and see a city cycling tour - give it a go! For details or to book this tour, visit Fat Tire Berlin City Tour.
Itchy Feet Family
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Ahh mother’s day - breakfast in bed, relaxing sleep in, new fluffy slippers and cups of tea delivered while I indulge in the Sunday paper. Right? Umm not in my house! Does anyone really have this?
Mothers Day in Australia will be next weekend - Sunday May 14, 2017. This will be my 11th mother’s day and never have I experienced this hallmark moment.
And not to the fault of Master 10 or Miss 7 – it has really been my own creation.
The first year of motherhood I am sure hubby made a big deal of it, but to be honest I was too tired to notice.
And for the last nine years I have circled the Adelaide Torrens Riverfront as a participant in the Mother’s Day Classic, awake and in the city for an 8am start.
In 2010, a beautiful friend lost her battle to cancer and left behind two young children. At age 30 she never really got the chance to enjoy Mothers Days either. Each year I do the run in honour of her and the many other Mother’s who have lost the battle to cancer.
The Mother’s Day Classic is a fund raiser for Breast Cancer Research. Participants can run or walk either a 4.6km or 7.3km course. The city becomes a sea of pink as thousands of participants showcase the colour for support and hit the track to bring awareness and raise much needed funds for the cause.
The event, which first began in 1998, is run Australia wide with both major cities and regional towns hosting a course for people to participate. To date, the event has raised some $30 million.
My proudest mother’s day moment was when Master 10 joined me for the first time. In 2016 both kids and hubby joined me on the track and we will do it again this year, with a time now to beat.
Miss 7 is the leader, we cross the line as a family so really it is her 38 minute record that we are aiming to improve. A year older, with longer legs to take her on the course - I am sure that is achievable.
Of course, I could sip cups of tea for the rest of the day – however whilst I am still fortunate enough to have a mother and mother-in-law in my life, it is to them I will bestow the honour.
After all, I believe the real test of a good mother is the adult children they release into society. That is a test I am yet to pass so will happily wait my turn rather than indulge in any premature celebrations.
If you would like to donate to Breast Cancer Research, you can contribute on our fundraising page. For more details about the event, head to the Mother’s Day Classic website.
Follow the Itchy Feet Family on Instagram and Facebook for updates from the track next Sunday.
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? Have you started any traditions for your family?
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
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Elephant Encounters - tick it off the bucket list
The elephant is a majestic animal. It moves slowly and makes you consider for a short moment the possibility that such a ginormous animal could actually be gentle! However it is a powerful animal that is to be treated with respect.
Throughout our travels we have had a number of occasions to get up close and personal with the amazing creatures. If treated kindly and with respect all travellers should take the opportunity to tick this off their bucket list.
Three incidents that stand out from our travels include losing a pack of elephants at Lalibela Game Reserve, South Africa, trekking on elephants along the Zambezi River and our family ride on the elephants at Bakit Safari, Thailand.
Thailand, Bukit Safari
On a family visit to Cape Panwa, Thailand, we took a day trip to the Bukit Safari. The Itchy Feet Family were young, Miss 2 and Master 5 in tow we decided that would not be a barrier to the adventure.
The elephants have a bench seat attached atop and once on board the kids could easily sit alongside or on parent’s knees.
The adventure was not really that adventurous - we were on a private reserve where the elephants were kept and the actual time spent atop the elephants was through the grounds of the reserve. The biggest adventure was maintaining balance atop the bench seat as the animal waddled from side to side along some uneven grounds.
The kids got to feed the baby elephants before we rode the adults and the whole experience is one that is fondly remembered.
Lalibela Game Reserve, South Africa
You would think that a herd of elephants would be quite an easy find - however on a four day visit to the Lalibela Game Reserve, South Africa, the herd on the private reserve were aloof during our stay.
Every morning the Rangers would inform us that they were still unsure the exact location of the herd and it would be unlikely we would get to spot them during our visit.
Thankfully, on our last afternoon as we relaxed by the pool, the herd came within eye shot of the reserve The afternoon’s safari was to get amongst the herd and all the visitors were pleased they had come out of hiding!
The first point of call for the afternoon safari was to the elephants and we were treated to a close encounter amongst the herd who, incidentally, had a baby in tow that they kept very protected. An amazing insight into the power of a mother’s protective nature even amongst the animal world.
For the evening safari an adverse reaction to malaria tablets forced me to sit out - which in turn ended up being a blessing. The herd actually came through the camp, I was able to sit very quietly in the dark on the porch of my villa as they passed me by. I missed out on seeing the lion cubs that were seen on the night safari, but my close encounter with the herd is a memory I will forever treasure.
Trekking the Zambezi River
On a stay at Victoria Falls, we visited the Zambezi Elephant Trails. This is more an elephant experience than a simple elephant ride. Participants are encouraged to interact with the elephants I even reluctantly sat on the elephants leg whilst it wrapped it’s trunk around me in a hug.
Unlike the Thailand experience, these elephants are saddled which made for a much more comfortable and stable experience atop - well until the elephant shakes as our elephant dubbed the “dancer” did frequently!
With armed rangers on foot at the front and rear of our line of elephants, we trekked along the Zambezi in search of game sightings. Thankfully the rangers did not need the arms they beared but it certainly made you realise that we were on safari and perhaps the top of an elephant was not quite as safe as the inside of a jeep!
Have you had a memorable elephant experience? Share with us in the comments.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
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As a regular cruiser, I like to explore every corner of the ship. I love the idea of having a spa at sea where you can indulge in beauty and health treatments but often find them to be very overpriced.
P&O cruise ships Eden and Aria offer an area on the ship called the Thermal Suites, other cruise ships offer similar such areas. The Suites on the Eden and Aria offer, for a price, access to a sauna, 2 x steam rooms, mineral spa, heated relaxation lounges and a relaxation room with comfortable day beds and refreshments.
On a recent 12 night cruise the ship was offering a limited number (they said 20 - but I think they may have sold a few more than that) of all access passes for the entirety of the cruise for $199 for a single $299 for a couple. So I decided to try them out!
But was it worth it ? Here are the pros and cons - you decide……..
Pros of Thermal Suites
1. A Hot Tub with No Children
The Aria and Eden offer an adults only area - Oasis - however there is no hot tub, only a pool, in this space. I like to refer to the main pool deck hot tubs as bowls of children soup! Don’t get me wrong, I like children - I even have two under 10 of my own - but in a hot tub I would rather not indulge in children’s soup.
The Thermal Suite pass gave access to a mineral bath that nine times out of ten I got to use on my own. With only a limited number of people allowed access to this area, it made for a nice way to relax at the end of the day. The Suites were open from 8am to 8pm every day.
2. Peace and Quiet
The last cruise we did was a NYE cruise which meant there was a pretty lively crowd on board and many late nights to be had. It was nice to have a semi-private space to simply chill and relax away from the crowds and the masses. With only a limited number of passes on sale it meant many times there was not even anyone else in the area. It was like a private oasis.
The relaxation room offered inviting day lounges with wall to ceiling windows to sit and watch the sea roll by. Couple that with a herbal tea or a fruit infused ice cold water and it made for an inviting quiet space.
3. Steam and Sauna
With all the calories consumed on a cruise the steam and sauna gave easy access to sweat some of them out. A dry sauna was always my first point of call followed by an aromatherapy sauna. Great way to sweat out the alcohol!
Whilst I would have loved to spend hours in the Thermal Suites, the reality is I never quite got around to it. With port days and fun filled activities on sea-days I barely managed to squeeze in an hour a day. However I did make a point of visiting every day - even if for a quick 30 minute thermal bath.
2. No Products to Use
When the Suites are shown on the first day of the cruise there were lovely scrubs on display near the showers. Many of us got the impression that they would be made available for the duration of the cruise - however that was not the case. You do however receive a take-home pack of the scrubs when you sign up - which of course you could make use of during the cruise. Of the 12 night cruise, only on one day were any beauty products/scrubs made available for use - which of course I took full advantage of.
3. I Felt Lazy
Laying on a thermal tiled lounge for any length of time made me just want to go to sleep! If you want to completely wind down, switch off and relax this is the place for you. I am generally a bit more active on my holidays so I felt a bit lazy spending time just relaxing. (ok this is not really a con - I just could not think of a third one to balance the article!).
Have you ever used Thermal Suites - or Private Spa areas on a cruise ship? What did you think? Would you indulge again…..
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
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A trip to Bali is a right of passage for Australian families. Once you have done the obligatory trip to the Gold Coast theme parks the next progression is a family holiday to Bali.
Although not a regular destination on the Itchy Feet Family destination list, we have done a few trips and always like to try something different outside of the Kuta markets, Ubud day trip and visit to Waterbom Park.
On our most recent trip we decided to see the countryside on two-wheels on a cycling tour.
We chose Bali Hai Tours who collected us from our hotel in Kuta, the Hard Rock Hotel. Although we knew we were doing a tour, the one thing we forgot to prepare for was the almost two-hour car journey to Ubud to actually start the cycling tour!
Whilst the kids were excited at the prospect of cycling, when our driver gave us an estimate drive time to our tour we nearly had a riot on our hands from the kids! So be prepared.
Cycling tours are best when all family members are able to cycle, however even if your youngest is not quite at a stage to handle their own wheels, bikes with child seats are available. Our 5 year old could ride but not confidently enough so we opted for the child seat for her. Master 8 on the other hand was rearing to go.
The clever part of this tour is that the transportation takes you to the highest part of the journey and the route takes you downhill and along flats. So even for someone with only modest levels of fitness, there are no mountains to scale!
The challenge is not so much in activating your quads to cycle through terrain, but rather keeping cramp in your hand at bay as the steep descents require excessive usage of your hand break.
The route took us through rural villages, bamboo forests, rice fields and to the doorsteps of temples. Children waved and laughed at us as we cycled by and we saw a lovely side to this beautiful country away from the hustle and bustle of Kuta.
Not for the faint hearted, there were a number of stretches that took us along main roads and I must admit that as a mother with an 8 yo on a cycle I did have a few nervous moments when trucks and cars were passing.
We had a number of stops along the way where our guide would share with us stories and facts of the area and we were able to stretch our legs, rehydrate and take in the surrounds.
Master 8 was fascinated by the Durian and at a local village stop he was shown how to cut the fruit open. He was also offered a taste - however the smell was not one he (nor I) could quite handle. An acquired taste for sure!
So if you have done the obligatory tours in Bali and are after something a little different, a cycling tour is a fun family day out if you can drag yourself away from the pool, cocktails and massages!
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A family trip to the Gold Coast is something most Australian families will do at least once. If you have done the mandatory visit to the theme parks and the kids are asking for a repeat, consider a side-trip to Moreton Island to break the holiday up.
Whilst I love a week at the theme parks as much as anyone else, I also need a holiday to recover from it and Tangalooma Resort on Moreton Island offered just that.
Unless you have your own boat, access to the island is via a ferry from Brisbane. The trip is just a short 75 minute commute.
Upon arrival there is beautiful sands, wrecks for snorkelling, restaurants, swimming pools and an assortment of activities you would expect from a resort catered for families.
These were our top four things to do at Moreton Island:
If you stay at the resort, included in your stay is an opportunity to feed wild dolphins. Every night a pod of dolphins swim up near the jetty for feeding and guests are invited to enter the shallows of the beach and hand feed them a fish.
Whilst you can not touch the dolphin and the experience is very short and sweet, it is a unique opportunity to get close to wild dolphins.
The dolphins are wild and the experience is not guaranteed, but from what I heard, it is very rare for none of the dolphins to make an appearance. The activity started back in 1992 and the resort follows strict guidelines to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the dolphins.
Snorkelling The Wrecks
Snorkelling amongst 15 ship wrecks was an absolute experience that is unique to Moreton Island. The ships were purposefully wrecked to form a breakwall for small boats. The abundance of sea life that has resulted was something that both surprised and delighted both the kids and adults.
When we instructed the kids to place their heads in the water, the look of surprise when they first realised what lied beneath was priceless.
You can walk along the beach from the resort and swim out to the wrecks, however on our visits to the Island we have done both the escorted tour via boat with a guide and a self-guided tour with kayaks. The currants can get quite strong so having a floatation device whilst snorkelling is recommended.
Going head first on a waxed board down a sand dune in the desert is not something I was expecting to do on an island resort holiday.
The Moreton Island desert is just a short drive from the resort with daily tours to the area.
After donning swimming goggles, yes swimming goggles in the dessert, it is quite a leap of faith to set yourself off from the top of the dune face first with only a thin board between you and the sand.
This activity is not for the faint-hearted, the climb to the top of the dune in itself was a challenge - let alone doing it over and over again!
Miss 5 was given an option to complete a half-dune and despite being tentative on the first launch, she completed it over and over again.
Master 8 head to the top of the dune with the adults and despite having a slight nose dive and roll out of control in the sand - he got back up and did it again.
Sunset Beach Walks
The sunsets on Moreton Island were spectacular. Family walks along the beach at sunset every night were mandatory. The kids cartwheeled and searched for shells as the adults enjoyed the amazing colours as the sun bounces on the ocean creating shadows through the wrecks.
Other activities we completed included quad biking, kayaking, archery, basketball, swimming and much more.
For details about Tangalooma Resort visit their website.
Next time you are planning a Queensland family holiday, consider Moreton Island as a side trip. There may not be any theme parks but the natural beauty and activities of this island will leave you wanting to return.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Playing and swimming in mud is not normally something that sounds appealing to adults, however on a recent visit to Nha Trang, Vietnam, that is exactly what we did!
Only in Nha Trang for the day on a port stop as part of an Asian cruise, we narrowed our options down to a visit to Vinpearl, the amusement park, or a visit to the local mud baths.
Having done a number of theme parks in our life we opted for a fun family day at the mud baths.
Nha Trang is well known for it’s mud baths, there were a number to choose from. We settled on the Thap Ba Hot Springs and we were as happy as pigs in mud!
After locking away our belongings and stripping down to our smallest swimming costumes we were directed to an area filled with varying sized baths.
When arriving we were given an option of paying for a private bath V communal bath, however despite taking the cheaper option of communal bath we were put into a private bath just for our family. And so the mud flowed!
In we jumped, a family of four in an outdoor bath filled with mud. It really was a very bizarre experience. The mud is not thick, it is very watery in consistency yet thick enough to leave a film on your skin and hair.
The kids poured mud over their heads, rubbed it into their hair and floated in it. When would you ever have an opportunity as a kid - or an adult - to do that!
And to add to the bizarre experience was the fact that all the time we were being watched by fellow bathers! An elderly German couple in one bath, a group of Japanese girls in another - it is a very communal experience despite having our own private tub.
After some time swimming in the bath we were then directed to a large outdoor shower area where we attempted to remove as much of the mud from our bather bottoms as possible before walking through what could only be described as a human carwash! Water sprayed from every direction as we walked through a series of open top tunnels and washed off!
At the end, a selection of waterfalls and mineral pools of varying temperatures to continue the ritual of bathing and relaxing.
Top tips for mud bathing
1. Wear a two-piece swimming costume. Having mud in your one-piece suit could be very uncomfortable.
2. Wear an old pair of bathers. The mud can be difficult to get out, you may not want to wear your new expensive pair of swimmers.
3. You can pay extra for a private bath, but if you are in a group you will most likely get a private bath anyway.
4. Leave your valuables at home. Whilst there is a bizarre locker system available, I wasn't that confident it was very secure.
5. Rent a towel at the facility. Although I don't normally like communal towels - if you take your own you will probably throw it away after the visit.
If you ever get an opportunity to experience a mud bath, go for it. It is a bizarre experience, but one that you will neither regret or forget.
Check Agoda for hotel deals in Nha Trang - visit Agoda.
Penny - ITCHY FEET FAMILY
Having done a number of trips to North America and ticked off the Aussie must-do's - Disneyland, Florida, California, New York, Chicago, DC, Miami, this trip we decided to do something completely out of the box.
I still can't recall where the idea came from - but the answer was to visit an authentic Cowboy Ranch in the heart of the Cowboy Capital of the World, Banderas Texas.
Neither of the kids, nor Brenton, had ever got on the back of a horse so this was to be the best introduction to horse riding they ever could get with real cowboys on-hand to show them the ropes.
If you are after a luxury getaway, this is not for you. The Ranch is authentic and rustic and comfort and luxury are not their high points. If you are after a holiday where you can disconnect from the digital world and get back to basics, then this is it.
Two horse rides a day, fishing lines to use at the pond, a kitchen bell that is rung to call guests to meals, a bonfire at night with marshmallows to roast and a visit from a local cowboy to strum out some tunes on his guitar - that is a day on the ranch at Dixie Dude Ranch.
The horse-riding was more horse sitting - we simply all falled into line and followed the one in front - but the hillside landscape was so picturesque that the lack of challenge was appreciated. More challenging rides were offered to experienced riders and despite Brenton thinking he might take that on (on day 2!) I convinced him otherwise..... Private lessons were also on offer at just $30, something that Jye relished as he was taught to weave the horse around the barrels in the coral.
What we loved the most about this adventure was the uniqueness of the experience. The Ranch was family run and it was like we were staying at someone's home. Whilst we had our private accommodation by way of an ensuite cabin, guests all ate together in a communal dining area and sat on the main homestead's front porch pre-and post-meals to chat and share stories from the day. The kids played after dinner on the outdoor swings while the parents sipped coffee and rocked on the porch.
This stay was an unplugged experience. Whilst limited wi-fi was available from the main homestead, it was certainly not encouraged and we took the opportunity to switch off and enjoy the experience.
For more details about Dixie Dude Ranch visit their website.
You can read my Trip Advisor Review for further details.
Penny, an avid Trip Advisor Reviewer, is the author of ITCHY FEET FAMILY. A family of 4 living in Adelaide, Australia, and taking every opportunity to travel and explore the world.