A week in Sydney with kids – 6 entertaining family activities and places to visit

Sydney was our first stop in our six week Australia itinerary (check it out here) . We spent a couple of days recovering from jet lag and celebrated the New Year 2017 ahead of all our family and friends, overlooking the Opera House and worldwide famous fireworks.

As a sidenote, if you are planing to participate in the New Year festivities in Sydney, go to your chosen area early. The local administration organises several public viewing areas but the best ones will get filled up at about lunchtime. We even saw peple setting up tent in the morning. The good thing is that once they are filled, they will be marked as complete in interractive maps around the city so you do not need to head in that direction. We prepared for a long wait, packed some food, water and diapers in the stroller and arrived at about 8PM in the area located in front of the Museum for Modern Art. The area closed soon after we entered. At about 10 PM there was already a short firework program for ‘families’ but most people stayed for the big event at midnight.

After the fireworks are over, if you are with a stroller, you will need to wait until most of the area clears before you can head to the exit. It did get very crowded once everybody headed for the exits and hurried home. The amount of people on the streets can be overwhellming, as tens of thousands are trying to reach the metros and busses. Luckly our aparthotel was within a decent walking distance (about 40 min) from the Opera House. The LO happilly fell asleep in the stroller immediatelly after the fireworks ended. Side note ended.

Back to our favourite child friendly attractions in Sidney here is the top 6 (one for evey day of the week):

1. Taraonga Zoo – entertainment for whole family on this purposely built zoo island. We bought the tickets online to avoid the queues. You also get a small saving from the price ( aprox 20%). The quickest and easiest way to get to Taronga Zoo is by public transport. The Zoo is located 12 minutes from Circular Quay by ferry or a short bus/train trip from the city or North Sydney. With over 4000 animals to see and 20 Keeper Talks and Shows a day, you’ll need some prior organisation to get the most out of your day at Taronga. They do provide an app that will make navigation easier and show all the updated info on the events taking place. Elevators and ramps are located around the site, allowing those with limited mobility and strollers to traverse the Zoo. The Sky Safari cable car can accommodate stroller and you should definetely do the ride as it offers a different perspective. We loved the picnic tables scattered around and brought our own snacks and water.

2. Sea Life Aquarium in Darling Harbour – is one of the world’s largest aquariums – with over 700 different species and 13,000 animals in an impressive six million litres of water. It is also home to the world’s largest variety of sharks and rays, as well as Australia’s most famed marine animals, including dugongs and tropical reef fish. Only recently they have included a penguin microclimate where you have access via a  raft. Temperatures are sub-zero as they try to re- create Arctic atmosphere.  They also have a handy stroller parking before you board the train. Penguin colony aside, the underwater world of Shark Valley, an ocean tunnel walk-through is impressive for both kids and adults.

3. Stroller-friendly walk through the royal botanical gardens
It’s a botanical and cultural oasis that’s perfect for a picnic and an afternoon of imaginative play amongst the plants, flowers and bushes. A great way to get around is to take a ride on the Choo Choo Express mini train service. You also get a different perspective of the Opera House.

4. The Beach – Sydney has access to a number of great beaches. With a toddler, head for calm waters and shade. Little Manly Cove (Stuart Street, Manly 2095) has a shark net and changing facilities. Another nice beach in Manly is Shelly Beach (Bower Street Manly 2095). This is an excellent beach for families, being quite sheltered, small and at a safe distance from the road. There is even some shade on the beach itself. With older children, you can head to Bondi where they can also take surf lessons. No shade on Bondi Beach and can get pretty crowded at week- ends.  We hauled a shade tent from Europe that came in handy to protect the baby under the hot Summer Sun. Appropriate sun screen is a must. We also bought a full UV protection swimsuit for the baby. See our pre-trip preparation tips here.

5. The Chinese Garden – A visit to the Chinese Gardens in Darling Harbour is a wonderful option for young kids. Parents will love it too as it provides an escape from the busy city and traffic noise. It’s a magical oasis of waterfalls, lakes and exotic plants. Don’t miss the chance to feed the beautiful Koi fish at 11.30am daily! Then enjoy some treats and tea at the tea house.  Some of the pathways are rocky and steep and therefore not pram-friendly so take a carrier instead if possible.

6. Powerhouse Museum ( suitable for 5 years + and grownups that want to play)-Located in the old Ultimo Power Station building adjacent to Darling Harbour, the Powerhouse Museum is the flagship venue of Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). Its unique and diverse collection spans science, technology, design and decorative arts, engineering, architecture, health and medicine, fashion and contemporary culture. It is a dream come true for every little explorer. They have regular educational events and workshops for kids and it is worth checking the program if you plan a visit.

These were our favourite places in Sydney to visit with a toddler but they were definitely enjoyed by the adults as well.

Anything we missed? Make a mention in the comments.

Happy travels!

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A long week-end in the Sun in October: try Montenegro

This was the second long week-end in 2017 spent on a girls trip. The first girls trip of 2017 was in June in Malaga and I loved having the opportunity to visit the Picasso Museum, eat great food and generally have adult conversations with my friends. I hope to share my impressions of Malaga in a future post.

After my return from Malaga, I had a quick look at potential low cost flights from either Brussels or Paris towards another sunny destination that many of my friends recommended: Montenegro. I found Transavia taking off from Paris Orly. I was aiming for an escape in the end September, to avoid the crowds. If you are thinking about going in the same period, keep in mind they only fly directly till Ocotber to Tivat ( part of the Summer schedule). I found a flight for less than 200 Euro and convinced two friends to join in.

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Back in Portugal – 3 days at the beach and a taste of Lisbon

I have been to Portugal a few times already. First, about 8 years ago, I travelled with my best friend to Porto and Lisbon. I have then spend a couple of week- ends in Lisbon with friends. And of course, the Azores in 2011.  But in the August of 2017, looking for possible destinations for a sort jaunt from Brussels, I stumbled on the coastal town of Sesimbra. It is then that Mr happened to mention he was never to Portugal. The decision was made. He received a trip to Portugal as his birthday present.

As Lisbon was my husband’s treat, I kept it for the end. Upon arrival we rented a car and drove down to Sesimbra, about one hour south of Lisbon. Potuguese colleagues recommended it for the nice, wide beach, fresh seafood and being popular with locals mostly. As we were travelling mid-August, there were bound to be people on holidays, so any tips to less travelled places were well appreciated.

Continue reading “Back in Portugal – 3 days at the beach and a taste of Lisbon”

Discovering the European South – Beaches and mountains of Cyprus

We travelled to Cyprus last year, in September. For residents of the European North, September is the month when we start to become itchy for another break in the Sun. This is especially when summer means two weeks with temperatures above 20 in June and two weeks again in August, if we are lucky. September is also when prices start to get back to more reasonable levels as most of schools holidays draw to a close.

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Let’s go on a trip, ladies ! – Bangkok and Khao Lak

Thailand is by now a well-established destination for winter sun seekers. Not close enough for a short break but rather well connected to Europe in terms of flights so you do not need to take several connections and loose time in airports,  which maximises your time on the ground.

I was not particularly attracted to the idea of Thailand. To me, it conjures images of tourist hoards and temples queues. I could not imagine that there are still places where you could fell some connection to the country, its natural beauty and traditions and get to know the people. But then the opportunity of a reasonably priced direct flight from Paris CDG presented itself. My partner (Mr. CTT) had limited vacation days left as we were in end Oct – November 2016, close to year end. So I decided to ask some friends to join me and do a first post-pregnancy holiday sans-family. After this trip, I decided to do one ladies every year! Surely, Mr. CTT benefits of the same prerogative (except for taking ladies along…:).

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The Bump, the Temples and the Beach – our babymoon in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

In the beginning of 2015 we found out that our family was getting bigger. We were very happy that we will soon get to introduce him to the world and show him all the amazing places out there. But before that, we were ready to enjoy a few more trips together. During my pregnancy we went to a few places in Europe and I also took a girls trip to Israel and the Czech Republic but we wanted something a bit more ‘special’. I was very curious about Sri Lanka after my trip to India in 2014 but my husband was there already so we added Maldives to the mix.

Given my ‘situation’, this trip was planned a bit more in detail throughout. After buying the plane tickets (Brussels -Doha – Colombo, Colombo-Mahe and Mahe-Doha-Brussels) with Qatar Airlines, I looked for a driver/guide to accompany us in out tour. I already had a good idea of what we wanted to visit but still needed somebody with local experience to make sure the trip was doable in terms of distance and road conditions as well as weather. There are plenty of local travel companies on Trip advisor. I wrote to a few and asked a quote for the tour I had in mind. We went with Sri Lanka Personal Drivers and were very happy.

We had 8 days in Sri Lanka and 6 in the Maldives. As we had planned some beach time at the end of the trip, we focused our time in Sri Lanka on visiting temples and the natural scenery in the country.

If you are considering Sri Lanka as a destination, have a look at our itinerary packed with great sightseeing opportunities:

Day 1: arrived in Sri Lanka and arranged with our accommodation for a transfer from the airport. We decided to stay outside Colombo as we wanted to have the opportunity to relax as we arrived. We were based in Kotugoda, about 20 min from the airport. We stayed at the Wallawwa, a small hotel set in a restored colonial manor with a beautiful 3 acres garden that provided much needed respite after our travel. Highly recommended for couples and if you are looking for a secluded retreat.

Day 2, we started early and our driver was waiting for us at the reception. We went for a quick trip through Colombo and continued on to Kandy, in the Hill Country, our base for the next 3 days. We also stopped at the Millenium Elephant Foundation to see rescued elephants. They were offering rides but we didn’ t enjoy seeing the elephants ferrying visitors around and did not take the ride.

Day 3: Kandy. We kicked off the day with a visit to the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden. They are renowned for their collection of orchids and a great collection of indigenous plants. The afternoon we spent visiting the city. Our driver/guide took up up the hill above the city where we had the best panorama of this green city and the lake in the middle. In the evening, we saw a traditional dancing show at the atmospheric Red Cross building. After the show we visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic. It houses the country’s most important religious relic, the tooth of Buddha. We were in time for the evening ceremony or Puja which involved a lot of drumming and excitement. At the end of the ceremony, the relic is open to the public. It was a great experience!

Day 4: We explored more of the city, we walked the shopping streets leading to the lake, visited the old railway station and central market. Our hotel, the Kandy House was a great treat. Breakfast was brought to the patio in front of our room and they did a great cake for my husband’s birthday. Their dinners we superb as well. I never knew there were so many types of curry. Absolutely delicious!

Day 5: We left Kandy for Sigiriya. We stopped at the Dambulla Cave Complex on the way, about 3h away from Kandy. The caves are located on top of a hill and are more than 2000 year old. The are crammed with statues and murals of Buddha. On a clear day, you can see Sigiriya rock from the hill top. Our accommodation in the Cultural triangle was at the Wild Grass Nature Resort. This place is set amidst the forests of Sigiriya. We had a spacious villas with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a great way to enjoy the sunset.

Day 6: Visiting the Sigiriya rock and museum. Maybe the most impressive site of Sri Lanka, this is going to take the best part of a day and involve some serious climbing for about 1h. I took it easy, as I soon became out of breath and there are many things to see in the extensive gardens. Do not miss the museum explaining the history of the place and the original settlements. The rock is better climbed in the cool of the morning.

Day 7: We went for a safari in the Minneriya Natural Park part of the ‘elephant corridor’. We did not see that many elephants but it a nice experience reminding us of our African safari. In the afternoon, we went for an Ayurveda treatment in a village nearby : -Thrimal Ayurvedic Treatment Centre. The massage was great. However, you should count on smelled like curry spices for a few days.

Day 8: we started early to catch our plane from Colombo to Mahe. Once we arrived in Mahe, a resort representative was waiting for us at the airport and we boarded a small boat that would take us to our island.

The place we stayed at was called Baros Resort and it was probably the priciest hotel in all our travels around the world. It was also the most amazing, secluded escape with morning yoga and a house reef that you could access from the beach. Everything was top notch from service to the pregancy massage I got at the spa. I could not dive on that occasion but my husband went and he was quite impressed. I went on a couple of snorkelling trips and a night snorkelling trip. Do give night snorkelling a try! They have special lights that reflect on the colours of the marine life. It was surreal to swim in the black water, with a sky full of stars above and plenty of little fishes swimming on the bottom. I do hope we will go back one day.

If you consider the Maldives, do not be put off by the Summer in the islands. The climate in July and August are very similar in the Maldives. Humidity and rain do increase over these months, but as the islands are so low-lying, rain clouds blow over very quickly so rain will only be short lived. There are also usually less travellers during these months so that is a plus. We still had plenty of sunshine.

Happy Travels!

September is the best time to visit Southern Italy – Top 5 things to do in Apulia

If you are still in search for some sun bathing opportunities and warm weather in September head to the South of Italy, in Apulia region! You will love the food, relax in the true ‘Dolce vita’ style on the Adriatic coast and most importantly, pay half the price of a holiday in August.

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Just back from a road tripping week-end in the North of France – Le Touquet, Hardelot-Plage and Boulogne-sur-Mer

Against my own best advice as regards travelling in August, the weather in Belgium just managed to chase us out of the country once more. This time direction France, Nord-pas-de-Calais region. Now, this is not exactly the European South so we did not expect 30 + degrees and warm seas but we did want some sun and a change from the grey Brussels scenery.

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Blast from the past – how we spent 5 days in Malta in 2012

Most of my friends travel in August. I am doing everything possible to avoid travelling in August which is the European peak season and corresponds to traffic jams spanning from Spain to Greece (ok, a bit of an exaggeration but you get the picture) and airports testing their passenger capacity limits. My shoulder season preference is however often broken by family and friends visits that, on most occasions, require both a car and plane ride. So, week-end trips aside, I try to stand by the “No travel in August!” rule.

To fill the current ‘non-travelling’ time, I am compensating with some travel writing and travel planning. As I was recently sorting photos, I came across a few nice ones from Malta, so here is a short post of our tour there from a couple of years ago.

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A chill out August break in Copenhagen 

This week-end we visited friends living in Copenhagen. For us, visiting people living around the world is the best way to combine our two favourite things: travel and spending time with friends. Also it has the perk that you do go out with a local which is often much more interactive and informative than going out with the Lonely Planet guide. So, we try to do this quite often, especially around Europe.

Going back to Copenhagen, Continue reading “A chill out August break in Copenhagen “