In April 2014, we had a week’s stint at a self-catering place in Provence. As Alastair was driving home, he said, ‘That was fun but I don’t feel as relaxed as I would like.’ The reason for this is because when you have children, holidays are divided into two new categories – trips and breaks.
Breaks occur when you switch off and completely unwind. This generally means that children do not participate in this kind of down time. The only opportunity I have for a decent, guilt-free break is when my mom is here and I can snooze on my bed without a care in the world.
Trips are when you go away as a family, such as when we went to Provence. Trips are paradoxes. They sap your energy on one hand but fill your tank on the other. Trips are opportunities for family bonding. You can give each other the full beam of your attention and this is precious. Like most children, Megan and Jessica don’t do morning lie-ins, leisurely meals or chilling on a deck chair next to the pool. This is why, when you return from a trip, you often feel as if you could do with a holiday from your holiday.
A few weekends ago, we went to Samoens in France for a night and the journey back was intense because it was mid-afternoon and we didn’t strategically coordinate it around naptime.
By the time we arrived home, both girls were crying with hysterical abandon. Al gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles. He allows noise, tears and persistent whinging to get to him far more than I do. My mind is a soundboard with many channels so I drown out annoying whines by detaching and tuning them out. That is why I could think straight enough to record the noise (attached below, so I can show the little monkeys when they are older). If you listen to this hysteria for any length of time during a journey, you are sure to be frazzled and not at all zenned when you arrive at your destination.
This week we took a trip (not a complete break) to the Black Forest in Germany. We stayed for 5 nights at a super all-inclusive family hotel with constant entertainment for children.
The hotel’s mascot was a cartoon character called ‘Happy’ which I loved because, as you know, I am into happiness. I’m using my 2015 daily Happiness Jar to teach my girls that happiness is an action word – it is something you do, rather than something you hope to feel.
I expected this hotel to be more international with an English flavour but, no, it was 100% German (which was understandable since they are located in Germany after all). I couldn’t understand a thing. Menus, signposts, instructions and pamphlets may as well have been written in hieroglyphics. I was lost and disoriented, as if I misplaced my glasses and couldn’t decipher the blur around me.
I was so chuffed that when a waiter or another guest said something like, ‘Hallo. Bitte guten danke ich liebe dich …’, I could say, ‘Um. Sorry. Do you speak English or French?’ After busting myself for the past 5 years, I am finally able to offer French as a communication option. Another breakthrough!
Trips are less tiring if you don’t need to cook or clean up. I’m weary of self-catering holidays which relocate many of my usual domestic responsibilities to different scenery.
Meals at the hotel were quick affairs, the same as when we were in Wengen and ate a 4-course dinner in 20 minutes. A typical meal was like a chimps’ tea party. Jessica would break free and stand up on her high chair, teetering on the top as if she was about to bungee jump off the side of it. She flung her food on the floor and tipped over her plate. She stretched for the knives and forks. Megan once spilled water on her dress, pulled it off and then wandered into the buffet area in her underpants. At almost every meal, someone at our table tipped over a cup. We ate most meals in 45 minutes or under and that included a few main courses and a couple of desserts for Al. I noticed most other families in the dining room operated in the same fashion. It seemed normal, thank goodness.
After 5 days of constant buffets, I felt swollen and heavy, as if I’d been inflated with a bicycle pump. It’s my own fault for having so little restraint. I am not as bad as Al though. He loves all-inclusives. I reckon his favourite meal is a buffet. I tried to reign in my criticism but one morning when he trotted to the table with Coco Pops, he said, ‘I sense you judging me’. I did let slip the odd jibe such as ‘I see you are funnelling Coke today’ or ‘Do you really need another slice of roast beef with gravy? You’ve just had dessert.’
I bought a cuckoo clock as a souvenir. Al suggested that if I want something so quintessentially German, then I should rather buy it from the same place the locals get theirs instead of from a tourist trap like Titisee. I asked a local where ordinary Germans get their clocks and he said, ‘I have never in all my life met a German that has a cuckoo clock.’
It seems I was a sucker on that front but I still adore my new clock. At least I am not as much of a stereotypical tourist as the Asians. It’s been high season so on all our recent trips, I’ve come across loads of them as they’ve burst out of coaches, waving selfie sticks and covered in electronics. Why is it that Asian tourists always, I mean always, pull a peace sign in photos?
I want to rip off those long fancy lenses that bounce across their chests like elephant trunks and say, ‘Stop frantically taking so many photos! Appreciate your surroundings through your own eyes, not through a lens.’ When we were on our Wengen trip, we were joined in an alpine restaurant by two Asian ladies wearing hospital masks. It put me off my fondue because I was concerned they had something contagious. The concierge at our hotel said that Chinese guests’ lungs and nasal systems are so stuffed up by pollution that they can’t even cope breathing in some of the freshest air on earth. How depressing is that?
The French word for appreciate is profiter. Oh how I love that word. Recently we’ve been on a few short family trips – not breaks – but I’ve still profited from them, big time. Even though long drives and meal times may be frazzling, it’s as if I arrive home richer for the experience, like I have collected new shiny gold coins that are jingling in my pocket.