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British mummy blogger and travel blogger

The One with the African elephants

Remember that scene in Jurassic Park where they see dinosaurs for the first time, and they're in total… [more]

The One with the African elephants The One with the African elephants

Lions of the Serengeti

Everyone has an animal they want to see in the wild on their wish list; for me it was the big cats, and… [more]

Lions of the Serengeti Lions of the Serengeti

On safari in the Serengeti

By the time we arrived in the Serengeti it was early afternoon; it had taken three planes to get there,… [more]

On safari in the Serengeti On safari in the Serengeti

Fab advice from a best-selling author

So last week I went to the launch of P&O's Britannia and I was very fortunate that at dinner our… [more]

Fab advice from a best-selling author Fab advice from a best-selling author

The Message and White Lines

I'll let you in to a little secret. Tara Lara and I are *practically* the same age. So when she asked… [more]

The Message and White Lines The Message and White Lines

Amsterdam snapshots

I always think you can tell a lot about a city from how it looks in the rain. I was in Amsterdam for… [more]

Amsterdam snapshots Amsterdam snapshots

Win a gorgeous set of luggage for your next trip

When I set up The Mum Blog I decided that travel and family travel would be right at its core; that's… [more]

Win a gorgeous set of luggage for your next trip Win a gorgeous set of luggage for your next trip

My big African adventure

Ever since I first started travelling (and after I'd backpacked my way across the US) there have been… [more]

My big African adventure My big African adventure

The One with the African elephants

Remember that scene in Jurassic Park where they see dinosaurs for the first time, and they’re in total awe of the way they move – these wonderful mammals,  making their way across the bush? Well that’s what it’s like when you see African elephants in the wild for the first time. Because even if you’ve seen them in captivity, nothing can prepare you for the magic of seeing them walk freely (they’re faster than you’d imagine), using their trunks to gather the tastiest plants and trees as they travel, their ears flapping and the sound of their giant feet crunching the twigs and leaves beneath. I’m not ashamed to say that I started crying. They are so majestic and statuesque, and of course, while the rangers of the Serengeti are doing their best to protect them, they are also incredibly vulnerable.

young mail elephant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first elephant we saw was a young male, dark smokey grey with pristine white tusks. He moved with impressive speed and precision – it was incredible watching him go.

older elephant in the Serengeti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also saw an older elephant – approximately 45 – which was comforting; I think he clocked us watching him but he still carried on eating (that tree would have been gone in about five minutes).

Herd of African elephants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then the next day, shortly before we spotted the super pride of lions, an extraordinary piece of luck (because you never know what you’re going to get on safari in the Serengeti): we came across a herd of African elephants; all ages, including babies. It was an absolutely life-affirming moment – to know that against all the odds, this herd are surviving.

family of African elephants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved the way this family of African elephants walked together, all in a line…

African elephant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and this beautiful elephant seemed oblivious to us – he just wanted to carry on eating. We kept a respectful distance of course.

elephant familySeeing African elephants in the wild, the way they’re supposed to live, is an incredible feeling – and a reminder that it’s up to all of us to try and keep these spectacular animals safe.

Lions of the Serengeti

Everyone has an animal they want to see in the wild on their wish list; for me it was the big cats, and in particular the lions of the Serengeti. I wanted to see lions in their natural habitat for myself. I told you yesterday how we were lucky on our arrival to get a fantastic view of a male lion guarding his prey; on our game drives on days 2, 3 and 4 we went in search of more lions.

Super Pride of the SerengetiWe spotted a few lionesses lazing on top of a termite mound; and one dozing in a tree (I hadn’t actually realised that lions spend a lot of time up trees); just that bit too far away to get more than a glimpse with the binoculars, where we could clearly see their feline faces and their beautiful almond-shaped eyes. And then, something extraordinary happened: we came across a whole pride, lazing under the trees, watching a group of elephants. Following a slightly hairy moment when our jeep got stuck in the mud, we made our way over to have a closer look.

young lions

 

 

The younger cubs were sitting together, and seemed unphased by our arrival – they were more interested in watching the elephants over the road (although apparently lions rarely attack elephants – too big). Aren’t they gorgeous? It turned out that these young lions belong to one of the ‘Super Prides of the Serengeti’, so called because they have so many lions in their pride; no wonder they seem so chilled. Definitely safety in numbers.

lioness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This lioness looked straight at me; I love her big paws and the bemused expression on her face.

lioness yawning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then she yawned, showing her teeth.

What I loved about watching the lions is that they do behave just like cats – the way they saunter across the grass, lie down and flick their tails; at one point one of the lionesses in this pride licked behind her sister’s ears, giving her a wash; the younger ones yawned and played together like kittens. And of course because you’re seeing them without ANY barriers – just wild and free – they can wander where they like. It’s incredibly thrilling.

Three lionsThe wonderful golden hues of their fur gives them excellent camouflage in the long grasses of the Serengeti. As it was the rainy season (with lots of wildebeest and antelope around) they had all managed to eat well, which is probably why they were so content to laze in the sun.

Seeing the wild lions of the Serengeti this close up, watching them move and interact with each other was a total privilege, and a poignant reminder that animals like this belong in their natural environment, not cooped up in zoos or safari parks. I’m sure if we asked them they’d rather taken their chances and live out their days born free, like they’re supposed to be, than in some sort of prison, however big or ‘open’ the cage or fence. There are approximately 3,500 lions of the Serengeti, running free. One of the biggest threat to the cubs is male lions from other prides, who will kill them in an attempt to dominate their mothers. But the biggest threat, as ever, is man.

It breaks my heart to think that there are those who get a thrill out of ‘canned hunting’ – hunting and killing these beautiful creatures, for kicks. You have to believe in karma, really.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our elephant encounters.

On safari in the Serengeti

The SerengetiBy the time we arrived in the Serengeti it was early afternoon; it had taken three planes to get there, including one from London to Nairobi, one from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, and one 12-seater that flew just above the clouds, offering tantalising glimpses of the magnificent landscape below, including the Ngorongoro crater, as well as Maasai settlements and sweeping patches of vivid green bush covered in wildebeest – an advantage of visiting in the rainy season.

male lion in the Serengeti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the hour-long drive to our lodge we saw a cheetah, baboons, and this splendidly noble male lion, who was guarding his kill – a wildebeest – from four waiting vultures. He was magnificent (although the only male lion we saw while were on safari in the Serengeti).

Our first taste of safari in the Serengeti had been incredibly special – and the best was yet to come. We did five game drives in total, and also saw:

*Lionesses and lion cubs

*Elephants and their young

hippo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Hippos – big, fat, grey and pink; some wallowing in the water and some out of it, like this one who waddled in front of our jeep

African giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Countless giraffe (the national symbol of Tanzania), who our guide called the ‘African supermodel’. They really are stunning – they move so gracefully. I loved this beautiful female – so proud and fabulous…

young male giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…this young male…

shy giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and this one, who was apparently a bit shy and used a bush to hide her modesty

*Two leopards – we had to use binoculars to view them because one was up in a tree and one was on the top of a mountain, but trust me, they’re absolutely gorgeous

*A pack of African wild dogs (an endangered species, so we were very privileged; they were resting in the shade)

*Zebra galore

hyena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Hyena (much cuter than you might expect)

*Jackal, who look like little foxes

baboon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*LOTS of baboons (including this very large male baboon that appeared on my balcony; when I made a move to open the patio door, he clambered up on the roof – and then, like a petulant child, threw two tiles from the roof into the plunge pool).

*Dung beetles (rolling their dung as part of their mating ritual – trust me, it’s fascinating)

*Antelope, including the tiny dik dik and beautiful impala

*Buffalo

*Eagles

*Hawks

*Countless other birds, including an owl

*And of course lots of wildebeest, who never stop running

bush camp fireOne of my favourite moments was when we went for dinner on the top of a rocky outcrop (known as a kopje). We were sitting under the stars (the sky in the Serengeti is enormous), and suddenly we heard a low ‘whooping’ noise; it was lions – they don’t really ‘roar'; closely followed by hyenas. Knowing we were that close to these wonderful animals, in the wild, was an incredible feeling.

Sunrise at the Four Seasons Serengeti

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this was the view from my suite at the lodge; during the dry season all kinds of animals come to the watering hole, including elephants. I don’t think you could ever get tired of this view.

I knew I’d fall in love with Africa, but I didn’t realise how quickly, and how deeply. It’s the kind of place that gets under your skin and into your heart – and trust me, once you’ve seen wild animals in their natural habitat, yes their intense vulnerability but also how utterly contented and free to roam they are, it will make you wish for the freedom of every incarcerated animal that belongs in the wild. We didn’t see rhino; I was told that there are rhino in the Serengeti, but because of poaching they are now clustered in one area, which sadly was too far for us to reach. Many (not all) of the species in the Serengeti are protected, but all the animals are still at risk from poaching. One of the biggest problems is that people trying to catch antelope to eat will put wire between trees to trip them up – and the lions end up cutting themselves on the wire. Poison is used on the leaves the elephants like to eat to fell them so they can be caught for their ivory; it’s a terrible, ongoing problem, and of course the Serengeti is just one of the national parks in Africa.

But the overwhelming feeling you get from going on safari in the Serengeti is one of absolute privilege; you’re in the real animal kingdom – and it’s utterly captivating. And by the way, all these photos are #nofilter; the light in the Serengeti is exceptional.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you more about the lions we saw on safari in the Serengeti.

 

 

 

Cute videos for kids who love planes

Do your kids love flying and everything to do with planes? When No 1 Son was little he had a whole collection of planes, and as he grew up he also loved building those model kits. And of course if your children do love everything to do with planes then it makes taking them on holiday that much easier.

KLM Bluey 01One of our favourite airlines for family travel is definitely KLM – maybe it’s because they’re Dutch but they seem to have a natural affinity with children and know how to keep them entertained on flights. And they’ve just released a new series of short films starring their adorable little mascot, Bluey, and his friends. If you’re getting to that end of Easter holidays phase and wondering what else you can do with them, it’s definitely worth showing them the videos – and if you’re planning on taking the kids on their first flight, it’s a fantastic way of getting them excited about their trips. Since Bluey launched last November he has proved a big hit with their younger travellers.

The first movie features Bluey, his dad and his friend Windy in an exciting adventure at the annual Zundert flower parade in Holland. Just click below to watch it. Enjoy :)

Travel: Feeling the fear, doing it anyway

So on Friday evening I fly to Nairobi on the first leg of my African adventure. I was OK about flying to Nairobi until the events of last week; and even though I’m only changing planes in Kenya, I can’t help feeling a little nervous now, particularly when Man of the House suddenly asked me if I’d made a will.

When a friend and I were recruiting for a new magazine launch a few years back, a recruitment expert told us we should ask potential candidates: ‘what’s your attitude to risk’? It was a fantastic way of identifying the right candidates for the project, and it also reminded me that I’m a HUGE risk-taker, in all aspects of my life. I have a strong ‘fight or flight’ mentality, and I’m never afraid to meet challenges head on – or walk away when I know it’s the right thing to do. And that’s particularly true of travel: my attitude to travel has always been: feel the fear, do it anyway, because life is so short, you have to live every minute to the full, right? It’s the reason I went backpacking with friends across the US when I left uni, staying in some alarmingly dodgy places and going wayyyy off the beaten track; it’s the reason I learned to scuba dive and snorkel, tried surfing and kayaking and parascending and skydiving at sea, snowmobiling and ATV-riding and all that adrenaline-junkie stuff; it’s the reason I pushed myself to climb to the top of Angkor Wat even though I suffer from terrible acrophobia.

As a mum I don’t take risks with No 1 Son’s life, apart from taking him in a helicopter, because that’s up to him to do when he’s ready, but I will push the limits in my own. I’m no Bear Grylls, of course, but I think if travel takes you outside of your natural comfort zone, and introduces you to something (or someone) new and unexpected and utterly wonderful, then it’s definitely worth experiencing.

giraffes serengetiAlthough I’ve decided not to do a balloon ride over the Serengeti, I think that my African adventure probably has plenty of potential excitement, but hopefully not too much drama in store. And that’s before I’ve started taking the malaria tablets ;)

Review: Zipjet drycleaning

Clothes for dry-cleaningOK, first of all, I’m really not Monica Geller. I don’t get a kick out of hanging round dry-cleaners, watching the clothes go round – particularly on my precious days off. But working as a magazine editor and travel writer means that I have accumulated a wardrobe of clothes that are mostly dry-clean only. So when Zipjet asked me if I’d like to try out their mobile dry-cleaning service when I got back from Amsterdam I jumped at the chance (plus, I really like the name). Here’s my honest review of the experience:

Booking

This was all done online, and it was incredibly straightforward. After registering, I selected the time slot for pick up (choosing from 30 minute slots), and the time I wanted the clothes returned. I chose a Friday evening pick up, and a Sunday afternoon return.

Pick up

Zipjet bagI received a text to tell me the Zipjet driver was on his way, and he arrived promptly at the time I’d booked, bearing gifts: special cotton bags for me to put the drycleaning in (or washing, if I needed any of that doing) which I could keep, plus, a handmade brownie (#win). I tried not to get too concerned that the driver didn’t write down what I was giving him; he simply took the bag, and off he went. Shortly afterwards I received an email confirmation itemising everything I’d given the driver, and it was all there.

Return

dry-cleaningOn the Sunday morning I received another text to tell me the Zipjet driver was on his way. This time he arrived 20 minutes after the time slot I’d booked; I guess you have to allow for heavy traffic, and fortunately I wasn’t going out anywhere. On the plus side, my clothes looked immaculate, and they were all there, nothing missing, no zips broken or anything like that. Plus they smelled good, too – not the usual overpowering dry-cleaning smell, just clean and fresh.

Pricing

The cost of the dry-cleaning was easily comparable to our local dry cleaners: £16 for my winter coat seemed reasonable, and £8 for some of my dresses is actually much cheaper than I’ve paid elsewhere.

Conclusion

Although I was slightly disappointed that the return was a little later than expected, it was really only a small delay, and I would definitely use Zipjet again. Like the name suggests, it’s fast, efficient, and ideal if you’re busy and don’t want to cart your clothes to/from the dry cleaners. Plus, the brownie was a really nice touch :) It’s a shame they’re only in London at the moment – hopefully they’ll roll out nationwide in the not too distant future.

*Disclaimer: Zipjet gave me a voucher to review their dry-cleaning experience. I did not receive payment for this post.

 

An evening with Conchita Wurst at the Vienna Sphere

The Vienna SphereLast night – as London’s Covent Garden and the Strand were shrouded in darkness thanks to the electrical fault – I found myself in a plastic bubble at Somerset House. The bubble is actually the Vienna Sphere, celebrating all things Viennese. Not that I need much encouragement to celebrate everything Viennese, because ever since No 1 Son and I visited for the first time a few years ago we’ve been in love with Vienna; the baroque architecture, the museums, the squares and fountains, the music, the cool vibe and the delicious dark chocolately velvety Sachertorte – it’s an absolute winner for a city break. But an added attraction of going to the Vienna Sphere last night was the prospect of seeing a live performance by the one and only Conchita Wurst.

Conchita Wurst performing at the Vienna SphereIf like me you watched the Eurovision Contest for the first time in YEARS in 2014 and were absolutely wowed by Conchita then you’ll know why the sphere was packed with journos and bloggers desperate to see her sing. And when she emerged into the dry ice, her voice as clear and powerful as a bell as she sung ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ (the song she won Eurovision with), everyone was absolutely enchanted.

Conchita WurstShe’s teeny tiny – sorry but I couldn’t resist taking a photo of her from the back – and she’s exquisitely beautiful. Amazing, frankly, and respect to Austria and of course Vienna for embracing her and showing that everyone has the right to be completely accepted for who they are. I big fluffy heart Conchita Wurst, and I know everyone who was at the Vienna Sphere last night felt exactly the same.

The good news is you can go and see a 360° multimedia show, which includes a recording by Conchita Wurst as well as images and music to create the Vienna vibe, at the Vienna Sphere until 4 April – and it’s completely free. If you happen to be in Covent Garden or at the Southbank over the next few days it’s definitely worth a visit.

 

The One with the dog portrait

As you know, Yoda had a pretty rough start in life; he was a rescue puppy, saved from drowning, and it took a lot of hard work to settle him in and help him feel comfortable with humans. But he’s grown up into the most beautiful dog, with gorgeous honey-coloured fur, sandy eyelashes and chocolate-brown eyes. Even when he takes something out of the bin and drags it across the sitting room floor, it’s impossible to get cross. He’s just too loveable.

dog portraitSo when artist Clive Hemsley offered to paint a portrait of Yoda, I was intrigued. Clive is an accomplished artist who uses a wide variety of mixed media substances to create his work. And he also produces dog portraits – you simply email him a photo of your pooch, and he takes care of the rest.

Our dog portrait of Yoda arrived this week, and as you can see, it’s pretty spectacular. I think Clive has brilliantly captured Yoda’s personality, the look of innocence combined with devilment in his eyes, and the colour of his fur. What do you think? The eyes definitely seem to follow you round the room – just like Yoda does, in fact. I think a painting like this would make a fantastic gift for a dog-lover.

(If you’re interested in commissioning a dog portrait from Clive you can find out more here.)

Amsterdam snapshots

Amsterdam in the rainI always think you can tell a lot about a city from how it looks in the rain. I was in Amsterdam for a few days last week and although it poured down pretty much all the time (and we got caught up in the mahoosive power cut that affected the whole of north Holland on the way home), the Dutch capital was as charming as ever.

ranunculusI’ve always had a soft spot for Amsterdam – partly because my favourite aunt is Dutch, but also because I love strolling along by the canals, the houses with their big windows, the culture (I think warming a stroopwafel on the top of a cup of coffee so the caramel melts into sticky deliciousness must be one of the most yummy inventions ever), the fact that there’s art everywhere you look, and, of course, the flowers; the exquisite, vivid orange of these ranunculus was so beautiful I couldn’t resist buying some bulbs to grow at home. A little piece of Amsterdam for the window sill.

family of bikes AmsterdamIf you get the chance to visit, I’d definitely recommend going in the spring, when there are flowers everywhere you look, or just before Christmas, when there’s ice-skating in Dam Square. Amsterdam is also a very family-friendly city, so ideal for a family city break and a great way to get the kids interested in art. And you can always hire bikes to get around (here’s a whole family of bikes).

Here are some more Amsterdam snapshots – enjoy :)

Win a gorgeous set of luggage for your next trip

When I set up The Mum Blog I decided that travel and family travel would be right at its core; that’s why the header features two little passports – one to represent me, and one for No 1 Son, and why the tagline is ‘a magical rollercoaster journey’. Since the blog launched four years ago we’ve had some incredible adventures (and if you’d like to nominate The Mum Blog in the travel category in this year’s Brilliance in Blogging Awards, well, that would be AMAZING *flutters eyelashes, hopeful grin*).

Of course one side-effect of all that travelling is that our luggage is looking decidedly worse for wear, which is why I’m drooling over this fabulous prize giveaway to kick off the 4th blogoversary celebrations of The Mum Blog.

Constellation 3 Piece Galloway ABS Set PinkThere’s no chance of mistaking the beautiful pink Constellation Galloway 3-piece ABS luggage set on the carousel. All of the cases boast 4 multidirectional wheels so that they glide alongside you, making it much easier to navigate through a crowded airport or city. The cabin case is compact enough to fit in the hold but has room for all your essentials for a weekend getaway; and the larger cases are ideal for family holidays as well as long-haul travel. An added bonus is that they have a combination lock, so they’ll keep all your belongings secure. And, they’re pink #win.

Here’s what the cases measure:

  • Small: 57 x 38 x 23 cm
  • Medium: 66 x 44 x 25 cm
  • Large: 77 x 51.5 x 27.5 cm

Available from Littlewoods, the RRP of this gorgeous luggage set is £199, but I’m giving you the chance to win one in my easy prize draw.

All you have to do to enter is leave your answer to the following question by the closing date, 11.59pm on 30 March 2015. The winner will be chosen at random and the usual The Mum Blog competition rules apply.

Q: Where are you going on your next trip?

Good luck! And if you want some advice on how to pack then this Louis Vuitton video on packing tips is still one of my absolute favourites.

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