Ever since George was born a little over a year ago now, I've had a fear of going away on holiday with them. Travelling with a newborn is tough, but travelling with a newborn and a 2 year old? That is simply not going to happen! When I talk to others, I always explain, a holiday with kids isn't really like a holiday, is it? It's more like the same shit you deal with, day in and day out at home, just made harder because you're not in your usual environment and you don't have all the stuff you actually need! I know holidays are about relaxing and family time, but I honestly believe the stress of it all just cancels out all the good stuff. I'm a glass-half-empty kinda gal, in case you hadn't guessed.
So it's taken up until now for me to feel strong enough (read, "be persuaded”) to attempt it, and that's only with me setting some pretty strict rules I was not willing to deviate from.
Firstly, we are NOT going to fly. I find airports stressful at the best of times, and with two kids in tow I just don't think I would make it through whilst staying sane. Airport security is pretty tight these days and if you show even the slightest sign of being a crazy person, they'll cart you off to a locked room (so actually it's surprising that parents travelling with their kids aren't kicked out of airports more often). So with that said, wherever we're going, we're driving.
Secondly, we are finding somewhere that's kid friendly. The amount of paraphernalia you have to take with you when you have kids is just ludicrous, so anywhere that can provide some of that shit for me gets a tick in my book.
And lastly, the place has to have reliably good weather and a pool. Louis has recently fallen in love with the water and so I had rosey visions of the four of us spending all day messing around in the pool, playing games, laughing and having fun. Sounds like a total dream.
Not too hard, I hear you say. Well, seemingly not. We found a well equipped villa in the south of France with everything we were looking for. We booked the Eurotunnel, we went shopping for holiday clothes and we got set to go.
Day One - Where It Goes Wrong
Things did not get off to a good start. My two year old doesn't "do" mornings. Left in peace he'll normally sleep until 10.30ish, and yes, I know, I'm the luckiest Mum in the world, I can hear you all saying. The problem arises when he actually has to get up early for something, and waking him is worse than dealing with a stroppy teenager. We had to be on the road by 7.15am, so it was a wrestling match to tackle him into the seat and strap him down, and you can forget any of the important stuff like breakfast or brushing his teeth.
We borrowed the in-law's car, as it’s newer than ours and would be, or so we thought, more comfortable, more spacious, more reliable and more fuel efficient. Well, tick for the last one. But actually, it turns out the space inside has just been "reassigned", and that extra big boot we so excitedly filled with all our crap, simply meant that the four of us were cramped into a much smaller space inside the car. I therefore got to endure 17 hours of driving with my two year old kicking the back of my seat, pretending his feet were in fact, a car, going over a "big bump". I probably would have been able to handle this, had it not been for the fact that the air con decided to pack up on us, almost immediately after we pulled off the driveway. Not only were we travelling through England across one of the hottest weekends of the year, but France was tipping the mercury at 36 degrees, so as you can imagine, tempers in the car flared.
But vehicular problems didn't stop there. The delightful Sat Nav in this fabulous car we had so gratefully borrowed, had a mind of it's own. Despite distinctly selecting a route which had us avoid Paris, suddenly, we look up and, oh, what's that in the distance? It's the Eiffel Fucking Tower. Right. So Paris it is then. And in Paris, there is one weekend a year where literally everyone packs up and leaves the city to head off on their jolly holidays to the seaside, causing guaranteed traffic chaos. And, of course, it’s this weekend. A journey which should have taken 8 hours was now pushing 12, and with not a roadside stop or service station in sight (because apparently these aren't all that popular in La France) I had to get my husband to pull over onto a building site on the side of the motorway, just so that I could get out of the car, have a panic attack and literally scream until I felt a little bit better. Probably a good job we didn't take a plane really.
When we finally arrived at our overnight stop, we were met with the most pleasant surprise. The Ibis hotel we had booked (which, let's face it, are normally pretty...well, shit) only turned out to be the nicest bloody Ibis in the whole world. Lounge areas, iPads for the kids, a pool, a huge play park, a well stocked bar. Everything you could want. It was literally like a boutique London design hotel. A shame then, that it was 9pm, the kids hadn't eaten or been changed all day, we were all hot and sweaty and tired and, quite frankly, pissed off. We attempted to feed the two rugrats dinner in the restaurant, which cost us an arm and a leg for two kids meals which didn't get touched, and mostly ended up on the floor, much to the disgusted look of the french waiters. At least the husband and I were able to down three large glasses of wine each to make ourselves feel a bit better.
I could go into grand detail about the bedtime routine that night, but it's been a long day already so lets just summarise it with: two overtired kids, two overtired parents, one bedroom to share between all four of us, a 2 year old who had never slept in a big bed before, one huge novelty, a long night, a game of sleep tag (TAG! I’m awake and now so are you!) and hardly any of the actual good zzz's.
Day Two - Can We Start Again Please?
But not to worry. You're a parent right? This is what you do. Wake up the next morning, and simply start again, despite a banging headache from the wine and needing to prop your eyes open with matchsticks. Did someone say holiday? Because right now this feels like a form of torture.
A breakfast buffet at a hotel is always an exciting sight isn't it? And this one was no exception. We cruised through the croissants, the crepes, the cold meats and the crumpets, drooling in anticipation as we found a good table right next to the coffee machine so that we could be hooked up to it via an IV drip.
But then the bubble bursts and you remember, shit, you've got kids. The youngest of which is screaming in his pram because he's so hungry, so you've got the entire restaurant staring daggers at you because you're ruining their peaceful Saturday morning brekkie. Well sorry guys, but I’m hardly making memories over here either. Oh, and the eldest is STILL refusing to eat. That's four meals in a row he's now missed, and he's decided on top of it all, he's going to become a little brat. 45 minutes of total chaos ensues, trying to scoff your own food down whilst bargaining with a two and a half year old to PLEASE eat something, ANYTHING, all whilst he's riding around the restaurant on his Trunki suitcase with a giant poo in his nappy. The one saving grace is that, in France, the camembert smells stronger than the shit, so I don't think anyone else actually noticed this last bit.
We leave the hotel much the same way we arrived. Tired, stressed and at breaking point. The hotel staff practically saluted us out the door and then swiftly locked it behind us, no doubt worried our presence would put a black mark on their impeccable trip advisor rating. And I can hardly blame them. I would have left myself a terrible fucking review.
Back in the sweat box that is our chosen form of transport and back on the road for another 7 hours of family fun, the windows rolled down along the autoroute at 130km per hour, not because it's so bloody hot in the car but because the noise of the wind actually drains out the noise coming from the two kids in the back.
Once again the Sat Nav decides at some point to entirely reroute our journey without telling us. Who knew that the tiny D roads through southern France were so pretty? Well, we can certainly vouch for them, because we spent 4 hours longer than we should have done driving around them, with speed limits designed for a horse and cart. It is testament to how pissed off I was, that I didn’t even get my husband to stop when we passed the most stunning sunflower field. I mean, think of the Instagram opportunities with that one!
Conversation in the car ran quickly dry (much like our sense of humours), but the husband was struggling to stay awake through the highway fatigue and the heat, so we played that oh-so-fun game of "Name All 50 States of the USA" (N.B. he's American so that doesn't actually take as long as you might think) followed but that other oh-so-fun game of "Name the Capital Cities of All 50 States of the USA". Are you having fun yet, I can hear you asking? The only other topic of conversation was the villa we were headed for. We just kept saying, we hope it's good. Actually, we hope it's better than good. We hope it exceeds all our expectations and blows us away, and is a stunning little sanctuary to save us from all of the shit of the last 48 hours.
Well, I can confirm, actually, it was. Kudos to the couple who had taken an old cow barn and renovated into this beautiful holiday home, because they did a bloody good job. AND, to tick another requirement off my list (which feels like a long time ago now, I know) they had literally supplied everything you could ever need. Baby cots, highchairs, change mats, plastic plates, plastic cutlery, socket covers, baby baths, toy chests, nappies, wipes, nappy sacks, stair gates, play pens, pool toys, the LOT. Just out of interest guys, you don't fancy looking after the actual kids yourselves for the next week by any chance, do you?
For the adults, there was red wine, coffee, cold meats, fresh croissants and triple fucking glazing so that when the kids finally did go to bed that night (which was post 10pm, by the way, and included yet another round of sleep tag) we could go outside, shut the windows and doors and scream our frustrations out into the french countryside, without the risk of waking them up.
It'll all be better in the morning we tell ourselves, as we drift into an uneasy sleep filled with dreams of cleaning up camemberts with baby wipes from inside a Trunki suitcase...