Two families of five taking on the world with two 4 year olds included. Ah yes, we’re made of brave stuff.
I have to say that travel these days is so much easier than it used to be. Okay, it’s still hard to have a comfortable sleep in an economy class seat, but as far as keeping the children occupied on the 10 or 12 hour flights, the situation has vastly improved.
The entertainment system offers a screen in the seat in front of you and a huge variety of options, from movies, TV shows and games. There’s a special Kids section which kept our children completely transfixed. Bliss.
The vague focus of our trip was the Rugby World Cup, but that changed dramatically on that mild Cardiff evening when the All Blacks fell two points short of staying in the Cup.
What a night of contrasts, of ecstasy and agony that was!
The early part of the evening had the greatest atmosphere I’ve ever experienced as hordes of All Black fans proceeded to the Millennium Stadium. The stadium is right in the heart of Cardiff, a 5 minute walk from the town centre and everybody arrived en masse in great spirit.
But how that exciting and positive atmosphere changed as the game wore on and the All Blacks lost their way. It began to dawn on us that the long-held dream of another World Cup victory was at least another four years away.
I recall saying towards the end of the match when it was very close, that the next 13 minutes will be the longest of our trip. I still can’t believe it.
But after the absolute shock, unlike New Zealanders at home, we had the advantage of being able to forget about rugby and simply enjoy our family adventure in England and France. In fact it probably freed us up a bit.
Travelling with another family who had children roughly the same age as ours, proved a winner. Especially with the two four year olds in the party. There is no way you could impose a pre-schooler on another family if they didn’t have one to impose on you as well.
And the 4 year olds provided fantastic entertainment and a completely different perspective on various points of interest. They’re not necessarily impressed by the Eiffel Tower, or Big Ben. They have their own measure of importance.
We quickly realized that to keep the peace, if you bought a Dora the Explorer book for one you had to buy the exact same thing for the other.
You also had to get used to eventually carrying them around the various tourist attractions. They were really too old for push chairs yet too young to walk great distances, so Dad’s shoulders became the most consistent form of transport.
At times it was too much. For example we went to visit the Chateau in France that inspired the fairytale Sleeping Beauty. By the time we got to the Château D’Ussy after quite a long car journey, the magic had well and truly worn off for the 4 year old who declared “I don’t care that this is the sleeping beauty’s castle… she’s just a doll anyway . It’s not true and I want to go home!”
The thing you find with children is that they don’t necessarily share your delight at being in London or Paris. Often they simply need time out just to play and do their own thing and sometimes that comes at the expense of forgoing a visit to a tourist attraction.
Often the most memorable times are simply playing in the park just like the locals, or going to the local markets and trying to buy something using your school level French.
They did have one cute attraction at the supermarket. Mini trolleys for the children. Fantastic – our girls loved wandering up and down the aisles acting just like Mummy!
On our trip we had a very well organized yet flexible itinerary. It was mainly organised by our efficient mates and the 6 week journey went like clockwork.
There was never an issue about taking our children everywhere with us.
Restaurants and even pubs were very child friendly and welcoming and we noticed, particularly in France, that families tended to eat together in one big group rather than have the children separate or not included at all.
The true Frenchman has to have his five courses for lunch, before taking his siesta. There has to be soup, salad, meat of some sort and a dessert, then cheese and fruit. Joie de vivre.
In fact the French family lifestyle seemed so appealing.
They appear to have a much better balance in their lives. They work 35 hour weeks, have seven weeks holiday a year, take a good two hours out of the middle of the day to eat and rest and then work later into the evening.
There is a great emphasis on the meal and preparing it with the freshest products from the market. In fact it almost seems their whole day is based around what they are going to eat, from baguettes and cheese to crepes and reasonably priced wine. They also seem to appreciate and enjoy the fruits of the seasons.
Of course our 4 year old won’t really remember any of the trip, our 9 year old says she loved every minute of it , but it’s really the positive effect on our 14 year old that is most satisfying for us.
It is a great age to take kids overseas, giving them the opportunity to visit many of the places they will be studying at College in the years to come. Climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, wandering around Versailles, visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace or seeing where Winston Churchill lived and wrote his amazing speeches, are now very real images that make history come alive.