Earlier this week I came across the #Take12Trips Challenge, a challenge to take a trip once a month for a year – it could be a holiday abroad, a weekend break, a day out or a visit to a museum or other local attraction. I love the idea of taking on this challenge to travel more in 2016, following along with other participating bloggers and continuing to document our days out and family travel through the year here on the blog. Before getting started with this year’s challenge, I’m having a look back at our days out and vacations in 2015 and amazed at how much we managed to squeeze in!
At the beginning of 2015, I made a similar challenge to myself to get out and explore more around London with Little T, which eventually led to launching this blog in April. I managed to tick quite a lot of places off my bucket list while discovering plenty of new ones! 2016 marks ten years since we moved from Boston to London and in addition to exploring more around the city, I’m planning a few road trips to see other parts of England.
For overseas family travel, we had a two-week summer family vacation in Hawaii and a trip to San Diego to see my family (which I did solo with Little T), along with 7 trips to Mr. G’s hometown of Fano, Italy, over the year. We usually visit Fano for holidays and over the summer but last year we made a couple of extra visits since in November, Mr. G and two business partners launched Fano’s first CrossFit box, CrossFit Factory Lab, which was also very exciting news for us!
Now here’s a look back at what we were up to in what ended up being a very busy 2015. I have a backlog of blog posts so do stay tuned for more photos and details of the days out and trips I haven’t written about yet.
After spending Christmas with my in-laws, we rang in the New Year in Fano and stuck around for a few days before making our way back to London. Although chilly and windy, it was lovely to be out by the water (Fano is on the Adriatic Sea) especially whenever the sun was out.
Our first day out of the year in London was at Richmond Park. I’m always amazed at how you can be somewhere so close and feel completely removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. I plan on spending more time this year visiting other parks around London. Little T always loves the chance to run around and explore nature. We saw plenty of deer around but kept our distance.
At the beginning of February, we were back in Fano for a visit related to CrossFit Factory Lab. Little T and I enjoyed catching up with my in-laws and taking our morning walks around the city centre which is partly surrounded by ancient Roman walls. It’s fascinating to be walking amidst so much history whenever we’re there, such as the remains of this Roman castle.
Back in London, Little T and I stopped by Chinatown to have a look at the Chinese New Year lanterns and decorations. That day didn’t go as planned. The service at the restaurant we went to for lunch was so horrible that I packed us up and left before ordering. It was too late to go to another restaurant so I just picked up pork buns at the Golden Gate Cake Shop which we ate on the street (those actually ended up being the highlight of the day). It was also near impossible to get anything at a shop bringing the stroller around. That said, with all the hiccups, it was good fun to be in that bustling part of town and see a part of the festivities.
Visiting the Science Museum in South Kensington had me wishing we still lived just down the road! Little T had a blast in the Garden, a play area and discovery zone in the museum’s basement. So much to do there, including playing at the water table, which was the highlight for Little T. I’m planning to visit some museums during the dreary days of winter, and returning to the Science Museum is high on the list.
Windsor Castle has been on my bucket list for a while, and we took a morning to explore the castle grounds and State Apartments. We moved through the exhibits a lot quicker than the average visitor but it was a fun experience and I enjoyed visiting this beautiful castle!
One more museum to tick off the list was the London Transport Museum located in Covent Garden. Little T had a blast on the ground floor, having a look inside tube carriages and sitting in the driver’s seat of a red bus. Definitely another one to go back to that will always be a hit with him!
We headed back to Fano for the Easter holiday. This photo was taken on a morning walk in the countryside after the rain cleared.
It was a beautiful day when we went to lunch in the hills at Agriturismo La Grotta with a stunning view of the Marche countryside and the Adriatic Sea.
During that week, we also went inland to the lovely town of Fossombrone and, on an another day, to the seaside Cattolica Aquarium. This year I plan on making more small trips around the Marche and Emilia-Romagna regions, including returning to some towns and cities we haven’t been to in a while (e.g. Gradara, Riccione and Urbino).
On an exceptionally warm day in April, we headed over to the nearby Hounslow Urban Farm. Little T had a great time seeing the animals while I pushed him around on a ride-on tractor. He’s become a big animal lover and I foresee many more visits to farms and petting zoos this year!
Also in April, we visited the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, about a 40 minute drive outside of London. This was primarily for me – I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and had been dying to go for a while! Overall I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at how the movies were made and checking out the sets, but to be honest, it was a bit of a difficult afternoon. Little T just started to drop his second nap and the timing was really off; the tour I had booked ended up being right when he would be due to nap, so we arrived with him overtired and very cranky. We came back in December for Hogwarts in the Snow and had a great time, I’ll be posting about both visits soon.
We also went to Cutty Sark, the tea clipper ship and museum located in Greenwich which offers a load of hands-on activities suitable for young children. On my bucket list for this year is to head back to Greenwich to visit the National Maritime Museum.
We spent most of May going to various local activities and playgroups and we took a day out to the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, an hour’s away from London in Bedfordshire. I drove the car around Passage through Asia, driving past deer, yaks and camels and then, while we were walking around, we lucked out with a surprise encounter with the elephants out on their daily walk. It was a fun day and there was still plenty left to see to make another trip later on in the summer. I also signed up for a ZSL membership before this visit which has turned out to be great value.
Mr. G and I agreed that strawberry picking at Crockford Bridge Farm was one of our favorite family activities of the year and we plan on heading back to a pick-your-own farm again this summer.
I’m considering becoming a member at Kew Gardens since we’ve been there quite a few times since moving to Chiswick and I love the events and activities they have year-round, like the past summer’s Full of Spice event. Coming up next in February is an Orchids festival celebrating Brazil’s colorful plants and flowers with a carnival theme in the gardens, which sounds fantastic. And I know I’ll be booking the Christmas at Kew event way in advance as I was very disappointed that tickets sold out very quickly – I would have loved to see the after dark lights in the gardens.
For the second half of June, we were back in Fano, enjoying some summer sunshine and plenty of time at the beach. I loved seeing Little T play on the beach with his new friends and venture out more into the water, paddling with the help of my father-in-law or riding on a canoe. He had a great time and is shaping up to love water sports and being by the ocean like his parents!
Our big family vacation of the year was for two weeks on Oahu, Hawaii, to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary. We stayed at the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki and took day trips up to the North Shore and Kailua during our stay. There was so much we enjoyed about the trip, although it wasn’t always easy with a toddler especially in the evening. Hawaii is such an amazing place with so much to see and do – definitely a place I’d love to go back to again.
After a week or so in London recovering from jetlag, Little T and I were back to exploring the city’s attractions with a visit to the WWT London Wetland Centre which is truly an oasis in the city. Little T loved watching the otters being fed and spending most of the time at the playground, which has plenty of activities including a fantastic water table. Definitely a place to go back to for the beautiful scenery, and especially in the summertime for the fun play area.
Also in August, we returned to the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, where the highlight for Little T was definitely the pygmy goats at the petting zoo. He has become such an animal lover and loves interacting with them! We also saw the penguins, the butterfly house and drove around the Passage through Asia.
I also made it just in time to the beautiful Mayfield Lavender Farm to take photographs and tick that off our summer bucket list – they had already started harvesting half the farm that day!
We traveled back to Fano for the first week of September, catching up with my in-laws and enjoying our last summer days at the beach.
Then, once we were back home, Little T and I went to the fantastic Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park.
October was the only full month we had in London since May and it ended up being packed with days out! At the beginning of the month, we visited Holland Park (one of my favorite places in London) and Duke Meadows in Chiswick, then had a day out at Bocketts Farm Park in Surrey. That visit to Bocketts was great fun, with Little T feeding goats, sheeps and cows, watching a pig race and taking a tractor ride around the free-range farm.
I have few posts to catch up on from the last months of 2015, our visit to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill being one. The free museum has a huge taxidermy collection, including the famous Horniman overstuffed walrus, and plenty of interactive exhibits throughout to entertain young children. We visited the aquarium (tickets are £1.65 children age 3 and up and £3.85 adult) which we both enjoyed. Little T walked around with one of the plastic steps that he’d put in front of each tank for a better look.
I’ve been making the most of our ZSL membership since May and in October, we headed over to the London Zoo, where we saw the spider walk-through in the B.U.G.S. exhibit (which as a whole was very interesting), the squirrel monkeys walk-through (also fun to watch), the meerkats, the pygmy goats at the petting zoo and the penguins.
With Halloween coming up, we went to the pumpkin patch at Garsons Farm in Esher, Surrey to pick pumpkins to make a few jack-o-lanterns. It was pouring down around the time we arrived but we managed to find a 15 minute window when the rain paused to choose three pumpkins from the patch.
Kew Gardens was the perfect spot to take in the autumn foliage and frolic in the fallen leaves. We went on the 18-metre high Treetop Walkway for an amazing view of the tree canopies and gardens.
The beginning of November saw Little T and me traveling to San Diego, California, to spend time with my side of the family. The journey was long and Little T struggled with jet lag during most of the trip but overall we had a good time catching up with my family. Whenever we had the chance, we were out and about exploring some of the beautiful sights and attractions of my hometown. We went to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Museum in Balboa Park, Pacific Beach (where Mr. G and I used to live before Boston), La Jolla Cove, Mission Beach and Coronado Island. San Diego is such a wonderful city – I miss living there and I’m glad we made the most of visiting the seaside on this trip!
We both really struggled with jet lag once we were back in London. I usually find myself getting over jet lag after a day or so, but it proved difficult to recover each time after both long haul trips staying up until 4am with Little T! Back in September, I had booked us in for a 12pm visit to Harrods Grotto only three days after our return from San Diego. I was worried it would be a rough day but fortunately we managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep the night before and had a good time at Harrods. Little T enjoyed the activities and games before we went in to meet Father Christmas, then afterwards we went for lunch at the Disney Café and made a stop at the Toy Kingdom. It may have been mid-November but London was already all lit up and decorated for Christmas and it was a fun way to get into the holiday spirit!
We also spent an afternoon out at the National Trust site at Ankerwycke in Surrey. Also on the bucket list for 2016 is to visit more National Trust sites around the area.
At the end of the month, we were back in Fano for the opening of Mr. G’s new CrossFit box – the first in Fano, CrossFit Factory Lab! There was a great turnout for the open day which featured free trial classes and demo workouts.
Kicking off our days out in December was a visit to the London Zoo, where we took a different route through the zoo to see the lemurs, the rainforest exhibit, the giraffes and zebras, before making our way back to the main part for lunch, a stop at the playground and then finally, visiting Little T’s favorites at Penguin Beach.
Again, as a big Harry Potter fan, I was very excited to book another visit to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter for the special Hogwarts in the Snow event. I even watched the first Harry Potter movie with Little T the day before so he could recognise bits of the movie when we were going through the studio. At over 2 years old, Little T was certainly more involved than the last visit although the tour is geared for 4 years and above. The only part that I found “challenging” both times was the beginning, when the group was brought into a room for an introduction speech and then into another room with a large screen to watch a short film. He was just ready to get moving after about 2 minutes at each place. After that, everyone was walking through the studio on our own so we could move at our own pace.
That same week, we went to Lapland UK in Whitmoor Forest, Ascot, for what turned out to be a fun, magical experience for Little T. He had a great time with the activities, helping the elves make toys at the factory and decorating a gingerbread house in Mother Christmas’s kitchen. We had a break for lunch and a wander around the little village (which has an ice skating rink, a gift shop and a candy store) before making our way through the stunning Enchanting Forest to meet Father Christmas. Overall we enjoyed our time at Lapland UK, I think my only gripe would be that there was often a long wait involved at times, such as to check in and especially to purchase our photos.
London is amazing lit up for the Christmas holidays – it’s one of my favorite times of the year. Before leaving to spend Christmas in Fano, we made sure to head into Mayfair for a dinner out at Gaucho Grill and a walk around Regent Street and New Bond Street. I’m not counting this as a day out but wanted to add it to the post as it was certainly a highlight for the holiday season!
And then we were off to Fano for nearly three weeks enjoying spending time with my in-laws and our final trip of the year. Piazza XX Settembre, Fano’s main square, looked wonderful brightly lit with a unique cardboard Christmas tree featuring colorful nativity scenes. More snapshots and details to come of Christmastime and New Year’s in Fano in another post.
A belated Happy New Year to you, thank you so much for following and I’m looking forward to what adventures and travels 2016 will bring for us all!