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European Vacation

After years of travelling unencumbered, Marc Llewellyn tries a multi-continent holiday with kids.

European VacationMention travelling around the world with two young kids and you’ll get a similar response from most mums and dads with young children. Some will shoot you a knowing ‘good luck’ look and follow it up with a chuckle, while others will shake their heads at your ignorance and ask you straight out if you’ve lost your mind.

But we were seasoned travellers, we figured naively – so what if we had two kids under four?

Our first stop was San Francisco, and a stay with a friend in an apartment block. We hadn’t really counted on jetlag and our youngest, Charlie, crying all night for the entire week. Just as he was improving, we were on the plane again, heading across the Atlantic to Britain.

We knew we had to stay put in one place and make forays out into the wider world when opportunities arose. With this in mind we headed to Tenby on the south coast of Wales, where a friend had arranged for us to use his family’s holiday home for a few days. It was a fabulous move. We had a flat to ourselves, and time to get over the latest attack of jetlag, before we set off to explore elsewhere in Europe.

Tenby turned out to be a real highlight. The old town is surrounded by high Norman walls, behind which we found narrow lanes with shops selling toy sailing boats and sticks of rock.

We had meals in the courtyards of medieval pubs. Inside one pub, locals told stories about dragons in the basement that kept the place warm in winter. The kids loved it.

We played on a huge sandy beach, took a boat to an island monastery, ate fish and chips back home, and set off on short journeys to three Norman castles, where the kids clambered up stone spiral staircases and peered out of slits in the turrets made for archers.

In short bursts we wandered across the mud flats looking for shells among the lopsided, grounded fishing boats. We carried the kids on our shoulders through ancient churches and walked over daisy-strewn slopes to a lighthouse with views across the channel to Cornwall in England.

European VacationNext it was back to London, and a hotel room for the night near the airport, before zooming off to southern Spain. After spending a fortune on air tickets and a hire car, we were determined to make the most of our money by staying somewhere cheap, with our portable cot at the ready. We found a place on the Costa Blanca, in a small but fascinating town called Javea.

Our room might have been cramped, but what did that matter when there was so much to explore? We found a beach lined with playgrounds and cafés where we could eat and drink while watching the kids play in the sand. Fortunately for us, we came across a lot of people, and other children, who spoke English. The Spanish adore children, so there was no end of smiles and offers to look after them should we want to go out for the night. Not that we needed help: we simply brought the kids with us.

Javea’s old town is a maze of winding streets, singing canaries and red geraniums, and when the shadows lengthened into dusk we headed to a bar and shared little plates of tuna tortilla and calamari fresh from the ocean. It was only when we were leaving that we realised we’d come too early. It was way past our bedtime, but families with young kids were only just arriving, refreshed from their afternoon siesta.

The following morning we watched the fishing fleet bring in their catch of sardines, and then headed by car up a mountain which overlooked the town and the Mediterranean. In this stunning setting, we had a picnic in a landscape of wild rosemary bushes and flowering thyme.

Further inland, we explored the Jalon Valley, walked in orange groves and ate the fruit off the trees. We meandered through cobbled streets in rustic villages and, armed with plenty of the kids’ favourite music CDs, we even managed to enjoy a lengthy drive past olive plantations and rough, romantic scenery nibbled by goats.

The next stage of our tour took us to Bavaria in southern Germany. Again, we opted to base ourselves in one place, this time in a tiny village in the mountains. We spent our days doing simple things such as exploring the local shops and walking in the hills, stopping from time to time to have races with pinecones tossed over the side of a bridge.

We also managed to travel further afield to Regensburg, said to be the bestpreserved medieval city in Germany. We wandered through narrow alleyways, crammed with interesting shops, and squares packed with colourful twelfth and thirteenth century buildings. The boys seemed un-impressed by St. Peter’s Cathedral, an enormous and intricately carved Gothic building with towering steeples, but they perked up considerably when we visited the Reichstagsmuseum in the half-timbered Old Town Hall and found a medieval torture chamber in its dungeons.

Finally, we took a boat trip down the Danube, and washed ashore to eat speciality sausages in the beer garden of the oldest restaurant in Germany. We could have flown straight back to Australia after this, but our instincts persuaded us to stop over at the familyfriendly Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa, on Sentosa Island off Singapore, instead. Over the next two days we eased ourselves through the time-zone change with plenty of swimming, toy-train trips alongside the beach, visits to the island’s animal and bird shows and lots, lots more.

European VacationOn the flight home I mused about the good times travelling with kids. For one thing the pace tends to slow down and it’s possible to experience things more thoroughly, instead of rushing about ticking ‘sights’ off a list. We found the children were people magnets too, and through them we met locals more often than when we travelled alone.

But perhaps the best thing was getting to entertain our own ‘inner child’ by doing things we thought we’d grown out of, like sloshing down a waterslide or enjoying a choo-choo train.

I might throw you a knowing ‘good luck’ should you tell me you’re thinking of doing the same, but rest assured that if you forget the hard bits, then long-haul with kids is worth every minute.

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