31 August 2010

Cake finale

Gateshead Library
Gateshead Library,
originally uploaded by Simon Preston.
You might remember we created Gateshead Library out of cake a while back. Here's the official portrait!

26 August 2010

Denmark - the verdict

We had a fantastic time in Denmark, despite the rather rainy weather. We especially liked the Baltic coast - the beaches are lovely (and very family friendly), and it's slightly less windy than the North Sea side. (Although, if you're into kites or action sports, the wind and North Sea beaches would be right up your street).

But whatever the weather, there's acres of things to see and do, and endless Danish pastries and ice creams to feast upon. We may have come back about a stone heavier than when we left.

Would we go again? Yes, definitely. We rather like the idea of travelling to Esbjerg and then driving across to Roskilde and Copenhagen, stopping at some islands en route. Although I'm not sure we'd camp again. That's no reflection on Danish campsites, which were staggeringly clean, well looked after, and packed to the ginnels with facilities. It's more the fact that we've rather fallen in love with the idea of staying in a little log cabin on the edge of a pine forest...

Huge thanks must go to Visit Denmark who arranged our trip, and to DFDS Seaways for the ferry crossing. Look out for our video on the Visit Denmark website shortly....

22 August 2010

Denmark day 8

We've had the most ridiculously enjoyable day out today, at a place called Faarup Sommerland. It's a theme park - but before you get all overexcited, there wasn't a Disney princess in sight.

The place is set in woodland (good for keeping the wind at bay), about 5 minutes' drive from where we're staying. Its theme, such as it is, seems to be woods/logging/squirrels/goldmining...that sort of thing. We thought it might be good for a couple of hours of wandering around, and going on a few rides - boy were we wrong!

M started off by riding an Icelandic pony, and followed this up with a little light dodgem boats, a carousel and assorted biplanes (the sort that go round and round and up and down). We bounced a lot on trampolines, and climbed a bouncy volcano.

One of the things we really liked about this place was that there were a lot of active things to do, as well as rides to sit in. There were lots of playgrounds, an enormous climbing spider web (like at the zoo), and a fabulous action trail/treasure hunt, which took you out to a pirate ship moored in a lake via various devious means (usually involving slides, rope bridges, catwalks and hauling boats across lagoons).

As ever, there were lots of places to picnic. All of Denmark seems to bring at least three hampers of food and a couple of jugs of coffee with them for lunch - hence the natty little handcarts at every attraction, which can usually be hired for a nominal fee. They're also very useful for transporting tired small children.

After lunch, M and I braved the Falken - a huge rollercoaster that she was only just tall enough to ride on. I don't think I've ever been on anything so enormous (my last rollercoaster experience was the Mousetrap at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, about 20 years ago). It was wooden (so very noisy), hideously fast, and thankfully over in less than a minute. We both agreed it was completely terrifying (there may have been quite a lot of screaming on the way round), but brilliant.

To recover, we made Orb transport us round a lake on a pedalo, while we watched the ducks cruise past. After that, it was time for the aqua park. We hadn't taken swimming cozzies with us (the weather hadn't looked that great early on in the day), so M ended up in the pool in her t-shirt and pants (and had to be dried off on my vest). There's lots of slides/fountains and a pirate ship for littlies to play in - and some rather cool looking huge slides for teens and grownups.

By this point, it was about 4pm. Ice cream time! Given that the lovely people at Visit Denmark had given us free tickets into Sommerland, we felt justified in spending the best part of £10 on some completely enormous ice creams. Ice cream seems to be very popular in Denmark - two scoops is the minimum you can have, and several chaps were tucking into cones with four. We made do with two, with maximum sprinkles. And then felt rather ill afterwards...

To finish off, we went white water rafting (hilarious, but very very wet), and M had fun driving round a Danish village on an electric lorry.

We eventually crawled home, tired but very happy!

21 August 2010

Denmark day 7

We’re going to the zoo, zoo zoo
How about you, you, you?
You can come too, too, too
We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo.

Daddy did indeed take us to the zoo – Aalborg Zoo, to be precise. It’s on the outskirts of the city, so about 40 minutes away from where we’re staying. We thought it would be good for a couple of hours, but in fact, we did 'stay all day'.

The zoo is fairly traditional – most animals are in large caged areas, or at least have a moat between you and them - as opposed to a safari park. The monkeys/baboons/chimpanzees looked happiest with this arrangement – they had huge enclosures to swing about in. The big cats (lions, tigers) didn’t have quite so much space, while the zebras/giraffes/elephants had enormous paddocks to play around in.

The polar bears were fantastic to see up close - I'd never really got a sense of their size before, despite seeing the animatronic Bjorn the Polar Bear at the Sage at Christmas. Their enclosure included an enormous pool with glass sides, which enabled you to see them underwater. One of them was ‘playing’ with a huge car tyre, and the chunks taken out of it with his teeth and claws were very impressive.

The African Village section of the zoo was excellent - it gave you some really good background on the savannah animals, and it was nicely done with reproductions of village buildings. I can imagine that this gets used a lot for school visits. We loved the elephants nearby - who looked to be enjoying themselves kicking water around in the mudholes, and spraying the people watching.

We all had different favourites among the animals – I thought the polar bears were amazing, Orb liked the giraffes, and M loved the goats. What can I say. We take her halfway across Europe, show her all sorts of exotica, and she goes for the goats. In her defence, you could at least get close up to the goats and stroke them, which you’re never going to be able to do with an elephant.

We ate at the zoo at lunchtime, having run out of ideas for picnics. The self-service restaurant was very quiet - I think most Danish families are the picnic type. M picked a Danish hot dog (called a Fransk hotdog), I had the salad of the day (broccoli, raisins, pine nuts and red onion), Orb had a massive cheeseburger, and we all shared some chips - for 145 DKK. Can't imagine London Zoo being that reasonable. The food was all freshly made, and tasted great.

The other good thing about the zoo is the marvellous children's playground - with a huge, spidery rope climbing frame. M spent ages there, and was very proud of climbing up to the second level of ropes and bouncing around. There's also little things for tinies - slide/seesaw etc.

All in all, it was an excellent day out. The entrance fee is 120 DKK for adults (about £13), and 65 DKK for kids, so it's probably not a place to go just for a morning - but there's certainly enough to keep you occupied for longer.

20 August 2010

Denmark day 6

It was sunny this morning, so we seized our chance and headed down to the beach at Saltum Strand. I say down – because that’s exactly what happened. The road goes down to the beach, and then onto the beach, and then along the sand…and you can drive your car up to the sea! Here’s the A2, looking rather incongruous amongst the North Sea waves and sand. It’s really not used to it.

It was incredibly windy, which made us wish there had been space in the car for the powerkite. We have an 8 footer, which would probably have dragged us down the beach and out to Norway without any problems whatsoever. But in lieu of such excitement, we put up our beach tent, and proceeded to manufacture a rather stunning sandcastle, made from the cement-like North Jutland sand.

The sand dunes were a little more sheltered, and great fun for running up and down. We found shells, seagrass, and all sorts of strange pebbles brought in by the waves.

For sheer excitement, we drove 5km along the sand to the next beach exit at Blokhus, fording some small streams along the way. At Blokhus there were a couple of fish vans at the entrance to the beach, so we stopped by the marauding seagulls and had a look. We could have taken the entire contents of the stalls home with us, but that would (a) have bankrupted us and (b) made the caravan smell terrible for the next 10 years, so we restrained ourselves and bought what looked like some salmon fillets.

(We ate these for tea with some potato salad and sautéed courgettes – and discovered that the salmon was possibly the best hot smoked salmon in the world. Mmmmm.)

It started to rain after lunch, so we headed off to the nearest big city, Aalborg, for a bit of a wander round, and a look at the latest range of Lego. Aalborg looks like it’s quite a fun place, especially if it was sunny. There’s lots of cafes and shops (I had to be restrained from going in the cookware ones), some beautiful old buildings, and a fjord-side location.

After visiting a toy shop or two, we can report that the Danish range of Lego is pretty much like the English range – only a bit more expensive because of the exchange rate. Bafflingly, Schleich, who normally make models of farm animals, have a range of Smurfs. Who knew?

But then it started to pour down, so we travelled home, back to the cosy van. The campsite's filling up a bit with weekend visitors (who seem to have permanent pitches here), and it was quite busy in the communal kitchen/dining areas. These are as nice as the ones at Grenaa Strand Camping by the way - sadly there's just not enough of them.

The nice people at the Danish Meteorological Institute are promising only 1mm of rain tomorrow. They've been pretty reliable on the forecast front so far - let's hope we finally get a day that stays sunny...

19 August 2010

Denmark day 5

Today’s been a day of travelling, which means putting the foldy beast down and up. Thankfully it didn’t rain – that’s one of the problems with folding down a caravan like ours – you have to have a dry roof and walls, or everything else inside gets soaked when it folds. Which means a lot of wiping with a squeegee and towels.

I took a picture of the bathrooms before we left Grenaa Strand Camping – they're just as impressive as the kitchen set-up. Apart from the showers, which are designed for 6’6” blond Danish chaps/Vikings, and spray cold water onto mere mortals of 5' 7".

But showers aside, we liked Grenaa Strand Camping – the woodland setting is beautiful, the beaches extraordinary, and the facilities excellent. Out of season in the middle of August, it’s amazingly quiet – perfect if you want to get away from it all. We were sad to leave.

But leave we did. After packing everything back into the car (M was just visible in the back seat under a huge pile of duvets, soft toys and notebooks), we headed a couple of hours north to North Jutland. We’re staying at the Jambo Feriepark in Saltum, on the North Sea coast.

The area’s not as wooded as Djursland, and has a different feel. For a start, it's certainly far windier - we saw hundreds of wind turbines as we travelled along the motorway. Putting the caravan up was also a tad on the challenging side.

The Jambo Feriepark is a bit smaller than Grenaa Strand, but feels like it has far more caravans – here’s the view from our front door. Weirdly, they all seem to have the same awning...pegged out onto decking. I think most of them must be permanent.

Jambo's got more of a holiday park feel with rules and regs for this and that, and more facilities, like an on-site restaurant and indoor badminton courts. M loved the huge bouncing pillow (like a giant trampoline), which I had a sneaky go on too. She and Orb also hired a large tricycle, and roamed around the site. Here they are, giggling like loons:

Instead of cooking, we tried out the restaurant/café, and had some pretty decent pizzas (after five days in Denmark, we give up – we can’t eat any more pork!). Aside from the mad shower policy (it's 8 DKK for 3 minutes, which must make them the most expensive showers in history), the place seems pretty good so far.

18 August 2010

Denmark day 4

After a brightish start (and a chance to dry out everything that got soaked yesterday), it's been drizzling on and off all day. Danish drizzle, it turns out, is pretty much the same as Gateshead drizzle, only warmer.

But, undeterred, your intrepid crew got in the car and headed half an hour west to the Dansk Landbrugsmuseum at Gammel Estrup - the Danish national agricultural museum. Odd choice, you might think, for a bunch of townies, but maybe we're going soft on the countryside in our old age. And anyway, I grew up in the depths of East Anglian Fenland, which isn't so far removed from the Danish countryside round here.

The museum turned out to be an excellent choice. Our other alternative was going to see the rainforest biodomes in nearby Randers, but as we'd been to the Eden Project recently, we thought that agriculture would be more fun - and we were right. The museum has several indoor sections, full of exhibitions about farming and life in the countryside. We particularly liked the one about farm life from the bronze age onwards - especially how the farm kitchen had changed over the centuries, which takes you through four different mock ups of a kitchen. But there's also an entire hall full of combine harvesters and old agricultural implements, a fascinating exhibition about beekeeping (including some live hives), lots about butchery, and a current temporary exhibition about country fairs, including this rather natty chap:

Outside, if the weather had been better, are a whole host of animals, a smithy, orchards, kitchen gardens and a playground. There is inside play stuff too, including a remarkable children's farm complete with tractors and small cars.

We also found time to have a tea party in the garden:

This time, the museum was much cheaper, at 85 DKK (£9.50) for an adult, and with kids under 18 free. You also get admission to the Gammel Estrup manor house, but we spent so long at the agriculture museum that we didn't get round to looking at anything there - it really is a full day out, especially with smallish kids. Be warned - if you're there in Danish school holidays, there seem to be lots of free events on - but now the kids are back at school, it's pretty quiet.

Foodwise, we took along a picnic - and there were lots of picnic tables both inside and out which you could use. We felt we had to try out the museum cafe - for research purposes, natch - and can report back that the coffee and cake option (48 DKK) is pricey, but definitely worth it. Homemade cake, warm from the oven, and the largest jug of proper coffee you've ever seen rounded off a lovely day out. Recommended.

In other news, we popped into Aldi on the way home, and can report that it's definitely a cheaper alternative for basic supermarket stuff. Cheaper, in that it's more comparable to Sainsbury's prices at home, rather than the Fortnum & Mason price of a standard Danish supermarket. However, they only accept Danish credit cards.

Tomorrow it's time to pack up the foldy beast (hopefully not in the pouring rain), and trek north to the tip of Denmark - North Jutland.

17 August 2010

Denmark day 3

Today has mostly been about the rain. Not content with thunderous storms the other night which kept us awake for hours, it's pretty much poured down all day. I suppose we should be thankful we're not underwater, unlike Copenhagen.

But, there seem to be lots of things to do in Denmark when it's wet. We decided that we'd go with the water theme, and headed to the Kattegatcentret in Grenaa - it's a massive aquarium, stuffed full of sharks, stingrays and fishy creatures of all kinds.

The sharks made the most immediate impression - there's a huge tank as soon as you enter, with a tunnel underneath that you can walk through. Here's one friendly fellow...

M and Orb had lots of fun stroking the fish in the touchpools - the crabs were a bit nippy, but the rays were beautifully soft. We also saw some very cute seahorses, the obligatory Nemos (clownfish), and a bunch of red piranhas clearly planning world domination.

Outside there's some seals (and a chance to watch them being fed), and what looked like a fantastic children's playground with an octopus slide - sadly it was too wet to try it out. We did have a go at building lego lighthouses, which was excellent. We fully approve of the Danish obsession with lego, wo yes.

All in all, it's a rather good day out, although it is at the top end of the budget. It's 140 DKK for adults, 70 DKK for children - that's about £15.50 and £7.75 respectively. We took a picnic for lunch (as did most of the Danish families we saw), which saved us some cash.

Once home, it was still raining, so we decided we'd roadtest the campsite kitchen/dining room/tv lounge (one of several at Grenaa Strand Camping). As I said before, they're beautifully clean, and absolutely enormous. Here's a glimpse:


No fish gutting here!

Orb and M chilling out with some tv:

It seems to have stopped raining for now, which is a jolly good thing, given the foldy beast has sprung a leak. We may require a spot of filler...

16 August 2010

Denmark day 2

Today's been about finding things and seeing the lay of the land, as second days of your holiday often are. We've been into the nearest town, Grenaa, to find a supermarket and have a mooch around.

The supermarket was great fun. We're obsessed with food at the best of times, so having a whole lot of Danish food to play with was great. It was surprisingly easy to understand what was what - we speak absolutely no Danish apart from knowing how to say thank you (tak). But there's a lot that's reasonably similar to English (for example, I'm always amused that child in Danish is barn - or bairn, as you'd say in Newcastle) due to our Viking past. And we do know German - there's a fair amount that overlaps. Although ost (cheese) and skinke (ham) had us puzzled for a bit.

We found a Danish supermarked called Kvickly in Grenaa, and here's what we bought:

It included a few small cans of Tuborg, lots of bread/yoghurt/orange juice/fruit/salad/ham/cheese and some interesting sausages and frikadellen. This little lot (one bag and the overspill you see here) came to an astonishing 431.11 DKK. That's about £45. Ouch!

Our top tips for food:
  • it might sound obvious, but look for food (eg yoghurt, milk) that's from Denmark - it's cheaper (and has fewer food miles)
  • own brand stuff is usually cheapest, just like it is at home
  • if you have space in the car, bring your own basics. We travelled with a crate of stuff - rice, pasta, couscous, marmite, jam, tea bags, coffee - you get the idea.
  • discount supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl might be cheaper. We'll roadtest one, and get back to you.
After we'd tried out some of the comestibles for lunch, we pottered back into Grenaa to visit the tourist office, get a parking disc (all Danish car parks seem to require them, but they're free from the tourist info), and have a look at the town. It's quite picturesque, but half an hour was long enough for a wander round. There's lots of clothes shops (underwear and shoes seem to be the top sellers), a few cafes, and....that's about it. Apart from this nice statue of a pig.

We were hoping for a bakery so we could have yet more Danish pastries (except they're not called that here, of course - the Viennese seem to be blamed instead). We didn't manage to track one down in Grenaa itself, so we headed off towards the port instead. Pastries duly found (a round swirly thing covered in chocolate which was so vast it had to be shared between the three of us), we had a look around the fishing boats (and assorted jellyfish).

Tomorrow we're off on an excursion - depending on the weather. The weather's not been great so far - massive scary thunderstorms and pouring rain last night (which always sounds worse in a caravan), and dull grey cloud today. But it's warm - about 23 degrees - and the cloud cleared this evening so we ate tea in the sunshine - bliss.

15 August 2010


Here's our pitch at the Grenaa Strand campsite (as you can see, we'll have to mind out for the neighbours...)

We've settled in - the foldy beast is up, we've checked out the facilities (the indoor kitchen areas and showers are cleaner than my house has ever been), clambered over the pirate playground and eaten tea.

The best bit so far? It has to be the beach, two minutes' walk away...


So we set off, in the pouring rain from Gateshead.

Quite a lot of time later, we were in glorious sunshine at Harwich docks, ready to board the DFDS ship, the Dana Sirena. It looked huge on the dockside...until we noticed the enormous container ships and tankers nearby.

The crossing itself was surprisingly fun. I say that because I just don't do boats - I hate crossing the Channel, and the thought of 18 hours between Harwich and Esbjerg filled me with horror. But actually, it was great. Calm seas, a lovely cabin (really comfortable bunk beds, nice shower/bathroom and a sea view), and a dinky sun deck to soak up the evening sunshine.

Captain Jack liked it too...

By 2am, the ship was rocking and rolling about ('bumpy' was the technical term the Captain used), which was a little unnerving. It all made for a rather more exciting stroll on deck this morning, when the spray was shooting up all over the place, and the wind made your hair stand on end.

Our top tips for the crossing:
  • Plan ahead for food for your evening meal (the ship leaves Harwich at 17.45). Both the buffet and the a la carte restaurant options are frighteningly expensive (c.£26 per person for the buffet, although you can get it slightly cheaper by booking ahead), so most families (including us) took a picnic. There's a Morrisons very handily placed (for food and petrol) just before you hit Harwich port.
  • However, the breakfast buffet is brilliant - still expensive (c.£25 for all three of us - that's two adults and one child) but all the bread, Danish pastries, cereals, fruit, cheese, pate, ham, cooked breakfast, tea and coffee that you can eat (or smuggle out for lunch, ahem).
  • There's a children's entertainer on board, doing magic, balloon tricks etc etc. Ours was toecurlingly terrible in an unreconstructed 1970s manner. The kids loved it.
  • If you're planning on taking anything that plugs in on board (travel kettle, nightlight etc), you'll need a travel plug. The Dana Sirena is a very Danish ship!
Anyway, we're looking forward to the return leg. And I never thought I'd say that...thanks DFDS!

12 August 2010

The packing begins...

The question is, will all this and 956 tiny plastic kittens fit in the boot of one small Audi A2?

11 August 2010

Cornwall (part 2)

You've had the fancy pics, now it's time for the lowdown (or more accurately, some ramblings about what we got up to in Cornwall).

We did a lot of splashing about on some stunning pebbly and sandy beaches, marvelling at how the sea in Cornwall is so clear. You can actually see the bottom - not something I've ever really experienced up here. It's also bloody chilly. We bought M a wetsuit, so she was fine, but Orb and I were absolutely nithered, standing there up to our knees in freezing cold water. Still, there was rockpooling to be done, shells to be collected (now turned into a rather fancy mobile), and beach snacks to be eaten (you can't beat jammy dodgers on a cold and windy day).

We also spent a day at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which were absolutely beautiful, especially the jungle ravine. And I had massive allotment envy in the kitchen garden. M was most taken by the fact that they grow pineapples in horse poo, and with the small compass she was issued with on arrival. We spent the day regaled by a small person shouting "north east", "south west", "we're heading for the north pole" and other sundry directions.

The weather wasn't particularly kind to us, though. And rain on a campsite (even one as nice as Treloan) makes things a bit pants. We were rescued from the downpour by a blogmeet/tweet up with the lovely James BC, Patroclus and the Blue Kitten, who we terrified by providing an insight into life with a four-and-three-quarters-nearly-five-year-old-who-is-completely-bonkers-about-cats. In return, they provided fabulous cake and scones, and regaled us with tales of sofas. It were great.

We also ventured out on the obligatory Eden Project trip - which was fantastic (and which had better be, given the entry price - all I can say is thank god for Tesco vouchers). I think I actually liked the outdoor areas best (although I could quite happily take up residence in the Mediterranean biodome), and if their staff of gardeners could just come and sort out the weeds in my allotment and make it look as nice as theirs, I'd be eternally grateful. M and Orb, as you can see, had fun building dens...

We also tried the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, which was excellent (if wildly expensive, at £9.50 a ticket). The exhibition on lighthouses was fantastic - M was fascinated by the tales of the sea ripping off bronze doors, lighthouse keepers weeing in buckets, and semaphore flags. There's also some lovely boats hanging up in the main hall, a great view of Falmouth from the top of the tower, and a rather good exhibition on the weather (should have seen this before we went to Cornwall, sadly!). My only gripe is that having charged you a fortune to get in, there's a whole load of other stuff (like sailing model boats, or crab fishing) that requires further cash - I know it's only 50p a time, but you do feel rather as if you're being regarded as a cash cow.

What else? We toasted marshmallow pigs on the bbq, dismantled a gigantic (cooked) crab, ate lots of lovely Callestick Farm ice cream, found the best pasties in the world (St Mawes bakery on the harbourside - just avoid the Sloane Ranger yachties and you'll be fine), visited Fraggle Rock, saw peregrine falcons, and generally spent a reasonable amount of time mooching about. There wasn't much sitting in the sunshine of an evening with a glass of rose, but you can't have everything.

So now we've returned home, done an absolute mountain of washing and work, and now it's time to head off again. Thanks to the lovely people at Visit Denmark, we're going to be guinea pigs for 10 days, heading over to Denmark to test out some campsites and attractions. Wooooo!!! We're taking a video camera, the foldy beast and 900 small plastic kittens, so that should just about cover every eventuality.

Updates to follow as we travel...

08 August 2010



Fraggle Rock