Aimee Horton

When you have to pack light.

Jun
01

I’ve been quiet for a whole week, did you notice? No…probably not. *deflates ego*

We were on holiday for a week, with the outlaws. A week in Menorca, sun, sea, sand and booze, I could see the outlaws (includes Mr Aimee’s Mum & Dad and his brother and partner), thinking how relaxing and lovely it was going to be. They obviously hadn’t read this.  That was nearly a year ago, a WHOLE year, and so much has changed, so I was interested to see how much of it had changed.

Not much.  Especially when it comes to the whole packing and airport run.

You see . I can’t pack light, I just can’t.  I think I must have a gene missing or something because I go about it with the best of intentions.  I plan days, I plan outfits, I produce excel spreadsheets, tabbed by person and event, I genuinly really want to fit everything into that one suitcase, but I just can’t do it.  For example, not only are there the obvious things (fat outfits, emergency manicure kit, matching headscarves with outfits), but there’s the other bits that some people deem necessary (nappies, wipes, suncream).  HOW ARE WE MEANT TO FIT ALL THAT IN?!

The pattern is the same every time, I start a list, and at the same time I open the cases up and add clothes as they come out of the washing machine, then I go through the wardrobes and add stuff.  Then I go shopping, because after all, stuff wears out fast, you know, what with the long hot summers we have each year.  Just to top up on stuff, you know, keep trendy.  When it gets to the day before I start to roll up the clothes, placing them into the cases, this year we were lucky, not only did we have an extra 5kg in the main case, (a WHOLE 20kg for a family of four, at ONLY £40 how generous are the airline?), but for the first time we had the hand luggage allowance of four (5kg each – not even Ryanair are that stingy).  That’s right, FINALLY The Chunky Monkey is becoming useful (if you ignore the fact that you had to actually pay for a seat for him this time, that’s beside the point anyway).   This meant that in theory we could keep two carry on bags locked and closed with additional clothes – which to be fair, is a bit of a dream for me as I live in FEAR of my suitcase going missing (before we started flying budget airlines we used to go on package holidays which meant we got A CASE EACH, I used to divide outfits equally between them, ensuring that each case had at least one of my favourites in just incase the other got lost…OCD…me?), the only thing that I would have lost out on was my skincare products, but I’m sure I could demand they raid the duty free for me if they lost my case, right?

Anyway, the routine usually ends up in a frantic evening of me pulling out clothes, and asking Mr Aimee if he really needs two pairs of pants for the ENTIRE holiday.  We weigh the cases and pull out stuff (not sure how I survived my 7 day holiday with only three pairs of shoes this time – including the ones I travelled in I’ll have you know!).  By the end of the session we’ve decided that they would never pull us up on being half a kilo over, and if push came to shove I’d wear a beach towel as a pashmina, we collapse and stuff our faces preparing to get up early for the airport.

Once we’re in the airport, with our MASSIVE cases, we queue up, I start to see people frantically emptying their suitcases, removing dozens of books…I feel a mixture of relief and increasing dismay.  My brother-in-law suggested I look at it as a game show experience.  I’d like to take this moment to point out he lost on The Weakest Link and four years later we’re still not allowed to use the word avocado in his presence.

ANYWAY, we go first…you know, just incase we need to offload to other members of the group, hand luggage first – mine comes in 1.5kg under – SCORE.  Then The Beasts pull along case…1kg under SCORE….then the two “shut” cases go through.  Both a kilo over.  We take it back and attempt to redistribute.  By redistribute, I balance a few things on top of my handbag, and discreetly dump a couple of beach towels and pair of armbands in the compartment under the buggy. SORTED.  Labels stuck on, now to the big cases.  We weighed it at home, it was 20.1KG.  SURELY BALAMORY they’d let that through.  They didn’t.  We pretended to shove a something else (I think it was a ball of bra’s and Mr Aimee’s shoes into the Mother-in-Law’s suitcase (it went back in to the pushchair  later to be re-distributed to the already over weight hand luggage- what the Duck am I going to do without that?), and we’re set.

Suitcases gone, hand luggage back to normal, and we head for security.

This in itself is an experience.  Me beeping when I walk through the “magic gate” because I left my phone in my back pocket whilst attempting to collapse the pushchair, and remove a cup and cookie monster from a tired (it’s 7am and he’s been up since 3.45am – the sleeping in the car plan backfired) two year old, who melts down and just wants “MYYY MUMMMAYYYY”, nobody can hold him, and so the lovely lady has to security check me with him clinging to my leg until another member of our party manages to prise him off, she suggests that Tixy-lix is a good sedative, I bought a bottle from Boots on the other side.  We taste the milk (I hate milk it makes me bork, which can at times look suspicious), and pull back on nearly an entire outfit (shoes, belts, cardigans, coats, jewellery), before finally getting to have breakfast.

Again, due to extra hands, lugging the four bags about isn’t as bad as it could be, but once we make it to the gate we discover that it’s the worst it can possibly be.  It’s not the best option – a tunnel.  It’s not us trotting across the runway in the howling wind, nor is it a million steps (Birmingham Airport Ryanair…looking at me dumbly when I ask for help with that doesn’t do you any favours), it’s THE BUS.  The bus that they pack too full, the bus that has hardly any seats, and the people who occupy them look at you smugly as you are standing there, pushchair  and two bags propped up against your leg, writhing NEARLY THREE STONE toddler in your arms.  You have nothing to hold on to, nothing to support you, so you just have to stand firm, nearly falling over, getting glared at by the man with the smallest carry on bag in the world as you topple into him.  You apologise profusely only to hear him tut – just FYI if you’re reading this, deodorant doesn’t take that long to apply.  You arrive at the plane, fall out, and drag children, cases, and buggy towards the steps, abandon pushchair before climbing the shaking steps.  You walk down the aisle of the plane with the child, before finding your seats.  You hear the collective sigh of disapointment from those surrounding you, only to hear it again when one child goes “FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE BLASSTTTTT OFFFFF” twenty million times while we’re waiting for the plane to even start begin to taxi across the runway, and the other one saying “we won’t crash will we daddy?” followed by (when prompted) “Uncle John…there’s something wrong with the left falange”.

Finally we’re in the air, one child falls asleep, the other gets absorbed with his ipod.

That wasn’t that bad this time.

When you get to think about “A Grand Adventure”.

Jan
14

I’m not really one for adventures.  Not in the traditional sense.  Even as a child, playing Famous Five on my own with the cat as Timmy (how tragic), I was always Anne.  Not because I was traditional 50’s housewife wannabe, not because I wanted to be the little wife, but because she never got her hands dirty.  All she had to do was stick a few eggs on to boil and while the others were out playing at being men she could kick back with a book and a sneaky bottle of Ginger Beer.  Sensible girl I say.

Anne - Famous Five

Good, Clean, Sensible Fun.

So when Money Supermarket approached me to blog about A Grand Adventure I had to think long and hard about my response.  After all, the only time you will get me anywhere which has no plug sockets, shared toilets, and only the “good old fresh air” in place of air-conditioning would be when hell froze over.

My initial reaction was “New York, Me and Him, BISH BASH BOSH DONE”.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

My favourite city in the world

Then I felt a little guilty.  After all, adventures are perfect for children aren’t they? <Insert long suffering sigh here>.

Thing is, as I tried to decide on an epic adventure I began to realize, we try too hard these days don’t we?  We are so caught up in the whirlwind of “stuff” that sometimes we forget that kids don’t always need STUFF.  Memories are far better.

So what do I remember?  Laughter, fun, sun.  Long lazy days.  Making a lion on the beach.  Sand stuck to the sole of my feet, lollies that taste of watermelons, ice creams with whistles instead of sticks, diving for my dads watch at the bottom of the pool, BBQs, sliding into the paddling pool with the hose down the slide, jumping over bushes in the garden.  Of the smell of sun cream, ice cold lemonade.  The feeling of security that at the end of the day, you could snuggle up in bed and do it all again tomorrow.

A lot of this was experienced in the UK, we stopped going abroad when I was about eight years old for many reasons, but that didn’t matter, because while I was at school I remember long summer days in the garden, running between to my friends house and back.  I remember holidaying in Devon, sitting on boat soaking up the heat before jumping into the sea.

These days, the weather in the UK is unpredictable.  The likelihood of a hot week in the summer is small, and often you end up spending more in the rain to compensate for lack of days on the beach.  So, in order for my children to enjoy the adventure of the sun, we’re going to take our adventure abroad.

People seem to think you have to spend thousands and thousands of pounds to take your family abroad.  Well you don’t.  Not when all you’re looking for is some sun, sea and fun.  So where am I taking my three boys?

To Spain of course…well to Nerja to be more specific.  A beautiful town on the Costa del Sol, two beaches close by, back and side streets to explore and the Balcon De Europa perfectly placed in the middle for some people watching, see gazing, and sipping a gin strong coffee whilst listening to the local musicians.

Nerja

Balcon De Europa

No matter what the rep always says at your welcome meeting of the package holiday, you don’t need to spend £220 for a family of four to go on a 4×4 Jeep Safari to make your holiday an adventure, £150 abseiling down a mountain. Nor do you need a free bullfight ending up with the purchase of a juicer.

Bullfighting for your excitement?

An adventure can be made out of anything, from finding a different (if slightly precarious) path down to the beach, sneaking down for a sneaky early morning swim in the pool when the sun is still rising and the grass is still damp from the overnight sprinklers.  Watching fish that you’ve chosen be cooked on the BBQ, covering the burning hot patio with water to keep your feet cool, and chasing treacherous waves and jumping over them, digging a hole so big you lose your armbands and have to dig them up.  Baths in the sink and laughing (in hindsight) at big waves coming and washing away your towel and sunglasses!

And baths in the sink

Eating paella which you’ve witnessed being made in a massive tin in a beachside restaurant, attempting to eat an ice cream bigger then your head.  Chasing a beach ball which is blowing away in a sudden sea breeze.  Picnics with crunchy bit of sand in your sandwiches, coco pops outside in the sunshine, swimming with a ridiculously large, pointless blow up creature.

Paella on the beach

 

Swimming with the local wildlife

Ice creams bigger then your head

Holidays in the sun for a family don’t have to expensive, and they don’t have to be stuffed full of activities.  Sometimes the best adventure catches up with you when you least expect it.

So how do I spend my virtual £1,000?

We’d rent a little two bedroom villa.  That’s right I said Villa.  This one  which is just a walk away from the beach is £580 max in the peak months, meaning that even though we have to go in the summer holidays, we still have £420 to play with to aid our adventure.   It doesn’t have to be posh, just pretty, private, safe and secure.

Villa Tetuan

Having just done a quick travel insurance quote on MoneySupermarket.com we can easily cover ourselves for less then £20 (£15).  Worth it for a few memories…

Thinking about the days adventures

Flying

The rest would be split between food,

All you need is prawns...

All you need is prawns…

something to dig with,

The sand between your toes

something to relax on…

Relaxing

…and perhaps a bottle of gin or famous Spanish brandy – both €5 a bottle – to recover from another epic day.

The Medina, Mojitos and Madness of Marrakech

Oct
31

I have always wanted to go to Marrakech.  For as long as I can remember I’ve yearned to meander in the medina and souk it all up.  I’ve longed to sit on an embroidered leather pouffe in the cool courtyard of a riad, eating a homemade tagine surrounded by glowing lanterns.  Probably wearing a fez.  And so, last week, my African ambition finally became a reality as he and I touched down in Marrakech Menara airport ready to begin our Moroccan adventure.  Any my, what an adventure it was.

 

I fell in love.  Instantly.  From the moment Hamid, our happy smiling taxi driver, began the frenzied cart-avoiding and moped-dodging journey to our riad, the crazy city stole my heart.  The people were friendly and exceptionally welcoming; the food was stunning, the weather beautiful and the shopping, well, the shopping was heavy.  Two pouffes, three tagines, three hand painted bowls, pestle and mortar, lantern, candle, clutch bag, purse, five bangles and three bracelets heavy.  We were immersed in a vibrant sun soaked film set of laden donkeys, skilled craftsmen and bustling markets.  Every sense was stricken by the colour, spice and cacophony the magical city is overflowing with.  I could babble on and on about how mind-blowingly, breath-takingly fantastic it is and how everyone should go, immediately.  Alas, there are only so many times I can say GO, book it, book it now!  Instead, I have whittled down the highlights.

The only thing better than the exquisite ‘little darling’ P’tit Habibi is Wafi, the riad manager.  Taking care of our every whim, from arranging taxis to organising excursions and booking restaurants, he was wonderful.  When we arrived unexpectedly late after our delayed flight he ordered us a tasty takeaway of cous cous and chicken pastilla.  Serving it under the stars, we sat amidst lanterns eating, chilling and drinking our complimentary bottle of chilled wine.  Each morning a homemade Moroccan breakfast was served to us on the rooftop terrace, setting us up for a hectic day in the souks.  The decor, whilst striking Moroccan cool in the day, comes alive at night with a mass of twinkling lanterns.  An oasis of calm and comfort from the frenzy outside, the rooftop pool, Space Invaders mirror and mouth-watering Moroccan salads mean that when I next visit, there is only one place I would stay.  In fact, as Wafi told us the day we sadly had to leave, we now have friends in Marrakech.

When you pay £60 for four cocktails, you expect them to be good.  They weren’t.  They were amazing.  The incredible La Mamounia is indescribably beautiful.  I’d heard whispers of the ‘dangerously strong’ mojitos served at Le Bar Churchill so that of course is where we headed.  The whispers weren’t wrong, they were indeed dangerous and the carpet was leopard print. I’d come home.  Once the mojitos had been savoured we fancied a change of decadence so we were led to Le Bar Italien.  Bit of a blur from this point, all I will say is, Best.  Cosmopolitan.  Ever.

 

A bit of research had told me that the best tagines were to be found at Le Foundouk, a hidden gem of a restaurant in the medina.  We were led to the first floor where our table overlooked the impressive candlelit chandelier.  Our hands were washed in orange blossom water, our menus were delivered as scrolls and our belts strained under a wonderful chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives.  Whilst it is not a local’s restaurant, it is beautiful and the food is delicious.

 

When the heat of the midday sun became too much, Le Jardin Marjorelle was a welcome retreat.  Famed for its collection of rare plants and cacti, the lush garden is the ideal place to cool off and chill out.  Particularly helpful after the blood pumping purchases made on Rue Yves Saint Laurent.  Just along from the garden sits a row of chic shops, the chicest of all being the intriguing concept store, 33 Rue Marjorelle.  Stocking an eclectic mix of quality jewellery, purses, bags homeware and clothes, my shopping craving was well and truly sated.

 

Straying from the old town was something we only did the once.  Whilst the new town is contemporary and cosmopolitan, it can’t hope to possess half of the charm of the medina.  However, what it does hold is Grand Café de la Poste which with its charming staff and frozen mojitos is a relaxing respite when you’re all cous coused out.  They do a bloody good club sandwich too.

 

I’m not too good at asking for a discount, I find it embarrassing.  When I was a student, using my NUS card made me twitchy, so the thought of bartering filled me with dread.  It’s the done thing, I was told, and there is no option other than to play the negotiating game.  Nope, no way, I couldn’t, there is just no chance…or so I thought.  I entered the souks, I spotted what I liked, I marched over and from nowhere, I was suddenly wearing my haggling hat.  They offered me 500 dirhams, I offered 200, they laughed at me, they said 400, I laughed at them, I said 250, we settled on 300.  Done.  My biggest triumph had to be paying 400 dirhams (about £30) when the original price quoted was 1450 (approx. £105).  It’s a game, it’s fun, I would always offer less than half the original price and nine times out of 10, we’d both happily meet somewhere in the middle.  And if not, I walked away.  I was delighted with everything I bought, happy in the knowledge that not only can I barter with the best of them, but that each piece has its own souk story to tell.

 

Whilst we were away every meal was fantastic.  I gorged on tagines, cous cous and pastillas, I devoured dates, pomegranates and sweet pastries, washing it all down with mint tea and mojitos.  But sometimes, a girl needs a burger.  And whilst the traditional Moroccan cuisine served at Le Comptoir looked fantastic, the original Comptoir burger was just what I needed.  A lively exciting venue, a surprise treat was the gyrating belly dancing show that kept us entertained whilst we sipped a pink mojito and classic gin fizz.

Marrakech is manic, noisy and energetic.  It is a place where you’ll be jostled by a donkey’s saddle bag in a sandy alley one minute and be dipping your feet in a mosaicked pool as a waiter brings you drinks the other.  I was dazzled, stunned and worn out.  Every sense was battered and I adored every second.  A city of contrasts, the feverish medina is remedied by the tranquil riads which are only an intricately carved door away.  A concern about finally visiting the place you’ve always wanted to go is whether it will live up to expectations.  Marrakech exceeded every one.