Arriving back into Manchester last week after a week away in the sun, was as cliche ‘back to reality’ as it comes. After seven days of (hotter than expected) sunshine, we parted through the clouds and headed for the runway at Manchester airport, and were met with rain battering against the aeroplane windows and a dull dark grey sky.
‘Well I guess that’s us home then’ I sighed.
‘Home!! Are we home now Mummy? Are we going back to Evie’s house? To see all my toys?’ Evie burst out excitedly while jumping around on her seat in between myself and my Husband.
‘Yes darling, we’re going back to Evie’s house now, we’re home from our holiday.’
‘I’m going to play with my diggers, and my dolls house, and my jigsaws, and my tea set, and baby in her buggy, and, and, and ALL the things…’ Evie trailed off, lost in her own world of excitement over everything she hadn’t played with for a week. A least one of us was happy to be back! I guess when you’re two and a half being away from your home and all of your possessions for seven days must feel like an eternity.
Actually, it felt like that for all of us I think. I mean, of course, like every holiday we could have happily stayed ‘just a few more days, and then it would’ve been perfect’. Is it a rule that no matter how long you go away for, it never quite feels enough? That you’ll always feel like you’re JUST settling into a nice little rhythm when your final day comes a calling?
But despite only being seven days, it was seven days that were so needed, so longed for, so long awaited. A chance to be together after one of the most hectic and intense summers at home, spent largely like passing ships and with little to no family time. It came at a point when we were tired, bored of the monotony, sick of my husbands travelling and craving even just one day where we didn’t have to think about work schedules and nursery pick ups and which grandparent would be able to look after Evie that weekend. And there was no doubt that Evie benefited from a week of undivided attention from us. We took relatively no toys with us (Ryanair baggage allowance) but she didn’t care. Kids don’t really need much do they? Just your time, your attention and your ability to be silly and imaginative. Cushions were turned into bouncy castles and throws into forts and absolutely everywhere became a scene from PJ masks at some point (her latest obsession).
I feel as if I talked about this holiday for such a long time (I think we first started researching where to go back in June and booked our flights in July), that by the time we were actually leaving, I’d probably bored the socks off of you all. And pre- parent me would have most definitely been all ‘c’mon woman get a grip, its a one week in Spain, not exactly the trip of a lifetime!’. But I don’t think I could have ever anticipated just how special the prospect of one week in Spain would become once we had a kid, and a busy life, and money worries, and adult responsibilities. Before Evie came along, we travelled a fair bit. Weekends away to European destinations, cheap flights booked on a whim, three week honeymoon adventures. So coming home from one trip never felt sad, as there was always something else on the horizon. But now that there’s work, and nursery and money, and a house to consider things change a lot don’t they? There’s rarely another trip ‘just around the corner’, chances are that one week summer break is the one you’ve saved for all year and there might not be another for maybe two years to come. I’m not in any way complaining, as I realise how fortunate we are to even have managed this trip abroad with a young child. I’m just explaining that over the last couple of years my perspective has changed and travel has become a much more limited and coveted thing. What previously would have just been a last minute summer escape, is now our family holiday for the year and for that reason, became a rather large event that we prepared for and counted down to for a good few months in advance.
It was also only the second time we’d been abroad as a family since Evie was born. We did a week in Sitges in the first year of parenthood when Evie was around 7 months old, so it had been two years since then. Obviously Evie wouldn’t have any memory of that first holiday so this trip became a really BIG deal for her and she talked about it incessantly for about a month before we left. By the day we were due to leave excitement levels were at an all time peak! Us adults on the other hand, our stress levels were at all time peak. There just seemed to be so much to organise, and with my husband away with work until the final hour, most of that organisation fell to me and was crammed into that last nursery morning before we jetted off. We’d booked an evening flight so that Wednesday was a mix of running around like headless chickens trying to remember last minute bits, while simultaneously trying to appear calm and breezy so as not to have Evie jumping off the walls in excitement from 6am that morning (which obviously didn’t work).
Getting my lashes done that morning, which would have normally been a really relaxing affair, I found myself lying there anxiously thinking ‘is this not DONE yet??’ ,‘HOW much longer?’ and running through all the things I still had to sort out once I made it home. Then there was taxi gate… Walking home from my lash appointment, I hurriedly texted the husband and asked him to book a taxi. I’m no good at walking and texting so I didn’t elaborate, thinking that he’d know to book a black cab following our conversation about flying to Scotland the month previously, and how I’d managed to book a black cab instead of a regular taxi which avoided the need for a car seat as Evie could stay in her buggy. Of course, it transpired (5 minutes before the taxi was due when I saw husband folding up the buggy) that he had no memory of this conversation whatsoever and had indeed NOT booked a black cab. Cue a frantic ten minutes of cancelling one taxi and desperately trying to organise another at 5pm on a Wednesday night when it seemed all taxi firms were closed for bookings. Panicked arguments of ‘use a bit of common sense’ and ‘I’m not a mindreader!!’ strewn between ‘what if we can’t get a taxi?’ ‘what if we miss our flight?’, before a black cab came rolling up to our house about half an hour before we even needed it and we threw everything in and tried to regain some composure. That’s the thing about travelling isn’t it? You know that no matter what it will all be fine once you get there, but it’s just the getting there that worries you.
My husband tends to stress more about the logistical things. Getting to the airport on time, getting through security, whether our hand luggage is too big and we might have to pay. Possibly missing the flight. I don’t stress about those things (which is probably just as well as we couldn’t both be panicking at the slightest bit of traffic on the road). To me they are out of my control so there’s no sense worrying, what will be will be. But I get more generally anxious about the overall experience. Will Evie be ok? Will she get scared at the airport? Is the flight too late, will she be overtired? How will she be on the plane, will I manage to console/entertain her? How will she cope with arriving at 1pm and being woken up? Will she be ok in the heat? Actually reading that back all of my anxieties are Evie related. Come to think of it I don’t remember ever feeling anxious about travelling before I had her. As a parent it’s definitely a lot harder to get into relaxation mode, you’re constantly on high alert. I must admit that I don’t think my shoulders fully came down from under my chin until at least day three of the holiday and even then it was only the times when Evie was napping that I really let my hair down.
I was trying to think back to our Sitges holiday when Evie was a baby and consider whether one trip was easier or more relaxing than the other. But actually they were both wonderful, and difficult in completely different ways.
At seven months old, Evie was a lot more portable then I guess. We didn’t have to worry about her saying no to things or not wanting to go places. We could generally take her wherever we wanted to go and as long as she had milk, and a few toys to chew, cuddles and regular naps she was pretty happy. But I guess in terms of making memories, those ones were predominantly for us. And while it was so lovely to have her with us at that age, she was a baby and whether at home or in a sunny location life was pretty much the same for her. Whereas at toddler age, Evie was truly a part of the holiday experience this time around (I’d argue the whole part really, everything bar those two hour nap times each day was for her), and it really felt like we were making valuable family memories. She was so aware of everything we did and everywhere we went, she soaked everything up and honestly was the best. Apart from that first couple of days when she was tired and getting used to her new surroundings, there was barely a grumble from her all week. She loved every new experience and we really felt her confidence growing throughout the week. At this age, parenting really feels like shaping a young person. Everything you do (or don’t do), you wonder whether that will add (or take away) to/from the person they become, and this holiday was one of those weeks that you kind of just know has added an extra layer to your complex little being.
Flying was probably one of the parts of the trip I’d been most worried about at this age. As a baby they’re on your lap for a start which makes things easier and you can feed them to sleep. I was still breastfeeding on our last holiday which was a godsend when flying. (Although that holiday did more or less signal an end to my breastfeeding journey as feeding in the heat when out and about was just too much for both of us to handle and I needed the freedom – never let me have a summer baby, I won’t cope. So that was definitely a plus in holidaying with a toddler – the fact that I didn’t have a sweaty baby attached to my sweaty self at all times and could generally operate as an independent human, just with a little sidekick holding my hand.) Actually though, we needn’t have worried about the flights at all, as Evie was a star. Doing that dry run flight to Scotland the month previous had really helped as she knew exactly what to expect this time around. She was even bossing Daddy around telling him what to do, and how things worked because ‘You didn’t come on the aeroplane last time daddy so you don’t know’ ;-). We spent a long time trying to decide which flight time would be the best but in the end we opted for the cheaper one and flew in the evening just hoping that Evie would sleep. Actually it worked out to be the perfect solution. Our flight was at 9pm, which meant a later bedtime than usual but an exciting time at the airport doing Peppa sticker books and looking out the window at all the aeroplanes. And we’d told her previously that we were flying at night which meant she could have a sleep on the plane so we got on board, gave her a glass of milk, she watched an episode of PJ masks during lift off, then promptly put her head on my lap, Daddy’s jumper over her like a blanket and fell fast asleep for the whole three hour flight! We arrived in Malaga at 1am local time, but had decided due to the late hour not to travel to our location that night and instead booked a room at the Holiday Inn at the airport. Apart from the small panic when I saw an older couple in one of those airport buggies driving away with our suitcase (Husband had to chase them down and practically jump into their taxi before they took off with it!), my head filling with the thought of me and Evie surviving the whole holiday with a single outfit each (!!), the journey and airport experience was all pretty breezy. Evie obviously woke up when we got off the plane but was perfectly happy, and walked into the Holiday Inn reception area saying ‘Wow it’s so beautiful Mummy, I love this holiday’ making me realise that you really could take kids anywhere and they’d see it as the best adventure. The innocence of a two year old who hasn’t developed any level of snobbery yet. After dancing around the hotel room, jumping on the sofa and squealing with delight over her ‘holiday bed’ – a travel cot she didn’t sleep in – it was lights off and we all fell asleep until 8am the next morning. Breakfast at the hotel followed by a 50 minute transfer and we were at our destination – Nerja, a lovely little Spanish town in the Costa Del Sol.
Tiredness definitely followed us that first day – Evie had been up early in excitement and obviously hadn’t had a full night sleep so most of the day was spent adjusting to our new (hot) surroundings and trying to keep Evie out of danger. We were staying at a little self catering apartment in El Capistrano Village -a holiday home complex on the outskirts of the main town. All the freedom of doing your own thing, but with amenities nearby like pools, a shop and a restaurant. Overall we found Nerja to be a very family friendly place and the main spots in town all felt very safe and family orientated. There were lots of fellow young couples with children and larger families at the same accommodation as us so the surroundings felt very welcoming and relaxed.
We’d arrived about 10am but had been told our apartment wouldn’t be ready until about 1pm so went for a wander, had some lunch at the pool cafe and dipped our toes in the three different pools. Come 1pm however there was a change of plan, and they asked if we’d prefer a bungalow apartment with a garden rather than one over two floors. It was opposite the restaurant, round the corner from the supermarket and close to all the pools so definitely a better option for us with Evie and I was grateful to them for thinking of our needs, BUT it meant a longer wait as it still wasn’t cleaned. We were able to dump our bags and sat in the garden for a while, but by 2pm were all REALLY in need of a nap (Evie especially) and the bedrooms still weren’t finished. When Evie fell off a sun lounger in tiredness and faceplanted the concrete, and I felt like the worst Mum in the world, we pulled our swimwear out of the suitcase, grabbed a towel and headed to the shady grass next to the family pool, where Evie promptly fell asleep in my arms and we were then able to relax under a tree with a drink and some chips until our apartment was ready and we could all head home for a nap. We woke up at 6pm all feeling much better, made dinner, played and then flopped back into bed about 11pm that night.
And that marked day one of the holiday. The rest of the week passed by in a wonderful flurry of sun, sea, swimming, ice creams, play parks, exploring and (some) relaxing. It always seems to take a few days to adjust when you’re on holiday, and although we had lots of fun those first few days, I’d say it was day four before we felt like we’d got into a happy little family rhythm with everyone doing the things they wanted and us all ending the day on a high. And it definitely took that long for me to stop feeling on edge, worrying about every death trap location that Evie seemed to peg it towards, every sun lounger that she might fall off of and of course manage to sleep a full night without having to get up and check on her in a different room. For those first couple of mornings my Husband would wake up and find me squeezed into the little single bed next to her. But by mid week, and a few aperol spritz’s down, I could feel the tension leaving my body and the holiday mode entering. Two weeks would have been ideal!
Our apartment village was about a 20 minute walk from the centre of town/the beaches which we’d worried might be too far when booking but it worked out great for us. The complex had a supermarket, two pool bars, a restaurant and three pools, plus lots of pretty cobbled streets to wander down. Some mornings we’d just chill at home before heading to the pool/ into town later. Some days we’d get up and out early. Some days we’d head to the nearby play park in the morning before coming back for lunch. Most nights we’d eat in at the holiday home, but we visited local restaurants a couple of nights and one ‘party night’ we went into town for the full dinner out experience (followed by chocolate ice cream for Evie – she lived for the evenings out, she loved it). The walk into town was fine if we left earlish to avoid it being too hot, as it was all down hill, but as we realised on our first day out when we didn’t leave until after 11am, it felt pretty far when it was really hot and we’d all be a bit grumpy by the time we reached the beach. Those first couple of days were slightly overcast but INCREDIBLY hot and humid (the Monica hair was real) so walking around too much was sticky and tiring. Luckily there was a local bus that stopped outside our apartment village and took us straight into town for a euro so after that first day, we mainly used this. And we always got the bus back as it was all uphill and a bit of a slog in the heat. As was the walk from the main beach back into town, which we discovered that second day when Evie fell asleep after lunch and we decided to try and find the centre of town and go for a drink. My poor husband had a lot of buggy pushing and lifting up steps in the blazing heat but when we finally got up to the right level it was a lovely pedestrianised walk that took us towards the main square.
It was probably during one of these pushing/lifting moments that we lost Evie’s lovely yellow sandals (on only the second day when she’d wore them for approximately 20 minutes that morning!). We didn’t realise they were missing until the next day and we have no idea where we lost them (I still don’t know how we wouldn’t have noticed a pair of shoes falling out from beneath us), but we’d packed up at the beach in a hurry when heat + tiredness + hunger got the better of Evie and we decided to call time on the beach and find a shady restaurant to get some food in us. We had too much stuff and had just thrown it all in with abandon, I’m guessing during one of those lifting the buggy up some stairs moments they dropped out. Evie of course didn’t let us forget it all week as they were her favourites, and I felt terrible because I’d only brought two pairs of shoes for her and she wasn’t keen on the jelly sandals telling me they hurt her feet. She pretty much went barefoot for the rest of the holiday unless it was absolutely necessary for her to wear shoes and even then she would only wear her sandals with socks but alas -toddlers hey?
In typical fashion for me, I got overly emotional about the ordeal, blamed myself and when I realised had a dramatic moment of ‘Why is everything going wrong???’, ‘is this holiday doomed??’. We were all set to head into town that next day, retrace our steps and go in search of them, which Evie was all for but after scouring the apartment complex, asking at the shop, lost property and all the restaurants, my husband pointed out that if we’d lost them in town they were most likely gone and trying to retrace our steps would just equal a whole day in the heat endlessly wandering to no avail, wasting a day of the holiday. I realised he was probably right, and we decided not to dwell on it and just move on. I guess of all the things to lose on holiday, a pair of sandals isn’t the worst. I just wished she’d got to wear them a little more before they disappeared.
After that minor ordeal though, everything went pretty smoothly, we all relaxed into the holiday spirit and had some lovely days. We did a couple of beach days; the first to the most popular beach, Burriana. A very pretty stretch and probably the best for amenities as it had little play areas dotted across the sand, ice cream shops and plenty of restaurants, but the day we visited it was beyond hot and we found it all a little busy. Towards the end of the week we stumbled onto a smaller beach at the other end of town that, although more stony, was much quieter and chilled. There was also a small beach at the base of the Balcon De Europa (the main square/viewpoint in town) which we didn’t actually make it to, but looking down at it it looked perfect for kids as it was enclosed and all flat so an easy walk to the sea/waves. Evie enjoyed the beaches for collecting stones and shells and eating ice cream but the shingle put her off running around too much (it also got super hot underfoot) and she refused to go in the water. In fairness both times we’d visited the beach we’d got there as she was starting to get tired and the heat was definitely hard to handle as there was no shade. She wasn’t keen on going near the sea and we didn’t push it. Because the beaches were stony, it was a bit of a mission to get into the sea and the waves were quite big. The only beach she has experience of really was the one we visited at my parents in Scotland which was all soft sand and a flat route to the water so I can’t blame her for being a little apprehensive. I love swimming in the sea though so was glad when she fell asleep and I could go for a dip. There’s just something so special about swimming in open water isn’t there?
We found the centre of Nerja really lovely. and spent quite a bit of time wandering the streets and choosing which ice cream shop to sample throughout the week. The main area is around the Balcon De Europa which is a beautiful promenade with epic views out over the sea. This area is surrounded by cafes, restaurants and ice cream parlours and very picturesque. Off this main square are a bunch of smaller streets full of shops and eateries and the whole area was really family friendly and relaxed. Evie loved running around here and we erm… loved chasing after her down that promenade on multiple occasions!!
We also had a lot of lazy days at our holiday village, which isn’t something I’m used to on holidays (I’m more of a – let’s make the most of every day and get out and explore – kind of person), but was lovely and really needed on a family holiday like this. Evie’s a homebird and as much as she lapped up all the new experiences, she definitely enjoyed those relaxed mornings spent playing at our apartment and running around the garden. It was incredibly hot during our visit, probably a lot hotter than we were expecting for end of September and at times that was hard to handle (as a family we’re not really built for the heat) but the great thing was that it stayed warm until the sun went down at around 8.30pm. The pools stayed open until 8pm too and we found that the best and busiest time to hit the pool was around 4-6pm when it was lovely and warm. It meant that we didn’t need to worry about getting up and out of the apartment super early if we didn’t want to and could spend the morning relaxing knowing that we still had a long afternoon to fit activities into. I think one of the things I learned from our first proper family holiday was to definitely embrace a slower approach and not expect to achieve too much. Some of our best days were our most chilled, care free ones where we didn’t have set plans. When we travelled as a couple before Evie, we’d usually do a good bit of research before hand and have lots of ideas of places we wanted to visit and restaurants that came recommended. Holidaying with a toddler basically meant running into the nearest restaurant which had a kids menu when the hangry signs appeared rather than hunting out the gourmet one that got the best trip advisor rating. It meant basing our outings around where the nearest play park was and choosing only a couple of days to do an activity that suited us. But of course none of that made the holiday any less special, just being together was enough, whether we were eating pasta in our apartment or eating out.
It took until day three to persuade Evie to actually get in the water and go properly swimming in the pools. Those first couple of days she just wanted to sit on the steps and splash her hands and feet which was totally fine. She’s such a confident swimmer and absolutely loves the water, but baby pools at home are always really warm and although it was hot outside on holiday, the pools themselves were pretty cold when you first got in which I think put her off. A combination of buying a Paw Patrol float at the local shop to play with, and some imaginative play of PJ masks where Daddy pretended to be Romeo chasing her around, and before we knew it she was diving in, splashing around like mad and LOVING it. Although I wouldn’t have pushed her to get in if she didn’t want to, I had a feeling that if she could just get over that initial cold moment that she’d have so much fun, and I was right. Once in, it was a struggle to get her back out and we both just took so much pleasure in seeing her enjoy herself in the water so much. Simple moments, but definitely some of our highlights of the holiday were just all being in the pool together splashing around and playing silly games. Since we’ve been home, I’ve noticed a big change in her at swimming class and her level of confidence and ability has really come on so it obviously did her the world of good.
We soon realised that Evie definitely needed a little siesta in the afternoons to survive the heat and got into a wee routine of doing something for her in the morning (like a park or just playing at home) before a bit of food and then if out and about, when she fell asleep in the buggy, we’d do something for us – beach time, wanders around the town, going for a nice lunch/drink somewhere or if at the apartment chilling by the pool with a good book and taking turns to go for a swim. There were a lot of families at our holiday complex and we really fed off of the energy of that relaxed form of parenting. I wouldn’t say we are particularly rule based parents at home, but like everyone it’s hard not to adopt a familiar routine to your day to day, week to week, when you have a child. I must say it was very freeing to let all of that go on holiday and just take each thing as it came. Evie doesn’t nap in the day anymore at home, but we knew that in the sunshine she might need it and had decided to just follow her lead and forgo any normal routine. It was kind of lovely to see small babies asleep under a shaded sun lounger with Dads enjoying a beer nearby and Mums at the bar with friends or in the pool. I think as parents we often get so caught up in what other parents are doing, and are all too judgey at times. In Europe there’s definitely a more relaxed approach (especially when holidaying) that means no one bats an eyelid if your kid is singing loudly in a restaurant at 9pm or you’re having a glass of something alcoholic while they sleep next to you on the beach. We let Evie sleep whenever she needed it and didn’t worry, even if that meant she was still napping at 6pm and up until midnight. It meant that we got some much needed chill time of our own each day which was invaluable to us relaxing and enjoying the holiday too.
I watched an IGTV from Father of Daughters while I was away that featured snapshots from their family holiday and was titled along the lines of ‘when you say yes’ and I thought that was pretty apt. The word no becomes non existent on holiday (within reason) and you find yourself just saying yes to your kid’s every request and having a lovely old time not worrying about what kind of parenting example you’re setting. We gave up trying to persuade Evie to eat anything healthy (the sun seemed to zap her already minimal appetite to zero) and let her live off crisps and ice cream all week. We’d let her sleep whenever, buy as many blue balls from the holiday shop as she wanted and didn’t push it if she didn’t want to spend more than ten minutes on the beach before going in her buggy to watch the iPad. She spent most of the week barefoot, mucky and with a matt of messy hair. She had about two baths all week and her earliest night in bed was 9pm. But she was beyond happy, the best behaved and full of joy so that’s all that really matters isn’t it?
It was both tiring and relaxing. and there was part of me that came home feeling like I needed another holiday just to recover from this one, but I also came home feeling like my cup was full having had the most wonderful week soaking up time as a family. There’s nothing better is there?