An inset day is a great opportunity to take advantage of our nearness to London and go for a slightly less busy day out. Now my children are all at different schools, it’s also meant that their inset days have differed, allowing us to make the most of rare one-on-one time.
Back in September I wrote about my trip to the Warner Bros. Studios and the making of Harry Potter. That was my eldest daughter’s day out of choice. My middle daughter chose the Tower of London and so before the October half term, we made our way up on the train one cold and rainy Thursday. It was such a wet and gloomy day, there was fog hanging so low that you couldn’t see the top of the Shard.
It was a shame that the Tower has a lot of outside space to see. Not a shame in itself, but a shame when you are huddled under your jacket and keeping your head low. But as my daughter informed me, it’s only rain, it won’t kill you, so we ploughed on.
Be prepared for a lot of walking when you visit the Tower of London. It’s a huge space, almost like a village within the city, surrounded by fortification. Within the ancient walls are numerous buildings of interest, reflecting the military history of London, individual towers that housed prisoners of all ranks and of course the Crown Jewels. This was the part my daughter was most looking forward to seeing and very impressive they were too.
We finished our day out by warming up and drying out in The Perkin Reveller restaurant, where we also enjoyed a lovely lunch before making our way back over Tower Bridge to the station.
On the other side of the October half term break, I took my six year old son up to the Monument and St Paul’s. Having studied all about the Great Fire of London at school, he was interested to see where Pudding Lane was and even though it was another cloudy and miserable day, still insisted on climbing the 331 steps to the top of the Monument. Though not a great view from the top that day, plus it made me feel a bit sick going up there to be honest, at least we got a certificate to say that we had done it!
My son thought St Paul’s Cathedral was amazing and insisted I take photos from every angle. We walked around Patter Noster square too before heading to Leon for lunch, where he enjoyed a gluten and dairy free lunch and an almond biscuit.
It’s wonderful when you can take your children to see something they have been learning about in school. It reinforces their knowledge by bringing it to life – like a living history lesson. That’s one of the great advantages of living so close to the Capital.
Our latest trip with the children took us to Italy, to Sorrento on the beautiful Amalfi coast. Having been there as a couple, many moons ago, we wanted the kids to experience the rich history of the area. They are now at an age where they appreciate a bit of culture and we’ve been taking full advantage of that.
There is a lot to see in this particular area of Italy though and if you do go there with young children, you really have to pick and choose what you want to visit. They can only cope with so much sight seeing and you don’t want to put them off for future trips!
We chose Pompeii and it’s a big site that will take you a whole day to get around. I would advise going on a cooler day, as it’s hard work in the heat. We didn’t even see all of it when we went, but just standing in the main piazza in the shadow of Vesuvius, you really do have a sense of the magnitude of destruction that occurred that day in AD79. The difference between Pompeii and Herculaneum, another excavation site that is closer to Vesuvius, is that Pompeii was covered by ash and Herculaneum by volcanic mud. Only a small site has been excavated at Herculaneum due to the new town being built right on top of it, but what has been uncovered was much better preserved.
My six year old son was fascinated that a volcano could erupt and completely destroy a city in such a short space of time. In fact, he wouldn’t stop asking questions about earthquakes and eruptions for the rest of the holiday. I think he was a bit worried that it might happen again whilst we were there and he was happy to be reassured that across the bay in Sorrento, we would be safe.
My other daughter, the eight year old, was fascinated with Vesuvius for a different reason and wanted to make the trip to see the crater. Needless to say, my son didn’t want to go anywhere near it and neither did my eldest daughter, so my husband took her.
We stayed behind and went to a coffee shop, overlooking the bay and the mountain. We wondered whether the other two members of our family would actually get to see anything at the top of the volcano because it seemed to be shrouded in mist the whole day, apparently they did.
We rarely take organised tours when we go on holiday, particularly in Italy because we have visited so many times now and know the way things work over there. Train travel is really easy and cheap too. The train from Sorrento to Pompeii Escavi takes around 30 minutes and the entrance to the historical site is a two minute walk. Going one more stop on the line to Ercolano (Herculaneum), you can visit the excavation site there, or you can catch a bus from the station that takes you up Vesuvius. Please note, you can only go so far by bus and the rest is on foot. It’s steep and takes around twenty minutes to get to the crater. Whenever you travel by train in Italy, you must also remember to validate your ticket before you board. This means getting it stamped by one of the machines in the station, with the day’s date.
There are many hotels and apartments in Sorrento, but as usual, when looking for something that would suit the five of us, it wasn’t so easy. We opted for an apartment at Villa Terrazza, which gave us three bedrooms, large living and dining area and kitchen. The Villa is beautiful and you can’t get any nearer to the sea. It’s also a five minute walk to the main square and all the shops and restaurants. The only thing I would say about our apartment is that it could do with a bit of freshening up. It’s a bit dated and being on the lower floor (we had the Paradise Suite), it often smelt musty.
I went with a list of restaurants I’d looked up on Trip Advisor that accommodate for gluten free diners, but I needn’t have bothered. Every place we went to seemed to be aware and could provide something to suit our needs. Unless you are particularly looking for gluten free pizza or pasta, you can find something suitable for a gluten and dairy free diet on the extensive menus. Choose from antipasti including bresaola (dried beef) and rocket, seafood and grilled fish, steaks or chicken. Potatoes are always roasted in oil and it’s not common practice to add butter to the vegetables. If you tell them your needs, staff are educated and understanding. My son was well looked after the whole time we were away. My top picks are:
Ristorante La Lanterna
This was our favourite restaurant and we ate here several times. They offered gluten free pasta, but not pizza, however, they would adapt any dish to make sure if included or excluded what you can or can’t eat.
L’Osteria del Buonconvento
This restaurant has an extensive menu and they also offered gluten free pasta. It’s housed in a old church, which makes for a beautiful interior to enjoy your meal.
Right in the main square, this place can get busy, but as we were there late in the season, we had no problem getting in. Although we didn’t eat here for dinner, we enjoyed a couple of breakfasts, including scrambled eggs (made without milk), bacon and gluten free rolls.
You can’t go to Italy without sampling the ice cream and the Gelataria’s over there are like works of art. I was so impressed that we found two places that catered for both gluten and dairy free customers. In addition to the usual fruit sorbets, both offered a chocolate sorbet that was amazing (and I don’t even like ice cream!). It’s made by melting dark chocolate, mixing with some sugar and water and then churning in the same way you would any other ice cream.
Gelataria Zini is located just off one of the narrow shop lined streets and is a great place to call in for refreshments if you needing a pick me up after all that shopping. There are a couple of tables in there too, if you want to hang around for coffee.
Puro is a cafe with a difference. Not only can you choose from an extensive range of ice creams, they also do savoury food, hot drinks and alcohol. The difference I just mentioned is this addition to the cafe:
Yes, swings, really. I love that they have these, even though they take up space that could be given to two or maybe three more tables.
The Amalfi coast is rocky and steep but there are a few beaches and the water is shallow and clear and there is a handy lift you can use to get down to the shoreline from the town.
The port operates a busy timetable of boats running to and from the island of Capri and also to Naples. In peak season, you can also catch a boat to the other towns along the coast line. We took the children to Capri but they didn’t enjoy it. It’s a pretty place but they found it boring. You can’t win ’em all though can you? Like I said, these types of holidays are what my husband and I used to enjoy before we had the children. Now we’re trying to introduce them to the children, but taking into consideration what might interest them, not just what we want to see. If we’re going to continue taking these kinds of trips, we have to cater for all of us, otherwise they would be no fun for anyone and that defeats the object completely.
As for our next trip, we’re not sure yet. Perhaps you could give me some ideas?
I wanted to do my own take on leek and potato soup, an old favourite of mine. That meant finding an alternative to potatoes as they are nightshades and I have to avoid them in my diet. Hmm… leek and potato soup without potatoes, now there’s an interesting quandary. Sweet potatoes wouldn’t work in this instance because they are, well, too sweet and I didn’t want an orange soup. It needed to be something blander, but also a root vegetable to add that starchy thickness and creaminess to the soup. I opted for swede.
Who would have thought that a two-ingredient soup could be so tasty. In fact, it was so creamy too that I didn’t even need to add anything once it was blended (I had considered whether to add dairy free yoghurt at the end, but there was really no need).
So I know this barely constitutes a recipe, but I wanted to share it because of it’s ease. I used chicken stock made from boiling up the carcass of the previous night’s dinner and added a couple of teaspoons of vegetable bouillon, to really bring out the flavour of the vegetables. You can of course use ready made chicken stock or vegetable stock depending on your preference.
I didn’t even add salt to this recipe, as I think it was tasty enough as it was. If you compare it to the high salt, high sugar and added thickener shop bought soups, this is a real winner.
2-ingredient vegetable soup
A simple yet delicious creamy soup that's gluten, dairy and nightshade free
I love lasagne but don’t make it much. When you have to omit gluten, dairy and nightshades from your diet, a lasagne isn’t the ideal meal to make. That said, I’m never one to shy away from a challenge and have managed to make one that works well. It uses a nomato sauce instead of tomatoes and a cashew cream to replace the bechamel.
Here, I’m sharing another version of a gluten, dairy and nightshade free lasagne. This one is the easiest lasagne I’ve ever made. At the moment, I’m busy with work and in between I’m trying to write a novel as a participant of National Novel Writing Month. So, I haven’t got a great deal of time to be cooking elaborate meals. I need quick and convenience, but it has to be healthy too.
That’s why I’m relying heavily on my slow cooker this week. I’ve never cooked a lasagne in one before though, so I was keeping everything crossed that it would work. You don’t want to come home from a day at the office thinking that dinner is taken care of only to find out that it’s a disaster do you?
Well, I can categorically say that this was the opposite of disaster. I would even go so far as to say that it reminded me of the lasagne my daughter had last week when we were in Italy! That’s because authentic Italian lasagne is drier than what we might be used to. That doesn’t make it any less tasty though, especially as it had been slow cooking all day long, so it was flavour-packed.
With a little bit of prep the night before, I was able to assemble this lasagne in around five minutes before I left for work and all I needed to do when I got home was steam some veg to go with it. Who says the slow cooker is only good for casseroles?
Slow Cooker Lasagne
No pre-cooking required, just assemble and leave the slow cooker to do it's job. This tasty lasagne is a winner all round. This recipe is also gluten, dairy and nightshade free but you'd never know!