Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A German Discovery (Giveaway)

So here I am, being offered my favourite chocolate (Ritter Sport if you must know) and some lovely Moselle wine to explore how Germany can be a good travel destination. Nothing more to my liking than that! It is a bit strange for me though drinking German wine, which I connect with summer in Germany sitting outside in the sunshine of an early evening, here in Glasgow on a rather dreich and chilly March evening. It's just not the same and it makes me long for my summer holiday which will actually take us to Germany.

Germany is not the most popular tourist destination. It's a bit underrated that way. It's a big country with very different regional characteristics, it's by no means a place that can be easily summarised. My parents hail from the Eifel, which is a wine growing region but also makes its own beer, a rural, mountainous and very wooded part of the world which is rather beautiful and very much undiscovered by tourists outside of Germany. The wine, like that of the Rheinland further south, is the perfect drink on a hot summers day, and seriously better than its reputation. I have not had a bad wine in Germany and really don't know where that Liebfrauenmilch myth comes from.

My own part of Germany lies 200km further north, just outside of Cologne, a very densely populated area steeped in chemical industry and with the Black Country of Germany next door. And there's beer being made there too. In fact my hometown is on the borderline between two types of beer, Alt and Koelsch and it's really rather important which one you are partial too, and whether you see yourself closer to Duesseldorf, the city of fashion, or Cologne, the city of Tuennes and Schael, comedy, carnival, hard work and hard partying and a rather impressive Cathedral.

And we are yet very different from all the other regions, the fishheads of the north (it's a term of endearment, honest) or the south/Bavaria, who drink their beer by the litre (when we prefer tiny 200ml glasses, aka test tubes). And Berlin is of course a world on its own.

In our attempt to find a proper holiday destination (in the sense of something that isn't my hometown or one of the fabulous places our friends are from), we have come across a lot of regions to discover. There are canal holidays, the lakes of Mecklenburg, Swiss Saxony with stunning scenery, you only need to drive for an hour and you can discover a slightly different regional identity. Holidays in Germany also mean bathing in lakes, the mudflats of the North Sea, romantic Ruegen at the Baltic Sea, beautiful town centres which are pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

The food is traditional still and you'll get your regional fare anywhere really, it's only the big cities that have the usual multicultural variety of cuisines available. Which means that yes, as a vegetarian, it can be a bit of a struggle, because it is true, Germans love sausages. But there are also foods which have rarely traveled and really should have, take Spaetzle, or the amazing varieties of German bread. In fact, start any German expat on the topic of bread and you'll not hear the end of it.

The great thing about a German holiday is that it's not geared up for mass tourism and isn't pretentious and also doesn't capitalise on what it has to offer. It's all a bit understated, as if nobody really thinks that anyone would even consider coming all the way from where ever to visit Germany - we certainly had a decent amount of disbelief on our farm holiday in the Eifel, where people  wondered in amazement why we would travel so far for this kind of holiday, not understanding that actually, it's a pretty amazing idea to live on a working farm and have the opportunity for the children to see how it all works, as well as daily pony rides through the beautiful German forests.  

Inntravel is a travel company that offers Slow Holidays in Germany, which are tailor made and offer self-guided walking holidays, cycling holidays and more, which offer a great opportunity to explore Germany. An example includes Meanders of the Moselle, which takes travelers through the
vineyards of this Moselle wine region, providing plentiful opportunities for tastings along the way. A full selection of holidays in Germany is available too.

What's best is that I can give away another set of 2 bottles of tasty German white wine and a couple of bars of the most delicious Ritter Sport chocolate to a lucky winner. Please leave a comment on here, and share this giveaway on facebook or twitter with #MyGermanDiscovery @cartside for an extra entry each. Giveaway closes 10th April. 
(Open to residents of the UK only sorry).

Disclosure: we received German wine and Ritter Sport chocolate to join in the  #MyGermanDiscovery campaign.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Shared Parental Leave

On April 5th, in just a few days, the right to shared parental leave will be coming into force. This is something that has been around in other countries for a while. In Germany, its uptake has been pretty good and lots of dads appreciate the opportunity it gives them to spend quality time with their children in the early years too. When I speak to parents here, many are skeptical about uptake but at the end of the day, one can't take it if it's not an option, so having the option is a first step, it gives food for thought and a choice that wasn't there before.  If you were wondering what it's all about and how to take advantage of it, GoToMeeting has a useful infographic available which explains in a nutshell everything around shared parental leave in a very easy to follow way. A useful too for anyone considering to apply for shared parental leave.

This is a partnership post

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Birthday week - Disney on Ice

Last weekend's campervan trip was of course not enough to celebrate Cubling's 8th birthday. Thanks to free tickets we had the great opportunity to see Disney on ice and review it. An extra special birthday treat and a great night out for the family for sure.

I was actually quite surprised how excited the girls were about the night, and both of them in equal measures. There was a lot of talk about which characters would be there and what it would all be like, 4 year old was so excited that she wouldn't even have a late afternoon nap (which she usually has whether I like it or not, and which would have helped to get her through the long evening). I was bit suspicious about the venue, the SSE Hydro, which has let me down before with rather poor viewing, but when we took to our seats I knew that this wouldn't be an issue. The ice rink was positioned in a way that it was easy enough to see and the distance and height actually helped to appreciate the formation skating.

The show came in two halves which I felt were perfectly timed, with an intro and then 2 retellings of well loved Disney stories,  The little Mermaid and Tangled before the break and Beauty and the Beast and, of course, Frozen after. The stories were abridged and came with all the best songs from the films. The outfits were anything from stylish to funny - I had rather a lot of fun with Sebastian the crab and Magnus the horse, and the seahorses that came out to dance were rather breathtaking too. It was a visual feast and with ever more "oh look, it's ...!"

For Snowflake, it was the bestest selection of storylines anyway, as she is heavily into Tangled and Frozen, and likes the other two as well. A fair bit of pyrotechnics added more wow factor to it, and there was even a moment of being rather scared (in spite of the distance to the action and being reasonably high up, which I guess speaks for the way that the show did spark the imagination of little ones). The props and set were clever and at times rather beautful too, the ship for the Little Mermaid stood out for me as looking extremely realistic in spite of being only a tiny boat part, and the lanterns from Tangled had all the magic they promise to be.

With the finale of Frozen, all our favourite songs were present and it Snowflake was singing them at sotto voce (much to the dismay of her big sister). I think I was also the victim of having little hands put in front of my mouth as I'm quite party to singing along. I have to admit that I missed bits of the show because the girls were so delighted that I couldn't help but watch them instead.

Like Disney or not, it was a great show with lots of visuals, great music, tongue in cheek and all the hallmarks of great entertainment. The young audience was all dressed up and enjoying themselves brilliantly (as were most of the adults). There was a fair bit of souvenir and marketing stalls which I'm not a great fan of but we did find it easy enough to avoid and at least we didn't experience much pestering.

The show was captivating throughout, both my 8 year old and 4 year old were equally enchanted and in spite of it being well past their bedtimes, they followed every single move. The show is part of the Magical Ice Festival tour and you can catch it in most major UK cities in the next few months.

Which left me with just a cake to make for her ceramic painting party at our local Glazed on Saturday. This year's chosen cake theme would have to be Okami, a Japanese video game which Cubling has been playing with Mr Cartside since Christmas, it's all about a spirit wolf called Amatarasu who fights for good and feeds the animals in the spirit world. I don't think there's many Okami cakes out there, enough though to copy it from a more talented cake maker and icing sculptor than myself. Cubling was pleased which is the main thing. One of these days I'm going to find out how to make a symmetrical cake too. In the meantime, we're munching my assymetrical cakes which at least taste just as well, so there.

There's something about turning 8, Cubling looks really grown to me now, as if she's now at an age where she's getting ever more responsible. It feels odd to be a parent to an 8 year old when it really only seems like yesterday that she was born. A cliche I know but oh so very true.

We received free tickets for Disney on Ice in return for a review. All views expressed are that of the cartside household, which is slightly partial to all things Frozen in its entirety.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


Tomorrow my big girl will be a big 8. And the best birthday present came a bit early, in the form of our first ever trip in a (hired) campervan. I'm not quite sure where her infatuation with campervans comes from, not that I don't understand it, after all it smells of adventure. So we went up to Perth (with a stop en route to watch the solar eclipse through a thick layer of cloud) to pick up our campervan from Big Tree Campervans for 3 days and off we went, without a plan and the Highlands right in front of us.

We didn't stop in Dunkeld - I love this town so much that we probably wouldn't have left if we had, and we didn't find the picnic place I had in mind, so by the time we had lunch, we were in Pitlochry where the fish ladder that we had stopped to see was unfortunately closed for the week. Not to worry, the birthday girl was loving watching the fishermen and soon was found digging for worms (pst, the fishermen didn't want her worms, but fortunately she didn't notice).

Having had 3 recommendations for a campsite in Aviemore, we decided to head there. A quick stop for a food shop and an outdoor jacket (we had filled our small car with stuff, but had managed to forget the birthday girl's jacket which really is kind of essential). Our first night was spent at Glenmore, a camp in the forest site, with owls and woodpeckers to keep us company at the lochside beach, to the backdrop of the snow covered Cairngorms.

I was pleasantly surprised that campervans have heating, for all my love of the outdoors, I really don't enjoy being cold at night. The first day took a bit of getting to used to the campervan (it helped once we figured out that lifting the roof made cooking much easier), and the girls loved their den in the roof. My good plan to work on a certain Open Uni assignment or do some crochet after the kids were asleep were rather a no-goer, because I fell promptly asleep.

The next morning, after a fun filled trip to the beach (it involved water dam building, tree planting, making a see saw, balancing on logs, duck and dog watching), we surprised Cubling with our newly hatched plan for the day: visit Loch Ness. She had done a massive show at school last year all about Nessie and we knew this would be a winner, and so it was. The weather was amazing, blue skies and the first warmth from a tentative spring sun.

We had lunch at Urquhart castle car park, and probably didn't get thrown off because it was off season. The visitor centre was arranged in a way that there was no access to shop, cafe or toilets without paying in, but thankfully they let Snowflake use the toilet anyway, and I shouldn't grumble as they left us in peace to cook up our lunch. Next stop was the Loch Ness Experience, another money making endeavour, which wasn't really worth the price tag. The girls were engrossed in the cave like set and videos with special effects, and clearly enjoyed it. But £8 for adults/ £5 for kids to watch 6 short videos and for the privilege of entering a massive souvenir shop? (not toilets again by the way) I wasn't convinced and wouldn't recommend it unless your child has done a school topic on Nessie.

We decided to head for the Loch Ness Shores campsite south of Loch Ness, which we later found out has only been open for 19 months. The road took us through Fort Augustus, which is a beautiful and sleepy place at this time of the year, and a stunning road through the mountains, past peat bogs, mountain lochs and stunning landscapes, possibly the most spectacular scenery of our trip. The campsite is located in Foyers, which is a village carved into the mountain, with an upper and lower part to it. The following day we would explore the breathtaking waterfalls and the cosy cafe at the waterfall with seriously good food and incredibly thoughtful service by a lady who in another place would probably have been retired 20 years ago.

The campsite was quite different, modern facilities and not as spectacular as the forest site of Glenmore, but run by a couple who were clearly interested in the welfare of their customers and made sure to find us the best location with easy access to both playpark and toilets. Yes, there was a playpark on the site, which was great, as well as lots of different walks along Loch Ness and into the steep hillside that connects lower with upper Foyers.

And what does my almost 8 year old want most? A campfire (not allowed on site but allowed at the shore). Stick with "old man beard" were collected, because no adventure is complete without a fire. Oh, can I see a monster shape coming out of the water?

It was a long drive home - and we went past so many places that would merit a visit. I'm sure we were all in our heads plotting our next trip, whether with campervan or wigwamming it, youth hostels or picking one of our favourite locations and looking for accommodation nearby.

I felt quite apprehensive about a campervan trip, not ever having done it before, and we didn't go the whole way and camp in the wild this time. I was surprised though that it was easy enough to cook simple foods in the van and that it was more comfortable than imagined, the bed didn't give me a sore back, and eventually we had all our stuff organised in a way that was not the total chaos of the first night. What I particularly appreciated was the brilliant communication by the rental company, their excellent customer service (in the good sense, I didn't feel like a serviced customer, but like someone just made absolutely sure that I had the best possible time on my trip), and who can argue with finding 4 fresh eggs from the rental company's hens in the fridge? I also really liked the fact that Big Tree Campervans are based in Perth, which is the best starting point for any Scottish holiday (well, ok, maybe not for Dumfries) and they even valeted our car while away (I almost didn't recognise my car it's so shiny and clean!).

And to Cubling: Happy 8th Birthday my tree hugger, fire maker, Nessie spotter, worm digger, dam builder, cartwheeler, tree climber, adventure lover! You keep me on my toes which is just as well!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


You know that sinking feeling, when there's just too much to be done and you find yourself on facebook far too much because the mountain is just too big to tackle? Well, it seems my open uni course is moving too fast right now to keep up, throw in a 4 day work training in Cardiff, a child's birthday, a campervan trip, home being redecorated and it feels like the sky is falling down (and I now it's just an acorn, and it'll pass).

I was trying to take it all in my stride, forgetting my clumsy big toe, until just before I got home from Cardiff, on the finishing line between Glasgow Central and Cathcart, where I fell spectacularly into the train. Heavy rucksack on my back, heavy case clinched in my fist. I was a turtle on her back just that I had fallen flat on my front, the Kafkaesque person metamorphosed into a bug and unable to move.

Yes, I needed the help of a young gentleman to get me off the disgustingly dirty train floor, and my shins knew it had been a bad fall. 4 days later and it seems I managed to give myself whiplash because that pulsating headache, neck ache and shoulder ache is just not shifting. I was far too embarrassed to even make an attempt to thank my knight in shining armor and feel awfully guilty about it.

Am I using this as an excuse to postpone my uni assignments or am I really struggling here? I don't know, I just feel catapulted at top speed through my life and all I want is for it to stop and slow down.

It would help even if I didn't end up quite so tired at the 9pm spot when the kids are finally in bed, with a brain unable to do any studying. It's rather clear that this excursion to student life will not continue, 9 months of it is enough (6 months at this point). A bit like pregnancy, I remember vaguely I had more than enough at the 6 month point.

Snowflake really cheered me up by drawing a sad face and telling me that would be me if Mr Cartside, Cubling and Snowflake were dead. Top marks for empathy, bottom marks for making me miserable. But on the plus side, she loves me more than Elsa, which in 4 year old terms is probably a massive declaration of love.

And she made a dalmatian so all is well.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Mulan the Musical

      This week had a special treat in store: We were off to see Mulan the Musical at Glasgow's Fruitmarket. The Chinese production by an all female dance company cast retold the legend of Mulan with percussion and acting, transcending language barriers while still celebrating Chinese culture and heritage.

We were very lucky to be offered review tickets, and I'd shown the girls in advance the trailer and told them the story of the girl who protected her ailing father by pretending to be him and joining the army to fight in his stead.

The performance was breathtaking, the drumming was superb and so were the visuals. With great costumes, great acting, a bit of audience participation, and bit sized pieces that made it easy to follow the story, it was very much a production that appealed to young and old alike. Links had been made with the Chinese community in Glasgow and many schools had school classes in attendance so that it felt very comfortable to have taken out young children to a school night performance.

Snowflake's best friend is Chinese and it even turned out that she had seen it too, possibly even on the same night (though we didn't bump into her) so they had a lot to talk about the next day! I thought it was great for Snowflake to learn a little bit about the cultural heritage of her best friend (they have already exchanged languages, her friend teaching her Mandarin and Snowflake teaching her German). And Cubling was more than excited about it all, impersonating the percussion even before we went to see Mulan.

I felt quite privileged to be able to see such an extraordinary performance right at my doorstep. This was the last performance on Red Poppy Percussion's European tour but considering the performance was sold out, I can't but hope they'll be back really soon.

We received free tickets for the show to review it.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Passing it on

Thanks to a friend whose children attend Glendale Primary School in Pollokshields, an area of Glasgow that is not all that far from where I stay, I found out about the Glendale Women's Cafe, and was asked if I'd be interested in doing a few crochet workshops there. After the first attempt had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, it finally happened in the last 3 weeks. The Glendale Women's Cafe started out in a portacabin on the school grounds, a place for mums to meet. Now the cafe got some funding and is in a proper nice shop front with quite a decent amount of space. There's always cake, and lots of interesting activities. The area is quite multicultural, and so is the cafe.

So I popped in for 3 crochet workshops while friends of mine were kind enough to take my own preschooler to the German playgroup. I'm by not means an expert on crochet, but after a couple of years of regular crochet projects, and with a memory of how I struggled a fair bit to learn it well enough to be a contender with knitting projects (I've been knitting for as long as I can remember), I thought I'd at the right place to try and pass the crochet love on. Mind, I volunteered so nobody could sue me for being a fraud.

And it was just great fun. I approached it with not assuming at all that everyone would progress at the same rate - there's individual differences, some people knit or have done some crochet in the past which makes progress a bit faster, others have little ones that mean they cant' pay full attention, others only joined in session 2 or 3, some were able to practice at home others weren't, and while I had a rough idea what I would cover when, I let the rest just happen.

It was great to see so many people who came along for some crochet, the 10 hooks we had provided were soon gone and had to be replenished, as was the yarn. I loved to see that by session 3, there were still about 10 people with hooks in their hands, and some finished or almost finished products! And thanks to facebook I've even seen one finished project which puts my crochet work totally into the shade.

Some of the ladies even passed on their new skills to their own children, so there's rather a lot of crocheting going on in Pollokshields! Beyond my wee workshops, there are a lot of other activities on offer, art workshops, home energy advice, complimentary treatments and lots of links to community organisations and the services they offer. A brilliant project, all run by parents for parents, with the goal to increase community cohesion. I was a little bit jealous that our primary school doesn't have a similar cafe, it's just such a brilliant idea to create some community spirit by giving parents a space to meet and connect.



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