A Lifestyle, Travel and Food Blog by Jessica – a Swedish “islander” and fisherman’s daughter who somehow ended up living outside London, England with her husband, three kids and dog. 🇸🇪🇬🇧 Jessica is passionate about writing, food, food, food, baking, food, (ahem), travel, the arts, education and Film & TV. Currently working on a collection of short stories. Most recently completed work on "Drive to Survive" for Netflix. Jessica has worked as an actress, teacher, voice-over artist, translator and producer, as well as working in Higher Education. Jessica supports the British Dyslexia Association.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”
We’ve all been reminiscing about the beautiful island of Rhodes, Greece and our amazing two weeks of holiday. Can we go back already?!
Our second week pretty much continued in the same vein as the first. Swimming and playing in the pool, eating gorgeous food and venturing out for adventures in the evenings. We visited *George’s shop (*when you know, you know) and bought some more bars of olive soap. We managed to defeat the mosquitos thanks to the super duper mosquito repellent machine, we visited Kolymbia town a couple of times, went to the beach…
Maggie did her second round of Stage Academy and loved it even more than the first time. We were so proud of her! Jackson loved Football academy and made lots of new friends. He grew really confident which was amazing to see.
Both Jackson and Maggie did swim academy and made steady progress. It was action packed!
The creche was fantastic and the staff were so kind and attentive. They were incredible. And by that I mean – they were incredible, the best Holiday Village staff I’ve ever encountered. Now, I can’t say Alfie loved the Creche, but he got used to it, loved the arty corner and even made friends.
Of all the “academies” the swim academy is probably a clear stand out for me. The kids really improved so quickly and so, if you can, go for the one on ones – worth every penny.
We love the whole Holiday Village concept; it really suits our children and makes for a relaxing (-ish) holiday . So what is a “Holiday Village“?
Well, in short – it’s holidays that put the kids in focus without compromising on any of the other stuff. (Food, location, rooms, staff etc). The HV concept is offered by First Choice (TUI). Everything is aimed for families, putting the children first by running kids clubs aimed at all ages – from babies up to 15 year olds and activities every day. A HV hotel typically offer the following:
Activities & Academies
Professional performances by staff trained in Musical Theatre
These are run by credited staff and are amazing! We’ve been to a three HV hotels and staff have consistently been fantastic. They put the kids in focus and are caring and professional
Different themes several times a day! The kids do things like arts and crafts, face painting, building rafts/dens, go exploring etc.
There is also a day and evening creche. Take ALL MY MONEY.
This hotel is fantastic but obviously the stand out feature is the swim up rooms. To not having to get up in the middle of the night to reserve a sun bed is everything. It’s like your own little slice of heaven – a private sun terrace with sun beds but with the added luxury of not having to cook, not having to entertain, unlimited access to drinks, ice cream, snacks and activities. Need I say more?
The one obvious drawback is the price. Going in the school holidays with three children was pricey and as many people have pointed out, you could go further afield for that sort of money.
Each to their own. For us it was worth every penny and we’d return in a heartbeat.
This hotel will be a hard one to beat in terms of awesomeness.
End of summer. School is a week away and you’re running out of ideas.
You’ve done the puzzles, you’ve done the Lego, watched all the Hey Duggee and Gumball episodes, the trampoline is apparently boooooooring and well, something has to be done to keep the kids entertained.
So. Today the kids and I made gingerbread cookies. Yes. In August.
I know it’s traditionally made at Christmas time but hear me out:
A) they’re super easy to make
B) you get to decorate them – twice! (Shape making first, icing once cooked).
C) It’s ALL AGES FRIENDLY. Now that is something I will get behind. There aren’t a lot of activities out there that caters for ages toddler – ten year old.
D) They’re tasty! Who doesn’t like gingerbread?!
E) They’re so easy to make! (Okay, so I said this already but it deserves a repeat mention)
The recipe I use is a Swedish one. I really, really like the spice mix – so tasty, and it’s “familiar”, homely.
The cookies also do well rolled out thin and baked high and fast!
• 2 1/2 dl light brown sugar
• 3/4 dl *”ljus sirap” or golden syrup
• 3/4 dl water
• 150 g margarine
• 1 tbsp cinnamon
• 1 tbsp ginger
• 1 tsp clove
• about 6 dl flour (360g) (+ extra for the roll out )
• 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate
This is what you do…
Mix the brown sugar, golden syrup and water in a pot and bring to the boil.
Take off the heat and add the margarine. Allow it to melt and add the spices.
Let it all cool without stirring.
Once cooled, add the bicarbonate and flour.
Wrap in cling film and let it cool at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.
Heat your oven to 175°C.
Work your dough until it’s smooth and shiny. Don’t be shy with the extra flour but make sure you don’t add too much or they’ll up super dry and crumbly.
Roll out thin and use your cutters to creative fun shapes!
Place on a baking tray covered with
The cookies bake really quickly, about 6-8 minutes.
Can be kept in a airtight container or frozen.
I always make extra dough and freeze for that emergency rainy day activity!
Love, Jess ❤️
* You can find ljus sirap (and mörk sirap) on the Ocado website or in Scandinavian specialist shops. However, Golden syrup works well here too.
My baby girl is five years old. Five… I can’t quite believe it. I remember the night she came into the world.
We were getting ready to go to bed for the evening. I laid down in bed when suddenly I felt a huge gush of water. I was in shock and stumbled into the bathroom. It was happening! It was really happening!!
I had had back low pains all day and that “feeling”. My goodness, I remember googling “when do you know you’re in labour?” about a million times and most of the articles simply said “you just know”.
I hate to tell you this, but it’s true. You just know.
I had an urge to walk. I know how weird that sounds. The back pain was very similar to period pains, but a prolonged version – it never ceased but stayed there throughout. I told my husband I had to walk around, so us and Jackson ended up walking around the block several times.
I had planned to stay home for as long as possible but as there was meconium in the water we had to go into hospital. As a VBAC candidate and having had meconium in the water, I was set up with my very own midwife who looked after me throughout it all. She was so caring and kind, strong and encouraging and really helped me through the rushes of pain. I’m not going to the lie, the gas and air also helped! In all, apart from the consultant and midwifes arguing about how much syntocin to pump into my veins, the birth was pretty uneventful up until 10 centimetres.
Baby Maggie’s heart rate suddenly dropped and she and I were whisked into theatre for an emergency c-section. I was disappointed in having had an assisted birth (since I was a VBAC girl – there is nothing wrong with a c-section birth!) but utterly delighted at the sight of our perfect baby girl.
Out came our beautiful redhead. Caring, passionate, fearless – a one of a kind. She’s artistic, sensitive and clever and I really couldn’t be prouder of this little girl.
Starting school last year, as a tiny little four year old, she took it all in her stride and just got on with it. She did remarkably well, and somehow managed to keep up with her older class mates.
Maggie loves baking (YAY) and often wants to help me in the kitchen. This year we made her birthday cake together – a Lemon Drizzle Cake.
This was super easy to make! She loved helping me squeeze the lemons and measuring it all up. Definitely one to make with your kids.
Here is the recipe we used:
Maggie’s Lemon Drizzle Cake
175g self raising flour
175g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter
3 eggs lightly beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 lemon, finely zested and juiced
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the buttercream
75g sifted icing sugar
50g unsalted butter, softened
1 lemon, juiced and zested
Make sure you eggs and butter are both room temperature before you start.
Pre heat the oven 180 C / 160 C fan / Gas 4. Lightly grease and line the base of two 18cm (7 in) loose bottomed tins.
Gently mix your dry ingredients – the flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest into the mixer bowl and mix to create a smooth batter.
Add your wet ingredients – butter, eggs and finally lemon juice.
Evenly distribute the batter between the tins, level with a spatula and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
While the cake is baking make the lemon drizzle syrup. Put the granulated sugar into a bowl, add the lemon juice and mix together to create the syrup.
Once the cake is cooked remove from the oven and place the tins onto cooling racks. Select the best cake for the top tier and drizzle with the lemon sugar syrup. Leave the cakes to cool before removing from their tins and remove the base and lining paper, return to the cooling racks.
For the buttercream icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add the butter, lemon zest and about 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Beat the ingredients to create a stiff cream; add more lemon juice in small quantities to slacken the cream until it is smooth and pliable enough to spread.
We tried a “naked cake” effect. To do this – evenly spread the lemon buttercream onto the bottom cake. Make sure it spills out over the sides. Add your top layer and gently spread the buttercream to the sides. Keep going until the bottom and sides are somewhat covered. Then add buttercream to the top tier. It’s much easier then it sounds and there are some brilliant “how to-“ videos on YouTube.
Decorate the cake! Maggie LOVES unicorns and I found some great DIY Unicorn festive kits on Amazon.
We booked our Atlantica HV Rhodes holiday over a year ago as we wanted to make sure we could bag one of the very few rooms that can accommodate a family of five.
The 31 July couldn’t come fast enough.
Our plane was originally meant to leave Luton airport at 8.15am. (A surprisingly sensible time for a First Choice/TUI flight!)
Check in and getting through the airport at Luton was a breeze – even with it being the school holiday and the copious number of people.
Unfortunately we were held on the tarmac for 40 minutes as Traffic control in Rhodes said they had “no space” for our aircraft. Our pilot chuckled and said, “That’s Greece for you, get used to it”.
Once in the air all was good. The kids behaved so well, (honestly, they were fantastic), we had lovely snacks and drinks and all in all it was a pretty non eventful flight.
When we arrived in Rhodes we were, once again, held on the tarmac. Since the Rhodes Traffic control had asked us to wait back in London, we had now missed “our slot” to land. (Which made zero sense as they were the once who asked us to wait in the first place!!)
Anyway. 45 minutes later and we were allowed to disembark.
My goodness. Stepping off that plane and hitting that wall of heat. You know the one mean? It hits you like a sledgehammer.
Thumbs down. My beautiful, beloved Betsey Johnson flowery suitcase got totally destroyed.
Thumbs up: Even with a two hour delay, the taxi driver was waiting for us at arrivals. He was a lovely chap who told us all about the local history and what not to miss as we left Rhodes Town for Kolymbia and the Atlantica Hotel. Originally from the mainland, he travels to Rhodes in the summer to work as a taxi driver. He said that this was pretty common as tourism still makes up most of the Greece economy. (“The most important economic industries are tourism and merchant shipping”*
Checking in at the hotel was super easy and within 10 minutes we were in our room.
And even though it’s a bit on the small side, it’s lovely and comfortable. The fact that it fits us all is an achievement in itself.
The main bedroom is split into two sections by a partition wall that works well. There’s a big bathroom with shower and bathtub and obviously the pièce de résistance – our own swim up pool entrance.
Every other holiday we’ve been to with the kids have meant one of us getting up at the crack of dawn to reserve sun beds and it’s just doesn’t feel like a proper holiday. Faffing with the alarm, getting all the towels out and then lying around until you can go for breakfast.
We have our very own piece of sunny heaven. We don’t have to set an alarm, there is no rush. Our sun beds are out there for us to use at any time. We can have a lie in every day.
I honestly can’t tell you enough how wonderful this is.
I’m kidding, we have THREE KIDS – what the heck is a LIE IN?!
The kids have done lots of fun activities. Maggie has had swimming lessons and took part in Stage Academy with a show at the end of the first week.
Jackson has been doing Football academy.
Both of them have joined in several kids activities.
Alfie’s been into the crèche, and although a bit hesitant at first – he now enjoys it.
Maggie and Jackson made friends with some lovely Irish/Scottish girls on the first day and luckily for Brooks and I, their parents are lovely and so we all hang out.
It’s so nice when they make friends and it’s all very relaxed and well, easier somehow.
One drawback has been the mosquitos. They have been relentless and Alfie and I have been bitten alive. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Brooks and I went to George’s shop next door and bought everything. Like, any kind of mosquito fighting cream, spray plugin imaginable.
Alfie’s bites are so bad, the staff at the crèche suggested we call a doctor as they suspected it was chicken pox.
(It wasn’t. The doctor arrived. He confirmed they’re mosquito bites and prescribed a cream and antihistamine. £130 later. Ahem. But better safe than sorry right?)
The first week has flown by. This week we’re planning to head down to the beach and hopefully do some shopping too.
I don’t like cringe comedy, I fast forward, I hide behind my pillow, I switch the channel…. I really don’t like anything remotely cringe.
If there’s a cringe scene in a Film or TV and I’m with people, I will leave the room. (Apart from at the cinema. I stay seated at the cinema. And slowly die inside).
Even in social situations I can’t really deal. I will go out of my way to placate any cringe awkward situation. Once, (and I’m cringing inside as I write this), I saw someone at the gym with her newborn baby. I don’t know her very well, but well enough to stop and say hi. She was sitting with a woman who was lovingly cradling my friend’s newborn.
I opened with the normal socially acceptable lines like “she’s adorable” (I knew baby was a she, it’s not always obvious!) and congratulated the Mother. And then, for some inexplicable reason, as I’m watching this other woman cuddling and cooing over the baby, I blurt out: “Aw are you the Granny?”
As soon as I’d said it I realise my mistake. She looked at me in disbelief and the Mother laughed nervously and replied: “Oh no, this is my Boss…”
All the blood drained from my face and body and I wanted the ground to swallow me whole. I can’t remember what I said next, but I remember I did a swift exit into the room with rowing machines.
The thing is – Mother and Boss did look similar, physically, and there was something so tender and loving about her cuddling that beautiful newborn. But still. Socially acceptable it is not.
My husband, on the other hand, loves cringe comedy and recently starting watching Romesh’s series. You know the one when he’s “breaking America”?
I love Romesh too, he’s a fantastic comedian, but I JUST CAN’T as he struggles through life in the States and his upcoming gig. Yes, it’s obviously made to be cringey but it’s not for me. It’s the same for shows like the Office – I love it as it’s funny, but I do die a little bit inside as they maneuver all the numerous awkward situations.
But I wonder whether this is a cultural phenomenon? Swedes and Brits in particular, like cringe comedy, but we certainly do not like being in socially awkward situations. Is this the same around the world? Would a person from Lithuania say, find the same things socially awkward as a Brit?
All I know is that I will dodge awkward situations as much as I can.
And most definitely not call someone a Granny without them having told me that they are one beforehand.
Being Swedish, Eurovision has always been a part of my life.
I remember watching as a child. I loved everything about it. I watched Celine Dion’s performance (competing for Switzerland at the time) fell in love with the Herreys with the Swedish song “Diggiloo Diggiley” (don’t ask), Johnny Logan always winning, Bucks Fizz, to name but a few.
There are so many things that make Eurovision special: random choreography, (milk maid’s anyone??!), costumes/stage clothes, odd song choices, songs about war, songs about peace, the Hosts and their endless costume changes and dreadful jokes, the inenvitable technical hitches during voting, the commentary… I mean, Terry Wogan’s commentary was legendary; clever, witty and sarcastic, and is greatly missed, although I do think Graham Norton is doing a stellar job.
When I moved to England to start University I moved into a flat share with a bunch of other students.
Lucky for me, I ended up with a happy bunch of Icelanders and an Italian who were totally up for some Eurovision love. Later my Norwegian best friend joined who also happened to be a party host extraordinaire and a tradition was born. We would organise an annual Eurovision party and our British friends would attend and laugh with/at (?) our crazy antics.
In all honesty. Eurovision wasn’t cool. Well, it still isn’t really, but I think people embrace the cheese more openly and perhaps with all the Brexit doom and gloom we all need a bit of fun and lighthearted fun in our lives.
Eurovision is a big, flamboyant party covered in glitter and it needs to be shared.
So my husband was, somewhat reluctantly, drawn into/coerced into hosting an annual Eurovision party at our house.
Here’s are our top tips on how to host your own successful Eurovision party:
Dress up. Fancy dress makes everything better and it’s hilarious to see what your friends will come up with. Each party goer will be assigned a country to dress up as. It can be literal or obscure – the sky is the limit!
European cuisine. Serve your guest tapas – a smorgasbord of dishes from around the world. Mix and match!
Come up with your very own European cocktail. I personally like this one
Party games! Our personal favourite is Eurovision Bingo. There are several versions online – ScandiKitchen always comes up with a great alternative every year – or you can make your own.
Every guest enter into the Sweepstakes and put money onto the country they think is going to win. Fun and competitive!
Decorations: if you know me you’ll know I’m partial to decorations generally but I do think it lifts your Eurovision party. A few years back there wasn’t much online but it seems now the internet is catching up in the U.K. eBay and Amazon have loads of stuff like flags and the bunting.
Embrace the fun and cheese. It’s lighthearted. It’s fun. The U.K. may not win, but it’s still a good laugh.
If you normally watch Eurovision and/or host your very own party get in touch with any more top tips.
I’m off to start making my costume – I’m
Australia this year.
(Yeah, no one knows why there’re in it too, but again, just embrace and go with it).
I’ve said it before – Center Parcs is a Parents Paradise. Everything is set up with little ones in mind. I mean, everything.
I ain’t going to lie though – it’s expensive. One week at Center Parcs easily equals a week’s holiday in the sun somewhere abroad. Coming to, and in some degree, staying at Center Parcs is expensive.
But I guess this is where you’ll have to ponder the pros and cons and decide what’s important for you.
We stayed for a week during the Easter Holidays. We had to queue to check in this time but it was generally smooth and straightforward. It was tricky to find a parking space as it was absolutely rammed but we got there in the end.
The park itself is lovely and the perfect size. Big enough to not feel on top of other people, but you can easily get everywhere on foot.
We stayed in an Executive Dog friendly lodge in the Oak area, close to the Aqua Sana.
We loved our lodge. It was clean and fresh and it had all the amenities you could think of. Bring extra washing up liquid and dishwasher tablets though! They don’t give you enough initially. Also, if you’re staying a week, and is a coffee lover like us, then I suggest you bring some spare coffee pods for the Nespresso machine.
Our lodge was adapted for dogs but you’d never really know – it was really super clean and didn’t smell of dog at all.
We had a two bed lodge this time and it felt very spacious. Each room had an ensuite; one with a shower and one with a jacuzzi bath. The two older kids shared a room and loved it!
There’s an outside area with table and chairs and a BBQ.
The kitchen area was great. Really clean and it had pretty much everything you need for cooking for the family. There is a wine cooler which is a bonus. The freezer is TINY, like a freezer compartment – keep that in mind if you’re bringing food from home.
Not that you need to bring lots of food. I would say bring food for the first night (unless you’re planning to eat out every night) and then top up from the local Parc Market if necessary. It’s a great little shop and has a great variety of products.
What To Do
Honestly, Centre Parcs Woburn has so much to offer. There are loads of outside activities. Boating on the lake, riding your bike everywhere (though it’s quite hilly!), feeding the ducks in the lake, crazy golf, go for a play in the numerous play areas or just go for a walk – you are spoilt for choice!
We brought our bikes and it really worked well for us. Yes, it’s hilly, but our older kids really enjoyed the experience. We learned our lesson from last year and had bought a bike trailer for Maggie and Alife to chill in. (You can find some really nice second hand ones on eBay)
You can pay to do activities too. Jackson, Kiri and Brooks headed to the Falconry Centre for an hour with the big birds. It was an amazing experience; the bird handler really took the time to explain and show how to handle the birds.
We did Aqua jetting again as well as Archery, Climbing, Pottery, Ballet Class, Teddy Bear Making, Maggie and I met the gorgeous Owls.
But the main focus was the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. The kids, and grown-ups loved it here.
There are different zones or splash areas depending on your age and something to suit everyone. The big boys loved the Rapids in particular and the wave pool.
Maggie and Alfie loved the smaller splash area and grew more and more confident in the water each day.
I’ve said it before – there isn’t an actual pool for swimming which is a real shame.
We learned our lesson from last year and so we hired a Cabana to stay in. It’s pricey, but definitely worth it for a welcomed break in the day – particularly if you have a baby or toddler. (Or just need a nap in the middle of the day!) There’s a fan, cold drinks (you get a mini fridge), comfy chairs and a TV. It’s like your very own little beach hut.
In terms of food and drink there’s a Starbucks and Monty’s serving pizza, hot dogs and burger. Not gourmet food but absolutely fine and kids were very happy.
We (okay me and my friend Sarah) fell in love with Leon’s and we had a take away pretty much every day. Loved everything about it. The food is right up our street. We didn’t dine out this stay because, you know, three kids. We used the Parc Market more and cooked at home every night.
The Star performer overall again was Aqua Sana Spa. WORTH. EVERY. DAMN. PENNY. You leave the place feeling really refreshed and rejuvenated. Bliss.
There are these comfy sofas on the sunlit roof terrace overlooking Center Parcs and initially we thought “maybe a bit boring” but no. We snuggled in lapping up the rays and woke up 40 minutes later. I had a lovely manicure too – what a treat!
Wonderful staff, wonderful Spa area – just perfect.
I felt so relaxed. Like I’ve not felt that relaxed in a long time – so happy and content. Of course there were some hiccups, but in general it was all pretty awesome.
We’ll be back.
For us, not having to take the kids anywhere abroad on an airplane was a big bonus.
It’s only a 40 minute drive from our house. Anything that saves travel time is a blessing in this house
We could bring Buddy the dog
There are LOADS of child and toddler activities. All three of our kids would be catered for.
It’s safe and fairly contained. We could let the kids out and play and they were free (within reason obvs) to run around on their own.
We travelled with friends who stayed in the lodge opposite us. This made such a difference as kids and adults alike always had mates to hang out with and we could all split up at times to do different activities.
The Tropical Swimming was a HUGE hit with our kids. We went here every day. It’s also free. (Yay)
No cars are allowed in the village so the kids got to practice their bike riding skills in a safe environment. Having our bikes also meant we all got some exercise every day riding up those steep hills!
The lodges were immaculately cleaned every day.
Staff are generally incredibly lovely and accommodating.
The Aqua Sana Spa is outstanding. You’ll leave floating on clouds.
There are loads of restaurants and take away places to choose from – or make food at home!
The Supermarket onsite is great and has pretty much everything you need. You can also leave the site and head to Tesco’s down the road.
The wine cooler.
It IS expensive. And everything on site is expensive. Captive market and all that. It’s just what it is.
Staff are very young. I felt like the place was run by teenagers. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a bit odd. Some lacked experiences generally.
It’s very steep and hilly – not ideal for little ones on bikes
They really need to invest in a proper pool area for swimming
The freezer and fridge are tiny, especially if you’re a large family of five. Bring a lot of cupboard ingredients and top up during the week
They were really slow at service – prepare to wait in queue for your food.