Family travel with flair

Our plan for visiting NYC with kids

TweetOne of the perils of visiting someplace you used to live is a certain cockiness. You think, “Yeah, I know this town. I used to own this town. I don’t need no stinking guidebook.” Of course, that attitude doesn’t take into account — at least in this case — that I last lived in New York as a young, single and ready-to-mingle gal back at the turn of the century. This time, I’m arriving with kids in tow who have their own ideas of fun and the city has moved on. I’ve just come to terms with this and thus have hurriedly spent the past few days putting together some kind of plan so we don’t end up dragging exhausted children all around the island. Here are some of the highlights we’re planning: Going to the top of the Empire State Building — Truly iconic, and we’ve found what looks like a good little hotel 2 blocks away, Hotel Grand Union. We’ve booked a family room with a double and two twins, and it’s easy walking distance to the building itself, the 6 train, Penn Station and Koreatown, in case we fancy Korean barbecue. Eating food you can’t get in London — Pizza by the slice, honest-to-god bagels (boiled, people, they must be boiled) with cream cheese, American burgers. Milkshakes. Maybe even some vegetables. Maybe. Taking a Levy’s Unique New York graffiti tour of Brooklyn — This was recommended by a friend of a friend as a family-friendly tour outfit. It’s no wonder: the operation is run by the Levy family, who take visitors around the city personally (along with a few helpers). We’ll be taking the Brooklyn Represent tour, seeing graffiti, street art, gentrifying areas of the borough, ending at an artisanal pizza joint. Levy brother Matt is showing us round and I have a feeling my 14-year-old is going to love it. (Note: The Levy’s have kindly comp’ed our tour. I’ll let you know how it is.) Fighting the crowds in Chinatown — Crowded, busy, and distinctly different from the rest of Manhattan. We’ll be eating noodles (one of my daughter’s favourites) and duck pancakes. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge — Traversing the iconic bridge to Brooklyn Heights is one of the best experiences in the city. I’m crossing my fingers for a clear day. We may stop at Jane’s Carousel in DUMBO for a quick go-round. We’ll do this end of the week to hit the Thursday – Sunday winter opening hours for the carousel. Messing...

Gwithian: A great place to surf in Cornwall

TweetI’ve always thought there was something sweet and a little deluded about British surfers. Sure, this is an island and there are loads of nice beaches. But when it comes to waves, it’s not as if we have the big surf of Hawaii or the iconic breaks of Australia. And yet, surf aficionados like me can find some very nice beaches for learning. I’ve tried several spots with varying success, but I’ve just returned from Gwithian, and it’s gone straight to the top of my list. Gwithian is in Cornwall, outside of St. Ives, just by Godrevy beach. We took lessons with some nice guys at Gwithian Surf Academy (GAS). My friend G found the academy, which not only offers package deals of lessons and rentals (board, wetsuit & booties) but also self-catering accommodation via Gwithian Holidays. For £200 per person we had 3 nights’ accommodation plus 3 lessons with rentals. First impressions of the accommodation: “It’s nice! I thought it would be skanky,” mused G after the owner showed us around the small apartment building. (It’s a family affair, the father owns the apartment and the son runs the surf academy.) “I thought it would be, you know, for surfers…that level of quality,” she said. Take heed, surfers with high standards, you have come home. The apartment gives the impression of having been outfitted and decorated with care. In the living area, a leather-look loveseat with mushroom-coloured throw sits opposite a TV with DVD player. In the corner of the room, just beside a table that seats 3 is a small but modern kitchen. The bedroom has a double and a single bed and a very modern shower room (the vanity mirror has tiny embedded lights you turned on and off by waving your hand underneath). Comfortable beds – tick. Hot shower with good water pressure – tick. Free wifi – tick! To be honest, I was excited/dreading surfing for two hours in cold Cornwall water in April. In actuality, the midweight wetsuits supplied by the school meant that I couldn’t even feel the cold while wading in. (A quick note about wetsuits – just forget your dignity when putting one on. Imagine wrestling a seal in a black bin bag, while grunting and puffing. And while wetsuits make buff male instructors look like sea gods, they somehow flatten breasts and highlight rounded tummies in women. Sara Blakely, where are you when we need you?) The beach just beside Gwithian is Godrevy beach. It gets an Atlantic swell...

Giffords Circus: one of the best things you could do this summer

Tweet“You have to come, the kids will love it!” we cried to our friends J and B. “It’s back after a year off so you don’t want to miss it!” we said, grabbing them by the lapels. If the Ringling Bros Circus was billed as “the greatest show on earth” Giffords Circus claims the title in a much larger arena. This intimate, independent circus has deliciously intricate costumes, a glamorous tight-rope walker, handsome horses, clown acts that are actually funny and a community spirit. It’s magical in a way that would make Walt Disney turn green. In a small tent, set up in a field in the Cotswolds countryside, you feel the immediacy of the daring acts on display. The performers stand just a few feet away performing acrobatics and feats of skill, singing, dancing and entertaining the pants off the rows of adults, children and even teens (teens!) in the audience. We’ve gone to the circus for the past 4 years, excluding last year’s hiatus, and as the ringmaster announces the show and the performers stream in to do an opening song and dance, I have gotten literally choked up with excitement in a way I last experienced as a child. We’ve seen loose-rope walkers (who knew of such a thing?), a troupe of family acrobats (mum, dad and the kids), Cossack trick riders, and an act that consisted of a man doing flips and tricks on a bendy board held on the shoulders of two other men. This year, the highlight for me was charismatic jugglers Bibi and Bichu, seemingly levitating innumerable pins while cheekily working the crowd. For my friend B it was the live band playing everything from stand-up bass to plastic bottles – including the bit where one musician made music with her feet, tap dancing on cymbals in the ring. For B’s son, the chicken running round the ring was a delight. My daughter loved the clown Gabor Vosteens playing first one, then two, then five recorders at once. My husband was amazed by the unicyclist who caught bowls, a teacup and a spoon on her head, while atop a ball. At the centre of the circus is the inspiring Nell Gifford, its creator and the woman who develops each season’s theme – this year it is based around the story of a young girl who loves to train horses. Nell is a horsewoman herself. She founded the circus and runs it with her husband Toti. She also designs the gorgeous, retro costumes – snazzy, sexy outfits...

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