The beauty and benefits of slow family travel
You get a variety of reactions from people when you tell them you are choosing to spend two days traveling solo with two young children to reach a mediterranean island that you could reach in an hour - they vary from 'are you insane?' to 'wow that’s going to be such an adventure'. I try to ignore the former (mostly) but realized that in traveling solo to Sardinia with my kids and sharing a little insight into it here, I might just encourage a few other people to ditch air travel where there is a reasonable alternative and set sail themselves. Every flight we don’t take is carbon that has stayed in the ground and I don’t think anyone needs reminding that it's pretty important we all do what we can in that department. It's not just about the carbon though, I find traveling on my own with kids incredibly empowering - like we are a little gang from a storybook with our packed lunches and pencils and notebooks off to have an adventure.
We wave goodbye to my husband who has to stay behind to work and set off on our early morning train from Kings Cross St Pancras. After just a short journey under the channel we have 24 hours in Paris and because that’s not the ‘holiday part’ there is no pressure on our time there - we just soak up the streets, spend time with old friends and reminisce about times gone by when we lived here in our twenties. I never feel like I have enough time in Paris but strangely knowing that we are coming back even if only briefly in two weeks means I’m happy as we board our train to Nice the next afternoon.
It's a 6 hour journey but by the time we’ve had dinner, played a few games and tried and failed to get the kids to sleep we are arriving and headed to the port where a giant ferry sparkles and towers above us in the mediterranean midnight heat. As we sail out of port wearing our pyjamas high up on deck we watch the twinkling lights of Nice fade into the distance before we tuck ourselves up in our cozy bunk beds. Remie woke early feeling a little seasick which was quickly remedied and I was so grateful she had woken (and not actually been sick) as the sun was rising over Corsica pouring perfect pastel hues through the portholes. It was a magical moment and although everyone was tired we pulled ourselves out of bed to go and eat too many pastries (with extra nutella because its holiday rules) and watch Sardinia appear in front of us.
The next couple of weeks flew by in a haze of perfect salty sparkling water, figs (so many figs I got stomach ache), pizza and the absolute highlight for me, a very close encounter with a tortoise and a wild boar and its baby. A few stormy days sent us inland to a thermal river where we burnt our bottoms on very hot rocks and explored ancient houses carved out of beautiful elephant shaped cliffs. Then before we knew it our time was up and we were saying goodbye to the cousins and the family and boarding our giant sunset sparkling ship once more. This time as we settled into our beds (and of course our Forivor blankets) a giant pink moon rose over the mediterranean sea. Another pastry fuelled breakfast and we were off the boat with a day to spend in Toulon before heading back to Paris.
For me this is the real bonus of overland travel. I don’t suppose I would ever have chosen to go to Toulon unless it was the port for Sardinia, but its a beautiful port town with a brilliant art gallery, gorgeous streets with plenty of vintage clothes shops and when we were here a few years back we were fortunate enough to be there during a piano festival and saw amazing piano duets while we enjoyed our early evening aperitifs. You never quite know what you’ll uncover when you have this bonus time in places en route - sometimes its frustrating and sometimes you feel like you’ve struck gold, but its always an adventure at the end either way.
Delayed trains to Paris that afternoon meant the hardest part of my journey was having to carry Taryn and pull our giant pink family suitcase (and carry all the hand luggage) down the length of the train station platform at Gare du Lyon - no mean feat in sweaty nighttime heat as those platforms are seriously long and my 5 year old is extremely heavy. But 10 minutes of hard work and wishing I had another adult to carry the child (or me) and we were in a taxi watching the many terraces of Paris slide by full to the brim with people soaking up the end of summer nighttime heat. I may have wished at that point that I could slide out and have a late night glass of wine with a few friends but worth missing out on that for the kids' excitement at being in a proper hotel room.
The concierge in the hotel asked where we had come from - we told him and he said - "how do you know if you’re on an island unless you arrive by boat?" Funny how things stick with you but it made me happy to hear those words as they rang so true to me. As we approached Sardinia with our dresses blowing in the breeze, watching the hot island getting closer from high up on the deck, we really felt like we were arriving. Not to say that arriving on a plane isn’t exciting too - it really is, but there is a certain magic to pulling into port that gets me every time.
Early the next morning we are in the boulangerie next to Gare du Nord stocking up on our final croissant and pain au chocolat and before we know it, rolling into Kings Cross St Pancras with just a short journey left to get us home to our mountains and Wales.
What was in our hand luggage?
In the kids rucksacks (Taryn had a smallish bag, Remie a normal backpack)
• A5 Notebook
• Colouring pencils, pens and a travel watercolour set all in one case
• A storybook each
• A teddy bear for Remie (well actually a cuddly pineapple) and for Taryn I packed a zip up pouch with about 15 miniature cars and small toys in so he had some variety
• Forivor large muslin (for comfort on trains and in ferry cabins, for sleep, for shade, for the beach - they don't hold onto the sand!, as towels and they even came in handy as a makeshift umbrella when it rained and we didn't have coats!)
My luggage (which was a Martina Spetlova X Forivor tote bag) included:
• Spare bag for shopping - you always need to buy more food along the way
• A small cooler bag or lunchbox to keep food bits together (and from spilling everywher)
• Miniature reusable cutlery
• Water bottle
• My book
• Snacks - plenty of healthy snacks like fruit and nuts but also treats of course
• Forivor large muslin (for everything as above, I also wore mine as a sarong this holiday with my bikini and loved it!)
• I carried my laptop as I needed it for bits and pieces of work and I did let the children watch one film on it on the longest train journey but we could easily have managed without and it was a heavy addition to my hand luggage.
* This year I invested in some Yoto players as I had a sudden panic that Remie and Taryn would need some form of entertainment on the trains and it made me realise that we worry so much about kids being bored and that we might not be able to cope - or society makes us think like that. Now we’re back home the kids love their Yoto players but having bought them in a rush they weren’t set up properly and after a few failed attempts we actually barely used them on the trip. Hoping they will get more use next time.