10 July 2015

Our Mark Warner Holiday to San Lucianu, Corsica.

In all the many times I have been fortunate enough to travel with Mark Warner, never before have I been quite so taken with one of their resorts.

Although the majority of these trips were taken prior to having my boys, it is their family holidays that they are best known for.  Along with the provision of qualified childcare and tuition for any age and level for water sports and tennis or skiing - all of which are included in the price - there is also the friendly and professional nature of the management and staff, which, in the intimate environment of the San Lucianu Hotel in Corsica, noticably came to the fore.

The eldest wasn't very impressed when we first arrived though.  He said he wanted to go back to Lemnos, where we stayed last year, exploring a Mark Warner holiday as a single parent family and he took a bit of persuading to keep an open mind!

This is one of their smaller centres, with around only 160 guests staying when we were there (and a maximum capacity for 250), but I liked the feel of it.  It was quite cosy - yet not intrusively so - and the children could roam more freely than usual, because it was possible to still keep a keen eye on them.  They soon got to grips with that and, together with being able to sign himself in and out of his Kids Club, now he's old enough to be in the next group up from last time, the eldest began to like his extra independence, mercilessly milked it over the next few days and was quite quickly won round after all!

But how could he not be?  Here is the sight that greeted us from our (Superior) room.  We would learn that this pool is for proper swimming as it's unattended and that there are two others for proper playing - one for tots that's supervised by a lifeguard all day and an adjoining one that was central to our stay.  These are blessed with the beautiful mountain backdrop that some of the other bedrooms overlook.

mark warner, corsica, san lucianu,
The pool for proper swimming.

The pools for proper playing.
We were very lucky to be with these lovely other bloggers on an official press trip and it was interesting to see how differently we interpreted what was available.  Most of us did our own thing.

mark warner, san lucianu, corsica,
L-R - Jen, the Manager, Carissa, Alice, me, Julie, Lisa, Charly, Emma and Amanda.
Carissa and her Little Likely Lads, loved trying out new sports, Alice and Emma have five children between them, two of whom have special needs, so they were exploring that angle.  Julie (five of her own) enjoyed keeping up a fitness routine that has seen her lose 55lbs in the last six months, Charly (famous for her photography) took advantage of lots of tennis coaching with her husband and Lisa (famous for her videos) liked being out to sea, while Amanda and Kate (not pictured), when not focusing on their new collaborative project, relaxed and checked out some of the spa treatments.  Well, someone had to...   

Karen, who has been travel blogging since before it became fashionable is also, sadly, not present in this group shot.  She worked on her websites and supported her fellow Scot whilst watching Wimbledon and, additionally, Monika was temporarily missing in action as she’d hired a car and gone out to explore Corsica with her kids, covering six hundred kilometres in three days!  

Others only made it to Moriani, the local town, which is just a short walk (or kayak!) away, but better than that was a (free) organized outing to a local waterfall and a few of us spent a special afternoon there, swimming and standing under it, feeling spiritually cleansed and fortified.  Apart from the bit when the eldest decided to climb up and throw himself off a rock from half way up (see the video below).  That kind of had the opposite effect.  

mark warner, san lucianu, corsica, waterfall,
This was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life!
But we were all glad we’d done it.  The freezing water is welcome after a hot and, sometimes, tricky trek.  It’s good to be guided there and, although they advise it for children over age 14 only, mine managed it easily enough.  It’s currently put on weekly, but directions can be given should you prefer to go it alone.   

On other days, we took up a recommendation of a (50 Euro return in a taxi) visit to Cervione, a village in the mountain we'd heard about, but, generally speaking, it’s tough to tear yourself away from the facilities on site.  Most of the children were taken care of for parts or all of the day and if you’re not satisfied with your biggest decisions being beach / pool, sun / shade and beer / cocktail when they're not around, there's plenty of stuff to do.  It's not only the  youngsters who can be improving their water-sport and tennis skills courtesy of this company - it's what they do!  

san lucianu, mark warner, corsica,
Learning to sail, a kayak safari to Moriani for Italian ice cream (10 Euros) and a wind-surfing lesson.
Plus, there’s (all also included) guided mountain biking (adults only) – or again, you can go out independently and there are frames suitable for bigger children if they fancy joining you.  There’s a volleyball match every day, a small football pitch, a badminton court and table tennis as well as water polo, aqua aerobics and copious other exercise classes.  

The beach is all white sand and huge and there are loads of loungers.  Towels are for hire - although they rather risk annoying aficionados of Mark Warner as they're normally supplied as standard and some of us consciously won't have packed any - but there is my new favourite place in the world to sit around and watch it go by after all that exertion - their brand new beach bar.  It. Has. Sofas.  But, please be warned, you may get much too comfortable listening to George Ezra and the like and have your heart completely captured by Corsica - or 'Fritaly,' as my kids call it!

mark warner, corsica, san lucianu, beach bar,
My new favourite place in the world. A beach bar with sofas!
This is the place where gentle evening entertainment takes place. It normally starts at 10pm (not forgetting the complimentary Kids Clubs go on until 11pm) with a variety of quizzes, although at the outset of the week and scheduled much earlier, are orientation and a wine tasting.  

The table wine with meals is not included as gratis here - but, again, it usually is.  However, who can complain when we get to try out a variety of ones from within the vicinity of San Lucianu - so we can be confident when ordering them?

Wine is the biggest produce of the island, but it's rarely exported because it's so good the locals like to consume it all!  And it's customary for restaurants to serve only those from their area, so you can drink different ones depending on where you're dining around it.  (Now there's a holiday idea if ever there were one!).  The reds and roses I 'researched' were fresh, full bodied and moreish and it's offered by the bottle which can be kept with your name on, if it lasts that long (*winks at Amanda*) and this, way, it works out less expensive than purchasing it by the glass, if you prefer.    

Another difference from the larger resorts is the slightly more sophisticated a la carte arrangement for dinner, where individual wines will be recommended for each meal selection.  There are meat, fish, vegetarian and gluten free choices, all presented prettily and, seeing as it's all fairly informal, we found this adds to its charm.    

Breakfasts and lunches are buffets comprising food still sourced, as always, as locally as possible - fantastic fresh fruit and pastries, meats and cheeses.  There is an egg cooking cum (excellent) pizza station, lots of seafood, pasta, salads and baguettes as well as a Dish of the Day.  It's not always the Tuscan fayre Wikipedia promises, but it will certainly please most palates.  Do look out for the Tapenade - it's terrific!

Bookings for half board are taken with the option of upgrading to full board - at £35 per child and £49 per adult (paid in advance) for the whole week.  Fresh water is served everywhere, but some squash put on for the kids wouldn't go amiss so they don't sting us for so many 'mocktails.'  Paninis and chips are available in the beach bar (5 and 3 Euros), again, if you prefer, but you'd be missing out on some seriously lush French desserts.  Those on full board can request to have a packed lunch prepared for them if they're going out for the day.

mark warner, corsica, san lucianu,

In the end, the eldest said it was 'Epic because of the choice of activities.'  The youngest had a ball with everything and particularly enjoyed being in the childrens' show on the last night.  I managed to do some decent swimming, alongside a little mix of work, rest and fun and found the place perfect considering I was travelling as a lone parent.  All in all, we loved it.

This is a 3*** rated resort - and priced as such, but we think it's better than that.  Our holiday would have come in at around £900 each at full price, yet a last minute substantial discount can often be found and bring it down to around half that.  (Drinks and any private lessons are extra.  Group stuff and independent hire of their equipment - for those who are confident enough - are included.  For those who aren't yet, a parent and child sail with an instructor can be paid for).

Mark Warner Corsica is compact without being quaint and strikes a brilliant balance between being as quiet or lively as you want it to be, depending on your mood of the moment.  Their format is tried and tested and it works for everyone - to the extent they recently won 'Best Family tour Operator' in the Sunday Times travel magazine.

All their resorts, reliably, have heaps to offer and the video at the very end of this post - made mainly to capture the marvellous memories - gives you an opportunity to check out San Lucianu more thoroughly, see the kind of things we got up to and decide whether you want to or can be be taken by it (or elsewhere) too.

mark warner, corsica, san lucianu,
Lively and fun, San Lucianu, Corsica.
Our video -

Disclosure - We were invited on our holiday for the purposes of this review.  All words, opinions and pics are our own or kindly shared by the other bloggers.  

27 June 2015

Fritaly (or Mark Warner, Corsica).

The email came late Wednesday afternoon. Were the boys and I free for a press trip this coming Saturday?  For a week.  To Corsica!

*Panic* Schools to sort out.  Students to find a sitter for.  Oh and they were due to see their dad. 

Bit short notice.  Should we stay or should we go?

The first school was sorted pretty swiftly - permission granted for a work related matter.  One can't review a family holiday without the family.  The second school said unauthorised absence would be recorded and a possible fine of £60 to come, but it wouldn't impact my son (the six year old) in any other way.  

Still the ex-husband to go.  Thinking he'd be the hardest nut to crack.  Cue many apologies on my part, terrible trades made, the emphasis on 'work' again and he was surprisingly fine. 

Had a chat with the children.  Told them about an invitation to Corsica with Mark Warner holidays again.  Said it's near Italy, but, politically, it's French.  They christened it Fritaly. 

Bribed the students.  Bribed my friends to cook, clean, do their washing, house sit, make them practise their English and generally look after them.

Everyone's happy and as far as press trips go, things could be worse.  

Here's their official video.  It's a flight of just over two hours and a short transfer so by the time you're eating your lunch today, we'll hopefully be there, in Fritaly!

Disclosure - we've been invited as guests of Mark Warner holidays and I look forward to giving you an honest review on our return.  However I can already tell you it's much more reasonably priced than you think and there are lots of deals for the summer holidays!

See you very soon,

Anya XX

25 June 2015

Premier Inn, City, Aldgate, London - Review.

I'm a big fan of staying in East London and with a new Premier Inn just popped up in Aldgate, it makes even more sense. 

Prices start at £49 per night and, as I raved about them before when we went to their Dover Hotel, you're guaranteed a great night's sleep, kids eat dinner and breakfast for free per paying adult (certain time restrictions apply) and they're much better than your average 'Budget' chain. 

Premier Inn, Aldgate,
Premier Inn, Aldgate.
This one is situated just a stone's throw from Aldgate East underground station and it's on major bus routes, but nicely tucked away round the corner so there is no noise disturbance.

I used to work in this area and you could get rooms for a steal when all the offices were closed at week-ends.  Now, it is a thriving metropolis to rival the West End, yet certainly within reach of it.

There's a famous No. 11 bus route that takes you from Liverpool Street station (walking distance or one stop on the tube) past some of London's greatest landmarks and you can get an inexpensive sightseeing tour from the top deck!  It goes via the Bank of England, St Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square and Westminster, for example and all the way to Fulham Broadway.

The Tower of London is also local, the very fashionable Spitalfields and Smithfields markets are close by, the Museum of Childhood isn't far away in Bethnal Green and there are the stunning Victoria and Olympic parks too, any of all of which can be topped off with a curry in Brick Lane later.

Convinced?  Good!

So what did I think of the Hotel?

It was odd to be back on my old stomping ground as it's unrecognizable.  There is building work everywhere!  Here's a view from my bedroom window - but they still didn't wake me up in the morning, such is the soundproofing.

premier inn, aldgate,

And who wouldn't want a view of the Shard from another?  It's like before and after shots!

premier inn, aldgate,

I was very comfortable.  The room wasn't very large, but the bed was.  It was awesome.  The bathroom was beautiful - again, not big, but perfectly adequate - and around twice the size of some I've experienced in Hotels in more expensive areas of London.  Plus, at least there was a bath as well as a shower, so I could feel as though as I was on a little holiday, sobering up having a soak after being at the BritMums Live conference all day. 

Premier Inn, Aldgate,

Their restaurant and bar is quite impressive - as light and modern as you would expect seeing as it's spanking new.  It's a Thyme one here - serving up all good standard stuff.  I only ate breakfast, but it was the same decent quality as I've now come to expect at a Premier Inn - a selection of fruits, pastries and juices, Costa coffee and a choice of traditional cooked items.  Poached eggs, porridge and gluten free items are available on request.    

The service was exceptional all round - polite, friendly, warm, helpful and, again, above average and they can't all have known there was a review to be done!  

For the City, which is in the East End and for the ease and flexibility of getting to central London as well as the West End, this is the perfect place to mix business with pleasure and / or for a family to stay at a reasonable rate.  Other Premier Inns are available ;).

Disclosure - I was provided with accommodation and breakfast in exchange for an honest review. All words, pictures and opinions are my own, obvs.   

24 June 2015

Not Meant To Be.

Bibs 2015, Brilliance in Blogging Awards,
Carol Smillie presenting the #BiBs 2015
So it's all over.  The annual Brilliance in Blogging Awards ceremony has been and gone and we haven't won.

Congratuations to Northern Dad for picking up the prize in the Best Writer Category and to all the other winners of all theirs too.  It was a wonderful night and amazing to see my name in lights, but the best bit was holding hands with my friend and fellow finalist Sarah from Grenglish, while we willed the other one to triumph almost as much as we wished ourselves to!

We were joined by the present title holder, Sarah from Older Mum who gripped us tight as well and other chums cheered us on, encapsulating quite unequivocally how privileged we were to even be in the running, helping us to appreciate the accolades we'd already been given by so many people taking the trouble to vote us through and I thank you all again from the bottom of my heart for doing so!

Daring to harbour hope, I wondered if winning would, perhaps, give me the happy ending I've craved for my story about leaving a six figure salary in the city because a) I kept losing my voice and b) the more time I had off as a result of that (because no-one can close deals worth £millions very effectively with the inability to speak), the more I became aware that all the trappings didn't fill a void I couldn't quite identify or justify.

Tonight, it wasn't meant to be, but, having found my voice and it being honoured in this way feels really rewarding.  Perhaps, I would go so far as to say it is enough and that it is priceless!

It has been a very difficult journey since walking away from financial security and I haven't felt much like the inspiration to others I intended to be.  The (much neglected and much editing required) book is about being true to yourself, listening to that inner voice and flying your own colours.  There have been many, many mistakes - marrying the wrong bloke, my kids coming along later in life than ideal, but better that than never and, kind of arguably, not having gone down the legal route to have claimed what would have been rightful loss of earnings.

It's about faith, believing in ourselves and staying spritually intact no matter our trials and tribulations - something far easier said than done.  I've been broken and broke, faltered often and even failed at being a failure ( a common way divorced people can view themselves), according to another special mate of mine Superlucky Di - she says I'm the most successful one she's ever known!  

But as Sonny insists in a favourite film that's been mentioned on here before - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  everything will be all right in the end, and if it isn't all right, then it isn't the end!

Loads of love, you gorgeous people,

Anya XXX

17 June 2015

Bad Blogger.

Two of the kids who run me ragged - my boys.
Sometimes I lose sleep at night berating myself for being a Bad Blogger.  It worries me when I haven't visited someone back who has commented on a post I've written.

Sometimes it takes me ages to return the compliment.

And sometimes I never get there at all because I've completely lost track and am by now oblivious to the fact they've slipped through the net.  But least there won't be any sleepless nights over them, therefore!

Throw in an inset day, one of the kids off sick, half-term or the holidays and we're done for.  Haven't got a clue what's going on - on my own blog!


However, at least I try.  There are many others I know who choose not to for one reason or another - and that's their prerogative obviously, yet there are still some of us that do.  We appreciate the conversation that occurs - indeed, find it rewarding.  It makes our honesty worthwhile.

Because isn't that what it's all about - the chat, the connection with others, the give and take?

Call me old fashioned, but as social media explodes into areas we can't fathom and is spammed inexorably, is there anything wrong with good old basics?

When I first started blogging it was the done thing to reply to something someone took the trouble to say about what we'd written and good etiquette to respond in kind.  I've found some amazing relationships through doing just this.  Despite the phases we all go through there are often points where we click with others and, for me, as long as we remain authentic, what we write will resonate.

At the beginning of this year, for example, I was completely overwhelmed by having to deal with my ex-husband directly for the first time in years.  We've either gone through solicitors or another third party, if and when he deigned to be on the scene and I was, frankly, too traumatised to do much else than get through the day looking after the kids and our Foreign Language students - people who pay to be here and for whom much is required.  They are also children, most of the time, and my commitments are massive, but they provide an income that keeps a roof over our heads and I'm grateful for that.

The conversation is cr*p - lots of nodding and smiling from them and me thinking they understand, but events transpiring that make it evident they don't - all of which is rather frustrating and not least because it provides plenty of fodder for witty one liners for Twitter and entertaining Facebook statuses or blog posts that don't make it to fruition either because a) I'm too wary they're already following me (they know a scary amount about us before they get here) and/or b) there simply isn't time to find my glasses and get the madness up.  (Although this is something that must be remedied since my new young Libyan man showed me his 'thing' - a whole other story!).

This all makes everything on here more meaningful than you can imagine, so when I felt ready to emerge from my little blogging hiatus and much of what was occurring was court - ordered confidential, what was I going to say to you aside from the truth?

I couldn't put on a brave face.  I was wrecked.  I didn't want to moan, but I did want to re-connect.

And after much deliberation and tackling it for ten minutes at a time, initially, before I got into the swing and it all spilled out, my post about being married to a sociopath came.  The response was phenomenal, which was a surprise, especially considering it nearly never got published at all and without my friend Liska's encouragement it wouldn't have seen the light of day!  I felt scared exposing my vulnerability when it was particularly raw and she was right to say it might help other people, but mostly, it was completely cathartic and helped me to come to terms with things that have happened and belong in the past.

Private messages poured in, comments on it still come and I try to respond to them all.  Heaven knows whether I've managed to though.  Lots of people have reached out and it seems I was far from the only one who fell for the ruthless, manipulative charm of a person like this.  The exchanges that take place - privately and publicy - are enormously validating all round.  We can obtain strength from one another, appreciate how far we have come, draw a line under events and move on, or begin to get out of an unhealthy situation once it's been identified as such.

In this instance - and I find there are many - there is an awful lot to be said for heartfelt dialogue, no matter the form it takes and lots of us feel the same way regarding this.  Michelle - Mummy from the Heart will tell you a bloggers work is never done and Helen - Actually Mummy  is another lady who gives herself a hard time, believing herself to be a Bad Blogger until she's fulfilled the similarly self-imposed same etiquette criteria.

We all know she's nothing of the kind (and not just for this!), but what do you think?  Do you care for the converstion or do you think the basics are now past their sell by date?

Anya XX

12 June 2015

BritMums Live and All That Jazz!

Start your engines folks we're on a countdown now.  This time next week some of us will be lucky enough to be getting away from it all at home and winging our way to the sunny smoke for the fantastic BritMums Live annual blogging conference.

And when I talk wings I mean like those of a butterfly as, once again, I shall be donning my own (well, kind of) to support anyone from newcomers to speakers who may be getting a few nervous flutters.  After feedback from previous events, our schedule has been somewhat reduced so I'll be free as a, er, butterfly after welcoming all the attendees along with my colleagues, some new and some old (well, kind of again!).

We've written a post HERE that outlines where we'll be and what we'll be doing and I can't wait to meet some of you, squeeze some who are now old friends after four years of blogging and smile graciously during the nerve wracking nightmare exciting Awards ceremony when someone else walks off with the prize that you lovely people have kindly put me up for, thank you humbly again.  And again!

There's lots of chat about what we'll be wearing and I've only just sorted myself out.  Comfort is key 'coz it's a long day and looking glam at the same time can be a bit tricky, especially when you're only 5' and need heels to see over anything and anyone in quite crowded conditions.

Apparently, it's all in the accessories and aren't there some lovely ones about?  I've seen these gorgeous watches online at Tesco and am very tempted by a pale blue one to match my trousers on the second day, although a Betty Barclay for £25 has got to worth a thought as well or instead, hasn't it?  The necklaces in almost every single shop are stunning and, no doubt, there will be lots of those around while we all try to look our best pretending it was effortless - but, again, by being only little, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the huge ones, so I might stick to an old favourite.  It may, no doubt, be as grateful for an airing as I will be!

Here's the plan for day 1 and day 2.

The plan for day 1 and day 2.
I haven't gone for that selfie in the mirror thing because it's not really me and while we're on the subject of looking good, it's going to be my utmost pleasure to have a chat with a woman who has both brains and beauty - Carol Smillie, who will be there as one the keynote speakers and to host the #BiBs.  She and the tennis player turned other TV presenter Annabel Croft have formed a successful business partnership with their company called Diary Doll and they are the sponsors of the Best Writer category.   

Despite what one might reasonably believe to be a natural correlation of writers and diaries, it is not the case in this instance.  I've been reading their brilliant blog about The Last Taboo - think ladies and stuff that only women know about and do check them out. *Taps nose.* You might be quite surprised how often their award winning product can come up in conversation.

If she has any butterflies before her talk on Saturday, she can come to any of us in the team who are there for exactly that purpose.  I am really looking forward to meeting her, as I am all of you who will be there, so do, please, let me know if you're attending and we can say hello!  

Anya XX

[Disclosure - this is a partly collaborative post].

11 June 2015

Comparing a JDBug and a Micro Scooter.

A little while ago, my little one was about to turn six and he started insisting he no longer wanted his three-wheeler scooter.  He said it wasn't cool enough when lots of his mates had progressed to two-wheeler ones.

This didn't seem to present an issue seeing as we had the eldest's old JDBug one still in the boot from when he did a comparison between a couple of Micro Scooters  last year, but he kept complaining that it wasn't as good as his brother's new ones.  Well, it wouldn't be, I explained as it was older than them, but it would have to do.

Before very long though, after being out and about on it, he made some good points about why we needed a replacement, and, to be fair, he was right.  However, with his birthday coming up, which would we choose - another JDBug or a further Micro Scooter?

The very basic JDBugs start off a little cheaper than the Micro Scooters, although the prices shoot up as the features do, but I've always struggled with the folding and unfolding of ours, even from when it was brand new.  Over the years it has been used really regulary, but I actually started leaving it unclosed before popping it back in the car, rather than facing the impossible battle to close it and this makes it awkward to store, especially in a confined space.

The kids were all for an additional Micro Scooter and, as they were able to put them next to each other to do an outright comparison, we could truly explore between them and when I went onto the websites, the Micro Scooter one easily won me over out of the two.  It's easier to navigate, there's a much wider range of choice of appearance and you can even create a completely individual one by picking out the colours of each handgrip, as well as the stem, the deck and even the brake for some of them!  They focus more on age groups which helped enormously, rather than other specs that confused me on the JDBug one.

Most crucially of all though, I noted that Micro Scooters are Swiss designed and engineered, which sold me on why the same problem with the opening mechanism has never befallen us in all the years we've used a variety of them.

Side by side, the Micro Scooter has a wider deck and brake, which the eldest prefers and they both love the stand the Sprite comes with which means no more having to find places on which lean them. This is the one that is recommended for a first two-wheeled beginner scooter.  It steers like a bike, unlike their Mini Micro scooters and is suitable for ages 5-12.  All their prices are within a narrower band and I think they offer excellent value for money.

Here's a tiny video where the boys tell you in their own words why we prefer the Microscooter over the JDBug.

Disclosure - we were sent the second Sprite for the purposes of this comparison, but, as usual, all words and opinions are honest and our own.
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