La grande famille

There is something about family that brings out the best – and possibly the worst – in me. Rather like these oddly decorated post boxes recently spotted in Wales. We laugh at the same things, tease each other, argue and basically drive each other crazy after a few days. But I wouldn’t trade time with my family for the world.

After my Greek island adventures, travelling to the UK for Easter seemed pretty tame. We did have the joy of arriving at (and later, departing from) Manchester Airport at a time when the frequently changing rules around the pandemic were exacerbated by staff shortages. But as soon as I’d ditched the suffocating FFP2 mask, collected my bags and sailed through customs (there was no one checking anything), I was happy to find my daughter waiting. She had driven an hour-and-a-half from Ripley in Derbyshire to pick us up.

My husband’s flight from Basel, which was already scheduled to arrive a couple of hours after mine, was going to be an hour late, so Madeline and I went shopping for the groceries we would need at our Airbnb (her place is far too small for guests), and a quick bite. By the time we got back to the airport to pick up Stefan, all the airport shops were closing. We waited as groups of travelers, mostly Brits returning from holidays in sunnier climes, wafted through the gates. One guy, sunburnt and wearing flip flops, called out to a another in a shop with its shutters half way down.

“Can I get a sausage roll, mate?”

“No, sorry, we’re shut!”

This had Madeline in stitches. “They’re absolutely crazy about Gregg’s sausage rolls here,” she said. “I mean, it’s nine-thirty at night and he’s just off a flight. And the first thing he thinks about is a sausage roll?”

No sausage rolls here!

The two of us were still giggling together as my husband finally arrived, cursing as he does every time he flies with the low-cost airline. “I hate EasyJet! Always late, and why pay for Speedy Boarding and an extra cabin bag if there’s no room in the lockers near your seat and you have to wait until the whole plane has emptied out before you can get it?” For some reason his predictable rant made us laugh harder.

By the time we reached Belper, a pretty little town where we had rented an Airbnb for a few nights, the kindly fellow who waiting to give us the keys looked like it was way past his bedtime. He showed us around and explained the complicated ‘Nest’ system to regulate the heat in the flat via various radiators. In the end there was little point as no matter what we did it was always too cold. But the place was comfortably furnished, and we quickly made ourselves at home.

The next couple of days were spent exploring the area, visiting Nottingham and our daughter’s place. It’s a small terrace house, with the kitchen and living room on the main floor and a bathroom and bedroom upstairs. The living room has a couch, a TV and a large cage for her Degus. Even if we had been able to squeeze in a bed, the constant rattling of rodents running on the exercise wheel would have driven me nuts. But she’s a vet, so I suppose it goes with the territory.

The next phase of our trip was in North Wales. Madeline’s boyfriend Jack drove us all to Gwynedd, where we met our son, Elliott and his partner, Anne. They are expecting our first grandchild in mid-June, so this was their last chance to travel before the big event. We rented a lovely, restored cottage with plenty of room for all of us. Once again, heat and hot water were in short supply. You had to run the wood-burning stove in order to heat the water, although thankfully the shower was electric. The weather was too cool and damp to sit outside in the lovely garden but I imagine this is a big draw in summer.

We were in a fabulous location near southern Snowdonia Park, just a short walk from the beach. I had no idea the beaches in Wales were so spectacular. We all enjoyed walking by the water and soaking up the invigorating sea air.

Our three-day stay included a hike into a former mine, a visit to a castle and soaking up a lot of gorgeous views. Entirely restorative!

We did do a lot of driving over the week and what stands out in my memory is how funny it was to be passengers in the back seat with the children doing the driving. Neither my husband nor I was up to driving on the other side of the road (I’ve finally trained myself to stop saying the ‘wrong’ side) so we let ourselves be driven. At one point Stefan and I were bickering­­­ over something or other and it occurred to me that the tables had turned since the kids were young and we would have to tell them to stop squabbling in the back seat!

At the end of the week we bade farewell to the family and took the train to Liverpool. We only had one night there but I would have loved to spend more time in this city which had a very cool vibe. What’s not to love about a city that gave birth to the Beatles and my heart throb Tommy Shelby, not to mention Jody Comer, the actress who blew me away in Killing Eve? Unfortunately there was no time for the Peaky Blinders tour. But I would go back in a heartbeat.

Love Liverpool! And that accent…

Our return flight from Manchester to Basel, followed by a two-hour train ride home, was uneventful. Our other ‘kids’, the two Frenchies and our new-old cat, were happy to see us. And, as my late belle-mère used to say, there is nothing like going away – unless it is coming home again.

So that’s it for this trip. Thinking about a visit to Canada to see family in late summer (if they ever relax their masking rules), and later this year a longer trip during a planned one-month sabbatical. We are thinking of southeast Asia or Japan, although I would be happy not to go so far if we could find somewhere with nice weather.

If you could travel anywhere (or not) where would it be?


  1. Ally Bean · May 13, 2022

    Your photos show a lovely part of the world. Peaceful, yet vibrant. I laugh about your husband and air travel. I have no patience with it either, just get me there fast. I’d like to travel to Hawaii again and the UK. Both, of course, involve long flights. *sigh*

    • MELewis · May 14, 2022

      I’d also love to go to Hawaii, but my husband is not keen (not sure why — he’s willing to do a long flight to Japan after all…?) And the UK, well, there is a lot of rich history and many interesting sights for sure. Hopefully you will get there one of these days!

  2. Colin Bisset · May 13, 2022

    Interesting diversity of sights and sites. I’ve become rather fond of Manchester since my nephew and his family moved there. Always good to have a native with you. Although Greggs, no thanks!

    • MELewis · May 14, 2022

      Sounds like I really must spend more time in Manchester beyond the airport! Definitely cool to have family in the area to you around. Never touched Greggs myself, but my daughter says even vegans love them as they do a plant-based version.

  3. Suzanne et Pierre · May 14, 2022

    Lovely visit with the family. We visited Wales in Sept 2001 and our memories of the area is mixed because of the 9/11 event. I do remember the beautiful medieval castles, the mountains and the wonderful beaches (too bad it is always a bit too cold to swim). Looks like you had a lovely time.

    As for Canada, they are certainly not very fast at removing the mask mandates in public transport and on flights. Our Prime Minister was criticized a lot for not closing the borders at the beginning of the pandemic so now he is more cautious than necessary…maybe the government will come to their senses soon.

    • MELewis · May 14, 2022

      I was happy to follow the masking requirements when they were necessary…but now that the pandemic is waning it seems a little much to ask visitors to mask for 14 days after arrival. I guess now that we are getting back to ‘normal’ we are fed up with so many rules (especially as they’ve all been dropped here in Europe now). Glad the pics brought back some happy memories, even if your experience there was overshadowed by current events. We were indeed grateful to have such a lovely time with family again!

      • Suzanne et Pierre · May 14, 2022

        Actually I don’t think you have to mask for 14 days after arrival now only on the flight and at the airport. You don’t have to have a test prior departure but they are still doing random testing. All of the provinces have now dropped their masking mandates. In Quebec, we only have to mask in public transport, in hospitals and when you visit an old age care home.

  4. acflory · May 14, 2022

    -grin- I’m happy with vicarious travelling. Next time, more pics! 😀

  5. roughwighting · May 19, 2022

    What a glorious time with your “kids” even though chilly and included back seat driving. 🙂 I’d love to travel again to England and Italy and Switzerland – our favorite go-to places in the past, but now that our ‘kids’ each have three children of their own, our most desired destination is visiting them. Fortunately, our daughter lives nearby, so we get to see them lots. Our son is on the other coast – in CA where we raised our family – and so our first priority is to fly out to the SF Bay area. But it’s also always a gorgeous place to visit, and we have many friends there. And from there, in the winter, Kauai is our other “go-to” place. The island is small and much less touristy than others. Maybe you could convince your husband. However, it’s laid back, and maybe he likes city destinations. Thanks for sharing photos of your beautiful trip and family.

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