Saturday, March 31, 2012

Moon Sand Pet Shop Review


Recently I was sent a free kit containing the Moon Sand Pet Shop for us to try out and review.   Little Boy is a bit to small to play with this type of toy so I invited Big Boy’s friends over and they played with him.  We had 2 boys that were 4 years old and one girl who is almost 2 playing with the Moon Sand.   They had great fun.  I thought there were both positive and negative points to the toy.

The Moon Sand Pet Shop is a kit that consists of a plastic-lined sand box that you open up and the kids play with the sand inside the box (theoretically).  It also comes with a number of moulds and sand.  The most disappointing part of the toy was the box.  It was relatively poorly made (ours was broken on receipt) and it did not really look like a pet shop to me.  Also, with multiple children playing with the sand, there was no way to contain it within the box, so I used baking sheets as sand boxes.

I’m happy to say that was my only real complaint.  The moulds worked really well – the sand has an interesting texture (it feels almost wet) that allows it to mould beautifully and the kids were successful at making a lot of cute little animals and treats for the animals.  Even the little girl who is not quite 2 could use the moulds.  The sand easily comes out of the moulds and the kids were excited to see their successful finished products.  There were some smaller bits that fell off or didn’t escape the mould well, but I would chalk this up to the kids being a little young to pack the sand properly.

We did not bake any of our creations because the kids wanted to use the sand again.

The best surprise of all for me was how easy the clean up was.  The sand easily shook out of the moulds and it was no trouble at all to vacuum.

So, we had a fun afternoon with the Moon Sand Pet Shop.  Here is product information:  

NEW Moon Sand Pet Shop
£14.99 SRP

Moon Sand gives you the most adorable Pet Shop imaginable! Easily mould a variety of cute animals in a matter of seconds. Enjoy the company of cats, turtles, dogs and bunnies - the Moon Sand Pet Shop lets you create them all! And with the easy-to-use sandbox container, you’ll always have a quick and simple clean up. Moon Sand never dries out, letting you repeatedly mould and play with your favourite animals. Mould your way into the perfect Pet Shop with Moon Sand! Includes Pet Shop, 13 moulds, 2-in1 tool & 2 colours of Moon Sand. Contents vary. For ages 3 years and over.





Big Boy's Birthday


On the morning of Big Boy’s Birthday, we decorated the hotel room with “Happy 5th Birthday” banners and gave him his cards and an obnoxiously large button to wear for the day.   He was delighted.

To make his birthday special, we let him pick where we would eat our meals and we let him pick a fun activity.  For meals, as he is 5 he picked:

We had both breakfast and supper at the Golden Arches, kind of a lot for 1 day, but that’s what happens when you don’t restrict the decisions of a 5 year old.  For lunch we ate at an outdoor patio restraint near the zoo.

For a fun activity he picked going to the Zoo.  The Budapest Zoo was a nice size – we could easily cover the whole zoo in about 2 hours but there were lots of interesting things to see.  Some of the animal habitats in the zoo are modern “natural” habitats where the animals don’t really know they are not in the wild, and some of the habitats are historical buildings in more of a cage style.

What was really striking about the zoo was how close we were to the animals.  The giraffes, bear and camels were right next to us – I was really happy for the plexi-glass protecting us from the bear!
This picture reminds me of one that a friend had in her cubicle at my old job.


This was quite unbelievable.  There was a petting zoo within the Budapest Zoo, and these are the entry points for the children.  Hopefully the goats don't learn to climb!

For a birthday dessert we tried to find "normal" cake but we were unsuccessful.  So we settled for a variety of treats:

Big Boy really liked the mousse cup.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Budapest - Part II, Touring


We had 4 days to tour around Budapest, and we found this to be plenty of time.  We were able to travel to all of the places that we wanted to see on foot and we did not use the metro system at all. 

We used the book “Eyewitness Travel:  Budapest” as our primary travel guide (I think DK Eyewitness Travel book are wonderful) and we did the recommended neighborhood walks out of the book for each of the main areas designated in the book.  Here is a summary of what we did:

Arrival Evening

Our hotel was right by St. Stephens Basilica and on our first evening in town we wandered around for about 5 minutes before we found ourselves on the steps of the Basilica.  It was breathtaking in the moonlight – I tried to take pictures but they all came out blurry with my shaky hands.  Then we walked to the grocery store to buy some milk for Little Boy.

Here is my attempt at a night-time photo of the Basilica...
a gorgeous building that I did not do justice with my shaky hands.
Day 1

The morning of our first touring day we walked over to the Castle District in Buda.  As our hotel was in the Parliament District of Pest we had to cross the Danube and we chose to cross over the Chain Bridge.  


Gramps on the Pest side of the Chain Bridge
We decided to ride the cogwheel railway up to the top of the hill with the castle.  The cogwheel railway was incredibly expensive for the short journey (about $10 Canadian for a 2 minute ride) but Big Boy enjoyed it. 

The cogwheel railway
Once we arrived at the top of the hill, we did a walking tour of the Old Town (page 78 of the DK book).  We say the Matyas Church with its amazing tiled roof and Gothic windows and then we walked around the church to the Fisherman’s Bastion, where we walked along the viewing terrace.  Sticking out like a sore thumb next to Matyas Church was the Hilton Hotel, controversially constructed in the 1970s.

Matyas Church

Gramps taking in the views from the Fisherman's Bastion
After this we made our way through the streets to the ruins of the Church of St. Mary Magdelene past the Vienna Gate.  We stopped for a break on the grounds of the Military Museum before heading over to the Royal Palace.

In the Royal Palace we had a snack and then we viewed many famous statues, including the Matyas Fountain.  There was a particularly beautiful cherry tree in bloom in one of the courtyards.


After the Royal Palace, we walked down the hill over to the Gellert Hill district.  Gellert Hill is an iconic piece of Budapest scenery, but, as it was early spring we did not see the trees in full bloom as they usually are in photos.  We also found it quite impossibly to travel up the hill with our buggy, so we walked around the bottom and we saw the Rock Church and the Gellert Hotel and Baths Complex.

We walked back to the hotel through the Central Pest district for a rest before dinner and then we ate in Pest.  It was a lovely day with hot weather and I got a sunburn!  Everyone else got a tan.

Day 2

We spent the first part of our second touring day in Pest.  We started at St. Stephen’s Basilica and did a walking tour of the surrounding area (page 112 of the DK book).  On this tour we saw many buildings with architectural significance, specifically in the Secession style.  Then we made our way over to Kossuth Square, the area surrounding the Parliament Building.  Kossuth Square is a lovely park-like area and the Parliament Building is stunning.  We also saw the gorgeous Hungarian TV headquarters and the monument to Imre Nagy.  There was quite a crowd around a statue of Attila Jozsef.

Parliament
We crossed over the Danube again to the North of Castle district where we did another walking tour (page 98 of the DK book) and had our lunch.  We loved the dramatic roof of the Calvinist Church, and this district offered incredible views of the Parliament.

The Calvinist Church
After our late lunch we made our way back to the hotel where we took the boys swimming for a treat.  The pool was moderately warm and they both had fun. Then we walked out into Central Pest for dinner (again – it was right by our hotel and had lots of dining choices).

Day 3

Our third day in Budapest was Big Boy’s birthday and we wanted to make the day special.  I will do a separate post about all of his birthday activities, and here I will describe the tourist activities we did that day.

We started our day with a walk to the Varosliget district.   This was, by far, my favorite part of Budapest.  To reach this district we had to walk through the fancy part of town with expensive boutique shops and lovely restaurants.  Then we walked down a long street dotted with embassies and other important buildings, including the House of Terror Museum, which holds a historical record of the double-occupation of Hungary at the end of WWII (Hungary was occupied by both the Nazis and Communists). 

House of Terror Museum
When we reached Heroes’ Square, the Millennium Monument dominated the skyline.  After a wander around the many different parts of the monument we wandered into Vajdahunyad Castle behind the monument and we saw the spooky and famous Statue of Anonymous.

Heroes' Square

Statue of Anonymous
Then we walked across the park, past the Szechenyi Baths to the Zoo, where we went for Big Boy’s birthday treat.  I will talk about the Zoo in his birthday post.

After the Zoo we had a very late lunch in the park and then walked back to the hotel for a much-needed rest!  It was an exhausting morning!

For dinner we once again headed into Central Pest, and after supper we bought some treats to enjoy for Big Boy’s birthday dessert.

Day 4

Our fourth day of touring around was essentially our last day and we decided to revisit our favorite areas.  We walked by St. Stephen’s Basilica and then up into the Castle district, where we wandered through the Old Town streets and enjoyed the views.  We also saw a military parade.  We ate a picnic lunch from a deli and then we toured around Central Pest before eating dinner at a street market near to our hotel.


Note:  "Gramps" is our Tidlo Toys Grand Parent, who was provided to us (for free) by the good folks at John Crane Ltd. We will be taking Gramps with us on our travels and adventures this summer.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Budapest - Part I, The Mundane


Yesterday we returned to Aberdeen from Budapest, and although we were all exhausted, we had a great trip.  I will tell you all about our trip, but I will have to break it up into a few posts.  Today I will cover the mundane things we all deal with while travelling – our travels, our hotel, food, pricing, etc.  Tomorrow I will talk about what we did in Budapest each day (with photos) and after that I will talk about Big Boy’s birthday.

Travel To and From Budapest

We flew from Aberdeen to Budapest via Amsterdam on KLM Airlines.   Our first flight was about 1 hour and 15 minutes and the second flight was closer to 1 hour 45 minutes.  The KLM aeroplanes were very basic and so was the service, which was to be expected on such short flights.  As usual Little Boy was slightly unco-operative on the flights – he does not go to sleep easily in our arms and he wants to touch everything.  That being said, he does not usually scream or cry, so we don’t disturb too many other passengers.  On the flights we were served drinks and snacks.  The second flight also had sandwiches.

We had about 1 hour for our transfer in Amsterdam, and it was not really enough time.  We had to run through the surprisingly large airport and we barely made our second flight.  On the way home we had a similar timing issue, but our flights arrived and departed from closer gates so it was not a big problem.  To have a relaxing transfer in Amsterdam, I think at least a 2-hour layover is required.

Once we arrived in Budapest there were warning posters about taxi scams in the airport.  We took a “reputable” firm and the trip to the hotel was smooth.  (Except that, in Budapest, as everywhere else, the cab was stinky and nausea inducing).

Our journey home was equally uneventful.

Hotel – Le Meridien

We stayed at Le Meridien a lovely hotel that was centrally located.  The hotel used to be the Adria Palace and indeed it is palatial.  We stayed on points, so the shocking cost of the rooms was not an issue for us.  Our room was very large, with a king sized bed and a small (not quite double-sized) pull out couch.  We also had a large desk, bureau, 2 closets and 2 nightstands with drawers.  The bathroom was large with both a tub (deep and oversized) and a large shower.  There was strong water pressure (I love that for my thick hair) and there was always hot water available.

The room was pleasantly decorated with antiques and had soaring ceilings with a dramatic chandelier.  The bed was so comfortable, with a selection of pillows for your comfort.

Overall the hotel experience was very positive.  There were a few negatives.  Most of the time, the Internet (which was free to us because of my husband’s points) was incredibly slow.  There would have been no way to update my blog and it was hard to check email, I could only view my Gmail in html, everything else took too long to load.  This was obviously more of a problem for my husband who was trying to work.

As usual, there were problems with the number of towels.  We were initially provide towels for 3 people, and when we asked for them to be replaced (which we don’t do every day), we would always get a random selection as replacements – never quite replacing all of the towels taken away.

The fridge (which I was happy to have) was one of those electronic fridges that have a sensor – if you move anything you are charged for it.  I immediately asked the hotel to remove all of the items from the fridge so I could use it for milk and they complied.

My last complaint is actually about the team of doormen.  We have a stroller and it could not fit through the rotating door.  So we needed assistance to open the door next to it to get in and out of the hotel.  The doormen never seemed to quite get the hang of actually opening the door for us.  They would rush up as we were almost through or open the door as we were opening it.  The doorman was almost never near the door – we found this a little odd!

Food

Food was not an issue for us.  Our hotel was conveniently located near to a couple of restaurant-packed areas and we easily found an appropriate grocery store.  We tried a few Hungarian foods such as a twisted up and baked dough and catfish and mushroom pancake.  Food in Budapest was generally drenched in mayonnaise or sour cream and a lot of foods contained cottage cheese.  We had a giant pretzel that looked like it was covered in icing but was actually covered in cheese!

There was no issue at all finding food that was appropriate for either child.

Pricing

Generally, food and activities were expensive in Budapest, especially compared to our recent visits to Prague, Istanbul, Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Food, both in the grocery store and in restaurants (and even at “street food” stands) was quite expensive – comparable to pricing in Paris, from what I can remember.  Attractions also came at a steep price.  The cogwheel railway was about $10 Canadian for our family’s 2-minute ride and the Zoo cost about $25 Canadian for the family.

Weather

We had gorgeous weather.  It was hot – over +20 degrees Celsius every day - with a blazing sun.  One day it was a bit windy.

Odour           
The Danube seems to be the source of some pretty nasty smells and every time the wind blew toward our faces we’d get a whiff of a new and disgusting odour.  


Fashion

In general, it seems to me that European women (and men) take fashion more seriously that North Americans.  I know this statement will probably offend a bunch of people, but what I mean is this:  if you look at a cross section of the population out in public, I think in Europe you will probably find people who have given far more though to their attire than in North America.  For example, it seemed to me that in Budapest, people did not wear sweat pants as proper clothing outside the house (and maybe not inside the house either – how would I know?).

Anyways, I think European people put more effort, expense and time into their appearance.  Sometimes this leads to beautiful, appropriate outfits, but sometimes the results are laughable.  Here are some examples of the latter, I only wish I had photos of some of them:

  • On a hot day, many men were still wearing the effeminate scarves that are in fashion for men in Europe.  Even though they were really sweaty.
  • One young lady was wearing tight, ripped jeans.  They were excessively tight and excessively ripped and cottage cheese like cellulite was being forced out of each tear.
  • Bizarre ‘80s hair.  Think crimping irons, with bleach and red dye.
  • Ridiculously high heals that would not allow comfortable walking on the cobblestones – the ladies wearing these either “owned it” and walked without an issue or limped along.
  • Purple skirt, red tights, purple shoes.  All on the same person at the same time.  Enough said.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Home Again!

We have just returned from a hectic but fun trip to Budapest and I promise to tell you all about it (with pictures too!).  But right now, I'm far too tired, so I will save it for tomorrow.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Happy Birthday Big Boy!

Big Boy turns 5 today and we will celebrate on our holiday.  I'll tell you all about it later!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games

We are away right now (I will tell you all about our trip later) and the book I brought with me is The Hunger Games.  My husband viciously mocked me for accidentally picking a "children's" (well actually "teens") book, but I just finished it and I loved it!  The story kept me interested the whole way through and it was sweet, clever and original.  I cannot wait to read the next book in the series.

PS it is violent and gory...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Busy Day/Week

We have had an incredibly busy day following a busy week (so far).  Today we had a "pseudo-birthday" for Big Boy at his school (his birthday falls during a day off so we took in cupcakes today).  After the pseudo-birthday, the class went on an Easter egg hunt.  After the hunt I watched Big Boy and his pal while a friend volunteered at the teacher appreciation lunch.

Then we took the kids to Newton Dee for lunch.  It was a gorgeous day so after lunch we took a walk through the farm and saw chickens and cows.  The kids played at the playground for ages, and Little Boy became very brave.  He climbed a ladder that was nearly as tall as me!  I will have to keep my eyes on that one!

After the farm we did some errands to help prepare for a city break we will be taking soon.  Then we went home for naps followed by swimming lessons.  Next came Big Boy's pseudo-birthday dinner followed by cake with friends and opening a few presents!

My posts may become fewer and further between over the next few days, but rest assured I will fill you all in with photos when my computer access is more regular!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring is Here!

We had a lovely walk to school today and we stopped to take some pictures of the daffodils in the fields along the way.

Can you see Gramps hiding?
Note:  "Gramps" is our Tidlo Toys Grand Parent, who was provided to us (for free) by the good folks at John Crane Ltd. We will be taking Gramps with us on our travels and adventures this summer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dolphins and Deer!


Today was a wonderful day.  In the morning a friend and I took the Little Boy and her daughter for a walk on Aberdeen Beach.  The weather was perfect and we saw dolphins!  The dolphins were jumping out of the water in a “classic” profile (you know, where it looks like the dolphin is spinning around on a big wheel).

Then we did some shopping and had lunch downtown before picking up the kids at school.  After school we tested out a toy (review to follow soon) and saw some deer in the field behind my house.

Then my husband made dinner (fried rice – yum)!