Author Archives: Our Little Organic Life

family day out on the cutty sark explorer trail - photo of my hand holding out the brochure which doubles as a kid's guide to emboss at stamping stations throughout the ship

Family Day Out at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich

Since returning to our life in London at the end of September, we hadn’t really had much quality time as a family. After getting home from Valencia, my husband got sinusitis and then I ended up in hospital for a few days with asthma – something I’ve only developed in adult life. For at least two weeks I hadn’t been outside my house or the hospital. So we were really looking forward to having a family day out, courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich, on what turned out to be a glorious, hot Saturday afternoon in October.

We live a short bus ride away from Greenwich, a leafy riverside historic area on the outskirts of London. It is a place dear to our heart, as a couple and as a family.  When my husband and I were dating, we often went there for long, relaxed champagne picnics in Greenwich Park during the summer and in the winter we’d eat plates of whitebait in pubs by the river. We even considered getting married there at one point.

Since becoming a family of three, it has turned out to be an excellent family destination for us as well.  Not only are there plenty of museums and large public spaces, but there are lots of fun restaurants and independent boutiques.  We also like the central market where you can buy handcrafted artisan goods and street food – with lots of vegan options.  Greenwich Park is marvellously big and while younger children enjoy visiting the deer enclosure in the flower garden, older children love straddling the prime meridian line (Greenwich Mean Time) at the observatory on the hill.  Parents and couples will enjoy the beautiful views of Canary Wharf across the river.

Greenwich is easily accessible from Central London via bus, train, riverboat and the Docklands Light Railway.

Sitting at the heart of the waterfront is the Cutty Sark, the world’s sole surviving tea clipper.

It was one of the fastest tea clippers in existence. 

Built in 1869 to carry tea from China to London when the tea business was lucrative and speed was important, the Cutty Sark had a few years of glory before being replaced by steamboats and she was relegated to carrying wool from Australia to the UK.  In 1922 she was found and restored by a retired sea captain and had a few more useful years as a training ship until 1954 when she was laid in dry dock permanently and put on public display. Since then the boat has survived two fires, but after a lengthy restoration she perched atop a stunning architecturally designed glass dry dock which looks like a cresting wave.

When at the ticket desk, be sure to ask for a Cutty Sark explorer trail guide for each child you visit with.  The booklet is free and has a page for each main section of the ship with activities and an area to emboss at designated stamping stations throughout the boat.  My daughter really enjoyed doing this and although there are plenty of fun activities for kids on board it helped provide a bit of focus as we visited each area of the ship.

Those whose little ones under 4 who really love the ship (my 3 year old daughter is asking if we can go back to “the big ship” as I sit here writing this) can join the regular Toddler Time sessions held in the gallery under the Cutty Sark on Wednesdays during term times.  (See the bottom of this post for full details, prices and times.)

Copy of the cutty sark explorer trail guide for kids - a blue paper pamphlet with cool graphicsa copy of the cutty sark Explorer trail guide beside the explorer trail stamp embosser, in front of some carved ship figureheadsmy daughter embossing her cutty sark explorer trail guide

You enter the ship by walking across a ramp and through a hole cut into the hull of the ship.  You walk straight into the main cargo hold of the ship, where once 1,305,812 lbs of tea and later 4,289 bales of wool would have been transported from the other side of the world back to London.  There are loads of interactive stations and activities for kids and informative panels with facts about the ship for older kids and grown ups. There is even a theatre seating area where you can watch a short film about the history of the Cutty Sark.

entering the ship's hull where it is dark and full of TV screens showing the tea industrya tea history timeline stencilled onto reproduction tea crates

She was brave…there’s no way I’d be smelling and touching those “mystery” boxes!

My 3 year old daughter touching and smelling

There are beautiful antique pieces  on display, like model ships and the original ship’s bell (which was stolen but later returned).

a model ship in a glass casethe original ship's bell in brass, engraved with

There are also a couple of interactive toy models of the ship which children are free to play with.

child and parent playing with toy model ship inside ship's hull

The officer and crew quarters have been beautifully restored.  Some of them you can just peek into, like this one with a ghostly projection and voice of a crew member writing a letter to his family, and others which visitors are free to try out.  Those bunks were awfully small!

holographic ship's crew member writing a letter and speaking out loud

Ever the chef, I had to photograph the galley – the ship’s kitchen!

the original ship's galley filled with dirty plates and soup tureens

There is something quite surreal and a bit magical about being on a tall ship riding a crystal wave which captures the movement and reflection from the sky above, ever-headed towards the modern towers of the finance industry in Canary Wharf in the distance. Perhaps a fitting destination, given how significant a business tea was in the 19th century – it was a key source of tax revenue for the British Empire.

A side view of the Cutty Sark tea clipper in Greenwich. There is a view of the towers of Canary Wharf in the background.artistic photo of a row of ship's ropes on pulleys

If you’re feeling particularly energetic after you complete your visit on board the ship, you can even walk to the Isle of Dogs in East London via the Edwardian era Greenwich Pedestrian Tunnel. There is something a bit Jules Verne-esque about the small brick, domed entrance to the tunnel which leads under the River Thames.

entrance to the greenwich pedestrian tunnel with the river thames and the shard in the backgroundarty photo of the ship's rigging with the town of greenwich in the backgroundme walking down a set of stairs holding on to a rope bannisterarty photo of the ship's rigging and the skyphoto of me in a black turtleneck and denim skirt and canvas slip on shoes on the deck of the cutty sark in front of the rigging and pulleys

After you’ve toured the ship itself, a gangway and a set of modern stairs (or a lift) leads you down to the modern gallery area under the ship itself.  I should say at this point that almost every area of the ship itself, aside from a couple of the original crew quarters are all accessible via lift for those who require it.

Under the ship is a small cafe where you can have a cup of coffee and cake, or even afternoon tea while admiring the beautifully polished underside of the Cutty Sark.

the tearoom underneath the cutty sark ship's hull in a big modern gallery spacearty photo of the ship's hull - all polished copper

Keep walking down the gallery and after passing a number of fun interactive displays, you can go up a viewing platform (only accessible via stairs I seem to recall, though I could be wrong about that) to get this amazing view.

the ship's hull, taken from underneath, showing the architectural ribbing of the dry dock supports and the crystal glass

At the far end of the gallery is a collection of ship figureheads, including the original “Cutty Sark”, seen in white below, holding a horse’s tail.  The figurehead now on the ship itself is a reproduction.

In case you were wondering about the unusual name of the ship, Cutty Sark comes from Robert Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter, about a farmer called Tam who is chased by the witch Nannie who is dressed only in a ‘cutty sark’ – an ancient Scottish name for a short undergarment or chemise.

A number of carved figureheads from shipsthe cutty sark taken from underneath the crystal glass dry dock

We greatly enjoyed our visit aboard the Cutty Sark and as it has been designated as a toddler-approved museum by my daughter I’ll certainly be taking her to the Toddler Time sessions after term time starts up again so we can see this beautiful ship again.

Toddler Time at the Cutty Sark is held rain or shine (with songs, stories and playtime). The timings are 10.00-11.30am and 1.20-2.50pm. The cost is £5 per adult, but under 4’s are free (obviously accompanied by a parent!) but if a parent signs up to an annual membership for £44, you can go for free to as many sessions as you wish.

This post is a sponsored collaboration with Royal Museums Greenwich.

an open porthole in the ship's cargo hull

Resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tea, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutty_Sark, https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/we-recommend/attractions/nannie-cutty-sark-figurehead#k8rUo4yTzSq73zLE.99

Eco Friendly Kids Room Ideas

We recently redecorated our daughter’s bedroom. I won’t say it was a total eco job, as due to her large scale artistic proclivities (i.e. she draws on the walls) we had to use special washable paint on the walls rather than a natural pigment paint like Frenchic. Also the gorgeous giant tree and animal decals on the wall aren’t very eco friendly, but I know she’ll enjoy them for a very long time. I was originally planning to paint something myself – like a totem pole mural – but my husband ordered them on a whim and she loves them, so that’s that.

1. Toy & Book Baskets

These beautiful baskets from the Sourced by Oxfam online shop are fantastic. They’re made from Kasia Grass by a pioneering fair-trade organisation called The Jute Works in Bangladesh. They empower socially disadvantaged rural artisans within the local indigenous community and those living with disabilities. They’re great for shoving toys and books into, but also make great laundry baskets too, really for any room in the house. Here’s the links for the smaller basket at £9.99 and the larger basket at £14.99. They’re beautifully made and are marvellous value, as I’ve spent far far more on similar items at Anthropologie and the Conran Shop in the past.

Honestly, I just like lots of trugs and baskets around my daughter’s room to make clean up easy for her.  At 3 years old she does have some household chores and one of those is the tidy up her own toys at the end of the day, to book any books back on the bookshelf and to put her dirty clothes in the laundry bin.  It doesn’t have to be neat or perfect or put away in the “right” spot, she just has to do it.  Does it reduce the amount of mess she generates during the day?  No.  Do I feel it’s good for her to have some routine and sense of ownership for simple responsibilities which will help her develop healthy habits as an adult?  Yep.

2.  Trade in Old Clothes for New

Surely I’m not the only person with the unsightly and ever growing bag of kids clothes my little one has grown out of.  I sometimes struggle with giving away “special” pieces to the charity shop, but I love the concept of Treasure House, where you can join up, get £15 credit to spend on second hand children’s clothes from their site, and they’ll send you a baggie in the post so you can send in your used and outgrown children’s clothes and they’ll give you more credit to use in their online shop.  I think it looks like a great idea and am excited to try it out. There’s everything from high street Zara, Levi’s and Boden to designer Chloe, Bonpoint and Marie Chantal. While I don’t really wear much designer stuff myself these days (nothing new at least), I must admit I do enjoying spoiling my little girl with pretty pieces and it does help declutter.

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3. Choose Natural Materials

Now, I’m not gettin’ preachy on y’all here.  We love our Playmobil, Tiger Trunkie, giant Melissa & Doug giraffe and plastic baby doll with matching stroller as much as anybody else.  But there is a gentle feeling to a child’s room which is filled with more natural materials.  It softens the space somehow. In our home, this means decorating with natural baskets, using unbleached organic cotton bedding, thick cotton drapes, a simple wooden bed, and more wood, felt and paper toys as well as a good wardrobe of dress up clothes.

Our daughter and her friends all love their wooden balance boards. They use them as side-to-side rockers, turn them into bridges and ramps and integrate them into their imaginary play.  We bought ours from a company in Hungary called Creatimber and they come in lots of colour options. They’re hand crafted, eco friendly, and they help improve children’s body awareness, spatial awareness, balance and coordination skills, they help build self confidence and encourage creative sensory play.

We are also about to commit to doing a regular nature table in our daughter’s bedroom as she loves collecting all sorts of seasonal bits when we go out – conkers, pebbles, leaves, sticks, seashells…you get it.  Setting these out on a table with a few decorations, such as naturally dyed play silks to create grass, ground, lakes and rivers (my grandmother bought our daughter hers from an Etsy shop) and some lovely Holztiger and Ostheimer  wooden animals from Germany looks quite magical.

 

How to Conserve Energy in the Bedroom

We’ve just moved our bedroom into the new loft space we had added to our house and with the new Velux windows and French doors, as well as improved insulation, we’ve noticed a huge difference in the temperature management of our house this summer and we’re hoping that will carry through into the colder months. It’s made us really conscious of our energy usage and while we will be saying no thank you to getting a smart meter, we will be trying to implement small, sensible measures to cut down on our energy usage. 

Here are some tips which I’ve asked SleepHelp.org to prepare to help you with practical tips to reduce your energy use in both summer and winter.

If you sleep eight hours every night, you’ll end up spending nearly one-third of your life in the bedroom. And yet, it’s easy to forget about energy conservation in a room where you’re usually unconscious. However, there are many things you can do to cut down on energy use while you sleep.

Check the Seal Around Windows and Doors

Windows and outside doors can be areas of significant heat loss so give the seals a good once-over every few months. Keep an extra tube of caulking on hand to seal any draughts you notice when the weather changes.

Start Temperature Management Early

You have to start thinking about temperature management before it gets too hot or cold in the bedroom. During the summer, block out light and heat with blackout curtains, heavy drapes, or blinds. In the winter, keep them closed when it’s coldest outside to prevent heat loss. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever have your curtains open, but you’ll need to keep them closed in order to strategically to cut down on energy use.

Unplug and Consolidate Your Electronics

Even though you’re not using the television, it may be in standby mode which still uses power. Try using extension cords to plug all your electronic devices, including lamps and speakers, into a single power strip. At night and when they’re not in use, turn the power strip off. Flipping one switch is easier than walking around the room and unplugging every device.

Open the Windows and Doors

This one’s really only feasible during the summer, but it can cut down on your air conditioner use. If possible, open your windows and doors to let the cool evening breeze move through your house. Not only has fresh air been shown to help you sleep better and improve next-day performance, it brings the temperature down without the use of your air conditioner.

Adjust Your Bed for the Season

Your mattress and bedding are a big part of your comfort while you sleep. Today, more than ever, there are more organic and environmentally-friendly mattress options. You also can read our article on choosing the right natural mattress here.  Try to choose one that works with your climate to provide good temperature regulation. For example, plant-based memory foam mattresses usually keep heat and moisture against the body so, in general, they’re warmer. Innersprings and hybrids tend to allow more airflow and, therefore, are cooler. You can use your bedding to your advantage as well. Natural fabrics like linen and cotton have good breathability for summer and warm, soft flannel  bedding will help contain heat in the winter.  A wool blanket thrown overtop the duvet will help trap the heat and keep you cosy and toasty warm on cool autumn and winter nights too.

Install a Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fans may use electricity, but less than an air conditioner. They can be used in a couple different ways to help manage the temperature in your bedroom. Most of the time, the blades pull air up from the ground where it’s cooler. In this case, they keep the cool air circulating through the room. If your windows are open, they can also help pull air into the room. In cooler months, you can switch the direction of the blades, which will circulate warm air back to the ground. While you don’t want to have your fan on high in the winter, blowing warm air to the ground can heat your room up faster. (My family does this and I can promise, it really does work!)

With lights off and curtains closed, you’re ready to cut your energy use in the bedroom. Some of the other changes may require a little more time, but they’re worth it to lower your carbon footprint and reduce your energy bills.


 

This article was a non-paid collaboration written by Amy Highland, a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy’s a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

Five Reasons for Choosing Organic (And One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics)

I started writing about organic eating in 2011 and since that time, this blog has grown to incorporate green, natural living and eco-travel.  In the intervening 7 years, organic food has become much more prevalent, with more people choosing to buy organic on a regular basis.  Which is great, but sometimes when a movement becomes widespread, it becomes a bit like white noise.  We forget WHY we initially made the choice to switch to organic and our intentions become less resolute.  And some folks probably never really knew why they started buying organic foods in the first place, other than for vague reasons about it being “healthier”.

In short, by buying organic food, personal care products, home products and clothing, you are making a decision to consciously support sustainable agricultural land use (as well as a positive impact on the natural lands which surround it – for the wild birds, bees, flora and fauna), improved animal husbandry welfare (including no routine use of antibiotics which is important as we sit on the cusp of the post-antibiotic era), no use of artificial colours or preservatives which is better for your body and you’re also buying products made from natural materials which will more easily break down into compost at the end of their useful life, rather than spending the next 500 years in landfill.  So many great reasons to make this conscientious decision to buy organic as often as you are able.

What first inspired me to create this blog was my desire and passion to share with others why I choose to buy organic food, clothing and home items as often as I can. And I haven’t done that in a while, so I thought I’d remind my readers (and myself!) my main evidence-based reasons for choosing – and continuing – to buy organic.

Learn More – GO! Organic Festival (8-9 September 2018)

If you live in the UK and you’d like to explore more about organic living, my first suggestion is that join me at the Battersea Park on 8-9 September 2018 and celebrate everything organic at the GO! Organic Festival.  They’ve very kindly partnered with me to sponsor this article and to offer you the opportunity to win a free pair of tickets (see below). I’ll be there, so let me know in the comments below if you’re coming too! Buy your tickets HERE.

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There will be loads of organic food and drink (including beers & wines), celebrity chefs, pop up vendors and a marketplace with lots of my favourite organic companies including skincare companies, clothing and homewares.  (One of my favs, Greenfibres will be there too, you can check out my review of their pillows HERE.) There’s also a MainStage with a great line up of music.

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Oh, and if you have kids, can I just say that Andy (yes, CBeebies Andy, THAT Andy) and Mr Bloom will be there too!  There will also be facepainting, etc. In other words, it’s a very family friendly day out.

You can win a free pair of tickets by entering our Rafflecopter giveaway HERE.

In the meanwhile, start supporting your local farmers markets and natural foods shops, and when you do buy a packaged product, learn to read the label. You don’t need to change everything in a day, but the more you learn about why some people choose to buy organic foods, clothing and personal care products.  If you’re a bit skeptical about  why its important to buy organic and would like to learn more about why I “became organic”, then I invite you to keep on reading…

Why Did I Choose Organic?

I sometimes hear really intelligent people say that buying organic isn’t necessary because it’s just a marketing ploy to charge more, and that makes me sad. (I hear this a lot in the vegan community, and we should really know better.) Because while these folks are partly right that there is a marketing element to the organic label certifications and branding, that’s not why I choose to buy non-sprayed,  non-GMO foods, clothing and home products.  In fact, on many occasions the organic products I’m buying aren’t labelled organic at all.  I just talk to the farmer or producer and find out what farming and production methods they’re using.  I encourage you to do the same. I like supporting local farmers wherever possible, but I also have good reasons for making sure that I’m choosing organic products (and supporting organic producers, including those who go to the effort of obtaining pricy and demanding organic certification standards).
The US National Academy of Sciences reports that 90% of the chemicals applied to the foods we eat have not been tested for their long-term health effects before being deemed as “safe.” Furthermore, the US FDA only tests 1% of foods for pesticide residue.

“The most dangerous and toxic pesticides require special testing methods, which are rarely if ever employed by the FDA.”

Here are my top 5 evidence-based reasons for living an organic lifestyle.

1. Genetically Modified Foods

I’m not afraid of the boogey man or Franken-whatever – that’s not why I don’t eat GMO foods.  The point of most widely available GMO foods – especially the big ones like corn, wheat, canola and soya – is that they are branded as “Roundup Ready” and as such, the plants are designed to be resistant to higher levels of glyphosate so that more weed-killer can be used for a higher product yield – levels of toxins which would kill a conventional plant. Glyphosate is the main ingredient of Roundup and it is an endocrine-disrupting chemical which the WHO has listed as a probable carcinogen, in particular linked to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and to which there is increasing evidence and current legal debate that it causes genetic damage.

So when you see “soya”, “soy”, “canola”, “corn”, “fructose”, “glucose fructose”, avoid buying those foods unless they are labelled as organic or non-GMO. (Foods labelled as non-GMO, GMO-free and Non-GMO Project Verified foods aren’t necessarily free from Roundup (glyphosate) and other harsh weed-killing toxins like Dicamba (also produced by Monsanto), but they will have lower levels of those poisons. I won’t lie – I do occasionally buy those types of non-GMO foods, but it’s better to buy organic as often as possible.  I tend to apply a 90/10 rule at home – 90% organic, whole foods (I prefer to eat whole foods for my own health reasons – you don’t need to do that) and 10% fun foods (my fun foods are always vegan and always GMO-free, organic where possible). It’s nearly impossible to guarantee eating GMO-free when you go out to restaurants unless you eat somewhere like Chipotle, the first national chain restaurant to cook with all non-GMO ingredients. Just do your best.

If you want to know more about practical ways to avoid GMO foods, check out Mama Natural’s blog post on how to avoid GMO’s. You can also check out my previous article on the subject.

If you don’t have the time for reading all those articles and you don’t have time to read labels at the supermarket, the easy solution is – just buy and eat organic food.  

Organic food cannot be genetically modified, so it’s an easy cheat to avoid having those toxins in your food.

2. The Health of Agricultural Workers

There are over 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides used in the agricultural industry worldwide (1 billion of that is in the US) and with woefully inadequate hazard assessments taking place, especially when chemicals are combined, each year 25 million agricultural workers experience unintentional pesticide poisoning.

(Note, I’m not even touching on how those chemicals affect the environment, animals, the bees and bird life.)

Personally, I care about the health of all those agricultural workers and their families and I don’t wish to contribute to risking their lives so I can have a cheap bag of Doritos or whatever.

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3. Groundwater Becomes Poisoned

The US Department of Agriculture has found that the groundwater which provides drinking water for around 50,000,000 people in the US has been contaminated by pesticides and chemicals from the agricultural industry.

“According to Cornell entomologist David Pimentel, it is estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests. The bulk of pesticides (99.%) is left to impact the environment.”

But maybe you’re not a statistics person.  Maybe you need to see an example of the kind of thing I mean, so please check out the video below showing the issues with the Costa Rica pineapple industry.

4. Because Pesticides Get EVERYWHERE

Even household dust (in addition to food and water) is now contaminated with pesticides, particularly in rural agricultural areas. Studies have found that children between 3 and 6 years of age received MOST of their dermal and non-dietary oral doses of pesticides from playing with toys and while playing on carpets which contributed the largest portion of their exposure.

That means the dust from the air settling on the toys of our kids  – on the objects we use everyday – is toxic.

That bit of dust that’s settled on Sophie the Giraffe or my daughter’s favourite blankie is toxic.

Do you find that as shocking and distressing as I do?

This means the more of us who buy and support organic, the more farmers will be able to make the viable economic decision to farm using sustainable, organic methods and this will mean gradually, fewer and fewer pesticides in the air, especially in agricultural areas where this issue is most prevalent.

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5. Increased Nutrient Values

In the past when I researched this topic, there didn’t seem to be much evidence that organic foods had much more nutritional value than conventionally grown goods, aside from increased phytonutrient content.  But more high quality studies and reviews have shown that foods grown in well-nourished soil, using organic, sustainable practices have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

As an example, five servings of organically grown vegetables  can provide an adequate daily level of vitamin C, where the same number of servings of conventionally grown vegetables do not.

Organic produce, on average, contains:

  • 21.1% more iron
  • 27% more vitamin C
  • 29.3 more magnesium
  • 13.6% more phosphorous

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One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics

There is one aspect to buying organic food which does get my back up.  And its not the perceived increase in cost. When I go into the supermarket, all the organic produce seems to have extra layers of plastic. (You can watch my Real Food Organic Groceries on a Budget video here to see what I mean.)  I appreciate the supermarkets need to differentiate the conventional produce from the organic for pricing reasons, but surely they could do that with produce stickers rather than having to add so much plastic. This isn’t an issue when I can make it to the farmer’s market or when I order my organic fruit and veg box from Ocado (email me at ourlittleorganiclifeblog@gmail.com to get a voucher to save £20 off your first order) or from Abel and Cole or Riverford Organics (my downstairs neighbour uses Riverford on a weekly basis and I’m always so jealous of the gorgeous produce she gets each week).

However, the good news is that supermarkets here in the UK (where I currently live) are soon going to have to become more accountable for their plastic usage in the coming years so thankfully this should become less of an issue in future.

Resources: 

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/
3.  https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/a20453119/top-reasons-to-choose-organic-foods/
Nielson EG, Lee LK. Agricultural Economics Report Number 576.US Department of Agriculture; Washington: 1987. The magnitude and cost of groundwater contamination from agricultural chemicals: a national perspective.

Identifying populations potentially exposed to agricultural pesticides using remote sensing and a Geographic Information System.

Ward MH, Nuckols JR, Weigel SJ, Maxwell SK, Cantor KP, Miller RS
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jan; 108(1):5-12.
4. Biologically based pesticide dose estimates for children in an agricultural community.
Fenske RA, Kissel JC, Lu C, Kalman DA, Simcox NJ, Allen EH, Keifer MC
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jun; 108(6):515-20.

Organophosphate urinary metabolite levels during pregnancy and after delivery in women living in an agricultural community.

Bradman A, Eskenazi B, Barr DB, Bravo R, Castorina R, Chevrier J, Kogut K, Harnly ME, McKone TE
Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Dec; 113(12):1802-7.
5. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/107555301750164244

Photo Credits:

Farmer photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Baby photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Kale salad photo by Deryn Macey on Unsplash

The Natural Mama’s Beach Holiday Travel Essentials Guide

There’s no better way to get excited about your upcoming summer holiday than by going shopping for all your beach essentials.  Even the most eco-conscious of us aren’t immune to this pleasure, but some of us – quite rightly – temper that excitement with our concern for the environment and the health of ourselves and our children. So here’s some greener and healthier ways to join in with the summer joy of planning for your beach holiday.

Sun Protection

Sun protection of one kind or another is so important, especially for children.  Gettinghd_101323492_01
just 5 blistering sunburns can increase your risk of skin cancer by up to 80%. So make sure you have a variety of ways to protect your skin.  Many drugstore sunscreens are full of parabens, oxybenzone and other chemicals linked to various types of hormone-disrupting cancers. But there’s no need to worry – there are plenty of options open to you. You can wear a beach cover up which covers the arms and chest well – and there are plenty of good second hand ones about, like this one which I’ve featured from the Oxfam online shop (click here to check out their full range of colours and options).

You should also invest in a good ocean-safe, reef-safe SPF sun cream each summer.  Some people make their own suncreams with coconut oil and essential oils, and if that’s your thing, go for it, but be aware there’s always the risk that you end up making a basting oil for your skin rather than a sun protectant.  While many oils and essential oils do have a natural SPF quality to them, there is no way you can guarantee that level of protection is still in the base ingredient product you’ve purchased without expensive testing. Instead, buy a non-nano, paraben-free, oxybenzone-free sun protection product which is as natural as possible. Suncreams like this new one from Weleda which I purchased at my local health food store last week are a great option.

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If Weleda is difficult to find in your area, consider the Thinkbaby and Thinksport sunscreens which I tried out on two separate occasions earlier this summer when visiting friends and I had to borrow some sun protection.  Thinksport do SPF 50 creams, but also a great SPF 30 face and body stick which is easy to apply to your face – kind of like a mini deodorant stick.  It’s a clean range of products which is easy to find in Canada, the US and the UK, and it’s been designed for serious athletes – so it will definitely be able to withstand your beach holiday demands! Plan ahead and make sure you have enough for your trip – you don’t want to end up like I did on my trip to Italy, having to buy horrible overpriced chemical-filled sunscreen at the pharmacy (you don’t want to know how much sun protection costs in Europe).

For kids I also recommend getting UPF 50 sun protection suits for the beach. When paired with a good wide-brimmed hat, it means you don’t have to worry about when they spend a bit too long in the sunshine – as they inevitably will.  I do buy these suits and shirts second hand for my daughter but do keep in mind that the sun protection factor in second hand suits might not be as high as it will be in a new suit.

Swimwear

You can get some great bathing suits and bikinis second hand like these ones at the Oxfam online shop (just give them a good boil wash after buying them). I’m a bit busty, however, so have never had luck finding second hand bikini tops that fit me.  In fact, finding any gorgeous bikini tops that will fit over a D cup is actually quite difficult. I wasIMG_20180723_124900.jpg gifted this beautiful black Boho Chic bikini from Hunkemoeller (I saw their gorgeous lingerie and swimwear boutiques all over Germany last month). It fits me so well – in fact this model ran a bit on the generous size, so I had return my first bikini top (thank you free returns!) and go a cup size smaller than my usual Panache bra cup size which looks amazing on me.  It ties at the top and the back , so you don’t need to worry about whether the band will be too tight or too loose, and the metal U bar in the front, allows the front of the bra to open easily for topless sunbathing (or easy breastfeeding, if you’re still nursing your child). They also had a variety of styles of bikini bottoms, so I was able to find the right cut to suit my derrière. (That’s not me below, btw!)

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After Sun

Don’t overthink this one.  Buy some pure organic aloe gel (like this one from Amazon which comes in a handy 200ml size).  Avoid those livid green and totally transparent Aloe-based concoctions you see at the supermarket and pharmacy – they have a lot of other stuff in them other than healing aloe. You can mix the aloe gel with a few drops of a good quality lavender essential oil (I use Young Living – see why here) to boost the skin soothing quality of the aloe. If you do get a bit too much sun, just rub in some of this into your skin and it will help cool you off and start to nourish your sun-damaged skin. Just keep reapplying as your skin sucks it in (and it will, depending on the severity of the burn).

Beach Bag

Don’t forget a beach bag to schlep around all your stuff. You don’t need to invest in something really134253_7 expensive – if you’re travelling on your own or with your partner, a small canvas shopping tote will work. If you’re travelling with kids the best thing are those big tacky re-usable supermarket bags which are fantastic for this purpose because they’re waterproof and hold tons of stuff like flippers, goggles, snorkels, sand-encrusted swim shoes, gazillions of towels, etc.

But I know that if you’re going back and forth to the beach club, you might want something a bit more chic than a massive orange Sainsbury’s bag proudly branding it’s elephant design emblazoned on the side. I’ve decided to splurge and treat myself to this black & white one from Hunkemoller UK to match my new bikini. It reminded me of some of the gorgeous bags I’ve seen in Anthropologie.  (I remember the days of disposable income. They’re long gone, but I do remember them!)

Sunglasses

For Pete’s sake, don’t forget a pair of sunglasses or you’ll be squinting in agony for the next two weeks. On my way back from Canada in June, I treated myself to a new pair of Oakley matte tortoiseshell Latch sunglasses at the duty free shop. (Yeah, I’ve given myself a few treats lately – what’s up with that?) I had been planning to get the folding Ray Ban Wayfarers, but discovered that they come in a leather case, which kind of didn’t flow with the whole vegan vibe.

Water Bottle

It’s pretty easy most places to access clean drinking water, so unless you’re travelling somewhere at particular risk for waterborne pathogens, just take your water bottle with you and for each member of your family so you can stay hydrated throughout the day.  Even if you go to a resort, its great having your own reusable cup bottle with you, so you can have the bar staff refill it with water for you from their filtered water systems.  I love my Yeti bottle because I can attach it to my bag with a carabiner – and yes, I bought it second hand.

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It’s also a great idea to take a reusable coffee cup (like a Keep Cup) or an insulated wine tumbler (yes, there is such a thing) so you don’t have to use plastic cups for your wine or cocktails, and they’ll stay cooler for longer in the sun. (Amazon have a wide range of insulated wine tumblers at various price points, and Yeti do a cool one too).

Sun Hat

Sun hats are such a personal thing, I’m not even going to show you an example here.  I have a great soft brushed cotton baseball cap I love from ethical clothing company Absolutely Bear which I wear for day trips and hiking all the time, but I probably won’t wear it on the beach on my trip to Spain, as I might want something which channels a bit more of a Sophia Loren vibe.  But whatever suits your style.

One thing I will say is, just take a sun hat.  Something foldable might be wise, so you can pack it in your luggage.  I have a gorgeous Panama style hat which I love, but it isn’t the easiest to travel with because I have to wear it for the whole flight, or make sure it doesn’t get crunched up in the overhead luggage compartment.

Sun hats are such a great and easy way to keep the sun off your face without worrying about whether your SPF cream has worn off and panda eyes are developing.  And as the (not so) proud wearer of many, many panda eyes in the past, may I say I have expert knowledge that it is worth avoiding.   (No make up will really cover those puppies up.) Just wear the hat.

Reading Material

It’s really important to have enough reading material on your trip.  On shorter trips I’ll usually just take a library book, but I also have started to enjoy borrowing my husband’s Kindle and I absolutely love Amazon Audible, so I can listen to audio books on my phone while on the plane and so I can keep an eye on my daughter on the beach. (Getting lost in a book isn’t really possible when you’re looking after children near the sea, lakes or the pool.) Here’s the link I used to get a free 90 day trial of Audible so you can see if it’s the kind of thing you would enjoy too – at the very least it will last you your holiday! They’re often read by the author or by someone with a delicious reading voice, like Mariella Frostrup. I recently listened to Swing Time by Zadie Smith and can highly recommend it.

And have a great holiday!  For more tips, check out my posts on eco travel, how to pack light and travelling with kids. Have I forgotten anything?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Resources/References:

Sun Protection – https://www.nhs.uk/news/cancer/just-five-sunburns-increase-your-cancer-risk/, https://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/16/health/sunscreen-report/index.html

Photo Credit: Hunkemoeller bikini shot – from https://www.hunkemoller.co.uk/uk_en/47-boho-chic-bikini-bottoms-black-123295.html, Hunkemoeller beach bag shot – from https://www.hunkemoller.co.uk/uk_en/47-doutzen-beach-bag-black-134253.html

 

 

 

Small Space Composting

I try really hard to be as green as possible, but when it comes to composting, I’ve not been able to get beyond buying those green biodegradable compost bags at the supermarket and tossing them into the big brown compost bin provided by the local council a few times a week. Basically I’m letting someone else do my composting for me, and then when I want compost for my plants at home, I go buy the expensive bagged up stuff from the garden centre. (So ridiculous!) So I asked fellow green blogger Kayla Kamp if she’d write something for me on composting, which is one of her areas of expertise. If you’re anything like me and are a beginner at composting and/or you live in a small urban space, the idea of composting can be a challenge. (Rotting food, worms, ewwww.) So my challenge to Kayla was to write something for people like me – beginners who don’t have a lot of outdoor space (or even any outdoor space at all).

I know I’m looking forward to learning more about composting and if you want to learn more too, Kayla blogs over at Ever Change Productions with the idea that we should create more and consume less. For the past 6 years, she’s been striving to inspire others to make use of their waste. Learn more about her story here.

Why You Should Compost – Even Without a Garden

With more people than ever moving into smaller spaces, it’s becoming increasingly important to share the good news that small space composting is possible!

A few years ago I got the composting bug. It seemed like a great way to reduce food waste and to take the next step in my young environmentalist journey. However, there was one small problem – I lived in an apartment.

I did have a little patch of grass that I used for a minuscule container garden, but I knew with all the composting myths that starting a compost bin would be out of the question. Plus, I didn’t have the skills to build a bin or the money for a composting tumbler. But once I get an idea in my head, it holds on tight, so I set out to find a way to a small space composting solution. For cheap.

Optimal Bin Size & Why It’s Important

Before we get too much further into this, let’s go over some composting basics.

The optimal bin size for a home compost pile is 3 square feet (1 square metre). Anything smaller might not heat up high enough to breakdown all the materials or it might lose heat and slow down the process. Air naturally penetrates a pile 18 to 24 inches (45 to 70 cm), which makes a 3 square foot (1 square metre) bin a manageable size.

A larger pile tends to hold too much water, which may create an anaerobic environment. It’s also much harder to turn, so it might be too much for some to manage without special equipment.

Today, there are some pretty creative ways to compost even if you don’t have access to that outdoor space.

What to Compost

Deciding what to compost depends on what composting set-up you use. For example, a common backyard bin needs a certain amount of carbon to nitrogen ratio to decompose efficiently. These are often referred to as greens and browns, but if you use a Bokashi fermenting process, you’ll only need nitrogen-rich ingredients. Worms need both carbon for bedding and nitrogen for food. But there are certain foods they can’t eat and certain bedding materials cause the bin to heat up as they break down.

Carbon, often referred to as browns, are the dry materials and nitrogen are the green, fresh materials. In a common outdoor compost bin, greens provide protein and moisture for organisms. The browns allow airflow throughout the pile and provides energy for organisms. To start off your pile it’s safe to add the same amount of brown material as you do green. The ideal ratio is 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

Piles with too much nitrogen tend to smell sour, because the excess nitrogen converts into an ammonia gas. Carbon-rich piles break down slowly because there’s not enough nitrogen for the microbe population to thrive. See this list of comprehensive composting materials for inspiration.

Small Space Composting Options When You Have No Garden

If you don’t have a backyard, you might think small space composting isn’t an option. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Depending on whether you have a balcony, there are a few composting options that don’t require a yard or garden.

Worm Bins

Some people might prefer a wormless composting system, but plllleeeease give the worms a chance. They’re such hard workers and really easy to manage. If you manage the bin correctly, they won’t even bother you. They’re as happy as can be, just to hang out and eat without saying a word.

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is perfect for composting indoors. All you need is small plastic tote. I’ve even made a vermicomposting system using three cat litter buckets. You can read more about my vermicomposting system here.

If you decide to go this route, here is an affiliate link to Uncle Jim’s worm farm. They have great customer service and products. I will get a small percentage from each sale at no additional cost to you.

Pros

-Fits in small spaces
-Doesn’t need to heat up
-Doesn’t require turning
-Worms do all the work
-You get to play with worms! (This could also be a con, depending on your point of
view)

Cons

– Materials you can compost are limited
– They can’t eat some foods and some bedding materials will heat up the bin

Electrical Composter

Now this might blow your mind; it certainly did mine, but there is something called an electric composter. And if you have a serious aversion to any to the creepy crawliness of composting, then this might the answer for you. Seriously, this thing is so low maintenance. With a few hours and pushing a couple of buttons, you can have finished compost.

Pros

– You have finished compost in hours
– Perfect for people who don’t have much to compost
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Can compost meat and dairy

Cons

– Can’t compost many scraps at a time
– Requires electricity
– Fairly expensive composting system
– Doesn’t have as many nutrients as traditional compost

Bokashi Buckets

Bokashi Buckets don’t follow other composting rules. Most of these other methods use aerobic decomposition. The bokashi system uses anaerobic, meaning it doesn’t use air to complete its decomposition cycles. The anaerobic component of bokashi buckets, means it doesn’t compost all the way. Instead, it ferments. At the end of the cycle, you have to bury the fermented ingredients, which might not be ideal for apartment dwellers. You can learn more about the bokashi bucket here.

Pros

– Fits in a small space
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Can compost meat and dairy

Cons

– Doesn’t produce finished compost
– Requires burial to finish the composting process

Composting Options When You Have a Small Garden

If you have a rental home, duplex or even some apartments, you might be lucky enough to have a small yard. Although, the former options are totally open to you, you might have a couple more composting options.

Like I mentioned before, the optimal compost bin is only 3 feet (1 metre) wide. Before you set up any kind of composting bin, be sure to ask your landlord. There are tons of benefits for compost in the short term, but the long term benefits far outweigh any benefits of synthetic fertilizer.

Compost Bin

The optimal compost bin is 3 feet by 3 feet (1 square metre). You can build your own compost bin with unlimited materials, such as scrap wood, fence panels, even garden fence wire.

If you have the space, a compost bin is the best option because it’s the optimum size.

Other systems have other ways of dealing the lack of proper space, but a compost
bin is the perfect set-up.

Pros

– Can be made with any kind of structure
– Efficient compost

Cons

– Requires more space than some other systems
– Requires proper turning and water maintenance

Compost Tumbler

If a compost bin is out of the question because of space or other reasons, a compost tumbler is a good substitute. The tumbler requires similar conditions to a standard
compost bin.

Pros

– Easier to turn
– Doesn’t require a lot of space
– Doesn’t require permanent alterations in your yard

Cons

– More expensive than a compost bin

Green Cone

A green cone uses solar power to speed up the composting process and is able to compost 2 pounds of food per day. Not only does it compost more food in a shorter time frame, but also it can compost vegetable scraps, raw and cooked meat or fish, bones, dairy products and other organic food waste such as bread and pasta.

The Green Cone Composter has a basket installed below the ground, which forms the base for an above ground double-walled solar chamber with an access lid. The Green Cone Composter stands 26 inches above ground level and extends 18 inches below ground level. Access is through an 8-inch diameter hole in the top of the solar chamber, which is sealed by a hinged lid with a security catch.

Learn more about the Green Cone Composter here.

Pros

– Composts food quickly
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Composts up to 2 pounds of food per day
– Can compost vegetable scraps, raw and cooked meat or fish, bones, dairy
products and other organic food waste such as bread and pasta

Cons

– Requires a yard
– Requires a hole in the yard

Small space composting is possible! If you’ve been looking for a sign to start composting, this is it! If you’re not quite sure, which of these composting options are best for you, take this free composting quiz. I’ll be checking back on this post, so feel free to leave any questions you have below.

9 Hidden Treasures of Naples & The Amalfi Coast

A trip to Naples and the Amalfi Coast makes an exceptionally special holiday, either as a family vacation or as a romantic holiday – even as a honeymoon. And while you don’t see too many children around – particularly the Amalfi Coast towns – its also a very child friendly place to visit, so you shouldn’t hesitate to travel there with a child.

1. Naples

Naples itself is an absolute gem of a city, despite its rough reputation. We started our journey to the Amalfi Coast by flying into Naples and staying overnight there, allowing some time to explore the city. We stayed at one of the city’s elegant old seafront hotels which still served afternoon cocktails and our grand room had excellent views of Mt Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples.

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This city’s architecture is haunting in its faded grandeur and there’s no better way to get your bearings than to take one of the Hop-On, Hop-Off City Sightseeing bus tours which has routes that take you far further than you’d ever venture on your own and you can see some some of the grand, crumbling old villas and spectacular vistas up in the hills above Naples.

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Its actually quite hard to go wrong eating in Naples, we found, as nearly every small restaurant offered excellent homemade pizzas, pastas and seafood (we went shortly before I became vegan) and it was all very inexpensive. Just follow the locals. There is an element of roughness to Naples but in all honesty, we found it to be the best food we had on our trip and the people were so friendly.

2. Positano

We based ourselves in Atrani, just a few minutes walk from Amalfi which made an exceptional base for exploring the rest of the coastline via the frequent, reliable and cheap ferry services. Positano is spectacular, although much pricier than Atrani or Amalfi. The shopping in Positano is great too with lots of (tasteful) lemon-themed souvenirs and its also home to my favourite beachwear company, Antica Sartoria.

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The beach is quite sharp and rocky so I recommend taking a pair of swim shoes with you to save your feet being shredded.

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Positano is definitely a great place for lounging around, people watching and enjoying an Aperol Spritz or two, while admiring the architecture and walking up winding streets to check out the beautiful ceramics and handicraft shops.

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3. Atrani

Our balcony had a spectacular view of the town – pretty much the same view as the cover of the Lonely Planet guide. We rented an apartment so we could keep our 15 month old daughter to her usual routines. Most of the restaurant food we tried was okay but felt like a bit of a letdown after the food in Naples, so we mostly cooked our own food in the apartment, shopping in the little local shop for our ingredients. The basil leaves (as shown below) looked nothing like the basil we buy here in the UK, but tasted amazing and the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (my pre-vegan days) were both so simple and delicious, so we mostly lived on insalata Caprese and the local pasta, scialatelli. The central square in Atrani is quite peaceful and picturesque – we were there one evening as it was being set up for a wedding. All the locals in the apartments above the square hung out beautiful linens off their balconies to make the square look more wedding-ey and rose petals were strewn everywhere. We lingered for a bit to gawk at the wedding preparations as our daughter ate freshly cut up ripe red strawberries – the local cafe owner was always giving her little cups of these as a treat. As evening drew in, hundreds of little candles were placed everywhere on the ancient steps and as it looked like guests were arriving, we disappeared to our temporary home, far enough away to have a quiet night. While there is nothing specifically to “see” or “do” in Atrani, it is simply a beautiful and peaceful spot where we would happily return in future.

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4. Ravello

Ravello is a town with an unworldly feel about it – like a Hollywood imagining of Italy, its so perfect. Perched high in the mountains above Amalfi and Atrani, it is accessible by a terrifying bus ride which feels like it takes a ridiculously long time considering its only around 7 kilometres away. The winding mountain roads mean the journey is roughly half an hour, but is completely worth the effort. The beautiful unspoilt town is famous for its carved cameos, but there are many other artisan shops there as well, although you get the feeling much of the town really is there for tourists. We went on a Tuesday, which was market day. The market itself is fairly unremarkable – practical things for the locals to buy, a bit like a travelling Poundland – but there are also lots of food producers and we would have bought some fresh fruits and vegetables if we weren’t planning to hike back down to the coast. I think Ravello would be a beautiful place to stay for a night or two as the town is immaculate and the views from some of the small private resorts just outside the town are breathtaking.

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5. Valley of the Dragons (Valle del Dragone)

The Valley of the Dragons is an amazing walking route (perhaps more of a hike really) between Ravello, way up in the mountains all the way down to Atrani. We chose to walk down the valley rather than up, which I recommend you do, but the walk was simply spectacular. We packed our 15 month old daughter into the Ergobaby carrier and strapped her onto my husband’s back and after a morning walking around Ravello, we gently made our way down the path, through the splendid lemon groves (covered in black netting) where many of the famous Amalfi lemons are grown, and down into the labyrinth of ancient streets of Atrani. Take a simple picnic (a sandwich or protein bar and lots of water) with you if you can and stop somewhere under a lemon tree on your way down to enjoy the view. Although there are lovely stairs for the first part of the journey down the hill out of Ravello, most of the route is dusty and there aren’t really any designated picnic or resting spaces. But it’s fairly relaxed and you won’t see many people on your walk, so just take your time, enjoy the beauty of the place and stop where you need to. I’d recommend this only for hikers with good mobility as it is quite steep and fairly rough and rocky in places.

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6. Amalfi

There are three things you must do in Amalfi.

You must rent a beach chair on one of the private club beaches along the waterfront. There is a public beach, but its not a very sandy beach, and it can get hot in summer, so I suggest spending the €10 to rent a beach chair and have access to clean loos, changing rooms and a waiter to bring drinks and snacks to you at your convenience.

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In the late afternoon, head up to the Piazza Duomo, near the fountain and head into pasticceria Andrea Pansa to buy a box of sfogliatelli. These heavenly pastries (again, so NOT vegan!) come in lemon and orange flavour and are a local specialty. We sometimes ate them in the square with a cup of coffee, but often would take a couple back to our apartment to have after dinner.

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Finally, take the time to check out the beautiful Amalfi Cathedral (Duomo). It costs around €3 to go inside. I didn’t take photos because I don’t really like taking photographs inside churches, but the inside of the church and its garden is absolutely spectacular (showing that Amalfi was once an extremely wealthy town) and it’s worth putting aside around 45 min or for this visit.

7. Capri

You don’t absolutely have to go to Capri. But why not see the spectacle while you’re there? Its not part of the Amalfi Coast, rather Campania state, like Naples. The food is all horribly overpriced and not particularly outstanding. But there is a charming old Hollywood style glamour there, reminiscent of Monte Carlo, with a slight hedonistic atmosphere, so if you like that 1950’s glamour vibe (think big Sophia Loren hats) then make the time to go. Unlike the other destinations we travelled to along the coast, we plumped for a more expensive boat trip this time, but they took the time to go around the island and pause at the beauty spots for photographs, which we felt was worth it. You can just get a cheap ferry there, however, if your budget is limited. I’d recommend that if you are on a tighter budget that you also take a picnic lunch with you to eat on a park bench somewhere, as you’re going to spend around €10 on a cup of coffee, and restaurants are prohibitively expensive, although that being said, we did splurge on a nice lunch out.

The ferries arrive in at Marina Grande and there is a funicular which takes you up to Capri Town.

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I enjoyed seeing the local designer clothing shops which were utterly unique compared to the usual designer chains (which you can also find plenty of in the town).  The highest concentration of shops is along the Via Camerelle.

Our favourite part of our visit was actually getting away from the main part of the town and just wandering amongst the old streets with glamorous villas and gardens tucked in behind.

8. Salerno

Salerno isn’t strictly speaking on the Amalfi Coast but its easy and inexpensive to get there via ferry boat and I think makes for a fun change from the constant near-perfect imagery you experience in the Amalfi towns. Salerno is a bit gritty and not really so much focused on tourists, but it has a vibrant buzz and it feels like a real place where real people live.  As ever, take a ferry there. Once you get past the tired marina, you’re welcomed by a lovely seafront garden promenade.

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There are lots of lovely places to stop for delicious food, wine and gelato, and the city has a vibrant historic centre with crumbling old architecture, laundry hanging across alleyways, palm trees and all the lovely typical Southern Italy stuff you expect. Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday and the city really was quite closed for business, except for one outstanding seafood restaurant we found by accident in a square which we could probably never find again if we tried! (Actually I did write down the details in a journal somewhere which I have misplaced and when I find it, I’ll update this post with the address.)  You just rock up at a table and they bring you plate after plate after plate of food – no menu, no ordering.  I think the whole meal with wine came to no more than €45 for the two of us and our daughter just nibbled off our plates.

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Make some time to visit the Norman built Salerno Cathedral dedicated to St Matteo, which is considered by many to be the most beautiful medieval church in Italy.

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The church is guarded by these lions at the Porti dei Leoni at the grand 12th century entrance to the cathedral. I feel for the poor mama lion on the left!

9. Sorrento

Sorrento is the sunny, cheerful buzzy gateway to the Amalfi Coast. We stopped here for one night before heading back to our flight home from Naples. We arrived via the harbour to this glorious welcoming view.

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We chose to make the steep, winding walk up the hill with our luggage (we are light packers) and our daughter’s stroller (what were we thinking?) but there is also a set of stairs taking you straight up to the town. And there were also taxis to take you up the hill too, obviously.

Once you get to the top, this lemon bright almost kitschy town awaits with lots of coffee shops, touristy alleys selling all things lemon-related you could imagine – tea towels, soap, limoncello, magnets. But there are also some artisan shops selling the beautiful marquetry music boxes for which Sorrento is so famous. We didn’t buy anything but really enjoyed the whole vibe of the town.

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We stayed at the Plaza Sorrento which has some eco-credentials (I have no idea what those were meant to be as it seemed fairly conventional to me) and it was very clean, comfortable and conveniently located with a lovely rooftop bar and pool with spectacular views. They also set up a lovely little cot for our daughter to sleep in. I think I’ll finish by saying that we ate a lot of gelato on that trip. A lot. Every. Single. Day. But this gelato below at Gelateria Zini was by far and away the best we had – all made by the owner and sold with passion by the owner who let us try lots of her amazing flavours.

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So where next? We are off to Canada and then Europe again this summer to spend some time in France and Germany (and possibly Switzerland), but after that we are thinking somewhere a bit further afar. Depending on finances we might go on our current dream holiday to Costa Rica but have also been looking at some cheap Thailand Holiday Packages for 2018/2019. If you’d like to learn more about how we travel, check out our other articles for eco-friendly travel tips.

This post was a collaboration with Destination2.co.uk