11 + exam

Summer 2018 has been a fantastic school holiday so far but a toughie at the same time. The 11+ exam is set for our first week back to school and the girls decided that they want to have a go so, our summer has been a mixture of fun activities mixed with a lot of studying.

We’ve been going over English and maths, we’ve checked their comprehension skills and we’re taking a look at verbal and non-verbal reasoning, two areas that aren’t covered at school as they’re not part of the national curriculum.

We’ve had tears and tantrums along the way but I’ve got to hand it to them as they apply themselves and are very upset when they don’t get top marks. They have the school they want in mind and are afraid they might not get in. I can’t take the exam for them but I can help them as much as possible to try and make their dream come true.

Husband and I took the decision to not tutor the girls. The cost was a huge part of our choice along with the fact that we didn’t want to push them into doing something that was out of their reach. I couldn’t think of anything worse than gaining a place in a school only to find them struggling to keep up with the class. I certainly don’t want to set them up for failure but I do want the very best for them.

I bought a set of Bond books from Amazon aged 9 – 10. The girls were doing very well and getting 80% and over which was very encouraging. The advice at the back of the book is to go up to the next level if they are getting 80% +. So I did.

Uh-oh. I didn’t know that between the two levels there was such an enormous gap and the girls were coming across work they haven’t even covered yet at school. After a quick online discussion a friend, who is also a tutor, informed me that that level was intended for children in Year 6 who take the exam in January and therefore are slightly ahead. With this knowledge, we started to look at the girls scores in a different light and saw that actually, they were doing well. My friend also advised me to concentrate on the verbal and non verbal reasoning with continued exercise in English and Maths.

Fingers crossed. The twins will sit their exam on 6th September. If they don’t get it, it’s not the end of the world, there are plenty of other great schools out there but for the moment, we’re going for the dream.

Good luck to anyone else who’s going for it.

Puy du Fou falconry Academy

It’s more than a month ago that I visited the world’s best theme park in France – Puy du Fou but I still continue to think about how much I loved it and how I would like to return with the family one day.

A visit to this unique step back in history is more than discovering a fascinating world of long ago played out before you by top-class actors. Puy du Fou sends you home with a complete top to tail wellbeing that I have never encountered elsewhere. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I have come to the conclusion that it is to do with the ethos of the park.

A world of nature

Puy du Fou forest

I remember clearly, as I was walking around the vast grounds, how every single factor of the park had been taken into consideration and tuned into the overall wellbeing feel. You cannot help but be in awe of the flowers, foliage and well-kept grounds. The land boasts a 100-year old forest with 150 different species of trees and that keeps the 45 gardeners and landscapers busy all year round.  In fact, they have developed ecosystems based on the natural food chain, such as ladybirds used to tackle the aphids on the rose bushes and using Ouessant sheep as an ecological lawnmower!

Puy du Fou lake

They take their consideration for guests one step further by choosing to maintain the gardens with silent and ecological electrical equipment. Nature and the control of nature is respected at all times and is an intrinsic principle of the Park.

Puy du Fou’s animals

Puy du Fou falconry

Then there is the question of all the animals used in the shows, they are full-time actors too and play a key role in the Puy du Fou excellence. The onsite Equestrian Academy has 206 trained horses in all disciplines from the trick stunt riders seen in Le Secret de la Lance to the finer dressage used in Mosquetaire de Richelieu. Great care is shown to these much-loved animals and their trainers ensure they have a healthy diet and strictly regulate their work levels.

I was very pleased to see the Animal Conservatory which offers a sanctuary for many age-old species like the Poitou donkey, the Des Fosses goat and the Poitou goose. Puy du Fou holds the record for the largest number of protected species in Western France.

Puy du Fou piglets

Everyone knows how much a dog lover I am and there are plenty of opportunities to see dogs taking part in the shows too. The Canine Academy operates on fun based and playful training methods. The 10 Czechs wolves were taken in from the age of 2 and a half months. The first six months were devoted to interacting with them before any form of training takes place. The training is very gentle and both their wellbeing and confidence is of primary importance.

Then there is the Falconry Academy which we were allowed to enter and visit. You can too – make sure you book in advance though.

We spent a lot of time with one of the falconers who introduced us to many of the 73 different species looked after at Puy du Fou. We even saw some newborns and it was explained that some are kept for training and used in the shows but another equal proportion are prepared to return to their natural habitat. For these birds, there is a bare minimum of human interaction so as not to confuse them.

Intrigued? If you are considering visiting take a look at my What to see and do at Puy du Fou post and start planning the best family trip ever.

You’re going to love it!

medieval village puy du fou

Puy du Fou is the most exciting theme park in the world, it’s even won multiple awards saying so and having been there, I can personally vouch for that. It is a theme park like no other and a minimum of planning before you arrive will allow you go get the very best from an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. Three weeks have passed since my visit and I am still full of the wonders and joy my experience gave me.

puy du fou vulture

Making the most of your Puy du Fou experience

Puy du Fou has put a lot of thought into making sure your day runs as smoothly as possible and allows you to see and experience as much as possible too. They have a fantastic app you can download which gives a map of the park – essential for Day 1 until you get your bearings, a daily programme and restaurants among other facilities.

Le secret del la lance puy du fou

If you are old school, they also have a printed handout which has a map, programme and all of the information you need to plan ahead. These can be picked up at the hotel, at the park entrance and from inside the park too.

Top tip: Download the Puy du Fou app, available on iTunes and Google Play.

Top tip: Pick up a map as wifi can be sketchy in some areas of the vast park.

Top tip: Link to the Puy du Fou website

Pass Émotion

pass emotion puy du fou

Like all theme parks, Puy du Fou can get very busy which makes for queues and possibly having to miss out on a show. We had the Pass Émotion, it hangs on a lanyard around your neck and allows you to jump the queue for the most popular 7 shows plus sit in a specially designated area with a good view. €14 per person.

Souvenirs

One of the ideas I found so impressive was the souvenirs on sale. Firstly, the shops are in the various villages of the park; in the medieval village you could buy handmade jewellery, handwritten notes and leather goods (including the popular pixie boots worn by the staff). The souvenirs you can buy are made by local craftsmen who, dressed in period costume, make and sell their wares to you giving a wonderful layer of authenticity to your experience. I bought the girls some enamel earrings, myself a handwritten note and some Puy du Fou biscuits in a beautiful tin for us to share.

souvenir shop puy du fou

Pre-book restaurants

There is a wonderful selection of restaurants to eat at on the park and these too become booked up at busy times of the year. Everything can be pre-booked online at the point of booking your trip and I would especially recommend saving your place at Le Café de la Madelon to enjoy the dinner and cabaret.

La Mijoterie du Roy Henry restaurant Puy du Fou

Which shows to see at Puy du Fou?

All of them!

Honestly, you won’t be disappointed by any of them but sadly you most likely won’t be able to fit all of them on a weekend break. We managed to squeeze in 12 plus a couple of other activities worth considering when planning your Puy du Fou trip. They are all acted in French but the music and action are so intense that the stories speak for themselves. However, should you wish to listen to the translation of each show, you can ask for a translator and headphones.

Le signe du triomphe Puy du fou

Each show plays from 26 – 40 minutes and is played up to 7 times a day and there is seating from 2,400 to 6,000 spectators per performance.

Top tip: Bring your own noise-cancelling headphones as the ones provided don’t cover the volume generated by the show.

Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes

Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes puy du fou

The stage in the middle is flanked by two banks of seats raising high up into the treetops. A wonderful story with beautiful costumes is enacted with the main actors of the show – the birds. 330 eagles, falcons, vultures, kites and owls fill the sky and fly from one side to the other to waiting falconers dotted in amongst the crowd creating the most spellbinding spectacle. What an opener to our Puy du Fou experience! I read that the birds in full flight together is the result of a 25-year long project!

le bal des oiseaux fantomes Puy du fou

Les Vikings

Les vikings puy du fou

We left the birds behind and walked from the Medieval village, through the Vikings area where there were forgers working at the fire pit to the next stage, to watch The Vikings. Fort de l’An Mil is the setting of the quiet village which gets invaded by Vikings. The stage is enormous and whilst you are looking down one end, something is already starting to happen at the other. There is action everywhere and you really don’t know where to look next plus the special effects will blow your mind! Plenty of animals take part in this show too including a dog, horses, bull and geese.

Les vikings puy du fou

Le Dernier Panache

The production tells the story of the tragic destiny of Francois-Athanase Charette de la Contrie, a French naval officer. The audience is seated in the round theatre and as the story runs from scene to scene, the seating platform swivels around the theatre to the next part of the show. It’s a 360 performance which is superb and very cleverly organised. Our group were wowed by the genius behind the production, it’s like being part of a film. Expect to see horses on stage too.

Les Amoureux de Verdun

Les Amoureux de Verdun puy du fou

A different experience is offered by this fully immersive walk-through show that left me with goosebumps and sadness. Visitors are plunged into the First World War trenches and as you walk through them with battles going on around you, you hear the daily life of Poilus through letters he sent back home to his loved one. A very poignant show. I’m not sure I would take the twins (aged 10) but older children yes. You will pass people with tears in their eyes as you realise the extent our grandparents went to in order for us to lead the happy peace we enjoy today. Winner of Best Creation in the World Los Angeles 2016.

Mousquetaire de Richelieu

A very lively performance with sword duets, flamenco dances and equestrian stunts. Held in a purpose-built enormous theatre the story follows an impossible love affair of the 17th century. The stage boasts the largest stage curtain in the world!

Le Grand Carillon

Le Grand Carillon puy du fou

What a beautiful piece of architecture sitting in the middle of Le Village XVIIIeme. An enormous clock. We managed to watch a small part of the fascinating clock chiming before rushing off to the next show.

Le Secret de la Lance

le secret de la lance puy du fou

The story of a shepherdess as she discovers the secrets of a lance that has the power to protect the castle. The stage is mind-boggling, an 8-meter wall that disappears in front of you, a castle that swivels round and horses, fighting and lots of drama.

le secret de la lance puy du fou

Le Signe Du Triomphe

By the time we reached the impressive Gallo-Roman stadium, I was wondering what else could Puy du Fou throw at me. Hadn’t I seen it all now? No. I was entertained with gladiator battles and chariot races, young love that needed saving and some incredible animals too. Certainly one of my favourite shows.

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Le Mystère de La Pérouse

A brand new creation for 2018 and one Puy du Fou is rightfully proud of is a fully immersive walk-through show. You start by boarding the ship – La Boussole and watch the sailors as they prepare to set sail from Brest in 1785. As you walk further into the ship and follow the story, there is a rocking motion to the floor and you can see the sea outside of the windows. The voyage sails through Cape Horn and the Easter Islands and areas of the walk give off climatic conditions that would have been felt – the clammy hot of the Pacific and icy winds of Alaska, before ending a shipwreck at the end of the walkthrough. A stunning experience, you feel as though you have walked through history.

Le Ballet des Sapeurs

le ballet des sapeurs puy du fou

In the charming Le Bourg zone, Le Ballet des Sapeurs is played out by the children of the Puy du Fou Académie. the pupils play a very entertaining short act of putting out a fire.

Evening entertainment at Puy du Fou

There are a number of restaurants on site and each has a different menu and experience to offer. We ate at two of them.

Le Café de la Madelon.

Cafe de la Madelon Puy du fou press trip

A new restaurant set in the Belle Epoque era and seats 700 guests in one sitting. The menu is fixed and the price includes wine and water. Everything you will find on your table and there will be no extra waiting service throughout the meal as the staff take part in the onstage cabaret. It is a heartwarming story of a marriage and it’s amazing to see your waiter or waitress serve food or clear plates and then dance on stage with the ensemble. A very entertaining evening

Top tip: Book ahead!

There are two evening shows and I loved them both. They start after dinner and wait for the sun to set as the darkness is part of the stage.

Les Orgues de Feu

Les Orgues de Feu puy du fou

I sat entranced by this mesmerising show which takes place on a lake. Seated at one end, I watched as the lake became alive with light shows, fountains playing to music and ballerinas that glided across the waters dressed in illuminated ballgowns. I enjoyed classical favourites of Mozart, Delerue, Bach and Bizet, a grand piano coming out of the lake, a gigantic organ appearing and a golden harp. Top all of that off with a fantastic firework display and you have a show that is ten time that of the Bellagio in Vegas. Awesome!

Cinéscénie

Cinéscénie puy du fou

This was our final show and as it was the beginning of the Puy du Fou theme park, as mentioned in my previous post, there was a lot of anticipation in our group and around the entire park. As it is coined the greatest night show in the world, it had a lot to live up to and boy did it go above and beyond our expectations! I think we were all so stunned after the 1 and a half hour performance that we were speechless. Consider that the show is performed by 4000 volunteer actors from the nearby towns. It takes place on the world’s biggest stage: 23 hectares and includes 30 free-flying drones, film projections with 3D mapping, 28,000 costumes and 850 fireworks. This year has seen the addition of 10 drones in different scenes called ‘Neopters’ that fly simultaneously and are equipped with features that offer even more dimensions to the show.

Cinéscénie

From start to finish this show is mesmerising and will stay with you long after you have departed Puy du Fou.

Top tip: Please make sure you book and plan your trip around it.

Other Puy du Fou tips I can think of

Take some very comfortable shoes, there’s a lot of walking!

Take an umbrella or better still, a fold up waterproof poncho. Puy du Fou also sell them if needed as if it rains – the show goes on!

Dress in layers, we enjoyed some fabulous hot sunshine and I had to buy a hat as sitting in the sun for long amounts of time is tiring.

Other posts from my fellow bloggers who were on the trip:

Are we nearly there yet?: La Cinéscénie at Puy Du Fou – Review

Juggle Mum Blog: Review Puy du Fou

Extraordinary Chaos: A Guide for visiting Puy du Fou

Globetotting: The 8 shows at Puy du Fou that will blow your mind

Le camp du drap d'or

Have you ever wondered what it was like back in the time of the Vikings? Or have you asked yourself what was it like to sit in a Roman amphitheatre and watch a gladiator show? Well, now you can experience these periods of history and many more at Puy du Fou in France, the internationally acclaimed and award-winning theme park.

Tucked away in the gentle green hills of La Vendee, Puy du Fou is France’s best-kept secret – that was until they invited a group of British bloggers out to discover for themselves what it’s like to step back in history in a fully immersive experience. We spent three nights and two days exploring the 55 hectares (140 acres) clocking up 16 – 17,000 steps a day on my Fitbit and being completely bowled over time and time again with every new village, show or immersive experience we visited. If you happened to be following my Instagram, Twitter or Facebook channels last week, you’ll have had a peek into the many wonders we encountered.

Le Bourg Puy du Fou

My first thoughts on Puy du Fou are – How come we haven’t heard of this place until now? The theme park attracted 2,260,000 visitors in 2017, won international awards in 2012 and 2014 for Best Park in the World and celebrated it’s 40th anniversary last year.

Cinéscénie

Cinescenie Puy du Fou

The signature show where it all started back in 1978, Cinéscénie, is a breathtaking, spectacular show. It begins as the sun sets on the horizon and you watch seated in a purpose built stand with up to 13,200 spectators. In front of you lies possibly the biggest stage in the world spread over 23 hectares. There is a real castle centre stage, a lake, a village and even the mill in the distance plays its part as 2400 actors, many volunteers, enact the symbolic destiny of a Vendeé family from the Middle Ages to the Second World War.

Cinescenie Puy du Fou

Our trip ended with this extraordinary production and writing about it one week later, I am still astounded by the detail, the work and the passion that has gone into creating this fascinating show. Cinéscénie uses all the latest technology to bring superb effects throughout the show including drones known as neopters, film projections with 3D mapping and a fantastic firework display.

Cinescenie Puy du Fou

What to expect at Puy du Fou

Puy du Fou is not your average theme park it is a whole lot more. If you are looking for thrills and excitement – you will be elated. If you are looking for culture and history – you will love the full immersion back in time. If it’s nature and the utmost care for the environment and its inhabitants that you care for then Puy du Fou will tick that box in the gentlest and most pleasing way that you can’t help but fall in love. What became immediately apparent to me as I spent my days wandering and enjoying everything that Puy du Fou has to offer, is the immense thought given to singular details. In every aspect of anything that you will come across on or in the park. The rubbish bins on site covered in wood to fit in with the environment. The animal conservatory programme for endangered species and the clear attention to small details.

Where to stay at Puy du Fou

Our first night was spent in the Medieval village – Les Îles de Clovis. A series of huts built on water that each has two family rooms within. Think thatched roofs and half-timbered walls and interior decor of granite, oak and textiles such as the faux fur throw and cushions on the bed. The feel is very medieval but of course with all the latest mod-cons: hair dryers, air con and a television too.

Les Iles de Clovis - Puy du Fou

The mini apartments consist of one main room with the double bed, television and a single bed if needed. The entrance has two large bunk beds on one side with curtains on each to provide darkness and privacy. The toilet is a separate room from the bathroom and there is cupboard space for clothes and suitcases. The mirrors are deliberately old to fit in with the surroundings and there isn’t a lot of light in the rooms but it is truly a magnificent and comfortable room.

The wow factor for me was stepping on to the balcony from the main room and embracing this spectacular view…

Les Iles de Clovis

Just a short walk to reception and the restaurant where breakfast and evening meals are served too.

Les Iles de Clovis Puy du fou

The rest of my stay was spent at another of the five onsite hotels, Le Camp du Drap d’Or. The colourful ‘tents’ will catch your eye and give you a feel for being thrown back into the times of King Francis I of France and King Henry VIII of England. I was thrilled to discover a four-poster bed in my quarters with turned solid oak columns, embroidered tapestries of the king and hammered metal basins in the bathroom.

Le Camp du Drap d'Or - Puy du Fou

Again each apartment has air con and television, once inside your room has everything the 20th-century traveller looks for.

Le Camp du Drap d'Or - Puy du Fou

Other options which I didn’t get to see include La Villa Gallo-Romaine for an ancient Rome vibe, La Citadelle which is a full immersion into the world of a medieval fortress and Le Logis de Lescure which has 4 duplex suites each offering a different experience.

Le Camp du Drap d'Or - Puy du Fou

Benefits of booking a hotel on site

Staying onsite has the obvious benefit of being close to the park and eliminating the need of a car to drive back and forth. You can be first in the queue in the morning and can nip back to the room throughout the day if needed.

Lunch at Le Bistro Puy du fou

The hotel food is excellent and varied and you can eat in any of the five hotels but some may need advance booking. You can also eat lunch and dinner in many of the park restaurants, we ate dinner one evening in Cafe de la Madelon which I would thoroughly recommend. A set menu which is served by waiters who in between courses take part in the cabaret show which is set in Belle-Epoque France.

Staying in one of the five hotels will also allow the family to have an exciting experience in your chosen period, medieval, Roman, Renaissance or 18th Century thrill.

This is the first of three posts on Puy du Fou I shall be writing as I have so much to tell you! Please find my fellow bloggers write-ups by clicking on the links below

Extraordinary Chaos

Juggle Mum

Are We Nearly There Yet?

POD Travels

Globetotting

Jenography

Disclosure: I was invited by BritMums and Puy du Fou to experience a weekend as part of a specially organised press trip to discover all the park has to offer. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

pasta recipe book

A lovely new pasta recipe book caught my eye recently, The Long and the Short of Pasta. It’s written by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi owners of Caffe’ Caldesi in London and the Marylebone La Cucina Caldesi cooking school and of course, it’s all about pasta. How to make it from scratch and some delicious recipes to try.

An initial flick through the book shows recipes accompanied with lovely photos, not just of the food but shots of Italy, Italians and images you can expect to see wandering the streets of the country. In fact, the recipes are from all over Italy, Tuscany, Rome, Sicily and more of my favourite places.

Fresh pasta is something I have yet to master. Mum did suggest we make some on our last trip to Sardegna and we did buy all of the ingredients but you know what it’s like when you’re on holiday, we never got around to it. However, the how-to in the Caldesi recipe book is very easy to follow accompanied by some very inspiring images. One day I promise, I’ll give it a go. WAtch this space…

Then, there are plenty of wonderful sauces to use on your pasta – fresh or dried. I couldn’t decide at first but in the end, I decided to go with an old favourite of mine – Pasta alla Checca or Pasta with raw sauce. Don’t be alarmed at the ‘raw’, it’s all perfectly edible and in fact, is a recipe from Rome used by families to celebrate the arrival of summer. The sauce has cherry tomatoes, capers, olives, basil (my kitchen smells divine!) and mozzarella. It uses garlic and chilli too and is finished off with ricotta cheese

Pasta alla Checca

Pasta alla checca

5.0 from 1 reviews
Recipe book: The Long and the Short of Pasta - Caldesi
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A delicious summer recipe using cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella along with other ingredients. A family hit.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 320g spaghetti,
  • 200g cherry tomatoes halved,
  • 1 garlic clove,
  • 20g capers
  • 100g whole green olives stones removed and chopped
  • 125g mozzarella cut into 2cm cubes,
  • olive oil (extra virgin)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper,
  • handful of basil leaves,
  • 100g ricotta
Instructions
  1. Cook the spaghetti in a large saucepan of well-salted water until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the tomatoes, garlic, capers, olives, chilli, mozzarella and oil in a large bowl.
  3. Add the cooked, drained spaghetti and toss all of the ingredients well.
  4. Season well and add the basil.
  5. Serve with spoonfuls of ricotta on top.
There are 70 recipes to try including pasta sauces, ragus, gnocchi and ravioli all of them simple and quick to make. I love that Katie and Giancarlo have added in notes of their own throughout the book which adds a personal, authentic touch.

Gluten-free fans will be pleased to know that Giancarlo is also gluten intolerant and has spent a long (very long) time developing the perfect gluten-free pasta recipe which can be used for cut ribbons, stuffed and shaped pasta.

Other recipes I want to try out include Semolina gnocchi, (one of my favourites off the hotel menu when I lived in Italy) Linguine with seafood, Lamb ragu with spices and Sicilian ragu. As far as the fresh pasta is concerned, I’m going to start with some ravioli.

Disclosure: I was sent a book for the purpose of this review, all opinions are my own.

Find lots more of my Italian recipes on the blog.