Zoo mania

Ever get that feeling that you just want to get in the car and drive? Destination decided, money in your pocket , gas in the tank and off you go.  I don’t get that feeling often these days, having two toddlers and a full time job has sort of reduced my desire to roam . Sometimes I still yearn to get out of Pembrokeshire and head to a city. Last week, I gave in to the wander lust, and rather spontaneously took the mini farmers to Bristol Zoo.


I have become a master at the art of preparing for ‘family days out’ , having honed my technique over the past three years. In under an hour we were breakfasted, dressed and in the car  along with a picnic, things for the journey and spare clothes…as well as the potty, wrap and buggy. I even managed to charge my phone and check that the camera actually had an sd card in before chucking it into the boot.  Parenting level up!

 

I love Bristol zoo. I love most zoos that I have visited in the UK, but Bristol zoo holds a special place as I have spent time here on a work experience placement. 3 happy weeks of helping to x ray tortoises, post mortems on crocodiles, anaesthetising macaques and carrying out health checks on endless Roul Rouls.

 

The 130 or so miles (yes, this was a long distance road trip) from the farm to Bristol zoo passed fairly smoothly- no poonamis, tantrums or vom sessions from the back seats, and only half an hour of ‘are we nearly there yet’, which  I count  as a win.

The zoo is easy to find, and has plenty of parking on site. If your lucky you can find a free spot in one of the side streets, but I couldn’t be bothered hauling all the kids gear any further than I absolutely had to.  £3 for all day safe and secure parking seemed reasonable (even cheaper if you are a member).

We weren’t particularly early (12pm) but there was no queue for tickets- the first time this has ever happened to me! This is one of the reasons I love coming to places out of season. Another benefit is actually being able to see the animals.DSC_0627.jpg

The lions were out in their enclosure, sprawling lazily in the weak January sunlight. The mini farmers managed to get up close to the glass for a really good look- normally if one is in the buggy they end up with a fab view of the back of peoples knees.


Next up – Twilight zone. A bit of a struggle to get through the doors single handedly with the buggy, but once in we were fine. This series of enclosures has recently undergone a major overhaul, and it shows. After a bit of squinting (and staggering about myopically in my case) our eyes adjusted to the dusky light levels,  we managed to see nearly all of the nocturnal inhabitants of this wonderful world. Quolls dashed about amongst the leaf litter, living up to their ‘tiger cat’ nickname.The desert cats prowled in their territory, pouncing on invisible prey. My favourites the aye aye clambered about in their shaky, alien limbed fashion. 
I love this area of the zoo and could quite easily have spent several hours in their, watching a secret, normally unseen world unfold behind the glass. C had other ideas ‘come on mum’ she said, disappearing out into the daylight ‘ my tummy is rumbling’. Guess it must be lunch time then?!


I’m glad I bothered to make a packed lunch. Food at the zoo is pricey, and not that exciting to boot. There are vending machines dotted about too, but they are also £££. It will be interesting to see if this changes when the new zoo restaurant is up and running.
After lunch we headed for gorilla island, via Monkey Jungle. Jojo loved Monkey jungle, as did C, proudly exclaiming about the Lemurs ‘That’s not a monkey, you know Mummy, that’s a lemur.’ DSC_0641.jpg

We got to the Gorillas just in time to see them having lunch. I don’t like to anthropomorphise, but seriously its hard not to with Gorillas. Jock, the silver back, sat directly opposite where the keepers were lobbing fruit and veg from. One of the cheeky younger family members snuck up and stole a carrot-I swear Dad Jock rolled his eyes at him or her!

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I am also amazed at the story of Amina, the troops youngest member, who was born by C Section. Her birth mum had developed a condition similar to Pre eclampsia during late pregnancy, resulting in an emergency op involving human doctors as well as vets.  If you look closely, you can spot her clinging on to her adoptive mums arm.

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The zoo is exceptionally family friendly-accessible with a buggy, although I did bring out the wrap on occasion. There are lots of activities to engage children with, from interactive signs


To fun games

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And silly selfie props. We had to stop at every one once C had realised what they were!


The outdoor playground packs a lot into a little space. It was the mini farmers favourite. Typical. I drive 100 odd miles and all they want is the play park.

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If you come in the summer, the water play area is amazing- don’t forget a swimming costume or a change of clothes plus a towel! There’s also an indoor activity centre, with crafts, colouring in, lucky dip and face painting for the over threes. C was turned into a butterfly, whilst JoJo explored an old haul from customs and excise, now turned into an educational display.

 

To escape the cold we nipped into the butterfly house. C wanted to look at the chrysalis whilst JoJo was mesmerised by the butterflies as they flitted about. I was a bit too…standing with head back and mouth open kind of mesmerised. Not a good look.

 


We then headed back along through the fruit bat enclosure, stopping briefly to check out the Giant tortoises. These creatures are magnificient. Every time I pass here, I remember the day I got to go inside the enclosure on work experience. One of the tortoise, who is most likely still a resident, ambled over to me and pushed his head under my hand, encouraging me to pet him. The keeper remarked ‘yeah, he’s really just an overgrown, shelly labrador’!

 

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C checking out the giant, shelled Labradors.

 

By this point we had probably seen about two thirds of the exhibits, but the girls were starting to show signs of tiredness. We quickly made our way through the reptile house, which we had somehow managed to time just right. The crocodiles were being fed…not as dramatic as it sounds, and pretty neat to watch.

 

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Feeding time at the zoo. Literally.

Time to exit through the gift shop. I said each of them could have one thing. C made a beeline for a 3ft neon pink flamingo, claiming it to be the thing she really, really wanted. Somehow I managed to talk her down to having a pair of 30cm high macaws. JoJo got a Melissa and Doug jigsaw. We said our good byes for another day and started on our long journey home. Bristol zoo, we love you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under 5’s at the National Museum of Cardiff

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If you happen to find yourself in Wales this summer and are looking for something toddler (and adult friendly) to do on a drizzly grey day, I can highly recommend a trip to the National Museum Cardiff. We went last month, just before the Schools broke up for Summer. It is a bit of a trek from the Farm, and I was slightly apprehensive at the thought of a 2 hour road trip with C and JoJo screaming in unison. Fortunately it turned out to be a super straight route and, despite gatecrashing some Graduation photos on the steps of the Museum (!) , we had a fantastic time.

Here are my top 5 reasons to visit:

1.Hands on exhibits

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I have been to a fair share of stuffy museums and exhibits , with and without small children in tow. I remember getting ‘politely’ asked to leave the Tate as a child when my brother accidentally waved his arm too close to a priceless painting. I hate it when I can feel the guards eyes boring a hole in my back if I lean in towards a cabinet, bearing a ‘Do not touch’ sign .

It gets worse when there are toddler shaped tornados following me. It is seriously no fun for anyone to spend the whole visit listening to me bark orders ‘Don’t touch that! ‘Don’t lick the cabinet!’ ‘Don’t climb on the Reliant Robin (yes, it did happen.)’ No. I am avoiding any museum or gallery that is not interactive, engaging and entrancing until my little ones are safely through the toddler years.

Fortunately the National Museum is very hands on and accepts sticky toddlers. We skipped the  floor which houses the art exhibitions .C was in ‘Whirling Dervish’mode , and when we got out of the lift on the top floor she made a bee line for a bronze statue, arms outstretched in preparation to climb. I managed to spin her back round into the lift, and we went to look at ‘Wriggle: the wonderful world of worms’ exhibit. DSC_1115__1470740494_22576

The centre piece of this amazing family friendly exhibit is the Wrigloo, which is essentially a giant wormery. It offers visitors a chance to experience a worms-eye-view on life, complete with predators watching your every move . JoJo and C thought it was great!

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C enjoyed dressing up as a caterpillar, but wasn’t keen on trying the ‘Scientist’ costume on!

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I managed to do some learning and exploring of my own whilst the girls checked out the worm related book corner.

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My favourite discovery was that the late Lemmy from Motorhead had a ‘late’ worm (a fossil) named after him.How very rock and roll. I have somehow managed to cut the model out of the photo (well done me), so I’ll leave it as a surprise for you to find out what Kalloprion Kilmisteri looks like!

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This exhibition runs until September 2016, so still plenty of time to check it out.

The Clore Discovery Centre, located on the ground floor to the left of the main entrance, is another wonderful family friendly area. I couldn’t get over the fact that we were free to explore the items on display here.

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Skulls, arrowheads, fossils, preserved insects ;things that are normally encased in glass, behind barriers or locked in storage vaults.

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It was really enlightening to be able to  handle them and even use a microscope to get a closer look.

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2.Toddler time

We discovered that this is on (during Term Time) completely by fluke. On every floor, tucked into a quiet corner were little ‘treasure chests’ stuffed full of toys, instruments and books.

Each box was themed to the relevant section of the museum. They seemed really popular, so much so that we had to circle the dinosaur section twice before we could get to the box!

The marine box had a fantastic selection of toys and books which occupied the girls for quite a while.

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We also had fun taking part in the play activities in the Clore Discovery Centre.There were lots of different musical instruments for the kids to try, with some supervision from staff members. C also got to make a jingley jangley set of bells. She chose to put a single bell on. One. Measly. Bell. It was still a lot of fun.

3.Its Free!

Need I say more? Not much in life is free any more, certainly not when it comes to amusing children. I advise using the car park at the rear of the museum.(Currently priced at  £6 for a days parking). There is a direct path round to the entrance and tickets for the carpark are bought in the museum gift shop, so no faffing for change! We got there at 10.30 and left at 4, so that makes it a pound an hour for entertainment!

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Winning at ‘rewilding’- just beside the car park.

There are touring exhibits, which require tickets to be purchased.’Treasures:Adventures in Archaelogy’ is currently based at the museum, but as this is on until the end of October 2016 we opted to save it for another day.

4.Child friendly feasting

The café downstairs has a great set up for the under fives.The food looked and smelled delicious, but being the skin flint I am we had our own packed lunch. I did stretch to a caffeine hit and a piece of cake, mainly so the girls could take advantage of the games and books stationed around the restaurant.Our seating area was right next to a trolley full of things to keep little hands occupied. I think JoJo’s favourite bit in the whole day was playing with an activity cube, the very same make and model as the one we have at home. The museum is also Breastfeeding friendly, with a designated room should you wish to use it.

5. Something for everyone

There is an awful lot packed into this museum. The ‘Evolution of Wales’ gallery was so good, we went round twice. In fact, C watched the audiovisual about our galaxy three times. I think she’d still be there now if she’d taken enough food in with her.

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The natural history galleries are also jam packed with interesting finds. I dare you to stand under the Basking shark and not be amazed at the sheer size of a creature that feeds only on Zooplankton. Mind blowing stuff!

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If nothing else in this blog takes your fancy, go and visit Kevin the crab. For a hermit crab, he’s pretty friendly!

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For more information and an up to date list of ‘what’s on’ take a look at the Museums website. If you do visit, let me know what your favourite bit was and why!