Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Madhouse diaries : A birthday trip to Plopsaland

Hard as it is to believe, the "baby" of the family, Pierre, turned nine years old yesterday - how can it be that in one year, he'll be into double figures ?! - so to mark the occasion, we all went to Plopsaland theme park in La Panne, right on the French-Belgian border. (It's only about an hour from Calais so is doable on a day trip from England. We jumped on a local bus from Dunkerque, which took 40 minutes, and as from September 1st, all Dunkerque buses will be free.) 

Although the plop name always make us laugh, it has nothing to with poo ! Plopsa is a gnome-like character from a Belgian TV show and the park features lots of characters from the Studio 100 programmes (think, Nick Jr Belgian-style), including Maya the Bee. 

This is one of the Plopsa characters, but what made us laugh the most is a striking resemblance to our GP ! The second laugh was when he let out a deep, rumbling snore and made Sophie jump out of her skin as she was taking the photo !

The gates open at 10am and if you can get there early, you'll beat the queues. (Check the local press/facebook groups for discount vouchers too - we had a 45% off voucher so paid 22€ each, instead of 39.99€. Also, if you show ID, the birthday boy/girl gets in for free, making it even cheaper.) I thought the main square looked very similar to EuroDisney with the quaint houses all around. Our first stop was Mayaland - an indoor area based on Maya the Bee with lots of attractions aimed at smaller kids.

Sophie and Juliette headed straight off to the flower ride, but Pierre thought it went a bit too high (although he did have a go at the end of the day and loved it) so we headed off to the play areas.

 There's something for all ages, with a big bumpy slide (that even adults can go on), a ball pond, a small teacups ride (with water lilies to stay in theme) and soft play.

The kids would have happily stayed in there for a couple of hours but I knew there was still a lot more to see, so I chivvied everyone back out into the sunshine. It was only mid-morning but already hot so Pierre and Juliette had great fun cooling off in the fountains.

This seemed to be one of their favourite things of the day, and they loved the giant bucket close to where we ate, where water springs out of random leaks. They ended up quite wet but soon dried out and didn't mind a bit !

Pierre started off at Motor School, driving the motorised cars around the tracks, complete with traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. I have photos somewhere of Sophie doing this at about the same age !

From trucks to ducks ... and play parks (it almost rhymes !).

 On to giant rabbits ...

 We focused on the family-friendly rides but there are a few white-knuckle rides to keep the thrill-seekers happy.

Pierre and Sophie went on the flying bikes - the more you pedal, the higher you fly ! - then Sophie and Juliette rode the log flume.

Judging by the way Juliette is wiping off her glasses, it must have been quite some splash !

Next, the girls went on the jet ski ride (they look more like yellow submarines to me !). Pierre didn't fancy it - he doesn't like the fast rides - but he was delighted to discover that if you feed it one euro, you can activate the fire hose and soak the people (or in his case, just his sisters) on the ride !

Is it a roller skate or a roller coaster?!

Time for refreshments and I was actually fairly impressed. There was a buy three get one free deal on ice creams, which was perfect for us, and if you bought three drinks, you got a free pair of mirror shades ! You get "overcharged" by 25 centimes every time you buy a drink in a bottle or can, but when you take back your empties, you get your money back - this is a brilliant way of keeping the park litter free. Pierre was even looking for other people's cans to take back, but you have to show your till receipt to show you bought them in the park. Right, refreshments over - time to go and be a fireman !

Everyone having fun? YESSSSS !!! 

Next we headed into the Viking area and our favourite attraction of the day.

The Vicky the Viking ride where you get to go on a Viking ship armed with wind-up water cannons that reach the people on the banks - look closely and you might spot Pierre and Juliette laughing their heads off trying to soak me as I took photos !

The next ride went slightly pear-shaped, but it gave us a good laugh. We walked past the totally queue-free Tea Cups ride so we ran round and jumped on board. I reassured Pierre that it wouldn't go fast, took a photo ...

Then it starting whizzing round at warp-speed. Pierre was trying to stop the cup spinning then started getting whiter and whiter, while we all fell on the floor laughing and squealing !

Time to calm down with some gentler pursuits, like hook-a-duck. This was one of the few paying attractions, but I'd told Pierre that he could have a go as it was his birthday. You're guaranteed a prize and the more ducks you pay for, the bigger the prize, so you're basically buying the toy, but it still worked out cheaper (and was more fun) than buying one in the gift shops.

 While Pierre had fun on the bumper cars ...

I found a new friend !

 We finished off in the goats' enclosure in the Farm World, where you could buy goat food in a dispenser for 1€. They were very tame and quite happy to eat out of your hand and even try to jump on your lap ! We would have gone on the tractor ride and the small steam train around the park, but by now it was 5.30 and some of the rides were shutting off the queues, to make sure everyone was out by 7pm when the park closed.

We finished up with a quick trip on the Plopsa Forest ride (it was too dark to get good photos, but it's a magical boat ride though gnome-filled woodlands, reminiscent of It's A Small World at Disney but without the annoying music !) and another look around MayaLand, then Maya and her superhero buddies came to wave goodbye to everyone.

As we headed out of the gates, there was a stall giving away strawberries on sticks for you to dip in a chocolate fountain, which was a great little surprise to end the day. We wandered the five minutes down to the bus stop and hopped on a bus which took us straight to our door. Just as well, as Pierre was so tired, he fell asleep for the whole 40 minute journey back (then told us all he was just resting his eyes !!). Happy birthday Pierre !

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

i-SPY with my little eye, something beginning with endless discoveries ! (review)

One of the biggest parenting headaches of modern times is finding ways of getting the kids away from their screens and out into the fresh air having fun. I like to look back at the things I enjoyed during my own childhood, taking the Madhouse kids on nature walks and picnics, making a den or flower petal perfume, paddling in the sea and baking. Another thing I used to love were i-SPY guides, which always combined a fun treasure hunt with lots of interesting facts about the things you found.  Unbelievably, i-SPY are celebrating their 70th anniversary this year. Throughout that time, they have been published by News Chronicle in the 1950s, the Daily Mail until the late 1980s then Michelin. Since then, i-SPY has found a new home at Collins and i-SPY books are co-published by Collins and Michelin. There are currently over 50 i-SPY books, including new guides for 2018 - i-SPY at the shops, i-SPY garden birds, i-SPY butterflies and moths and i-SPY In the city. We were delighted to receive a trio of i-SPY books to help get our holidays off to a great start.

I love the way the books have varying ranges of difficulty - there will be no problem spotting a post box or a litter bin but a traditional red phone box may be slightly trickier.

We always complain about roadworks being carried out over the summer, but the kids will be happy to spot a person directing traffic, a road drill, cement mixer or steamroller.

Other spots will need a trip to a specific place to tick them off, for example a Chinatown arch or fountain.

A trip on a train is always full of excitement for a child who is not used to rail travel, and the On A Train Journey i-SPY book will help to make sure that (s)he doesn't miss any of the interesting things dotted around the station.

There are things to look out for while waiting for the train.

And others to spot once you're on board.

If you have a young nature lover in your midst, the Garden Birds book is perfect for helping to put names to the lesser known birds that you can see from your window.

Whatever your interests and wherever you live, there's bound to be a guide to appeal to you. My all-time favourite book from the collection is the airport one, as it is a great way for staving off boredom as you wait to go on holiday.

The holidays have barely begun and Pierre has already been having fun ticking off things that he's spotted in the books.

To celebrate 70 years of i-SPY Collins are giving away limited editions of i-SPY badges to customers who complete their i-SPY guides. This will be an exclusive limited run of 500 collector’s edition badges so it's a great time to discover the guides. The books are small enough to fit in your handbag or the glovebox of the car for those inevitable "Mum, I'm bored" and "are we nearly there yet?" moments !

i-SPY books are available for £2.99 from and all good booksellers.

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Monday, 16 July 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #29

We're all on holiday - woohoo ! - so this week I'm planning lazy days, spontaneous trips out and about and a good rummage through my kitchen cupboards. That means the menu plan will probably go straight out of the window but never mind !


lunch - mac & cheese with beefburgers

dinner - chicken stir fry with mange tout, baby corn and beansprouts


lunch - cottage pie

dinner - gammon with baby potatoes, veg, gravy & apple sauce


lunch - spaghetti carbonara

dinner - grilled salmon with tenderstem broccoli for me, leftovers for the kids


lunch -  crispy chicken strips, rice & ratatouille

dinner - cheese toasties and tomato soup


lunch - tacos or chilli con carne

 dinner - mackerel salad for me, pizza for the kids


lunch - something out and about - fast food or maybe a picnic

dinner - steak sandwich


lunch -  roast chicken with stuffing balls, roast spuds and veg

dinner - fridge grazing

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

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