Baby on board

Vincent
Have hat, will travel: Vincent at one month

Further to my previous post, I’m overjoyed to tell you that my baby son Vincent was born in February at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions that have, for me, come with motherhood: intense love, wonder, worry … the bittersweet feeling that, if my husband and I do our jobs right, Vincent will inevitably grow away from us and one day want to explore the world for himself. I hope he does. I hope he also comes home for dinner sometimes.

In the meantime I’m excited about the years of family holidays that lie ahead: the trains, planes, castles and campsites that lit up my own childhood. We’ll have adventures in buckets and spades. While getting out with a new baby felt at first like a moon mission, Steve and I are improving on the two hours it took to prepare for Vincent’s first pram ride in the park (there was explosive poo) and accepting of the fact that the amount of ‘stuff’ we must now cart around is in inverse proportion to the little man’s size.

I’ll be looking for baby-friendly travel ideas in the coming months and look forward to sharing my experiences with you.

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A bumpy journey

I haven’t travelled far lately and yet I feel as though I’m on the biggest journey of my life. My first baby is due in the middle of February.

Fittingly, it was at Schiphol Airport back in June when I first suspected I might be pregnant. My friend Becky and I were in transit from a screenwriting course in Bremen, and she bought me a glass of prosecco to celebrate the past few days. It was deliciously crisp, the way I like it, and yet it didn’t sit right in my stomach. Deep down I think I knew it was my last drink for a while, and I’m grateful to Becky for making it a special one.

Two days later those stark blue lines confirmed why I felt so strange. I wrapped up the pregnancy test and left it for my husband with a Post-it note that said, “Hello Dad”. I’ll never forget the sight of Steve looking up at me with his eyes shining, saying: “Is this real?” He twirled me around the kitchen and I could hardly see him through the tears in my own eyes. The spell was only broken when he realised with horror that I must have peed on the stick.

When I was eight weeks pregnant, I flew to Nova Scotia on a press trip. Most of my family and friends didn’t yet know I was expecting – Steve and I were waiting for that reassuring 12-week scan – but I had to tell my hosts why I looked like a blanched sea urchin. They were wonderful, taking special care of me, and the three square seafaring meals each day kept my morning sickness somewhere out near the Bay of Fundy. I threw myself into all the activities, even managing to prise a few live clams from the squelchy seabed, defeated finally when they squirted fishy water in my face.

In August, hours after our 12-week scan (and overjoyed to have seen a healthy, wriggly baby on the ultrasound monitor), Steve and I caught the Eurostar to Paris. Usually we love nothing more than pounding around a big city for days on end, discovering backstreet eateries and local characters. But we’d both underestimated how tired pregnancy would make me feel and I ended up frustrated and aching, revived only by regular ice-cream stops.

We caught the overnight Le Train Bleu to Nice and took the rest of our holiday at a slower pace: swimming, eating fresh pasta and hanging out in the Old Town.

And that was my last proper trip. We recently bought a small Victorian terrace which Steve has nicknamed our Little Donkey house (because we’ve “got to keep on plodding onwards” with the repairs and decorating) and that’s all the adventure I need at the moment. I’m too pregnant to fly, even if I wanted to, and my wanderlust has been temporarily quashed by a desire to strip walls and sand floorboards. I think they call this nesting.

Sometimes I catch my breath and feel momentarily stunned by how much parenthood is going to change our lives. Clip our wings. No more impromptu camping weekends or road trips for a long time; babies need so much stuff. I never did complete my pre-family travelling to-do list; I haven’t been to Japan; haven’t seen much of Africa. I never got to share with Steve the fabricated wonders of Universal Studios in Florida. When we do go, there will be a smaller person (maybe people) dictating which rides we queue for.

But I am delighted by the idea of becoming a mother. Every time I feel my baby kick, poke or flutter, I’m surprised by the strength of my feelings for someone I haven’t even met yet. I feel fiercely protective of the tiny life growing inside me – as the ten-year-old who came hurtling towards my belly on a shopping trolley last week discovered to his detriment.

There is nothing for it: this baby will have to be a good traveller. And I’m looking forward to experiencing life’s adventures as a mum.

Marie Kreft with baby bump

Winning the Bradt competition: one year on

July 2010 was a golden month for me, passing in a tangle of organza and pearls as I prepared to marry my boyfriend Steve. It was special for another reason too: I won the Bradt / Independent on Sunday travel-writing competition.

The prizegiving evening took place on a Wednesday evening at Stanford’s bookshop in Covent Garden, with the six final entries adjudicated by journalist and broadcaster Matthew Parris. I felt like a fool for even turning up. In my eyes, the other five were far more profound, literary and worthy of winning than mine.

When Matthew Parris skipped over my entry in his comments, promising to return to it shortly, Steve nudged me hopefully in the back. I ignored him, wincing a little. Probably mine wasn’t worth talking about.

So when my name was called, it took me a moment to realise I needed to make my way over to the stairs where Hilary Bradt was waiting to hand me a golden envelope. I don’t know whether I was expected to make a speech, but I made do with grinning and blushing and waving awkwardly at the camera. I remember thanking Jonathan Lorie of Travellers’ Tales, as I’d learned lots from his writing workshops.

I won a five-star holiday in Malta and Gozo, plus a commission with the Independent on Sunday. Kate Simon, the IoS‘s travel editor (and another of the judges), took me for lunch and dished out excellent advice on pitching and writing saleable features. The Irish Independent reprinted my winning article and I’ve had more commissions from them since, as well as work with other publications. I’ve just returned from a press trip around Nova Scotia too – the kind of assignment I could only dream about before.

The most valuable part of winning the Bradt competition, though, is that it’s allowed me to think of myself as a real travel writer – or at least someone who writes real travel articles. I was bashful about this at first, but every time I have a feature accepted, it gives me a tiny bit more credibility and confidence. I’ve even dared to send my book manuscript out into the world and, while I haven’t managed to sell it yet (it’s probably not commercial enough), the positive feedback I’ve received from two well-known publishers has encouraged me to start reworking it.

I can’t make it to London for this year’s prizegiving evening (thank you to Bradt for inviting me), but I wish the six finalists all the very best and hope they find the competition is a springboard for their writing too.

Bradt prizegiving ceremony at Stanford's
Left to right: Catriona Rainsford (the winner of the 'unpublished' category); Hilary Bradt; a red-faced me (Marie Kreft) and Matthew Parris.

PS. In case you’re wondering, Steve and I did get hitched! My article was published in the Indy on the morning after our wedding and, as it was our hotel’s publication of choice, all our guests were reading it at breakfast. Surreal, embarrassing and wonderful all at once.

A pleasant surprise

Over dinner on Saturday night, my Auntie Christine apologised for forgetting to congratulate me on being mentioned in the Telegraph in December. I said I didn’t mind in the slightest – not least because I had no idea what she was talking about.

Apparently my ‘Just Back’ travel-writing competition entry, which told the tale of a trip to Shropshire an hour from my home, had been shortlisted by deputy travel editor Michael Kerr as one of the five “outstanding entries” of 2010.

This came as a welcome surprise on an already happy occasion. The reason Auntie Christine had forgotten to tell me was because our first encounter of 2011 was in the Intensive Therapy Unit at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, where her mother was not expected to survive the night. Along with the rest of our family, we’d spent a week camped out in the waiting room, taking turns to sit by Gran’s bedside and squeeze her unresponsive hand, learning the painful way what each of the coloured waves on her life-support monitor meant.

But despite those unpromising lines and the doctors’ sympathetic half-smiles, Gran was perched beside me at the Indian restaurant on Saturday, napkin tucked into her new silk blouse, making great in-roads into a plate of chicken tikka masala, lemon rice and a peshwari naan.

So that was the real celebration of the evening! Hearing about the travel-writing competition made it even sweeter.

Screenshot from the Telegraph