Guidebooks are all very well but nothing quite beats a rack of postcards when it comes to planning a week of family fun en vacances. Two weeks ago I was wiping the sand (and unfortunately oil) off my toddler on a beach in northern Cyprus and pondering our itinerary. She absolutely loved the beach for all the reasons that my husband hates it (sticky sand, wet hands, no way to peel an orange without resorting to a dozen wetwipes) and could have spent the entire time in the small, occasionally waterlogged hole that I dug for her by the sea. Her parents, reluctant to say goodbye to the days when we happily traipsed around archaeological discoveries, ticking off world-class museums and some of civilisations' greatest treasures, would like to have had other ideas. Cue the postcard rack.
My daughter, a feisty 14-month-old, started spinning one at a beach bar while I tried my best to shovel food into her sometimes open, mostly not, mouth. It's fair to say that northern Cyprus has a pretty dated collection of photographic momentos to chose from - a rather sour-looking man selling large root vegetables from a cart by Kyrenia Gate in Nicosia was my personal favourite - but among the gems dropping onto the floor were some notable sights. At least the guidebook had made them sound as if they were worth a visit.
Faced with the selection of slightly dated, sepia-tone images on the postcards in front of me, however, and dedicated daytrips seemed rather less essential. Or to put it in parent speak, just not worth it. We quickly decided that to haul a small person around a collection of rubble in 35-degree heat sandwiched between the joys of a lengthy car ride there and back required a world-class reason, not far short of one of the seven wonders of the world. The Taj Mahal - definitely worth it; the Acropolis - ditto; a 20-minute dash around the gymnasium at Salamis (when you've already spent happy hours decoding Olympia) distinctly not worth it.
It might sound unadventurous and the very antithesis of what anyone with any intelligence has ever thought or written about the joys of travel, but a family holiday isn't travel and it isn't meant to be that much like hard work. Or so I reasoned. Besides, standing next to the postcards, giving the tatty collection about 40 per cent of my attention as I contained my darling beast of a daughter, I already felt like I'd been. Those mosaics that Cyprus is so famous for ... seen them (kind of).
But culture proved impossibly hard to resist. On the way back from the beach one day a small yellow sign directed us to Soli, an ancient city and site of a 6th-century basilica. The remains sit shaded under cover so we spent almost an hour showing baby the animals depicted in tiny fragments of coloured stone on the floor. I know her teenage self won't be so easy to please.