x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Child-friendly travel

As tempting as it is sometimes to book a two-week beach holiday, the has-been backpacker in me usually insists on some sort of ambitious family adventure

For most of the country it was business as usual last week, but not so at The British School in Abu Dhabi. Thanks to what must have been an irreversible timetabling error, half-term followed Eid this year and the school closed for two weeks. We hardly needed the extended break so soon after summer, but I, for one, wasn't complaining. The travel opportunity was irresistible and we set off for an extended play date with two of my daughters' best friends and their parents.

Holidaying with another family is unfamiliar territory for us. We had our concerns. Would the children spend the time arguing and bickering? Would the parents still be friends after 11 days? Would our family's somewhat hands-off parenting be exposed as being nothing short of negligence? Furthermore, would my rather casual approach to culture be found out? (My hair may be dyed these days, but my inner blonde is entirely natural).

As tempting as it is sometimes to book a two-week beach holiday and hand over parenting to the kids clubs, the has-been backpacker in me usually insists on some sort of ambitious family adventure. Our friends pleaded for Turkey. We were happy to follow and as it turned out, the country and its wonderfully hospitable, child-friendly people made it all so easy. Public transport and entrance fees are free for those under 12. Restaurants seemed to welcome both adults and children, despite the kids less than decorous behaviour and obsession with the local dog and cat life. And when it came to visiting the Salvador Dali exhibition, even the grown ups were free, as long as they were accompanying a child.

After five days on foot, inspecting mosques, palaces and bazaars as we struggled to hang onto the children in the relentless Istanbul crowds, I for one was ready for a drop in pace. Cappadocia, the land of fairy chimneys, underground towns, hotels partially embedded in caves and gorgeous hiking trails was just what I needed. So was our guide, who managed to dish up the region's history, plant and animal life in delightful child-size chunks and fun quizzes.

It all got a bit more complicated as we embarked on a blistering two-day ruins tour beginning at Ephesus and ending in Troy. Sadly, explaining Greek mythology and Artemis's strange anatomy in little people's terms was just too much of a challenge for the new guide. Now, I don't want to resurrect the whole nature-nurture issue of last week, but I couldn't help but notice that while our friends attentively and enthusiastically discussed the subtle decorative differences between a couple of broken Roman columns, my husband was playing with his BlackBerry, our girls were shuffling pebbles with sticks and I'd wandered off entirely. Is it really chance that as a family we aren't big on ruins or has the parents' indifference to ruins ruined it for the children? Who knows, but at least we've returned home with our friendships anything but ruined.