The Magic Kingdom

“I’m going to Paris,” boasted the little girl  at the airport.

“I’m going to Morocco.” said Tom.

They were both scrambling around on the floor in the departure lounge, occasionally pressing their grubby fingers against the window, agog at a takeoff or a landing.

“I’m going to Disneyland,” said the little girl, twirling in her Snow White dress.

“That’s a lovely dress you’ve got there,” I said to her. I have learnt now how much little girls seem to go in for the princess thing and that they usually like it if you comment on it.

“She’s got lots of others,” her father said, “One for every day of the trip, in fact.”

“Well I would like the Buzz Lightyear costume,” Tom said, “And I have got Superman and an elephant and a skeleton pirate. And lots of Disney videos and DVDs.”

I felt suddenly very guilty, as though I had booked the wrong trip. The thought of going to Disneyland Paris fills me with dread, but Tom would probably really enjoy it. I would have probably really enjoyed it, when I was four. Would I have enjoyed being dragged round a dusty North African city just because my Mum had always wanted to go there?

Outside our Riad

They called the Paris  flight and Snow White skipped away, but Tom never asked if we could go too. Soon, we were sitting in the back of a cab, hurtling through orange and olive groves, eating fresh fruit given to us by our driver.

“Bonjour!” Tom had said to the Policeman at Passport Control.

“Bonjour!” smiled the Policeman, kneeling down to Tom’s height, “Parle vous Francais?” (That could be wrong; I know less French than my son.)

“Well,” Tom sighed in his little Northern accent, “I can say ‘Bonjour, j’mapelle Tom, une deaux trois, merci and au revlar.”

That lot could have served him well at Disneyland Paris.

The driver parked up and lifted Tom on to his shoulders, leading us through the cobbled warren of the medina that was just how I had expected it to be. We stopped at a stall that had slippers in every colour imaginable lining every wall and the owners gave Tom a miniature one on a keyring to keep, insisting it was a gift. The driver stopped again at a hatch in a wall that turned out to be a shop, handing Tom a milkshake and a biscuit. We turned a corner, ducked under a low pink arch and knocked on the door of our riad. Inside, the chaos outside was banished, incense burned and coloured lights lit the staircase.

“Wow! This is the best house I have ever seen,” Tom said, “Is it a palace?”

Our host made a bed on the floor for him, with a brand new fluffy blanket fresh from the pack.

We rose early the next morning and after breakfast on the roof, set off for the High Atlas Mountains. Tom had his own donkey for the trek, which pleased him. He thought he was some kind of knight or hero and kept drawing the stick from the panniers and wielding it in the air. Luckily the donkey was placid and good and his handler even more so.

“Hold your breath when we get round the next corner,” our guide said at one point, “A cow died at the side of the road.”

“Oh yes! I can see the dead cow, it looks funny and red!” shouted Tom, a grin on his face, as we all clutched our tops to our faces and gagged.

Apart from the cow carcass, the scenery was breathtaking and we stopped for mint tea then lunch with two Berber families. Tom was tired and ratty by the time our freshly baked tagines and bread were served, but all he wanted to do was play. And he did, with the Berber children, despite the language barrier.

Free

Back in Marrakech, we visited Jardins Majorelle, haggled in the souks for Christmas presents, listened to the prayers from the mosques and children beating drums in the street, ate really good food, explored the city and drank Orangina and played Guess Who on the roof terrace. Everywhere we went, Tom gathered kisses and hair ruffles and free gifts.

As we packed our bags to leave, our brilliant host stood in the doorway of our room and Tom ran over and hugged him.

“You leave tomorrow. Tom stays here with me.”

“Well, sorry. I really like it here,” he said, “but I’ve got my school play and some other stuff like Christmas and my class party, so I think I’d better go home with me Mum.”

On the plane, he said “Thanks Mum, that was the best holiday ever.”

“I am so glad you liked it, which bit did you like?”

“The ice cream.”

I laughed, “You can eat ice cream anywhere you want.”

“I liked the ice cream but it wasn’t my favourite. My favourite was riding my donkey in the mountains and staying in a magical palace.”

Magic.

We flew from Manchester with Easyjet. We stayed in the beautiful, welcoming Riad Zayane Atlas. Our guide was the wonderful Nourdine for Berber Travel Adventures. Our incredibly patient donkey handler was Mohammed. The donkey himself was nameless.

Atlas Mountains

 

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “The Magic Kingdom

  1. That was just lovely. We took our girls (ages 3 and 4 and yes, very in love with all things Princess) to Paris in October. We had vague plans to spend a day in Disneyland but as we only had a few days there we made the decision to stay in the city. We went to the Pompidou Centre, the Eiffel Tower, did a river boat ride on the Seine and ate out in very French restaurants. They learned a bit of French and went out every morning with daddy to order croissants. We had a bit of guilt too that we were doing it for us and not them, and that they would have preferred Disney. Even now though our youngest still talks about the Eiffel Tower all the time and I’m sure the trip we chose has had a more lasting impact than any Disney Fairies ever could! Morocco sounds amazing. I’d love to take them there.

    • Emily

      I completey get the guilt Naomi, but it sounds like you had a wonderful, perfect Paris trip with them. City breaks are underrated as children’s holidays. In Europe, they are much more accpeted in nightlife culture. I am hoping to take Tom to see my friend in Madrid (where there are play areas on every street corner and the kids come out for dinner) in 2011. Your Paris break sounds a dream come true and has reminded me that I really must go one of these days. Thank you and Merry Christmas to you and yours xx

  2. Sounds like you both had a wonderful time 🙂

  3. Beautifully written post and I liked the set up-the real adventure to be had was in Morocco not Disneyland. You are a very good Mum. And writer.

  4. Kay

    That is truly incredible! Tom is such a lovely young man! ^_^

  5. First of all thanks to your brilliant blog, I have been following you since my last days of pregnancy this summer. This post in particular is a beautiful account that moved me. Despite the hardship that single parenthood must sometimes bring it’s such an inspiration to a new mum such as myself to hear that its possible to not only get by but have a ball with your little boy too.
    Every night before I fall asleep I get an excited flutter in my belly for future adventures such as these that I too plan to share with my son.
    Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you and Tom.

    • Emily

      Thanks Lilly, a lot of people have it loads harder than me. Being able to work makes it easier for us than those who can’t for example. Enjoy your son’s babyhood; in five minutes you’ll be teaching him to read and wondering how he grew from a baby to a gorgeous boy before your very eyes. Thanks for your comments, its stuff like that that makes me do the book. Happy Christmas to you both xx

  6. Candace Allan

    Tom is a lucky boy. I felt bad we had never taken our troop to Disneyland Cal. so finally arranged a trip when they were 12, 14, 16 and 17. They loved L.A and a surfing lesson on Venice Beach and having deja vu over all the spots they’d seen in the movies – but the 12 year old was shy about seeming to like Disneyland at the old age of 12, the others had a good enough time – but they all would have like Morocco more. MerryChristmas

    • Emily

      Thanks Candace. It sounds like they loved their trip to LA. I will take Tom surfing one day. I actually went to Disneyworld / and in Orlando with work before Tom arrived on the scene and loved it, but it was in the middle of two hurricanes so we didn’t have to battle through the queues and the crowds. It was OK, but I liked Universal better! Merry Christmas to you and yours as well.

  7. That was wonderful. I loved how it was full of colour and wonder. The luscious food, the donkey, Tom’s comments. It was all so rich, wonderful.Didn’t like going through adverts tho 😦 But I recon that’s the best piece i’ve read of yours! mx

  8. Emily

    Thanks Martha, I hope you are well. It’s lovely to hear from you!

    If by adverts, you mean the references to where we stayed etc, our guide was brilliant and the Riad was a real find with wonderful hosts. And I still can’t believe you can fly to Marrakech for £60 on Easyjet! I get offered products to review a lot and many parenting blogs are just lists of reviews of random products. I’ve never wanted to do that here, so when I occasionally do mention a product or service here, it’s because I genuinely love it and would strongly recommend it to a friend xx.

  9. Not what you said- that was bleeding fab, the actual adverts underneath- (that took me 2 seconds to get through before I arrived at the comments!!) One will get used to it!
    Hope you and Tom enjoying your break mx

  10. chrissie mcnaught

    Hi Emily. I’ve only just discovered your blog today (a blog virgin!), and I am hooked. My boy is five, and like you, I am constantly spinning plates. I worked in public libraries at the time he was born, but having him gave me the inspiration to do even more, and I now manage to juggle a very challenging career as Chief Exec of a women’s charity, whilst maintaining my smile/identity/sanity – all since becoming a mum. My son is just a dream and I wouldn’t change any of it. A very wise old woman once told me to “keep three things” in my life that were mine, and always find time for them, no matter what. My three treats are hot fluffy baths (with candles), posh red lippie, and a massive glass of wine at the end of each day. This is a great mantra for all mums xxxxx

    • Emily

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Chrissie. Nice to hear from someone spinning nearly as many plates as me. Keep up the good work and thanks so much for the mantra (now feel less like a wino for my nightly glass and controversial out-the-back-door fag.) Should maybe swap the cigs for lippy in 2011…

  11. Oh man, now I really want to go to Marrakech! Hope you two had an amazing time x

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