Category Archives: Attractions

Ashmolean Dining Room

I am a museum lover. I’ve worked in the sector for 12 years (although I’m currently on hiatus while I work as a stay-at-home mom) and I have always thought bringing children to museums is a great thing to do from even the earliest age. The Baberoo has enjoyed several visits to the Ashmolean already, and on our last visit I decided to try out the Dining Room while she napped.

The Ashmolean Dining Room (Beaumont Street, OX1 2PH) is the swankier of the two eateries at the museum; I’ll review the downstairs café separately sometime in the future. The Dining Room is on the top floor of the museum and boasts an outdoor terrace with views of Oxford’s dreaming spires. It has a menu of fresh seasonal ingredients, using local suppliers where possible. I ordered the guinea fowl with cavolo nero (black cabbage) and sauteed potatoes (£14.50) along with a Fentiman’s Lemonade (£2.95). The guinea fowl was moist and tender, as were the vegetables. Sitting on the rooftop was a thrilling experience – not necessarily for the views, which were partially obscured by potted plants, but because it’s October and it was still warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the sun.

Ashmolean Dining Room guinea fowl

For dessert I ordered the chilli and caramel roasted pineapple with sweet ginger crème anglaise (£5). While the pineapple was nice, it didn’t have the truly caramelized flavour I was hoping for, and the caramel sauce itself was too thin. The chilli, caramel, and ginger were competing rather than complementing each other. I should have gone for the salted caramel cheesecake instead. Still, I had an enjoyable meal and the Baberoo only woke up as I was finishing my dessert, so I had a little time to myself.

Ashmolean Dining Room roasted pineapple

Let me digress a little and talk about the museum in regards to babies for a moment before I get down to reviewing the baby-friendliness of the Dining Room. The Ashmolean has quite a comprehensive family programme, encompassing downloadable museum trails, free summer activities for kids, an Activity Station near the entrance to the museum, and free year-round drop-in creative sessions, as well as free entry to special exhibitions for kids under 18. More information is available on the Family Events page. There are several choices for under-5s (so it’s great if you’re bringing a toddler or pre-schooler along with your babe-in-arms), although I don’t think babies would be old enough to enjoy any of the activities. I would say the museum is mainly kid-friendly rather than baby-friendly. Still, even babies can enjoy the spectacular art and archaeology collections if you take them round the museum.

Now, how does the Ashmolean Dining Room rate on the baby-friendliness scale? In my reviews of eateries I look at five elements: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding, all of which are explained in detail on my About page.

Menu: The menu is quite small and changes regularly, so I can’t predict how many dishes will be available for you to eat with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm – but going by the menu on the day I visited, there were a few options (charcuterie platter, fish, soup, salad) that could be eaten with one hand. The mains, however, generally require both hands to be free.

Space: The terrace is quite large and has lots of space between tables. The dining room itself has less space, although certainly you could fit a baby carriage at a table. More than one parent with a baby carriage, though, and you’re probably out of luck. This is not necessarily because of the amount of space in the restaurant, but because of the inconvenience of getting in and out. Unfortunately, only one lift in the museum goes to the fourth floor where the restaurant is located, and this lift is in constant use. I got off on the wrong floor on the way down and then had to wait – I kid you not – 10 minutes for the lift to come back again without having too many people or trolleys in it. There was a wheelchair user waiting behind me and luckily we both managed to squeeze in, otherwise she’d have been waiting even longer. The museum is accessible, but it’s not necessarily easily accessible.

Ashmolean Dining Room terrace

Ambiance: The Ashmolean Dining Room has beautiful tables and seating; it’s a very pleasant place to be, as is the rooftop terrace. The staff are friendly and offer high chairs for babies. I didn’t see any other babies or children there during my visit; I think probably parents who bring their kids to the museum choose the downstairs cafe instead because it’s cheaper and easier to get to. That said, there is a kid-friendly menu at the Dining Room.

Ashmolean Dining Room interior

Facilities: There’s a baby-changing facility in the disabled toilet right outside the entrance to the Dining Room. The room is clean and bright and the pull-down changing table is a good size. There’s no shelf to put your changing bag near the changing table, but there’s a low ledge behind you which might do for a place to set your bag down.

Ashmolean Dining Room baby-changing facilities

Feeding: I didn’t do any feeding on this occasion because the Baberoo was napping for most of it. I would have felt more comfortable on an indoor seat than an outdoor one if I’d been breastfeeding, but if I had been using a high chair for her it wouldn’t have mattered whether it was inside or outside. There are regular chairs and bench seating (and a few comfy chairs right at the entrance to the restaurant) so there are different choices for breastfeeding in comfort.

In my book the Ashmolean Dining Room gets a 7.25 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s not necessarily easy to get to, and it’s not inexpensive, but if you’re feeling like treating yourself to something fancy you’ll enjoy yourself here.

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University of Oxford Botanic Garden

The forecast for tomorrow is 16 degrees with rain all day, a sure sign that autumn is right around the corner. Today, however, was a scorching 27 degrees. The Baberoo and I took advantage of summer’s last hurrah by visiting the University of Oxford Botanic Garden (Rose Lane, OX1 4AZ).

Riotous colours

We’ve been big fans of the botanic garden since the Baberoo was only three months old. I first took her there at the end of March, when the hellebores were nearly the only thing blooming and the rain and my baby-induced sleeplessness made it seem as if the winter would never end. We’ve been going back ever since on our annual pass, which is the best £15.50 I’ve ever spent (and it gets you into Harcourt Arboretum too!). Every few weeks we’ve gone back to see the changes in the botanical season, from tulips to peonies to dahlias. And that’s only the herbaceous borders: there’s also a fabulous vegetable garden, fruit trees, seven glasshouses, a rock garden, a bog garden, and the new Merton Borders, which feature an ornamental, environmentally sustainable display using direct sowing of seeds.

Merton Borders

Today the vegetable garden was a pretty amazing sight, with corn, beans, rhubarb, and squash all looking like they were at their peak (we missed the giant pumpkin, though, as I discovered to my chagrin when we got home). The Merton Borders were full of bees (a good thing!) and blooming splendidly; I remember seeing the area in March and there was nearly nothing in it. I can’t believe it’s the same garden! There was some riotous colour in the herbaceous borders, and the bog garden – where we sat for an alfresco lunch – was so lush that you could hardly see the water for all the plants.

Corn

Not only is the botanic garden a treat for all the senses, it’s baby-friendly too. Here’s how it stacks up against my four criteria for baby-friendliness (space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding – see my About page for a full explanation of my criteria for rating attractions that aren’t eateries).

Space: There’s an entrance for prams and wheelchairs at the side of the garden on Rose Lane. There’s plenty of space in the two outdoor gardens (the Walled Garden and the Lower Garden), so you can wheel your baby carriage around as much as you like. It’s a bit more difficult getting into the glasshouses; the conservatory (which houses the citrus plants) has plenty of room inside but it’s difficult to get in the doors; usually I need someone to help me because you need to open both doors to fit a stroller in. Happily, today they were already open because of the hot weather. The other glasshouses are more difficult; a larger pram might not fit the width of the very narrow corridors (especially since there are huge plants coming at you from either side), and if you do fit, there’s no chance of anyone being able to pass your carriage in the space so you might have to do some backing up. The rose garden facing the High Street isn’t accessible to strollers unless you have wheels that can roll on gravel; mine can’t. To be fair, I don’t think that this is actually part of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden so isn’t managed by them – but when you’re going for the experience of a garden, you don’t care about technicalities like this: you just want to see the roses!

Ambiance: Couldn’t be nicer, at any time of the year. Whenever I visit I marvel at how quickly things change and how beautiful each season is. The staff at the reception are very welcoming and helpful, and so are the garden staff if you happen to meet any of them working outside. Even the ducks are friendly!

Borders

Facilities: There is a baby-changing facility in the disabled toilet. It’s spacious and has a pull-down changing table. It’s clean and presentable, although there’s no place to put your changing bag.

Baby-changing

Feeding: There are plenty of benches to sit on throughout the garden, but you can also bring a blanket and sit on the grass with your baby. We dined alfresco on a bench today (with regular food, although I’d have been happy to breastfeed as well). If you go in the winter it might be too cold for breastfeeding, though!

As an attraction, the Botanic Garden is a wonderful resource and a haven of peace and quiet away from the crowds in the city centre, and a perfect place to bring your baby to relax. I give it a 7.0 out of 8. If you love gardens, treat yourself to an annual pass and go throughout the year.

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Oxford Mommy’s Guide to Ottawa, Part 1

We’re on holiday in Ottawa with the Baberoo for nearly three weeks, and besides visiting with all our relatives and friends we’ve also been trying to get around town as much as possible. Since I can’t review any Oxford locations at the moment, I figured I could still write a quick guide to Ottawa. I grew up here and visit about once a year, but I’ve never done it with a baby carriage before, and I was in for a few surprises!

These are shorter reviews with fewer pictures (and sometimes none, since I forgot my camera once or twice!), so I’m not employing my full rating system here, but I hope they’re helpful to parents living in or visiting the city.

My first venture out with the Baberoo was to the Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Brewer Park on a Sunday morning.  (I also went to the Main Farmers’ Market Ottawa on a Saturday morning and we went to the Marché Vieux Hull on a Thursday.) The markets are a favourite of parents with strollers and there are lots of babies everywhere. The one at Brewer Park is right near a playground and community garden, and there’s also a pool and community centre nearby so you may be able to use the baby-changing facilities there. Brewer Park is also the biggest market, with over 100 vendors.  I had a sausage on a bun and a lemonade while I was there, both very enjoyable. I’d highly recommend all of the Farmers’ Markets as a lovely place to go in Ottawa.

It doesn’t feel like a trip back home until I’ve been to the Byward Market, so we headed out there as soon as we could and had lunch at an old favourite, the Blue Cactus Bar and Grill. I was nonplussed to see that they’ve changed their menu to become more contemporary, so some of my favourite classic Tex-Mex dishes were gone. I got a trio of mini tacos (shrimp, Szechuan beef, and curry chicken) which were fine, but in retrospect I’d rather have had a chimichanga like the one my husband ordered. I did, however, enjoy my massive virgin daiquiri. The menu has various things you can order to eat one-handed if you are holding a baby, and the baby-changing facilities are fine, and presentably clean.

Chimichanga

Our next outing was lunch at the Urban Pear in the Glebe (151 2nd Avenue, Unit C). We’d been before but hadn’t returned for a while, and I’m happy to say that the food was still fabulous and we also received great service. I ordered the fried chicken on waffles and it was yummy, although a bit salty (I mentioned this to our server and got a fantastic and immediate response from the kitchen). My husband’s burger was well-flavoured and cooked to his specifications. The menu doesn’t have many items that can be eaten one-handed with a baby in your arms, but we took turns holding the Baberoo. The toilets, while very pretty, don’t have baby-changing facilities, but there would be ample room for changing on the floor if you had a mat.

Another Glebe location we tried was Za Za Za (915 Bank Street, K1S 3W5), at which we enjoyed wood-fired pizzas with unique combinations of toppings. Mine was the Lover’s Leap – one of the less wacky combinations, with mozzarella, black olives, pepperoni, tomato, and hot Italian sausage – and it had a perfectly-charred crust as I would expect from any good thin-crust pizza. If you’re up for a crazier pizza, try the Scary Roommate, which boasts both Kraft Dinner and hot dogs as toppings. We had a great time and I’d go back to try other combinations. The pizza was already cut into slices, which made it as baby-friendly as it was going to get, but there were no baby-changing facilities and the bathrooms were too small to consider a floor change.

Za Za Za pizza

We wanted to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization for the last time before it becomes the Museum of Canadian History, so we headed over to Gatineau and started off with lunch at the museum’s own Bistro Boréal (100 Laurier Street, Gatineau). I had the duck club sandwich, which was pleasingly un-fatty, and my husband chose the bison burger, which he said was very good. We sat out on the terrace with the sleeping Baberoo and watched the people go by. There were a few items on the menu that would have been fine to eat one-handed. There are no bathrooms within the restaurant since the museum’s bathrooms are right near the entrance; these have baby-changing facilities, as do the bathrooms on all floors of the museum.

Duck club sandwich

We used the facilities and they were clean and fresh, with ample space for a baby carriage. I also received many friendly looks from both patrons and staff while I was breastfeeding the Baberoo on one of the many benches available in the non-exhibit areas. As for the museum itself, I really enjoyed the ‘Double Take: Portraits of Intriguing Canadians’ exhibition, which reminded me what a diverse and interesting country I come from.

CMC baby changing

I’ve also had some good advice about baby-changing facilities from a friend who has seen his two nephews through babyhood and who has tried out many a place in downtown Ottawa.  Apparently the best baby-changing facilities are at 240 Sparks, where they are built in rather than a pull-down table. He also recommends the facilities at the Château Laurier. The same friend suggested the baby-changing facilities at Fifth Avenue Court when we were in the Glebe, and they turned out to be great. I’m sure they are little-known; hardly anyone goes into the inside of Fifth Avenue Court since all the shops also have entrances from the street, but there are good bathrooms if you need one and the baby-changing table is clean and seems very little-travelled.

Fifth Avenue Court baby changing

Part 2 to follow after we explore some more venues this week!

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Heathrow Terminal 3

Heathrow Airport is hardly an eatery, attraction, or activity in Oxford – which is what I normally review as Oxford Mommy – but it certainly acts as a portal to places where you might be enjoying all three of these. Since we have recently survived an international flight with the Baberoo and lived to tell the tale, I’d like to share my experiences of using the airport for the first time with a baby in tow.

My advice in this post only covers Terminal 3, which serves mainly international flights (including Air Canada, with whom we were flying to my hometown of Ottawa). I can’t comment on any of the other terminals at Heathrow, and they may have different facilities depending on when they were built.

Since I’ve always found Terminal 3 to be very crowded once you pass security, my advice is to spend some time in the pre-security area and try out the restaurants and facilities there before going through to the post-security area. (Obviously, don’t leave too little time before you get through security!) That’s what we did, and it was a pleasantly good experience with a baby.

There are a few restaurants and cafes to choose from in the pre-security area, most of which have a goodly amount of space around tables for hand luggage. If you’re travelling with a stroller and are planning to check it at the gate (confirm with your airline beforehand if you’re able to do this), you won’t have any trouble manoeuvring it in most of the spaces in the pre-security area. The only restaurant that looked like it had less space around the tables was Leon; we tried out the Pret a Manger and it was very spacious.

More important to me than the food was the availability and cleanliness of the baby-changing facilities. The ones in the pre-security section of Terminal 3 were a really nice surprise. I had thought that they would be so well-travelled that they’d be messy and that there might be a queue to use them. But it turned out that they were clean, spacious, and empty. (They’re also easy to miss, with a very small sign before the main gents and ladies’ facilities.) There are actually two baby-changing facilities in the pre-security section, one at each end of the area. We used the one nearest to the Pret.

Heathrow Terminal 3 changing station

Although some of the decorations were peeling off the walls, the baby-changing area was otherwise impeccably clean, with a huge amount of space. It really felt like whoever had designed the room had thought of all the things a family might need when travelling with a baby.  The baby-changing table is built into the counter rather than being a pull-down table, and there are two changing spaces (with one sink separating them) so that two families can use the changing room at the same time. There’s also a ‘family toilet’ in a separate small room so that adults can also use the bathroom, and another small room off to the side, containing a chair and some shelves, which I assume is a breastfeeding room for those who want privacy.

Breastfeeding room

We were really happy with the facility that we used in the pre-security area. Once we passed security, we were lucky enough to have passes for the SAS/Air Canada Lounge rather than the regular waiting area (thanks to my frequent flyer sister!), so we used the baby-changing facility there. It was not quite as well-thought-out: it looked prettier and was clean, but the changing table was the pull-down kind rather than built-in, and there was nowhere near the table to put a changing bag. It was fine, though, and it did the job.

Air Canada SAS baby changing

The SAS/Air Canada Lounge did have a huge advantage in baby-friendliness over the regular waiting area in the post-security section: there is a special kids’ room with a couch, toys, Lego table, colouring table, chalkboard wall, and wide-screen TV with a selection of DVDs to watch. We enjoyed using the room and I highly recommend a lounge experience if you are travelling with a baby, if you can get your hands on any passes or if you have any frequent flyer points to spend. There are eight lounges in Terminal 3, all for different airlines, so they will all have different facilities for babies.

Air Canada SAS kids room

If you’re in the regular post-security waiting area, you’ll have a choice of several places to eat, most of which will have plenty of space for your baby accoutrements and hand luggage. My own recommendation is to find a seat in a relatively quiet corner of one of the eateries and stay there, rather than trying to find seats in the central seating section.

If you’re flying with a baby, Heathrow Terminal 3 gives you some excellent changing facilities and a good amount of space to get around with all of your accoutrements and baggage. But it’s mainly up to you to entertain your little one(s) before getting on the plane. If you’re a first-timer like we were, best of luck!

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Modern Art Oxford

I needed a quick snack while out with the Baberoo this morning, so we dropped in to the café at Modern Art Oxford (30 Pembroke Street, OX1 1BP). What started off as a pit stop for a piece of cake turned into a much longer visit, as I became enthralled with both of the current exhibitions, Chapters by Haris Epaminonda and Black Drop by Simon Starling.

Our visit started off with cake and tea, though, and boy, was it good. The Butterscotch Cake I ordered (£3.10) was moist and not too sweet for a butterscotch confection, and my pot of Earl of Grey tea (£2.10) from local company Jeeves and Jericho had a delicate bergamot taste without any tannic bitterness. I also got a Biscuit and Brazil Nut Tiffin (£2.50) to bring home to my husband, but it was half gone before he got any.

Butterscotch cake

Being a museums person myself (until very recently I led the Digital Programmes team at the V&A), I can never pass up an exhibition, so the Baberoo and I entered the poetic, ethereal world of Haris Epaminonda’s Chapters (exhibition ends 8 September). Four film installations comprise the main part of the exhibition, and the staged scenes and shots of natural elements, accompanied by an eerie, haunting soundtrack, were mesmerizing. Chapters also comprises another two rooms with three-dimensional installations.

I was then just in time for a showing of Black Drop, Simon Starling’s 30-minute film about the transit of Venus and its relationship to the beginnings of cinema (exhibition ends 26 August). The film is beautifully shot in black and white, and although I’m not sure I understood everything about the astronomical phenomenon (last seen in June 2012 and not scheduled to happen again until 2117), just watching the film and being swept away by thoughts of the vastness of the universe was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Entrance

So, how did Modern Art Oxford’s café and exhibition space rate on my scale of baby-friendliness? My five criteria are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (all explained in detail on my About page).

Menu: There’s one soup and three paninis on the menu each day, plus lots of cakes and other sweet snacks. Paninis aren’t the easiest thing to eat with one hand if you’re holding a baby, and neither is soup – but if you’re dextrous you can do it, and the cakes and other baked goods are easy. Go for tea/coffee and a sweet pick-me-up.

Space: Plenty of it, and there were lots of parents with prams there today. During the summer the café is located in the side entrance to the museum off St. Ebbe’s Street. It’s a vast cavernous space that presumably must have been an entry for trucks or deliveries, but they’ve transformed it into an area that holds several tables with lots of room for baby carriages all the way through to the entrance to the gift shop. In winter the café is indoors on the ground floor, and has just as much space for carriages. The first time I went, in fact, there was a group of mothers with about seven baby carriages.

Tables

Ambiance: In the café it’s laid-back, colourful, and streamlined. Because of the high ceilings it’s light and breezy but also sheltered and quiet. You feel like you could stay for hours. Café staff were very friendly and brought sugar and cutlery to my table, seeing that I had too much to carry. In the museum, the ambiance is what you might expect from a modern art museum: spare and plain, concentrating on the works of art rather than on any décor. Museum staff were also very friendly and held open doors and curtains for me so I could manoeuvre the baby carriage through the gallery spaces.

Tea selection

Facilities: The baby-changing toilet is on the lower level, past a space that is used for talks. Unfortunately, although the facility was clean and fresh-smelling, it caused me problems in terms of space. I could bring the baby carriage in, but then there wasn’t enough room to pull down the changing table or stand next to it to change the baby. I also couldn’t leave the carriage right outside the door because it would have blocked the entrances to both the men’s and women’s toilets. So I had to leave the door open with the carriage half-in and half-out of the bathroom. There were further problems with the layout of the room; once the changing table is pulled down there’s no way to reach the garbage can to throw away used diapers and wipes.  It wasn’t an easy experience and the Baberoo also screamed her way through it (you would too, if the bathroom door was open so everyone could see you).

Changing table

Feeding: I was at a table where everyone could see me breastfeeding, although I didn’t mind, and I got a few smiles of encouragement from museum staff who passed by. There aren’t really any private, quiet corners in the layout of the café, so it’s not for shyer nursing mothers.  There are no benches, sofas, or pillows, but if you and your baby are OK nursing from a standard-sized chair then it’ll be a fine experience.

My final rating for Modern Art Oxford is a 7.75 out of 10. Despite the difficulty with the baby-changing facilities, I’ll be going again for cake and the chance to see world-class art in my new city.

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